Read Breathless Online

Authors: Jessica Warman

Tags: #ebook, #book

Breathless (22 page)

I should stop seeing him, but I just can’t. Instead, I keep pretending there’s nothing going on. One night, as I’m getting ready to meet Eddie in the lobby of my dorm, I notice that Renee is just lying on the floor, tossing a rubber stress ball into the air, trying to catch it with one hand.

“What are you doing tonight?” I ask.

She misses the ball. It rolls across the floor and lands at my feet. Sitting up to reach for it, she says, “Not much. I’m kind of tired.”

“Why don’t you come out with us? It’s fun.”

She shrugs. “I’m not really into frat boys.” She pauses. “Well, maybe I’d be into someone like Eddie.”

“You should come,” I urge. “I could set the two of you up.”

She smirks at me and throws the ball at my head. It hits me right between the eyes. “Katie, I get the feeling he wouldn’t be interested.”

• • •

It seems like I stay out later and later every night. Either I’m talking to Eddie until sunrise, or out drinking with him or Renee. No matter what night of the week it is, there’s always something to do. I’ve started chain-smoking, too. It’s hard not to; I’m either at a party, where it’s nearly impossible not to smoke while I’m drinking, or else I’m in my room with Renee, who smokes constantly.

I’m not keeping up with the reading in either of my classes. I’m at a slight advantage because I’ve read most of the material before, at Woodsdale, but I’ll be lucky if I can still pull off As.

And then there’s swimming. Most mornings, by the time I get to the pool, I’ve barely slept at all. For a while, I figure it’s okay; as soon as I get in the water and start moving, I feel the exhaustion slipping away. I still finish drills before lots of the other swimmers, even on the mornings when I show up late.

But one morning I’m not so lucky. It’s mid-July, and I haven’t had more than eight hours of sleep all week combined. Even Renee seems concerned.

As I’m leaving for the pool, she puts her hands on my shoulders and studies my face. “Jesus, Katie. You look like hell.”

“I’m just tired,” I tell her.

“You mean exhausted.”

“Yeah,” I admit. “But it’s fine. I’m going to bed early tonight.”

She wrinkles her nose. “You smell like a frat house sofa.”

“That’s funny,” I say, grinning, “because that’s where I’ve been all night.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Still not cheating on your boyfriend?”

I nod. “Eddie just likes to flirt. We have fun together.”

In reality, there’s a little more to it than that; I know it, and so does Renee. But I haven’t done anything I should feel guilty about. I’ve lain beside Eddie on a sofa and let him wrap his arms around me. I’ve held his hand, the same way I’ve held Lindsey’s or Mazzie’s—or even Estella’s—a thousand times before. I’ve fallen asleep beside him, both of us fully clothed, and slept that way all night. But I’ve never kissed him. I’ve never let him touch me in any of the ways I might
want
him to touch me. I know I’m lucky to have someone like Drew, and I’m not going to do anything that will make it hard for me to look him in the eye.

When I explain this to Renee, she asks, “So what if Drew were doing the same kind of thing with another girl? Would you think he was cheating on you?”

I still feel drunk from the night before. I haven’t eaten yet this morning. “That’s not fair,” I tell her. I don’t know why she’s so concerned about my relationship with Drew. I get the feeling that she’s disappointed in me somehow.

“It isn’t?” She shakes her head. “Whatever. You need to go. You’re already late.”

I don’t make it past my first 400 yards of freestyle before I have to stop swimming, hoist myself over the edge of the pool, and throw up into the gutter. It’s nothing but straight booze coming out of me, and everyone around me knows it; the smell is enough to make me sick again.

One of the coaches—his name is Paul Goodman—hurries over to me. “Out,” he says.

“I’m okay,” I insist, trying to catch my breath, unwilling to look at him. For the first time in my life, I feel like if I let go of the gutter, I might sink to the bottom of the pool. “I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep last night. I just need to get warmed up—” But I gag on the sentence, leaning over to throw up again.

“Who kept you up all night?” Goodman asks. “Let me guess—it was a boy, right?”

My vision is blurry, my thoughts jumbled. “Uh, yeah.”

“And I bet I even know his name,” he says. “Let’s see, who could it have been? Jim Beam? No . . . he’s a little out of your league. I’m guessing it was Sam Adams.” He doesn’t wait for me to respond. “Get out,” he says. “Rinse your mouth out, put some clothes on, and come to my office.”

Sitting across from him, I want to cry. He leans back in his chair, gazing at me with a look I can’t quite identify. Is it anger? Pity?

