Home > Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(3)

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(3)
Tammara Webber

“As it happens, I have a daughter just a bit younger than you. She recently endured a nasty little breakup. My whip-smart, straight-A student turned into an emotional wreck who did nothing but cry, sleep, and cry some more—for about two weeks. And then she came to her senses and decided that no boy was going to ruin her scholastic record. For the sake of my daughter, I’ll give you one chance. One. If you blow it, you will receive the grade you’ve earned at the end of the semester. Do we understand each other?”

I nodded, more tears spilling.

“Good.” My professor shifted uncomfortably and handed me another tissue. “Oh, for Pete’s sake—as I told my daughter, there’s not a boy on the planet worth this amount of angst. I know; I used to be one.” He scribbled on a slip of paper and handed it to me. “Here’s the email address of my class tutor, Landon Maxfield. If you aren’t familiar with his supplemental instruction sessions, I suggest you get familiar with them. You’ll no doubt need some one-on-one tutoring as well. He was an excellent student in my class two years ago, and he’s been tutoring for me since then. I’ll give him the details of the project I expect you to do to replace the midterm grade.”

Another sob escaped me when I thanked him, and I thought he might explode from discomfort. “Well, well, yes, of course, you’re welcome.” He pulled out the seating chart. “Show me where you’ll be sitting from now on, so you can earn those quarter-points for attendance.” I pointed to my new seat, and he wrote my name in the square.

I had my shot. All I had to do was get in touch with this Landon person and turn in a project. How hard could it be?

***

The Starbucks line in the student union was ridiculously long, but it was raining and I wasn’t in the mood to get soaked crossing the street to the indie coffee shop just off-campus to get my fix before my afternoon class. In unrelated reasoning, that was also where Kennedy was most likely to be; we went there almost daily after lunch. On principle, he tended to shun “corporate monstrosities” like Starbucks, even if the coffee was better.

“There’s no way I’m making it across campus on time if I wait in this line.” Erin growled her annoyance, leaning to check out how many people were ahead of us. “Nine people. Nine! And five waiting for drinks! Who the hell are all of these people?” The guy in front of us glanced over his shoulder with a scowl. She scowled back at him and I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing.

“Caffeine addicts like us?” I suggested.

“Ugh,” she huffed and then grabbed my arm. “I almost forgot—did you hear what happened to Buck Saturday night?”

My stomach dropped. The night I just wanted to forget wouldn’t leave me alone. I shook my head.

“He got jumped in the parking lot behind the house. A couple of guys wanted his wallet. Probably homeless people, he said—that’s what we get with a campus right in the middle of a big city. They didn’t get anything, the bastards, but damn, Buck’s face is busted up.” She leaned closer. “He actually looks a little hotter like that. Rowr, if you know what I mean.”

I felt ill, standing there mute and feigning interest instead of refuting Buck’s explanation of the events leading to his pummeled face.

“Well, crap. I’m gonna have to chug a Rockstar to keep from zoning out during poly-sci. I can’t be late—we’ve got a quiz. I’ll see you after work.” She gave me a quick hug and scurried off.

I scooted forward with the line, my mind going over Saturday night for the thousandth time. I couldn’t shake how vulnerable I felt, still. I’d never been blind to the fact that guys are stronger. Kennedy had scooped me into his arms more times than I could count, one time tossing me over his shoulder and running up a flight of stairs as I clung to his back, upside down and laughing. He’d easily opened jars I couldn’t open, moved furniture I could hardly budge. His superior strength had been evident when he’d braced himself above me, biceps hard under my hands.

Two weeks ago, he'd torn out my heart, and I’d never felt so hurt, so empty.

But he’d never used his physical strength against me.

No, that was all Buck. Buck, a campus hottie who didn’t have a problem getting girls. A guy who’d never given any indication that he could or would hurt me, or that he was aware of me at all, except as Kennedy’s girlfriend. I could blame the alcohol… but no. Alcohol removes inhibitions. It doesn’t trigger criminal violence where there was none before.

“Next.”

I shook off my reverie and looked across the counter, prepared to give my usual order, and there stood the guy from Saturday night. The guy I’d avoided sitting next to this morning in economics. My mouth hung open but nothing came out. And just like this morning, Saturday night came flooding back. My face heated, remembering the position I’d been in, what he must have witnessed before he’d intervened, how foolish he must consider me.

