Home > Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(10)

Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(10)
Tammara Webber

‘Doing okay today?’ I asked, not recognizing the cryptic meaning until the words were between us. Damn.

‘I’m fine,’ she said, her voice still warbled.

When she took the card and receipt, my fingers grazed over hers of their own volition. She jerked her hand back as if I’d burned her, and I recalled how Saturday night, she’d made sure we didn’t touch when she moved past me into her dorm.

Was it me she feared touching now, or every guy?

I wanted to be the one to relax and unravel her, to show her the gentleness and respect she’d not received at the hands of the would-be rap**t or, frankly, her ex.

I would never be that man for her, and I was all kinds of idiot to hunger for it.

‘Thanks,’ she said, her eyes confused and wary.

The girl behind her leaned too close, stating her order over Jackie’s shoulder, though I’d not asked for it yet. Jackie shied away from the physical contact. Biting back a retort to the impatient twit and taking the order, I reminded myself that I was at work, we were busy as hell, and as much as I wanted to make all of these people disappear, there was no doing it.

Our eyes met once more before she was swallowed by the crowd on the other side of the barista counter, where Eve worked her magic with manic speed and narrow-eyed ire towards anyone who grumbled about the wait time. When Jackie picked up her drink, she left without a backwards glance, and I began to wonder how many times I would lose sight of her, certain it would be the last.

8

Landon

The day started out for shit and went downhill from there. I was halfway to school when the humid morning morphed into an unforecasted thunderstorm. One minute, my clothes felt like warm, damp rags in the clammy air, and the next minute, a mass of clouds rolled in, opened up and dumped rain on my stupid ass the rest of the way to school.

When I pushed through the double doors, I cursed myself for not having turned round and headed home the minute it started raining. I couldn’t have been more lock, stock, and barrel soaked if I’d jumped into the ocean, shoes and all. The ends of my hair fixed into dripping points, like a faucet that wouldn’t turn off. The drips became streams pouring from the hem of my saturated hoodie, and from my jeans into my Vans. They squeaked and squelched as I slogged down the hall.

I blamed my bad judgement and yeah, desire to go to school – a first in the past year and a half – on Melody Dover.

The first two weeks of our project, we’d only worked together in class. And by together, I mean we sat next to each other. We barely spoke, not that I could blame all of that on her.

I had a cell phone, but not a computer, so she’d pencilled PowerPoint under her name. While we read up on climate patterns and geographic distribution individually, I began sketching maps and she scoured the Internet for images. Finally, we needed to get together to begin combining our individual sections, work on the written portion and practise the presentation.

Last night, she’d grudgingly invited me over to her house. I showered and changed clothes before setting out down the beach. The wind whipping off the gulf was cold and dry, swirling my still-damp hair into cowlicks and tangles. It riffled the pages of the sketchpad I’d used for topography sketches, threatening to tear it to pieces and fling my work into the water. I hunched into my hoodie, arm locked over the sketchpad and hands in pockets, hating Mrs Dumont and Melody Dover and whatever jackhole decided geography should be part of ninth-grade curriculum.

Melody answered the door in pink sweats and fuzzy white socks.

‘Hey. Want a Coke or something?’ Without waiting for an answer, she pushed the door closed behind me and walked into the house.

I followed, wondering at the word PINK spelled out across her ass. I arched a brow at the redundant label while eyeballing her slim hips, swinging smoothly, drawing me along until I realized we’d entered a bright kitchen the size of my grandfather’s entire house. She bent to pull two cold sodas from a lower shelf of a huge fridge and I pulled to a stop, staring. PINK was my new favourite word.

Leading me towards the granite countertop, she handed me a can and plopped her perfect ass on to a leather-topped barstool. Turning her laptop towards me, she indicated the adjacent stool and I sat, struggling to shift gears. Geography held even less allure than it had before. I hadn’t thought that possible.

She said words, and I didn’t understand them. The wind must have scrambled my brain. The wind, or the word pink. ‘Landon?’

‘Huh?’

‘Let’s see your maps.’ Her tone said she was anything but excited at the prospect. I opened the sketchbook to the first map. Her mouth dropped open. ‘Oh, my God.’

‘What?’

Her lashes swept up and then back down as she turned the page. ‘Wow. You’re … you’re an artist?’

