Home > Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(17)

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(17)
Tammara Webber

I’m seeing friends tomorrow, so that should be more fun.

What about your family? What did you do?

JW

I couldn’t be sure when he’d get my answer, since he’d need the Bait & Tackle & Coffee’s wifi to sign on. After a restless night—one that crawled by, leaving me more exhausted than I started—I made coffee and signed into to my school email. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing new from LMaxfield in my inbox. I thought about texting Lucas, but what would I say? That I’d tossed and turned all night, thinking of his hands on me?

Chapter 15

When I stopped for gas halfway back to campus, I sent Kennedy a text telling him I’d decided to go back early.

My phone rang before I even pulled back onto the interstate. Kennedy. I took a deep breath and switched off the stereo before answering.

“You’ve already left? I thought you were leaving tomorrow. I thought we were going to talk tonight.”

I sighed, wanting to bang my head on the steering wheel, which wasn’t the best idea while driving seventy miles an hour. “I don’t understand what it is you want to talk about, Kennedy.” I wondered if he’d been blind to how many times I’d been ready and willing to talk, and the multitude of chances he’d carelessly ignored.

“I think I made a mistake, Jackie.” Misinterpreting my stunned silence, he added, “I mean Jacqueline. Sorry, I think that’s going to take me a while—”

“What do you mean, you made a mistake?”

“Us. Breaking up.”

I was silent again, the words sticking as I tried to take them in, gulp them down. I’d avoided campus gossip as much as possible, but I’d heard and seen enough to know that Kennedy had been no saint in the weeks we’d spent apart. He’d also had no shortage of willing participants. But girls willing to share your bed don’t equal girls willing to put up with your random crap moods, listen to your exhaustive legal opinions, or support your life’s goals the way someone who loves you would. No—that had been my role. And I’d been dismissed from it.

“Why?”

He sighed and I imagined what I knew he was doing—staring up at the ceiling, combing his hair back from his forehead and leaving his hand there, elbow bent. He couldn’t hide habitual mannerisms from me, even on the phone. “Why did I make a mistake, or why do I think it was a mistake?” I knew, too, that answering a question with a question was his way of buying time while he reasoned his way out of a problematic situation. “This conversation would have been easier in person—”

“We were together almost three years, and you just broke up with me—without even—there wasn’t—” I was sputtering. I stopped and took a deep breath. “Maybe it wasn’t a mistake.”

“How can you say that?” He had the nerve to sound hurt.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I snapped. “Maybe the same way you so easily broke it off in the first place.”

“Jackie—”

My teeth ground together. “Don’t. Call. Me. That.”

He was silent, and all I heard was road noise as my truck ate the miles of nothing between the last town and the next. Most of the fields on either side of the road were inactive, given the time of year, but a huge green picker was making its way through one cotton field, and I stared at it. No matter what happened to any individual person, life was going on elsewhere. The first time Kennedy kissed me, it stood to reason that at the same time, other people were splitting up. And the night Kennedy broke my heart, somewhere—maybe right there in my dorm, other people were falling in love.

“Jacqueline. I don’t know what you want me to say.”

In a matter of seconds, I’d passed through a town that boasted a sizable outlet mall and little else. Every mile took me farther from Kennedy. Closer to Lucas. I was unsettled by the notion that Lucas was someone to go to, before realizing that he’d been that safety zone for me from the moment we met.

“Nothing,” I replied. “I don’t want you to say anything.”

My ex had the sense to know when he’d reached a deadlock. He thanked me for coming Thursday and said he’d be in touch once he got back to campus, which I didn’t acknowledge.

***

Jacqueline,

It sounds like he wants you back, or at least, he wants something more than friendship. The question is, what do you want?

My family is just my dad and me. We had old friends over for Thanksgiving Day, so he was more conversational than he would have been otherwise. When it’s just the two of us in that house, we tend to go hours without speaking. If you don’t count “excuse me” and “pass the salt” sorts of things, the silence can encompass whole days.

Dad owns a charter fishing boat. Not much going on this time of year in the bay, though he arranges deep-sea fishing trips or native bird-watching tours over the winter. He’d scheduled one for today, so we said our goodbyes at 5am, and here I am, back at my place just after noon.

