Home > Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(12)

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(12)
Tammara Webber

“Hey, Jackie.”

Kennedy hadn’t spoken to me in over a month, the last words between us involving a trite cliché and the very textbook I was currently holding. I pulled a steadying breath through my nose and turned. “Kennedy.” I waited, sure he had some reason to approach me, though I had no idea what it was.

“Are you heading home for Thanksgiving? If so, we should carpool. You know, make that four-hour drive a little less monotonous.”

“You want us to drive home… together?”

He shrugged and flicked his head to the side with a faintly dimpled smile. Kennedy tossing his hair out of his eyes was an arresting sight, and he damn well knew it. At the moment, though, it kind of pissed me off.

Benji cleared his throat and touched my elbow. “See ya Monday, Jacqueline.”

I smiled at him. “Have a good weekend, Benjamin.”

He winked at me and bumped by Kennedy without apology.

“What’s his deal?” my ex scowled.

“What do you really want, Kennedy?” I shifted my backpack and stared up at him, conflicted by my contradictory desires in that moment. I wanted to punch him in the face. I wanted to fall into his arms and wake up from the nightmare of him casting me aside.

“I’d like for us to be friends at the end of this. You mean a lot to me.” The gentleness in his eyes was almost a physical caress. I’d known him so well, and for so long.

This speech was unanticipated—too much, too soon. My eyes teared up. “I don’t know if I can ever do that, Kennedy. And I don’t want to drive home with you next week. Excuse me.” I edged around him and started up the aisle to the door.

“Jackie—”

“It’s Jacqueline,” I said without turning, leaving him behind.

***

Landon,

I’m sending this a little early, though of course I don’t imagine you’re sitting around on a Friday night waiting for economics projects to pour in. But I’m going to be busy tomorrow morning, so I thought I’d go ahead and send it.

Thank you again for looking it over before I turn it in.

JW

Jacqueline,

As a matter of fact, you’ve distracted/saved me (temporarily, at least) from an infuriating search for a bug somewhere within hundreds of lines of code that doesn’t quite work. I’d much rather look over your econ project. I’ll have it back to you by Sunday evening, if not sooner.

LM

I stared at the L of his signature, picturing him as the guy I knew he was—Lucas. As Landon, his flirting had been subtle; as Lucas, it was overt. What game was he playing? I had no way of knowing if this situation was a first for him, or if he frequently stepped outside of those tutor-student boundaries. The night we met, that horrible night, he’d known who I was. He’d called me Jackie, the name he must have heard Kennedy call me. When I first emailed him for economics help, he must have known, too, but he gave me no hint.

According to the university’s website, restrictions on socializing were to protect—or prevent—students from trading sexual favors for grades, or the appearance of such a thing. But Landon was helping me learn the material, and I was doing the work. When it came to my grade in Dr. Heller’s class, there was nothing improper going on. He knew it. I knew it.

But even consensual fraternization, as Benji called it, was theoretically against the rules.

I could get Landon Maxfield in serious trouble. When he came to my room, I thought he was just another student in the class, and he’d continued that deception.

He’d kissed me, touched me, and I’d let him. I’d wanted him to.

I shut my laptop and stared at my phone. We’d made out a week ago. Here, in my room. And hadn’t texted me once since then. I wanted to know why.

Me: Did I do something wrong?

I waited several minutes, looking at photos on my phone—many of which included Kennedy. I wondered if it was weakness that made it tough to delete them, or if I just wanted to keep the evidence that we’d seemed in love—that we’d looked in love, even while it was all ending.

Lucas: No. Been busy. What’s up?

Me: I guess you haven’t had time to redo the sketches.

Lucas: Actually, I did one of them. I’d like you to see it.

Me: I’d like to see it. Is it tacked to your wall?

Lucas: Yes.

Lucas: Listen, I’m out right now, ttyl?

Me: Sure

According to his email, he was working on what sounded like a huge CSE project, and according to his text, he was out partying. I had no idea which was true. I’d believe he was blowing me off… except for this: I’d like you to see it. I reread the text, opened my laptop and reread his email, but felt no closer to figuring him out.

***

Erin came storming into our room at 1:00 am, on her cell. “You know what? I think you don’t respect my opinion about a lot of things.”

