Home » » REASON TO BREATHE BY REBECCA DONOVAN : Distraction

REASON TO BREATHE BY REBECCA DONOVAN : Distraction

3. Distraction
“You wil never believe who just asked me…”
I wasn’t able to throw my varsity jersey over my head in time. I closed
my eyes and took a breath in preparation for her reaction.
“Shit,” Sara whispered, stil frozen at the door of the locker room.
I didn’t turn around. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I knew
the large circular bruises that covered my right shoulder and continued
to the middle of my back said more than enough.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” I mumbled, stil not having the heart to face
her.
“Looks pretty bad to me,” she murmured. “I can’t believe that was for
forgetting to take out the trash.” We were interrupted by voices and
laughter, as a few girls entered the locker room. The girls brushed past
Sara, who remained unmoving in the doorway.
“Hey, Emma. We just heard about you teling off the hot new guy,” one
of the girls exclaimed when she noticed me. “He must have totaly
pissed you off,” added another as they began to change.
“I don’t know. I guess he caught me on a bad day,” I mumbled, my face
changing color. I picked up my shoes, socks, and shin guards and left
the room before anyone could say anything else, especialy Sara.
I sat at the top of the steps leading to the fields in the back of the
school and proceeded to put on my shin guards and shoes. I needed to
gather myself after everything that had happened in under two hours.
This was not how my days were supposed to go. No one tried to get involved
with me, and I kept to myself. This was the place where
everything was supposed to be safe and easy. How could Evan
Mathews unravel my constant universe in just one day?
That’s when I heard his voice again. What was with this guy?
First I didn’t notice him for almost a week, and now I couldn’t avoid
him. He exited the guys’ locker room below the steps, talking to another
guy I didn’t know about giving him a ride to the footbal game the
next night. I caught his eye, and he nodded to me in recognition. Why
wasn’t I invisible to him like I was to everyone else? To my relief, he
continued to jog toward the practice fields with a smal black bag in his
hand. From his attire, I realized he was heading to the guys’ soccer
field. Great, he played soccer. The sun danced off the glints of gold in
his tousled light brown hair as he jogged further away. Lean muscles
along his back brushed against his over-worn t-shirt. Why did he have
to look like he just stepped off of an Abercrombie bag?
“Nice,” Sara exhaled looking after the same image. I turned with a
start, not realizing she was next to me. Heat spread across my cheeks,
fearing she could read my thoughts. “Stop it - he’s hot. It’s just taken
you way too long to notice.”
Before I could defend myself, a bus puled up along the dirt road that
circled the school, separating the fields from the building. The open
windows carried the synchronized chanting and holering that were indicative
of a high school sports team.
“Who are we going to beat?” several boisterous voices screamed.
“Weslyn High!” the bus rumbled in response.
“Don’t think so,” Sara stated. I smirked and jogged with her to the
field.
~~~~~
“Omigod!” Sara screamed, as we drove home. “Stanford!
Emma, this is so amazing!”
I couldn’t find the words to say anything. The stunned smile on my
face said it al. I was soaring from our win, then taken to a different
level when I discovered four coleges were scouting the game in which I
happened to score three out of the four goals.
“I can’t believe they’re going to fly you out there this spring,”
she continued in a rush. “You have to take me with you! California!
Can you imagine?”
“Sara, he said that they’d be interested in setting up a visit, depending
on next quarter’s transcript.”
“Come on, Emma. That’s not going to change. I don’t think you’ve received
less than an ‘A’ your entire life.”
I wanted to be as confident, but then we puled into my driveway. I was
immediately grounded – the win and the scouts dispersing like I woke
from a dream into a nightmare. Carol stroled up the driveway from the
mailbox, pretending to get the mail. She was up to something, and my
heart sank into my stomach. Sara glanced over at me, just as
concerned.
“Hi, Sara,” she said, completely ignoring me as I got out of the car.
“How are your parents?”
Sara smiled her dazzling smile and replied, “They’re wonderful, Mrs.
Thomas. How have you been?”
Carol sighed her exasperated, pathetic sigh. “I’m surviving.”
