Breathe Me Page 13

“Well, then that’s good you left. You don’t deserve to be treated so badly.”

“The thing is,” I sat up, taking a deep breath as I chewed on my lip, “I don’t know why I didn’t think it through. I’m terrified. I’ve never not worked, I’ve always had a plan and security to focus on. What the hell do I do now?”

“Do you have savings?”

I nodded.

“Good. Find something you love. There’s no better time than now, when things look hopeless, to pursue your dreams. Remember what makes you happy.”

His voice was comforting, and I glanced back toward him, a tiny smile emerging on my lips.

“That’s my girl. There’s that smile I love to see.” He leaned forward, brushing one of my loose strands of hair behind my ear and lingering on my cheek for a moment. His touch felt cold from the icy drink he’d been holding, but it was oh so good on my hot skin.

“Hey, you two.” Joss’s voice sounded off from behind me, and I swung around to find her smug grin pasted across her face. I was sure that under those sunglasses, her eyes were gleaming with satisfaction. “I thought I saw you here, Sasha. Thanks for coming and cheering up my grumpy bear Piper here. She really needs a pick-me-up.”

Sasha stood to give her a hug, like they were old friends. I was glad she’s given him a second chance already. I was still working on it, but I was definitely coming around.

“Speaking of needing something, can I get you another drink, Piper?” Sasha held his hand out, and I handed him my empty cup.

“Sure, some cold coke would be nice. I think I’ve drank enough alcohol for now.” He nodded and headed off inside, where the food and drinks were.

“Seems you guys are looking cozy.” Joss took Sasha’s chair and sighed happily as she patted her flyaway hairs down. “Great turn out! Most of these guys and gals are from the office. They love to party.” She sipped on a margarita and patted my hot knee. Her skin felt soft and cool from her drink, too, and my parched mouth ached for that cold soda I’d sent Sasha for. “Piper, hun, you’ll find another job.”

“I don’t need another job. I need my old job back. How could I be so brass? So stupid! I’ve never walked out on anything before. What was I thinking?”

“You hated it there, get over it.” She gasped, and I dreaded the coming inspiration that had surely struck her. “I have an idea! Sasha probably could use help with his coffee shops! Ask him, I’m sure he’d love to have you there, working alongside him. He’d love to see more of you, I bet.” She squirmed in her chair from excitement, making me mentally roll my eyes as I stared at her, throwing her a not-so-thrilled look.

“No.”

“Oh, come off it. You never know. It could be amazing.”

“I said ‘no,’ so stop it. I’m not asking Sasha for a job.”

“He wants to be with you, can’t you see that? Of course, that means he’d do anything to help you out. What’s a small favor like that?”

“I don’t want to owe him any favors,” I groaned, slumping back down in my chair.

“Mom! Can I have some cake? Oh! Hi, Auntie!” Leah popped up between us and threw her little arms around my neck. I hugged her back and smiled. It’s hard to stay glum around a happy child.

“Hey, pumpkin.” I watched her hang on her mother and lean her head on her shoulder. They looked so content together. Maybe one day, I thought, I’ll have that with my own kids.

“Sure, hun, but only one piece. We haven’t eaten lunch yet.”

“Yaay! Oh, oh! I saw that man from the coffee shop! He’s so nice!” She turned toward me and touched my arm. “Auntie, I think he really likes you. He said he was looking for you, and Mommy said she’d help him get you back. Is he your boyfriend?”

I stared at Leah, flabbergasted and stunned. “What did you say? When were you guys at his coffee shop?”

Joss groaned, patting Leah on her back before sending her away. “It was a couple weeks ago.”

“A couple weeks ago? You mean before Leah’s birthday?”

My questions made her squirm even more and she began to fan herself like mad with an empty paper plate I hadn’t noticed she’d been holding.

“Yes, right before.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? What does she mean you would ‘help’ him get me back?” My voice dropped off as I realized something. A dread grew in the pit of my stomach. “Did you set me up?”

