Breathe Me Page 12

“Hey, it’s Sasha. How’s it going?”

I glanced at the clock on the cell and shook my head. “It’s just been an hour, you know. We’re still alive. At the park, and he’s having a blast.”

“You took him to the park?” His voice quivered as he spoke, making me wonder what he was thinking.

“Yeah, don’t worry, I got sunblock 2000 on his white boy skin.” I heard him laugh, which made me feel a bit better. “Oh, and by the way, he’s going to use the extra clothes because there’s a water feature here, and he’s going to run through it sooner or later.”

“Oh, okay. Sounds like fun.” Sasha sounded distracted, and I could hear voices interrupting him. “Listen, I just called to see how it was going.”

“I know, have a good one. Oh wait….”

“Yeah?” He was back, listening through the airy static and murmurs of voices.

“He’s not allergic to ice cream is he?” I waited patiently, knowing I was stalling just to listen to his voice. I knew he had to go but wished he didn’t. I continued to follow the little guy around as he paused to watch the kids soaking in the spray of the water feature.

“No, he’s not allergic to anything. Thanks again, Piper, you’ve helped me tons today.”

“Anytime.” I reluctantly hung up after saying goodbye and dropped the phone back into my pocket. I was relishing the heat of the sun on my back, but my scalp was starting to burn. I found a bench closer to the water feature. Cam had his hand in front of one of the spouts, sending water spraying everywhere, and it had him laughing as it soaked his face and shirt.

Watching him play, I found my face stiffening from smiling the entire time. He was having a blast, but he did glance up to search for me every now and then. Once he’d find me, he’d smile and continued to hop on the puddles, letting the water hit him as the nozzles rotated. He was already soaked, just as I’d predicted.

I didn’t mind, though. Now under a shady tree, the burning on my head faded and the soft grass tickled my exposed feet. It’d been so long since I’d been out to a park, and it brought my childhood rushing back to me. To pleasant times before the tragedies had piled up, before my sister drowned and only the years had finally healed my family enough to live again. My heart went out to Cam, having the time of his life. He rightfully should, it passed by so quickly and was over in a flash. Cherishing this odd peace, I watched him enjoy himself and knew he’d healed me somehow. It’s funny how you never realize you need people in your life until you’re already knee deep in love with them. Just like I was with Sasha and Cam.

“WHY DO I have to take a bath? I got all wet at the park. I got all the dirt off already.” Cam licked his snow cone where it has started to drip over his little fingers. He was going to be super sticky by the time we got home, I realized in dismay. I was barely able to tear him away from the park, where he’d been dripping and shivering from being wet. It may have been over a hundred degrees outside, but cold water still feels like the artic when you run in it all day and it blasts you over and over. His lips were stained blue from the snow cone, making him look like a little white boy with hypothermia.

His clothes were drying slowly, hanging from his little frame and cold to the touch. He didn’t seem to mind, and as we walked in the hot afternoon sun, dry spots grew on his shirt. I licked my popsicle, trying to outrun its meltdown in the unrelenting heat. I’d had fun and looked forward to maybe taking him to the park again. I was pretty sure Sasha wouldn’t mind, but I’d make him not mind if he did.

Change was good, I realized, especially for me.

Chapter Thirteen


I WOKE WITH a start, my heart hammering in my chest. It’d been just a dream, the same dream of the past, of Piper, I’d always have. The one where I watched her heart crush under the lies I’d told her as I wrapped my arms around the wrong girl. It was a memory etched so deeply into my brain, I couldn’t rip it out even though I’d wanted to for years and years. Having Piper back in my life, even taking care of my son Cam, was heaven sent, but my fear of losing her again was still there.

Sitting up in the dim light of early morning, I rubbed my face and scratched my head. Cam was sleeping in his room just down the hall, but the longing to have Piper there with me hit me like a freight train. I didn’t want to rush the relationship, but I was running out of time once more. She was worth waiting forever for, but I wanted more now, and I was sure she wasn’t ready for that yet.

