Last week I released the first chapter of my new, out-this-week New Adult release “Breathe Into Me”. It ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and, well, I figured you’d appreciate more. 😉
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BREATHE INTO ME
by Sara Fawkes
The restrooms were at the back of the building, butting up against the hotel lobby, and I slipped inside and into one of the few empty stalls. My chest felt like it was about to explode and I sat down hard on the toilet seat. Staring at the metal door, I squeezed my eyes shut and covered my mouth to muffle my sobs.
How did it get this bad? My life wasn’t roses, but nothing like this had ever happened to me. I’d known that Macon was trouble, but I never thought he’d go this far. As long as I gave him what he wanted, things were usually okay. He’d offered to let me live with him, an escape from my own wretched home life. I’d actually been seriously thinking of taking him up on it.
Was this what I had to look forward to, being whored out to all his friends?
The bathroom door banged open, and a couple girls spilled inside. “Oh my god, I want to have his babies!”
I recognized Ashley’s voice, but stayed quiet. Right now I didn’t want to deal with the girl; hell, I didn’t want to deal with my life. To keep from being noticed, I lifted my feet up onto the toilet bowl, hugging my knees to my chest.
“Oh yeah, he’s hot! I wanna dance with him next.”
I hadn’t seen Samantha come into the bar. She was another one of Ashley’s cronies, an older girl who liked to pick up younger guys. I wasn’t sure how old she was, but I would have guessed close to thirty. Either that, or smoking had aged her like it did my grandma.
“No, he’s just cute. I’m talking about Macon. Did you see him all hot and bothered just now?”
“I thought you were talking about the blond one.”
“Meh, he’s not my type. I sicced Lacey on him, but she’s fuck-all as a wingman. Bitch cockblocked me on the other guy.”
My throat closed at their words, and I had to fight not to make a sound. The noise of the club right outside the door allowed me some measure of anonymity, but I suddenly found it difficult to breathe.
“The blond one’s cute enough, but I wanted that other boy, the one who came with whatever-his-name-is I danced with. Gawd, he’s sexy!”
“Ooh, you totally gotta point him out.” Samantha giggled. “Why do you even pretend to be friends with her anyway? She’s so boring.”
“I know, right? Plus she’s a total skank.”
I couldn’t breathe. Hands flattened to the walls beside me, I dipped my head down between my knees, struggling to get air into my quaking lungs. My whole body trembled with humiliation, small breaths tearing from my mouth. They were quiet enough to be covered by the music in the bar, and I covered my mouth to hold them inside.
Ashley had been a constant in my life for nearly a year. I was her chauffer and party buddy, but we rarely had mingled outside the club scene. The last time she’d called needing my help, I’d come running, only to have her so-called emergency be that a boy wouldn’t go out with her unless she found someone for his father. Namely, me. She hadn’t spoken to me for nearly a month when I’d walked away from that “opportunity.”
Dry heaves wracked my body as the two girls left, giggling like loons, but I swallowed them back, taking quick short breaths. I had to get out of there. My life was nothing but a huge lie, one big hellhole that never ended. I was tired of perpetuating it, allowing it to control me and my decisions.
When I’d steadied myself, I pulled open the stall door and checked myself in the mirror. Wetting my fingers, I cleaned up the smudged mascara under my eyes, and then exited the bathroom. The cacophony around me added to the pounding in my head as I made a beeline for our table.
Everett was still sitting back in his chair, just taking in the surroundings, but when he saw my face he sat up straight. “What’s wrong?”
Everything is wrong, that’s the problem.
“I have to go.”
“Did something happen?”
Telling him anything about my pathetic life would only make me feel worse. I grabbed my purse off the table, eager to get out of there as fast as possible, but a nagging suspicion made me pause and check my wallet. I cursed and, ignoring the dark-haired boy, stomped over to the bar across the room.
The place was packed and the bartender busy, but something must have shown in my face because she came up to me immediately. “Oh baby, I’m not gonna like this one, am I?”
I’d only seen Cherise in the bar, and really liked her. She had a way of getting straight to the point that I appreciated. You always knew where you stood with her, and she didn’t tolerate bullshit. “I think Ashley used my card to start her tab.”
Cherise gave a low whistle. “Hold on, let me check.”
The man beside me vacated his seat, and Everett slid over into his place. “Is everything alright?” he asked again.
I swallowed and shook my head, unable to meet his eyes. At that moment, I was barely holding myself together; I couldn’t bear to talk about it now. I wanted to ignore him and leave the bar, but he didn’t seem to get the hint. I was still reeling from everything that had happened in too short a time, and I couldn’t take much more tonight.
Cherise appeared a few seconds later and handed me a card. Sure enough, it was mine. “Goddammit,” I muttered, stuffing it blindly back into my purse. “How much was she up to?”
“Baby girl, you don’t want to know.”
I felt like crying. She must have seen it in my face because she leaned over the bar, waving a hand to grab my attention. “Look, this time it’s on the house. But try to keep your stuff safer, and tell your friend she’s cut off for the rest of the night.”