She didn’t answer and sipped on her margarita once more. I grabbed her arm, making the drink slosh onto the ground.

“Joss?”

“Ow! Okay, okay. I didn’t know it was his coffee shop when we went there. He recognized me and came over to ask if I was still in touch with you. I told him I was, and he insisted that he’d been looking for you and wanted to make up for how horrible he’d been to you in college. I told him to f**k off, but he was persistent. He followed us into the parking lot and practically begged me to help him get you back. I gave in, got his number and told him you’d be at the fair on Leah’s birthday with me. I just want you to be happy.”

“Did you text him when we’re heading toward the Ferris wheel?”

Under the already reddened tone of her sunburnt face, I was sure it was getting even more scarlet. “Yes. I told him where we were heading so he could catch up and ride with you.”

“What the hell, Joss? How could you do that?” I slammed my hand on the hard plastic arm of the lawn chair and seethed. My best friend, and she’d set me up when she knew darn well I hated to be set up. And with Sasha of all people, the one who’d broken my heart. She’d just handed me right into the jaws of the lion.

“I’m sorry. He seemed genuine enough, really regretful. You can’t tell me he hasn’t changed. You practically glow when he’s around.”

“That’s not fair. You can’t go behind my back and do these things.”

To her credit, she sat silently, looking defeated. “I’m sorry, Piper. Really I am. I didn’t know you’d get so upset about it. I just wanted you to be happy, to find love again. It kills me to see you so alone. You may not notice it because you’re so good at avoiding these things, but I see it. I see the longing in your eyes when you see couples walking by. I see the hurt you hold inside yourself when you think I’m not looking. I just want you to have a little piece of the happiness I’ve known.”

I shook my head, still angry but calming down a bit. That is, until a moment later when Sasha’s voice broke through my thoughts.

“One coke on ice for M’Lady.” He held out a red cup, full to the brim with the sides sweating and the ice already melting in the intense heat. I threw him a glare before abruptly standing and rushing past him toward the house.

The look on his face was full of confusion and Joss’s was full of remorse. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to see either of them for a while.

I burst out of the house and jumped into my car, screeching the tires as I hightailed it out of there toward my apartment. The smell of burning rubber made my eyes tear up even more, but I didn’t care as I slammed my hand against the steering wheel over and over, screaming at the windshield. If I could have, I’d have yelled at both of them in person, but this would have to do.

Of all the people in the world, my best friend was the last person I’d expect to betray my trust, even if she thought it was for my own good. Even Sasha’s sweetness felt sickening to me now. Good intentions pave the road to hell, and I was already on it.

Chapter Sixteen

Sasha

“WHAT DID I miss?” The red cup was freezing up my hand, even in the heat, as I was left there standing and utterly confused.

“She found out we set her up with you at the fair and wasn’t exactly okay with it.” Joss took another swig of her margarita, emptying the cup as she stood. Her stance wavered a bit, as though she’s had her share of the margarita machine.

“I see.” I closed my eyes, knowing full well how furious Piper would be. I can’t say we didn’t deserve it, she hated being deceived. “I’m going to head over to her place and see if she’s okay.”

“No, no… don’t do that.” Joss grabbed my arm, making the soda spill partly onto the grass. “Bad idea. Give her a bit to cool off. She needs some time to herself.”

A crinkling crack of plastic and cold fluid running down my hand made me realize I had smashed the cup I’d been carrying. “Did you tell her?”

Joss huffed, her face screwing up. The margarita was making her moody, and I sighed, slipping down into the chair Piper had abandoned. Could it be over now? I was so seriously screwed. Piper could hold grudges like the best of them. She’d never forgive me for withholding this from her. I glared angrily at the shimmering waves reflecting the blinding sun off the ripples of water as everyone continued on with their partying, unaware of the turmoil flooding my head.

Heat swept over me as the wind picked up and made my already flushed face hotter. The rush of disappointment made me want to smash something. Instead, I gritted my teeth and burned a hole in the grass with my eyes. It’d been going so well with Piper, and I’d finally believed it could actually work this time. Each painstaking moment I had planned to win her over again had all gone swirling down the toilet so quickly, I was left with nothing but tattered shreds of a tapestry I’d worked so hard to put together.