I pulled open the drawer of my nightstand and plucked out a dark velvet box. Running my fingers over the smooth surface, I eased it open and studied the shiny diamond ring sitting in it. I’d had it for years. It had been my mother’s engagement ring, and I’d wanted to give it to Piper so many times in college, but the uncertainty of the future had held me back, and it’d been my downfall in the end.

I shut the box and replacing it in the drawer. I knew that this time, she’d have it. This time, I wouldn’t hesitate when the time was right to slip it onto her finger. I didn’t want to wait, I would’ve rushed over to her place and done it immediately if I’d known she was willing. It was getting closer to that time I would ask her. I just didn’t want her to take it the wrong way when she found out about my immigration issues. I should’ve taken care of that ages ago, but I never did, and eventually it had crept back up on me again, like a scorpion, stinging me in the ass.

I’d ask her after my upcoming trip to Moldova. I didn’t want her to believe the only reason I’d want to marry her was for permanent status in the US. I wanted her to know how much I loved her and to wear the ring proudly, without apprehension. I wanted to do it right, without any other reason but love. I had fixed my visa after college, saved by my cousin Vance, who had been part owner of the county fair even back then. If I’d known he’d be able to get me back to the States so quickly after spending a summer back in Moldova, I would’ve never had to hurt Piper the way I did, never have pushed her away. It had all been for nothing.

So many ways to screw life up and so few ways to keep it on track.

Leaning back on my pillow to see if I could catch a few more hours of sleep, I figured I’d find a way this time to solve these issues, ask her to marry me and make things right. Once married, I wouldn’t have to worry about being deported again and leaving my son behind with his grandmother. The looming trip to Moldova gnawed at me, and I hoped that it would go as planned, and I could return to her loving arms and my son’s life sooner rather than later.

I hoped.

Chapter Fourteen


THE DAY WAS only two hours spent, and I was ready to rip my hair out. There were six of us sitting in the hospital conference room and no one had any idea why. The knot of dread sat in my stomach like a brick, and I tapped my foot in a nervous twitch, over and over. Even Teresa, who was sitting next to me, had started throwing me nasty looks mixed with nervousness. I was sure it wasn’t helping that I was so agitated, but it doesn’t help when the CEO has the entire Liaison and Social Worker staff sitting in a conference room at nine a.m. without a clue about what was going to happen.

Shifting in my seat and uncrossing my legs to keep them from twitching, I studied the white cardboard cup, half empty of the morning’s coffee. The others were whispering their predictions about what was going on, but from the sound of it, the CEO, Thomas Richter, never called in a meeting with an entire department without someone getting axed. I prayed it wouldn’t me this time and tried to mentally find something recent that might’ve pissed upper management off. There were always issues—we were the “red tape” department—but nothing had happened which warranted anyone getting sacked.

As the clock ticked loudly, cutting through the whispering coworkers, Thomas strode in followed by his anorexic secretary who appeared so frazzled all the time. I was sure she’d already overdosed on caffeine that morning. Gulping, I straightened in my chair and tried to remember to breathe. My heart was already in overdrive, and I wasn’t sure I could take any more suspense.

“Good morning, everyone. I apologize for calling you here unannounced so early in the morning, but I must address some issues with several members of this department before further issues are made.”

That was not what I wanted to hear.

“Miss Caroline, a very rich debutante from Texas, was recently treated here for emphysema exacerbation and pneumonia. While she was here, she acquired an additional infection and had to remain for further treatment. Well, she did recover as best as someone with terminal lung cancer can, but the equipment she needed for her at-home care never arrived when it was supposed to, and repeated calls from her staff for her medication routine, nursing visits and further instruction on the machines that were eventually brought to her home for her use, were deflected and never answered or took too long to resolve. After having my internal investigation team and risk management putter through her file and other records, I have come to the determination that we have to reorganize this department.”

“Reorganize” was a fancy word for laying off, firing or demoting everyone in the department. I flinched at his words, and my straight back slowly melted into a defeated slouch.