“That’s good to hear,” Sara returned politely, not faling for the woe is
me bulshit.
“Sara, I feel terribly uncomfortable asking you without speaking to
your parents directly.” I froze in anticipation. “But I was wondering if
it would be a bother to alow Emily to stay the night tomorrow night.
George and I are going out of town, and it would be easier if she were
with someone who was responsible. But I don’t want her interrupting
your plans.” She spoke of me as if I weren’t standing next to the car,
listening.
“I don’t think that’l be a problem. I was planning to go to the library to
work on a paper. I’l check with my parents when I get home.” Sara
smiled, playing along with Carol’s façade.
“Thank you. We would be so appreciative.”
“Good night, Mrs. Thomas.” Carol waved back as Sara drove away. She
turned her attention to me in disgust.
“You have no idea how humiliating it is to have to beg people to take
you just so that your uncle and I can spend some time together. It’s a
good thing Sara pities how pathetic you are. I have no idea how she
can stand to be around you.”
She turned and walked back to the house, leaving me standing in the
driveway. Her words circled me like cutting barb. There was a time
when I thought she was right. That Sara was only my friend because
she felt bad for me. Honestly, al you had to do was look at us standing
next to each other to easily conclude the same thing. Sara, in al her
gorgeous briliance, compared to me in my ordinary plainness. But I
learned that my friendship with Sara was probably the only thing I
could realy trust.
I entered the house to find life waiting for me with the sink ful of
dishes and pans from dinner. I set my bags in my room and returned
to clean up. I didn’t mind the monotony of washing the dishes, especialy
tonight – engrossing myself in scrubbing to keep from smiling.
~~~~~
When I woke the next morning, I felt more optimistic than I’d felt in a
long time. I had my backpack over one shoulder and a tote bag ful of
clothes in my hand.
Then reality came crashing down with a jolting tug of my hair.
“Don’t embarrass me,” seethed into my ear. I nodded - my neck tense,
resisting getting any closer to her as she tightened her hold of my hair
with her hot breath scorching my skin. And just as quickly as it
happened, she was gone – caling sweetly to the kids to come down for
breakfast.
Sara was giddy when I entered the car. She gave me a hug and exclaimed,
“I can’t believe you’re going to the game tonight!”
I puled back, stil shaken by the threat. “Sara, she’s probably watching.
We’d better get going before she changes her mind and locks me in the
basement for the night.”
“Would she do that?” Sara appeared concerned.
“Just drive.” Yes. She would, was the answer I couldn’t say out loud.
Sara drove off. The top was up since the brisk fal air was finaly catching
up with us as we headed into October. The leaves on the trees were
beginning their yearly change to the vibrant hues of red, orange, gold
and yelow. The colors looked brighter to me today, maybe because I
was actualy paying attention. Despite Carol’s threat, I was stil floating
from our team’s win along with the positive comments from the Stanford
scout. And knowing I was going to the game with Sara tonight
eased a smile on my face that actualy felt comfortable. This would be
my very first footbal game
– it only took me three years.
“I’ve decided that before we go tonight, I’m going to pamper you a
little.”
I looked at her cautiously. “What are you planning?”
“Trust me, you’l love it!” Sara beamed.
“Okay,” I gave in. I feared my idea of being pampered was going to be
completely different than what Sara had in mind. I preferred to hang
out, watch movies and eat junk. While that might seem very predictable
and boring to most teenagers, this was a true luxury to me. I decided
not to worry about it. She knew me, so I trusted her.
“I’m going to ask him out tonight after the game,” Sara declared while
we walked to the school from the parking lot.
“How are you going to do it?” I was finaly able to ask after tunneling
through Sara’s entourage and their gleeful morning acknowledgements.
I couldn’t believe how matter of fact she was about putting herself
out there. But then again, who would say no to her? “No” didn’t
seem to be in Sara’s vocabulary, whether it was receiving it, or saying
it.
“I was thinking, but only if it’s okay with you,” she gave me an apprehensive
glance, “that after the game we would go to Scott Kirkland’s
party, and I’l ask Jason to meet me there.”
