Home > Damaged (Damaged #1)(8)

Damaged (Damaged #1)(8)
Author: H.M. Ward

Tia choses that moment to say, “I heard Tadwick’s replacement already called you into his office. What’d you do?”

“Way to be tactless, Tia.” Millie scolds, shaking her head and spearing more greens onto her fork.

“Who told you that?” I ask, not caring that Tia’s blunt.

“Marshal. He was in a mood after class. He said something about how you pissed off Dr. Grant—”

“Granz,” I correct.

“Yeah, him, and how you pissed him off already. Seriously, Sidney, what’d you do?” Tia leans forward. She’s sitting across from me and hasn’t touched her food.

I shrug and paint my plate red with the half eaten corndog. Ketchup streaks across the white dish in wide arcs while I tell them, “I don’t know. Granz just seems mean. He probably wants to make a point with me or something stupid like that. You know how teachers are hard-asses on their first day.” That’s usually true. It sets the tone for the rest of the year. A professor who’s a pushover on day one, is a doormat on day two.

Millie’s eyes have been burning a hole in the side of my face. “Well, in light of today sucking, I think we should end the night with some margaritas.”

“You always want to end the night with margaritas,” I respond, still not looking at her. My ketchup resembles a disturbing Van Gogh painting. I could call it, The Missing Ear.

“Well, you’ve needed one lately. Take a hint already.” Millie’s back straightens and she looks straight ahead. Tia ducks her head and eats her food, not looking at either of us.

“Take a hint? What are you talking about?” Millie says nothing. She just looks at me like I should know, but I don’t get it. “Come on Millie, if you’ve got something to say, say it.” I’ve dropped my corndog, sensing a verbal bitch-slap coming on.

She looks as thought she’s going to say something and then thinks better of it. Instead, Millie shakes her head and says, “It’s nothing.”

“No, come on—tell me.”

“I really shouldn’t—”

“Just say it!”

“Fine!” she shouts way too loud for her little body. Blonde curls bouncing, she grips the table and yells, “Nothing makes you happy. Everything I do is wrong. Every guy is wrong. Everyone is wrong. Jeeze, Sidney! You ever stop to wonder if it’s you? I mean, when that many things are wrong, maybe you are the one who’s wrong? Maybe you are the one that doesn’t fit.”

I blink at her. This is as much of an argument as I’ve ever gotten from Millie. On another day, I could have brushed it off. On another day, I might have laughed and agreed with her—but not today.

I stand up and grab my tray. I walk away without speaking. Millie’s words cut me to the core, because out of all the things that are wrong with me, that’s the one that’s been hanging around my neck like a noose. I don’t fit anywhere. Maybe I pretend that’s okay, but it’s not. The isolation makes me crazy. I feel as if I’ve been drifting on a crappy little blow-up boat, and my best friend just popped it.

Millie’s voice rings out behind me, but I don’t stop. I dump my tray with my half-eaten food and leave. Pushing through the doors to the campus center, I step outside into the warm afternoon air. I walk fast and hard, not thinking about where I’m going. I just go.

When I stop, I’m standing at the bottom of a grand staircase at the front of the oldest building on campus. No one uses the stairs. There are too many of them. Everyone enters the building through the back and takes the elevator. I climb the steps until I’m close to the top and sit at the foot of a massive pillar. I pull my knees into my chest and wrap my arms around them.

There are no words sometimes. There’s nothing to say to make things better.

There’s an hour to kill before class. Then, I have to haul myself back to the English building and face Peter. I lower my forehead to my knees.

Why do bad things always seem to happen in threes? Is there some cosmic law that I don’t know about? First Peter, then Tadwick, and then what? There’ll be a third thing, probably my job. Peter will most likely want to replace me with someone that he hasn’t seen half-naked. My mind wanders. I think about his eyes, his face. I can’t believe Peter has a doctorate. He doesn’t look much older than me, but I guess he is.

My life is a mess. Whoever said college was easier than real life doesn’t know crap.

