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Authors: Janette Paul

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BOOK: Just Breathe
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Chapter Eleven

‘Stand at the front of your mat, palms pressed together in front of your chest. Good. Taking a deep breath, stretch your arms above your head and feel the sun on your face.’ Dee watched her five students cast crisp, black shadows along the timber decking as she took them through the Sun Salutation.

They were on the back deck of the Roxburghs’ humble holiday cottage, water lapping restfully nearby, the early morning sun gentle on their faces, warming the yoga mats under their bare feet. If there was ever a right moment to salute the sun, this was it.

Bart was the only male who’d braved his hangover to turn up for class. The woman with the perfectly round breasts hadn’t shown either but the others, in various stages of recovery, had arrived more or less eager to yoga themselves into better spirits. Dee had taken pity and was easing them very slowly through the early warm-up postures, conscious of the whimpers from the mats.

‘Breathe out slowly as you move your left leg back and ease into Mountain Pose.’ At this rate, we may never get past the warm-up, Dee thought.

She put a finger on Gina’s shoulder to adjust her position then stood back to watch her. A movement inside the house made her lift her eyes. Ethan was watching the class from the giant window. A different Ethan – no suit or tie or businesslike intenseness. His hair was tousled like he’d just got out of bed in the crumpled green t-shirt and baggy trousers he was wearing.

Something inside Dee dropped and clanged around in the pit of her belly. He raised a coffee cup to her in a wave. She put up a hand, waggled her fingers, the thing clanging about some more.

There was a grunt from the mats and she realised she’d left her students in a communal lunge that was starting to wobble. ‘Breathe in as you bring your, ah’ – was it the left or right foot? – ‘other foot in.’

She looked back to the glass. Ethan was gone. So was the clanging. Just as well – very distracting.

The class wound up with a long meditation, during which she suspected at least one of them fell asleep. As they disappeared for breakfast and showers, Dee found a newspaper and a comfy seat in the sun and an hour later she had the house to herself, relieved the job so far was more paid vacation than the
. She lifted her mug. Mmm, the Roxburgh holiday house had great coffee.

‘Have you eaten?’

Ethan’s voice in the quiet stillness startled her. With a sudden, involuntary full body jolt, her head flew up, the cup jerked in her hand and a stream of coffee formed an arc of brown in the air before depositing itself down the front of her t-shirt.

The hot liquid landed like a bucket of fire. She leaped to her feet, yanking at the front of her top. ‘Ow, ow!’ But the fit was snug and the fabric clung to her and the coffee burned all the way down as it ran into the top of her tights. She finally managed to haul the shirt over her head and flung it to the ground.

Ethan unfurled a tea-towel from his shoulder, dipped it in the glass of water he was holding and held them both out to her. ‘Here. Use this.’

Dee grabbed the glass, threw the water over her chest and gasped as ice cubes dropped like hailstones to the deck. She looked up at Ethan, saw he was teetering between alarm and laughter, and helped tip him over with a gusty hoot. ‘Wow, that was cold.’

‘I didn’t expect you to drown yourself in it. Are you okay?’

She glanced down. The coffee-stained cups of her ugly, old sports bra formed sentinels either side of a fat, pink trail of scorched skin that ran from her throat to the top of her tights. Below that, little rivulets of espresso dribbled down her bare calves and pooled around her feet on the deck.

‘I’m fine, I think. No serious damage.’

He stepped closer, holding the towel to her belly. Dee closed her lips over a groan of pleasure. She could smell his pine-fresh shampoo, feel his breath on her bare shoulder, his thigh against her hip. She watched in fascination as her skin went all goosebumpy under the pressure of his palm, felt it tingle sweetly all the way down her legs. Still holding the cloth to her burn, he took one of her hands and gently pressed it to his, letting his fingers slide out from underneath so she could hold it herself. ‘I’m sorry. I thought you knew I was there.’

She cleared her throat. ‘No, I thought everyone had gone to the vineyards.’ She’d been relieved when Lucy hadn’t insisted she join the excursion – she was meant to be earning money, not spending it on pricey lunches and wine.