Considering it wasn’t even midnight yet, I knew Ashley wouldn’t like that news. And I didn’t fucking care. “She’s not my friend.” Not anymore. She’d once told me she did this kind of things to girls she pretended to be friends with, stealing their cards and starting up her own bar tabs. She’d sworn that I’d never fall into that category.
The joke was once again on me.
Everett was still there, silently watching my humiliation. I couldn’t take his staring anymore, and pushed away from the bar. “I’m not drunk enough for this shit,” I muttered darkly, my fingernails digging in the faux leather purse. Alcohol always made things easier, even if I regretted my decisions in the morning.
“Think a few shots will loosen your knees a bit?”
The vulgar statement made me freeze. Thick arms wrapped themselves around my shoulders, and Macon pressed his groin into my backside. My hands clenched around the strap of my purse, my whole body tensing with dread. Macon laid a kiss on the top of my head, and I flinched, the trembling beginning anew. Where once I’d found comfort in the beautiful man’s arms, now I couldn’t get his words out of my head.
What do you say we show them how good you really are.
Was I really that blind?
“You ran off on me, baby. A man gets worried.”
His arms were like an iron prison, pinning me to the bar. I tried to shrug him off, too petrified to say a word, but he only held me tighter. “Macon, I was just . . . ”
He ignored me, dipping his head close beside my ear. I could smell the alcohol on his breath as he murmured, “Why don’t we go for a ride and talk about some things?”
He wasn’t asking a question; Macon expected me to meekly get into that jacked-up truck of his like I always did. He’d insinuated himself into my life right as I was trying to change myself, trying to turn away from the dark path I was on. He’d whispered about love and escape, promising me a safe haven with him. That promise of security had blinded me to so much. I’d known that I couldn’t trust him, but my need for a fresh start had convinced me I could make it work.
When did my life get so fucked up?
“I’m going home,” I mumbled, twisting and trying to duck out of his arms, but Macon pushed me back against the bar.
“No, I’m going to buy you a drink. Then we’re going to take a ride.”
His hand clamped around my upper arm, thumb digging cruelly between the muscles. He smiled again at my gasp, the expression a direct contrast to the tightening hand around my arm. “You can sleep afterward. C’mon baby, just one drink.”
I struggled against his grip. “Macon, no.”
Terror bloomed in my heart as his face twisted. It was like he was trying to smile, but the expression warred with how he really felt. “What do you mean, no?”
I cringed away as another voice spoke up. “Are you illiterate as well as stupid? The lady said no.”
The dark-haired boy I’d been trying to ignore all night was staring at Macon, eyes narrowed. Macon’s lip curled in distaste. “Fuck off, loser.”
Everett moved in close, narrowly insinuating himself between us until he was face-to-face with Macon. Macon was taller by an inch or two, but Everett had more muscle. Everett’s face was motionless and chillingly blank, but Macon turned red with fury. “Who the fuck is he?”
“Hey. HEY!” Glass shattered behind the bar, and all our gazes swiveled toward Cherise. The bartender held the top of an empty beer bottle, jagged glass points still dripping with the remains of the liquid inside. “You two,” she said, indicating at Macon and Everett with the jagged weapon, “can take that outside, but she stays here.”
Macon let me go and I stumbled back to the wood bar. The crash had drawn unwanted attention; our disagreement had been lost in the roar of the club noise until then. Mortified, I couldn’t do anything more than cling to the wood, wishing this were just some bad dream.
I cringed away as Macon reached for me, but he just smoothed a strand of hair behind my ear. “C’mon, baby, I’m not mad. Why don’t you stop making a scene and just come with me. You don’t want to disappoint me, do you?”
Disappoint me. He said that to me a lot. That line, I realized, always made me go back to him. Even now, I could feel what the words were doing, eating at my soul and begging me to apologize for whatever I’d done. But I still felt my lips form my response, even if it was too low for anyone else to hear. “No.”
I knew what was about to happen the instant I saw Macon’s face twist. I flinched away, waiting for a blow that never came. Macon’s hand was wrenched from my arm, and there was a popping noise of flesh on flesh. I turned back just in time to see Macon fall flat on the floor. Everett, his face still cool, stood in front of me, fists at his side as he stared down at the blond man. He was so still now, I wouldn’t have known he’d knocked Macon to the floor if I hadn’t seen it. His motions had been a blur, and he stared coldly down as if daring Macon to get back up.
“The lady’s spoken,” Cherise said behind me as two big men in dark shirts appeared. “And you can go to hell if you think you’re ever coming back in this bar again.”
“I don’t see any ladies here,” Macon snarled at her, wiping at his mouth.
Cherise’s lips thinned, the hand around the broken bottle tightening. “Take this piece of shit out of here before I do something I won’t regret.”
One man picked up Macon from the floor while another reached for Everett. I laid my hand on the bouncer’s arm and looked at Cherise. “He’s with me,” I said, not wanting to see him tossed out.
The bouncer looked over at Cherise, who nodded. The second man took Macon’s other arm and the two dragged him out of the bar.
“You little bitch,” I heard Macon shout over the din of the bar before he was ejected.
Once they were out, everyone around us turned back to whatever they’d been doing before the spectacle. My legs were too shaky to walk in the narrow heels I’d worn to the club. At the edge of the crowd I saw Ashley watching me, distaste written all over her face.
