Home > Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(16)

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(16)
Tammara Webber

After watching a couple of sitcom reruns, I switched the television off, scooted the walnut coffee table from its perfectly-centered spot on the hand-knotted Tibetan rug, and unpacked my bass. Improvising with a plant stand when I couldn’t find my music stand, I ran through the beginnings of a prélude piece I’d begun composing for my year-end solo.

The last thing I expected to hear while scribbling notes onto staff paper was the doorbell. I’d never been afraid to be at home alone, but then I’d never been so completely alone here before. I debated pretending no one was home, but of course whoever was there had heard me playing, and heard me quit. I lay the bass on its side and crept to the solid door, standing on my toes to look through the peephole. Kennedy stood, smiling straight at me, illuminated by the glow of the dual lights of the veranda. He couldn’t see me, of course, but he’d answered this door many times and knew the view from the inside almost as well as I did.

I unlocked and opened the door, but didn’t move from the doorway. “Kennedy? What are you doing here?”

He glanced behind me and heard the utter quiet of the house. “Are your parents out?”

I sighed. “They aren’t here.”

He frowned. “Aren’t here tonight, or aren’t here over break?”

I’d forgotten how readily Kennedy could zero in on what wasn’t said. That characteristic probably accounted for most of his debate wins. “They aren’t here at all—but why are you here?”

He leaned a shoulder into the door frame. “I texted first but you didn’t answer.” I probably hadn’t heard the text alert. Little could be heard over the sound of my bass, once I began playing. “During dinner, Mom reminded me to make sure I had you over by 1:00 tomorrow—and yes, that means I never told them we broke up. I started to tonight, and then I thought this might be a welcome escape from Evelyn and Trent. Where are they, anyway?”

I ignored his question. I couldn’t help but notice that he said we broke up as though our breakup was a mutual decision. As though I hadn’t been the blindsided idiot of the equation.

“You want me to come to Thanksgiving lunch and pretend we’re all fine, just so you don’t have to tell your parents we broke up?”

He smiled just enough to make the dimple appear. “I’m not that big of a coward. I can tell them if you want, and say I’ve invited you to come as a friend. But we don’t have to disclose anything to them, if you don’t want to. Trust me, they’re too oblivious to pick up on anything. My little bro’s had a weed habit for over a year—parties so hard he’d put most of the brotherhood to shame, and they have no idea.”

“Aren’t you worried about him?”

He shrugged. “His grades are still decent. He’s just bored. Besides, he’s not my kid.”

“But he’s your little brother.” I only understood sibling relationships in theory, since I’d never had one, but I assumed logic would dictate some sense of responsibility. Kennedy seemed to feel none.

“He wouldn’t listen to anything I have to say.”

“How do you know?” I pressed.

He sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe because he never has. C’mon. Come tomorrow. I’ll pick you up right before 1:00. It’ll be better than… whatever frozen thing you’d planned to microwave?”

I rolled my eyes and he chuckled.

“I still don’t understand why you didn’t tell them. It’s been over a month.”

He shrugged again. “I don’t know. Maybe because I know how much my family loves you.” That was bullshit. I raised an eyebrow and he laughed. “Okay, well they were used to you—used to us. I guess you told your parents?”

I curled my toes into the cold marble floor, the chill from outside seeping into the entryway. “I told Mom. I assume she told Dad. They seemed vaguely annoyed, though I don’t know if the annoyance was directed at you for dumping me or me for not managing to hold onto you.” I wanted to pinch myself for the dejected words that made it sound as though I was pining for him.

In actuality, Mom and I had revisited the quarrel we had when I first told her my college plans. She hadn’t approved, claiming that smart girls forge their own educational paths; they don’t follow their high school boyfriends to college. “But do what you like. You always have,” she’d said, stalking from my room. We’d not discussed it again until Kennedy broke up with me.

“I guess it doesn’t do any good now to point out that I was right about him,” she’d sighed over the phone. “And your ill-advised decision to follow him there.”

Whenever I appeared to have won an argument, Mom would say something like, “Even broken clocks are right twice a day.” I’d tossed this bit of wisdom back in her face, and just like she had when I announced my college plans, she’d heaved a sigh like I was hopelessly clueless and dropped the subject. Little did she know that in that moment, I agreed with her completely, for once. Following my boyfriend to State was possibly the most dimwitted thing I’d ever done.

