Read Last Breath Online

Authors: Diane Hoh

Last Breath

Last Breath
Nightmare Hall
Diane Hoh


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23


Preview: Win, Lose, or Die

A Biography of Diane Hoh


reach for things, they hug, they lift and carry, they perform tasks, they wave hello and good-bye.

Legs are important. They move a body from place to place, they pedal, they drive a car, they dance, they jog, they kick a football, they jump.

A mouth talks, eats, drinks, kisses, argues, smiles.

A nose sneezes and smells roses and cabbage.

Ears hear music and conversation and bells and train whistles and babies crying.

Eyes see things, cry, wink. Eyes reflect the soul.

But it is the mind that matters most. When the mind is lost,
is lost.

A mind is a terrible thing to lose.

Chapter 1

a huge, multiplex dorm on the campus of Salem University, was bustling with activity in the early morning hours of a chilly day in late fall. Four people were trying to get dressed for classes at the same time, darting in and out of closets, waving hair dryers around like weapons, jockeying for positions at mirrors to expertly or haphazardly apply makeup. Beds were unmade, books and notebooks were scattered among the bedding, clothes lay like anthills on the floor, and the tenants ran from one of the two small rooms to the other through the tiny half-bath that joined the two as music played loudly over the chaos.

“Now that you’re back among the living,” Talia Quick, a tall, pretty girl with clear, glowing skin and long, shiny yellow-gold hair, said to Cassidy Kirk, “does that mean we can’t borrow your clothes anymore?”

Cassidy, brushing her own thick, red, shoulder-length hair, laughed. “Talia, the only thing of mine that would fit
is a scarf. I’m a munchkin, you and Ann are Vikings. I wish I could say the same for Sophie! I haven’t seen my red sweater since she borrowed it when I first got sick, and Sophie never,
hangs anything up. She has blouses of mine that are lying in the bottom of the closet, looking like an elephant danced on them.”

“I’ll iron them,” Sophie Green said, overhearing as she came into the room Cassidy shared with Ann Ataska. “I promise.” Sophie was small and rounded, with eyes as dark as chestnuts. Velcro rollers dotted her dark hair. “The very first chance I get.”

“Which will be never,” Cassidy said drily. “I’ve known you for three months, Sophie Green, and I have never once seen you with an iron in your hand. Do you even own one?”

“Well, actually, no,” Sophie admitted, heedlessly ripping the rollers from her hair and dropping them on the dresser. “But I could always borrow one, couldn’t I?”

“You could. But you won’t.” Cassidy slipped into a blue denim shirt. “Never mind, Sophie. I’m just so glad to be out of that bed and feeling normal again.”

A severe asthma attack had felled Cassidy, sending her to the infirmary briefly, and then back to her own bed for three days.

“You were run-down,” the doctor had told her before she was discharged. “That’s why it hit you so hard. You’re doing too much. Take it easy. Life is too short to race through it.”

Well, maybe. But who decided what was “doing too much”? Cassidy
being busy. College was fun, and there were a million things to do: classes to attend, clubs to join, activities to take part in, parties, dances, movies to see. It was hard to pack everything in.

Chronic asthma had kept Cassidy out of things as a child. Later, when new medication controlled her condition effectively, she found to her disappointment that the most exciting thing to do on a Saturday night in her rural community was drive into town and watch the grass in the park grow. Talleyrand, Virginia, didn’t even have a movie theater.

Salem campus, on the other hand, was a festival of fun things to do.

So being sick this time had been a drag. Maybe she would take it just a tiny bit easier. At first, anyway. Three days in bed with her inhaler, the tube of medication which she could inhale, enabling her to get through severe asthma attacks, had left her feeling as if she’d been riding a roller coaster nonstop for hours.

But her friends had been great about keeping her up-to-date on class assignments, so she was at least basically caught up.

Ann Ataska, her pale hair caught up in a sleek, smooth French twist, came into the room carrying a pile of books. “Psych is really driving me nuts, if you’ll excuse the pun,” she said. “Maybe I’ve picked the wrong field.”

All four girls were planning to major in psychology, perhaps because they all had at least one relative working successfully in the field. Ann’s father was a psychiatric social worker, Sophie’s mother and Cassidy’s aunt were psychiatric nurses, and Talia’s mother was a psychiatrist in a well-known psychiatric facility in Albany.

Tapping one long, scarlet-tipped fingernail on a framed picture sitting on Cassidy’s dresser, Ann said, “Trav’s been asking me about you. I didn’t notice him visiting while you were sick, though. Did he call?”

“No.” Cassidy looked at the picture. Dark, moody eyes looked out at her from the frame. Why hadn’t she put the picture away, or given it back to Travis? He could give it to some girl who was prepared to drop everything and make Travis McVey the center of her universe, devoting herself totally and completely to him. Unlike Cassidy Kirk, who insisted on having a life of her own. A very
life of her own.

She had tried to explain to Travis what it was like, growing up with asthma. The medications then hadn’t been as effective and she’d spent way too much time lying in bed, missing out on things, feeling “different” from other kids. Now, she had medication that kept things under control and she took it faithfully, knowing that without it, she couldn’t live a completely normal life. Sometimes it wasn’t enough, like with this latest attack. But most of the time, it worked.

