Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(4)


by Tammara Webber

Marking the cup, he gave her the total in clipped tones, his eyes flicking to me once more as I stepped away. I don’t know if he looked at me after that. I waited for my coffee at the other end of the bar, and hurried away without adding my usual dribble of milk and three packets of sugar.

Economics was a survey course, and as such the roster was huge—probably two hundred students. I could avoid eye contact with two boys in the midst of that many people for the remaining six weeks of fall semester, couldn’t I?

Chapter 3

I dutifully emailed the econ tutor when I got back to the dorm after class, and started on my art history homework. While tapping out a response essay on a neoclassical sculptor and his influence on the style, I mumbled a thank you to my inner neurotic that I’d at least kept up in my non-econ classes.

With Erin at work, I could buckle down to an evening of quiet studying. Here in our microscopic room, she couldn’t help being a near-constant distraction. While I attempted to cram for an algebra test last week, the following conversation took place: “I had to have those pumps for my job, Daddy!” she argued into her cell. “You said you wanted me to learn the value of work while I’m in school, and you always say a person should dress for success, so I’m only trying to follow your words of wisdom.”

When she glanced at me, I rolled my eyes. My roommate was a hostess at a swanky restaurant downtown, a position she frequently used as an excuse for overspending her clothing budget. Three hundred dollar shoes, essential for a job that paid nine bucks an hour? I stifled my laugh when she winked back at me. Her father always caved, especially when she employed the D-word—Daddy.

I wasn’t expecting a quick reply from Landon Maxfield. As an upperclassman and a tutor for a huge class like Dr. Heller’s, he had to be busy. I was also certain he’d be none too thrilled to assist a failing sophomore who’d skipped the midterm and two weeks of class, and who had never attended one of his tutoring sessions. I was prepared to show him I would work hard to catch up and get out of his hair as quickly as possible.

Fifteen minutes after I emailed him, my inbox dinged. He’d replied, in the same formal tone I’d chosen after switching back and forth between using his first or last name in the address, finally deciding on Mr. Maxfield.

Ms. Wallace,

Dr. Heller has informed me of your need to catch up in macro and the project you’ll need to complete in order to replace the midterm grade. Since he’s approved you to do this work, there’s no need to share the reason why you’ve fallen so far behind with me. I’m employed as a tutor, so this falls under my job description.

We can meet on campus, preferably in the library, to discuss the project. It’s detailed, and will require a great deal of outside research on your part. I’ve been instructed by Dr. Heller as to the level of assistance I should provide. Basically, he wants to see what you can do, alone. I’ll be available for general questions, of course.

My group tutoring sessions are MWTh from 1-2:00, but those cover current material. I assume you’ll need more assistance comprehending the material you missed over the past two weeks. Let me know the times you’re available to meet for individual tutoring sessions and we’ll coordinate from there.

LM

I clenched my jaw. Though perfectly polite, the tone of his email reeked of condescension… until his signature at the very end: LM. Was he being friendly, or casual, or ridiculing my attempt to sound like a serious, mature student? I’d alluded to the breakup in my email, hoping he wouldn’t want or ask for details. Now I felt as though he’d not only eschewed learning the particulars, but he thought less of me for letting a relationship crisis affect my academic life.

I read his email again and got even madder. So he thought I was too dumb to comprehend the course material on my own?

Mr. Maxfield,

I can’t attend your sessions because I have art history MW 1-2:30, and I tutor at the middle school on Thursday afternoons. I live on campus and am available to meet late afternoons Monday/Wednesday, and most evenings. I’m also free on weekends when I’m not tutoring.

I’ve begun reading the course material on GDP, CPI, and inflation, and I’m working on the review questions at the end of chapter 9. If you want to meet to pass on the project requirements, I’m sure I can catch up on the regular coursework on my own.

Jacqueline

I pressed send and felt superior for all of about twenty seconds. In actuality, I’d barely glanced at chapter 9. So far, it looked less like comprehensible supply and demand charts, and more like gibberish with dollar signs and confusing shifts tossed in for fun. As for GDP and CPI, I knew what those acronyms signified… Sort of.

Oh, God. I’d just haughtily dismissed the tutor provided by my professor—the professor who wasn’t obligated to give me a second chance, but had.

When my email dinged again, I swallowed before clicking over to it. A new message from Landon Maxfield was at the top of my inbox.

Jacqueline,

If you prefer to catch up on your own, that’s your prerogative, of course. I’ll gather the information on the project and we can meet, say, Wednesday just after 2:00?

LM

PS What do you tutor?

His reply didn’t seem angry. He was civil. Nice, even. I was so emotional lately that I couldn’t judge anything clearly.

Landon,

I teach private lessons to orchestra students—middle and high school—on the upright bass. I just remembered I agreed to assist in transporting two of my students’ instruments to a program this Wednesday afternoon. (I drive a truck, to accommodate transport of my own instrument, and now I’m constantly inundated with requests to move large musical instruments, sofas, mattresses...)

Are you free any evening? Or Saturday?