Kennedy stood with his thumbs hooked through his belt loops, looking contrite. “I assume you don’t have plans to have Thanksgiving supper with Dahlia’s family, or Jillian’s, or you’d have already said so.”

Preferring to wait until the holiday festivities were over, I’d not yet called my high school friends to let them know I was home. Jillian had flunked out of LSU at the end of freshman year, after which she’d moved home to train for management at Forever 21 and get engaged to some guy who managed a mall jewelry store. Dahlia was in the second year of her nursing program in Oklahoma. We’d all grown apart since graduation. It was odd, how unconnected I felt to each of them now, when we’d been joined at the hip for four years of high school.

Now Dahlia had her nursing undergrad crowd in a neighboring state, and Jillian had a blue stripe in her hair, a full-time job and a fiancé. Both were shocked when Kennedy and I broke up. They were among the first to text and call, commiserating—or trying to, even though we hadn’t been close in over a year. I hoped we could hang out and hopefully not discuss Kennedy ad nauseum.

“I don’t have plans with anyone. I thought it would be nice to be home alone.” I emphasized the last word, staring up at him.

“You can’t be here all by yourself on Thanksgiving.”

I hated the pity underlying his assumption, and I glared up at him. “Yes, I can.”

The dark green of his eyes scanned over my face. “Yes, you can,” he agreed. “But there’s no reason for you to. We can be friends, right? You’ll always be important to me. You know that.”

I so didn’t know that. But if I said no, if I insisted on staying at my parents’ house alone and eating a microwaved turkey patty for Thanksgiving, it would look like I couldn’t get over him. Like I was so damaged that I couldn’t be around him.

“Fine,” I said, almost instantly regretting it.

***

“So are you and my dickwad brother back together, or what?” Carter asked, under his breath.

If he wasn’t so big, Carter would have been a carbon copy of his older brother—same green eyes and mop of dirty blond hair. But where Kennedy was tall and lean, Carter had sprouted to an equal height, but with the girth and muscle of a running back. Having known him since he was a wiry fourteen-year-old—when Kennedy still towered over him—his transformation was mind-boggling. I remembered him as a quiet, scowling boy, eclipsed by his older brother. He was clearly done with that phase.

I glanced behind us as we set the table, relieved that no one else was within earshot. “No.”

He followed behind me, placing forks on top of the napkins I’d folded. “Too bad for him.”

My eyes widened a bit at this, and when I looked at him, he smirked. “What? Anyone can see you’re too good for him. So why are you here?”

“Um, thanks. And my parents went to Breckenridge.”

He recoiled, astonished. “Fuck, are you serious? And I thought my parents were the biggest as**oles in this town.”

I couldn’t help but grin, though I curbed it as much as possible. Carter had always seemed unmanageable and emotional next to the rest of his logical, coolheaded family. I’d never considered what an outsider he must have felt like with them—the impetuous middle child between Kennedy and his little sister, Reagan, who gave the impression that she’d been born a thirty-year-old accountant.

“Language, Carter,” Kennedy said, rounding the corner.

“Fuck off, Kennedy.” Carter retorted, not missing a beat.

Fully containing my reaction was impossible. My jaw was like rock in the attempt, but a small snort escaped, which earned a big, full-wattage grin from Carter. He winked at me before scooting off to the kitchen to help his mother. I blinked, imagining that the poor girls at my former high school must collapse against the lockers when he sauntered past.

Kennedy was scowling.

“What happened to ‘he’s not my kid’?” I asked, placing the last spoon before turning to him. “It’s okay to berate him for dropping the F-bomb, but you wash your hands of helping him kick an alleged drug problem?” I was definitely asking for it. Debating with Kennedy was unwinnable.

He inclined his head. “Good point.”

I blinked again, thinking that the Moore boys were going to shock me to death by the time I left town.

Grant and Bev Moore were as oblivious as Kennedy had promised. They didn’t seem to detect the strained air between their son and me in the four hours I spent with them, or the absence of our usual PDA. He didn’t sling an arm across the back of my chair during the meal, and though he pushed my chair in when I sat—as he’d been raised to do—he didn’t kiss my cheek or take my hand. When Reagan narrowed her sharp thirteen-year-old eyes on us, I pretended not to notice her scrutiny. Carter, of course, leered and flirted with me outrageously, trying to make me laugh and piss his brother off. He succeeded on both counts while their parents discerned nothing.

