Home » » REASON TO BREATHE BY REBECCA DONOVAN : Fading

REASON TO BREATHE BY REBECCA DONOVAN : Fading

5. Fading
When we puled in, the parking lot was filing with cars, and spectators
were making their way to the ticket booth in a steady drove. A jolt of
panic rushed through my body. I knew I was being ridiculous - this
was only a high school footbal game - but I might as wel have been
walking to school naked. Sara jumped out of the car and yeled to a
group of girls who were lost in a giggling conversation while heading
toward the stadium.
“Sara!” they screamed in unison and ran to her, receiving her with
hugs and gleeful babble. I folowed behind her, suddenly feeling overly
exposed in the fitted sweater - the fashionable scarf doing little to conceal
the low neckline.
“Emma?!” Jil Patterson exclaimed in shock. Everyone turned to gawk
at me. The fire ignited in my cheeks. I knew the artificial color would
be unnecessary.
I forced a smile with my lips pressed together and waved casualy.
“Wow, you look great,” another girl declared in disbelief. The rest of
the girls offered similar gushing compliments.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, wishing I was invisible again.
Sara linked her arm through mine and led us to the ticket booth with a
prideful smile. I took another deep breath and prepared myself for
whatever the night presented. Unfortunately, there were many more
reactions of astonishment and gawking
There was a lot of stares, whispers, and comments about my presence
and transformation, but not a lot of conversation. It was evident no
one knew what to say to me any more than I knew what to say to them.
So I sunk into the metal bleachers and engrossed myself in the footbal
game. Sara cheered for Jason and watched as much as she was alowed.
She was often drawn away by just about everyone passing by, including
some of the parents who were there to support the local high
school footbal team or their son who was on the field - or bench. I
couldn’t get over how many people she knew and how effortlessly
she’d come up with a witty remark or a kind sentiment. I should’ve
taken notes.
During the third quarter, I decided to get a hot chocolate while Sara
walked off toward the school with Jil and Casey to use the restroom,
talking and giggling about something. While I waited in line, I scuffed
the ground with my foot, lost in the booming voice of the announcer
caling the last play as Weslyn continued to move the bal down the
field.
“Not a bad game, huh?” His voice carried through the cheering crowd
and the deep voice of the announcer. I turned to find Evan behind me,
holding his camera.
“No, it’s a pretty good game,” I replied, struggling to find my voice.
The sweater suddenly felt stifling as my cheeks set aglow once again,
ignited by the frenzied beating in my chest. “Are you covering the
game for the paper?” As soon as I said it, I knew it was a dumb thing to
say. Of course he was covering the game - I assigned him the coverage!
“Yeah,” he said holding up his camera, dismissing my ignorance. “I
thought I heard you didn’t go to the games?”
“I’m staying over Sara’s tonight,” I answered, thinking that would be
enough of an explanation for him as it was for everyone else. But he
appeared confused. I paused to recal the answer Sara had prepared.
“I’m usualy so busy with school and everything that I don’t get out
much. It worked out that I could tonight.”
The line continued to move forward, I stepped up. Evan folowed.
“Oh,” he replied. I could tel he stil wasn’t satisfied with my answer.
“Are you and Sara going to the party after the game?”
“I think so,” I said tentatively. “Are you?”
“Yeah. I’m supposed to folow some of the guys from the soccer team
over there.”
I nodded, not knowing what else to say. I turned back toward the
counter, thinking this would give him the opportunity to escape and go
back to taking pictures of the game. I remained facing forward, not
looking back to see if he’d walked away. I ordered a hot chocolate and
turned to find him stil waiting for me.
“Do you want to walk around with me while I take a few more pictures?”
My heart stopped again. I wished it would decide if it was going
to pound out of my chest or fal out. The stopping and starting was
getting to be a bit much.
“Sure,” I heard my mouth say, before my brain registered what I’d
agreed to do. He smiled, and my heart took off beating at its exhaustive
pace again.
“So, you’ve decided to talk to me,” Evan observed, looking at the
ground as he walked next to me.
“I shouldn’t. But, it’s only a matter of time before you see that I’m not
that interesting, and you’l let me fade into the background like everyone
else.”
He laughed and studied me, uncertain if I was serious. I was bewildered
by his reaction.
He drew his eyebrows together with a smile and said, “I actualy think
you’ve become more interesting now that you’ve decided to talk to me,
whether you should or not.” I groaned. He smiled bigger and added,
“Besides, I don’t think it’s possible for you to fade. Wel, at least not in
that sweater.”
Al of the blood in my body rushed to my face. “It’s Sara’s sweater,” I
confessed, looking at the ground to conceal the drastic color change.