‘Let me make you brunch while you clean yourself up. Do you need more ice?’

Some more of that bandage holding might be nice. ‘No, I’ll just stand under a cold shower. And food sounds great, thanks.’

By the time she’d changed, rinsed her clothes and hung them out to dry, Ethan had cleaned up the coffee mess, set the table and found another newspaper. Over scrambled eggs and toast, they passed the time of day briefly then settled into silence over the weekend news.

Probably relieved he doesn’t have to talk, Dee thought. He must think she was a complete idiot. He was so sensible and professional and she was a walking disaster whenever he was
around. The tally was growing longer – cheesecakes in the face, escaping breasts, falling down, throwing coffee at herself. And why was she still hungry?

‘Do you mind if I have the last piece of toast?’ she asked.

‘Sure.’ He watched her with an amused tweak of the brow as she spread the jam. ‘You can really pack it away. I thought someone like you would eat like a bird.’

She bristled. ‘What do you mean someone like me?’

‘You’re tiny. Most women I know starve themselves to look like that.’

‘Actually, it takes some talent to keep this much weight on. I’ve got to eat enough to maintain my energy level but not so much that I throw up on a student’s carpet. Basically, I can’t eat a meal before a class, which makes it pretty hard when I teach all day.’

‘You must be famished by the time you get home at night.’

‘You’re not kidding. Mostly I survive on snacks and coffee then try to stock up on weekends.’

‘If I’d known, I would have cooked more.’ Ethan opened out his half of the newspaper. ‘Would you like the social pages?’

‘No, thanks. Not really my thing. I’ve got the sport. Do you want it?’

‘Maybe later. I’m still reading the travel section.’

Travel? That was Dee’s favourite. They looked quizzically at each other, then went back to the paper. Ten minutes later, Ethan folded his over and slapped it on the table. ‘So, Dee,
you know how to sail?’

She looked up, a limp, please-don’t-ask-me smile on her face. ‘No.’

‘Then it’s time you learned.’

Dee watched him with horror. ‘That’s not a boat. It’s a bathtub.’

She was standing on a small pier below the Roxburghs’ holiday house in someone else’s wetsuit, a fluoro-yellow life jacket and with a large glob of anxiety in her belly. She was pretty sure this wasn’t a step along Security Road and it had absolutely nothing to do with being assertive. Ethan had blackmailed her into it. Told her that since he’d saved her from Glen, cooked her brunch and cleaned up the coffee, it was her turn to help out.’

‘You won’t have to do anything. I just need you for ballast.’

That didn’t sound too bad. It wasn’t that she was scared of sitting on a scrap of fibreglass on a big, deep lake – it was the thought she might fall off. There were fish in there – big fish, sharks probably. Or the teeny-tiny boat might flip over, trap her underneath and she’d drown. It just wasn’t safe.

Ethan reached out a hand to her. He was standing in the water, holding the boat against the dock, seaweed swirling around his legs. ‘Come on. You’ll be fine.’

Dee stepped in, felt it rock back and forth and glanced doubtfully at him. Up close in the sun, his eyes were the colour of rich, dark espresso with little flecks of honeycomb dancing on the surface. Under his sleeveless wetsuit, his shoulders were broad and tanned. There was no collar, no tie, just cool assurance. He hoisted himself aboard and began guiding the boat out to the green depths of the lake.

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ he asked.

‘We could
.’ Wasn’t it obvious?

‘If that’s what you’re worried about, let’s do it.’


‘Just to show you it’s not as scary as you think.’ He stood up. The boat pitched precariously.

‘No! Wait!’ Dee yelled. ‘Isn’t that dangerous? What if we get trapped under the sail?’

‘If you come up under the sheet, take a deep breath and swim out. Easy. The good thing about the lake is that the shore is never very far away. If anything happens, you can always swim back.’ As he was talking, he slowly tipped the boat to one side. ‘Time to jump, Dee.’