A party?! I’d never been to a party before either. I overheard the gossip
about them in the hals and locker room and even saw the mementos
hanging in the lockers throughout the junior and senior hals. It was a
rite of passage I wasn’t privy to and wasn’t sure I was ready for. A
wave of panic surged through me just thinking about walking through
the doors and having everyone stare at me.
Then I looked into Sara’s anxious blue eyes and knew this was important
to her. I could make meaningless smal talk with people I’d been in
school with for the past four years, yet knew nothing about. This
would definitely be interesting.
“That sounds great,” I said, forcing a smile, faling in line with al the
others unable to disappoint Sara.
“Realy? We don’t have to go to the party. I could figure something else
out. You looked pale when I mentioned it.”
“No, I want to go,” I lied.
“Perfect!” Sara exclaimed, hugging me again. She was very affectionate
today; it was throwing me off. I think she realized it too because she
puled back. “Sorry, I’m just so excited that you’re going with me. I
don’t think I could go through with it if you weren’t there. Besides, we
hardly ever get out of school time together, so this is going to be the
best.”
I smiled awkwardly, my stomach stil twisting with thoughts of the
party. It was for Sara. I could get through it. What was the worst that
could happen? Wel… people might actualy try to talk to me. My stomach
turned again just thinking about it. This was going to be terrible. I
swalowed hard.
More than ever, I needed to retreat to Art class to recover from panicked
thoughts of the party. Art was the rotating class that moved
through my schedule. Today it took the place of English, as my first
class - thankfuly. I was desperate to escape in my work. I walked into
the open space of the Art room, inhaling the calming scents of paints,
glue and cleaning chemicals with a gentle smile. It was inviting and
warm with its tal yelow wals covered with art projects and the oversized
windows that glowed with natural light. I breathed easier in this
room. No matter how my day was going or what I left behind at home,
I gained control over it in here.
Ms. Mier greeted us as we sat at our stools at the tal black work tables.
Ms. Mier was the sweetest, kindest person I’d ever met. Compassion
exuded from her, which made her an amazing artist and an inspirational
teacher.
She invited us to continue working on our assignments from last class,
replicating a picture with movement we tore from a magazine. There
was some murmuring, but it was fairly quiet as the attention was
primarily focused on the art. The quiet was another reason I loved this
class so much.
My heart skipped a beat – amongst the murmurs, one stood out. I
didn’t want to look but was drawn to the smooth voice. There he was,
standing at the front of the class, talking to Ms. Mier while holding a
camera. She flipped through a book of what appeared to be photographs,
making comments. He glanced up and grinned when he saw
me. I shot my eyes back to my canvas. I wished I realy were invisible.
“So I guess you are pretty good,” Evan said from beside me. I looked
up from my canvas. My heart was behaving insanely, beating at a pace
that didn’t coincide with sitting stil. Calm down –
what was wrong with me? He continued when I could only stare up at
him blankly. “Soccer. That was quite the game yesterday.”
“Oh, thanks. Are you in this class too?” I felt the heat rise in my
cheeks.
“Sort of,” he responded. “I asked to switch to this class if I could work
on photography projects instead. Ms. Mier agreed, so here I am.”
“Oh,” was al I could mutter. He grinned, which sent more color to my
face. My body was betraying me – between my hyperactive heart and
my fiery face, I had no control. It was not like me, and it was driving
me crazy.
To my relief, Ms. Mier interrupted us before the possession could
completely humiliate me. “So you know Emma Thomas?
That’s wonderful.”
“We met yesterday,” Evan replied, glancing at me with a smile.
“I’m happy to see that you’ve made some connections. Emma, would
you mind showing Evan the photo lab supplies and the dark room?”
My heart went from being on speed, to a dead stop, but my face kept
beaming red. It must have been radiating heat by now.
“Sure,” I said quickly.
“Thank you.” Ms. Mier smiled in appreciation. Why was she, of al
people, torturing me?
Without looking at Evan, I stood and walked to the back corner of the
room. I slid open one of the cabinets that hung above the counter.
