Home > Damaged (Damaged #1)(13)

Damaged (Damaged #1)(13)
Author: H.M. Ward

Dusty’s words echo in my mind, wakening memories long buried. I clutch the side of my face and sputter, “Oh, come on, yourself. Not every guy is a bastard, Dusty. Isn’t it possible that some poems were written because they were cathartic and had nothing to do with panties?”

He says something back. A few guys chuckle. I close my eyes hard, but the classroom tilts to the side. It doesn’t stop. Dusty’s words ring in my ear, as a buzzing sound grows louder. What the hell is the matter with me? It’s just a letter. Dusty’s just a dick. I already know that. Nothing is going to hurt me, but I feel so threatened. I chase away the panic that’s consuming me and finally hear Dusty again. “…they did it then and they do it now. Guys don’t write poems for themselves. They do it to get laid. If they need an emotional outlet, they punch shit.”

For some reason, this conversation dredges up everything. Before I know what’s happening, I’m gasping, clutching my desk so hard that my fingers turn white. Peter is watching me. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t silence Dusty. I stare at Peter’s shoe and try to take long steady breaths. I’m going to have an anxiety attack and freak out in class. My heart is pounding, beating way too fast. A bead of sweat drips next to my ear and rolls down my jaw.

Peter cuts off the conversation. “So all the men in this room feel that way?” I hear movement, but don’t look up. “Very well. For the rest of this class period you are to go to the library and write a poem. It cannot be for a woman and it has to be an expression of emotion. It’s due on my desk at the end of the period. Bring it back here. Got it?” There’s a lot of groaning, and then the sound of chairs moving.

I try to push back and stand, but I barely move before Peter says, “Sidney, I need to speak with you. Stay put for a moment.”

Peter follows the class out of the room, and answers a few questions, telling them to return at 9:20pm with the poem. He tells them if they put in the effort, they get credit. No, length doesn’t matter. A few guys snigger about the size not mattering. Peter responds by telling them that they have to turn in two poems. I hear curses and then silence.

No one is in the room. At some point, I laid my head on the desk and closed my eyes.

“Sidney?” Peter’s voice is gentle. When I open my eyes, he’s kneeling in front of my desk. His eyes sweep over my face, worried. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. “Are you all right?”

I sit up and nod. “Sorry. I don’t know what…”

Peter’s gaze is filled with concern. He reads me perfectly. He knows that I’m lying. I see it in that sad crooked smile he gives me. “You don’t have to tell me anything. I just wanted to make sure you were all right. You’re still pale. Sit for a while.” Peter stands and walks over to his bag, and pulls out a Hershey bar. He walks back to me and holds it out. “Here, eat this.”

I take it and sit up straighter. I’m hoping I can blame this on low blood sugar. “You carry around chocolate in your briefcase?”

He smirks as I bite into it. “Maybe. Truth is, that was going to be my dinner.”

“Oh.” I go to hand it back to him. There’s a big bite mark in it. I have a huge mouth. Peter’s hands brush against mine. Gently, he pushes the candy back to me.

“You finish it.” His hands are still on mine. Peter looks into my face, trying to catch my gaze. “What set you off? It was as if you were somewhere else for a minute.”

I don’t look at him. Shoving the candy bar in my mouth, I bite down. The chocolate tastes like sand. I can’t think about it. I try to push away the past, but I’m caught in a bear hug. The beast has left the leash. I’m speaking. I don’t know why, but I nod. “I was. I’m sorry. It reminded me of something.”

Peter squeezes my hands. I glance up at him and our eyes lock. My stomach flutters. He holds my gaze and doesn’t look away. Peter breathes, and his voice is so soft. “Can I help you?” My gaze shifts back and forth between his blue eyes. I press my lips together and fight off the emotions he’s making me feel. I can’t feel them. Not now. Not ever. I shake my head so softly that I hardly move.

A sad smile moves across Peter’s lips. “I wish I could.” I say nothing. I can’t speak. I have no voice. I just stare at his dark blue eyes. It feels as though I let the lifeboat sail away. I’m drowning in a sea of pain. He reached out, but I can’t take his hand. I can’t tell him what happened, and he can’t fix it. Even if Peter knows, no one can change the past.

A girl walks in behind him. I barely notice her. “Dr. Granz?”

Peter startles and turns around. The girl doesn’t think his behavior is strange, but Peter is too nervous. I see it. I see the way his shoulders tense, the way he slips his hands into his pockets, and the way he steps between us. She’s holding her text book, asking something about Iambic Pentameter and rhyme schemes. He tells her that neither is required for the assignment. The girl’s head nearly blows up.

Peter answers her questions as I finish my candy bar. When I’m done, I go to stand up. Peter points at me and says, “I can’t let you leave. Sit. Finish the assignment in here.”

“I’m fine,” I protest, but my voice is wrong. It doesn’t come out when I try to speak at a normal volume.