“I like it,” he admitted. “It’s a good color on you.” Maybe talking to
him wasn’t such a good idea after al. This was way more than I bargained
for. What was I supposed to do with a comment like that? I
took a sip of my hot chocolate, and sucked air between my teeth as the
scalding liquid soaked into my tongue.
“Too hot?” he observed.
“Yeah – I don’t think I’l be able to taste anything for a week.”
He smiled again. I decided my heart had been tortured enough by his
smile and stared back at the ground.
“I have a bottle of water in my bag, by the team’s bench, if you want.”
“No, that’s okay, thanks. The damage is done.” Before I knew it, we
had circled back around and were walking in front of the bleachers
where the cheerleaders encouraged the crowd to spel
“Weslyn”. I glanced up into the stands to locate Sara. She waved to me
and pointed to Evan with her mouth open in disbelief. I shrugged in
return, turning away before he noticed.
“Have you met many people yet?” I asked, trying to sound casual. It
occurred to me that maybe he kept harassing me because he didn’t
know anyone else. Why he chose me was another mystery.
“Actualy, I have,” he answered sincerely, to my dismay. “It helps to be
on the soccer team and involved with the paper. It gives me an excuse
to talk to people. Someone’s always eager to fil me in on who’s who.
That’s how I learned more about you – which was harder than I
thought it was going to be.”
Before I could question what he found out, he continued with,
“So you’re name’s actualy Emily, huh?”
I nodded with a slight shrug.
“Then how come everyone cals you Emma?”
It had been awhile since anyone needed this explanation, but I found
myself being more honest than I had with the others. "My dad used to
cal me Emma."
And I left it at that, and so did he.
We’d passed the bleachers and were standing in their shadows along
the track. The cheering and announcing drifted away with the quickening
of my pulse as panic raced through my body. I needed to know
what he’d found out about me but was afraid to know at the same.
Unable to stop myself, I finaly asked, “What else could you have possibly
learned about me?”
He smirked and replied, “Besides the obvious – your perfect GPA, involved
in three varsity sports, and al of that?”
“Yes, besides that.” I held my breath. No one besides Sara knew about
my life, right? There was no way he could know. Then why was I so
paranoid?
“Wel, you intimidate most of the guys in the school, so you never get
asked out. The girls think you’re stuck up and that’s why your only
friend is the most popular girl in school. It’s assumed that no one else
is good enough for you.” My eyes stretched wide as he continued.
“Your teachers feel bad for you. They think that you put too much
pressure on yourself to be perfect and are missing out on what high
school’s al about. And your coach thinks he’s lucky to have you, and is
confident the team’s a shoe-in for state champions this year as long as
you don’t get injured.”
He became serious, noticing the awed look on my face. “But you’ve
only been here a week,” I whispered. “People actualy told you this?”
Evan paused in confusion before he asked, “You didn’t know any of
this?” I could only stare at him. “I figured the reason you keep to yourself
was because you were so confident, and you didn’t care what anyone
thought of you. You realy had no idea what they say about you?”
I shook my head. “Honestly, I never gave it much thought because it
wasn’t important to me. I just need to get through high school.”
“Why?” he asked slowly.
It was the question I couldn’t answer, and the reason I shouldn’t talk
to him. I was saved from having to lie when the crowd erupted as the
announcer declared a touchdown for Weslyn. I looked up at the scoreboard
to see Weslyn’s numbers change to 28, as the visitor’s remained
14. The clock held steady with less than two minutes remaining in the
fourth quarter.
“I should go find Sara,” I said. “I’l see you later.” I walked off before he
could respond. There was so much to take in, and I didn’t know how to
absorb it al.
I located Sara along the sidelines, behind the rope that separated the
field from the track.
“There you are!” she exclaimed. “Did you see Jason run in that last
touchdown?”
“I didn’t have a good view,” I confessed. She clapped and yeled for the
defense to stop the bal.
Then she puled me aside, away from the crowd. “First,” she said intently,
“you are going to repeat every word of the conversation you had
with Evan before we go to sleep tonight. Everyone’s been talking about
you two. I think half the school already assumes you’re dating.” My
mouth dropped open.
“I know, it’s stupid,” Sara huffed with a shrug. “No one’s ever seen you
talk to someone besides me so much before. So most of the girls hate
you, and the guys don’t get what’s so great about him. It’s actualy
kinda funny.”
“Great,” I grumbled, roling my eyes.
“Anyway, after the game, I’m going to wait outside the locker room for
Jason to ask him to go to the party. Wil you wait with me?”
“Sure, but I’m not waiting by the locker room door. That’s al you. I’l sit
on the stairs, okay?
“Okay,” her eyes sparkled. “I can’t believe I’m doing this!”
“He’s going to say yes,” I assured her.
“I hope so.”
