Home > Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(15)

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(15)
Tammara Webber

“Kennedy, leave.”

“He’s a maintenance man, Jackie—”

“He’s a student, Kennedy.” I decided not to point out that Lucas was in our econ class, in case he recognized him as the class tutor and reported him for going out with me.

Kennedy inclined his head, his expression transforming into concern—slightly furrowed brow, eyes searching mine. “We’ll talk next week. When we’re home.” His meaning was clear and directed at Lucas. The two of us were about to spend several days in our hometown, where he would have unrestricted access to me, without the nuisance of interference.

I wanted to tell him I had nothing to say to him, not now or then, but my jaw was clenched so tightly that I couldn’t speak. Still unsure what I was even doing over Thanksgiving break, I ignored his implication that we would be alone then. Judiciously, he didn’t try to touch me again, though his lethal expression matched Lucas’s as they faced off. I didn’t exhale until he went through the door.

Onlooker disappointment was palpable. A few hung around to see if there would be a bonus row between Lucas and me. The adrenaline was clearly still pumping through him—his body was taut, like the hard wire of my bass strings, and when I reached a hand to his forearm, it was granite under layers of leather and flannel.

“I’m okay, honest.” I sighed heavily. “Well, as okay as I can be after that.” I squinted up at him. “Exactly how many jobs do you have, anyway? Barista, self-defense guru, fixit guy, parking enforcement officer—and by the way, does that mean you gave me the ticket I got last spring for two measly minutes of double parking when I ran into the library to return a book?”

His shoulders relaxed with my teasing tone, and I was rewarded with the ghost smile. “I plead the fifth on that. I write a lot of parking tickets. The, um, fixit thing is rare. And I volunteer time for the self-defense gig.”

What I’d left off this list, and what he didn’t add: economics tutor.

“I guess we should add one more, huh?” I said, watching him closely. He had a superb poker face. No reaction at all. “Personal defender of Jacqueline Wallace?”

The faint smile appeared again.

“Another volunteer position, Lucas?” I asked coyly, brows rising. “How will you have time for studying? Or anything fun?”

His hands reached for me, gripping my hipbones and pulling me forward. He stared down at me, his voice low. “There are some things I will make time for, Jacqueline.” Leaning, he kissed the spot just in front of my ear, the spot that made my breath go shallow. And then, he turned and jogged out to his motorcycle, leaving me standing in the entryway. Once he was outside the pool of light surrounding the building, I couldn’t see him. I turned and walked to my room in a daze.

***

Jacqueline,

Your paper is good. Solid research. I think Dr. H will be pleased with it. I noted a couple of small inconsistencies, and one place you may have left out a citation. Other than that, I think it’s a valid, well-supported argument.

I’ve attached the worksheet for tomorrow’s session. You’re caught up now, and you seem to have a good grasp on the new material, but I’ll continue to send you the worksheets for the last two weeks of class, if you’d like.

I assume you’re going home over the break? I’ll be heading home Wednesday morning. No wifi there, so I’ll be out of pocket until Sunday.

LM

Landon,

Looks like I may get this paper turned in early—what a relief. Thank you for your help. Yes, please continue to send the worksheets.

My parents are going skiing over break, but I’d rather go home for a few days and hang out with old friends than stay here on campus. They’ll be boarding Coco, Mom’s evil-tempered little dog, so it should be peaceful and quiet.

Are you flying home? I remember you saying you were carless.

JW

Jacqueline,

Your parents are going skiing and not taking you? You’ll be at home for Thanksgiving alone?

I’m hitching a ride from someone with a car. Home isn’t far, though it seems like another world at times.

LM

Landon,

My parents thought I’d be at my ex’s. We’ve traded off the last couple of years rather than trying to join both family meals; this was his year. My BFF’s family will be at her grandparents’ cabin outside Boulder, and I’m not in the mood to burden anyone else.

I’d rather be alone. That’s weird, huh?

JW

Jacqueline,

Not weird to me. But maybe I’m just weird, too, and I wouldn’t know.

I’ll miss your emails.

LM

Landon,

Ditto. Have a good break.

