Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(9)


by Tammara Webber

Operation Bad Boy Phase was on. But I wasn’t calling Lucas, or texting him. If Erin was right—if he was a chaser—he’d not done enough chasing, yet.

When she handed me the mug, I took a deep breath and smiled. She’d piled mine with marshmallows from the little stash of them we both occasionally dug into without bothering to make cocoa. “So if I don’t text him, what’s next?”

She smiled and squeaked a triumphant little squeal. “He must be digging the good girl thing you’ve got going on…” Her eyes widened. “Jacqueline—maybe he’d noticed you in class before the breakup. You changed seats, right? Making it obvious you two broke up. This is perfect.” I was back to confused and she was laughing. “He’s already chasing you. Now all you have to do is keep running. Just not too fast.”

I licked chocolate from my upper lip. “Erin, you’re dangerous.”

She smiled wickedly. “I know.”

***

Wednesday, I got to the classroom before the 8:00 class let out. As soon as most of the students had filed out the door, I slipped in and took my seat, determined not to pay attention to Lucas when he came in. To that end, I flipped through my index cards, though I was more than ready to ace the quiz in Spanish.

When Benji slid into his seat on my left, I didn’t pause in my review. I refused to be distracted from not paying attention to Lucas’s seat, and whether or not he was in it.

“Hey, Jacqueline.” That wasn’t Benji’s voice.

The seats were bolted to the floor, with right-handed desktops. Lucas leaned slightly over the side of Benji’s, pushing into the very margin of my space. My breath caught, and I focused on letting it out, appearing unaffected. “Oh, hi.”

He bit his lower lip once, briefly. “I guess you didn’t notice the phone number on your coffee cup.”

I glanced at my phone, sitting on the edge of my textbook. “I noticed.” I watched his reaction, knowing I was practically telling him to chase me.

He smiled, his light eyes crinkling slightly at the corners, and I tried not to swoon visibly. “I see. Turnabout is fair play. How ’bout you give me yours?”

I arched a brow at him. “Why? Do you need help in economics?”

He bit his lip in earnest that time, stifling a laugh. “Hardly. What makes you think that?”

I frowned. Could I be attracted to a guy who cared so little about doing well in class? “I guess it’s not my business.”

He leaned his chin into the palm of his hand. The tips of his fingers were tinged with gray, probably from drawing with that pencil sitting over his ear. “I appreciate your concern, but I want your number for reasons completely unrelated to economics.”

I picked up my phone and found his number, and sent him a text that said: Hi.

“Dude, you’re in my seat.” Benji’s tone was matter-of-fact, but unperturbed.

Lucas’s phone vibrated in his hand, and he smiled as my text popped up, giving him my number. “Thanks.” He unfolded himself from the chair and addressed Benji. “Sorry, man.”

“No prob.” Benji was one of the most easygoing people I’d ever met. His attitude said slacker, but I’d gotten a look at the midterm crammed into his notebook—he’d made a high B, and for all his talk about skipping class and sleeping in, he’d yet to miss one. After Lucas sauntered back to his seat, Benji leaned over the edge of his desktop, closer than Lucas had. “So what was that about?” His eyebrows rocked up and down and I tried not to grin.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” I replied, fluttering my lashes in my best Southern belle impersonation.

“Careful, little lady,” he drawled. “That fella seems a bit dangerous.” He shook a too-long curl out of his eyes, smiling. “Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of danger.”

My lips pinched into half a smile. “True.”

I congratulated myself for taking a singular peek over my shoulder, halfway through the fifty-minute class. Lucas wasn’t looking at me, so I couldn’t help staring. Pencil in hand, he was sketching intently, first shading and then carefully smearing with his thumb. His dark hair fell around his face as he concentrated on his work, the lecture and the classroom disregarded as though he was alone in his room. I imagined him sitting on his bed, knees up, pad balanced on his thighs. I wondered what he was sketching. Or who.

He glanced up and caught my gaze. Held it.

His mouth pulled into that ghost of a smile and he stretched his neck and rolled his shoulders, returning my stare. Glancing at the pad, he tapped the end of his pencil against it and sprawled back in his seat, lashes fanning down as he examined his work.

Dr. Heller finished the chart he was free-handing onto the whiteboard, and the lecture resumed. Lucas tucked the pencil over his ear and picked up a pen. Before shifting his attention to our professor, he smiled at me again, and a jolt of excitement shot through me.

At the end of class, a different girl than last week intercepted him on his way out the door, and I bolted without a backward look. My adrenaline kicked in, my body sensing my need to escape and giving wings to it. Glancing over my shoulder, I ducked through the side exit and slowed down, feeling silly. Erin and Maggie insisted that I should elude his grasp for a few days more, and make him pursue me—but he wasn’t going to literally give chase.

I texted Erin that I’d be getting crap coffee in the cafeteria before my afternoon class instead of going by the Starbucks. She texted back: GENIUS. I’ll meet you there. Sisters in solidarity and all that shit.

***

By the end of art history, I was beginning to doubt Erin’s notion that Lucas wanted to play this game. Maybe he wasn’t a dog. Or I wasn’t a cat. Or I was just really bad at this. I sighed, stuffing my phone into my bag. I’d clicked it to check for a message at least thirty times during class.

