Home > Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(11)

Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(11)
Tammara Webber

I couldn’t tell her through email that I was the guy from Saturday night. She was afraid of that guy, but she needed me to pass econ. She’d know as soon as we met up, of course. My only hope was to convince her, as the class tutor, that she could trust me.

Switching to Jacqueline instead of Ms Wallace, I suggested a meeting time and added a postscript: What do you tutor?

Her next email kicked my ass, because it opened with Landon. She must have got that from Heller. No one else on campus called me by the name I’d discarded when I left home at eighteen. Shit.

I concentrated on the rest of her message, where I learned she played the upright bass. The thought of her magical fingers coaxing music from an instrument that was roughly my height made my body tighten.

I needed another run and a much colder shower than the one I’d just taken.

After discovering that our schedules wouldn’t coordinate easily, and in the interest of not scaring her away completely – at least, that’s what I told myself – I offered to send her the information through email and conduct our tutoring sessions online for the time being.

I didn’t tell her I went by Lucas, not Landon. I didn’t tell her I’d been watching her, guardedly, for over two months. I didn’t tell her that I was the guy who’d witnessed the attack she’d just as soon forget, and also the one who’d stopped it. I didn’t tell her I was the guy whose touch made her flinch – even across a Starbucks counter, two days later.

We conversed via email over the next couple of days. I sent her the packet from Heller, clarifying a few things where he’d used a bit much econ jargon for a first-semester student. We joked about college bartering systems where beer is the currency for helping friends move. I began to look forward to her name in my inbox: JWallace – and then Wednesday morning came, and reality crashed down around me, firmly, and right on target.

9

Landon

I would be alone when Melody came over, because Dad and Grandpa had an appointment in town to see Grandpa’s accountant, who Dad referred to as a swindler and a con man. When he wasn’t calling him something way more insulting.

‘I’ve been seein’ Bob since you were in diapers!’ Grandpa growled this morning.

‘Then he’s had several decades to skim his share of your profits,’ Dad shot back. ‘It’s time to cut him off.’

‘I’ll do no such! Maybe if you’da stuck around, you’d know that most people aren’t criminals like the type you meet in Washington.’ As far as Grandpa was concerned, Washington was a ‘teeming cesspool of shady dealins’, and the fact that his son had chosen to live and work there had tainted him. I didn’t stay to hear Dad’s answer. I was pretty sure I’d already witnessed this argument. Multiple times.

I grabbed a protein bar after slugging some OJ from the carton while they were too busy one-upping each other to notice and headed out for school. Watching for Wynn or his thug friends as I got closer, I almost slowed to a stop as I crossed in front of the elementary school. A little kid was hopping out of his mom’s pick-up, but he misjudged the kerb and tripped forward, flat on to his face. His head bounced off the pavement as his mother screamed his name. I jogged straight over and went to one knee, lifting him while he sucked in air for the coming shitfit he was about to let loose. His nose was gushing blood and the tip of it was scuffed raw, but he looked pretty intact, considering. No forehead gash. No teeth on the ground.

‘Ohmygod, Tyler, ohmygod!’ his mother said, rushing up and yanking tissues from her purse, eyes wide. She slammed a tissue against his nose, which released the delayed wail I’d been bracing for. The kid’s lungs were certainly working okay.

‘So much blood! Oh, God – I should have pulled closer!’ she said, shaking and crying, tears streaming down her face.

‘Uh, I think his nose might be broken – you might not wanna press so hard on the bridge.’

She snatched the wad of tissues away, her hands trembling. ‘B-but the blood –’

I grabbed a couple of the tissues from her and pressed them under the kid’s nose. ‘Hold that right there, dude.’ He stared at me, but obeyed, sobs subsiding slowly. ‘You’re gonna be fine. I broke my nose a few years ago, playing hockey. That rink was a bloody mess and I nearly gave my mom a heart attack, but I was fine. No big deal.’

The kid reached for his mother, who gathered him close.

‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Your mother should be real proud of you. Not many boys your age woulda done that.’

I nodded and stood, mumbling, ‘No problem.’

The rest of the day felt fairly uneventful, consisting of me dodging Boyce Wynn and purposefully not staring at Melody Dover in class, though she whispered that she’d walk over after school. Hesitant about the whispering and the secrecy – we were project partners, after all – I slid a glance at her boyfriend. He glared from across the room, and Wynn grinned like he knew something I didn’t. Not an expression I wanted to see on him.

