Read Breathless Online

Authors: Jessica Warman

Tags: #ebook, #book

Breathless (10 page)

The bathroom has three stalls, and there’s no lock on the door; all I can do is hope that Grace and Leslie don’t try to follow me in. All of the stalls are empty for now. I lean against the wall beside the sink, catching my breath, before I let myself start crying hard. I slide down the wall and sit on the cold tile floor, my legs folded, trying to breathe. Just breathe.

And while I’m sitting there, all my sniffling and deep breaths echoing off of the walls, I hear something else—the sound of something shifting in the cabinet beneath the sink.

For a second, I forget all about Grace and Leslie and Drew and Will. I become completely silent. I stop breathing, listening.

I hear it again: a slight crunching sound, quick breathing, and as freaked out as I am to look in the cupboard, there’s something familiar in the sounds.

When I try to open the door, there’s a split second where I think it’s locked, until I realize there’s somebody on the other side, holding it shut. I pull harder—the person inside lets go, which sends me falling backward onto my butt, out of breath, a sharp pain going through my lower back.

Right there—under the sink in the first-floor girls’ bathroom, her tiny body curled into an impossibly small ball, legs gathered behind the pipes, hands in their usual tight fists—is Mazzie.

“What are you doing here?” she says.

I almost laugh. “What am I doing here? What are
you
doing—you’re under the freaking sink!”

She doesn’t smile. “Yeah. I know where I am, Katie.”

We sit there, staring at each other, for a good long minute. Finally, for the first time since I’ve met her, Mazzie’s voice breaks into something besides hostility. “Don’t tell,” she says. “Please?”

“Is this where you are all the time? We look for you at lunch. I always thought you were—”

“Shh!” She looks panicked, and I realize that somebody’s heading toward the bathroom. Without thinking, I push the door to the sink closed, stand up, and pretend to be washing my hands.

It’s another girl from my art class, Mary Ann Bowers. She’s a freshman.

“Katie,” Mary Ann says, “I’m supposed to give you a message.”

Oh, God. I can only imagine what Grace or Leslie—or even Mrs. Averly—has sent her to tell me. Even though Mazzie’s the one hiding under the sink, I’m so embarrassed by what she’s going to overhear.

“Drew is in the hall waiting for you,” she says. “He wants you to come out and talk to him.”

“Uh, okay.” I’m still pretending to wash my hands. “Just give me a minute alone in here. Tell him I’ll be right out.”

As soon as the door closes behind Mary Ann, I crouch down again and open the door. I give Mazzie my hand, offering to help her out from under the sink.

She shakes her head. “That’s okay. I’m going to stay here.” She hesitates. Then she says, “Thanks.”

“Are you okay?”

She nods. “You should go meet Drew, shouldn’t you?”

I shrug. “I don’t have to, not right away. Are you sure you’re all right?”

Mazzie doesn’t say anything for a moment or two. Finally, she gives me the slightest smile. “Sure. I’m okay.” She glances at her watch. “I’ve got five more minutes before Spanish. Please close the door.”

Just as I’m about to, though, she reaches out and grabs me by the wrist—it’s the first time we’ve ever really touched each other, and I feel a spark of surprise at the strength of her grip, those tiny fingers holding on to me so tightly that I couldn’t get free if I tried.

She says, “I have a message for you too, Katie.” Her smile gets a little bigger. “Your brother called.”

Drew is still there in the otherwise deserted hallway, waiting for me. I’m so shook up that I almost walk right past him—he’s right outside the door to the girls’ bathroom—but he catches me by the sleeve of my blazer.

It’s obvious I’ve been crying. “Katie, come here,” he says, and he gives me a hug.

I let myself lean against him, my head against his chest. If any of the faculty see us like this, we’ll both get demerits. He’s so much bigger than me, his arms so strong and warm, that I can’t help but cry into them. I feel so sick with guilt that I can’t hold it in for another second. When did my brother call? Was it this morning, after I’d left early to go eat breakfast with Lindsey? Or last night, when we were in the common room until lights-out, pretending to do English homework when we were really keeping watch for each other while we took turns sneaking outside to smoke cigarettes?

“It’s okay,” Drew says. Then he cups my chin in his hand, tilting my face upward and looking into my eyes, and says, “You don’t have to be embarrassed, okay? I know you like me.”

