Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan

Page 1
1. Nonexistent   Breathe. My eyes swelled as I swallowed against the lump in my throat. Frustrated with my weakness, I swiftly brushed the tears that had forced their way down my cheeks with the back of my hand. I couldn’t think about it anymore - I would explode.   I looked around the room that was mine, but had no true connection to me - a hand-me-down desk with a mismatched chair against the wall across from me with a three tiered bookcase that had seen too many homes in too many years next to it. There were no pictures on the walls. No reminder of who I was before I came here. It was just a space where I could hide – hide from the pain, the glares and the cutting words.   Why was I here? I knew the answer. It wasn’t a choice to be here; it was a necessity. I had nowhere else to go, and they couldn’t turn their backs on me. They were the only family I had, and for that I couldn’t be grateful.   I lay on my bed, attempting to divert my attention to my homework. I winced as I reached for my Trigonometry book. I couldn’t believe it was sore already. Great! It looked like I’d be wearing long sleeves again this week.   The aching pain in my shoulder caused the images of the horrific exchange to flash through my head. I felt the anger rising, making me clench my jaw and grit my teeth. I took a deep breath and allowed the dull wash of nothingness to envelop me. I needed to push it out of my head, so I forced myself to concentrate on my homework.   I was awoken by a soft tap at my door. I propped myself up on my elbows and tried to focus in my dark room. I must have been asleep for about an hour, but didn’t remember dozing off.   “Yeah,” I answered, my voice caught in my throat.   “Emma?” the small cautious voice called out as my door slowly opened.   “You can come in Jack. ” I tried to sound welcoming despite my crushed disposition.   His hand gripped the doorknob, as his head - not much taller than the knob - peaked in.   Jack’s enlarged brown eyes scanned the room until they connected with mine - I could tell he was nervous about what he might find - and smiled at me in relief. He knew way too much for his six years.   “Dinner’s ready,” he said, looking down. I realized it wasn’t the message he wanted to be responsible to give me.   “Okay, I’ll be right there. ” I tried to smile back to assure him it was okay. He walked toward the voices in the other room. The clatter of platters and bowls being set on the table along with Leyla’s excited voice awaited me down the hall. If anyone were to observe this routine, they would think this was the picture perfect American family sitting down to enjoy dinner together.   The picture changed when I crept out of my room. The air became thick with discord with the crushing reminder that I existed, a blemish to their portrait. I took another deep breath and tried to convince myself I could get through this. It’s just another night, right? But that was the problem.   I walked slowly down the hall and into the light of the dining room. My stomach turned as I crossed the threshold. I kept my gaze down at my hands that I twisted in anticipation. To my relief, I wasn’t noticed when I entered the room.   “Emma!” Leyla exclaimed, running to me. I bent down, allowing her to jump into my arms. She gave me a tight embrace around my neck. I released a breathy grunt when the pain shot up my arm.   “Did you see my picture?” she asked, so proud and excited of her swirls of pink and yellow. I felt the glare on my back, knowing that if it were a knife, I’d be incapacitated instantly.   “Mom, did you see my drawing of Tyrannosaurs Rex?” I heard Jack ask, attempting to distract the attention away from my disruption.   “That’s wonderful, honey,” she praised, redirecting her attention to her son.   “It’s beautiful,” I said softly to Leyla, looking into her dancing brown eyes. “Why don’t you go ahead and sit for dinner, okay?”   “Okay,” she agreed, having no idea that her affectionate gesture had caused tension at the dinner table. How could she? She was four, and to her I was the older cousin she idolized, while she was my sun in this dark house. I could never blame her for the added grief her fondness for me caused. The conversation picked up and I thankfully became invisible once again.   After waiting until everyone was served, I helped myself to the chicken, peas and potatoes. I could sense that my every move was being scrutinized, so I kept my focus on my plate while I ate. I knew that what I’d taken wasn’t enough to satisfy my hunger, but I didn’t dare take more.   I didn’t listen to the words coming from her mouth as she went on and on about her trying day at work. Her voice raked through me, making my stomach turn. George responded with a comforting remark, attempting to re-assure her as he always did. The only acknowledgement I received was when I asked to be excused. George looked across the table with his ambivalent eyes and dryly granted my request.   I gathered my plate, along with Jack and Leyla’s, since they’d already left to watch TV in the living room. I began my nightly routine of scraping plates and placing them in the dishwasher, along with scrubbing the pots and pans George used to prepare the dinner.   I waited for the voices to move into the living room before I returned to the table to finish clearing. After washing the dishes, taking out the trash and sweeping the floor, I headed back to my room. I passed by the living room with the sounds of the TV and the kids laugher in the background. I slipped by unnoticed, as usual.   