Barely breathing, p.6
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       Barely Breathing, p.6

         Part #2 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan  
Page 6


  It took about twenty minutes for us to reach the outskirts of Weslyn where my mother was renting a house. We veered down an interwoven maze of streets that wrapped around each other within the disorganized neighborhood. Unlike Sara’s neighborhood, all lined up neat in a grid of large homes, this swirling road map had much smaller houses. Kids ran from one snow covered yard into another, since most of the properties overlapped their neighbors’ without a bordering fence.

  Anna pulled into the driveway of a house at the tail end of the maze. With only one neighbor, it was isolated on the dead end, across from the stark woods that surrounded the neighborhood. I pulled up along the curb so Anna could back out when she left.

  The small yellow two-story house was quaint, with white shutters framing the windows and a weathered white porch welcoming us to enter. The front door opened, and my mother appeared, propping the screen door open with her hip. She waited for us to each grab a bag with her arms crossed, shivering from the winter air.

  I didn’t make eye contact as I passed her into the house, fearful that her clear blue eyes would reveal something other than the words that came out of her mouth. “Hi, Emily. I’m glad you’re here. ”

  “Thanks for letting me stay with you,” I replied awkwardly.

  “Of course," she answered, her voice coated with nerves. "This is your house too now. You even have your own room. ”

  “You have to see it,” Sara burst out, taking me by the hand and dragging me up the wide wooden staircase set in the middle of the small foyer. Anna laughed, making me suspect that they did more than shop yesterday.

  At the top of the stairs was a small landing. Straight ahead was an open door that led into a bathroom, and two closed doors flanked the stairs. Sara opened the door to the right and flipped the light on. I slowly followed her.

  Stepping into the room, I let my eyes trace all four walls, three of them white, and the wall where the door stood open, solid black. I turned in a circle to take it all in, inhaling the lingering fumes of fresh paint. My lips curled up.

  A full-sized bed sat across from the door, covered with a black and white baroque comforter, accented with white pillows bordered in black. Above the bed was a three dimensional art piece that looked like a hundred black butterflies were bursting out of the white wall, tethered by black wires.

  Two small twin windows to the left of the bed were framed dramatically in thick black curtains. A white chest of drawers rested against the black wall next to a full-length white framed mirror tilting on a stand.

  On the opposite side of the room was a desk; its glass top was stenciled with black flowers and butterflies and set upon two white bookcases. A cloth covered board with the same black and white baroque pattern hung on the wall above it. There was a note pinned to the board that read, “Welcome Home, Emma,” in Sara’s undeniable scrawl.

  “Do you love it?’ Sara demanded in anticipation.

  I turned to find Anna and my mother in the doorway awaiting my reaction.

  “I can’t believe you did this,” I gawked. “Thank you so much. ”

  “Of course,” Anna replied. My mother stood a few steps behind Anna, watching.

  “Do you want something to drink?” she asked Anna when Sara started unzipping the duffle bags to put my minimal possessions in their place. The two women disappeared down the stairs, Anna’s voice drifting away as they neared the bottom.

  “Sara, really, thank you. ”

  Sara paused with a stack of shirts clasped between her hands, recognizing the sincerity in my voice.

  “I knew you were nervous about moving in with her,” she explained, setting the shirts in the opened drawer, “even if you wouldn’t admit it. My mom wanted to get to know Rachel too, so this seemed like the best idea. We spent the day together yesterday?shopping, painting and decorating. Emma, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. In fact, Rachel’s probably more nervous than you are. ”

  I wasnt sure if that was possible.

  When Sara was finally pleased with her work?having put away my clothes, arranged my books and set up the laptop and router that I received from Anna and Carl for Christmas, she announced, "I think youre all set. " Nerves shot through me, realizing she was preparing to go.

  I tried to think of a way to delay her, but then Anna hollered up the stairs, “Sara, are you ready?”

  The truth was, I wasnt ready to be alone with my mother. And I gathered from her fidgety disposition, she wasnt ready to be left with me either.

  We said good-bye and lingered on the porch until they pulled away, inevitably leaving us alone. I walked back in the house and the awkwardness hit me in the face.

  “So. . . you can look around if you want,” she offered hesitantly, closing the thick wooden door, the pane of glass in the middle rattling when she clicked it shut.

  “Uh, okay,” I replied, veering right and stepping through the arched entrance of the kitchen. My mother remained outside the room in the foyer, watching me intently.

  Besides a layer of soft yellow paint, the kitchen probably hadn’t been updated since the house was built. The doors on the wooden cabinets hung slightly askew above a scarred countertop. A deep porcelain double sink sat below a window that looked out at the woods. A refrigerator that was smaller than me hummed loudly in the corner, with a white gas stove jetting out next to it. There wasn’t a lot of room for much else in the kitchen except for a small round table with four mismatched chairs. One of the chairs was pinned against the wall to allow room to pass to the entrance.