I shrugged, releasing a relieved breath.

She turned another page. ‘Oh, my God,’ she repeated. ‘These are amazing. Are these figures tiny little people? And trees? Wow.’ She flipped slowly through the rest of them, until she turned to a blank page. Then she did something I hadn’t expected her to do. She turned back to the front of the notebook and opened it.

I reached for it, unwilling to snatch it rudely from her, but apprehensive of her examining sketches I’d never shared with anyone else. ‘Uh, that’s all the maps …’

Her mouth had fallen slightly open again, and she shook her head a little, like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. I felt my face heat as her finger ran over a detailed sketch of a seagull cleaning its feathers, and then one of Grandpa, sleeping in his favourite chair.

Returning my hand to my lap, I waited while she examined each drawing, until she’d come back to the first map.

‘You should do me.’

I blinked and cleared my throat, and she reddened slightly.

‘Uh. Sure.’

‘Who’s this?’ a woman’s voice said then, startling both of us. We sprang apart and I nearly fell off my barstool.

Melody’s jaw set tight but her voice was all passivity. ‘This is Landon, Mom – he’s my partner on that geography project?’

Her mother’s gaze swept over me, and I was acutely aware of my recycled clothes, my shaggy hair, the cheap leather-banded watch on one wrist and the faded grey bandana I’d wrapped round the other. ‘Oh?’ One brow arched as her eyes, the same pale green as her daughter’s, turned back to Melody. ‘I thought Clark was in your geography class.’

‘Mrs Dumont assigned partners.’ A slight bit of defiance. Also an excuse – It’s not my fault or choice that he’s my partner.

‘Hmm,’ her mother said. ‘Well. Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be in my office across the hall.’ Spinning, she disappeared through a doorway we could see from the counter.

Melody rolled her eyes – but this time, not at me. ‘I swear to God, she’s such a pain in the ass. Parents suck.’

I smiled, and she smiled back and my heart stuttered. Damn. So pretty. So out of my league. So girlfriend of some other guy.

We worked on the project for two hours, during which time she texted with Clark five times and was called by two friends. We were also spied on by her mother every fifteen or twenty minutes. Finally, she walked me to the door and glanced over her shoulder as I zipped my hoodie. ‘So maybe … I’ll walk down to your place next time?’ Her voice was soft. This defiance was to be a secret between us. ‘Mom can’t walk in on us every five minutes there. Unless your mom is worse? Which I doubt is even possible.’

I swallowed thickly and shook my head. ‘No. I mean, yeah, you can come over.’

Had I just invited Melody Dover to my house – where I had no real bedroom? Was I a total jackass? Yes and yes. But I couldn’t take it back. And I couldn’t get the idea of her in my bedroom – which was really a bed and nothing else – out of my head.

I leaped out of bed this morning, the first time my phone sounded an alarm. The sudden storm hastened the already rushed pace I’d set when I walked out the door, so I arrived way early – ten minutes before the first bell. Students weren’t usually allowed inside the building until first bell, but it was raining. They’d look like total dicks making us stand around outside.

My shoes squeaked against the linoleum, echoing in the near-empty hallways, and I knew without glancing back that I was probably leaving a trail of watery footprints. My strident footfalls were loud enough that I didn’t hear anyone come up behind me, and I was so distracted thinking about second-period geography that my usual self-preserving instincts were muted.

‘Take a dip in the ocean, Maxfield, or just piss yourself?’

I didn’t stop or turn, but I also didn’t run. Something about rabid animals and power-hungry as**oles makes them chase what runs.

He grabbed my backpack and I almost shrugged out of it and kept going, but something wouldn’t let me kneel that far. I jerked round to face him and of course, he was flanked by two friends. He was almost as soaking wet as I was.

‘What do you want, Wynn?’ I sounded more composed than I felt. My heart was hammering, but I wasn’t shaking visibly.

‘What do I want?’ He stepped closer, the strap of my backpack still caught in his fist, the muscles in his neck bulging and his nostrils flaring like a bull on the verge of charging. ‘I want to make you pay for that little stunt in auto shop. I want to bring the pain and make you bleed and cry like the little bitch you are.’

I narrowed my eyes. The hell. ‘You might be able to make me bleed, but you’ll never make me cry. Crying is for cowards who can’t fight without the help of their bitches.’ I indicated his mates with a jerk of my chin, and they bristled. One of them growled.

