The Air He Breathes
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“Stay away from him,” people said.
It’s easy to judge a man because of his past. To look at Tristan and see a monster.
But I couldn’t do that. I had to accept the wreckage that lived inside of him because it also lived inside of me.
We were both empty.
We were both looking for something else. Something more.
We both wanted to put together the shattered pieces of our yesterdays.
Then perhaps we could finally remember how to breathe.
Release date: September 25, 2015
Publisher: BCherry Books
Print pages: 308
Reader says this book is...: emotionally riveting (2) heart touching (2) tearjerker (1) tragic (1) triggers (1) entertaining story (1) happily ever after (1) realistic characters (1) sex scenes (1)
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The Air He Breathes
April 2nd, 2014
“Do you have everything?” Jamie asked, biting her nails as she stood in the foyer of my parents’ house. Her beautiful blue doe eyes smiled my way, reminding me how lucky I was to call her mine.
I walked over and wrapped my arms around her, pulling her petite body closer to mine. “Yup. I think this is it, babe. I think this is our moment.”
Her hands draped around my neck, and she kissed me. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Of us,” I corrected her. After a few too many years of being wishers and dreamers, my goal of building and selling my handcrafted furniture pieces was coming to life. My father was my best friend and business partner, and we were both on our way to New York to meet with a few businessmen who had showed a big interest in partnering with the two of us. “Without you supporting me, I would be nothing. This is our chance at getting everything we ever dreamed of.”
She kissed me again.
I’d never known I could love someone so much.
“Before you go, I think you should know I got a call from Charlie’s teacher. He got in a little trouble at school again, which isn’t surprising seeing as how he takes after his father so much.”
I smirked. “What did he do this time?”
“Mrs. Harper said he told a girl who was making fun of his glasses that he hoped she would choke on a toad because she looks like a toad. Choke on a toad—can you believe that?”
“Charlie!” I called toward the living room. He came walking out with a book in his hands. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, which I knew it had to do with the bullying.
“Did you tell a girl she should choke on a frog?”
“Yes,” he said matter-of-factly. For an eight-year-old, he seemed to have surprisingly little concern about his parents getting upset with him.
“Buddy, you can’t say things like that.”
He replied, “But she looks like a freakin’ toad, Dad!”
I had to turn away to laugh. “Come give me a hug, dude.” He hugged me tight. I dreaded the days when hugging his old man would be something he wasn’t interested in. “You be good for your mom and your grandma while I’m gone, all right?”
“And put your glasses back on while you’re reading.”
“Why?! They are stupid!”
I bent down and tapped his nose. “Real men wear glasses.”
“You don’t wear glasses!” he whined.
“Yeah, well, real men don’t wear glasses too. Just put on those glasses, buddy,” I said. He grumbled before running off to continue reading his novel. The fact that he was more into reading than video games made me pretty damn happy. I knew he got his love of reading from his mom the librarian, but I still liked to think that my reading to her stomach before he was born had something to do with his love of books.
“What’s the plan for you guys today?” I asked Jamie.
“This afternoon we are going to the farmer’s market. Your mother wants to get some new flowers. She’s probably going to buy Charlie something he doesn’t need too. Oh, and Zeus chewed your favorite pair of Nikes, so I’m going to track down a new pair for you.”
“God! Whose idea was it to get a dog anyway?”
She laughed. “I blame you for this. I didn’t even want a dog, but you didn’t know how to say no to Charlie. You and your mother have a lot in common.” She kissed me again before pulling up the handle of my luggage. “Have a great trip, and go make our dreams come true.”
I laid my lips against hers and smiled. “When I come home, I’m building you your dream library. With tall ladders and everything. And then I’m going to make love to you somewhere between The Odyssey and To Kill a Mockingbird.”
She bit her bottom lip. “Promise?” she asked.
“Call me when your plane lands, okay?”
I nodded in agreement as I walked out of the house to meet Dad, who was already waiting in the taxicab for me.
“Hey, Tristan!” Jamie called toward me as I was loading the luggage into the trunk of the car. Charlie was standing beside her.
They cupped their hands around their mouths and shouted, “WE LOVE YOU!”
I smiled and yelled the same thing back to them.
On the plane ride, Dad kept talking about what a big opportunity this was for us. When we touched down in Detroit for our layover, we both turned on our cell phones to check our emails and text Jamie and Mom to let them know we were okay.
When our phones turned on and we each had tons of messages from Mom, I knew something was wrong. The messages made my gut turn inside me. I almost dropped my phone from my fingers as I read.
Mom: There was an accident. Jamie and Charlie are in bad shape.
Mom: Come home.
In the blink of an eye, in one moment’s time, everything I knew about life changed.
