Home > Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(9)

Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(9)
Tammara Webber

‘No.’ She snatched the paper back, raising her chin. ‘I got Clark.’

Her boyfriend was already sitting next to her. They didn’t even have to move from their front-row seats to work together. So I got stuck with Boyce-fucking-Wynn, while privileged Clark Richards gets stuck with his hot girlfriend. Naturally.

‘Oh, no no no – that won’t work.’ Mrs Dumont rushed over, her eyes on Melody. ‘You can’t be paired with your … er, friend. I want us to all experience a shift in culture and environment! Relocation diffusion in action!’ As the three of them were trying to figure out what she meant, she grabbed Boyce’s and Melody’s slips of paper and swapped them. ‘There. Now Clark, run along with Boyce. I’ll be passing out project assignments in a moment!’ She seemed to think this would soothe Clark from having to replace a hot girlfriend partner with a hulking bully partner.

‘What the –’ He scowled, clamping his jaw. ‘Why can’t Mel and I work together?’

Mrs Dumont smiled benignly and patted his shoulder. ‘Now who has F?’ she called, ignoring his question entirely.

I raised my hand a few inches off my desk without saying a word. Four pairs of eyes found me. Only Mrs Dumont smiled. ‘Come on up to the front, Landon. You can take Clark’s seat for the next three weeks.’

From the look on Clark’s face, she might as well have said, ‘You can screw Clark’s girlfriend for the next three weeks.’

‘Dumb fu**ing luck, Richards,’ Boyce said, pinning me to the corner with an unblinking stare. Somehow, being involuntarily paired with some other guy’s girlfriend was one more strike against me.

I shouldered my backpack and walked up the aisle, feeling as if I’d been condemned to lethal injection instead of forced to complete a project with a girl I’d fantasized about at least once. As Dumont handed out the packets, Melody pulled out a spiral notebook and began dividing our responsibilities – Melody on the left, Landon on the right, both underlined. She pencilled a thick line down the middle, using the edge of her textbook to keep it straight.

‘I’ll do the maps,’ I volunteered, my voice low.

She pressed her lips together and held herself bolt upright, clearly irritated. Great.

She started to print maps under my name and stopped midway, turning to level big, pale green eyes at me. ‘Do you … draw? Because I can do them, if not.’

I fixed her with a stare of my own. ‘Yes.’

When I didn’t elaborate, she rolled her eyes and muttered, ‘Fine. I’d better get a decent grade on this.’

We exchanged phone numbers and addresses, though she made it clear she didn’t intend to set foot outside either the school building or her parents’ house with me. The Dover McMansion was just down the beach from Grandpa’s place. ‘Oh, yeah. Maxfield. Clark said –’ She went silent, probably at my black expression.

Clark was son to John Richards, our town’s biggest developer of residential monstrosities and vacation condos. He’d been hounding my grandfather to sell his prime beachfront property forever. Things came to a head a few years ago, Grandpa said, when Richards tried to get the city to invoke imminent domain, claiming Grandpa’s ‘shack’ was an eyesore and his fishing business was a front. Grandpa told him where he could stick it right there in the middle of the city council meeting. The intimidation attempts had slowed since Dad took over the financials for Maxfield Fishing, but the hostility was potent as ever.

Melody cleared her throat somewhat delicately. ‘Uh. So, call me tonight, after I’m home from dance class.’

Dance class. What did girls like Melody wear to dance class? Spontaneous images threaded their way into my imagination. I twisted one of the rubber bands on my wrist. ‘’K.’

‘Like, eight o’clock?’

‘’K,’ I repeated.

She rolled her eyes. Again. The bell rang and she shot up to exit the classroom with Clark, who narrowed his gaze on me as he slung an arm over her shoulders. Boyce came just behind him and shoved me back into the desk. ‘Freak,’ he said. ‘Richards will probably have you killed if you touch her.’

I hadn’t had any intention of touching her. Funny how that threat made me want to.

LUCAS

I guess my brain rebooted during the four hours of sleep I finally got, because I remembered the nagging thing I hadn’t been able to recall since Saturday night.

If Jackie didn’t drop the class, she was going to fail it, and she had exactly one day in which to do it – because the last undergrad drop date was tomorrow.

