Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(15)


by Tammara Webber

My mouth agape, I sat, speechless, while she shoved her black skirt down over her hips and kicked it in the general direction of the laundry hamper. She slipped bracelets from her arms and removed her earrings, dropping them on a desk littered with jewelry, tarot cards, gum packets and paperback novels.

“Erin, did you just—break up with Chaz? Over me?”

She pulled on a t-shirt that fell to mid-thigh and clearly belonged to Chaz. Scowling, she ripped it back over her head, wadded it up and hurled it. “No. I broke up with Chaz because he’s a f**king twat-headed jackass.”

“But—”

“Jacqueline.” She held up one palm like a traffic cop signaling stop. “Don’t say it. I broke up with Chaz because he proved what’s important to him. ‘Bros before hos.’ Well f**k that. I won’t come second to a bunch of his dumbass friends, and I certainly won’t come second to some dickhead who’s a walking affront to all women. Besides… it was never gonna be a permanent thing, right? Who does that in college anyway?”

She spun around and rummaged through the top drawer of our tiny built-in wardrobe, ostensibly searching for a non-previously-Chaz-owned t-shirt. I heard one muffled sniff and knew she was crying. Damn Chaz. Damn Buck. Damn Lucas/Landon/whoever the hell he was.

***

The campus “Self-Defense for Women” classes were held in one of the classrooms on the first floor of the activities building. We found the room and I tossed my coffee cup in the hallway trash can, Erin yawning after a sleepless night—which I knew because her restless fidgeting and sniffling had kept me awake. Around 4:00 am, she’d crawled into bed with me, curling into spoon position against me as I swept the hair back from her face. Mercifully, she’d fallen asleep almost immediately, and I’d followed suit.

“Hey. Isn’t that—?” Erin spoke without moving her lips, like a ventriloquist. Clad in black sweat pants and a black t-shirt, Lucas stood at the front of the room with two older men.

“Yes,” I hissed as we took our seats and I stared down at the packet of course material, the cover of which depicted a man attacking a woman who was poised to defend herself. “Erin, I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes you can,” she countered, so quickly that she must have been anticipating my response.

“Good morning, ladies.” The smaller, older guy began, silencing any further protest from me. “I’m Ralph Watts, the Assistant Chief of Police on campus. This feeble-looking guy to my left is Sergeant Don, and the ugly one is Lucas, one of our parking enforcement officers.” Everyone chuckled, as Don and Lucas were far from feeble or ugly. “We’re pleased that you’ve given up a Saturday mornings to increase your knowledge of personal safety.”

I snuck a look at Erin when she nudged me with her knee. “Parking enforcement officer? Jesus, how many jobs does he have?” she mumbled from the side of her mouth.

“No shit,” I mumbled back. She didn’t even know about the tutoring job.

“Could be hot…” she whispered. “Especially if there’s a uniform. Or handcuffs.”

I sighed.

Glancing around the semi-circle of folding chairs, I noted that there were only about a dozen of us—a mix of students, professors and administrative staff. The oldest was a white-headed black woman who had to be the age of my grandmother. I told myself that if she could come in here to learn how to kick potential ra**st ass, so could I.

Even if Lucas was standing across the room, alternately staring at me and avoiding my eyes completely.

The first hour and a half, basic self-defense principles were discussed. Ralph told us that ninety percent of self-defense involves reducing the risk of attack in the first place. “In an ideal world, we could all go about our business without fear of being assaulted. Unfortunately, that ideal is not representative of reality.”

My face heating, I recalled Lucas admonishing me for walking across the dark parking lot behind the frat house texting, instead of paying attention to my surroundings. I circled “90%” in blue ink until I’d obscured the words on either side. But then I remembered the last thing he’d said that night: It wasn’t your fault.

We were encouraged to propose safety prevention suggestions, and write them all down—locking doors, walking or exercising with a friend, wearing shoes that don’t hinder running. Erin’s suggestion of “Avoid ass**les” was popular.

“Three things are necessary for an assault: an assailant, a victim, and opportunity. Remove opportunity and you take a huge leap in reducing the likelihood of the assault.” Ralph clapped his hands together once. “Alrighty, let’s take a short break, and when we come back, it’s time to do some of the butt-kicking you ladies signed up to inflict on Don and Lucas.”

Chapter 11

“Many of you are probably convinced that without a weapon, you have no hope against an aggressive male.” Ralph spoke from the opposite side of a set of mats on which Don and Lucas faced each other. The rest of us spread out along the outer edge of the mats, prepared to watch whatever they were about to do. Lucas still hadn’t acknowledged my presence.

“The truth is, you have several weapons at your disposal, and we’re gonna show you how to utilize them to your best advantage. Big, mean Don here will be the assailant, and Lucas, with all that pretty hair, will be the intended victim.”

Giggling erupted from several girls standing near Lucas as he pinned his lips together in good-natured irritation and raked his dark hair back out of his face.

“Your weapons are your hands, feet, knees and elbows, and your head—and I don’t just mean what’s inside it, although that comes into play. Your forehead and the back of your head, when they come into contact with susceptible areas on your assailant, can leave him seeing stars.” Using Don as an example, he pointed out the obvious vulnerable spots (“Yes,” Erin hissed when he indicated the groin), and then the less obvious places, like the top of the foot and the forearm.