July 3rd, 2015
Each morning I read love letters written for another woman. She and I had much in common, from our chocolate eyes to the blonde tone of our hair. We shared the same kind of laugh that was quiet, yet grew loud in the company of the ones we loved. She smiled out of the right corner of her mouth and frowned out of the left, the same way my lips did.
I found the letters abandoned in the garbage can, resting inside a heart-shaped tin box. Hundreds of notes, some long, some short, some happy, others heartbreakingly sad. The dates of the letters went far back in years, some older than my entire existence on this earth. Some letters were initialed KB, others, HB.
I wondered how Dad would’ve felt if he’d known Mama threw all of them away.
Then again, lately it had been hard for me to believe she was the one who felt the way those letters felt.
A part of something divine.
Recently she seemed the complete opposite of all of those things.
Lonely all the time.
Mama became a whore after Dad died. There weren’t many other ways to put it other than that. It didn’t happen right away, even though down the street Miss Jackson had been flapping her lips to everyone who would listen, saying Mama had always spread her legs, even when Dad was alive. I knew that wasn’t true, though, because I’d never forgotten the way she’d looked at him when I was a kid. The way Mama stared was the way a woman gazed when she only had eyes for one man. When he’d go off to work at the crack of dawn, she would have his breakfast and lunch packed with snacks for the in-between hours. Dad always complained about getting hungry right after he was full, so Mama always made sure he had more than enough.
Dad was a poet and taught at the university an hour away. It wasn’t surprising that the two left each other love notes. Words were what Dad drank in his coffee, and he tossed them into his whiskey at night. Even though Mama wasn’t as strong with words as her husband, she knew how to express herself in each letter she wrote.
The moment Dad walked out the door in the mornings, Mama smiled and hummed to herself as she cleaned up around the house and got me ready for the day. She’d talk about Dad, saying how much she missed him, and would write him love letters until he came home at night. When he came home, Mama would always pour them both a glass of wine while he hummed their favorite song, and he’d kiss her against her wrist whenever she grew close enough to his mouth. They would laugh with one another and giggle as if they were kids falling in love for the first time.
“You’re my love without end, Kyle Bailey,” she’d say, pressing her lips to his.
“You’re my love without end, Hannah Bailey,” Dad would reply, spinning her in his arms.
They loved in a way that made fairy tales envious.
So on that sizzling August day years ago when Dad died, a part of Mama left too. I remembered in some novel I’d read the author said, “No soulmate leaves the world alone; they always take a piece of their other half along with them.” I hated that he was right. Mama didn’t get out of bed for months. I had to make her eat and drink each day, just hoping she wouldn’t fade away from sadness. I’d never seen her cry until she lost her husband. I didn’t show too much emotion around her, because I knew that would only make her sadder.
I cried enough when I was alone.
When she finally did get out of bed, she went to church for a few weeks, taking me alongside her. I remembered being twelve and feeling completely lost sitting in a church. We weren’t really a praying kind of family until after bad things happened. Our church trips didn’t last very long, though, because Mama called God a liar and scorned the townsfolk for wasting time on such deceit and empty promises of a promised land.
Pastor Reece asked us not to come back for a while, to let things smooth out a bit.
Nowadays Mama had moved on to a new pastime: different men on the regular. Some she slept with, others she used to help pay the bills, and then some she kept ‘round because she was lonely and they kind of looked like Dad. Some she even called by his name. Tonight there was a car parked in front of her little house. It was a deep navy blue, with shiny metallic silver frames. The inside had apple red leather seats, a man sitting with a cigar between his lips, and Mama in his lap. He looked like he’d walked right out of the 1960s. She giggled as he whispered something to her, but it wasn’t the same kind of laugh she’d always given Dad.
It was a little vacant, a little hollow, a little sad.
I glanced down the street and saw Ms. Jackson surrounded by the other gossipy women, pointing at Mama and her new man of the week. I wished I were close enough to hear them so I could tell them to keep their yaps shut, but they were a good block away. Even the kids who were tossing a ball in the street, hitting it around with a few broken sticks stopped their actions and stared wide-eyed at Mama and the stranger.
Cars that cost as much as his never traveled down streets that looked like ours. I’d tried to convince Mama she should move to a better neighborhood, but she refused. I thought it was mainly because she and Dad had bought the house together.
Maybe she hadn’t completely let him go yet.
The man blew a cloud of smoke into Mama’s face and they laughed together. She was wearing her nicest dress, a yellow dress that hung off her shoulders, hugged her small waist, and flared out at the bottom. She wore so much makeup that it made her fifty-year-old face look more like a thirty-year-old. She was pretty without all that gunk on her cheeks, but she said a little blush made a girl turn into a woman. The pearls around her neck were from Grandma Betty. She’d never worn those pearls for a stranger before tonight, and I wondered why she was wearing them now.
The two glanced my way, and I hid behind the porch post where I was spying from.