‘No!’ Half-falling, half-launching, she splashed into the lake, thrashing around, kicking wildly to fend off sharks. She came up under the sail, took a deep breath and swam underwater. When she surfaced again, she was alone. Just her, the upturned vessel and a lot of water. ‘Ethan?’ she called. ‘Ethan!’

His voice from the other side sounded thin and hollow. ‘Swim around.’

With quick strokes, she rounded the boat, relieved to find him treading water in the shadow of the hull. She wanted to paddle right up to him, hug him for not drowning.

‘We have to pull it up,’ he said. ‘Hang on to the side and we’ll use our weight to right it.’

As she reached up to grip the side, something slid past her leg – something slimy and slow. She gasped, threw herself back, stared into the depths of the lake. It was murky down there; she couldn’t even see the rubber shoes that Ethan had made her wear. There it was again – slimy and slow and very fish-like. She snapped her legs back, keeping them high, hoping whatever was prowling about was dumb enough not to look up.

‘This is nice.’ Ethan’s voice was so close she could feel his breath on her ear. ‘But it might be easier if we both try to pull the boat up.’

‘Huh?’ Dee turned, saw his face just inches from hers, which was a lot further away than the rest of her body. In recoiling from the slimy thing, she’d wrapped herself around him like a koala baby – legs around his waist, arms around his neck, everything else pressed hard up against him. And what an impressive place to be. Even with layers of wetsuits and life vests, she could
feel the firm expanse of his chest, his flat belly, the nicely toned butt her feet rested on. A wave of heat washed over her – embarrassment with a touch of lust – and as the thought formed that she really made a very nice fit, she shoved away, surprised the water wasn’t boiling from the blush in her face. ‘Something was swimming around my legs and I, um, got nervous, and, ah, where am I meant to hold on?’

Between them they got the boat upright, and Ethan lifted himself back in with a quick, efficient hitch. Looked easy enough. Dee lifted a leg onto the side, hung there, one arm, one foot aboard but unable to drag the rest of her body and the bulky life jacket up and over. Okay, not so easy. She dropped back in the water, took hold of the seat and attempted to drag herself in head first.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked.

‘Well, I’m not playing hopscotch with the sharks down here. I can’t get in.’

Creased brow, small smile. ‘Throw a leg.’

She did, and he grabbed the back of her buoyancy vest, picked her up and rolled her in – not unlike a big fish, really. She lay on the seat, staring up at the deep blue sky, feeling the salt dry on her skin. ‘I imagined you’d do the kind of sailing that involved champagne and high heels. Not that I’ve got heels but a stiff drink would go down a treat right now.’

He laughed. ‘I’ve got a boat like that in Sydney Harbour but I like the real thing. I haven’t done this in ages, didn’t realise how much I’d missed it. It’s great, isn’t it? Look, there’s wind coming. Time to get over here and make good on your job description.’

‘Can’t I be ballast from here?’

‘Only if you want to get rolled back into the water.’ As he said it, the wind snapped at the sail and the boat heeled over.

Dee crawled across. He showed her how to sit on the lip of the boat, gave her a rope to hang on to and they took off across the water.

‘Lean out!’ he called, his voice slipping away on the wind.

She swung her head and saw him leaning backwards, almost parallel to the water. ‘No way!’

‘Come on, Dee. We won’t go anywhere unless you put in some effort. Just don’t let go of the rope.’

‘What happened to “you won’t have to do anything”?’

‘I was kidding.’

She edged further out, tested her back in the position, put her weight against it and they cut through the water. Wind blew across her face like a cold blast from a hairdryer, dragging at her ponytail, drying her eyes. Water slapped beneath them and sprayed over the bow. Don’t let go, Dee. Don’t fall in. And stop smiling so much – it lets the water in.

Chapter Twelve

The wind died as quickly as it arrived and heat hung about them like a solid object as they floated adrift on the lake.

Dee stretched out on her back. There wasn’t a hint of a cloud in the clear, blue dome overhead and the sun was a fireball not yet directly above them. She dropped a hand over the side, flicking water across her face, wishing she was clever enough to design a wetsuit that knew when to keep you cool. ‘Can’t we do something?’

