Home > Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(8)

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(8)
Tammara Webber

By the time I was heating soup in the microwave for dinner, I’d resigned myself to having failed at keeping Lucas’s interest. I pushed the pretty girl who’d rushed up to him at the end of the class from my mind, once I started imagining him leaving the class holding her hand, or more. “Dumbass,” I muttered at myself.

From the end of my bed, my laptop dinged an email alert, and an answering flutter came from my stomach. It was probably nothing—a notice about flu shots from the health center, or another note from one of my old high school friends, who were all “so devastated” that Kennedy and I were over (which they all figured out when he changed his Facebook relationship status—twenty minutes after he’d broken up with me).

I’d disabled my account immediately, and had yet to reinstate it. The thought of seeing his glib status updates and having photos of him pop up in my feed was demoralizing. Even if I hid him, we knew too many of the same people. There’d be no hiding his activities completely. I began getting sympathetic and condescending emails and texts the next day, so I was justifiably apprehensive whenever I checked my inbox.

Cringing, I pulled it up… and smiled.

Jacqueline,

Are you going to make it to the session tomorrow (Thursday)? In case you won’t, I’ve attached the worksheet I’m planning to go over. It’s new, separate stuff, and you needn’t be completely caught up to get it. (Speaking of, you should be all caught up within a week or so.)

LM

PS – I’ve been thinking about that proof I spoke of last time – that you’re where you’re supposed to be. And it occurred to me, can you prove you’d be better off somewhere else? If you’d have left the state, your relationship would have ended still. Maybe you’d have even blamed yourself, not knowing that it was doomed because of him, either way. Instead, you’re here. You got dumped, skipped class, and met the best econ tutor at the university! Who knows, maybe I’ll make you fall in love with economics. (What’s your major, btw?)

Landon,

I’m a music education major. I hate that saying: "Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach." As a tutor, I know that’s BS. Still. I wanted to do. I imagined joining a symphony orchestra, or a progressive jazz band… And instead, I’m going to teach.

I won’t be at your session – I have lessons with my middle school boys tomorrow. (I think I’d be more impressive to them if I could fart the scales instead of plucking them on the bass.)

Sorry to inform you, but I plan to make it through this class and be done with econ. No reflection on your genius tutoring skills, I swear. Thank you for the worksheet. You’re too kind.

JW

Jacqueline,

If you want to do, then do. What’s stopping you?

So I’m kind, huh? Never heard that before. People usually think I’m a pretentious a-hole. I must admit, I tend to encourage that estimation. So please promise to keep your opinion to yourself. Reputations can be ruined so easily, you know. ;)

LM

PS – Do the worksheet. Before Friday. I’m giving you a very serious look through this screen. DO THE WORKSHEET. If you have problems with any of the material, let me know.

Landon,

What’s stopping me? Well, I’ve blown the chance to go to a serious music school. And I’m stuck in a state that doesn’t always foster the arts (something I’ll probably spend my entire teaching career fighting). It seems impossible to go out now and “do.” I guess I should rethink that.

Your secret geniality is safe. My lips are sealed.

JW

PS – I’m DOING the worksheet, but I’m giving you a very petulant look through my screen. Slave driver. Sheesh.

I was grinning when I clicked send. Maybe I was playing an entirely different game of chase, and Lucas and his infuriatingly enigmatic smile could take a flying leap. Erin and Maggie could keep their make-him-chase-you advice and use it themselves, because I, apparently, sucked at it in real life. Through email, though… My happy expression slid away as I realized the stark truth—I was flirting with someone online. I had no idea what he looked like, or what type of person he was.

That wasn’t exactly true. I knew exactly what type of person he was, even though I’d never laid eyes on him. He was kind. And intelligent. And straightforward.

Of course, he hadn’t beaten a would-be rap**t to a bloody pulp for me. Or made my insides melt when he put his hands on my waist. He probably didn’t have tattoos on his arms or glacier-gray-blue eyes and a liquefying stare.

At 10:00 pm, my phone trilled a text alert.

Lucas: Hi :)

Me: Hi :)

Lucas: What’s up?

Me: Nothing. Homework.

Lucas: I wanted to talk to you after class, but you disappeared.

Me: I have another class right after. One of those profs who stops talking, stares at you and waits until you get to your seat if you’re late.