  “Help yourself to whatever,” she said from the doorway. The tight space didn’t allow enough space for two people to avoid each other. I peered in the refrigerator to find condiments and left over Chinese food that looked like it had been in there awhile.

  “Thanks,” I replied, closing the door.

  "Guess we need to go shopping, huh?" she noted with a nervous laugh.

  My mother stepped back with her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, giving me room to walk across the foyer to the living room. I could feel her eyes following me, adding to the mounting anxiety. I felt like I should say something, to make an attempt at some sort of conversation, but I had no idea where to start.

  So, I stood in the middle of the living room, playing nervously with my fingers, taking in the brown couch and love seat in front of the television. A spindled rocking chair rested in front of the front window. I paused in my tenuous inspection.

  It took me a moment before I realized where I knew it from. It used to be in my bedroom when I lived with her and my father.

  The sight of it caused my chest to tighten. I wasn’t prepared for the sudden flash of memories. I wanted to go over and touch it, hoping that by running my fingers along the carved arms I’d be filled with the happiness of the memories stored within its frame. Stories being told while wrapped in strong arms, rocking back and forth. Whispered words of love and promises as I drifted to sleep to the thumps of his heart against my ear. I could feel her staring at me as I remained motionless, my eyes locked on the chair.

  “I have a ton of movies. ” Her voice crashed through my reverie, bringing me back to the present. It took me a moment to connect with what she’d said. I nodded at the built in bookshelf next to the window that was lined with DVD cases.

  "Oh, thats great. "

  On the other side of the living room was a large sideboard displaying a sound system surrounded by an array of framed pictures. I walked over to them. I couldn’t say I was expecting pictures of me, but my stomach hollowed when I didn’t see any. I glanced around for any trace that I existed, or that she’d had a life with my father?only to find the room filled with strangers.

  “Pictures of my friends,” she explained briefly without going into any further detail. I nodded, fearing that my voice would reveal the hurt.

  “So, you have school tomorrow? Ready to go back?” my mother asked as I thumbed through the CDs she had
stacked in another built in nook in the corner.

  “Not really,” I answered honestly, recognizing she was trying to have a conversation but I was doing a lousy job of contributing.

  “When’s your next basketball game?”

  “Friday,” I responded, scanning the room.

  “Would you mind if I went?” She sounded nervous. The unease in her voice drew my attention.

  “You can come,” I answered, finally looking at her with an awkward smile. The tension in her blue eyes slowly melted away.

  “Great. Thank you. ” That one answer changed everything. The next thing I knew, she was pointing to people in the pictures and talking about where they were and what was going on. She pulled out a couple of CDs insisting I listen to them because they were life altering.

  I didn’t say much. I didn’t think I could have gotten a word in if I wanted to. Her nervous chatter flowed without pause, as she sat in front of the player and spread CDs across the floor. I tried to relax as I listened to her stories, inspecting the woman before me and trying to connect with her as my mother. It felt like a million years ago that I actually had one. I had no idea how to act around her, or what to say.

  “So do you really like your room?” she asked after slipping a CD into the player.

  “I really do,” I admitted honestly.

  “I was pretty useless in designing it. I just let Anna and Sara pick out everything,” my mother confessed, her cheeks reddening.

  A knock at the door interrupted her search for the song that reminded her of her trip to New Orleans last year. I watched as she answered it. She appeared puzzled. “Um, hello?"

  “Hi, Mrs. Thomas. I’m Evan. I’m looking for Emma. ” I jumped up from my cross-legged position on the floor and practically ran to the door.

  “Hi,” I greeted in a rush before my mother could say anything. Evan peeked around the door and his signature smile crept on his face, causing my heart to stutter. I was beyond relieved to see him.

  “Well, come on in, Evan. " He stepped into the foyer to allow my mother to close the door. "I’m Rachel. It would completely freak me out if you called me Mrs. Thomas. Mrs. Thomas was Dereks mother, and she didnt like me very much. Besides my last name is Walace, so if anything I would be Ms. Walace, but I really would prefer Rachel. ” Evan and I were stilled by the burst of information that spewed from her mouth in a single breath. Her cheeks reddened and she laughed awkwardly when she found us staring at her. "Wow. I have no idea why I just said all that. Im not usually this nervous. Okay, yes I am. " She reacted to our stunned faces and said, "Im so sorry. "

  “Thats okay," I assured her?all too familiar with being possessed by nervousness. "Why don’t I show Evan around?”

  "Uh, sure," she agreed, returning to the living room to put away the CDs that were spread over the floor.

  I didn’t bother showing Evan the downstairs, since all he had to do with was turn in a circle to see the entire layout. I took his hand and led him to my room, closing the door behind us.

  “Nice room,” Evan admired, ducking under the slanted ceiling to sit on my bed. “How’s it going? She seems nice. ”

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