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Authors: Cathrina Constantine

Don't Forget to Breathe

BOOK: Don't Forget to Breathe
7.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Cathrina Constantine

Don’t Forget to Breathe


Chapter 1

Moonlight played tricks with my eyes as we circumvented gravestones like an obstacle course, and pluming fog licked our legs as misty ghosts danced on marbleized stones. My breath shuddered as Henry bypassed me, leading the way.

“Hurry—” he whispered and nudged my shoulder.

I picked up the pace and cranked my head to the left. Dark moving shapes appeared in the distance and moaning floated past my ears, probably the wind or just my imagination? Goose flesh pebbled my skin as I stumbled over an urn. Henry lugged me up urging me on.

“What are we running from?” I gasped quietly so not to wake the dead.

“Them—over there.” Henry jerked his chin, the lenses of his glasses captured raining moonbeams. “I think it’s cops.”

His hand reached back, palm up. I latched hold. “Why would police be patrolling the cemetery?”

We whipped around a mammoth tombstone, a squared foundation for a glorious angel. He halted and threw me unceremoniously to solid concrete. My heartbeat migrated up my esophagus. Henry covered my mouth with his hand. “Sh-h…don’t breathe so loud.”

My pumping lungs slowed as I stabilized my swallows of air. Henry squashed his body into mine. A tad too close. His speedy heartbeat harmonizing with my own while cold leached into my back. I cringed at the discomfort of my head pressed between his chest and the stone.

Less than fifteen seconds later, Henry’s hand stroked up my torso as his head nuzzled my neck. My words sounded hollow, “What are you doing?”

His head rose from his nook and I glared at his ambiguous silhouette. Two palms pancaked my cheeks and his mouth mashed my lips. Confounded and then irritated, I pushed on his chest. He clutched tighter, deepening his kiss, sawing apart my lips with his tongue. His one hand gravitated along my shoulder to wedge between my back and the tombstone while his other hand scrounged around to cop a feel. Stuck between a rock and a hormonal boy.

Rather than submit to his undesirable groping, my fingers grabbed what little belly flesh of Henry’s I could muster and twisted, hard.

“Ow-w—” He backed off. “What the hell, Leo?”

“You wanna screw me? Is that the real reason for hiding behind this tombstone? Why did we have to run?”

“I didn’t have to make you run for
. I practically had you on the ground a minute ago.” He shoved a hand through his short hair and then tweaked his glasses up his nose, glancing to the right and to the left. “I did see something. It looked like a couple of guys walking through the graveyard along the ridge. It looked like…cops. And I wasn’t taking any chances.”

I couldn’t make out his eyes through his lenses. “Apparently we’re not alone.” I felt chilled. “How many people hang out in a graveyard?”

He shrugged. Not even trying to be subtle, he adjusted the zipper of his jeans. In a sing-song tone, he said, “I thought we could drink beers, smoke a little weed, and you could take care of whatever popped up.”

I fumed at his innuendo. Doing the naughty in a graveyard with Mom recently planted in aisle 113 pissed me off. I spat, “Our nighttime picnic is over.” I went to move, but his hands came down on my shoulders.

“You’re not leaving? We were having such a good time, right here, right now.” He lowered his head to taste my lips. “Let’s stay a while.” Stale beer breath washed over my face. “Hidden behind this statue we could rock this place, make it come alive.”

I straightened my arms to hold him off. “I don’t think so.”

“C’mon, Leo. You’re teasing me, right?” Henry swatted at my armed barrier. “Baby, we deserve this after our crappy week.” His fingertips scored a groove along my spine. The deed generated a slight backbend, pressing my chest into him. He thought it was an invitation. “This is an awesome high.” He ground his pelvis into me, exhilarated to say the least. “The juices are flowing.”

“Henry. No. You sick ass.” I discovered his dark libido that night; he could be a real dickhead. I wasn’t attracted to him in
that way
. Every so often—I wish I was. Life would be easier, I think. “Let’s just go.”

“Leo, I want you.” He chafed his whiskered cheek on mine while his hand roamed under my shirt. “I’ve waited patiently, don’t you think?”

My skin crawled. “Stop it—!” Disengaging his embrace, I ducked under his arm and loped to find the spot we had been drinking to gather my discarded hoodie. I wasn’t drunk or high enough to put up with his baloney. Since he was probably lying about seeing cops, I stomped on the manicured lawn, not caring about the noise.

