Home > Sweet (Contours of the Heart #3)(10)

Sweet (Contours of the Heart #3)(10)
Author: Tammara Webber

My chest felt like it was being crushed. Like someone heavy was sitting on me, pressing me flat as a waffle. Was that boy sitting on me? It hurt too much. I would have to wake up after all and push him off.

I sat up and my eyes opened and I threw up all over myself, but the puke was all water. I coughed and coughed, more water coming out. He was above me, looking down at me. His hair was cropped short, but so red in the sun it seemed to be on fire. His face wasn’t mean. His eyes were full of tears, and I felt his hand, holding mine. I knew he was sorry, not bad news. I tried to tell him I forgave him, but I couldn’t speak because my chest hurt and my throat was sore, so I squeezed his hand, and he held mine tighter. That’s when I noticed there were people all around us, applauding and laughing.

I didn’t think anything was funny, and neither did he. Miss Eilish, my Daisy leader, was crying, and she repeated my name about twenty times before thanking the boy and telling him he was a hero.

We got our pictures in the paper. I cut out the story and the photo with our names listed below—Boyce Wynn and Pearl Torres. It’s still in the back of my first school yearbook, the newsprint yellowed, ink faded.

Afterward, I saw him sometimes at school, but I was two years behind him, so his classroom was in a different hallway and his class’s lunch table was four tables away from mine. All his friends were other boys. They played basketball or football on the playground while I took my turn on the swings or played chase on the grass or hunted for frogs near the drainpipes after it had rained.

A year passed, and we didn’t talk or say hello. I figured he’d forgotten who I was until the day one of his friends took the playground ball my friends and I were using to practice soccer.

“Give it back!” I yelled, my fists knotted at my sides.

“Us boys need this for kickball,” the boy said, laughing. “Go play with dolls or something.”

Boyce walked up. “Quit being a dick, Rick,” he said, punching the ball from his friend’s grip, bouncing it once on the packed ground before tossing it back to us.

“What’d you do that for, asstard?” his friend shot back, because boys liked to cuss out on the playground where the teachers couldn’t hear. “They’re just dumb girls.”

Boyce looked right at me then. “No they’re not.” His mouth didn’t smile, but his eyes did. He scanned the playground, zeroing in on a group of boys kicking a ball back and forth while heckling some girls sitting in the gravel beneath the monkey bars. “Let’s go steal that ball from Clark Richards. Maybe he’ll cry again.”

“Yeah!” the other guys said, tearing off toward them.

“Thank you, Boyce,” I said as he turned.

“You’re welcome, Pearl,” he answered softly, not looking back.

• • • • • • • • • •

After shooting down Boyce’s one-lining friend, Melody’s mood improved. From her standpoint, even unwelcome attention had always been better than no attention. After explaining the responsibilities of a junior account executive at a public relations firm, she poked a lime slice into the neck of her Dos Equis bottle and shrugged. “So basically I’ll be coordinating social media publicity for our housewares and pet-products clients.”

Housewares and pet products? I couldn’t think of anything that said Melody less.

“I won’t just be posting stuff on Twitter or whatever. I’ll be directing the production of market-savvy graphics that will be used for all the major social media channels.”

For housewares and pet products. Her words sounded more like justification than new-career enthusiasm. Public relations was a long way from Melody’s dream job when we were sixteen. She’d wanted to work in a museum or gallery, helping curate collections, discovering new talent, unearthing works of genius by historically overlooked artists.

“That’s great, Mel. I’m sure they’re thrilled to have you.”

“Damn right they are.” Her smile seemed counterfeit, and I wondered if that’s how I’d have looked on my way to med school. “What about you? My best friend’s going to be a doctor! Better you than me, girl. I am so relieved to be done with school. You’ll have to come to Dallas some weekend, and we can go out for real.” She glanced around the Saloon like it was a dump, and I realized she saw our entire hometown that way and had for a while.

I shifted and took a deep breath. “Yeah, about that. I decided I don’t want to be a medical doctor after all.”

Melody arched a brow. “But you got into Vanderbilt! And what else would you do?”

“You know I’ve always been interested in marine science…”

She stared. “Pearl—you can’t be serious! You got into a top medical school. Do you know how many people are smart enough to even get into med school at all?”

About twenty thousand a year, I thought.

“And oh God. Your mama will shit a brick if you drop out.”

“This is my life, Mel, not my mother’s.” We both knew what I wasn’t saying. Aside from small, aimless rebellions, Melody followed the path her parents expected of her. Her previous relationship had ended when her boyfriend admitted that he had no plans to give her a ring after graduation, a discussion that had only occurred because her mother began dropping wedding hints over winter break, like the next plot point on the map of her daughter’s life—one she controlled.

Still, I wished I could take the words back. We’d been friends for a long time, and I had no room to judge. “I’ve already declined the acceptance. But hey, it’s not dropping out if I never start, right?” I smiled, hoping for commiseration, at least, not disapproval. I anticipated plenty of that from my parents.

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