LM

Lucas was ten minutes from me. I wrestled with the urge to text him and tell him I was back, too. I knew I wouldn’t win this battle for long.

I unpacked and did laundry. The machines on our floor were easy-access while there were so few of us back, but that wouldn’t be the case tomorrow, when everyone returned. I’d been choosing laundry times that didn’t require me to go up or down. Avoiding the stairwell altogether had become one of my quirks. I wouldn’t go into it at all, even in a group. My subterfuge worked with everyone but Erin, who eyed me closely the second time I used, “I forgot something in my room—I’ll meet you downstairs.”

One night, she asked me outright, “You’re afraid to go into the stairwell, aren’t you?”

I was painting my toenails blood red, and I stared at the tiny brush and tried to keep my hand from shaking. Start at the cuticle, sweep up. Start at the cuticle, sweep up. “Wouldn’t you be?”

“Yes,” she answered.

The next time, it was Erin saying, “Oh crap, I left my purse in my room. J, come let me in, would ya?” Turning to the others, she said, “Hey, we’ll meet y’all downstairs in five.”

Me: I’m back.

Lucas: I didn’t think you were coming back until tomorrow.

Me: I changed my mind.

Lucas: So I see. Free tonight?

Me: Yes.

Lucas: Dinner?

Me: Yes.

Lucas: I’ll pick you up at 7.

“I’ve never had a guy cook for me before.”

He smiled from the other side of the counter, chopping raw vegetables and drizzling something over them that he’d just mixed up. “Good. That should effectively lower your expectations.” He emptied the ingredients onto a piece of foil, rolled it up, and put it into the oven with the rest of dinner.

I inhaled through my nose. “Mmm, no, it smells good. And you look like you know what you’re doing back there. I’m afraid my expectations are abnormally high.”

He set a timer, washed and dried his hands, and came around the corner, taking my hand and leading me to the sofa. “We’ve got fifteen minutes.”

We sat side-by-side, and he examined my hand, the pads of his fingers cool as he traced the short nails that wouldn’t interfere with my bass playing, his thumb stroking over the back of my hand. Rotating it gently, his index finger traced up and down, inside the sensitive valleys between my fingers. He drew a spiral on my palm, slowly moving to center, and I was mesmerized, watching and feeling him touch me so softly.

His fingers slid between mine, palm to palm, and he reached to pull me onto his lap, his lips at the base of my throat. When the timer sounded minutes later, I was beyond being able to hear it.

The meal he’d prepared was enclosed in individual foil packets—veggies, baked potatoes and red snapper he’d caught two days ago. Francis meowed like a fire alarm until given his own portion of the latter. “So I guess you’re used to cooking for one?” I asked as we moved to the tiny table pushed against the only blank wall.

He nodded, “For the last three years or so. Before that, cooking for two.”

“You cooked? Not your mom or dad?”

He cleared his throat, picking at his potato with his fork. “My mom died when I was thirteen. Before that, yeah, she cooked. After… well, it was either learn to cook or live on toast and fish—which I suspect Dad does when I’m not home, though I try to get him to buy fruit or something green occasionally.”

Oh. His story lined up with Landon’s—living with his father, no siblings—and he must have been conscious of that. He’d also been a boy who’d lost his mother, and I was too aware of that to call him out for duplicity just then.

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded once, but didn’t offer anything further.

After we ate, he let the cat outside, came back to the table and took my hand, and led me to his bedroom. We lay on our sides in the center of his bed, facing each other, saying nothing. His touch was almost unbearably light, whispering over my jaw, trailing down the side of my neck before releasing the buttons of the white shirt I’d chosen, one by one. Sliding it from my shoulder, he touched his lips to the bare skin, and I closed my eyes and sighed. My hands pushed under his shirt until he sat up, yanked it over his head, and flung it off in one movement, lying over me and kissing me.

His mouth was demanding, his lips parting mine, tongue driving into my mouth. I thought I felt a tremor move through him when my hand gripped the place on his side where the words were inscribed. He rolled me above him and pushed the shirt from my opposite shoulder, left it there, half-removed, while he moved his attention to the bare skin above the flesh-toned bra, my entire body straining toward his like a static charge that drew me in.