Maybe she
work too hard at convincing herself and everyone around her that she was, now, strong and healthy. It was so important to her. She had thought Travis understood.

He hadn’t.

“But Sawyer came to see me,” she told Ann defiantly. “Brought me violets, too. And a package of cinnamon gum. He knows I love it.” Sawyer Duncan, one of the most popular boys on campus, was as busy as she was. Unlike Travis, a tall and bony farm boy, Sawyer was big and solid and comfortingly easygoing. He understood what it was to live an active social life at school. Much easier to deal with than Travis, who accused her of “chasing herself” with such a busy schedule. “I’m surprised you leave time to breathe,” he’d said caustically when they’d had that last, awful argument.

Two days later, she’d remembered that remark when steel-like bands of pain had fastened themselves around her chest, and every breath she struggled to take was agony. The inhaler hadn’t helped, and she’d ended up, briefly, in the infirmary.

Maybe Trav and the doctor were right. She should schedule in some time to relax. Stress made the asthma worse, she already knew that. Easing up on her schedule was probably a good idea.

But she couldn’t ease up
week. Too much to do. Maybe next week?

“Come on, you guys, hurry up!” Cassidy urged. “I don’t want to be late for Bruin’s class my first day back.” Psychology 101 Professor Leona Bruin was one of the strictest teachers at Salem. Her reputation was well-known, and they had all groaned when they had drawn her as a teacher. Talia adored her, saying Bruin reminded her of her mother. “Strong and smart,” she said admiringly. The guys in class mostly hated Bruin, and Ann and Sophie were scared to death of her. Cassidy had found her to be fair. Strict, but fair.

“I feel like I’ve just been let out of prison,” she said as they hurried across Salem’s beautiful, rolling campus in the early-morning sunshine. The huge old trees lining the stone walkways had already turned color, and were beginning to drop their leaves. “Isn’t it a gorgeous day? The air feels fantastic!”

Ann, who was from Florida, shrugged and burrowed deeper in her heavy cable-knit sweater. “Too cold! This is only November. Feels like February to me.”

“You’d better toughen up, surfer-girl,” Talia warned. “The worst is yet to come. Anyway, the cold puts color in our cheeks, and that’s what Cassidy needs.”

Cassidy hastily rubbed both cheeks with the palms of her hands. If there was one thing she didn’t want to do, it was walk into psych class looking pale and wan. If Travis was already seated, he’d take one look at her and think she was pining away because of
. Which she wasn’t.

Travis was there. But he didn’t look up when the quartet from the Quad walked in. He was doodling aimlessly on a piece of paper and kept his dark, curly head down.

On purpose, Cassidy thought as she took her seat. He’s ignoring me on purpose. Like I care.

Still, it did sting, a little. She’d been away from classes for three days. And he hadn’t once called or come to see her. Okay, he’d asked Ann about her. Big deal.

They had dated steadily for three months. Then…the fight. A big fight. World War III, both of them shouting and yelling. It was disgusting. But he could have come to the Quad to see if she was still among the living. Wouldn’t have killed him.

Sawyer, sitting off to her left, sent her a wave and a smile.

She flashed him a brilliant grin, wishing Travis would lift his head and see it.

He didn’t.

But it wasn’t because of Travis that Cassidy had trouble concentrating in class. The asthma attack, the only one she’d had since arriving on campus, had drained her, and although she was anxious to get back in gear, she had to admit she wasn’t feeling one hundred percent yet. A leftover headache plagued her off and on, and she wouldn’t have minded having one more day off to sleep. But she’d missed so much class time already, and there were things to do this weekend. Important things. Life had been going on without her all this time. She

She struggled to pay attention to Professor Bruin’s lecture. Something about the fragility of the human mind. Not very interesting. Unless, of course, you happened to have a fragile mind. Cassidy didn’t. It was only her lungs that could use some strengthening.

“Ms. Kirk, may I see you after class, please?”

Cassidy’s head snapped up. She was horrified to discover that she’d actually been dozing, head down, eyes closed. That had never happened before. The girl sitting opposite her snickered. Cassidy silenced her with a look designed to melt steel. But she listened attentively to every one of Professor Bruin’s remaining words.

She had seldom been so happy to see a class end.

“Ms. Kirk,” the teacher said when Cassidy was standing before her, “about the essay on the fragility of the mind. When do you expect to turn that in?”

The essay had been assigned two weeks before the attack had taken Cassidy out. She frowned. “I did turn that in, Professor Bruin! What I mean is, I finished that paper before I got sick. I gave it to a friend to turn in. Didn’t you get it?”

“Well, now, I wouldn’t be asking you for it if I had, would I?”

Cassidy thought for a moment. She had finished the paper and given it to Travis
their relationship self-destructed. In fact, the argument had begun because she was cutting psych class to finish making plans for a car wash the freshmen psych majors were holding. A fund-raiser, the money would then be used to hold a dance, also a fund-raiser. The money from the dance was to go to the mental health clinic in Twin Falls, Salem’s host community. The plans were late. She just hadn’t had time to get to them, and since she’d finished the essay on time, she’d decided to simply cut class. There were only so many hours in a day.

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