“Do you need a ride home?”
I looked up into Everett’s face, then back down. His voice was soft, even in the loud bar, and the kindness was almost too much to take. Close to tears, I nodded and fished through my purse for the keys. I was supposed to be Ashley’s designated driver, but I didn’t care what happened to her now. “See to it that my ex-friend gets these, please.”
Cherise nodded. “Will do.”
I stared at the floor, wishing it would swallow me whole. Eyes around the room burned into my back, and I knew my name would be on the rumor mill by morning. Maybe I should have been used to that by now, but the thought made my heart hurt.
“We can go through the hotel. I’m parked around the side.”
The thought of going out the back entrance again made me nervous, but I knew it was the right choice. There was no doubt in my mind that Macon was waiting outside the front door for us to leave that way. This bar could be rough, and while the bouncers inside wouldn’t let anyone fight, the parking lot wasn’t safe. Issues were frequently resolved out there, usually violently, and I didn’t want to take that risk tonight.
Everett laid his hand on my elbow and I flinched away, moving quickly to the hotel door. I could feel eyes from all sides silently judging me. There goes that tramp. Even if I couldn’t hear them, I knew what they were thinking.
Once we got outside Everett took the lead as we made a beeline for his vehicle. I saw no sign of Macon but didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until I was inside the car. It was a ratty old thing, not quite what I’d expected, but the interior was nice and the engine started up smoothly.
“Where do you live?”
My distrust reared up again, but I tamped it down. He needed to know where to drop me off at least. “Closer to the coast. I’ll show you when we get there.” Street signs were impossible to read in the dark anyway.
He nodded and pulled out of the parking lot. As we pulled past the entrance to the bar, I saw Macon outside the door, craning his head to see inside. Bitterness churned in my gut at the thought of having to face him again, and I crouched low in my seat until we were past.
I spared a quick glance at Everett, and then shook my head. “I just want to go home.”
He just nodded and stayed silent as we headed south. The clock told me it wasn’t yet midnight. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone home so early on a Saturday night. I was beat though; between a long day and a night from hell, I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up the next morning.
There was no other conversation other than directions, and for that I was grateful. Everett was little more than a stranger, but I desperately wanted to trust him and that scared me. It was so much easier to do things like get into a stranger’s car when I was drunk. Tonight, however, I was as sober and clear-eyed as I’d been in years, and was tired of making poor choices.
My grandmother lived in a mobile home, and we’d been here since I was fifteen. Even after four years, I was still embarrassed to be living in a trailer park, so I had Everett stop at the entrance instead of driving to the house itself. As I opened the door and got out, I heard him ask, “Are you going to be okay?”
I almost nodded, then took a deep breath and leaned down to face him. “Thanks for the ride.”
He smiled, and in the light of his car I saw dimples that I’d missed in the bar. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Oyster Cove was a small town, making it difficult to keep away from folks. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to see him again and relive the night’s events, but I still gave him a wan smile before closing the door. He didn’t drive off until I’d already gone a few yards, as if waiting for me to turn around and ask for help.
It amazed me that the thought to do so actually crossed my mind.
My grandmother’s narrow trailer was at the first bend in the road, and I saw with some dismay that the light was still on inside. Sighing, I walked up the steps and unlocked the door, stepping inside.
“So, where have you been off gallivanting tonight?” My grandmother Diana sat at the dining room table, glaring up at me as I set my purse on a small end table.
“Work went late, then somebody asked me to be the DD tonight.” I wasn’t going to apologize to this woman.
She sniffed, looking down her nose at me. “I can smell the alcohol on you. So irresponsible, you could have killed somebody driving like that.”
I bristled at her lie. I hadn’t had a drop of drink all night, there was no way I smelled of alcohol.
“I could have used your help tonight,” she continued, “but no, you had to go and spend your money on booze and parties.”
It was an old argument, and one I didn’t feel like having again. “I’m going to bed. You can yell at me in the morning.”
“Don’t you sass me, girl! This is my roof you live under; I pay your bills.”
A sharp retort rose and died on my lips. Diana had long since paid off the mobile home. In fact, the “rent” I paid to her exceeded any expenses for the small plot of land in the park. There was always something I had to pay, some bill she’d wave in my face for something that my mother or little brother needed. If I didn’t help, then I was a bad daughter or sister.
There was never enough, at the end of the month, for me to afford my own place. Rent in this part of Mississippi was absurdly cheap, yet despite holding down two jobs I never had more than two nickels to rub together.
“Good night, Diana.”
My grandmother made an angry noise when I used her given name. “You are so . . . so . . . ” She couldn’t seem to find the right word, and I didn’t care. Hurrying to my room, I shut the door on her and picked up my headphones and old iPod.
Flopping onto the twin bed, I picked out my “Catharsis” playlist on the iPod and turned the volume up loud enough to drown out everything. Even as Skrillex blared through the tiny earbuds, my eyelids grew heavy and I lay back against the pillow. I dabbed at one eye, picking up the excess fluid there before it could turn into a tear, then pulled the comforter over me and fell into a fitful slumber.