Home > Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(8)

Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(8)
Tammara Webber

Don’t turn round. Don’t look at him.

Ignoring my mind’s warning, I glanced back to make certain he was still on the ground. He was. I may have mumbled something about his intent to conceal evidence, which made me wish she’d let me call the police, because intent like that could point to fully cognizant plotting. I’m not sure if I said it out loud. She didn’t reply, if I had. I shoved the condom into my pocket, wondering if a condom could go through a shredder, because I would be trying that little experiment when I got home.

In my imagination, he’d be wearing it at the time.

I climbed into her truck, shut the door and turned the key in the ignition. ‘Are you sure you don’t want me to call the police?’ Resolved as I was to let this be her decision, I had to ask one last time.

She stared at the back of the house and the party within through the windshield, silent for a full minute. ‘I’m sure,’ she said.

I nodded and backed out of the lot, headlight beams showing the damage I’d done to her attacker. It wasn’t near enough. I forced myself to keep the truck in reverse. I’d have rather put it in drive and flattened him beneath the tyres.

It had been years since I’d felt this level of violence roiling through my blood.

Staring at the road, I pretended an artificial composure to force myself to become calm, knowing that it would work, albeit slowly. At the intersection, I asked the name of her dorm and turned right when she gave it, her voice weaker and quaking, now that the danger was past.

I gave her as much privacy as I could, keeping peripheral watch while she strained to regroup. She hugged herself as though she was freezing, even though the night was more perfect than October had a right to be. A little warm, even. She shuddered in waves, her body throwing off the need to defend itself while her mind couldn’t escape the degradation she’d just experienced.

I wanted to reach across the cab and touch her. I didn’t.

It could have been so much worse.

But I would never, ever say that to her.

In her dorm lot, I parked and locked the truck, handing her the keys and walking with her to the side entrance. I fought to keep my hands to myself. I wanted to comfort her, but a stranger’s touch was the last thing she needed. Though she was familiar to me – unique and fascinating – I was unknown to her.

She didn’t even know my name.

I asked for her ID at the door, figuring she’d have a difficult time swiping the card, the way her body was shaking. I wondered if I should walk her all the way to her room, or if that would feel like a threat. It was a miracle she’d allowed herself to trust me this far.

Then she gasped when she handed over the card, her eyes on my knuckles. ‘Oh, my God. You’re bleeding.’

‘Nah. Mostly his blood,’ I said. Like that’s comforting. Jesus.

I swiped the card and handed it back, staring down into her face, now fully visible under the dome light of the entryway. My eyes touched what my fingers couldn’t, tracing the visible tracks of her tears, the smudges of mascara beneath her eyes. I wanted to smooth the anguished furrows from her brow with my thumbs, pull her within the circle of my arms and press her face against my chest, let my heartbeat calm her.

‘You sure you’re okay?’ I asked, and her eyes filled instantly. My hands curled into fists at my sides. Don’t touch her.

‘Yes. Fine,’ she said, gaze falling from mine. What a horrible little liar she was.

She would tell a friend what happened. A roommate, maybe. Someone known and trusted. I couldn’t be her confidant and I knew it. I’d served my purpose, and I only wished I’d served it better. Faster. I’d be pissed off at myself forever for my initial hesitation in following her out tonight.

I asked if I could call someone for her, and she shook her head no, skirting round me, careful to avoid any physical contact – even a brush of fabric. Further evidence of my anonymous status.

I watched her walk to the stairs, the heels of her shoes tapping against the tile floor, the glittered, forked tail swaying absurdly behind her, no matter how stiffly she moved now. Her costume’s horns were long gone.

‘Jackie?’ I said, carefully, not wanting to startle her. She pivoted, her hand on the rail, waiting. ‘It wasn’t your fault.’

She bit her lip, holding herself together, nodding once before gripping the rail and running up the stairs. I turned and left, certain those four words would be the last thing I’d ever say to Jackie Wallace.

It was a good last thing to say.

7

Landon

Boyce Wynn, previous fellow occupant of the middle-school outcast table, had become my nemesis. If I’d have called him that, he’d have had no clue what I meant and would have called me a pu**y and/or threatened to kick my ass. In other words, the same as what happened when I said nothing to him.