Not touching except for the press of his leg against mine, Kennedy and I sat side-by-side through a football game on the wall-sized flatscreen that made Carter so furious he stood up and cursed at the screen a couple of times, for which his entire family—all four of them—calmly rebuked him. The second time, he stomped from the room and was gone for several minutes. From the way he flexed his hand when he returned, I got the feeling he went to his bedroom and hit something.

As soon as Kennedy pulled into my driveway to drop me off, I hopped out of the car, thanking him for inviting me and making it clear that I was going inside alone. He smiled tightly. “We should hang out Saturday. I’ll give you a call.” Thankfully, he made no move to exit the car.

As though he’d not suggested anything, I thanked him again and said goodbye. Once inside, I watched him from a curtained window. He stared pensively at the closed front door for a minute before pulling out his phone and calling someone as he backed out of the drive.

***

After making Friday night plans with Dahlia and Jillian, I practiced my bass in the living room until the timer-set lamp clicked off just before 11 pm. Chuckling into the darkness, I propped my instrument against the wall by feel, and placed the bow on a shelf of a nearby bookcase. My phone lit up on the plant stand, signaling a message, and I stood in the dark, reading and answering.

Lucas: When will you be back on campus?

Me: Probably Sunday. You?

Lucas: Saturday.

Me: Family drama?

Lucas: No. My ride needs to go back then.

Lucas: Let me know if you’re back early. I want to see you.

Lucas: I need to sketch you again.

Me: Oh?

Lucas: I’ve done a couple from memory but they aren’t the same.

Lucas: Can’t quite get the shape of your jaw. The line of your neck.

Lucas: And your lips. I need to spend more time staring at them and less time tasting them.

Me: I can’t say I agree with that notion.

Lucas: More of both, then. Text me when you get back.

Okay, so sleeping was out.

I reread the text while stealthy recollections of his lips on mine curled through me, igniting small flames of desire that grew and fused as my memories of Saturday night replayed in graphic detail. Standing in the dark, I closed my eyes.

I should be fuming or at least distrustful where Lucas/Landon was concerned, but having tried to work up some outrage over his sin of omission, I simply couldn’t. I reasoned that I was on resentment overload between Kennedy and Buck, and in comparison, Lucas seemed more a riddle than a risk. My plan for him, after all, had been to use him as a rebound, Operation Bad Boy Phase, and it wasn’t like I’d been fully forthcoming about that.

Attempting to get a handle on my volatile musings, I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and walked upstairs to my bedroom, the only room still lit in the whole house.

When I checked my email, I saw there was one from LMaxfield amidst the credit offers and listserv info, and my heart rate jumped. He’d sent it this afternoon, hours before our text exchange. Away from school, I was beginning to connect my tutor with Lucas—the Lucas who spoke to me from behind this Landon alias. I wanted to know why, but I didn’t want to ask—I wanted him to tell me.

Jacqueline,

I discovered that the Bait & Tackle has added coffee and wifi, along with a new name promoting these innovative features. Joe (the proprietor) didn’t bother to make up a whole new sign—he just affixed a whitewashed board to the ancient original. Now the hand-painted sign(s) read(s): Bait & Tackle & Coffee, and under “Coffee” it says “& wifi.”

They have three tiny tables and a couple of lumpy, floral overstuffed chairs—like a Starbucks, if it had been decorated with yard sale furniture from someone’s grandmother. It’s the only place in town that’s open today, so it’s packed. The coffee’s actually not horrible, but that’s the best recommendation I can honestly give it. And predictably, the whole place smells like fish, which sort of detracts from the intended bistro ambiance.

Did your day go as planned?

You’re locking and alarming your house every night, right? I don’t mean to be insulting, but you said you were going to be home alone.

LM

Landon,

Yes, I’m amply skilled in locking up at night. The state-of-the-art alarm system is fully engaged. (And I’m not insulted. I appreciate the concern.)

I spent the day at my ex’s. His parents have no idea we’re broken up—he never told them, for some reason. It was awkward. I don’t know why I let him talk me into going. He wants to see me Saturday to “talk.” I may go back to campus early. I haven’t decided yet.

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