“You’re screwing up,” he says.

I shake my head, panicked. “I’m just overwhelmed. My classes are hard, and I’m not used to having so much work. And, okay, I admit, I’ve been to a few parties.” Before he can respond, I say, “I’ll stop. I’m done. I know I messed up, and I know how to fix it.”

“You’ve been late almost all summer,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how fast you are. If you want to be part of our team when you’re a freshman here, you have to act like you’re part of it now.”

I nod. “Okay. I’ll be on time. I’ll be
early.
Please, just give me another chance.”

He narrows his gaze, considering.

I can’t help it; I start to cry. “Please. Swimming is the only thing I’m good at.”

“Okay, Katie, you don’t need to cry. It’s okay. You can come back.”

I wipe my eyes. “Thank you. I promise I’ll do better.”

“Good. I hope so.” He stands up. “I should make you clean up the mess you made, but I think you’d be better off going back to bed.”

I look down. “Thank you.”

“You’ve got one more chance, Katie. I’m giving it to you because you deserve it, and I know you’re sorry.”

I nod.

“All right. Go back to your dorm. Go to bed. Don’t get up until tomorrow morning.”

For the rest of the summer, I don’t so much as look at a beer. I stop smoking during the week, and I even convince Renee to go outside to smoke. I show up at least ten minutes early to every practice.

But I don’t stop spending time with Eddie. By the end of August, we’re together almost every night.

Two days before the end of the summer semester, Eddie asks me to come over and watch a movie. Instead of lying on the sofa in the common room of the frat house, we go to his bedroom.

For a while, everything seems normal. We’re lying on his bed, watching the movie, our bodies barely touching. But after a few minutes, for no discernible reason, Eddie reaches over and turns off the light. A few minutes after that, he reaches out to hold my hand.

This is okay,
I tell myself.
We’ve held hands before . . . like friends.

He turns onto his side, tugging my body against his.

“I can’t see the movie,” I complain.

“Shh.” And he tucks my hair behind my ear and starts to kiss my neck.

“Eddie,” I murmur, “what are you doing?”

He doesn’t answer me. He turns his body so he’s lying above me, and before I know what’s happening, he slides one hand up my shirt and cups my face with his other hand, kissing me on the mouth, wrapping his body around mine.

I can’t move. I can’t breathe. And as much as I don’t want him to stop—as much as I feel like I’ve been waiting for him to do this all summer—I imagine what Renee might say, and how Drew would feel if he knew what I was doing.

It takes all my willpower, but I push Eddie off of me and sit up. I’m almost gasping for breath.

“I can’t,” I tell him. “It’s not that I don’t want to, Eddie . . . I just can’t.”

He doesn’t say anything for a while. He’s breathing just as hard as I am.

He stares at the ceiling. Finally, he asks, “Can I try again?”

I can’t help but smile. “No.” I get off the bed. “I should leave.”

He grabs my hand. His expression is frustrated, but there’s also a trace of the grin that I’ve grown so crazy about, like he thinks he still has a chance. “Come on, Katie. Nobody has to know about this.”

I shake my head. “
I’ll
know.”

“Katie, there’s a
rule
about this kind of thing, when you’ve got a long-distance relationship.”

“What rule?” I cross my arms. “There isn’t any
rule.

“Yes, there is.” He tugs at his hair with both fists, his grin slipping away. “If you’re in a whole different state than your boyfriend, it’s okay to sleep with someone else. Everybody knows that,” he says. “It’s practically in the Bible.” He rolls his eyes, and for the first time since I’ve known him, I feel like a little kid.

“Sleep with you?” The words come out in a shriek. “I was never going to
sleep
with you, Eddie.” I feel almost panicked, like I’m suddenly in way over my head. I’m so used to taking things slow with Drew, it genuinely hadn’t occurred to me that Eddie would expect to have sex.

“Why not? At first, sure, you might have been just a piece of ass.” He takes a deep breath. “But I really
like
you. I’ve been hoping all summer that you get accepted next year, that maybe we can even . . . Oh, Christ.” He pauses. “Katie—are you a virgin?”

“Eddie, I have to go.” I don’t wait for him to try and grab me this time. I just leave his room and get to the door as fast as I can, ignoring him as he calls after me. When I reach the sidewalk, I run.

