Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(8)


by Tammara Webber

Erin tugged my arm as the line moved forward. “You’re botching our carefully crafted indifferent act, by the way. Not that I can blame you.” She sighed. “Maybe we should bail now before he—”

I glanced at her when she fell silent, and watched a devious smile cross her face as she turned to me.

“Keep looking at me,” she said, laughing as though we were having an amusing conversation. “He’s staring at you. And I mean staring. That boy is undressing you with his eyes. Can you feel it?” Her expression was triumphant.

Could I feel his stare? I can now, thanks, I thought. My face heated.

“Oh, my God, you’re blushing,” she whispered, her dark eyes widening.

“No shit.” My teeth were clenched, voice tight. “Stop telling me he’s—he’s—”

“Undressing you with his eyes?” She laughed again and I’d never wanted to kick her more. “Okay, okay—but J, do not worry. You’ve got this. I don’t know what you’ve done to him, but he’s ready to sit up and beg. Trust me.” She glanced in his direction. “Okay, he’s starting a new batch of coffee now. You can do your own staring.”

We stepped closer; there were only two people in front of us. I watched Lucas replace the filter, measure out the coffee, and set the controls. His green apron was haphazardly secured in the back—more of a knot than a bow. The ties drew my eyes to his hips in his worn, low-slung jeans, one pocket holding a wallet to which a loose chain was attached. It disappeared under the apron, linking to a front belt loop, no doubt.

He turned then, eyes on the second register as he punched buttons and brought it to life. I wondered if he planned to ignore me as I had him during class. It would serve me right, playing this game. Just as the guy in front of me began his detailed drink order to the girl at the first register, Lucas’s gaze swung up to meet mine. “Next?” The steel gray of his shirt set off the gray in his eyes, the blue disappearing. “Jacqueline.” He greeted me with a smirk, and I worried that he could read my mind, and the devious plans Erin had implanted in it. “Americano today, or something else?”

He remembered my drink order from a week ago.

I nodded, and he flashed a barely-there grin at my bemusement, ringing up the order and printing the cup with a sharpie. Instead of passing it to a coworker, though, he made the drink himself.

He added a protective sleeve and a lid and handed me the cup. I couldn’t read his trace of a smile. “Have a nice day.” Looking over my shoulder, he said, “Next?”

I joined Erin at the pick-up counter, confused and sulking.

“He made the drink for you?” She retrieved her drink and followed me to the condiment counter.

“Yeah.” I removed the lid and added sugar and milk while she shook cinnamon over her latte. “But he just handed it over like I was any other customer and took the next guy’s order.” We watched him interact with customers. He didn’t once glance my way.

“I could have sworn he was so into you he couldn’t see straight,” she mused as we left, rounding a corner to join the mass of people flowing through the student center.

“Hey, baby!” Chaz’s voice pulled both of us from our thoughts. He snatched Erin out of the flow of people and I followed, laughing at her delighted squeal until I noticed the guy standing next to him.

My face went hot, blood pounding in my ears. As our friends kissed hello and began talking about what time they each got off work tonight, Buck stared down at me, his mouth turning up on one side. My breath came in pants and I fought to keep the rising panic and nausea under control. I wanted to turn and run, but I was immobilized.

He couldn’t touch me here. He couldn’t hurt me here.

“Hey, Jackie.” His piercing gaze roamed over me and my skin crawled. “Lookin’ good, as always.” His words gushed flirtation, but all I felt was the threat underneath, intended or not.

The bruises had faded from his face, but weren’t entirely gone. One yellowish streak ringed his left eye, and another brushed along the right side of his nose like a pale smear. Lucas had given him those, and only the three of us knew it. I stared back, mute, the coffee clutched in my hand. I’d once thought this boy handsome and charming—the all-American veneer he wore fooling me as thoroughly as it fooled everyone else.

I raised my chin, ignoring my physical reaction to him, and the fear causing it. “It’s Jacqueline.”

He cocked one eyebrow, confused. “Huh?”

Erin grabbed my elbow. “Come on, hot stuff. Don’t you have art history in like five minutes?”

I stumbled slightly as I turned and followed her, and he issued a soft, taunting laugh as I passed him. “See you around, Jacqueline,” he teased.

My name in his mouth sent a tremor through me, and I trailed behind Erin into the sea of students. Once I could move, I couldn’t get away from him fast enough.

Chapter 6

Erin: Do you still have your coffee cup?

Me: Yes?

Erin: Take the sleeve off

Me: OMG

Erin: His phone number?

Me: How did you know???

Erin: I’m Erin. I know all. ;)

Erin: Actually, I just wondered why he wrote on your cup if he was going to make your drink.

If Erin hadn’t texted me during class, that cup, and his number, would have been pitched into the hallway wastebasket.

So… Lucas wasn’t writing an unnecessary drink order onto my cup, he was giving me his phone number. I entered it into my phone, wondering what I was meant to do with it. Call him? Text him?

I thought about what I knew of him: He’d come out of nowhere the night of the party. After putting a stop to the attack, some further protective trait had obliged him to see me safely back to the dorm. He’d somehow known my name that night—my nickname—but I’d never noticed him before.

