Words and Breathing

Breathing is a good thing to do, don’t you think? I think so. Which is partly why the working-title-that-will-possibly-be-the-actual-title of the book from which this excerpt hails is called Taking Breaths. Poetic, yes?
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ONE: DISCONTENT
5 Years Ago

We are at a concert. None of us came for the music, and none of us had even thought about it, but it’s a nice bonus after the conference. Focus on God, revamp your life, then go to a concert. All eight of us, most in 11th or 12th grade, are going crazy, like everyone else in the audience. Confetti and silly string is shot at us out of nowhere, out of everywhere. We are all screaming, jumping, waving our arms. Bright lights, the sound of guitars and drums, neon paint splattering; what else can we do?

Soon I’m breathless, and I go outside, elbowing my way out. I’m sorry to miss even a minute, but my throat is dry and I’m thirsty; I’ve never been this loud in my life. I get a drink at the water fountain in the girls’ bathroom, then look in the mirror and smile. I’m glowing with sweat and I’m covered in neon green, orange, and pink paint. But I haven’t looked this healthy and excited in a long time. This group has been good for me. Church has never been my thing, but this is different. Eight teens, loving life, unafraid, and passionate. I’m not very good friends with any of them, but I love being with them and being a part of their lives; for some reason, the feeling appears to be mutual.

When I leave the bathroom I decide to wait until the next band comes on, and I wander over to the kiosk. The guy working it is reading a magazine but looks up and grins at me; he seems friendly. I smile back and look at the merchandise. It’s the usual; t-shirts, wristbands, hats…but then my eyes touch on something else. The sticks are long and sleek, pale polished wood; no embellishments, just the sticks. A shiver runs through my body at the sight of them. Without really noticing I lean in, examining – no, admiring – them up close.

“Now, this is shocking.”

I straighten, startled, and let out an embarrassed laugh when I see a guy from the group, Michael, standing beside me. “Oh,” is all I can manage.

“I never pegged you as the drummer type,” Michael says. We are standing shoulder to shoulder, and I notice that he is taller than me. His eyes are vivid dark green and his hair is a shade of very dark chocolate, almost black. He always looks so friendly, and I suddenly find myself wondering whether we would be friends if I wasn’t so quiet; it’s a nice thought. After a moment I shrug.

“Well, I’ve never played. I’ve never so much as looked at drum sticks.”

“Before tonight.”

I nod. He studies my face for a moment, and despite my shyness I laugh at his serious expression.

“I can see it,” he says finally, grinning.

“See what?” I ask, sincerely baffled.

“In reply he simply fishes out a wad of five dollar bills and hands it to the magazine reader. “Is this enough for the sticks?” he asks.

The guy counts it, then gives Michael a dollar change. He unlocks a door behind the kiosk, pulls out a long black box with the words “Fearless Drumm, Inc.” written on it in neon green, and hands it to Michael. “Enjoy. These are really good quality,” he adds seriously, his eyebrows raised.

“Thanks,” Michael says, then turns to me, holding out the box.

I am staring at Michael openmouthed. “No,” I say hoarsely. “You don’t even know me.”

Michael laughs and I feel my face getting red. I’m not asking you to marry me, Angela.” Then, in a more quiet voice and with a compelling expression in his eyes, “Just take the sticks.”

Present

“Angela, have you finished the wedding plans yet?”

I frowned. I’d been in a mood this week anyway, and although it was nearly impossible for me to get annoyed with Eric or anyone else, I now found myself irritated that he was doubting my nearly unprecedented organizational skills. “I’ve finalized all the plans that can be finalized this early on,” I said, my tone a little harder than usual. “The invitations haven’t been sent out yet and the caterers haven’t gotten back to me.” As I said this I unlocked my car, got in, and put the phone in the holder, then put it on speaker. My car was warm, having baked for three hours in the afternoon sun.

“You sound stressed, sweetheart. Long day?”

I rolled my eyes and turned the key in the ignition. “You have no idea. I have to drive now, so I’ll call you later, okay?”

After hanging up, I pulled out of the university parking lot. It was Friday and lots of students were rushing out for the weekend, but I’d made sure to get out early. It meant shaving five minutes off of my math class, but I honestly had no remorse about that.

I drove with the windows down and the radio just loud enough to give me a sensation of flying, but not so loud that the car next to me would start vibrating. It was a warm May afternoon, and sun streamed in through every window. Suddenly I realized that, ironically, a song by Mayday Parade was playing. I can live without you, but without you I’ll be miserable at best. I adored those lyrics; once upon a time, this had been my favorite song.

Before I could help myself, tears were running down my cheeks. I hadn’t cried in such a very long time.

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