But then, he’d said it wasn’t my fault.

And he’d called me by my name. The name I no longer used, as of sixteen days ago.

My split-second wish that he wouldn’t recall who I was went ungranted. I returned his penetrating gaze and could see he remembered all of it, clearly. Every mortifying bit. My face burned.

“Are you ready to order?” His question pulled me from my disorientation. His voice was calm, but I felt the exasperation of the restless customers behind me.

“Grande caffé Americano. Please.” My words were so mumbled that I half expected him to ask me to repeat myself.

But he marked the cup, which was when I noted the two or three layers of thin white gauze wrapped around his knuckles. He passed the cup to the barista and rang up the drink as I handed over my card.

“Doing okay today?” he asked, his words so seemingly casual, yet so full of meaning between us. He swiped my card and handed it back with the receipt.

“I’m fine.” The knuckles of his left hand were scuffed but not severely abraded. As I took the card and receipt, his fingers grazed over mine. I snatched my hand away. “Thanks.”

His eyes widened, but he said nothing else.

“I’ll have a venti caramel macchiato—skinny, no whip.” The impatient girl behind me gave her order over my shoulder, not touching me, but pressing too far into my personal space for comfort. His jaw tensed almost imperceptibly when he shifted his gaze to her.

Marking the cup, he gave her the total in clipped tones, his eyes flicking to me once more as I stepped away. I don’t know if he looked at me after that. I waited for my coffee at the other end of the bar, and hurried away without adding my usual dribble of milk and three packets of sugar.

Economics was a survey course, and as such the roster was huge—probably two hundred students. I could avoid eye contact with two boys in the midst of that many people for the remaining six weeks of fall semester, couldn’t I?

Chapter 3

I dutifully emailed the econ tutor when I got back to the dorm after class, and started on my art history homework. While tapping out a response essay on a neoclassical sculptor and his influence on the style, I mumbled a thank you to my inner neurotic that I’d at least kept up in my non-econ classes.

With Erin at work, I could buckle down to an evening of quiet studying. Here in our microscopic room, she couldn’t help being a near-constant distraction. While I attempted to cram for an algebra test last week, the following conversation took place: “I had to have those pumps for my job, Daddy!” she argued into her cell. “You said you wanted me to learn the value of work while I’m in school, and you always say a person should dress for success, so I’m only trying to follow your words of wisdom.”

When she glanced at me, I rolled my eyes. My roommate was a hostess at a swanky restaurant downtown, a position she frequently used as an excuse for overspending her clothing budget. Three hundred dollar shoes, essential for a job that paid nine bucks an hour? I stifled my laugh when she winked back at me. Her father always caved, especially when she employed the D-word—Daddy.

I wasn’t expecting a quick reply from Landon Maxfield. As an upperclassman and a tutor for a huge class like Dr. Heller’s, he had to be busy. I was also certain he’d be none too thrilled to assist a failing sophomore who’d skipped the midterm and two weeks of class, and who had never attended one of his tutoring sessions. I was prepared to show him I would work hard to catch up and get out of his hair as quickly as possible.

Fifteen minutes after I emailed him, my inbox dinged. He’d replied, in the same formal tone I’d chosen after switching back and forth between using his first or last name in the address, finally deciding on Mr. Maxfield.

Ms. Wallace,

Dr. Heller has informed me of your need to catch up in macro and the project you’ll need to complete in order to replace the midterm grade. Since he’s approved you to do this work, there’s no need to share the reason why you’ve fallen so far behind with me. I’m employed as a tutor, so this falls under my job description.

We can meet on campus, preferably in the library, to discuss the project. It’s detailed, and will require a great deal of outside research on your part. I’ve been instructed by Dr. Heller as to the level of assistance I should provide. Basically, he wants to see what you can do, alone. I’ll be available for general questions, of course.

My group tutoring sessions are MWTh from 1-2:00, but those cover current material. I assume you’ll need more assistance comprehending the material you missed over the past two weeks. Let me know the times you’re available to meet for individual tutoring sessions and we’ll coordinate from there.

