Breathe Me Page 5

I don’t know how long we sat there in silence, or what ran through her head as the minutes ticked by. I continued to offer her the water, alternating that with sitting back, kicking my legs up as I relaxed against the hard wooden bench. I rubbed circles on her back, and she let a small pleasurable moan escape her lips. It sent shivers across my skin, glad I was helping her relax as I watched the crowd ebb and flow. It was easy to blend in here, like we’d meant to be there, hanging out, completely at home people watching on the sidewalk. The many surrounding us, oblivious to who we were, passed by us without a second’s thought. The women were busy adjusting their tight, short skirts and swinging their long, dyed locks over their shoulders, and the men were running their hands through their slicked-back hairdos, dressed in metrosexual, form-fitting shirts and snug slacks which hugged their asses in ways I was sure was uncomfortable and restrictive. Maybe they were famous, maybe they weren’t. Who knew?

I frowned. I hoped I was looking just as good to Piper, or I’d have to step it up quite a bit. I wasn’t twenty-one anymore, and I was a little beyond tight clothing.

“Just a little longer, I’ll be okay,” she mumbled.

“Take however long you need.”

Right now, it was the best place in the world, this quiet oblivion, sitting next to Piper. It was enough, all I needed. My quiet acceptance and patience seemed to baffle her, leaving me to ponder what was going on inside her head. Pushing my own scattered thoughts to the back of my mind, I breathed in the city’s smells and felt closer to fine. She just needed more time, and that was something I had plenty of.

Chapter Six


“WHAT’S THE BIG deal?” Joss flicked her wrist so fast, the hangers clicked as they slammed against each other. Shopping was a therapy for her. It kept her frayed nerves from driving her mad. I, on the other hand, could go mad shopping with her. It took her an hour to find one thing she liked enough to even try on, and then she’d force a shirt or an outfit I’d never possibly wear onto me and proceed to push me into a dressing stall. Yeah. It was like some kind of torture session, but it was the only time I could get her alone without Leah attached to her since the girl was at school. I needed advice, desperately enough to endure one of these retail therapy sessions.

“What do you mean, ‘What’s the big deal?’ Haven’t you been listening, Joss?” I groaned, rehanging a hideous blouse back on the sale rack, which she had just tossed in my direction. I blew out a breath, frustrated beyond belief. “I don’t need clothes, I need help.”

“That’s for sure.”

“Will you stop?”

“Okay, Okay. So Sasha’s back. From what I take it, he wants you back and badly enough that he’s willing to do whatever it takes. Still, you embarrassed yourself by losing your nerve to destroy his heart the way he did you in, way back when, and ended up throwing yourself into a panic attack, almost killing yourself in the process by running into traffic on the Strip. Right?”


“I told you, you need help. Seriously. Mental help, a.s.a.p., like a code red.”

“Grr…. Thanks,” I huffed, rubbing my temples and ready to call it a day.

“Listen,” Joss sighed right along with me, making it more obvious as she overtly rolled her eyes. She may have been a mom, but she was still young at heart. I think it was the only thing that saved her sanity when her husband died. “I get that you don’t know if you want him back. But really? Six years is a long time to hold a grudge. Let it go. I say have fun, take it for what it’s worth. He doesn’t sound like the same guy who smashed your heart to smithereens. Give him a chance. If it doesn’t work out, hey, at least he was a fine piece of meat to chew on. Plus, you can end your self-imposed celibacy.”

“I’m not celibate.”

“When’s the last time you got laid?”

I blushed, turning to watch a few women standing nearby shake their heads and mutter under their breaths, flashing dirty looks toward us as they moved to the next isle of clothes. “Announce it to the world, please. Joss, you know I don’t date. It’s hard enough finding the right doctor who won’t kill you, let alone someone who isn’t a complete a**hole. Don’t be so hard on me. I don’t see you dating either.”

“As a matter of fact, Piper, my love….” Joss’s face flushed strawberry, and she was smiling to herself. So brass for sass.

“What’s this one’s name?”

“Adam Rosen.”

I rolled my eyes. She hadn’t dated much either, but in the last year, she’d more than made up for it. Another loser to add to the get back in the game with vengeance list.