Not seeing Henry, I slowed and turned toward the angel tombstone. “Stop clowning around. Let’s go.”

Not a word.

“Okay, I’m sorry I called you a sick ass.” I spied my hoodie draped over a headstone like a pall and headed that way. By accident, I kicked one of our empty beer cans, the tinny rattle echoed throughout the cemetery. After shrugging into the hoodie, I stooped to collect the cans into the crook of my arm. “Now you’re freaking me out. I’m leaving without you.”

Strangled gurgling roiled over the dewy lawn. “
?” Aluminum cans tumbled from my arms. “Are you okay?”

“Go away!” His speech muffled like he was choking.

I stood there—motionless.
Was he for real
? The hushed night was disrupted by his huffing breaths and sounds of fists or his body bashing against the concrete. Was he having a seizure, an epileptic fit and didn’t want me to see? Somewhat wary I paced back to find him.

? What’s wrong?”

“Get the fuck out of here—Now!” There was a tearing noise like ripping fabric. “Run—or I’m going to kill you!”

Hairs on the nape of my neck prickled. I tore off like hellhounds were nipping at my heels. Not slowing even when reaching the railroad tracks, I crashed and rolled on the ties, scraping my hands and knees. A pungent scent of dead leaves and loamy dirt wafted to my nostrils. I sprang up grumbling and peered toward Hallow Saints Cemetery.

Gulping for air, I hugged my arms around my waist, consoling myself.
came to mind. How could I leave him like that? A resigned breath splintered the seam of my lips and the shimmering moon lit my passage back to the cemetery.

My sneakers crunched on wooden ties while I stalled on the rails and stared down the swell of land past the trees into the cemetery. Only picking up sounds of whispering leaves, I searched for Henry, and half expected him to make an appearance laughing his ass off about his cruel joke.

Through my peripheral vision, something scampered to the right. Squinting didn’t help. Too dark. A flashlight might’ve been useful, if I had one. Note to self, carry flashlight.

I trekked farther along the tracks. Using the heightened berm to observe the area, I could scarcely make out the tombstones that pocked the ground amidst the fog; it looked eerie and lonesome. Then spotting remote figures, I counted three. They could be kids looking for a place to party in private. I crouched and balanced on my heels to monitor the dark shapes and wondered if one might be Henry.

They traveled behind a large monument, and I lost sight of them. To the left a prowling cat distracted me when suddenly, a blood-curdling scream scraped into my bones, clutching my heart.

Not faltering, I dug a hand in my pocket for my cell and dialed 911. A man’s voice answered. “What is the location of your emergency?”

Jittery, I whispered, “Hallow Saints Cemetery.”

“Say again?”

“Hallow Saints Cemetery.”

“Can I have your name and address please.”

Through panic-stricken eyes I noticed a glowing headstone; someone must’ve dropped a flashlight. It remained in place like a beacon. “Follow the light.” I disconnected the call and wheeling around, tripped. Scrabbling upright, I belted down the tracks.

It wasn’t Henry. It wasn’t Henry
. Not again, please God, not again, this can’t be happening.
Henry is fine
. Delirious and crazed, I ran.

The sawing pain in my lungs constricted airflow and the stitch in my side felt like a knife as I rested beneath a streetlight. Dizzy, I leaned forward and grabbed my knees. Applying the sleeve of my hoodie to my forehead, I mopped sweat and brushed aside hair that had taped to my face. In control and rolling back my shoulders, I scouted the familiar road. Tarpon Hill. With a skittery heart I jogged home.

Outside of Henry’s Dutch Colonial house was his car, but that wasn’t unusual. We had hiked to the cemetery with his pockets stuffed with brew and marijuana. I skidded to a stop noticing the one shining window on the upper right hand corner. His bedroom. Not that I’d ever been in his room, but he’d pointed it out more than once. And telling me how he sleeps el-nude like I needed to know. Henry beat me home. Did I imagine the scream? A surge of watering eyes blurred the avenue, over the past year I’d turned into such a crybaby.

Figuring it was past Dad’s stupid curfew, I grabbed my phone to check the time. And I wanted to call Henry to chew him out for being such a loser. My cell wasn’t in my back pocket. Anxious, I patted the opposite pocket, then my front pockets and hoodie as well. Empty. No cell.

Swirling around, I stared down the winding street. Where did I lose my phone? I advanced a step with brainless thoughts of retracing my path to the scene of a possible crime. Did my phone flip out of my hand after I’d fallen? I didn’t remember putting it into a pocket. I couldn’t go back—not now.