“This is the cabinet with al of the photo supplies. There’s paper, developer,
whatever you need.” I slid the door shut, with my back to him.
On the counter below I pointed to the paper cutter and sizing equipment.
We crossed the room to the dark room, where I explained the
developing light and the switch on the inside wal to turn it on.
“Do you mind if we look inside?” he asked.
I stopped breathing for a few seconds. “Sure,” I replied, glancing at
him for the first time.
We walked into the smal rectangular room. In the center was a long
metal table lined with trays for developing pictures. There was a sink
in the back right corner. Cabinets lined the long wal on the right and
to the left were two rows of wires with black clips for drying the developed
pictures. Even though the developing light wasn’t on, the
space seemed unnaturaly dark – not a place I wanted to be alone with
Evan Mathews.
“Here it is,” I declared, holding my palms up to present the room.
Evan walked past me toward the cabinets and started opening them,
examining their contents. “Why don’t you talk to anyone besides
Sara?” I heard him ask from behind the cabinet door. He closed the
door, anticipating my answer.
I remained frozen. “What do you mean?” I shot back, sounding defensive
again.
“You don’t talk to anyone,” he stated. “Why not?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t know how to answer.
“Okay,” he recognized my staling. “Why don’t you talk to me?”
“That was direct,” I accused. He smiled, causing my heart to attempt
another escape from my chest.
“Wel…” he pushed.
“Because I’m not sure I like you,” I blurted without thought. He looked
at me with that devious, amused grin. What kind of reaction was that?!
I couldn’t stay in the confined space with him any longer. I turned abruptly
and walked out of the room. Concentration evaded me for the
remainder of class, leaving my art piece unfinished. Evan left to take
pictures of whatever he took pictures of, but his presence lingered.
This class was supposed to be my sanctuary, and leave it to Evan to
turn it upside down. Sara noticed my agitation when we were switching
books at our lockers.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Evan Mathews is in my Art class,” I fumed.
“And…” Sara looked confused, waiting for me to continue. I shook my
head, unable to find the words to explain how disruptive he was to my
predictable day. As much as Sara understood me, I wasn’t ready to talk
about it. My blood was stil surging; I was having difficulty colecting
my thoughts.
“I’l talk to you later,” I said in a rush and walked away. I couldn’t make
sense of what was happening to me. I survived by keeping my emotions
in check – by maintaining my composure and tucking it al away.
I managed to stay under the radar, skating through school without
anyone truly remembering I was here. My teachers acknowledged my
academic successes and my coaches depended upon my athletic abilities,
but I wasn’t important enough to make a recognizable social contribution.
I was easily forgettable. That’s what I counted on.
There were times when people tried to befriend me by talking to me or
inviting me to a party, but that didn’t last long. Once it was obvious I
wouldn’t accept the invitations, or provide more than one or two word
answers, I wasn’t interesting enough to acknowledge any longer -
making my life easier.
Sara was the only one who stuck by me when I first moved here four
years ago. After six months of Sara persistently inviting me over, Carol
finaly said yes. She wanted to go shopping with a friend and didn’t
want to bring me along, so the invitation was convenient for her. That
serendipitous moment sealed our friendship. I’ve been permitted to go
to Sara’s on occasion, and I got to sleep over on rare occasions when it
suited Carols’ social schedule. It helped that Sara’s father was a local
judge, so Carol relished the prestige through affiliation.
Last summer I was even alowed to go to Maine with Sara and her family
for a week. It coincided with a camping trip George and Carol had
planned with the kids. When Sara’s parents invited me, they made it
sound like they were inviting the entire soccer team and were obligated
to include me, which made it easier for Carol to agree. I ended up
paying for it when I returned home – I guess I wasn’t grateful enough.
But the bruises couldn’t take away the best week of my life. It was during
that week I met Jeff Mercer. Jeff was a lifeguard at the beach that
was walking distance from the lodge. His family owned a summer
house on the lake, so he stayed for the season and worked as a
lifeguard.
For two days, we went to the beach and drooled over him. After his
shift on the second day, he invited Sara and me to a bon fire party at a
private beach.