Lucas: I would probably just walk to my seat even slower. ;)

Lucas: You should come by the SB Friday. It’s usually dead. Americano, on the house?

Me: Free coffee? I can’t pass that up. I’ll try to stop by. When do you work?

Lucas: All afternoon. Til 5.

Me: K

Lucas: See you Friday, Jacqueline

Chapter 7

Lucas was fifteen minutes late to class on Friday, and we had a pop quiz first thing—which he missed. My first thought was how irresponsible it was to miss a quiz… and then I remembered that I missed the midterm. I couldn’t exactly point any fingers.

He slipped through the back door as Dr. Heller walked up the center aisle, collecting quizzes. He took the stacks from the left row and then turned to the right, where Lucas sat. “I need to see you after class,” he said, his voice low.

Inclining his head once, Lucas pulled his text from his backpack and replied in the same subdued tone. “Yes, sir.”

I didn’t look back at him during the remainder of class, and when it was over, he packed up his backpack and walked down the outside aisle to the front. While waiting for Dr. Heller to finish his conversation with another student, Lucas’s eyes lifted and found me. His smile was as unreadable as always, scarcely there at all. But his gaze was focused, pegging me like a dart to a board.

Turning his attention to our professor, he broke the stare. I released the breath I’d not realized I was holding and escaped the classroom, undecided on whether or not to follow through with stopping by Starbucks that afternoon.

I considered the quiz I’d just aced, thanks to Landon’s insistence that I complete the worksheet he sent two nights ago. Doing that worksheet had been all sorts of help—on a quiz he must have known about. I didn’t think he’d crossed a line and told me something he shouldn’t have, but his toe was definitely on the line. For me. Swept along and invisible among thousands of other students on this enormous campus, I was struck by the fact that for some reason, he’d gone out of his way to help me. For some reason, I mattered to him.

Erin: Chaz and I are leaving soon. You gonna be ok this weekend? You’re going to SB this afternoon, RIGHT? If he asks you out, GO FOR IT. Clear the palate! Don’t forget you’ll have the room to yourself all weekend. WINK WINK.

Me: You kids have fun. I’ll be fine! I’ll keep you posted.

Erin: You’d better! I’ll be back Sunday afternoon. Or evening, depending on the level of hangover Sunday morning. Heh heh. TEXT ME LATER.

I’d forgotten Erin’s road trip with Chaz was this weekend. His brother was in a band, and they were playing at a festival tomorrow near Shreveport, so they had reservations at a bed and breakfast for the weekend. Erin told Maggie and me about it last month while we waited to look at Mercury and Venus through a telescope during an evening astronomy lab.

“A bed and breakfast?” Maggie arched a brow. “What’s next, monogrammed towels?”

Erin scowled. “It’s romantic!”

“Exactly,” Maggie laughed. “And you’re going with Chaz. How’d you even talk Mr. Sports Stats into that, anyway?”

Erin’s full lips made a prim little bow and she combed a hand through hair so red I could tell its color even while standing in this dark field on the outskirts of town. “I told him that bed-and-breakfasts have ginormous whirlpool tubs, and that I’d be willing to do unspeakably sinful things to him in it.”

A strangled sound came from one of the two nerdy guys behind us in line, both wearing tortured expressions and staring at Erin. We stifled laughs.

Maggie sighed. “Poor Chaz. He never had a chance… he’s gonna be standing in front of a bunch of people saying ‘I do’ someday without knowing how it happened.”

“Ugh! I don’t think so. When it’s time to settle down, I’m getting somebody like…” Erin looked over her shoulder at the eavesdroppers behind us, “like one of them.”

The boys looked at each other and stood up a little straighter. With a smirk in Erin’s direction, one of them fist-bumped the other.

***

I doubted Erin would give me a second thought during her romantic weekend. I was on my own. I deliberated, finally turning toward the student union while pulling my jacket tighter against the sudden November chill. Frat parties held this weekend wouldn’t be open-window, not that I’d know firsthand. There was no way in hell I was going anywhere Kennedy might be. Or Buck.

The coffee smell invaded my senses before the Starbucks came into view. Rounding the corner, my eyes went to the counter, where two employees stood talking. When I didn’t see Lucas, I wondered if he’d switched shifts and forgot to text me.