“So is this Adam scoring on the normal IQ list or did he not quite make it?” I ducked, but Joss’s bag still smacked me on the arm. “Ow! Watch it, crazy!” I laughed as she brought it around to smack me again, hitting the rack hard. A pile of pants fell to the floor, slipping off the clips which had held them. “Oh shit!” I ducked, hoping the store clerks were not anywhere near us. We giggled as we gathered up the pieces of clothing and snapped them haphazardly onto the hangers. Once we were done, we were so flushed from laughing we decided to leave the store before they figured out who had messed up the pants display. Joss always found a way to lighten my mood, even if it was by acting like an immature teen girl.

“As a matter of fact, he’s very intelligent. He’s a child psychologist. Can you believe the patience he must have to talk to all them messed up kids? I can’t even imagine. I’d want to kill those psychopathic brats in no time.”

“How long have you known him?”

“We met at the Starbucks a couple weeks ago, ‘bout right before the time ol’ Sasha waltzed back into your life. Adam did that ‘pay it forward thing,’ bought like the next five people in line their coffees, can you believe that? He even had an extra one in his hand with a muffin, and I actually watched him hand them to some homeless guy sitting outside. Tell me that’s not a winner!” She sighed happily, her eyes glazing over as they flitted back to that day. I forced a smile, even though I was secretly envious of her good luck. I pushed the thought away, knowing full well she deserved happiness after all she’d been through with her husband before he’d died. No one should have to bury their spouse so soon. No one.

“You working tomorrow?” Joss interrupted my thoughts, waving me over to the Dairy Queen for a cone.

I shook my head. “No. Mandatory furloughs on Mondays now for half the staff. We rotate each week. Can you believe that? The hospital makes a killing, and they still mess with our wages one way or another.”

Joss handed me a cone, plain, just the way I like it. She took a huge bite out of her chocolate-covered ice cream and talked with her mouth full. “That’s just horrible.” Grabbing a napkin, she wiped up the chocolate smeared across her chin.

“Yeah, it is, but what can I do? I just need to deal with it, maybe find a new job.”

“Maybe you can help Sasha with his coffee shops. Didn’t he say he owned several of them?”

“Now who’s insane? Why would he need help? I’m not asking him for anything, so forget it.”

Joss rolled her eyes again and shook her head, groaning as though she’d tired of me. I was done with her helpfulness—and her shopping therapy, for that matter. I’d gotten nowhere fast.

“You’re so hardheaded, I’d get a concussion if I head butted you.” She smirked at me and took another lick of chocolate ice cream.

I gave her a crass smile and winked. “I know. And proud of it, too.”

THE VIBRATION RESONATED across my comforter, stirring me from my daydreams. The ceiling came back into focus while my eyes stung and made me blink rapidly. It brought prickling tears to my dried out orbits as I briefly wondered what the noise was. I rolled over on my bed and found the phone still going on its endless purring dance across the edge of the blankets before it teetered off, followed by a crack of plastic on the hardwood floor.

“Oh, crap!” I scurried to the side of my bed and spied my phone on the floor in three pieces. I sighed and scraped up the parts. Stuffing the battery in and the back plate back on, I pressed the power button and waited impatiently as the screen illuminated once more. At least the gorilla glass on the smartphone could take a beating. I was constantly dropping it, and it had the dents to prove it.

The ceiling fan hummed above me, and the luxurious breeze made the room feel refreshing. The heat of the day had worn me out, and my attempt at a nap had been useless. Waiting for the screen to flash back on, I rolled onto my back. Wearing boy shorts and a spaghetti string tank, I was still sweating a swamp and felt a film of stickiness all across my skin. I’d taken a shower earlier, but the heat, paired with the swampy moisture we sometimes got in the valley, was unbearable.

The phone chirped in my hand, reminding me why I was holding it. Scanning through the screens to my text messages, my face paled as I read the words. It was a message from Sasha.

Got a surprise 4 U, B ready @8pm

Doesn’t anyone write in English anymore? Or call for that matter? I sighed and flicked my eyes to the digital clock at the top of the screen. It read 7:35pm.

Sitting up, I stumbled off the bed, barely catching myself before landing on my bum. Even so, I stubbed my toe on the large wooden bench I had at the foot of the bed, which sent a paralyzing jolt of pain up my leg. Groaning, I hopped over to the bed once more. “Crap, Crap, Crap!”

