Home > Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(7)

Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(7)
Author: Tammara Webber


‘Yes, yes, Mr Maxfield, I think I am quite familiar with auto charging by this point.’ He laughed, still wheezing a bit. ‘This is a fortunate meeting, I think. I was mentally reviewing former students just this morning. I’ll be contacting a handful of these, inviting them to apply for a research project that begins next semester. Our objective is the development of durable soft materials to replace those normally damaged by thermodynamic forces – such as those used in drug delivery and tissue engineering.’

I knew all about Dr Aziz’s proposed research project – it had been animatedly discussed at last month’s Tau Beta Pi meeting with the sort of enthusiasm that only a bunch of engineering honour society nerds can supply.

‘You’re a senior, I believe?’

My brows rose and I nodded, but I was too stunned to reply.

‘Hmm. We’re primarily interested in juniors, as they’ll be around longer.’ He chuckled to himself before pursing his lips, watching me. ‘Nevertheless, the founding team of a project is critical, and I believe you could be an asset, if you’re interested. The position would be reflected as a special-projects course on your transcript, and we’ve received a grant, so we’re able to provide a small stipend to those ultimately chosen.’

Holy shit. I shook myself from my stupor. ‘I’m interested.’

‘Good, good. Email me tonight, and I’ll forward the official application. I am obliged to inform applicants that spots on the team are not guaranteed. They’ll be quite sought after, I imagine.’ He wasn’t kidding. A few of my peers would seriously consider pushing me into traffic to secure one. ‘But …’ He smiled conspiratorially. ‘I think you’d be a top candidate.’

When Heller gave the class their first exam, I had a day off from attending. Instead of sleeping in like a normal college student, I’d stupidly signed up for an extra campus PD shift. It was like I no longer had any idea how to chill out and do nothing. Between paid jobs, volunteer jobs and studying, I worked all the damned time.

The skies opened up around seven a.m., deluging the area with a surprise thunderstorm just in time to negate sunrise, so I bummed a ride with Heller instead of enduring a soggy, miserable drive to campus on my Sportster. After helping tote a box of books from his car to his office and agreeing on a time to leave for the day, I headed to the side exit.

The sun had emerged in the few minutes I’d been inside, granting a short reprieve from the rain, though trees and building overhangs still dripped fat drops on to the students trudging through puddles and hopping over miniature streams. Given the low, grey clouds gathering visibly overhead, I knew the sunburst would last five minutes tops, and hoped I could make it to the campus police building before the next downpour.

If the rain kept up – and all forecasts said that it would – I’d be stuck inside, answering phones and filing stacks of folders in the department’s wall of file cabinets instead of issuing parking citations. Lieutenant Fairfield was always behind on filing. I was half convinced he never filed anything. He simply waited for rainy days and unloaded the mind-numbing task on me. Strangely, I’d rather brave irate students, staff and faculty than be stuck inside all day.

And I won’t see Jackie Wallace at all today.

I willed my brain to shut up, sliding my sunglasses on and holding the door open for a trio of girls who ignored me, continuing their conversation as though I was a servant or a robot, installed there for the express purpose of opening the door for them. Damn this uniform.

Then I saw her, splashing through pools of water in aqua rain boots covered in yellow daisy outlines. I stood like a statue, still holding the door ajar, even though she was yards away and hadn’t noticed me – or anyone around her. I knew she’d be entering this door. She had an exam in econ in about one minute. There was no Kennedy Moore in sight.

Her book bag threatened to slide down her arm, and she hitched her shoulder higher while fumbling with an uncooperative umbrella that matched her boots. Her agitated body language and the fact that she’d never been late to class before – or arrived without her boyfriend – told me she was running behind this morning. Her umbrella refused to close. ‘Dammit,’ she muttered, giving it a hard shake while pushing the retract button repeatedly.

It folded shut a moment before she looked up to see me holding the door.

Her hair was damp. She wore no make-up, but the tips of her lashes were spiky – she’d clearly been caught in the rain on the way from her dorm or car. The combination of her wet skin, her proximity and the breath I took looking into her beautiful eyes nearly knocked me over. She smelled like honeysuckle – an aroma I knew well. My mother had encouraged a wall of it to vine over the tiny cottage in our backyard that she’d made into an art studio. Every summer, the trumpet-shaped blooms had infused the interior with their sweet scent, especially when she’d cranked the windows open. While Mom worked on projects for fall gallery showings, I sat across the scarred tabletop from her, sketching video-game characters or bugs or the innards of an inoperative appliance Dad gave me permission to take apart.

An astonished smile broke across Jackie’s face as she glanced up at me, replacing the scowl she’d given her wayward umbrella. ‘Thank you,’ she said, ducking through the open door.

‘You’re welcome,’ I replied, but she was already rushing away. Towards the class where I was the tutor. Towards the boyfriend who didn’t deserve her.

I hadn’t let myself want anything so impossible in a very long time.

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