Peeved, my toe kicked a rock sending it flying. Then, clutching my face, I squelched a maddening cry and slogged up the road two houses and across the street to eighty-six Westgate. Dad had left the sidelight on, and cracking the screen door it screeched like an alarm. I flinched.

Shucking my sneakers I padded into the dimly lit kitchen, a dull shine generated from a small nightlight. I aimed for stealth and tiptoed along the hallway to the bathroom and brushed beer breath and smoke from my mouth.

Quiet and feeling home-free, I toggled on the lights and jumped out of my skin. A shriek plugged my throat like putty. Seated on my bedroom chair, fingers templed—Dad.

“I can’t handle this, Leocadia.” He pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “I can’t be worrying about you night after night, wondering if you’re alright and coming home in one piece.”

“I’m sorry, Dad, really I am. We were fooling around and lost track of time. I’m sorry.”

“You kids always know the time.” He eased off the cushion using the armchair for leverage. “Your cell phones are practically glued to your hands.”

Not anymore
. He’d rip me a good one if I say I lost my phone. “I said I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“It will. You know it will.” He lumbered and planted a kiss on the top of my head. “I can’t lose you too.” He sighed and left my room.

His painful reminder was more than I could bear, triggering tears to trample over my face. I just might have been a witness to a crime and, the anniversary of Mom’s murder crept closer every day.


Chapter 2

As black corners dissolved into a silvery gray, my head flopped to check the alarm clock, 4:45. I begged the heavens—“
, let me sleep,”—and smothered my head underneath my downy pillow.

A nanosecond after slamming my eyelids, I felt immediately transported to a year ago…


I stalled at the wooden porch, looking at a watery substance. My pristine leather boots made an effort not to touch the crud, and for a change the front door was unlocked.

“Mom, what’s that stuff on the porch?”

No reply.

Unfastening the messenger bag from my shoulder I plunked it on the recliner. More red liquid stained the floor and area carpet. “Mom, what is this? Are you painting the kitchen again? Dad’s going to kill you. Red? Really?”

All quiet, walking into the kitchen. A cutting board sat on the counter amid a mound of carrot shavings. The noise of bubbling and hissing drew my attention. Steam furled from a pot on the stove and I sped over and switched off the gas.

The basement door was ajar, I yelled, “Mom?” My ear bent for her usual lyrical humming. Silence. Then I peered through the back window, she wasn’t in the perennial garden.

Was it—

Maybe she cut herself and ran out the front door? An uneasy zing cramped my bones. The counter and the dinner preparations all appeared normal, like she’d taken a break.

I returned to the living room. How’d I miss the trail of blood or whatever it was bumping up the staircase? “Mom, are you up here?” With my heart hammering, I toed each stair with foreboding and every scary movie replayed in my mind.

First, I peeked into my bedroom. Exactly how I left it, a holy mess. Whenever I left my room like this, which was always, Mom would compulsively clean it. It never made sense to do it myself if she was willing to do it for me.

My walk down the hallway to my parent’s bedroom became sluggish. She’d been complaining of not feeling well. In fact Mom stayed home from work today. She was probably sick and needed to rest. The door was shut. I knuckled the frame softly. “Mom?”

My hand twisted the knob and inched it open and gagged on the smell.

An awkward, half-naked body draped over the mattress—porcelain skin sliced apart—silky blonde hair fanned the floor. Dripping red—
—gobs of blood. Eyes filled with terror watched me. Dead eyes. My jaw moved—
—but no sound. I shuffled a foot forward and doubled over spewing lunch. That’s when I noticed a bloody dagger. Forged in a peculiar camber design like something I’d see in a museum, lying next to her fingers.

Suddenly arms swallowed me from behind, I heard, “I’m not going to kill you—Not yet.” And everything faded to black…


I woke with a start and gasped. My heart ached and, struggling upright, I crossed my arms over my chest to hang on my shoulders. Grinding my eyelids, tears sprinkled my face, sorry for my loss, sorry for myself. No longer in a dreamy state my pulse throbbed chaotically.
The dagger, a new addition to my dreams
! “Mom, what does this mean?” My voice broke and fell to pieces around me. “The police have given up. They can’t find who did this to you.”

“I need more,” I cried. “Why can’t I remember anything else?”

Mellow light shirked the blinds as I glimpsed the time. 5:02. Dragging in a distended breath my thundering heart regulated to a negligible thrum. My chin slumped to my chest, sitting there like a worthless head case. The dreams were getting worse and repetitious. The police still hadn’t found her killer and I still couldn’t remember jackshit.