Biting my lip, I waited momentarily as the throbbing pain subsided, rubbing my foot over and over. Finally able to stand, I got back up and headed toward the closet. I flung open the doors, scurrying to find a suitable outfit before I jumped into the shower. I grabbed a pair of jean shorts and a black tank top, hoping he wouldn’t come while I was in the bathroom.

Tossing everything onto the counter before cranking the shower on, I pondered our last encounter and prayed he had a short memory. I peeled my sticky clothes off and had one foot in the tub when I remembered I hadn’t texted him back. So I tiptoed back to the counter, grabbed my phone and one-handedly texted him back.

How’s 8:15? I just got up from a nap. In the shower. Sorry.

At that, I tossed the phone onto my clothes and hopped back under the spray, squirting shampoo in my hair and soaping up my body before I had even rinsed it all out. I jumped out but was already sweating again as I hurried to get dressed. I yanked my brush through my hair until it hung like slick snakes over my shoulders then slapped on a thin layer of makeup and lip-gloss when I heard the doorbell ring.

“Gonna have to do,” I mumbled. I did a once-over and frowned at my wet hair. I hoped it would dry in sleek waves and not poof out into a rat’s nest.

The bell echoed across the walls once more, and I cursed as I dragged ass to the door, hopping about as I slipped my flats on. Finally, pulling the locks loose and swinging the door open, I glanced down at my cell phone. 8:10pm.

“Five more minutes would’ve been nice.” I clamped my lips shut for the snarky slip and pasted on a fake smile to cover up my annoyance. Sasha leaned on the frame and ignored my snap. Instead he held up a single yellow rose and threw me a genuine smile.

“What… what’s this for?” I stuttered and reached up, clasping my trembling fingers around the stem.

“It’s not the surprise, but it reminded me of you. Beautiful and fragile but also strong. It just felt right to get you this one rose.” He shifted on his feet as he waited for me to respond. I wasn’t even sure I’d heard him right. Nothing clamped me down more than a compliment. How this man always managed to surprise me gnawed at my senses, eroding down that rusty, solid metal wall I had so carefully built. It was somewhat irritating and yet made me stop and rethink for minute.

My suspicions kicked into overdrive as I upturned the corners of my mouth and batted my eyelids. “I’ll go put it in some water before it withers.” It gave me some time to turn away, my face falling as I took a deep breath. No more panic attacks, please…. “So what’s the surprise?” I asked, distracting myself by looking for a vase and snapping the stem to shorten it.

“You’ll see.”

I peeked around the counter of my small kitchen bar and watched him as he casually walked around my apartment. He was studying the carefully-placed pictures lined all across the walls. They were photos of my family, smiling with toothy grins in different scenes of our lives. I had taken most of them myself, but some were by my father, who’d been an avid amateur photographer. There were scenes of different natural landmarks from across the country. We had traveled a lot on vacations when I was younger, and he had set up his tripod in every single place we’d been. It’d gotten to the point where me and my brother would groan and complain endlessly when he would go about setting up the tripod. “Not another picture!” we’d bitch and moan.

What would I give to have those annoying moments back?

“Piper?” Sasha’s voice broke through my memories, and the rush of water from the faucet I’d left on pulled me back to the vase on the counter. I filled it and stuffed the rose into it. “Ready to go?” I said.

“Yeah.” He eyed me like he wanted to peel the layers off, one by one. Or maybe his assumptions were mounting on who I now was, six fateful years after he’d known me. “These pictures, they’re amazing. Did you take them all?”

I shook my head and felt a scarlet heat rush across my cheeks. “Some of them are mine. Some were done by my father.” I walked over to the wall and glanced up at the many pairs of eyes staring back at me. “This one was at the Grand Canyon. It was cold as hell on the Northern Rim that day. This one was at Yellowstone National Park, near some of the geysers. Those things reek!” I gave a small laugh but cleared my throat as our annual family portrait next came into view. It was the last we’d taken together. The last time my brother, mother and father had stood before that notorious tripod and smiled at the lens, oblivious to the bleakness of the future. The picture was three years old.

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