The girl looks back at me. “You look feverish. Do you need an aspirin or something? I have one in my purse.”

“No, thanks, I’m okay.” Aspirin won’t fix what’s wrong with me.

The girl nods and walks to the door. Before she leaves, she looks back. “Better do what he says or you’ll end up in the nurse’s office overnight. I’ve done that before and it sucks. The cots are horrible.”

I nod and watch her walk away. Glancing at Peter, I say, “I’m fine. Really.”

“You’re a horrible liar. Just sit and write your poem. I won’t bother you.”

I want to say that he always bothers me. I want to say that he’s a huge distraction, but I don’t. I roll my eyes and pull out a sheet of paper. I start writing without thinking. It isn’t until I’m done that I realize what I’ve written.

I’m staring at the page when Peter looks up at me from his desk. “Done already?”

I laugh. “No. I’m going to rewrite it.” I crumple up the page and toss it. The paper sails through the air and bounces off the side of the trash can by the door, and falls on the floor. I jump out of my seat at the same time as Peter. We both head toward the paper, but Peter gets it first.

He smoothes it out. “I’m sure it’s fine. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The purpose was to—”

My stomach is crawling up my throat, and ice is dripping down my spine. I’m stupid. I’m so stupid. I could act like it’s nothing and maybe he won’t even read it. But I know if I fight with him, if I try to take the paper back, he’ll know how messed up I am—he’ll know the things on the paper are more than just a creative exercise. Why did I write that?

Peter’s smile fades as his eyes fall to the page in his hands. He stills. His eyes don’t move. It doesn’t look like he’s reading, but I know he sees it. Peter lifts his gaze slowly. I’m holding one arm with my hand, digging my nails in so hard I’ll draw blood. “Sidney—”

“I don’t… ” my mouth is open, but the rest of the words won’t come. Deny it. Say that it doesn’t mean anything. Say it. But I can’t. I can’t even look at him. I don’t say anything. I’m trembling even though I try not to move. It’s like a chill has swallowed me whole. I’m frozen. Every muscle in my body is locked. I can’t speak, I can’t move. This shouldn’t have happened. I can’t handle it.

Peter is staring at me with his eyes so big and blue. If he didn’t see straight through me before, he does now. Peter looks at the paper in his hands. His grip is loose, as if the poem might bite him. “I had no idea...”

“Stop.” My voice shakes. I curse my body, curse the memories that never fade away. “Don’t, okay? It’s nothing.” I don’t look at his eyes. My gaze is locked on Peter’s chest. If I look into his face, I’ll crumble. “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a bunch of words on a piece of paper.”

I try to sound as though it’s nothing, as if I write intense poems all the time. I pretend that I didn’t just bleed my heart out onto a sheet of loose leaf. What the f**k is wrong with me? I pretend. I throw on my fake smile and stare at his shoes. I try to lift my gaze, but it feels like there’s an elephant sitting on my head.

“That’s not what this is.” Peter’s eyes are locked on my face. I’m breathing too fast, but every time I try to slow it down, it just gets worse.

“How would you know what it is or what it isn’t?” I look up at him. Mistake. His expression, those haunted blue eyes, the curve of his mouth, the way he looks at me—it’s like he knows. My fingers twitch by my sides. “I’m not standing here. I’m not having this conversation with you. I don’t have to listen to you pretend to care about me.” I turn around to grab my books. I gather them into my arms and head toward the door.

Just as I’m about to pull it open, Peter says, “I’m not pretending.”

His eyes are on my back. My spine is so stiff and so brittle. There’s too much pressure on me. I’m cracking, splintering in a million different directions at once. There’s not one weak spot anymore. Weakness consumes me whole. “Don’t say things like that to me.”

Peter steps closer. I hear his steps traveling toward me. Slowly, he takes another step. His voice catches in his throat when he speaks. “I didn’t mean to hurt you that night. I wasn’t myself—”

“Neither was I. It’s fine.”

“But it’s not.” Peter’s directly behind me. I won’t turn. It doesn’t matter what he says. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. “I didn’t know, then. I didn’t know how smart you are. I didn’t know you hide behind that sharp tongue. I didn’t know why you were down here, and I had no idea why you sat down at my table, but I was glad you did. I’ve thought about that night over and over again. I wonder what would have happened to us if the phone didn’t ring. I wonder what it would feel like to hold you again. I think things that I shouldn’t. I dream things that I shouldn’t. I want things that I shouldn’t and it’s all because of one reason—I do care about you.”

I gasp as if someone punched me in the stomach. I hold onto the door to keep from falling over. I look over my shoulder at him. Peter means what he says. I see it in his eyes. Chills race over my skin. I stand there too long, staring at him in shock.

Peter taps the wrinkled paper in his hand. “Please tell me that this didn’t happen in the last few weeks. Tell me that this isn’t because of something that I did.”

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