There were only a handful of customers—one of whom was Dr. Heller, reading the paper in the corner. I had nothing against my professor, but I didn’t exactly want him witnessing my attempts to flirt with the guy who skipped the quiz and got called out for it just this morning. I stood just behind a display of coffee mugs and travel cups.

Just as he had Monday, Lucas pushed through the door to the back as my eyes brushed over it. My fingers and toes tingled at the sight of him. Underneath the green apron, he wore a close-fitting light blue t-shirt, long-sleeved, not the university-branded sweatshirt he’d worn this morning in class. His shirtsleeves were pushed past his elbows again, leaving the tattoos visible. I moved to the counter, my eyes skimming from his forearms to his face. He hadn’t seen me yet.

One of the girls at the register straightened. “Can I help you?” Her voice held a bite of annoyance, as though she was snapping her fingers to get my attention.

“I’ve got it, Eve,” Lucas said, and she shrugged and returned to her conversation with her coworker, but they both eyed me with even more hostility than a moment before. “Hey, Jacqueline.”

“Hi.”

He glanced toward the corner where Dr. Heller sat. “What can I get for you?”

His tone wasn’t the tone of a guy who’d specifically asked me to come by. Maybe he was behaving circumspectly for his coworkers’ benefit.

“Um, a grande Americano, I guess.”

He grabbed the cup from the stack and made the drink. I tried to hand him my card, but he shook his head once. “That’s okay. I’ve got it.”

His coworkers exchanged a look I pretended not to see.

I thanked him and retreated to the opposite side of the shop from Dr. Heller, setting up my laptop to work on my econ project. I had to glean information from multiple sources to defend the position my research paper was taking. It was due before Thanksgiving break, less than two weeks away.

If I never had to make up another midterm, it would be too soon.

After an hour, I’d bookmarked a dozen sources on current international economic happenings, my coffee was gone, and Lucas hadn’t come over once. I was expected at the high school for my weekly Friday afternoon bass lessons in half an hour. Shutting down my laptop, I turned to unplug the power cord from the wall.

“Ms. Wallace.” At Dr. Heller’s unexpected greeting, I jumped, knocking over my thankfully-empty cup. “Oh! So sorry to have startled you!”

“Oh, that’s okay. I’m a little jumpy—from, uh, the coffee.” And from thinking for one split second that you were Lucas.

“I just wanted to let you know that Mr. Maxfield tells me you’re almost caught up, and making headway on the project. I’m glad to hear it.” He lowered his voice and glanced around conspiratorially. “My colleagues and I don’t actually want to fail anyone, you know. Our goal is to frighten—I mean encourage—the less, er, serious students to produce. Not that I believe you’re one of those.”

I returned his smile. “I understand.”

He straightened and cleared his throat. “Good, good. Well, on that note—have a productive weekend.” He chuckled at his joke and I managed to avoid rolling my eyes.

“Thank you, Dr. Heller.”

He walked to the counter and spoke to Lucas as I wound the power cord and stowed the laptop in my backpack. The conversation between them was earnest, and I was concerned when Dr. Heller seemed to gesture toward me at least once. I wondered if our professor believed that Lucas was one of those less serious students he could intimidate into becoming more dedicated. If so, I didn’t want to be used as some sort of example.

As I walked out, I looked over my shoulder, but Lucas didn’t shift his gaze my way at all, and his expression was tense. His coworker, wiping down a counter a few feet away, smirked at me.

When I left the high school two hours later, I switched on my phone, endeavoring to look forward to a weekend alone while it powered up. Clearly, the trip to Starbucks was a bust. Lucas had been, if possible, even more puzzling and cagey than he was before.

While working on the project, I’d emailed Landon to thank him for sending the worksheet Wednesday, and for insisting that I do it. Not wanting to trigger a possible guilt complex, I didn’t directly refer to the tipoff he’d knowingly given me, in case he was the rigorously honest type of guy he seemed to be. I hadn’t heard from him since Wednesday, but maybe he would email this afternoon or tonight. Maybe he’d be free this weekend, and we could finally meet.

I had one text from Erin that she and Chaz had arrived in Shreveport—along with lots of insinuation about what I could do with a room to myself, and Mom had texted to ask about my Thanksgiving plans. Kennedy and I had alternated spending the day at his house or mine the past three years. Somehow, this translated into confusion about whether or not I was coming home this year. When I texted her back that yes, breaking up with a guy generally means no more shared holidays, I expected an apology to follow. I should have known better.

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