I lay on my bed, plugging in the ear buds to my iPod, and turned up the volume so my mind was too preoccupied with the music to think. Tomorrow I would have a game after school that would keep me late, missing our wonderful family dinner. I breathed deep and closed my eyes. Tomorrow was another day – one day closer to leaving this all behind.   I rolled on my side, forgetting about my shoulder for a moment, until painfully reminded of what I was leaving behind. I shut off my light and let the music drone me to sleep.   ~~~~~   I grabbed a granola bar on my way through the kitchen with my duffle bag in hand and backpack slung on my shoulder. Leyla’s eyes widened with delight when she saw me. I went over and kissed the top of her head, making a conscious effort to ignore the penetrating glare I was receiving from across the room. Jack was sitting next to Leyla at the island eating cereal - he slipped me a piece of paper without looking up.   “Good Luck!” was written in purple crayon with an adorable attempt at a soccer ball drawn in black. He glanced at me quickly to catch my expression, and I flashed a half smile, so she wouldn’t pick up on our interaction. “Bye guys,” I said, turning toward the door.   Before I could reach it, her cold hand gripped my wrist. “Leave it. ”   I turned towards her. Her back was shielding the kids from witnessing her venomous glare. “You didn’t ask for it on your list. So I didn’t buy it for you. Leave it. ” She held out her hand.   I set the granola bar in her palm and was instantly freed from her crushing grasp. “Sorry,” I murmured and rushed out of the house before there was more to be sorry for.   “So… what happened when you got home?” Sara demanded in anticipation, lowering the volume of the fast beat punk song when I entered her red convertible coupe.   “Huh?” I responded, still rubbing my wrist.   “Last night, when you go home,” Sara prompted impatiently.   “Not much really - just the usual yelling. ” I replied, downplaying the drama that awaited me when I got home from practice yesterday. I decided not to divulge more as I casually rubbed my bruised arm. As much as I loved Sara and knew she would do anything for me, there were some things I thought best to save her from.   “So, just yelling, huh?” I knew she wasn’t completely buying it. I wasn’t the best liar, but I was convincing enough.   “Yeah,” I mumbled, clasping my hands together, still shaking from her touch. I kept my eyes focused to the side, watching the trees fly by, broken up by the oversized homes with their landscaped lawns, feeling the crisp late September air whip against my flushed face.   “Lucky for you, I guess. ” I could feel her looking at me, waiting for me to confess.   Sara turned up the music, recognizing I wasn’t going to give her more, and started yelling while thrusting her head to a British punk band.   We pulled into the school parking lot, receiving the usual turning of heads from the students and the shaking of the heads from the faculty. Sara was oblivious, or at least acted like she could care less. I ignored it, because I really could care less.   I slung my backpack over my left shoulder and walked across the parking lot with Sara. Her face beamed with an infectious smile as people waved to her from across the parking lot. I was barely noticed, but I wasn’t bothered by the lack of recognition. It was easy to be overshadowed by Sara’s charismatic presence with her mane of gorgeous fiery hair that flowed in layers to the middle of her back.   Sara was every high school boy’s fantasy, and I’m sure some of the male teachers’ as well. She was startlingly attractive and had the body of a swimsuit model, filled out in just the right places. But what I loved about Sara was that she was real. She may have been the most desired girl in school, but it didn’t go to her head.   “Good morning, Sara” could be heard from just about everyone we passed as she walked with a bounce of energy through the junior halls. She’d return these welcomes with a smile and a similar greeting.   There were some greetings thrown my way as well, to which I would respond with a quick glance and a nod of my head. I knew the only reason they even acknowledged me was because of Sara. I actually wished I wasn’t noticed at all as I slunk through the halls in Sara’s shadow.   “I think Jason’s finally coming around to realizing I exist,” Sara declared while we gathered what we needed for our first class from our adjacent lockers. By some miracle, we were in the same homeroom together, making us practically inseparable. Well, that was until our first class when I headed to Advanced Placement English and she was off to Algebra II.   “Everyone knows you exist, Sara,” I responded with a wry smile. Some too well, I thought, holding my smile.   “Well, it’s different with him. He barely looks at me, even when I sit right next to him. It’s so frustrating. ” She collapsed back against her locker. “You realize guys notice you too,” she added picking up on my emphasis, “but you can’t look up from your books long enough to notice them. ”   My face turned red and I looked at her with a questioning scowl. “What are you talking about? They only notice me because I’m with you. ”   Sara laughed, her perfect white teeth gleaming. “You have no idea,” she scoffed, still smiling in amusement.   “Enough. It doesn’t matter anyway,” I replied dismissively, my face still hot. “What are you going to do about Jason?”   Sara sighed, holding her books to her chest while running her blue eyes along the ceiling as she looked distant, lost in thought.   “I’m not sure yet,” she said from that far off place that kept the corners of her mouth curled up. It was evident she was picturing him and his swept back blond hair, intense blue eyes, and drop-dead smile. Jason was the captain and quarterback of the football team. Could it get any more cliché?
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