The air horn blared to declare the end of the game. There was a final
cheer from the home crowd, congratulating the team for their win. The
guys celebrated with chest bumps, and shoulder pad punches as they
headed to the locker room.
Sara and I lingered while the crowd filed out through the gates. A few
people asked if they’d see us at the party, to which Sara confirmed emphaticaly.
Sara began silently wringing her hands as we got closer to
the locker room. It was almost entertaining to see her this nervous. I’d
never seen her so uncertain before.
“Wish me luck.”
“I’l be right here,” I promised, climbing the steps to observe from
above.
Sara paced back and forth in front of the open double doors. Every so
often she glanced up at me anxiously, and I’d return an encouraging
smile. Before long, the guys started coming out of the locker room,
showered, dressed, and carrying their gear bags over their shoulders.
Most of them greeted Sara as they exited. It was evident a few of the
guys hoped she was waiting for them, only to be disappointed when
she’d respond with a casual greeting. Then the damp golden hair of
Jason Stark walked through the doors. I held my breath in anticipation
as Sara said, “Hi Jason.” Her voice didn’t project its signature
confidence, but her smile made up for it.
“Hi Sara,” he responded. She’d definitely taken him by surprise. I
listened intently.
A second passed - he was about to walk away when she finaly asked,
“Are you going to Scott’s party?”
He was caught off-guard again. “Um, I don’t know. I didn’t drive, and I
think Kyle wanted to go home.”
“I could drive you if you want to go,” Sara blurted. I gasped. What was
she thinking? She only had two seats in her car. She glanced up at me
quickly and cringed in apology.
“Ah, I guess I could do that,” he agreed slowly. “You don’t mind?”
“No,” she answered casualy. “I think you should celebrate your win.”
“Okay, let me find Kyle to let him know. I’l meet you back here in a
minute.” When he walked into the locker room, Sara looked up at me,
jumping up and down, and opened her mouth to release a silent
scream. I laughed.
“It sounds like you’l need a ride to the party,” the confidently charming
voice concluded from the bottom of the stairs. Startled, I whipped
around to discover Evan looking up at me.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“How do you do that?” I shot back.
“What?”
“Appear out of nowhere. I don’t even hear you coming, and then al of a
sudden, there you are,” I accused.
“I guess you just don’t pay attention. I think you’re too busy attempting
to fade.” He chuckled. I scowled back in annoyance.
“Wel, do you want a ride to the party? Unless, you’re going to sit on
Jason Stark’s lap?”
“You saw that? Do you usualy go around eavesdropping?”
“I was taking victory shots after the game for the story and was heading
to the locker room to get the rest of my things. I happened to notice
they were having a moment, and waited here until it was over,” he
defended. “Besides, it looks like you’re the one spying from up there.”
“I’m being supportive,” I snapped.
“Sure.” He laughed. I clenched my jaw, trying to contain my
aggravation.
“Wel, do you want a ride?” Evan persisted.
“Fine,” I said through my teeth. This only fueled his laughter before he
walked toward the locker room. Why did he find me so funny? It annoyed
the hel out of me. Then why was I driving to the party with him?
Especialy after hearing the latest gossip. If I showed up with him, it
was only going to make it worse. What did it realy matter at this point?
According to Evan, I wasn’t wel liked by just about everyone – so who
cared what they said if I puled up with Evan? But I did care. Not being
liked was so much worse than being invisible. I took a deep breath and
blew it away before it could hurt. I didn’t need to know what people
thought about me.
Before I could think too much more about it, Sara ran up the stairs.
“Em, I am so sorry. It came out before I had time to think about it.”
I could see Jason waiting for her by the locker room.
“It’s okay. Evan’s giving me a ride,” I assured her.
“Evan? Realy?” She narrowed her eyes and examined me.
“Don’t worry, I’l see you there. Okay?” I forced a supportive smile to
put her at ease.
“Okay,” she said, stil hesitating.
“Realy. Go. I’l be right behind you.” Sara gave me a quick excited hug
and skipped back down the stairs to Jason. I watched them walk off
toward her car, already in conversation.
“Ready?” Evan asked from the bottom of the stairs. I jumped again.
“You honestly didn’t see me coming from the locker room?”
“I guess I wasn’t looking for you,” I bit back.
“Let’s go.” He held out his hand, inviting me to take it. I creased my
forehead in disbelief and walked past him. My rejection didn’t seem to
faze him as he walked alongside me to the parking lot. Nothing about
Evan made sense. But for some reason, I kept finding myself with him.
He approached a black BMW sports car. I never realy paid attention to
the cars in the lot. Most of the residents in town could afford luxury
cars to complement their ginormous houses – so of course their kids
also drove cars to reflect their parents’ success. Diversity in Weslyn
came down to what you drove, not your ethnicity. So, I was a minority,
especialy since I didn’t have a car. Forget that, I didn’t even have a
license.