The likelihood that I could find her again, today, was low. I only had one choice – I could email her as the class tutor – like a courteous, informative reminder of the drop date. Dear Student: you might want to take care of this important thing – hint, hint.

Never mind that no one else on campus would receive this kind of individualized dire warning. Administration didn’t believe in sending many specific alerts, especially about dropping courses. They preferred to include them on web pages of department requirements, or nestled somewhere in that registration documentation everyone scrolls through without reading, right before clicking the button that says I agree.

The generally held belief: students are responsible for their own scheduling manoeuvres. Because they’re adults. Technically.

Ms Wallace,

I’m the tutor for Dr Heller’s intro economics course, which it appears you’ve stopped attending – according to attendance records and the fact that you were not present for the midterm last week. As such, I wanted to remind you that students are not dropped automatically for non-attendance, but must initiate the course withdrawal process themselves. Drop forms and instructions are available online; I’ve included the links below.

Please note that the last drop date is TOMORROW.

L. Maxfield

I hit save and closed my laptop, planning to send it later, after adding the links. I had to swing by Starbucks before class to turn in a copy of my food handler renewal card, or I wouldn’t be allowed to work my shift this afternoon. She probably had other classes this morning as well. I had time.

‘Hey, Lucas,’ Gwen said, wiping a small ground-coffee spill from the granite countertop. Gwen had a Monday-morning smile that no one I knew could replicate – certainly not our coworker, Eve, who pretty much never smiled. ‘You’re still working for me this afternoon, right?’

I nodded, grabbing a cup of coffee. ‘Soon as I get out of my tutoring session. It ends at two.’

‘You’re such a sweetie!’ she beamed, following me to the back. ‘I’ll be back in time for you to get to your lab.’

I couldn’t help but smile in response as I stuck the photocopy in my file and left a note for my manager that I’d done so.

‘We need to find you a girl,’ Gwen said, out of nowhere. I choked on the sip of coffee I’d just taken, and Gwen thumped my back.

‘Uh …’ I stammered once I could speak. ‘Thanks, but I’m good.’

One of her pale brows rose, telling me without words what she thought of that statement. ‘You’re a good guy, Lucas.’ I must have made some expression of disbelief, because she shook her head. ‘Trust me. I’m an honest-to-God expert at finding dickholes, and you aren’t one.’

Kennedy Moore was in his usual centre-of-attention position, laughing and clueless as to what his ex-girlfriend of three years had been through two days prior. I wondered if he was even friends with the guy I couldn’t picture without having to do taekwondo forms in my head to calm down.

I slid into my back-row seat and pulled out a textbook, preparing to study for a quiz in my eleven o’clock class. Waiting for Heller to arrive so Moore and his buddies would sit down and shut up, I sketched something violent in the margin of my text. I’d often wondered what people who ended up with my used textbooks thought when they turned the page to one of my doodles. Usually, they were just designs – the product of momentary daydreaming. Sometimes, they were personal illustrations for the printed material. Rarely – very rarely – they included faces or body parts.

Heller entered by the door at the front of the classroom, snapping my attention from my pointless musing. Since Jackie had quit coming, class had grown incredibly boring. I knew the material inside out. I knew all of Heller’s jokes and humorous anecdotes. The personal touches he incorporated into his lectures made him an awesome instructor, but even so – three times was plenty for most of them, and four was bordering on torture.

‘If everyone will be seated, we’ll begin,’ he said. From my vantage point on the back row, everyone was sitting down, but he was clearly addressing someone with that statement –

Oh, God. I stared. I couldn’t do anything but stare.

Jackie – cheeks flushed, eyes wide and fixed on Heller – stood feet away from me, just inside the back door of the classroom. Suddenly, as if prodded from behind, she scampered three rows down, sliding into the only empty seat … except for the one next to me. Which would have been closer.

Maybe she hadn’t seen it. Or me.

Maybe she had.

What was she doing here?

Good thing I’d been through this lecture three times and could comfortably regurgitate it for my session later, because I couldn’t focus on a single word Heller said the entire fifty-minute lecture. It was all blah blah blah and swishes of lines on the whiteboard. Jackie didn’t appear to be faring any better, though I assumed her inattentiveness was caused by altogether different reasons than the shock I’d received from seeing her. She couldn’t seem to look up without glancing at the back of her ex’s head, which left her staring at the board – whether or not Heller was writing or diagramming graphs on it, or at the empty page in her spiral notebook – which remained unfilled the whole lecture.