He sat in the back row in economics, sketching or staring at me instead of paying attention to the lecture. Saturday night, the firm touch of his hands as we danced made my head swim, before he disappeared without explanation. He’d undressed me with his eyes, Erin said, in the middle of Starbucks—where he worked. He was cocky and self-sure. Tattooed and too hot for words. He looked and acted like the Bad Boy Erin and Maggie believed him to be.

And now, his number was programmed into my phone. It was as though he knew all about Operation Bad Boy Phase, and he was as willing and eager to fill that role as my friends believed he’d be.

But I didn’t know him. I didn’t know what he thought of me. If he thought of me. The girl talking to him after class last week wanted him. In the club, girls had openly stared as he passed, some of them turning around in his wake to assess him further. He could have danced with any of them, probably gone home with most of them. Why me?

***

Landon,

I’ve attached an outline of my research paper. If you have a chance, could you make sure it’s not too broad, or too focused? I’m not sure how many economies outside the US to include. Also, the J-curve is a little confusing. I get that we can see it after the fact, but isn’t economics based on prediction, like the weather? I mean, who cares if we can only see what happened after the fact - if the weather guy can’t predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, he’s probably going to get fired, right?

I did the worksheets, too. Sorry I’m sending you so much at once, and on a Monday. I should have sent it earlier, but I went out with some friends Saturday and didn’t get it done.

JW

Jacqueline,

No problem. I’m either working, studying or in class practically every waking hour. I hardly notice what day it is. I hope you enjoyed your night out.

I know I initially said I didn’t need details of your breakup (if that was rude, I didn’t mean it that way); it must have been bad to make you ditch class for two weeks. I can tell skipping is atypical for you.

I’ve attached a WSJ article that explains the J-curve better than the text. You’re exactly right, without the ability to predict, economics isn’t economics, it’s history. And while history has its place in the predictable probabilities of both economics and meteorology (clever analogy, btw), it’s hardly useful if you need to know whether or not to invest in foreign currency or bring your umbrella to school.

LM

I stared at the email, trying and failing to compare Landon to Lucas. They seemed as opposite as night and day, but I only knew half of each of them. I didn’t know much about Lucas beyond his striking looks and his ability to beat the shit out of someone. During art history, I’d found myself wondering what would have happened in that interaction with Buck, if Lucas had been with me. I wondered if Buck would have dared to look at me like that. To say what he’d said: Lookin’ good. The thought of Buck’s cold eyes examining me made my stomach turn.

Feeling shallow for caring, I speculated again what Landon might look like, and how much impact that might have on what I thought of him. His compliments made me stare at my laptop and smile. He’d said my ex was a moron, and now he seemed to be interested in our breakup. In me. That, or I was reading too much into it.

Landon,

We were together almost three years. I never saw it coming. I followed him here to school, instead of trying for a performing arts school. My orchestra teacher nearly had a stroke when I told him. He pleaded with me to audition at Oberlin or Julliard, but I didn’t. I can’t blame anyone but myself. I trusted my future to my HS boyfriend, like an idiot. Now I’m stuck somewhere I’m not supposed to be. I don’t know if I just believed that much in him, or that little in myself. Either way, pretty freaking stupid, huh? So there’s my weepy little story.

Thank you for the article.

JW

Jacqueline,

Not stupid. Overly trusting, maybe, but that reflects on his lack of trustworthiness, not on your intelligence. As for being somewhere you’re not supposed to be – maybe you’re here for a reason, or there is no reason. As a scientist, I lean toward the latter. Either way, you’re off the hook. You made a decision; now you make the best of it. That’s all you can do, right? On that note, I’m off to study for a statistical mechanics quiz. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to prove scientifically that your ex isn’t worthy of you, and you’re exactly where you should be.

LM

***

When Erin came through the door, I was half-asleep and surrounded by conjugated Spanish verbs printed on colored index cards. I scooped most of them up just before she bounced onto the edge of my bed.

“So? Did you call him or text him? Did you use the stuff we went over? What did he say?”

I sighed. “Neither.”

She lay back on the bed, flinging her arms wide dramatically as I snatched up cards before she creased them. “You chickened out.”

I stared at the cards in my hand. Yo habré, tú habrás, él habrá, nosotros habremos… “Yeah, maybe.”

“Hmm. You know, this is better. Don’t call. Make him chase you.” She laughed at my creased brow. “Guys like Chaz are so much easier. Hell, I could tell him to chase me and he would.”

We laughed at the visual that produced, because it was probably true. I thought about Kennedy. About what kind of guy he was. He’d chased me in the beginning, but he didn’t have to try very hard to catch me. I was swept off my feet by him, swept along in his dreams and plans, because he’d made me part of them. Until a few weeks ago.

“Aw, shit, J. I know what you’re doing. Don’t think about him. I’m gonna make some cocoa. Get back to—” she sat up, picking up a card I’d not grabbed hastily enough, “—ugh, Spanish verbs.”

Erin filled mugs with tap water in the bathroom and stuck them in the microwave to heat. I stared at the blurry cards in my hand. Damn Kennedy. Damn him, damn him. It would serve him right to see me with someone like Lucas. Someone so different, but equally hot. More so, if I started calculating details.