Just before four o’clock, Melody knocked on my front door.

I let her in, tense from the awareness of how she must view the place her boyfriend’s dad called a shack and an eyesore and worse. Her parents probably felt the same way. And her friends.

I’d spread my project materials out over the kitchen table in hopes she wouldn’t ask about my room – but that plan bombed. ‘So where’s your room?’ she asked, right after I offered her a soda and she followed me to the kitchen to get it. Fuck, I thought, opening the pantry door and bracing myself for ridicule.

‘Whoa!’ Her eyes went wide. ‘This is so small! And … cosy …’

She hopped on to the edge of my bed, and my heart thudded. Melody Dover is sitting on my bed. Her eyes roved over my textbooks and novels, stacked on the shelves. She turned round to study the opposite wall, half covered in drawings like the ones she’d flipped through a couple of nights before – but better.

‘This is the coolest thing ever. It’s like this … artist’s cave.’ She smiled. ‘Can we work in here?’ Without waiting for my answer, she slung her laptop bag over her head and crawled towards the head of the bed.

‘Uh, sure …’

When Dad and Grandpa came home, we were sitting side by side against a mound of pillows, working on the citations page. They were arguing, as though they’d picked up right where I left them this morning, like a paused movie. My face burned when they each stopped right outside my door and peered in with mirrored expressions of shock. For what felt like eternity, neither said a word.

‘Makin’ dinner,’ Grandpa said eventually, turning away. Dad grunted and turned in the opposite direction.

Melody’s pale gaze shifted from the empty doorway to me. ‘So your mom …?’

I shook my head. ‘She … she died.’

‘Oh. That’s terrible. Was it recent? Is that why you moved here?’

I nodded, unwilling to elaborate or make eye contact or speak at all. My hands were fists in my lap. Please don’t ask.

I almost jumped out of my skin when she laid her hand on my arm, right over the wristbands I was wearing today. Her fingers grazed the top of my hand. ‘I’m sorry.’

She was apologizing for the fact that I lost my mother, like everyone did. I couldn’t say, It’s okay. Because it wasn’t, and it never would be.

But I couldn’t dwell on the loss of my mother with Melody’s soft hand on mine, her fingernails painted an electric, metallic blue, like a sports car. I couldn’t think of anything but where her hand rested, and its proximity to other, wide-awake parts of me. Angling her fingers, she rasped her nails along the back of my hand and inches away, my body responded, hardening fiercely. I prayed she couldn’t see. I was afraid to move.

‘She stayin’ for dinner?’ Grandpa said from the door, and we both jumped, snatching our hands apart. The laptop bounced on her lap.

‘Oh, no, thank you. I have to get home soon.’ Her face was as red as mine.

Then her boyfriend texted to ask where she was, and she lied and said she was home.

‘I’m real sorry about your mama, Landon.’ She leaned and kissed my cheek, and my whole body caught fire. It was uncomfortable and amazing, paralysing me like a poison-tipped dart and filling me with flares and embers. I couldn’t think straight. Sliding to the end of my bed, she stuck her laptop in her backpack. I followed her to the front door, silent, her kiss a brand on the side of my face.

The fight, when it came, was quick and dirty and unwitnessed by any teachers. It was raining again during lunch, and I wasn’t in the mood to get banished outside, so I had the asstastic idea to hang out in the library computer lab and check out the PowerPoint Melody had put together. Our presentation was two days away.

I rounded a corner and there he was – with a posse, one of whom was Clark Richards. Wynn’s lead moron, Rick Thompson, was acting as lookout.

‘Hey, Maxfield. Time to pay your dues,’ Wynn said, as unemotionally as if he’d just delivered a weather report. Then his fist flew at my face, almost slow motion, but so were my movements. I couldn’t reel back fast enough to avoid the blow, and he caught me square in the jaw. My teeth rattled and fireworks exploded behind my eyes.

I staggered back and he followed. ‘You sucker punched me in shop, motherfucker. That shit was not cool. Just try to hit me, now that I’m payin’ attention.’

I got lucky and blocked the next punch, but as he threw an arm round my neck and pulled me down into a low headlock, I knew he’d make up for missing. Twisting from his grip, I turned and slammed my right fist into his chin and my left into his kidney, determined not to make that payback easy. Another wrestling move from him and I was back in deep shit. He cuffed the side of my head and then punched me in the stomach.