Ralph called out the moves Lucas employed to defend himself as he and Don acted out half a dozen choreographed attacks, time-lapsed to clearly demonstrate what they were doing. I felt more hopeless, not less, as I watched them. Lucas’s muscular body was trained to execute those blocks and hits, to absorb blows from an assailant. I’d watched him beat the crap out of Buck—when I could barely dislodge him long enough to scream, let alone inflict any damage.

“The goal here is not to beat the guy up.” Ralph smiled at Erin’s disappointed grumble. “Our objective is to give you time to escape. Gettin’ the hell outta Dodge is your goal.”

We divided into pairs to practice wrist blocks and parries. The three instructors circled the room, assisting and repositioning. I was relieved when Don walked up to watch Erin and me as we took turns trying to slow-motion slap each other. “Keep your eyes on the assailant,” he reminded me. He turned to Erin. “Put a little more oomph into that attack. She can block it.”

I was shocked to find he was right. Erin almost hit me the second time because I was so surprised I’d completely blocked her first attempt.

Don nodded. “Good job.”

We smiled stupidly at each other and switched assailant and victim roles. “So when do we get to the junk-kicking?” Erin asked.

Don shook his head and sighed. “I swear, there’s one in every class. Kicks will be next time.” He pointed at her. “And I’m makin’ sure you’re in Lucas’s line for that.”

She put on her innocent face. “Don’t y’all wear those padded Michelin-man suits?”

“Yes… but those pads don’t block all feeling.”

“Heh-heh,” Erin said, and Don quirked one eyebrow at her.

I looked around the room during this exchange, watching Lucas with a couple of the giggly girls. “Like this?” one of them asked, blinking up at him like she didn’t know she’d positioned her hand incorrectly.

“No…” He turned her palm around and adjusted her elbow. “Like that.” His voice was almost inaudible with all of the slapping, blocking and laughter scattered through the wide-open room. Even still, I felt his words like a soft stroke down my back. I could hardly connect this guy—his shaggy hair, his tattoos, the pure sexuality in the way he walked and the low thrum of his voice—with Landon, an engineering senior who said—or wrote—that my ex was a moron and teased me about 14-year-old orchestra students crushing on me. All while helping me pass a class I’d have failed without him.

I was attracted to the whole of him—each side incongruent with the other. But the whole of him was also a liar. The fact that our professor called him by a different name than the Assistant Chief of Police was perplexing, too. The preface of his official email address was LMaxfield. No help there.

He looked up and caught me staring, and for the first time that morning, neither of us looked away until Erin said, “J—pay attention! Just try to slap me.” I broke the stare and turned to her. She moved around to face me, her back to Lucas, and rolled her eyes. “Does the concept of playing hard-to-get totally escape you?” she whispered. “Let. Him. Chase.”

“I’m not playing that game any longer.”

She glanced over her shoulder and back. “Girlfriend, I don’t think he knows that.”

I shrugged.

We practiced defensive stances and simple hand strikes, and though I felt silly at first, Erin and I were soon yelling, “NO!” along with our classmates, and shoving the heels of our hands into each other’s chins or hammering a fist (very slowly) down onto each other’s noses.

“The last thing today will be ground defense. We’ll watch Don and Lucas illustrate the first position and defense, and then each pair come grab a mat and we’ll circulate while you practice.”

Lucas lay face down on the mat and Don knelt over him, holding him down with his weight. My heart rate spiked and my breaths came irregularly, just watching. I didn’t want to be in that position again. I couldn’t do it in front of a classroom of people. I couldn’t do it in front of Lucas.

Erin uncurled my fist with her fingers and took my hand. “J, you’ve gotta do this one. You be the attacker first. It’ll be okay.”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to. It’s too much like—” I swallowed.

“Which is exactly why you’ve got to do it.” Before I said anything else, she squeezed my hand. “Hey, help me do it, okay? And then we’ll see how you feel.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

I helped Erin, but I could only stand to play the victim once. I did the moves—and dislodged her fairly easily. As an ex-cheerleader, Erin was strong, but she was no Buck. I had no faith that this move would dislodge someone of his size and strength.

I couldn’t look at Lucas—not during this final exercise, and not as we filed out the door.

***

“You sure you don’t wanna go? I could use you to keep me from testing those moves we learned this morning on Chaz, if he has the balls to show up at this party.”

I looked up from the novel I was reading, because Landon still hadn’t sent my econ project back (funny how I continued to think of him in terms of Lucas and Landon), and I was weirdly caught up on homework. My roommate had never understood my compulsion to read when I had free time, especially if there were campus social events to attend. “No, Erin, I really don’t want to go to a sorority thing, believe it or not. Not to mention the fact that no one would be thrilled to see me there.”

Hands on hips, she frowned down at me. “You’re probably right. But you’re coming with me to the Brotherhood Bash in a couple of weeks, right? Bitches got nothing to say about me bringing you then—frat rules apply—additional booze and broads welcome.”