When Jeff introduced us to his friends, I lied and said I was Sara’s
cousin from Minnesota. That lie developed into a more elaborate story
that Sara and I pre-fabricated before the party. My false life revealed
itself comfortably, alowing me to be anyone I wanted and no one knew
the difference. I didn’t have to be invisible, because I realy didn’t exist.
Swept up in my story, I alowed Jeff to get close to me. I was able to
talk and laugh with ease. Jeff and I ended up having a lot in common -
he played soccer and we listened to a lot of the same music. He was an
easy person to like.
At the end of the night, while everyone was sitting around the fire
either coupled off, or involved in conversations, Jeff sat next to me on
the sand, leaning against a large log, intended to be a bench. In the
midst of the calming mood, with the sounds of a few guys playing guitar
in the background, he put his arm around me, and I leaned against
him. Being against him was oddly comfortable considering this was
the closest I’d ever been to a guy. We talked and listened to the music.
He shifted his body to face me and casualy leaned down to kiss me. I
remember not breathing for a minute, paralyzed with fear that it was
obvious I hadn’t kissed anyone before. He was gentle as his soft, thin
lips touched mine.
It wasn’t easy saying good-bye, with false promises of emailing; but it
wasn’t hard either. Not for Emma Thomas from Weslyn, Connecticut
– the overachieving, self-contained shadow who roamed the hals of
Weslyn High. It wasn’t hard because that girl didn’t truly exist to Jeff.
That’s what was bothering so much about Evan Mathews. He knew I
existed. He was determined to pul me out from the shadows, and I
couldn’t get away from him. He wasn’t deterred by my one word answers
or abrupt responses. He wasn’t supposed to be paying attention
to me, and I was trying, without success, to ignore him. But he was
getting to me, and I think he knew it – and it seemed to amuse him.
I took a deep breath before entering my A.P. European History class,
prepared to see him as I walked in the room. He wasn’t there. I looked
around in surprise and felt my heart sink. That was another problem.
My heart was beating, stopping and sinking like it had a mind of its
own, not to mention the absurd flushing that was overtaking my face. I
was beyond annoyed!
Evan wasn’t in my Chemistry class either. Maybe he wouldn’t be
everywhere as I feared. Distracted with retrieving my homework
assignment during Trig, I tensed at the sound of his voice, inciting the
rapid beating in my chest.
“Hi.”
I continued opening my notebook for today’s lesson, refusing to look
at him.
“Not talking to me at al now, huh?”
Angered by his antagonism, I couldn’t contain myself any longer. I
turned to face him.
“Why do you want to talk to me? What could you possibly want to talk
to me about?” I snapped.
He raised his eyebrows in surprise but quickly replaced the look with
his taunting, amused grin.
“And why do you keep looking at me like that?!” My face flushed as I
tightened my jaw.
Before Evan could answer, Mr. Kessler walked in to begin class. I
stared at my book and the front of the classroom throughout the period.
I could feel him looking over at me every so often - it kept me on
edge the entire class.
As I was gathering my books to head to Anatomy, I heard him say behind
me, “Because I think you’re interesting.”
I slowly turned around, with my books clutched firmly to my chest.
“You don’t even know me,” I replied defiantly.
“I’m trying.”
“There are so many other people in this school - you don’t have to
know me.”
“But I want to,” he replied with a grin.
I walked out of the class, confused. He never said what I thought he
should. What was I supposed to say? I started to panic.
“Can I walk with you to Anatomy?” I was too distracted to realize that
he’d folowed me out of the room.
“You are not in my Anatomy class too, are you?!” Seriously, the world
was conspiring against me, along with my rapidly beating heart. I tried
to take a deep breath, but I couldn’t fil my lungs.
“Didn’t notice me at al this week, huh?” People stopped to look at us as
we walked down the hal. I’m sure their universe was getting tipped upside
down too, to witness Emma Thomas walking down the hal with
another student, who was also a guy – the same guy she made a scene
with in the hal yesterday. Let the gossip begin.