. My eyelids slit. The old house had lots of creaky noises.
Tap tap tap
. There it was again. The sound was coming from the window. I peeled back the quilt and slipped out of bed. As my feet flattened on the hardwood, the morning chill embedded into my toes. I hunched, and wrapped my arms around my cooled body and snuck toward the window.


Levering the blinds, I gripped the windowsill. It wouldn’t budge. I put my weight against the glass to loosen the frame and jimmied it up. He looked disjointed through the screen as I glared at him with mixed emotions. “What the hell happened last night?” I asked.

“Let me in.”

“Why should I?”

“We don’t want to wake your dad, do we?”

He wasn’t wearing his glasses. His eyes looked glazed like muddy water, and there was a gash in his bottom lip, completely disheveled and in need of a friend. Grudgingly, I raised the screen and receded. Beneath my window was an ingenious tree stump, a stepping stone. Over the past year I utilized it often. As soon as Henry clasped the frame, I noticed raw sores on his knuckles. In an inelegant hop, he hauled himself in and lowered the window barring the cold.

My bare feet felt like ice cubes sliding on the floor to make sure my bedroom door was locked. When I turned back, Henry had settled into the chair. I put a finger to my lips warding off any loud talking and shuffled to sit on my bed.

“I’m sorry,” he uttered.

“You should be. You really freaked me out.”

“I don’t take rejection well. I lost it.” He looked down and raked the thigh of his jeans with his fingers. “I’ve been a reject my entire life. And then when you—”

“First,” I broke in, “I thought we were running from the police. Then you started pawing me. What was I supposed to think?”

His head snapped up. “I thought you liked me.” He gave a careless shoulder lift. “And, I kind of have a temper problem.”

“You’re damn right you do!” My fingers rolled into fists. “Don’t ever do that again.”

“Sorry.” He massaged his brow, closing his eyes.

I stared at the bruises on the back of his hands as his coppery hair caught the light of a new day.

“What was that sound?” I asked. “Like you were tearing your shirt or something?”

His eyebrows dipped downward, appearing dismal. “I was controlling my anger by taking it out on myself.”

“Is that why your knuckles are all beat up?” Not raising his hand to look at them, he knew what I was talking about. “And I thought
was the nut bar.” My head moved from side to side. “You said you were going to kill me.”

“I did? I don’t remember saying that.” He looked straight at me while tapping his fingers rhythmically on the arm of the chair. “You must’ve imagined it.”

“I didn’t imagine it. You
it.” I elevated my ice cubed feet off the floor, sitting cross-legged with my arms balancing on my knees. “What’d you do, punch yourself in the face too?”

He touched his knuckle to the gash on his slip; it came away tinged with blood. “I walked into my dad’s fist.”

“Your dad hit you?”

“I lipped off. No big deal.”

“It is a big deal.”

“Leo, drop it. I deserved it.”

I bit my tongue, understanding where his anger stemmed from. After a moment of silence, I asked, “Did you really see people or the cops in the cemetery?”

He blinked before replying, “Yes, I thought I did.”

“What’d you do after I left?”

“You made me feel like such a loser.” He exhaled a curt breath as his fingers picked at the material on the chair. “Just in case it was the cops, I picked up our cans.” He looked at me like he wanted my approval. “Then I went home. I couldn’t sleep so I came over here.” His eyes looped around my room. “To say I was sorry.”

“Did you hear or see anyone else in the cemetery?”

“N-nope.” He seemed to be looking at the toe of his sneaker as he fidgeted in the chair. “Like I said, I left. Why?”

He sounded truthful and I wanted to believe him. Yet when he raised his eyes to look at me, there was a glint that spoke volumes. “Did you hear a scream?”

Either he was tired or fed up, his fists pressed his brow. “Leo,” he whispered, “spit it out.”

Sometimes I couldn’t tell what was real and what was a dream. I didn’t want to be that lunatic, a person who sees and hears things that aren’t really there. I’d had enough psychotherapy to last a lifetime. Dreams were messing with my brain and I was in the process of hiding it. I had no intentions of going back to the psychiatrist. Did I imagine the bloodcurdling scream, the beam of light on the headstone? Did I dial 911?

Even Henry looked strange, or, was it an expression of fear,
a mixture
? “Must’ve dreamt it. Never mind,” I said. Bowing my head, a tangle of hair shuttered the sides of my face.