Jumping to my feet, I rushed out of the backyard party, tossing the crushed cup into the trash and wiping the remnants of the drink on my shirt. I had to get my head together and figure out how to salvage what was left. There had to be some way to get Piper to see how innocent it had all been. There was nothing more I wanted than to hold her in my arms again and smell her intoxicating scent until I passed out after making mad love to her over and over. I needed her more than she’d ever know, but I was willing to spend all my life letting her know just how much.

But first, I’d give her some space, though it the last thing I wanted to do. She needed to think it through right now, I could feel it. Sooner or later I’d cave in and call her or just show up randomly like a lost puppy at her doorstep—that’s how far gone I was. I just hoped that when I did get to see her again, she’d be willing to reason with me, and it wouldn’t be too late.

I couldn’t lose her again. It would be nearly impossible to survive.

Chapter Seventeen

Piper

THE TELEVISION DRONED on and on, but I wasn’t really watching it. The hypnotic effect it had allowed me to disappear from the world as I lay under my favorite patchwork quilt with the AC turned to icy cold and an array of fast food wrappers and empty cups strewn across my coffee table. I hadn’t left my apartment or spoken to a soul in a week and was pretty sure I was ripe as a forgotten peach. I was going to need a hot, scouring shower to remove the filth. Thank God for Getty, a high schooler who lived across from me. I’d bribed him to bring me junk food all week with pay. It kept me fed, though most of it I ended up dumping into the trash.

Snapping awake from dozing off yet again, I groaned and shifted from my warm spot on the couch, a permanent indention now worn into the material. My skin felt sticky, even with the freezing AC going, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. My hair was stringy, and my scalp was starting to itch. Barely dragging my feet to my room, I grabbed a fresh outfit to wear to bed and drew a scorching hot bath, along with a gallon of bath bubbles. I was going to have to soak to get the film off me, and maybe I’d drown in the water while I was at it. Yep, the world felt so bleak, I couldn’t have cared less if it was burning outside my window at that instant.

The water made the gooseflesh ripple across my skin from how hot it was. I let myself sink into the Roman tub until my head bobbed just underneath the surface. I held my breath and relished the silence. The scene back at Joss’s party repeated itself over and over in my head. So did the day Sasha had ridden with me on the Ferris wheel after supposedly showing up out of nowhere. I thought back to Leah letting it slip that they’d seen him prior to the fair and that he’d spoken with Joss extensively about me. More flashes hit me, and I saw Sasha’s sexy body hovering over mine, his musky scent mixed with sex and sweat as we made love, and, to top it all, me furiously tossing my hospital badge onto Marianne’s desk before declaring that she could take the job and shove it so far up her ass, she might find the devil lurking inside there before marching out all haughty and steaming.

My life was a messed up, choose-your-own-adventure which was chopped into so many screwed up scenes, I had no idea which page to turn to. I hated the situation, hated Sasha, Joss and definitely despised Marianne and Thomas at work for f**king up my perfect life. Okay, so it wasn’t so perfect, and quite frankly, it’d been a long string of boring I had tried to pass off as my life. I wasn’t actually angry I’d left my job, I was angry I had let this circus go on for so long. It was all my fault, really. I should’ve known better.

Popping up from under the water, I sucked in a breath, feeling lightheaded from the excessive heat. I added some cooler water until it felt a bit more tolerable and started the task of scrubbing myself.

After my bath, I slumped onto the bed, hoping to pass out right away. I wasn’t ready to emerge into the real world and Lord only knew what it would take to forgive Joss and Sasha. Would I forgive them? I groaned and stuffed a pillow over my head, mad that I wanted to forgive them already. Not being able to hold onto my grudge—something I’d never had a problem doing in the past—was irritating. But that’s was good, right? Maybe for them. They were lucky I loved them, or maybe I was the lucky one.

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