Classes end two days later. Drew comes to pick me up. I haven’t seen him in over a month, and when we’re finally together again I stand on my tiptoes in the courtyard outside my dorm and kiss him, so long and hard that he eventually nudges me away. “Katie,” he whispers, “control yourself. There are people around.” He stares at me, only half smiling. “What’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing,” I say, a little too quickly. “I missed you, that’s all.”

“I missed you, too. Can you just wait a little bit? You’re hanging all over me.”

I feel more than a twinge annoyed. “Can’t I even kiss you?”

“Of course you can. Look, I’m sorry. Let’s just get your stuff. We’ve got a long drive.”

We’re sliding my last suitcase into the back of Drew’s SUV when a voice behind us booms, “Katie! You weren’t going to leave without saying good-bye, were you?”

It’s about eighty degrees outside, but I feel my whole body go cold. “Eddie,” I say, turning around, forcing a smile. “Of course I wasn’t.”

Eddie gives Drew a wide grin. “Let me guess. You’re Drew, right?”

Drew nods. He doesn’t smile. “Who are you?”

“I’m Eddie.” He licks his lips. I can tell he’s doing his best not to smirk. “Didn’t Katie tell you about me?”

“No. She didn’t.” Drew gives me a confused look.

“Oh, well then, let me tell you myself. Katie and I have been like two peas in a pod all summer! Haven’t we, Katie?”

I want to die. Even from a few feet away, I can smell booze on Eddie’s breath. It’s not even noon. “Right,” I say, “we’re friends. And Eddie knows all about you, Drew. Eddie, haven’t I been telling you all summer how much I miss him?”

“She has indeed,” Eddie says. He reaches out to shake Drew’s hand. “You are one lucky man,” he tells him. “Girls like Katie are one in a million, and she is
very
devoted to you.”

I make a gesture over Eddie’s shoulder like I’m chugging from a bottle, and mouth,
“Drunk.”

“Well . . . thanks,” Drew says. “It was nice meeting you.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” Eddie says.

The three of us stand there for a moment in awkward silence.

Drew clears his throat. “I guess we’d better get going, Katie.”

“Right!” Eddie blurts. “You have to go . . . back to Pennsylvania?”

“West Virginia,” Drew says. “She’s going back to school.” He looks from me to Eddie, then back to me, and finally says, “I’ll let you two say your good-byes. Okay?” And he walks around the car and climbs into the driver’s side.

Before I can hurry away, Eddie pulls me into a tight hug. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, suddenly sober.

Thank God Drew can’t hear us. “So am I,” I whisper back. As we stand there holding each other, I realize how hard I’ve fallen for him. I want to stay here in his arms, instead of getting into the car with Drew. All of a sudden it’s obvious: I want Eddie
because.
I love Drew
despite.

Eddie gives me a kiss on the forehead. We pull apart. I notice that Drew is watching us in the rearview mirror.

“I hope I see you again,” Eddie says.

I feel like crying. “Me too.”

Drew is quiet as we make our way out of New Haven. Once we’re on the interstate, he says, “You must have spent a lot of time with Eddie. He seemed really attached to you.”

“We were just friends,” I say. “I mean, you don’t have to be suspicious or anything. I would never—”

“Don’t worry about it,” he interrupts, closing his hand over mine. “I trust you completely, Katie.” He winks at me. “You’re my girl.”

“Oh.” I bite my bottom lip. “Good. I just didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

“Katie, come on. I know you better than that. Besides, it was obvious you two were just friends.”

“It was?”

“Sure.” He fiddles with the radio dial, trying to find good reception. “I can spot gays from a mile away.”

chapter 12

From the highest point of the steepest hill that winds down into Woodsdale, West Virginia, tonight you can see the lights of Oglebay—the state’s oldest national park—caped in translucent ice crystals that cough gobs of wetness from the sky and slick the hills, filling the valleys. At the edge of the city, up a narrow unpaved road and through a curtain of pine trees, the entrance to Woodsdale Academy is gated and well lit and attended to at night by Papa Rosedaddy and Puff—a sweet Saint Bernard with late-stage canine arthritis.

Papa Rosedaddy is also the bus driver and the groundskeeper and the school’s sole security guard, and he has been here longer than any of the students, longer even than most of the faculty. Tonight he and Puff walk by flashlight, slowly so as not to fall on the ice that has covered the sidewalks and all but snuffed out the streetlights, taking one long trek across campus for the last time before they go to bed, earlier than usual because of the storm. The evening has crept up on campus, through the weather; there are only a few lights still on in the dorms, persisting against the evening so that the silhouettes through the windows seem like ghosts moving behind a thick frost.

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