I’d always disparaged the games people played in pursuit of love—or the next hook up. The whole thing was a competition to see who could get how far, and I could never figure out if there was more luck or skill involved, or some unknowable combination of the two. People rarely said what they thought, or revealed how they felt. No one was honest.

Easy for me to say, from my high horse of the perfect relationship with Kennedy. Erin had called me on that months ago, when I told her she was being ridiculous over a guy—plotting to decipher what he wanted from a girl before systematically breaking down his defenses. I had to admit she was right. I had no idea what it was like to be a young, single adult, so I wasn’t entitled to judge.

Until now.

This angst was absurd, but I couldn’t shake it. He’d stared at me in class. I felt confident when I left economics, and miserable now. Why? Because he hadn’t shoved the redhead out of his way at the end of econ to come after me? Because he hadn’t texted me at some point during the barely three and a half hours since I’d seen him? That didn’t even make sense.

By the time I was heating soup in the microwave for dinner, I’d resigned myself to having failed at keeping Lucas’s interest. I pushed the pretty girl who’d rushed up to him at the end of the class from my mind, once I started imagining him leaving the class holding her hand, or more. “Dumbass,” I muttered at myself.

From the end of my bed, my laptop dinged an email alert, and an answering flutter came from my stomach. It was probably nothing—a notice about flu shots from the health center, or another note from one of my old high school friends, who were all “so devastated” that Kennedy and I were over (which they all figured out when he changed his Facebook relationship status—twenty minutes after he’d broken up with me).

I’d disabled my account immediately, and had yet to reinstate it. The thought of seeing his glib status updates and having photos of him pop up in my feed was demoralizing. Even if I hid him, we knew too many of the same people. There’d be no hiding his activities completely. I began getting sympathetic and condescending emails and texts the next day, so I was justifiably apprehensive whenever I checked my inbox.

Cringing, I pulled it up… and smiled.

Jacqueline,

Are you going to make it to the session tomorrow (Thursday)? In case you won’t, I’ve attached the worksheet I’m planning to go over. It’s new, separate stuff, and you needn’t be completely caught up to get it. (Speaking of, you should be all caught up within a week or so.)

LM

PS – I’ve been thinking about that proof I spoke of last time – that you’re where you’re supposed to be. And it occurred to me, can you prove you’d be better off somewhere else? If you’d have left the state, your relationship would have ended still. Maybe you’d have even blamed yourself, not knowing that it was doomed because of him, either way. Instead, you’re here. You got dumped, skipped class, and met the best econ tutor at the university! Who knows, maybe I’ll make you fall in love with economics. (What’s your major, btw?)

Landon,

I’m a music education major. I hate that saying: "Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach." As a tutor, I know that’s BS. Still. I wanted to do. I imagined joining a symphony orchestra, or a progressive jazz band… And instead, I’m going to teach.

I won’t be at your session – I have lessons with my middle school boys tomorrow. (I think I’d be more impressive to them if I could fart the scales instead of plucking them on the bass.)

Sorry to inform you, but I plan to make it through this class and be done with econ. No reflection on your genius tutoring skills, I swear. Thank you for the worksheet. You’re too kind.

JW

Jacqueline,

If you want to do, then do. What’s stopping you?

So I’m kind, huh? Never heard that before. People usually think I’m a pretentious a-hole. I must admit, I tend to encourage that estimation. So please promise to keep your opinion to yourself. Reputations can be ruined so easily, you know. ;)

LM

PS – Do the worksheet. Before Friday. I’m giving you a very serious look through this screen. DO THE WORKSHEET. If you have problems with any of the material, let me know.

Landon,

What’s stopping me? Well, I’ve blown the chance to go to a serious music school. And I’m stuck in a state that doesn’t always foster the arts (something I’ll probably spend my entire teaching career fighting). It seems impossible to go out now and “do.” I guess I should rethink that.

Your secret geniality is safe. My lips are sealed.

JW

PS – I’m DOING the worksheet, but I’m giving you a very petulant look through my screen. Slave driver. Sheesh.

I was grinning when I clicked send. Maybe I was playing an entirely different game of chase, and Lucas and his infuriatingly enigmatic smile could take a flying leap. Erin and Maggie could keep their make-him-chase-you advice and use it themselves, because I, apparently, sucked at it in real life. Through email, though… My happy expression slid away as I realized the stark truth—I was flirting with someone online. I had no idea what he looked like, or what type of person he was.

That wasn’t exactly true. I knew exactly what type of person he was, even though I’d never laid eyes on him. He was kind. And intelligent. And straightforward.

Of course, he hadn’t beaten a would-be ra**st to a bloody pulp for me. Or made my insides melt when he put his hands on my waist. He probably didn’t have tattoos on his arms or glacier-gray-blue eyes and a liquefying stare.

At 10:00 pm, my phone trilled a text alert.

Lucas: Hi :)

Me: Hi :)

Lucas: What’s up?

Me: Nothing. Homework.

Lucas: I wanted to talk to you after class, but you disappeared.

Me: I have another class right after. One of those profs who stops talking, stares at you and waits until you get to your seat if you’re late.