Without question or explanation, he stopped at the line I’d drawn last week. Talking was limited to there and God and oh. And then nothing but hums and moans and unintelligible sounds that could only be interpreted as yes, yes, yes.

“I should get you back.” His voice was gruff. We hadn’t spoken in at least an hour. The clock on his desk showed that the time had crept close to midnight.

He handed me the discarded bra and pulled his shirt back over his head. When I stood, he held my shirt as I slid my arms into the sleeves, and then he turned me, buttoning the buttons and leaning down to kiss me when he was done, his hands framing my face.

Standing by his bike, I was pulling on my gloves when the back door of the house across the yard opened and a man emerged, holding a full kitchen trash bag. He opened the wheeled garbage bin and tossed it in. As he turned to go inside, I noticed Lucas was stock-still, frozen, watching him. As though he felt our eyes on him, the man turned under the back door floodlight. He was Dr. Heller.

“Landon?” he said, and neither of us moved or responded. “Jacqueline?” he added, confused. All at once, he appeared to register what time it was, and the fact that the two of us had just exited his tenant’s apartment. There could be no tutoring excuse—not that it was appropriate for us to meet in the apartment for tutoring, no matter the time of day.

No one spoke for one long moment, and then Dr. Heller’s shoulders sagged. He sighed before pinning Lucas with a resolute expression. “I’ll need you to meet me in the kitchen when you return. No more than thirty minutes, please.”

Lucas’s hands were tight around the helmet. He gave Dr. Heller one sharp nod before putting it on. When he turned to make sure I’d strapped mine correctly, our eyes met once but he didn’t speak and neither did I. During the ten-minute ride back, no clarity rushed in. No magic words, no exoneration for his lies. I couldn’t think of anything to say or do other than wait for him to tell me why.

We arrived and I climbed down from behind him, awkwardly removing the helmet and the hair tie with my gloved fingers. Still straddling the bike, he removed his helmet, too, and stored them both away as though he had no plans to put his back on. When I faced him, he was staring at his hands, tight on the wide handlebars. “You already knew, didn’t you?” His voice was low, but I couldn’t tell his frame of mind.

“Yes.”

He looked up at me, frowning and searching my eyes. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Why didn’t you?” I returned. I didn’t want to answer questions. I wanted my questions answered, and I was ticked off that he was going to make me ask them. “So your name is Landon? But Ralph calls you Lucas. And that girl—other people call you Lucas. So which is it?”

His gaze returned to his hands for a moment, and my anger expanded like a balloon inflating beneath my ribs. He seemed to be deciding what to tell me and what to withhold. The Harley rumbled softly, ready to rocket away at a second’s notice.

“It’s both. Landon is my first name, Lucas the middle. I go by Lucas… now. But Charles—Dr. Heller—has known me a long time. He still calls me Landon.” His eyes swung up to mine. “You know, I think, how difficult it is to get some people to stop calling you what they’ve always called you.”

Very logical. All of it. Except the part where he pretended to be two different guys with me. “You could have told me. You didn’t. You lied to me.”

He turned the bike off and swung his leg over, standing in front of me and gripping my shoulders. “I never lied to you. You made assumptions—based on what Ch—Dr. Heller called me. Look through our emails. I never called myself Landon.”

I shrugged from his grasp. “But you let me call you Landon.”

His hands dropped but he stared down at me, keeping me from moving. “You’re right, this was my fault. And I’m sorry. I wanted you, and this couldn’t happen as Landon. Anything between us is against the rules, and I broke them.”

I swallowed thickly, combating choking up. I heard what he hadn’t said, yet. He was telling me it was over, just like that. The awful reality of desertion that Kennedy had begun weeks before came rushing back as though a dam had broken, and with no notice I was drowning in it. My parents had deserted me, Kennedy had deserted me, my friends, except for Erin and Maggie, had deserted me. And now Lucas—and Landon. Two different relationships, both of which had become significant.

“So it’s just over.”

He stared, and I couldn’t have felt it more if his fingers roamed over my face. “Your grade could be at stake otherwise. I’ll take responsibility for this, tonight, when I get back; Dr. Heller won’t hold you accountable.”

“So it’s just over,” I repeated.

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