‘Start the engine and motor back.’

‘Great.’ Dee sat up and bumped knees with Ethan in the cramped space. ‘How do we do that?’

He repositioned his legs, one either side of hers. ‘You get out and kick while I stay here and steer.’

‘Right, no motor on a sail boat. Very funny.’

‘Actually, we captains use this down time to test our crew on the finer points of seamanship, get them to tie knots, climb the rigging, scrub the decks, that sort of thing.’

‘I’m pretty sure freelance crews are exempt.’

‘Is that right? Sounds like my freelance crew could be a little apathetic. Maybe I should have conducted more detailed interviews before hiring.’

‘Maybe you should have provided a more detailed job description.’

He licked a finger, drew a stroke in the air. That would be one to Dee. The boat lurched as Ethan swung a leg over her knees and crossed his ankles on the bench beside her. Dee grabbed at the mast, worried about tipping overboard again. He watched, grinning slowing as she released
her hold and settled back on her seat.

‘So, sailor,’ he said, ‘what do you do when you’re not at sea?’

She copied his position and propped her feet on the opposite seat, their legs making four parallel lines. ‘You know, the usual: drinking, carousing, bar fights, getting tattoos.’

‘Tattoos, eh? What have you got? “Mum” written across your chest?’

‘That would be worth it just to see the look on her face. Actually, no tattoos. Could never decide what would hold its shape when my skin got old and saggy. How about you?’

‘Never saw the need. Figured I’d make an indelible mark in business instead.’

He cocked an eyebrow. ‘So what about the yoga business? Can you make a buck out of it?’

‘Let’s just say I’ve got a career that makes me rich on the inside.’

His mouth curled a little, just in one corner, and his shoulders did a quick up and down in a brief, quiet laugh.



‘You’re always giving me that look. That one right there, like I’m completely strange, an alien or something, that’s done something inappropriate but vaguely amusing, like drooling. Like I’m a drooling alien. What’s that all about?’

His shoulders did several more ups and downs and his leg bumped against hers as he finally laughed out loud. ‘I can honestly say I’ve never thought of you as a drooling alien.’

‘Nice to know. So what is it then?’

‘You’re a surprise packet. Different. The opposite of everyone else.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Like saying you’ve chosen a career that makes you rich on the inside. Most people would
be desperately defending their business, saying it was still finding its legs or they were looking for the right market entry.’

‘I don’t even know what a market entry is.’


‘So is opposite good or bad?’

He studied her a moment. ‘Neither. Just different.’ Then, as though he’d had enough of that, he raised a fist and squirted a spray of water at her, grinning.


As she wiped her face, he interlocked his hands behind his head, the lighter flecks of colour in his eyes almost gold in the intense sunlight. When she was done and settled again, he tapped his leg on hers, a ‘Hey, Dee’ kind of gesture. ‘So how did you get into yoga?’

She glanced at where his thigh was now lying against hers, spreading warmth from his sun-heated wetsuit, and wondered if he’d left it there on purpose or by accident. There wasn’t another boat within shouting distance and the space between them felt intimate, safe, and as water lapped on the hull like a beat to their conversation, she decided she didn’t mind telling him her story. Something good came from the bad. That was always worth telling. But only the bare bones, she told herself – the flesh still hurt if it was pressed too hard.

‘I was in a car accident about ten years ago.’ She always thought it was strange she couldn’t remember the day that had changed her life. Not that it was a complete blank. She remembered laughing with Anthony and the sharp balls of shattered glass under her hands and the sound of the electric saw cutting the door off and the smell of blood. And the pain – like an electric cow prod plugged into her coccyx and switched to high.

‘Got pretty battered up, crushed some discs in my back, broke a vertebrae and a leg,
smashed a few other bits and pieces.’ Lost her fiancé – not actually
the accident but walking out because he couldn’t deal with what was left of her, which always made it feel like one and the same. ‘I was lucky really. It could have been worse. Spent a few months in hospital and a year in a back brace.’ The cow prod had been turned off by then and replaced with a jack hammer – one with a big, flat plate that beat a constant dull drum.

