Learning to Breathe

Chapter 6: The Memory


I tapped my fingers against the keys of my laptop. For me, the library was a place of utter concentration. It was a quiet sanctuary, but today... Today, I just couldn't concentrate, not when I read every word in his voice.

It had been one week since the dance, and yet still the events consumed me. The way he tasted, the way I felt just being near him, felt so normal and comfortable that it could've been perfect. It was like a home coming, a return to a sanctuary. But in the end, cold dread and guilt burned through even the warmest memories.

Was it worth sacrificing her happiness for mine? Was it right? I didn't have a right to take happiness from her.

Not again.

The soft sound of wood scraping across carpet forced me to look up. Matt's brown eyes met mine, and I swallowed. I didn't expect to see him here. I didn't want to see him here.

I had spent the week diligently avoiding him. It was irrational, and I knew I had to face problems eventually, but this was something I would've gladly run away from for as long as I could.

"I'm no good with words," he said softly as he sat down across from me.

"Yeah, neither am I. I-"

I didn't know what to say.

"I'm sorry," he said clearly, sincerely. He sounded so quiet and so scared that my own guilt clawed its way to the surface.

"I don't- I'm not-" I paused, struggling for something to say. I needed to ease this tension that threatened to strangle the both of us. I settled for an empty, "It's not your fault."

I was as much to blame as him, because even if he kissed me first, wasn't I just as guilty? In a way, wasn't I worse? I've wanted him to look away from Tara ever since the beginning, so wasn't I just as bad?

"I'm sorry," he tried again before pausing, "for everything."

And, at that moment, I hated him. I hated his sincerity and his apologetic nature. I hated him for having the courage and initiative to talk to me first. I hated him for bringing it up, for not burying it under layers of pretending. But most of all? I hated how he made me felt - jealous, scared, angry, sad, guilty.

"You have nothing to apologize for," I turned away and resolutely stared at the computer screen.

Leave. Just go away.

"Lynn," he sighed, gently pushing the computer away from between us. His hand settled on mine. It was a gentle, warm touch, and I flinched because it was wrong. It was so completely wrong.

I pulled away.

"I have everything to apologize for."

"Not to me," I shook my head and let my bangs fall into my eyes. I bit my lips, reminding myself that I had nothing to cry over. I refused to be vulnerable. "Tell her," I continued, "You have things to apologize for, but not to me. To Tara. We both have to apologize to her."

"I know," he nodded.

"I-I think she'll be hurt the most by this."

I wanted so much to be selfish and say that I was the one hurt most of all by us. I was the one who felt overlooked, unloved... Wasn't I the one who felt jealousy the sharpest? But, I reasoned, wasn't the sting of betrayal by someone - or someones, I reminded myself - just as painful?

I felt as if he was watching me. Was he worried? I tried my hardest to keep my hands from trembling while I packed away the laptop. I needed to leave. I was suffocating in his presence. Like with Luke, it was terribly easy to drown in their platonic concern and mistake their caring nature for something else entirely. It was easy to fall in love with people like them.

It was too easy to fall in love with someone like Matt, and when it's all said and done, I looked for pieces of Matt in everyone I met. It had become second nature to me.

"I'm going back to the dorm."

I felt obligated to explain under his scrutiny.

"I'll walk you," he stated, leaving no room for argument.

We walked outside.

"I think," he hesitated, "I still have a lot of things to be sorry for."

I kept walking ahead. If I walked fast enough, would he go stop following?

"There are a lot of things I need to apologize to you for, Lynn," he grabbed my arm. For the first time, I realized how empty the campus was on the weekends when everyone was out with friends or visiting family.

"Let go," I said, wincing at how harsh I sounded to even myself. I added, hopefully in a more gentle tone, "I'm losing my balance."

Instead, he walked closer to me.

"I know this is awkward for you, but please, just..." He ran his other hand through his hair, "Just listen, okay?"

He let me go.

"I really am sorry for being an asshole to you. For leaving you alone at orientation, for not eating dinner with you, for not telling you when I started going to Tara, for not making time to hang with you, for anything else you can think of."

"Why?" I asked, failing to keep the bitterness from my voice.

"Because," his eyes were dark, angry, almost a shade of desperate, "I thought that if I didn't see you, you know 'out of sight out of mind'? I was trying so damn hard to get over you, Lynn."

I shook my head in disbelief and tried to back away. This was so wrong, so fucked up. What kind of sick joke was this?

"I'm sorry I just kissed you and now you're beating yourself over it. But I'm not sorry I told you how I felt, and I can't apologize for feeling what I feel. I am sorry for not telling you before this."