Contrary to some things adults like to say, responding to bullies – if you can’t beat them – gives them power, because then they know you care. I didn’t intend to do that. Principal Ingram had threatened me with her zero tolerance, and Wynn probably could kick my ass in addition to getting me expelled. He was big and mean, clomping around like one of the upperclassmen, who put up with him because he was rumoured to have access to drugs, alcohol and stolen car parts. Also, he didn’t threaten them. He only screwed with those he perceived as smaller or weaker.

Which meant me.

There wasn’t an outcast table in the high-school lunchroom, so choosing where to sit required an impromptu decision, two seconds after paying. A wrong move could be fatal.

On crap days, social lepers ate outside in the quad, but when it was nice out we stayed in, relinquishing the quad’s sunny tables and benches to guys like Clark Richards, the youngest son of a developer my grandfather hated, and girls like Melody Dover, Clark’s popular blonde girlfriend.

There weren’t many crap days here, weather-wise – rain or high winds, the occasional hail and tornado threat. Otherwise it was warm and sunny, even in the winter … which meant I spent most lunch periods inside. The safest spots were at vacant ends of tables where no one semi-popular or Wynn-like sat.

But that didn’t stop them from finding you when they went looking for entertainment.

Example 1: It’s surprisingly easy for someone to propel a lunch tray across a cafeteria table – sending it crashing to the floor and launching food in every direction – without slowing his stride or acting as if he had anything to do with it.

I began grabbing a foil-wrapped, suspiciously preserved sandwich and bottle of water in the line instead of a tray of hot food.

Example 2: Whoever invented locker rooms – where several rows of solid metal and concrete block whatever happens in the back from the coach’s sight – was a dick. Thanks to an ambush, I lost a pair of secondhand Chucks and my vintage camo cargo pants. Because I wasn’t mental enough to ID the as**oles, the coach’s remedy was to have me choose something to wear from the lost-and-found barrel – which gave off an odour suggesting something had died at the bottom and was currently decomposing.

I smelled like literal shit during last period, every girl nearby wrinkling their noses and scooting their desks as far from me as possible, while guys made brilliant observations like, ‘You reek, Maxfield. Try telling your handler to hose you off occasionally.’ Et cetera.

I tugged it all off as soon as I got home and threw it all in the burn pile out back after taking a scalding shower.

I borrowed five bucks from Dad and asked Grandpa to take me back to the Thrifty Sense, where I unearthed a pair of like-new Vans in my size. They were marked seven dollars.

‘I know where ya live,’ Grandpa said, passing me the additional two bucks.

I stopped changing clothes for PE, which earned me demerits every day until Coach Peterson realized that penalizing me wasn’t having any effect.

But I had three classes with Wynn – PE, world geography, and auto shop.

‘Wash up!’ Mr Silva called, his thunderous voice booming over the noise of operational motors, machine tools, country music and conversations about cars and car parts, girls and girl parts.

Most of the stuff guys said was harmless. Even if the entire town full of moms threatened to wash our mouths with the abrasive Lava soap we used to get the clingy streaks of oil and grease off our hands and arms, it was usually just talk.

Sometimes those words didn’t feel like just phrases or expressions, though. They felt like memories and nightmares, when I was doing my best to avoid both. My hands closed into greasy fists as I stood in line for the sinks, captive to the exchange going on behind me, in which Boyce Wynn played a major part.

‘Dude, her tits are like two juicy watermelons.’ His drawl crept up the back of my neck and I imagined the hand gestures I knew he was making.

‘Yeah, I’d do her,’ his friend said, and they both laughed. ‘She doesn’t put out, though.’

‘Yet, Thompson. Yet. I’d teach her to put out.’

Staring straight ahead, my vision hazed at the edges.

‘Riiiight. You wish, as**ole. She wouldn’t give your white-trash ass the time of day.’

‘Who needs the time of day? Time of night, man. Under cover of darkness, she’ll be begging for more.’

His friend laughed. ‘Dude, seriously, she’d be all, like, “Nope.” Plus she’s not that hot.’

‘Naw, man, are you crazy? I’d rape that so fast –’

Before I knew what I’d done, I had spun round, my tightened fist planting itself right at the edge of Boyce Wynn’s mouth. His head jerked back a little with the impact and his eyes went wide with shock. By instinct, I knew better than to stop there, but suddenly there was a circle of guys chanting, ‘Fight! Fight!’ and my limbs froze while his whole body rolled forward, preparing to pound me into the cement floor.

Before either of us could move, Silva gripped us both by the upper arms, separating and immobilizing us. ‘What the hell are y’all dumbasses doing? Trying to get yourselves expelled?’