“Will there be more investigating on this? None of us were interviewed or even notified there was a problem,” Renee, the head social worker, said. She was a short, plump woman with startling, ice-blue eyes. She’d been the head of the department for ten years, and from the rage on her face, this was not going over well at all.

“No further interviews will be done, but each one of you will now be answering to Marianne Furlow, the new head of Social Work and Patient Liaison.” A tight faced, raven-haired woman stepped forward, a stack of workbooks in her arms. She passed them out and informed us what the new structure was and who was in charge of what.

“Also, I will need to speak to the following people privately: Renee Taylor, Ann Calvin, Roy Vickers and Piper Sandervale.” With that, they all left the room, leaving us all with our mouths hanging open. One by one, we left for Marianne’s office and waited in the chairs outside of it like we were sitting outside the principal’s office. The stress of it made me want to run to the toilet. We sat there, stunned and nervous, as the moments ticked by.

Finally, Renee emerged and, without even throwing us a second glance, rushed by. Her face red and her eyes swollen from crying, she ran past us and around the corner without even a farewell.

The rest of us exchanged grim looks as Ann stood up and entered Marianne’s office. No matter what, I wasn’t going down without a fight. I wasn’t going to let this crazy Hitler woman tell me I did something wrong when I knew darn well I hadn’t. Ann left the same way Renee had, and then Roy walked into the office and I was left alone. I knew that after today, my life would be vastly different from the plan I’d had so painstakingly laid out for myself.

Chapter Fifteen


THE SUN FELT like hot, molten lava melting my skin and burning it as I lay out by the pool. I didn’t care. I had smothered SPF 2000 all over myself in preparation. It was one of many hazards of living in hell on earth—Las Vegas—in the middle of summer.

I was feeling morose. No one could accuse me of being a social butterfly, especially when I seemed to be one of the only people not in the swimming pool or chatting around the food laid out for Joss’s Fourth of July party. Everyone and their mother was there, but I was just not into it today, especially not after leaving my job like I had yesterday. Still in shock from it, I couldn’t believe I’d walked out, quitting after almost three years working there as an exemplary employee. I’d finally had enough. Somehow, knowing it had been my choice did almost nothing to make me feel more secure. Life was spinning out of control, and I was being dragged along with it.

“Hey there, pretty lady,” a familiar voice twanged from my left side, making me turn and shield my eyes from the intensity of the bright sun’s glare. Spotting Sasha’s charming smile as he took up the lawn chair next to me, I attempted a sorry, halfhearted smile.

“You look like your dog died. What’s up?” he inquired, taking a long sip from a red Solo cup filled with soda, or maybe liquor. Who knew? Mine was empty. I’d had two Midori Sours already, and it wasn’t even noon yet.

“Not really in the festive mood, I guess.”

“It’s Fourth of July. Firecrackers, coconut sunblock lotion and drunk swimming? What’s not to like?”

I snickered, sitting up from my slouched position, and observed the guys jumping off the diving board in the most contorted ways they could imagine. I was pretty sure they were blasted already and weren’t even close to finishing their drinking spree. This was like a college party all over again. Where the hell had Joss met these people?

“Yeah, terrible fun. I feel suddenly like an old maid at some fraternity party.”

Sasha choked on his drink and coughed, laughing through the fit. “You could never be an old maid. Got to stay young at heart, right? Kind of reminds me of good old times.” His smile faded as he noticed my ever-increasing frown. “Alright, it’s a bit immature for everyone to be losing it just because it’s a national holiday, but you have to loosen up a bit. What’s going on?”

I sighed, blinking as the pool water reflected the harsh sunlight. “I quit my job yesterday.”

The silence felt almost as unbearable as his incessant chatter had been, making me turn to make sure he was still sitting next to me.

“I’m sorry. Mind if I ask why?”

I shook my head and rolled my empty cup between my sweaty palms. “Had enough. People are so abusive at the hospital, everyone thinks I’m either there to get yelled at or stepped on or blamed for things not going right. They were going to demote me to secretary, and I was not going to stand for it. I walked out. I should consider myself lucky since three of my other coworkers were axed. It’s so not worth it anymore.”

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