He took a few steps towards me. He tiled my chin up and forced me to look at him.

"But," he swallowed. He looked nervous to a point where he seemed almost childish, "you kissed me back. I-If it meant anything to you, if I can mean anything to you again... Please forgive me?"

I was fixated on his eyes. He had never looked so open, so vulnerable. And I had to power to make him feel more secure, to make myself happy... and to make Tara upset.

"I," I swallowed, "I forgive you," I said, as I backed away, "and I'm sorry too."

"For what?"

"Everything. It was a mistake," I choked out.

"What was?" His voice was almost a whisper, and I couldn't look at him because I was so scared of what I'd find there. I couldn't have turned away if I saw Matt upset or in pain. So I turned away before I was forced to look into his face, before I could cry.

And, I ran.

I heard him yell my name, and this time I didn't look back.

And I felt my tears again. Because, in the end, between the two of us, who was the greater coward? I couldn't even apologize properly, couldn't tell him how I felt even when he laid himself bare for me.

"LYNN!" Matt yelled again.

Don't look back, don't look back, I whispered to myself.

Everything comes down to mistakes. It was a mistake in timing, in the lack of courage. It was in the error of communication, of neither of us trusting each other enough. Liking him had always been a mistake, and I was his mistake.

And we were both Tara's mistakes.

I wanted to be with Matt, I still wanted to be with Matt, and we had that possibility. It could have, should have, been simple but now I had to think of Tara. And she didn't deserve any of this.


Someone stopped me as I dashed up the stairs to my room. I was met with two concerned green eyes.

"C'mon," Daven sighed, opening the door of the stairwell before guiding me to his room.

He offered me a box of tissues, and sat me down on his bed.

He sat at his desk, not bothering to even look to me as I tried to calm down.

"Daven?" I finally said.

"What?" he demanded without turning around.

"If you were in a situation where you only had two choices, and both those choices would hurt a person you loved, how would you know which choice is the right one?"

He stopped writing.

"In that situation," he said, "isn't there no one 'right' choice?"

"There always has to be a better one though?"

"Maybe. It'd be subjective."

"Have you ever felt like there's no way out of a situation?"

Daven sighed, sounding slightly irritated, before finally turning around to face me.

"I find," he said slowly, "that people who think there's 'no way out' of a situation aren't looking hard enough. Most of the time, there's a way out. It's just not an easy way, and people always look for easy way outs."

"I guess..."

He continued, "Like, how some people are too afraid to walk away from people who they used to love because they cling onto memories or fantasies too much, and how others are too scared to be honest and lie to cover up earlier lies, or maybe how people are too lazy to work for something they want. It all comes down to vices, I guess?"

"What about you?" I asked, genuinely curious, "Have you ever been in those situations?"

Daven paused, and shot me a wry smile, "Haven't we all?"

He stood up and helped me stand up.

"Now get out," he ordered, though not unkindly.

On the way to my room, I thought over what Daven had said. I was scared to be honest about my feelings, and I was too afraid to let go of my childhood memories of Matt and too hung up on wanting to love him and be loved by him. Those feelings, those memories managed to tear me apart. And Matt and I together made a mess of what should of been simple.

Back in my room, I checked my phone and realized I had a few new texts.

I scrolled through the ones from Matt. They were asking for my forgiveness, for me to explain, for me to reconsider.

Today, I'll take the first steps to walking away.

I deleted them. I'll forgive him, and myself, one day. And maybe then, I'll be able to give him every explanation that was owed to him. But I won't reconsider.

Surprisingly, I felt no regret at that resolve. I felt impossibly light. For the first time, it wasn't I "want to" get over him, but I will. Crushes won't last forever. And this terrible mess and these memories are just more experiences to learn from.

I opened a text from Luke.

"Catch a movie and dinner with me later? :)"

I smiled. Some time with Luke was always a great pick-me-up.

"Sounds good. When and where?" I texted back.

Almost immediately, I had a reply.

"I'll pick you up in 3? Gotta finish group project first."

"Sounds almost like a date :p"

"Who says it's not? ;D"

I laughed, amused by how flippant Luke could be.

"If it's a date, then you're paying."

"Ew, no. D: No date, girls have cooties."

I was in the middle of telling him how offended I felt, when the phone buzzed again.

"But, for you, I wouldn't mind paying for you at all."

A/N: shorter chapter update. enjoy! I'm really looking to reading your reviews and opinions.

(who's your favorite character, and why? if you want to know how i'm doing on my writing, i have a tumblr, and i'll give it to you if you ask. i've been doing a lot of short stories lately, so i don't have much time for learning to breathe, unfortunately.)