Ten Tiny Breaths (Ten Tiny Breaths #1)

Ten Tiny Breaths (Ten Tiny Breaths #1)
K.A. Tucker


“Just breathe,” my mom would say. “Ten tiny breaths … Seize them. Feel them. Love them.” Every time I screamed and stomped my feet in anger, or bawled my eyes out in frustration, or turned green with anxiety, she’d calmly recite those same words. Every single time. Exactly the same. She should have tattooed the damn mantra to her forehead. “That makes no sense!” I’d yell. I never understood. What the hell does a tiny breath do? Why not a deep breath? Why ten? Why not three or five or twenty? I’d scream and she’d simply smile her little smile. I didn’t understand it then.

I do now.

Stage One ~ Comfortably Numb

Chapter One

A soft hiss ... my heart thumping in my ears. I hear nothing else. I’m sure my mouth is moving, calling out their names … Mom? ...Dad? ... but I can’t hear my voice. Worse, I can’t hear theirs. I turn to my right to see Jenny’s silhouette, but her limbs look awkward and unnatural and she’s pressed up against me. The car door opposite her is closer than it’s supposed to be. Jenny? I’m sure I say. She doesn’t respond. I turn to my left to see only black. Too dark to see Billy, but I know he’s there because I can feel his hand. It’s big and strong and it envelops my fingers. But it’s not moving … I try to squeeze it but I can’t will my muscles to flex. I can’t do anything except turn my head and listen to my heart pound like an anvil against my chest for what feels like an eternity.

Dim lights … voices …

I see them. I hear them. They’re all around, closing in. I open my mouth to scream, but I can’t find the energy. The voices get louder, the lights brighter. A reedy gasp sets my hairs on end. Like a person struggling for their dying breath.

I hear a loud snap, snap, snap, like someone pulling stage light levers; light suddenly pours in from all angles, illuminating the car with blinding power.

The smashed windshield.

The twisted metal.

Dark smears.

Liquid pools.

Blood. Everywhere.

It all suddenly disappears and I’m falling backward, crashing into cold water, sinking further into the darkness, picking up speed as the weight of an ocean swallows me whole. I open my mouth to search for air. A lungs worth of cold water greets me in a rush, filling me inside. The pressure in my chest is unbearable. It’s ready to explode. I can’t breathe … I can’t breathe. Tiny breaths, I hear my mom instruct, but I can’t do it. I can’t get even one. My body’s shaking … shaking … shaking …

“Wake up, Dear.”

My eyes fly open to find a faded headrest in front of me. It takes me a moment to find my bearings, to calm my hammering heart.

“You were gaspin’ for air somethin’ fierce,” the voice says.

I turn to find a lady stooped in the aisle, concern on her deeply wrinkled face, her twisted, old fingers on my shoulder. My body curls into itself before I can stop the knee-jerk response to her touch.

She removes her hand with a gentle smile. “Sorry, Dear. Just thought you should be woken up.”

Swallowing, I manage to croak out, “thank you.”

She nods and shifts back to take her seat on the bus. “Must have been some kind a nightmare.”

“Yeah,” I answer, my usual calm, vacant voice returning. “Can’t wait to wake up.”


“We’re here.” I give Livie’s arm a gentle shake. She grumbles and nuzzles her head against the window. I don’t know how she can sleep like that, but she’s managed to, snoring softly for the past six hours. A line of flaky, dry spit snakes down her chin. Super attractive. “Livie,” I call again with an impatient bite in my tone. I need off this tin can. Now.

I get a clumsy wave and pouty “don’t bug me, I’m sleeping” lip.

“Olivia Cleary!” I snap as passengers rustle through the overhead compartments and gather their belongings. “Come on. I’ve got to get out of here before I lose my shit!” I don’t mean to bark, but I can’t help it. I don’t do well in confined spaces. After twenty-two hours on this damn bus, pulling the emergency hatch and jumping through the window sounds appealing.

My words finally sink in. Livie’s eyelids flutter open and half-dazed blue irises stare out at the Miami bus terminal for a moment. “We made it?” She asks through a yawn, sitting up to stretch and scope out the scenery. “Oh, look! A palm tree!”

I’m already standing in the aisle, readying our backpacks. “Yay, palm trees! Come on, let’s go. Unless you want to spend another day going back to Michigan.” That idea gets her body moving.

By the time we step off the bus, the driver has unloaded the luggage from the undercarriage. I quickly spot our matching hot pink suitcases. Our lives, all of our belongings, have been reduced to one suitcase each. It’s all we managed to throw together in our rush out of Uncle Raymond and Aunt Darla’s house. No matter, I tell myself as I throw an arm over my sister’s shoulders in a side hug. We have each other. That’s all that matters.

“It’s hot as Hell,” Livie exclaims at the same time that I sense a trickle of sweat run down my back. It’s late morning and the sun already blazes down on us like a fireball in the sky. So different from the autumn chill we left in Grand Rapids. She pulls off her red hoody, earning a string of catcalls from a group of guys on skateboards, ignorant to the ‘do not enter’ sign in that part of the covered parking lot.

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