“What?” The bell rings, and the halls start to fill up with students. At least I won’t have to go back to art class. “You think I’m crying because I’m embarrassed because—because you think I know you know I like you?”

His hands are on my shoulders. His grip feels so good, a part of me wants nothing else but to sink back into his arms.

He looks confused for a minute, thinking about what I’ve just said, distracted by the people around us. I step back from him. Finally, he says, “Yes. That’s why you’re crying—isn’t it? And,” he adds, lowering his voice, leaning in slightly, “because of everything else Grace said. About, you know, all those other things.”

“Uh . . .” What else am I supposed to tell him? “Yes.” I nod my head. “I guess so.” And really, when I think about it, it’s all kind of the truth—in a way.

The two-minute warning bell rings. The halls start to empty again as everyone makes their way back into class. Drew glances at the clock on the wall behind me. “Katie, I have to go to trig, okay? But listen . . . we’ll talk more. Soon.” He puts his hands back on my shoulders, then lets them slide down my arms, his fingertips lingering against mine for just an instant before he backs away. “Okay?”

The door to the girls’ bathroom opens, and Mazzie strolls out. I turn to watch her, but she doesn’t even give us a glance as she passes. By the time I turn back, Drew is also gone.

Not long after he’s left my sight, it occurs to me that I’m so sick about Will, I don’t even remember what Drew and I just talked about. I’m left standing there all by myself, confused and horrified by what Mazzie knows and who she might tell, and there’s a part of me aware of the fact that I’ve got a vocab quiz in Latin class in about thirty seconds, and I’m going to be late, and there’s nothing I can do about any of it.

chapter 5

Things aren’t the same after I find Mazzie under the sink. A few days later, when I’m almost asleep, she says, “Tell me why you lied about your brother.”

Most people would ask, instead of giving an order, but as I’m learning, Mazzie isn’t most people.

So even though I know she could tell everyone, and probably ruin everything I have going for me at Woodsdale, I tell her. I tell her everything. When I’m finished, she says, “Oh. So you’re a freak.”

If it came from anybody else, I’d be offended by the label. But hearing Mazzie say it, along with the fact that she’s finally willing to
talk
to me, gives me a strange sense of relief and satisfaction. “Yeah.”

“And a liar.”

“Yeah, I guess I am. Mazzie, why were you under the sink?”

“You know,” she continues, and I can
hear
her smiling above me, “I could tell there was something different about you, Katie. I’ve tried so hard to hate you. . . . You’re really annoying, you know?”

“Thank you.”

“You and Lindsey and Estella hanging around together all the time, talking about swimming and boys and swimming and boys, and everyone following the three of you around like your farts smell like hot fudge . . . it just makes me want to barf.”

“What were you doing under the sink?”

“But I’ve been thinking that I should probably come out with you sometimes . . . I think I’m going to be stuck here, so I should probably make some friends. Okay?”

Can she hear me smiling now? “Mazzie, you’ll have to come to parties. You’ll have to talk about swimming and boys and you’ll have to . . . you know,
talk
to people.”

“I know that. I’m not stupid.” She pauses. “Now, Katie, when I talk to people, should I tell them your secret? Or is that just between us?”

“That’s funny. I don’t know, should I mention where you like to spend your study halls?”

“Hmmm.” She pretends to think about it. “You know what? I changed my mind. I do hate you, Katie.”

“I hate you too, Mazzie.”

She sighs. “Good night, freak.”

“Good night, loser.”

About a week later, I’m awake in bed, listening to Mazzie as she mutters in her sleep. I feel the mattress shifting above me as she kicks the covers away. When she’s not talking to herself—still in Korean—she keeps grinding her teeth.

The muttering grows louder than I’ve ever heard it. I sit up in bed, unsure of what to do. It’s painful to listen to her, obviously so unhappy. I have to do
something,
don’t I?

So I get up, switch on the reading lamp on my desk, climb halfway up the ladder to the top bunk, and give her a tentative shake. “Mazzie,” I whisper.

She’s so sweaty that, even in our air-conditioned room, her hair sticks to her face in wet strands.

“Mazzie!” I almost shout.