JW

***

I couldn’t look back at Lucas during class Monday without thinking about Saturday night. His hooded stares made me think he was having the same issue. After I caught him staring holes into the back of Kennedy’s head, I didn’t turn back around. When class ended, Kennedy turned and smiled at me. I forced my lips into a line and turned my back to him to pack up. This class, this semester could not end too soon, for too many reasons to count.

“Can I just say—your ex is gorgeous, but he seems like a conceited asshat.” Benji crammed his spiral into a backpack that looked as though it could erupt with loose papers any moment.

I zipped my backpack. “Yeah, he totally is.” We waited for Kennedy to pass before moving into the aisle, and I studiously avoided making eye contact. I was more than a little worried about his assertion that we would talk while we were both home; I couldn’t imagine what he could have to say that I’d want to hear.

Following our classmates up the steps, everyone animated with anticipation of the coming long weekend, Benji told me he’d be flying home to Georgia and coming out to his father—the only member of his family he hadn’t told. “Mom’s known I was g*y since I was thirteen.”

I was worried on his behalf. “Will your dad be… upset?”

He smiled. “I think he knows. He’s just not sure if that means I’m going to show up in a dress or something.” The thought of Benji in a dress wasn’t a pretty picture, and I couldn’t hold back my laugh. He laughed too, adding, “I know, right?”

Lucas was gone, or so I thought, until Benji and I emerged into the busy hallway and I spotted him leaning on the far wall, near the side door I usually took to escape the building. He watched us approach, but he seemed acutely aware of everyone else as well. I imagined him watching for Dr. Heller.

“You haven’t told him you know yet, have you?” Benji asked, speaking from the side of his mouth.

I shook my head.

“Don’t make him suffer too much. He looks sorta vulnerable.”

I chuckled. “Right. A tough, muscular guy like that—who’s trained to beat people up, and lies about who he is to girls—is so vulnerable.”

He squeezed my arm just above the elbow and smiled. “He’s either an asshat to rival all asshats before him, or there’s a reason for those lies.”

I sighed. “I wish I was a mind reader.”

“You might not, once you know what’s in there.”

“If I ever do.”

Benji shrugged in agreement and veered off toward the long hallway leading to the south exit, turning to call, “Have a good break, Jacqueline.”

“You, too.”

I reached Lucas and he turned to follow me, leaning close to push the door open. “Can I see you tonight?” he murmured.

I wondered if I was turning into a booty call. Or if that’s all it had ever been to him—if that was his reason for not telling me he was Landon Maxfield. “I have a test tomorrow in astronomy. We have study group in our room tonight.”

I glanced up at him, walking beside me with his hands stuffed into the front pockets of his jeans. His gaze continuously scanned over the crowd of people, as though he was on guard.

“Tomorrow night?” He stared down at me as we neared the building, and I noted that he seemed to know exactly where I was going.

“I have an ensemble rehearsal tomorrow. I usually spend Sunday mornings in the music hall, but I missed yesterday.” I hadn’t told Lucas I played the bass. I’d told Landon.

“You slept in?”

I nodded.

“Me, too.”

We reached the entry and stopped to the side of the door. “I have to get my bass packed up, too, since I’m taking it home with me.” Waiting to see if he’d react, I watched his eyes, which matched the gray-blue of the overcast sky as his gaze drifted over the faces around us. “I’ll have plenty of time to rehearse during break.”

“When are you leaving town?” He flicked his hair from his eyes, avoiding the subject of my instrument completely.

“Wednesday morning. You?”

“Same.” He shifted, on edge, his lower lip caught between his teeth, and then all of a sudden, he settled and stilled. His eyes met mine, unwavering. “Text me if you’re done early. Or your plans change. Otherwise, I’ll catch you after break.” He hitched the shoulder over which his backpack was slung and added, “Later, Jacqueline,” before turning and blending into the flow of students, his dark head rising above most of them.

***

“Hold up. So tutor-guy Landon and hottie OBBP Lucas are the same guy?” Maggie’s eyes were so rounded with shock that I could see white all the way around her light brown irises.

“What I don’t understand is why you didn’t call him on that shit immediately.” Erin had her talk-show-participant face on. Any moment, she would call me girrrrl and start recounting the ass-kicking she’d be doing if she was in my shoes. Ever since she’d broken up with Chaz, she was much less tolerant of guys stepping out of line. Or appearing to.