“Liz, if you’re planning on hiding, at least do a better job at it. Now come on over and meet my new friend,” Mama shouted.
I stepped from behind the post and walked over to the two of them. The man blew another puff of smoke, and the smell lingered around my nostrils as I took in his graying hair and deep blue eyes.
“Richard, this is my daughter, Elizabeth. Everyone we know calls her Liz, though.”
Richard eyed me up and down in a way that made me feel less like a person. He studied me as if I was a porcelain doll he wanted to watch shatter. I tried not to show my discomfort, but it seeped through as my eyes shifted to the ground. “How do you do, Liz?”
“Elizabeth,” I corrected, my voice hitting the concrete I’d been staring down at. “Only people I know call me Liz.”
“Liz, that is no way to speak to him!” Mama scolded, her slight wrinkles deepening in her forehead. She would’ve had a fit if she’d known her wrinkles were showing. I hated how whenever a new man came around, she was quick to back them up instead of standing up for me.
“It’s all right, Hannah. Besides, she’s right. It takes time to get to know somebody. Nicknames need to be earned, not given out freely.” There was something so slimy about the way Richard stared at me and puffed on his cigar. I was wearing a pair of loose jeans and a plain, oversized T-shirt, but his eyes made me feel exposed. “We were about to go grab a bite to eat in town, if you want to join us,” he offered.
I declined. “Emma’s still sleeping.” My eyes glanced back at the house where my baby girl was lying on the pullout sofa she and I’d been sharing for one too many nights since we’d moved back in with Mama.
Mama wasn’t the only one who’d lost the love of her life.
Hopefully I wouldn’t end up like her.
Hopefully I’d just stay in the sad phase.
It’d been a year since Steven passed away, and still each breath was hard to swallow. Emma’s and my true home was back in Meadows Creek, Wisconsin. It was a fixer-upper place where Steven, Emma, and I had taken a house and created a home. We fell deeper in love, into fights, and back in love, over and over again.
It became a place of warmth just by us being within its walls, and after Steven passed away, a drift of coldness filled the space.
The last time he and I were together, his hand was around my waist in the foyer and we were creating memories we’d thought would last forever.
Forever was much shorter than anyone would ever like to believe.
For the longest time, life flowed in its accustomed stream, and one day it all came to a shocking stop.
I’d felt the suffocation of the memories, of the sadness, so I’d run off to stay with Mama.
Going back to the house would ultimately be me facing the truth that he was really gone. For over a year, I’d been living in make-believe, pretending he’d gone out for milk and would be walking through the door any time now. Each evening when I lay down to sleep, I stayed on the left side and closed my eyes, pretending Steven was against the right.
But now, my Emma needed more. My poor Emma needed freedom from pullout couches, strange men, and gossiping neighbors who said words that should never fill a five-year-old’s ears. She needed me too. I’d been walking through the darkness, only being half the mother she deserved, so maybe facing the memories of our house would help bring me more peace.
I headed back inside the house and looked down at my sleeping angel, her chest rising and falling in a perfect pattern. She and I had much in common, from our dimpled cheeks to the blonde tone of our hair. We shared the same kind of laugh that was quiet, yet grew loud in the company of the ones we loved. She smiled out of the right corner of her mouth and frowned out of the left, the same way my lips did.
But there was one big difference.
She had his blue eyes.
I lay beside Emma, placing a gentle kiss against her nose before I reached into the heart-shaped tin box and read another love letter. It was one I’d read before, yet it still tugged at my spirit.
Sometimes I pretended the letters were from Steven.
I always cried a little.
“Are we really going home?” asked sleepy Emma when morning came through the living room window, spilling light against her sweet face. I picked her up from the bed and placed her and Bubba—her teddy bear and all-time favorite companion—on the closest chair. Bubba wasn’t simply a teddy bear, he was a mummified teddy bear. See, my little girl was a little weird, and after she saw the movie Hotel Transylvania—which involved zombies, vampires, and mummies—she decided that maybe a little scary and maybe a little weird was perfect.
“We are.” I smiled toward her as I folded up the pullout. The night before I hadn’t slept a wink and I stayed up packing all of our belongings.
Emma had a goofy grin on her face that matched her father’s. She screamed, “YAY!” and told Bubba we were really going home.
That word stung a little in the back of my heart, but I kept smiling. I’d learned to always smile in front of Emma because she had a way of growing sad whenever she thought I was sad. Even though she gave me the best Eskimo kisses when I was feeling down, she didn’t need that kind of responsibility.
“We should make it back in time to see the fireworks on our rooftop. Remember how we used to watch the fireworks on the roof with Daddy? Do you remember that, babe?” I asked her.
She narrowed her eyes as if going deep into her mind, searching. If only our minds were like file cabinets and we could simply retrieve our favorite memories from a neatly organized system whenever we chose. “I don’t remember,” she said, hugging Bubba.
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