LM

I clenched my jaw. Though perfectly polite, the tone of his email reeked of condescension… until his signature at the very end: LM. Was he being friendly, or casual, or ridiculing my attempt to sound like a serious, mature student? I’d alluded to the breakup in my email, hoping he wouldn’t want or ask for details. Now I felt as though he’d not only eschewed learning the particulars, but he thought less of me for letting a relationship crisis affect my academic life.

I read his email again and got even madder. So he thought I was too dumb to comprehend the course material on my own?

Mr. Maxfield,

I can’t attend your sessions because I have art history MW 1-2:30, and I tutor at the middle school on Thursday afternoons. I live on campus and am available to meet late afternoons Monday/Wednesday, and most evenings. I’m also free on weekends when I’m not tutoring.

I’ve begun reading the course material on GDP, CPI, and inflation, and I’m working on the review questions at the end of chapter 9. If you want to meet to pass on the project requirements, I’m sure I can catch up on the regular coursework on my own.

Jacqueline

I pressed send and felt superior for all of about twenty seconds. In actuality, I’d barely glanced at chapter 9. So far, it looked less like comprehensible supply and demand charts, and more like gibberish with dollar signs and confusing shifts tossed in for fun. As for GDP and CPI, I knew what those acronyms signified… Sort of.

Oh, God. I’d just haughtily dismissed the tutor provided by my professor—the professor who wasn’t obligated to give me a second chance, but had.

When my email dinged again, I swallowed before clicking over to it. A new message from Landon Maxfield was at the top of my inbox.

Jacqueline,

If you prefer to catch up on your own, that’s your prerogative, of course. I’ll gather the information on the project and we can meet, say, Wednesday just after 2:00?

LM

PS What do you tutor?

His reply didn’t seem angry. He was civil. Nice, even. I was so emotional lately that I couldn’t judge anything clearly.

Landon,

I teach private lessons to orchestra students—middle and high school—on the upright bass. I just remembered I agreed to assist in transporting two of my students’ instruments to a program this Wednesday afternoon. (I drive a truck, to accommodate transport of my own instrument, and now I’m constantly inundated with requests to move large musical instruments, sofas, mattresses...)

Are you free any evening? Or Saturday?

JW

I’d been playing the upright bass since I was ten. In fourth grade, one of the orchestra’s two bass players had a pee wee football collision the second weekend of school, resulting in a snapped collarbone. Our orchestra teacher, Mrs. Peabody, had looked out over the vast sea of violin players and pleaded for someone to switch. “Anyone?” she’d squeaked. When no one else volunteered, I raised my hand.

Even the half-sized instrument dwarfed me back then; I’d needed a step-stool to play it, a fact that had provided my orchestra classmates with endless amusement. The ridicule didn’t stop at school.

“Honey, isn’t that an odd choice of instrument for a girl to play?” my mother asked. Still petulant over my rejection of learning piano—her instrument of choice—in favor of the violin, she was immediately unsupportive of my new preference.

“Yes.” I glared at my mother and she rolled her eyes. She’d never lost her disdain of the instrument I came to love to play for the way it grounded and directed the rest of the orchestra. I also loved the disbelief on the faces of fellow contestants at regional competitions, their surety that I wasn’t as good as they were because of my gender—and the way I proved that I was better.

By the time I was fifteen, I’d reached my full five-and-a-half-foot stature and could perform with a three-quarter sized instrument, no height adjustment needed, though it was a close thing.

For the past year, I’d been giving lessons to local students—all of them boys—each of them some version of smug and impertinent until they heard me play.

Jacqueline,

Upright bass? Interesting.

I’m busy in the evenings this week, and most weekends as well. I don’t want you to lose time on this, so I’ll send you the project information later tonight, and we can discuss it over email until we can sync our schedules. Will that work for you?

LM

PS – I’ll keep you in mind if I buy a large appliance or need to move.

Landon,

Thank you, yes—that would be great. (Re: sending the project information, I mean, not your brazen resolution to use me for my truck’s hauling capacity. You’re no better than my friends! They dodge U-Haul rentals and delivery fees, and I get paid in beer.)

JW

Jacqueline,

I’ll send the project specifics when I get home, and we can discuss.

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