I huffed a sigh and wished I’d never told them. “What happened to gag-him-and-bag him and rebound and operation bad boy phase?” The three of us sat on a comforter in the floor of the dorm room, drinking coffee and eating Oreos, astronomy texts and notes spread all around us, untouched for the last half hour as we discussed Landon/Lucas instead of gas giants and celestial navigation.

“He’s supposed to be your booty call. Not the other way around.” Erin’s voice resonated with authority.

“Yeah.” Maggie chimed in. “Why don’t you text him that you want to meet up later?”

I rolled my eyes. “Because I have an exam at 9:30 in the morning—which we’re supposed to be studying for right now. And also, I think I need a little distance…”

Erin peered at me. “Oh hell no—you’re getting emotionally involved, aren’t you?”

I lay back with my hands covering my face. “Ughhhh!”

“By the way—speaking of booty calls, what’s this I hear about you and Buck? He’s definitely bad boy material,” Maggie mused. “Did you add him to the OBBP stable without telling us?”

I gave Erin a pleading look between my fingers.

“Buck’s full of shit. You know that, Maggie,” she scoffed.

Maggie nodded. “True… Plus, I messed around with him freshman year. He wasn’t very good, from what I recall. Too slobbery.” She shuddered. “What is it with slobbery kissers? Are they trying to drown us in spit? I mean, Jesus, swallow every now and then.”

Her hand squeezing my shoulder, Erin laughed, and while I could hear the contrived ring to it, Maggie didn’t. I knew where Erin’s mind was going. I hadn’t given her many details, and she’d not asked for any. It was difficult enough to speak about that night in generalities. The point was what had happened, and what had almost happened, not the particulars of it.

“So you aren’t hooking up with him?” Maggie pressed. She was only curious, but it rankled to have my name joined with Buck’s in any way.

“Like Erin said—he’s full of shit.” I was curious myself. Morbidly so, perhaps. “Why? Is he saying something about me?”

She shrugged. “Trisha said her little sister’s boyfriend said Buck was hassling Kennedy about it. Those two are like those big goats that butt heads over the girl goats. I think Buck’s still pissed that he was legacy and Kennedy still beat him out for pledge class president.”

That was the complication I couldn’t remember before—the all-important initial conflict between them. The start of their weird brotherly rivalry. I frowned. “But Kennedy was legacy, too.”

Maggie licked Oreo crumbs from her fingers. “Yeah, but Buck was legacy and his daddy was pledge class prez. He thought he had it wrapped up.”

I sat up, becoming furious as Buck’s motivations became clearer. His reasons for hurting me were nothing more than goading my ex. “And that translates into the need for Buck to spread lies that I’m screwing him?” Not to mention the fact that he’d actually assaulted me.

“I didn’t say it made any sense.”

Erin pulled her notes onto her lap. “Okay ladies, which constellations do we think we’ll have to plot on the star chart portion of this test?”

Giving my best friend a grateful look for the change of subject, I shoved thoughts of Buck as far away from my consciousness as I could manage to do.

Chapter 14

After three months away, the house smelled funny. Like dog… combined with the Chanel cologne Mom always wore, plus some other undefinable scent that my mind classified as home. Even still, it was foreign. I didn’t quite belong here anymore, and my body knew it.

I lugged my bass inside, still nestled safely within its wheeled traveling case. With no parents and no Coco, there was little reason to move it any further than the living room. I parked it against the wall, where it stood like another piece of furniture. The lights in the house were timer-set, since Mom and Dad were gone. I decided to let them go on and off at will, with the exception of the kitchen lighting and the lamps in my bedroom, which probably wouldn’t come on at all otherwise.

There was food in the pantry and freezer, but barely anything in the fridge. My parents had cleared out all of the perishable stuff before their trip, not knowing I was coming home tonight, since I never told them. Mom texted me earlier that they were boarding their plane, adding: Have fun with Erin. We’ll see you next month. Having never double-checked my plans, she’d somehow come to the conclusion that I was going home with my roommate.

I heated a box of organic vegetarian lasagna for dinner, and transferred a ground turkey patty from the freezer to the fridge for my Thanksgiving lunch. There was half a package of tater tots in the freezer, too, and I found an unopened bottle of cranberry cocktail in the pantry. I moved it to the fridge. Tah-dah! Thanksgiving for one.

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