JW

I’d been playing the upright bass since I was ten. In fourth grade, one of the orchestra’s two bass players had a pee wee football collision the second weekend of school, resulting in a snapped collarbone. Our orchestra teacher, Mrs. Peabody, had looked out over the vast sea of violin players and pleaded for someone to switch. “Anyone?” she’d squeaked. When no one else volunteered, I raised my hand.

Even the half-sized instrument dwarfed me back then; I’d needed a step-stool to play it, a fact that had provided my orchestra classmates with endless amusement. The ridicule didn’t stop at school.

“Honey, isn’t that an odd choice of instrument for a girl to play?” my mother asked. Still petulant over my rejection of learning piano—her instrument of choice—in favor of the violin, she was immediately unsupportive of my new preference.

“Yes.” I glared at my mother and she rolled her eyes. She’d never lost her disdain of the instrument I came to love to play for the way it grounded and directed the rest of the orchestra. I also loved the disbelief on the faces of fellow contestants at regional competitions, their surety that I wasn’t as good as they were because of my gender—and the way I proved that I was better.

By the time I was fifteen, I’d reached my full five-and-a-half-foot stature and could perform with a three-quarter sized instrument, no height adjustment needed, though it was a close thing.

For the past year, I’d been giving lessons to local students—all of them boys—each of them some version of smug and impertinent until they heard me play.

Jacqueline,

Upright bass? Interesting.

I’m busy in the evenings this week, and most weekends as well. I don’t want you to lose time on this, so I’ll send you the project information later tonight, and we can discuss it over email until we can sync our schedules. Will that work for you?

LM

PS – I’ll keep you in mind if I buy a large appliance or need to move.

Landon,

Thank you, yes—that would be great. (Re: sending the project information, I mean, not your brazen resolution to use me for my truck’s hauling capacity. You’re no better than my friends! They dodge U-Haul rentals and delivery fees, and I get paid in beer.)

JW

Jacqueline,

I’ll send the project specifics when I get home, and we can discuss.

The barter system is just primitive economics at work, you know. (And are you old enough for beer?)

LM

Landon,

Far be it from me to knock an effective use of prehistoric economics. And I suppose friends who pay in beer are better than friends who don’t pay at all. (Re: my age—I don’t believe the job description of Economics Tutor makes you privy to that sort of personal information.)

JW

Jacqueline,

Touché. I’ll just have to trust you not to get me arrested for supplying alcohol to minors.

You’re right—impoverished, auto-lacking college students like myself should respect tried-and-true methods of transport negotiations.

LM

I smiled at his candid admission of being carless, my face falling when I contrasted it with the sense of self-importance Kennedy got from his car. Right before we graduated, his parents gave his two-year-old Mustang to his sixteen-year-old brother, who’d wrecked his Jeep the weekend before. As an early graduation gift, they replaced Kennedy’s Mustang with the brand new BMW—sleek and black, with every available upgrade, including plush leather seats and a stereo system I could hear from a block away.

Dammit. I had to stop linking every single thing that happened to me with Kennedy. Realization dawned then, that he was still my default. Over the past three years, we’d become each other’s habit. And though he’d broken his habit of me when he walked away, I’d not broken my habit of him. I was still tethering him to my present, to my future. The truth was, he now belonged only to my past, and it was time I began to accept it, as much as it hurt to do so.

***

As soon as we hit campus freshman year, Kennedy had pledged his father’s fraternity. Despite my boyfriend’s need for cliquish affiliation, I’d never shared that aspiration. He didn’t seem to mind when I said I preferred not to rush any sororities, as long as I supported his future-politician need for brotherhood. He told me once he sort of liked that I was a GDI girlfriend.

“A GDI? What’s that?”

He’d laughed and said, “It means you’re goddamned independent.”

When he walked out of my room almost three weeks ago, it hadn’t occurred to me that he was taking my carefully cultivated social circle with him. Minus my relationship with Kennedy, I had no automatic invitation to Greek parties or events, though Chaz and Erin could invite me to some stuff since I fell under the heading of acceptable things to bring to any party: alcohol and girls.

Awesome. I’d gone from an independent girlfriend to party paraphernalia.

Running into clusters of my former friends was uncomfortable at best. Just outside the main library, tables of frat boys sold coffee, juice and pastries every morning for a week to raise money for leadership training. Armed with portable grills, Tri-Delts camped out in tents on their lawn to showcase the plight of the homeless. (I suggested to Erin that most homeless people are unlikely to own portable Coleman grills and REI camping gear, and she snorted and said, “Yeah, I pointed that out. My warning fell on deaf ears.”)

I couldn’t leave my dorm and walk in any direction without passing people with whom I’d had uncomplicated relationships just days before. Now their eyes shifted away when I walked by, though some still smiled or waved before pretending to be deep in conversation with someone else. Even fewer called out, “Hi, Jackie.” I didn’t tell them I was no longer using that name.

At first, Erin insisted that the snubs were in my head, but after two weeks, she reluctantly concurred. “People feel the need to choose sides when a relationship splits—it’s human nature,” she said, her second-year psych classes kicking in. “Still. Cowards.” I appreciated that she was willing to ignore her detached analysis in support of me.