‘I did loads of physio, which got me back on my feet, but I was still in a lot of pain. Tried all sorts of things: Pilates, chiropractors, osteopaths, acupuncture, magnets, witch doctors, you name it. Then I tried yoga.’ At the time, it was just another attempt to get some relief.

She pulled at the salty hair stuck to her neck, twisted it into a rope and draped it over a shoulder. Ethan watched motionless. He was so close he could have reached out and caught the drips from the bottom of her ponytail but he seemed more fascinated in the way it slowly unravelled.

‘First, the meditation really helped with the pain and the nightmares and the anxiety.’ The heartbreak, too. ‘Then my body started responding to the postures. It built muscle that supported my back and developed flexibility that made moving around so much easier. It took a long time but it pretty much gave me my life back. Just not quite the same one.’ There was no Anthony, no wedding, no future like she’d planned. Just a terrible sense of being alone.

‘I didn’t want to be a radiographer any more. Didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Facing your own mortality kind of changes your perspective. Anyway, I got some money from an insurance payout and went overseas for a while. A long while. Ended up in India studying yoga with the real gurus. When I got home, I joined a yoga school and after a few weeks they asked if I’d teach some classes. I got a couple of private students after that and it just kind of grew from there.’

Ethan dropped a foot to the bottom of the boat. Their knees bumped. He gave hers a rub. A friendly, sorry-’bout-that kind of buff that lingered just a tad longer than seemed necessary. ‘And now you’re an advertising star.’

Dee pulled her eyes from her knee. ‘Did you have to remind me?’

‘What’s wrong with that?’

‘I guess there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not really me, you know, making a spectacle of myself. I prefer a smaller life. I only did it for the money. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it?’

‘Nothing wrong with doing something for money. Everyone needs to eat.’

‘Mmm, I suppose.’

‘So this debt problem. How bad is it?’

She tried to sound unconcerned. ‘Oh, it’s just the usual post-Christmas money crisis with a few added challenges. Like Leon’s car, remember?’ Ethan nodded. ‘And then he moved out, not because of the car, because of Robert, which is great for him, but now I’ve got no furniture.’ He raised his eyebrows in a question. ‘No, really. Nothing at all. Kind of surprised me when I realised. Which was why I did the ad and now I don’t need quite so much money as I did before.’ Liar.

‘So what are you going to do?’

She casually flapped a hand. ‘It’ll sort itself out. I’ll just teach a few extra classes, live like a monk. Keep my fingers crossed.’

‘That’s no way to exist.’

Here we go, she thought, giving a tight little laugh. Someone else about to tell me what I should be doing with my life. Just when she was starting to think he was nicer than the average
man in a suit. ‘You sound like my mother.’

‘I take it your mother would have preferred you were a radiographer.’

‘Anything other than an exercise instructor, as she refers to it. If you listened to her, you’d think I’d been abducted by slave traders and chained to a yoga mat.’

‘What does your dad say?’

She took a second before answering. ‘My dad died when I was eleven.’

A flash of recognition, a hint of pain passed over his face. ‘I’m sorry.’

Dee remembered the picture of Ethan and Lucy on the front page of
The Sydney Morning Herald
the day after their father, Lionel Roxburgh, died of a heart attack in his office. She’d only been teaching Lucy for six months – very stressed, very tight back then. It was midwinter, they’d been rugged up in jackets, Ethan’s hand on Lucy’s elbow as they left the Roxburgh building, their faces partly averted from the cameras. Lucy looked exhausted, as ungroomed as Dee had ever seen her. Ethan stood tall and broad, like a shield for his sister, mouth set, face stoic. The papers said his composure gave shareholders confidence in the face of such an unexpected tragedy. Lionel had been a respected fixture in business, after all, and they were looking to Ethan for the future of Roxburgh Holdings.

Watching him now, relaxed, sure of himself, Dee wondered what it would be like to mourn a parent in public, knowing thousands were watching to see how you handled it.

‘Do you wake up in the night sometimes just aching to see your dad?’ she asked.