‘Whatsa matter, mama’s boy? Useless piece-a-shit weirdo.’ My ears rang and his taunts almost grew unintelligible, but he kept dispensing them like he was looking for a panic button. ‘Daddy never taught you to fight, huh? Is he as big of a pu**y as you are?’ I couldn’t rotate into the right position to get a grip on him or throw a punch, and I’d lost count of how many he’d landed. ‘Maybe your mama needs a real man. Maybe I oughta pay her a little visit.’

And there it was.

With a roar, I threw both arms wide, breaking his hold, and then I hooked a foot behind his ankle and sent him sprawling to the ground. Jumping on top of him, I didn’t bother to hold him immobile before I began using both fists to hit him over and over. I couldn’t see. Sounds were muted. I could only feel the rage, and it drowned everything else. Striking his face and the side of his head repeatedly, my fists grew numb. I wanted to pound him flat, but his hard skull prevented me. I grabbed him by the hair and slammed the back of his head into the floor.

He bucked me off with a roar of his own, swinging wildly, one eye already purple and half shut. I rolled and stood, breathing heavily, but before I could launch myself at him again, Thompson hissed, ‘Teachers!’

Our altercation had gained an audience, I noted then. Fellow students surrounded us, inadvertently hiding us from view. We both stood, eyeing each other, slowly straightening, hands tense but at our sides.

‘What in tarnation is going on here?’ Mrs Powell said, pushing through. ‘Fighting is an expellable offence!’

Mr Zamora parted the spectators and came to stand behind her as Wynn, his face as battered as mine felt, deadpanned, ‘We weren’t fightin’.’

Narrowing his eyes, Zamora pointed down the hall. ‘Principal’s office. Now.’

I tried to care that I was about to be expelled but couldn’t. Truth be told, it took every shred of self-control I had to walk calmly towards the office instead of leaping on to Wynn and thrashing him into dust.

Minutes later, my entire body was beginning to ache. My face hurt. My ears were ringing. My abdomen felt like I’d done crunches for four hours straight. My hazy vision was due to blood in my eye, which began to clear as I blinked. I fought nausea as Ingram stared at us from across her huge desk, where not a single file folder or receptionist’s message dared to be out of order. On the surface, the boy next to me seemed indifferent to the threat sitting feet away from us, but his hands dug into the arms of his chair.

‘There is zero tolerance in this school for fighting.’ She paused, letting this sink in. My clammy, blood-streaked hands pressed into my thighs and gripped hard, reminding me to remain silent. ‘I assume both of you are aware of this policy?’

I nodded. The dumbass next to me shrugged.

‘Mr Wynn? Did you just shrug your shoulders in answer to my politely stated question? Perhaps you need it stated in more … understandable terms?’

‘No, thanks.’ Oh, man. This guy was an even bigger idiot than I’d imagined.

Ingram’s eyes narrowed further – which I hadn’t thought possible. ‘Excuse me?’

‘No, ma’am,’ he mumbled.

‘No, ma’am, I didn’t just observe you shrugging your shoulders, or No, ma’am, you aren’t aware of the policy?’ she asked, knowing exactly what he’d meant, trying to get him to say or do something with expellable consequences.

‘No, ma’am, I don’t need it stated in more understandable terms. Yes, ma’am, I understand your policy. But I wasn’t fightin’.’

It took everything I had to keep my jaw from dropping. If he thought I was going to take the fall for this shit alone, he could think again. I wanted to turn that black eye into a matched set, though intuition kicked in enough to warn me that that reaction would definitely get me expelled – something this bitch had wanted all year.

Her mouth contracted into the type of pucker someone has after sucking on a lemon. ‘You weren’t … fighting.’ Her contemptuous tone carried a clear-cut warning. Somehow, I knew Wynn wasn’t going to heed it. ‘Then why all the blood and bruises?’ She leaned forward, her lips stretching into the beginnings of a gotcha grin.

‘I fell down the stairs.’

Her stare should have iced him over. ‘You live in a trailer.’

‘I didn’t say I was at home.’

Her gaze whipped to me. ‘And you?’

‘He fell down the stairs, too.’ Christ on a cracker, as Grandpa would say – Wynn was answering for both of us. I was so screwed. ‘We both did. It was epic. Pretty sure it’s on YouTube by now.’

Her eyes didn’t budge from me. ‘Mr Maxfield? Care to tell the truth?’

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