I didn’t take my eyes from Wynn, and he stared back with murder in his eyes. A trickle of blood glistened at the lower corner of his lip.

‘What’d you do, Wynn?’ Silva growled, shaking him. Our shop teacher was two hundred and fifty pounds of pissed off.

Wynn’s eyes narrowed, still glaring at me, and he seemed to come to some sort of vindictive conclusion. He shrugged his free shoulder, as if indifferent. ‘Nothin’, Mr Silva. Everything’s cool.’

Silva whipped his gaze to me, and Wynn slowly raised his free hand to smear the bead of blood from his face with a knuckle. The churning adrenalin sent a tremor through me.

‘And you – Maxfield? That your story, too? What happened here?’

I shook my head once and echoed Wynn. ‘Nothing. Everything’s cool.’

Silva ground his teeth and rolled his eyes up to the corrugated ceiling, as though God might peel it back and tell him what to do with us.

Jerking our arms once more, harder, he almost popped them from their sockets. ‘There will be no fighting. In. My. Shop. Is that understood, men?’ He spat the word men as though we were anything but.

We nodded, but he didn’t drop either of our arms. ‘Do I need to talk to Bud about you causin’ trouble?’ he asked Wynn, who shook his head, eyes widening. Whoever Bud was, his name inspired fear in the guy who inspired fear in most of the student body.

The bell rang, and our audience scrambled belatedly to the oversized aluminium sinks. Silva released us but didn’t budge, crossing muscular arms over his beefy chest and staring holes into the backs of our heads while we scrubbed up. I grabbed my backpack from its cubby and made for the side door as Wynn exited the front with two friends.

My escape was temporary. That much I knew.

In an effort to torture her students, my world geography teacher announced a team project as soon as we returned from winter break – during which everyone who had remained in town for Christmas had enjoyed an unprecedented half foot of snow covering the beach, palm trees, resort hotels and fishing boats.

In Alexandria, winter began before Christmas and continued into March – surprise bouts of rain, sleet and occasionally snow – piles of it ploughed into corners in parking lots, shifting from white to grey if left to melt rather than bulldozed into trucks and hauled away. By February, everyone was sick of scraping frost from windshields, sick of shovelling sidewalks and driveways, sick of waking to the rumble of gravel trucks or snow ploughs, sick of the constant wet cold.

Here, snow was a dusting, if that. Any measurable quantity of it inspired awe. Six inches was deemed a miracle. People walked around oohing and aahing, shaking their heads. Parents sent kids out to build snowmen and make snow angels with socks on their hands, because no one owned gloves or mittens.

‘In light of our “Christmas Miracle” – we’re going to miraculously team up to examine the effect of climate shifts on environments and people.’ Mrs Dumont’s tone was much too cheerful for the second period of the first day back. No one wanted to be there, and no amount of enthusiasm would change our minds after two solid weeks of sleeping in and doing nothing. ‘In the interest of showing how people adapt to unexpected change, we’re all going to pick a letter from the hat and pair off.’ She beamed, as if the knowledge that fate was choosing our partners would improve the assignment.

As one, we all groaned. Unperturbed, she handed an upside-down baseball cap bearing the school mascot – surprise, it was a fish – to Melody Dover, who drew a slip of paper and passed it to the girl behind her. From the last seat of Melody’s row, I watched the cap come nearer. I drew an F. Appropriate.

When the cap reached the last row, Dumont called over the din of voices, ‘Now – find your partner, and move seats! You’ll be sitting with that partner for the first three weeks of class this semester, at the end of which we’ll be presenting our projects to the whole class!’

You’ve got to be kidding me. I’d only been assigned one class presentation, last spring – on which I took a zero. Oral presentations were painful to do, and painful to witness others doing.

I considered standing up and walking out the door. Then I heard, ‘Okay, what lovely lady has an F?’ from the opposite side of the room, and I couldn’t move.

Boyce. Wynn.

Oh. Damn.

He got up and started snatching the bits of paper from students to find out who his partner was. ‘You got F? Who the fuck’s got F?’

‘Mr Wynn,’ Mrs Dumont said, scowling darkly.

He shrugged. ‘I can’t find my partner, Mrs Dumont.’ His eyes lighted on Melody, who sneered a little. ‘Is it you?’ He snatched the paper from her hand as she objected.

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