Ethan didn’t speak as his face began a slideshow of reaction. His eyes rounded in a ‘bloody hell, what a question’, then his lips pursed ever so slightly, a ‘how dare you get so personal’, followed by a look of dismissal. It got more interesting after that, like a slow dissolve into contemplation, as though the thought had taken a while to sink in but, now it was there, he may
as well give it some attention. His eyes slid away from her, staring unfocused into the distance.

‘Yeah. I do,’ he said at last, not shifting his gaze from whatever held it.

‘Me too.’

Silence settled between them. That was okay. Some thoughts needed to have time to roll around in your head before finding a comfortable place. Dee closed her eyes, thought about the ache that still woke her at night sometimes. ‘It’s like a doughnut hole has been punched in my belly.’ She laid her hands across her stomach. ‘I don’t mind it so much now. I mean, I can’t remember the exact sound of his voice any more or the precise blue of his eyes or how long his fingers were but when I wake up like that, I can remember how it felt to be around him. Like our souls still know each other.’

When she opened her eyes, Ethan was watching her with his dark, espresso eyes. She smiled gently. He smiled back. A small intimate gesture that closed the short distance between them, as though he’d slipped in beside her and told her he understood exactly what she meant. It was a smile that said there was a lot more to Ethan Roxburgh than business confidence and a collar and tie. That it might be interesting to find out.

Whoa there, Dee. Did she want to go there? Nu-uh. She still had the scars from the last collar and tie she’d explored. She dropped a hand over the side of the boat, scooped a handful of water, tossed it at him and broke the moment.

He ducked and grinned, picked up a length of rope and twisted two neat circles. ‘What do you like about teaching yoga?’

Nice, safe subject. She stretched her hands above her head, watching the muscles along the length of her arms. ‘I just
yoga.’ She said it suddenly, passionately. ‘I love doing it. I love watching other people do it. I love to see students learn and improve and challenge themselves.
And I love to watch their bodies and minds get stronger and more flexible.’ She took a breath then stopped, reining herself in. She was enjoying talking to Ethan, more than she’d expected to, and she didn’t want to curb his interest with an impassioned declaration for all things yoga.

‘Then make it work for you.’


‘It’s great you’ve turned your passion into a career but it won’t last if you can’t make a living out of it. A business that doesn’t make a profit won’t survive.’

Easier said than done. ‘But I don’t know how to do it any better.’

As though a switch had been flicked, he lost his wistfulness and got all businesslike and intense again. ‘Dee, not many people get shot from obscurity to notoriety without really trying like you just have. It’ll open doors for you that could make a real difference to your life. Ads pay well but they’re just a launching pad – if you’re willing to have a go. But you need to take advantage of the opportunities you’re getting now because they won’t be there forever.’

She planted her hands on her knees with a slap. ‘Look, it all sounds great, and assertiveness is my new middle name and all that, but I don’t know
to do it.’

‘Okay,’ he said in a now-we’re-getting-somewhere tone. ‘Then you need to decide what you want.’

She’d already done that – standing in the sand, holding the Warrior Pose and pointing her compass to Security Road. ‘Well, money, obviously. I don’t need to be loaded but a bit extra tucked away would be good.’ Surely possession of a nest egg would be considered as having one’s shit together. ‘And I still want to teach yoga.’

‘Then anything you do has to be an add-on to your skills. Make them work for you.’

She smiled, impressed. He wasn’t even attempting to talk her out of the yoga. And he
was different. ‘How do I do that?’

‘Start by following up on those business cards you were given at the dinner, see what they’ve got to offer. To be frank, some of them will be rubbish but have a good look before you reject them.’

It sounded simple when he said it. ‘How do I know if it’s a good offer?’

‘Security of the business, reputation of the owner, breakdown of the –’ He stopped mid-sentence at her look of bewilderment. He dragged his teeth over his lower lip, came to some sort of a decision. ‘Why don’t you let me give you a hand? I can take a look at your business, help you get it on track, and I can give you some advice on any offers that come your way.’

BOOK: Just Breathe
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