Then a teacher rounded the corner. She slowed a bit, like she was assessing the details of the scene from a distance before judging what was taking place.

Wynn dropped my strap and sneered. ‘I’ll be watchin’ you, assface. There won’t always be someone around to save you from the whoppin’ you deserve.’ He bumped my shoulder as he passed.

LUCAS

I checked my email, expecting nothing important. Mostly, I planned to scrap the draft to Jackie about dropping the class, since that no longer applied. I did delete that message – but not for the expected reason.

Two emails stood out from the half dozen others, as if they’d been highlighted. One was from Heller – subject line: Jacqueline Wallace. The other … was from JWallace.

I opened Heller’s first.

Landon,

The above referenced student is currently enrolled in the econ section you tutor. She’s missed a couple of weeks of class, unfortunately including the midterm. She intends to salvage her grade, and to that end, I’m allowing her to replace the midterm grade with a research project (information attached). I’ve given her your email address and told her she must contact you to get started. Before your sense of justice goes into overdrive, know that the project will require quite a bit more work than the missed exam, so she’s not escaping easily. (Neither am I, since I’ll have to grade the damned thing when she’s finished. She’s apparently suffered something comparable to Carlie’s recent trouble, though, and after watching my daughter self-destruct a bit before finally bobbing back to the surface, I have renewed sympathy for emotionally distressed students.) I imagine she’ll need individual tutoring to catch up on the new material before the third exam. If she fails to do what I’ve asked of her, she’ll simply receive whatever grade she’s earned at the end of the semester. I’m requesting that you assist her insofar as your tutoring duties extend, but she must complete the work alone. Hopefully she’ll give her academic career precedence over some idiot boy in the future.

CH

I reread Heller’s email. Twice.

She and Moore were broken up, but she hadn’t dropped the class.

She was no longer Moore’s girlfriend, but she was still my student.

She’d nearly thrown a gear when she saw me across the counter at the Starbucks this afternoon – which didn’t exactly indicate awareness that the guy who’d beat up her assailant Saturday night was also the tutor in her economics class. My email address was an ambiguous LMaxfield.

‘Son of a bitch,’ I said to Francis, earning me a yawn combined with a meow.

I shouldn’t care. I shouldn’t care.

But I did.

Dear Mr Maxfield,

Dr Heller told me to contact you regarding a research project for macroeconomics that he wants me to complete. I missed two weeks of class after an unexpected breakup, which means I also missed the midterm. I know that doesn’t excuse me for skipping classes, however. I’ll do my best to complete the project and catch up on the new material as quickly as possible. Please let me know when you’re available and what additional information you need from me.

Thank you,

Jacqueline Wallace

I shot an answer back immediately, informing her that I didn’t need to know the reasons she’d skipped class, and suggesting when and where we could meet.

Things my answer shouldn’t have done, but did: (1) It made me sound like an as**ole. An insensitive, superior as**ole. (2) Who didn’t care that her heart had been broken by an actual as**ole. (3) It was signed LM. (4) It made me sound like an as**ole.

I shut my laptop and paced around the apartment, earning a dirty look from my cat, who’d probably never had girl problems – because he accepted that he was a self-governing as**ole who refused to become emotionally attached. I’d aspired to that since I was sixteen, and thought I was something of an expert.

Pulling to a halt, I realized I’d slid halfway down the rabbit hole before I knew I was falling. I didn’t just want this girl. I cared about her. I’d wanted to destroy that guy Saturday night – I wanted to hit him until he’d never get up, and if she hadn’t made a noise in the truck, I might have done just that.

Fucking hell.

I sat back down and reopened the laptop. Minutes later, my inbox alert chimed.

I’d pissed her off. That much was clear. She told me she tutored at the middle school, but didn’t say what she tutored. Then she wrote: I’m sure I can catch up on the regular coursework on my own. She signed off as Jacqueline, not Jackie.

Throwing on shorts and a T-shirt, I assessed and reassessed every nuance of her message, looking for an opening – a place to change course. My thoughts in a jumble, I laced up my running shoes and jogged down the steps. I would pound the pavement under my feet until I either eliminated her from my mind or came up with a solution.

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