Luckily, I was awake, watching online video clips of self-defense classes. Despite Erin’s eagerness for nut-kicking and my own need to learn this stuff, the last thing I wanted to do in the morning was get up and go punch and kick some guy in a puffy suit. I couldn’t see how that would correlate into getting away from someone like Buck. If I’d have been able to break his grip on me either night, let alone kick him, I would have.

The door shut behind my clearly furious roommate as she flung her bag onto her bed, kicking off her heeled pumps. “Well, I can’t be with someone who’s decided to stand behind a fu**ing rapist.”

Oh, God. I closed out of YouTube and pushed my laptop off my lap.

“Yes, Chaz, that’s what I really think.” She unbuttoned her white blouse so forcefully, I was sure she would rip off a button or two. “Fine. Think whatever you want. I’m done.” Punching her phone, she growled at it and tossed it on her bed before turning to me, yanking her shirt off. “Well. I guess that’s over.”

My mouth agape, I sat, speechless, while she shoved her black skirt down over her h*ps and kicked it in the general direction of the laundry hamper. She slipped bracelets from her arms and removed her earrings, dropping them on a desk littered with jewelry, tarot cards, gum packets and paperback novels.

“Erin, did you just—break up with Chaz? Over me?”

She pulled on a t-shirt that fell to mid-thigh and clearly belonged to Chaz. Scowling, she ripped it back over her head, wadded it up and hurled it. “No. I broke up with Chaz because he’s a fu**ing twat-headed jackass.”

“But—”

“Jacqueline.” She held up one palm like a traffic cop signaling stop. “Don’t say it. I broke up with Chaz because he proved what’s important to him. ‘Bros before hos.’ Well f*ck that. I won’t come second to a bunch of his dumbass friends, and I certainly won’t come second to some dickhead who’s a walking affront to all women. Besides… it was never gonna be a permanent thing, right? Who does that in college anyway?”

She spun around and rummaged through the top drawer of our tiny built-in wardrobe, ostensibly searching for a non-previously-Chaz-owned t-shirt. I heard one muffled sniff and knew she was crying. Damn Chaz. Damn Buck. Damn Lucas/Landon/whoever the hell he was.

***

The campus “Self-Defense for Women” classes were held in one of the classrooms on the first floor of the activities building. We found the room and I tossed my coffee cup in the hallway trash can, Erin yawning after a sleepless night—which I knew because her restless fidgeting and sniffling had kept me awake. Around 4:00 am, she’d crawled into bed with me, curling into spoon position against me as I swept the hair back from her face. Mercifully, she’d fallen asleep almost immediately, and I’d followed suit.

“Hey. Isn’t that—?” Erin spoke without moving her lips, like a ventriloquist. Clad in black sweat pants and a black t-shirt, Lucas stood at the front of the room with two older men.

“Yes,” I hissed as we took our seats and I stared down at the packet of course material, the cover of which depicted a man attacking a woman who was poised to defend herself. “Erin, I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes you can,” she countered, so quickly that she must have been anticipating my response.

“Good morning, ladies.” The smaller, older guy began, silencing any further protest from me. “I’m Ralph Watts, the Assistant Chief of Police on campus. This feeble-looking guy to my left is Sergeant Don, and the ugly one is Lucas, one of our parking enforcement officers.” Everyone chuckled, as Don and Lucas were far from feeble or ugly. “We’re pleased that you’ve given up a Saturday mornings to increase your knowledge of personal safety.”

I snuck a look at Erin when she nudged me with her knee. “Parking enforcement officer? Jesus, how many jobs does he have?” she mumbled from the side of her mouth.

“No shit,” I mumbled back. She didn’t even know about the tutoring job.

“Could be hot…” she whispered. “Especially if there’s a uniform. Or handcuffs.”

I sighed.

Glancing around the semi-circle of folding chairs, I noted that there were only about a dozen of us—a mix of students, professors and administrative staff. The oldest was a white-headed black woman who had to be the age of my grandmother. I told myself that if she could come in here to learn how to kick potential rap**t ass, so could I.

Even if Lucas was standing across the room, alternately staring at me and avoiding my eyes completely.

The first hour and a half, basic self-defense principles were discussed. Ralph told us that ninety percent of self-defense involves reducing the risk of attack in the first place. “In an ideal world, we could all go about our business without fear of being assaulted. Unfortunately, that ideal is not representative of reality.”