She sits up, opens her eyes, and looks at me with wild panic. She reaches out and grabs me by the arm; her palm is clammy. Without a word, she reaches into her mouth with her free hand and removes a thick piece of red plastic. It’s a mouth guard, meant to keep people from grinding away the enamel on their teeth. Will has one that he never wears. It might keep her teeth safe, but the noise is still awful. When I get a closer look at the mouth guard, I see that the plastic is worn so thin from the grinding of her teeth that it’s almost translucent.

“What’s the matter?” She looks at the clock. “Katie, it’s practically the middle of the night. What the hell are you doing waking—”

“You were having a nightmare. You were talking in your sleep.” I keep my voice low. “You were loud.”

For a few seconds, it seems like she doesn’t believe me. “I was talking in my sleep.”

“Yes.”

“What was I saying?”

I shrug. Without asking, I climb all the way up the ladder and sit across from her in bed. Her sheets are damp with sweat. “You were speaking Korean.”

She’s relieved to hear it, I can tell. “Oh. It was nothing, Katie. I have nightmares sometimes.”

“You have to tell me what’s wrong,” I say.

“I do, do I?” She picks up the mouth guard, studying it. “Why would I tell you anything?”

“Because I told you everything about my family.” I hesitate. “And because you’ve been doing this every night since you got here.”

She blinks a few times. I peer at her—are those tears I see? Is Mazzie going to cry?

“Mazzie, you should tell someone what’s wrong. I mean, you have to
want
to tell someone, don’t you?”

She stares at her sheets. “I don’t know.”

“I felt better when I told you about Will.”

She shakes her head. “That’s different.”

“Why did you come here? Why do you hide under the sink?”

She studies my face. “If you tell anyone, I swear to God I’ll tell everyone about your brother.”

I nod. “Okay. I won’t say anything.” I pretend to zip my lips shut and lock them with my fingers, tossing the invisible key over the side of the bed.

She shuts her eyes again. “I’m a freak, just like you.”

“What do you mean?”

“My mom died.”

Oh God. What am I supposed to say? “Oh, Mazzie . . .”

“She always called me Madeline.” She shakes her head. “So don’t
ever
call me Madeline again.”

I nod. “Okay, I won’t. When did—”

“Seven weeks ago.”

I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. I can’t breathe. Her mother died seven weeks ago, and she’s
here
?
Alone?

“Why are you here? Why aren’t you with your family?”

She shakes her head. “It was just me and my parents.” Her eyes are closed, tiny tears falling one right after the other down her porcelain cheeks. “My dad isn’t . . . he’s not an emotional kind of guy.”

I sit there, stunned, waiting for her to continue. I want to reach out to her and touch her hand or put my arms around her, but I’m afraid she’d clam up and push me away. So I just listen.

“I’m a first-generation American. So my parents wanted to send me to the best schools. My mom wanted me to be a doctor.” She hesitates. “That’s what she was.”

“What happened to her?”

Mazzie ignores the question. “After she died, all I wanted was to go back to school and see my old friends. My dad didn’t talk to me for almost a month. He just worked all the time.” She shrugs. “It’s not his fault, I guess. He doesn’t know what to say to me.”

“But how did you end up here?”

She wipes her eyes hard with closed fists, as though she’s willing the tears to stop. “Without my mom’s income, there wasn’t enough money to send me back to my old school. So here I am.” Her tone is bitter. “West Virginia is a lot cheaper than Connecticut.”

The air around me feels suffocating. “Oh, Mazzie.”

“I didn’t even know I was coming here, Katie. Not until we were in the car, on the way to the airport. I haven’t talked to my father since then.”

And here I am, mopey and broken-hearted over Will, who’s alive and as well as he’ll ever be. No wonder Mazzie acts like she can’t stand me.

“I miss my friends,” she says.

“I’ll be your friend.”

She smirks. “Gee, thanks.”

“I mean it. I won’t tell anyone anything, and I’ll wake you up when you have nightmares.” Finally, I reach out to close my hand over her wrist. She doesn’t pull away. “It’ll be okay.”

She leans toward me and starts to cry again. Before I have time to understand what’s happening, she burrows her head against my shoulder and sobs. It goes on and on, until finally the sobs turn to deep, heavy breaths. I keep my arms around her as we sit there, imagining that I can absorb some of the pain she’s feeling, that I can somehow give her some relief.

After what feels like forever, Mazzie abruptly stops crying. She sits up straight, wipes the hair from her eyes, and says, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

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