Home > Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(4)

Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(4)
Author: Tammara Webber

Participating in class. I didn’t raise my hand. I wasn’t ever called on. Pretty simple termination.

Sleeping. I still slept, sort of. But I woke up a lot. I had nightmares, but not obvious ones. Most often, I fell. Out of the sky. Off a building, a bridge, a cliff. Arms windmilling and legs kicking futilely. Sometimes, I dreamed about bears and sharks and carnivorous dinosaurs. Sometimes, I dreamed about drowning. One thing was constant: I was always alone.


On hot days, I missed having the beach right outside my door. Even if the air had been saturated with humidity and the sand had been grassy and irregular, the gulf had always been there, cool waves lapping against the shore like a come-hither murmur.

For the past three years, I’d lived four hours inland. If I had the desire to submerge myself in a body of water, I had two choices: the Hellers’ pool or the lake. There was little solitude to be found at either.

The lake was perpetually crowded with tourists and townies alike, and Carlie’s friends still hung out at the house almost daily, lounging in the pool’s deckchairs as they had all summer. The absolute last thing I needed was a gaggle of very underage girls trying to net my attention just because I was the only non-dad male in the vicinity. Cole had been the object of their interest all summer, much to his sister’s disgust. But he left two weeks ago to follow in his mom’s footsteps at Duke, and Caleb was only eleven – as young to all of them as they were to me.

They failed to perceive the correlation.

Growing progressively paler over the past few years made my ink stand out even more. I’d begun with the complex patterns that wrapped my wrists, and they’d become sleeves, primarily composed of my own designs. Combined with the pierced lip and the longish dark hair, I more closely resembled a guy who thrives on depressive music and darkness than the beach-dwelling adolescent I was when I first got the tattoos and piercings.

In high school I’d sported multiple piercings – an ear stud, a barbell through an eyebrow and a nipple ring – in addition to the lip ring. Dad hated them, and my small-town high-school principal alleged they were all signs of deviance and an antisocial disposition. I didn’t bother arguing.

Once I left home, I’d pulled them all out but the one through the edge of my lip – the most conspicuous one.

I figured Heller would ask me, Why leave that one? But he never did. Maybe he’d known the answer without me vocalizing it – that I was categorically messed up and far from concerned with fitting in. To ordinary people, my lip piercing indicated the opposite of approachability. It was a self-erected barrier, and it served as a warning that pain wouldn’t deter me – that I welcomed it, even.

Class had been in session for two weeks. Against my better judgement – what was left of it – I studied Jackie Wallace. Her brown hair fell in soft waves several inches past her shoulder, unless she twisted it into a knot with a hair tie or a clip or glossed it back into a ponytail that made her look Carlie’s age. She had large blue eyes – an unclouded wildflower blue. Brows that furrowed deeply when she was annoyed or concentrating, and arched in repose – which made me wonder what they did when she was surprised. Average height. Slim, but still curvy.

Her fingernails were short and unpolished. I never saw her chew them, so I decided she must keep them filed down intentionally, the better to conduct those symphonies in her head and allow her hands to simulate the instrumental movements. I wanted to put on earphones and plug into her and know what she was hearing when her fingers performed. I even grew curious about which instrument she played – as though I’d know the difference between a cello and a viola by ear.

There’s this fallacy that if you’re artistic, you’re arty and creative in your approach to everything. True for some – like my mother – but not for all. When I was younger, people were confused that I didn’t play an instrument or paint or write poetry. But I’ve only ever been artistic in one way. Drawing. That’s it. Even my tattoos are the result of paper and pencil sketches transferred from my notebook to the tattoo artist’s ink, injected under my skin.

After absorbing a mind-numbing chapter about sensor calibration for measurements lab, I returned my textbook to my backpack and pulled out my sketchpad. Fifteen minutes of Heller’s class remained. My eyes strayed to Jackie Wallace, sitting several rows down, chin in hand. Without conscious intention, my hand began sketching her. The sweeping rudimentary lines were there before I knew what I was doing. I couldn’t capture her moving fingers within the confines of a sheet of paper, so I caught her paying attention to the lecture – or seeming to.

‘Those of you who aren’t planning to major in economics might ask yourself, “Why should I waste my time studying economics?’’ ’ Heller said. I sighed, knowing what came next. I knew his whole routine inside out. ‘Because when you’re filing for unemployment, at least you’ll know why.’

A few predictable groans rose from his captive audience. I admit that I held back an eye roll, stemming from the fact that I was now four semesters familiar with this particular spiel. But Jackie smiled, the corner tip of her mouth just visible from my spot in the back, along with the upward arch of her cheek.

So. She liked corny jokes.

And her boyfriend was one of the groaners.

My first tutoring session of the semester was this afternoon. Two weeks into any given semester, most students are still full of early-semester optimism, even if they’re already falling behind. It was possible I’d only have a handful of students show today – or none.

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