She was there to drop, I thought, finally, relaxing. That’s what she was doing – dropping the class. She’d arrived too late to speak with Heller before class began, so she was sticking around to get his signature on the drop slip after it was over. Reinforcing my conclusion, she stepped down to the front at the end of class (once her ex had passed in the centre aisle – without even noticing her). After a quiet exchange with Heller, she waited for him to chat with two other students, and then followed him out the door.

I should have been relieved. No need to assume any further responsibility for her. No need to send that email I’d written this morning.

No need to ever see her again.

So why this conviction that I would surrender something irreplaceable if I let her vanish from my life?

The answer was just another question. What other choice did I have?

Just like the Halloween party, I saw her the moment she entered, taking her place at the back of my line. She was an invisible force, dragging at something equally hidden inside me. I wondered at the magnetic field we’d managed to create between us, and whether she’d feel the pull of it as she moved nearer. Maybe it was just me who felt it.

She was with the pretty redhead I vaguely recognized from the party, where they’d arrived together – Jackie in her red-hot devil costume and her friend dressed as a wolf – fuzzy ears and bushy tail, requisite skintight leotard … and granny glasses on the end of her nose. Which I didn’t get until a tall, shirtless guy in jeans and a hooded red cape jogged over, picked her up – literally – and carried her on to the dance floor.

Whenever it rained, people elected not to leave campus between classes, and the student-centre Starbucks was besieged. Snaking round two displays and trespassing into the miniscule seating area where every seat was taken, the end of the line trailed down the hallway. The rush showed no sign of letting up. I didn’t have time to be distracted, but I was, watching Jackie and her friend inch closer, one step at a time.

Her friend leaned out of line to check the wait and decided it would be too long. I thought they’d both leave, but she enfolded Jackie in a hug and darted off alone.

Jackie hadn’t noticed me, not that she’d fully focused on anything at all. Her empty gaze drifted over the other patrons or stared out the far window. Her mouth was a flat line, her pensive expression a contrast to the rainy-day smile in my sketchbook. Watching her made my heart ache, as if that organ had become linked to her emotional state, rather than targeting its primary task – keeping me alive. She checked her phone and scrolled through messages or some web page for a minute or two, before resuming her aimless gazing, shuffling forward behind a tall guy who blocked her view of me, for which I was grateful. I knew instinctively that if she looked up and saw me now, she’d turn and head for the exit.

Finally, the guy in front of her gave his order, paid and moved to the pick-up area.

‘Next,’ I said gently, rousing her from her musing.

Her lips parted, but whatever she was about to say dissolved, unsaid. A blush ignited under her skin. I held her eyes – which I noticed, now that I was staring straight into them at close range, were a bit bloodshot, as though she’d been crying recently. Surely Heller hadn’t made her cry? As much of a hard-ass as I knew he could be when necessary, I couldn’t imagine him making this girl cry because she wanted to drop a class.

My heart constricted again, attuned to her. I’d be forever associated with that night in her mind. Nothing would eliminate that fact. I scared her or reminded her – either way, she wanted to escape it. How could I ever blame her?

The girl in line behind her cleared her throat, impatient.

‘Are you ready to order?’ I grounded her with this question, pulling her back to where we were. It’s over. I wished she could read my thoughts. He’s not here. We’re not there.

She gave her order then, her voice a distorted hum that I somehow understood. I printed it on her cup, along with her name, and passed it to Eve. Late Saturday night, it occurred to me that I’d called her Jackie, when I had no cause to know her name, but there was no reason to pretend ignorance of it now.

When I looked up, she was staring at my right hand – still swathed in a light layer of gauze. Most of the blood Saturday night had been his, as I’d told her – but not all of it. Once I got home and cleaned up, I could tell how hard I’d hit him by the split, abraded skin on both sets of knuckles. The injuries were gratifying. Proof that I’d not held back. Little wonder he’d gone down and stayed there.

I rang up her drink and she handed over her card – the one I’d used to swipe her into the dorm. The smiling girl beneath that protective laminate was incongruous with the expressions I’d seen her wear over the past few days.

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