It didn’t take long to reach the classroom due to my escaping pace. I
stopped outside of Anatomy and turned to face him. He peered down
at me in anticipation.
“I get that you’re new, and I must seem intriguing to you. But I assure
you, I’m not that interesting. You realy don’t need to get to know me. I
get good grades. I’m decent at sports, and I keep myself busy. I like my
privacy. I like my space, and I like being left alone. That’s it. You can
get to know everyone else in this school who’s dying to know you. I’m
not. Sorry.”
He grinned.
“And stop looking at me like I’m entertaining you. I’m not amused, so
leave me alone.” I rushed into the classroom. I thought I would feel
better, relieved – but I didn’t. Instead, I felt defeated. I had no idea
where Even sat during Anatomy, but it wasn’t next to me. Actualy, no
one was sitting next to me. The seat where Karen Stewart usualy sat at
my table was empty. Karen was always lost during the lessons and
constantly asked me questions to try to keep up. Today, I finaly had
the silence I kept pushing everyone away to get, but it wasn’t
comforting.
By the time the bel rang at the end of the day, I was over it. Knowing I
was staying over at Sara’s and didn’t have to return home helped – as
did not seeing Evan again.
“Hi!” Sara greeted me as we gathered our books from our lockers. “I
feel like I haven’t seen you at al today. How are you?
You didn’t get to tel me…”
“Don’t mention it. Later, okay? I’m finaly feeling better and just want
to have fun tonight, alright?” I pleaded.
“Come on, Em. Don’t do this to me. I heard you and Evan walked together
to Anatomy. You have to tel me what’s going on.”
I hesitated, not wanting to say anything where we could be overheard.
I scanned the hals, staling to make sure I wasn’t going to add to the
already circulating gossip.
“He keeps trying to talk to me,” I explained to Sara. I thought this
might be enough, but Sara shrugged her shoulders, waiting for me to
continue.
“You were right yesterday. He told me he thinks I’m interesting,
whatever that means. Sara, he’s in al of my classes, or at least it feels
like it. I can’t get away from him – he’s always right there.
“I finaly told him that I wasn’t interesting and to leave me alone.
That’s what the walk to Anatomy was about. I don’t get this guy.”
“Em, he’s interested in you. Why is that so bad?” Sara asked, genuinely
perplexed. I was surprised she didn’t understand the problem.
“Sara, I can’t have anyone interested in me. You’re my only friend for a
reason.” Her eyes lowered, beginning to understand my dilemma.
“I can’t go out. I don’t go to the movies. Tonight wil be the first and
probably only party I’l ever go to. I don’t want to have to lie. And if
anyone ever got close enough to touch me…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
The thought of being afraid to be touched because I might
cringe in pain made me shudder.
I wished I didn’t have to be so convincing, but until I said it, Sara
hadn’t put it together. For just a moment, she saw the world through
my eyes, and her sorrowed expression made my chest tighten.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I should’ve realized. So, I guess you
shouldn’t talk to him.”
“It’s okay,” I assured her with a tight smile. “I have six hundred
seventy-two days left and then anyone can find me interesting.”
She smiled back but not as big as usual.
The pity in Sara’s evasive eyes reflected the patheticness of my life, it
was hard to take. It was harder to escape – literaly. I couldn’t remember
a time when my life wasn’t a disaster. I had images of a smiling
child stored in shoe boxes, but my father was usualy included in the
pictures. When he was taken away, I was left with a mother who didn’t
know how to be one. So, I did everything I could to get by with as little
parental interaction as possible. If I was perfect, then there wasn’t
anything to regret, or distract her from the replacements she sorted
through, who would never live up to my father.
I was stil too much – a burden. I hoped my academic drive would help
my aunt and uncle accept me as an addition to their family. Unfortunately,
the reception never warmed beyond the frigid steps when I
crossed the threshold four winters ago. Guilt opened the door that
night, and I couldn’t be perfect enough to earn their forgiveness for
what they never wanted. So, I’ve mastered evasion and over-achievement.
Neither as deftly as I’d prefer, since Carol was right there to
brand me with my lack of worth at every opportunity.
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