My face heating, I recalled Lucas admonishing me for walking across the dark parking lot behind the frat house texting, instead of paying attention to my surroundings. I circled “90%” in blue ink until I’d obscured the words on either side. But then I remembered the last thing he’d said that night: It wasn’t your fault.

We were encouraged to propose safety prevention suggestions, and write them all down—locking doors, walking or exercising with a friend, wearing shoes that don’t hinder running. Erin’s suggestion of “Avoid as**oles” was popular.

“Three things are necessary for an assault: an assailant, a victim, and opportunity. Remove opportunity and you take a huge leap in reducing the likelihood of the assault.” Ralph clapped his hands together once. “Alrighty, let’s take a short break, and when we come back, it’s time to do some of the butt-kicking you ladies signed up to inflict on Don and Lucas.”

Chapter 11

“Many of you are probably convinced that without a weapon, you have no hope against an aggressive male.” Ralph spoke from the opposite side of a set of mats on which Don and Lucas faced each other. The rest of us spread out along the outer edge of the mats, prepared to watch whatever they were about to do. Lucas still hadn’t acknowledged my presence.

“The truth is, you have several weapons at your disposal, and we’re gonna show you how to utilize them to your best advantage. Big, mean Don here will be the assailant, and Lucas, with all that pretty hair, will be the intended victim.”

Giggling erupted from several girls standing near Lucas as he pinned his lips together in good-natured irritation and raked his dark hair back out of his face.

“Your weapons are your hands, feet, knees and elbows, and your head—and I don’t just mean what’s inside it, although that comes into play. Your forehead and the back of your head, when they come into contact with susceptible areas on your assailant, can leave him seeing stars.” Using Don as an example, he pointed out the obvious vulnerable spots (“Yes,” Erin hissed when he indicated the groin), and then the less obvious places, like the top of the foot and the forearm.

Ralph called out the moves Lucas employed to defend himself as he and Don acted out half a dozen choreographed attacks, time-lapsed to clearly demonstrate what they were doing. I felt more hopeless, not less, as I watched them. Lucas’s muscular body was trained to execute those blocks and hits, to absorb blows from an assailant. I’d watched him beat the crap out of Buck—when I could barely dislodge him long enough to scream, let alone inflict any damage.

“The goal here is not to beat the guy up.” Ralph smiled at Erin’s disappointed grumble. “Our objective is to give you time to escape. Gettin’ the hell outta Dodge is your goal.”

We divided into pairs to practice wrist blocks and parries. The three instructors circled the room, assisting and repositioning. I was relieved when Don walked up to watch Erin and me as we took turns trying to slow-motion slap each other. “Keep your eyes on the assailant,” he reminded me. He turned to Erin. “Put a little more oomph into that attack. She can block it.”

I was shocked to find he was right. Erin almost hit me the second time because I was so surprised I’d completely blocked her first attempt.

Don nodded. “Good job.”

We smiled stupidly at each other and switched assailant and victim roles. “So when do we get to the junk-kicking?” Erin asked.

Don shook his head and sighed. “I swear, there’s one in every class. Kicks will be next time.” He pointed at her. “And I’m makin’ sure you’re in Lucas’s line for that.”

She put on her innocent face. “Don’t y’all wear those padded Michelin-man suits?”

“Yes… but those pads don’t block all feeling.”

“Heh-heh,” Erin said, and Don quirked one eyebrow at her.

I looked around the room during this exchange, watching Lucas with a couple of the giggly girls. “Like this?” one of them asked, blinking up at him like she didn’t know she’d positioned her hand incorrectly.

“No…” He turned her palm around and adjusted her elbow. “Like that.” His voice was almost inaudible with all of the slapping, blocking and laughter scattered through the wide-open room. Even still, I felt his words like a soft stroke down my back. I could hardly connect this guy—his shaggy hair, his tattoos, the pure sexuality in the way he walked and the low thrum of his voice—with Landon, an engineering senior who said—or wrote—that my ex was a moron and teased me about 14-year-old orchestra students crushing on me. All while helping me pass a class I’d have failed without him.

I was attracted to the whole of him—each side incongruent with the other. But the whole of him was also a liar. The fact that our professor called him by a different name than the Assistant Chief of Police was perplexing, too. The preface of his official email address was LMaxfield. No help there.

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