Henry released a breath, like he’d been holding it in. “I’m going home to get ready for school. I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty?” As he stood to leave, he wiped down his face with tense fingers. “Oh, by the way. A little gift just for you.” Cuffing a hand into his jeans, he slipped out a teeny-tiny plastic bag.

He lobbed it, and it landed between my legs. I knew what it was, and picked it up like it might bite. “I…I told you I quit.”

“I thought you needed a jolt. You’ve been looking kind of mangy.”

“Thanks…but…no…” I handed it back to him, but he shrugged my hand away.

“Keep it. Someday it’ll come in handy.”

He raised the sticky window generating a loud abrading noise. I recoiled, hoping it didn’t wake Dad. After he climbed out, I lowered it down and watched him slink around the corner of my house.

My fingertips still held the tiny bag, and treating the cocaine like poison, flicked it into the drawer of my end table.

Across the street on Westgate lived a man, I thought he was a bachelor or divorced. Whether he was being nice or a creepster, he always waved a hello and was constantly watching me. For an older guy, he was good-looking. Then this past August, Henry and a woman moved in. Being a nosy neighbor, I snooped with interest as they unloaded a rental truck with their belongings.

Henry was average height, cropped coppery hair, neither fat nor skinny. We hadn’t actually met until the first day of school at the corner to wait for the bus. He was already there. The first thing I noted was his hipster-ish glasses: Rectangular, golden-brown frames which matched his hair and, a limned handprint on his neck, which I declined to mention on our first meeting. I found out that the man I thought was divorced or a bachelor was his father and the woman was his mother. I didn’t want to pry, maybe his parents had been separated and had reconciled.

As weeks passed, Henry had a hard time fitting in and I befriended him because he never inquired about my mom. Two weeks ago his dad purchased a used SUV for Henry and, I obviously benefited from his good fortune.

Fitting into a pair of denim jeans, a snug plaid shirt over a tank top, I already felt wiped. When was the last time I’d had a restful night’s sleep? I reopened the drawer to my end table and cracked the lid of an embroidered box. My secret stash for extreme emergencies. The last time I used was August 2nd, it would’ve been Mom’s 40th birthday. I added Henry’s bag of coke to the contents. Tantalized by a modest pick-me-up, I toyed with a tiny white pill, and contemplated the monotonous day ahead. The internal struggle was overcome when I slipped it into my pocket and made my way to the kitchen, late as usual.

Releasing the side door to depart for work, Dad turned. “Have a glass of juice and a piece of toast before you leave. You’re getting too skinny.”

I stretched my neck easing stiff muscles. “Remember I have cheerleading practice after school. I’ll be late.”

“I can’t believe you stuck with it. You never cared for cheerleading. I still remember you and Mom squabbling about it.”

“Yeah, well.” I pulled the toaster out of the cupboard. “She thought it’d help get my nose out of my books. So I’m taking her advice…for now.” In reality, after mom died, it had been Nona who insisted the regimented practice would keep me focused.

Dad asked, “Are you taking the bus home or should I pick you up?”

“I don’t know for sure. Maybe Henry will stay after and I can hitch a ride with him.”

Dad’s eyebrows creased with a frown.

“What?” I turned from his frowning expression and stuck a slice of bread into the toaster.

“That kid bothers me. I don’t like you anywhere near him.”

“Dad, he’s…he’s a nice guy. Just…shy.”

His mouth rumpled with a resolute nod. In the process of walking out of the house, he stopped. Poised with one foot on the threshold, he said, “Were you anywhere near Tarpon Hill last night?”

“Why?” This wasn’t good; he knew something. Admitting I was wetting myself on Tarpon Hill would be suicidal.

“The morning news is broadcasting a story of a body found in the ditch between Tarpon and Erie Road.”

I tried holding it together.
The scream really happened
? “Yuck, how awful.” My throat tightened, though, managed to squeak, “Do they know who it is?”

“Not saying until they reach next of kin.” His mouth turned into a thin line. “See, Leo, that’s why I don’t want you wandering the streets at night. That’s why I worry.”

“You can’t live like that, worrying about me all the time.” I felt relieved and appalled at the same time: Relieved, I didn’t imagine the scream and appalled a murder took place in the cemetery right after I ran away. “I’m good. Don’t worry.”— and jabbed my fingers into my back pockets to stop the tremors.

BOOK: Don't Forget to Breathe
7.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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