Evan opened the passenger door for me, making me pause before I
entered - not accustomed to the chivalrous gesture.
“Do you know where we’re going?” he asked as he closed his door.
“No, don’t you?”
He laughed. “I just moved here. I don’t know where anyone lives. I
thought you would at least know that much.” I didn’t respond.
Evan roled down his window and holered to a couple of guys he recognized,
“Dave, you going to Scott’s?” I couldn’t hear the answer. “Do
you mind if I folow you?”
Evan started the car and drove around to get behind the silver Land
Rover.
“I didn’t ruin your night, did I?”
“No,” I answered casualy, removing the scarf from around my neck.
“But if you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk about what other people
think of me anymore, okay?”
“Never again,” he promised. “So what are the parties like in Weslyn?”
I snickered. “Are you seriously asking me?”
“Okay,” he said slowly. “Wel, I guess we’l both find out tonight, won’t
we?” I didn’t answer.
“If you want to do something else, I’m up for anything,” he offered. I
looked over at him, my lungs paralyzed.
“No, I want to go,” I lied, almost choking on my words.
“Besides, I’m meeting Sara there, remember?”
The Land Rover puled away from the school, and we started down unfamiliar
back roads. Evan turned on the radio. I wasn’t expecting to recognize
the voice of a female singer belowing about how life sucked to
the strums of a heavy guitar. He turned it down so he could talk. What
else could he possibly have to say to me?
“Where did you live before you moved here?”
I hesitated to decide if I could tel him without backing myself into a
corner.
“A smal town outside of Boston,” I replied.
“So you’ve always lived in New England?”
“Yup,” I answered. “Where in California are you from?”
“San Francisco.”
“Have you lived anywhere else besides here and San Francisco?”
Evan let out a short laugh. “We’ve moved just about every year since I
can remember. My dad’s a lawyer for a financial conglomerate, so his
job takes him wherever he needs to be. I’ve lived in New York, different
parts of California, Dalas, Miami, and even in several countries in
Europe for a few years.”
“Does it bother you?” I asked, relieved to be talking about him instead
of me.
“It didn’t used to. When I was younger, I’d get excited to go somewhere
new. It didn’t bother me when I left my friends behind because
I was convinced that I’d see them again, eventualy.
“Now that I’m in high school, it’s not as easy. I made some decent
friends when we moved to San Francisco two years ago, so it was
harder to leave. Also, I don’t want to keep fighting for a position on the
sports teams. My parents offered to let me stay there to finish, but I
decided to give Connecticut a chance. I can visit my friends during the
breaks. If I don’t like it here, I’l move back.”
“By yourself?” I asked in amazement.
He smiled at my reaction. “I’m pretty much by myself as it is anyway.
My father works al the time, and my mother is on every fundraising
committee from here to San Diego, so she travels a lot.”
“I’m sure Weslyn doesn’t even compare to San Francisco. I’d choose
California in a second.”
“Weslyn’s… interesting.” He looked over at me with his infamous grin.
I was glad it was dark so he couldn’t see my scarlet cheeks. I looked
out the window, stil having no idea where we were.
“I hope you’re paying attention to where we’re going, because you have
to figure out how to get yourself home,” I warned.
“What, I’m not driving you back to Sara’s?”
I wasn’t sure if he was serious.
“This isn’t a date,” I blurted, knowing I shouldn’t have said it as soon
as it came out of my mouth.
“I know,” he said, almost too quickly - instantly making me regret saying
it. “I figured Sara would drive Jason home.”
“Oh,” I whispered. I felt like an idiot.
“I can offer to drive Jason so you and Sara can leave together,” he suggested.
“That may be easier for everyone.”
We were quiet as we folowed the Land Rover down a long driveway
lined with cars, or it could have been a private road for as long as it
was. Evan puled behind the Land Rover and shut off the car.
“If this is going to be weird for you, I can go in by myself so no one
knows we came here together,” he offered. I must’ve realy offended
him.
“No, it’s okay,” I said softly. “I shouldn’t have said that about it not being
a date. I haven’t been as filtered as I usualy am, especialy when I’m
around you for some reason.”
“I’ve noticed,” Evan teased. “I never quite know how you’re going to
react. It’s one of the things that makes you so interesting.”
His flawless smile reflected in the soft light of the driveway’s lanterns.
“Let’s get this over with,” I said under my breath as I opened the car
door.
“Do you realy want to do this?” Evan asked as we approached the
house.
I took a deep breath and replied, “Yes, it’l be fun.” I forced a smile. It
wasn’t convincing, but he didn’t cal me out on it.
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