Ever since I left New Jersey, things have been hard. It seems that I ran away from one problem and straight into another. Nothing’s gone right for me. I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When God was dishing out luck, I didn’t get any. Instead, I got a shitload of someone else’s bad karma. Maybe I was a total ass in a past life and this life is payback. Too bad I don’t believe in that stuff. At least that would make sense. The way things are now, nothing makes sense.

My family hates me. What I told Peter about them freaking out when I left, it was true, albeit a slightly subdued variation of the truth. They wanted me to stay and take a job at the bank. Family is everything. Blood is thicker than water, whatever that means. But, I had this chance and I took it. I applied at a school that had a scholarship within my reach. They gave it to me along with the TA job and I’ve been able to support myself. I never thought I’d be able to do that. I don’t want to rely on anyone else. It hurts too badly when they let you down. I’ve fallen on my face enough times to know that there’s no one else who will take care of me as well as I can.

Maybe I’m broken. Maybe I am wrong and Millie is right. I don’t know. You don’t have to know everything. I lift my head and look up, hearing Tadwick’s advice inside my head, remembering his words. Some of the weight lifts from my shoulders. That’s his legacy—all the students he taught—all the positive influences he left behind. That’s his footprint. I wonder what mine will be.


My stomach floods with dread as I walk toward the English building. I don’t want to see Peter. I don’t want to see his eyes. I don’t want to hear him say whatever he’s going to say. And I swear, if he makes up some lame excuse about last night, I’ll lose it.

I manage to get to the offices and slowly move toward Tadwick’s room. I wish I didn’t care. I wish Peter didn’t matter, but last night was so awesome and I thought we had something. I was wrong. I hate being wrong.

I drop my sociology books on the student desk since it’s empty. The office door is closed. I step up and knock. My heart slaps into my ribs and my pulse shoots into dangerous territory. I wait, but no one answers. I knock again and feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. A slow sinking feeling fills my stomach and I turn slowly.

Peter is behind me with a stern look on his face. “We’re over here,” he says, and walks away expecting me to follow. We cross the hall and enter a different office. This one is barren. There are no books, cats, or picture frames to be found. I step into the office, past Peter, and he pushes the door closed behind me. Peter gestures for me to take a seat. I sit down in one of the chairs in front of his empty desk. Peter walks around me and sits behind the desk.

His blue eyes search my face, but I stare at him blankly. I need to be numb. I tell myself, No matter what he says, no matter what happens, don’t react.

“How are you?” he asks. I arch an eyebrow at him, like it’s a stupid question. “That good, huh?”

I tap my teeth together once and glare at him. “Enough with the pleasantries, Dr. Granz. I want to know if you intend on replacing me as your TA, or if we’re going to lie to everyone and pretend we don’t know each other.” I’m as prickly like a withered rose, all thorns.

His jaw drops for a second. He leans forward, looking at me as though I shouldn’t think poorly of him. “I didn’t know you were a student. I thought you were older. You seemed older when you sat down.”

“I didn’t know you were a teacher.” My eyes slip over his face, and then slip down to his tie and perfectly pressed white shirt before returning to his face. “I have trouble believing that you forgot you were a doctor. If you’d mentioned it, we could have avoided last night all together. I would have asked what you were a doctor of, and you would have told me. We both would have realized the problem and gone our separate ways.”

“What’s happened has happened. We can’t change it—”

My temper is about to break free. I’m trying so hard not to yell. I point my index finger at him and say in a low voice, “Don’t make me climb across this desk and slap you, because I will. Don’t talk to me like I’m a child and tell me shit I already know. I asked a question. What are you going to do?”

Peter presses his fingertips together as I speak. Those blue eyes search my face, looking for something. After everything that’s happened, I can’t believe that he can still look me in the eye, or that he’d want to. He lets out a slow breath and drops his hands to the desk. “Nothing. I’m not going to do anything. Last night was an accident. I wasn’t employed here yet and you weren’t my student or employee, not yet.”

“It’s a technicality, and they won’t care. If someone finds out and we don’t say something now, you’ll ruin your reputation and mine.”

“So, you want tell Dr. Strictland?” He stands suddenly and walks to the door. “Let’s go tell her.” Peter’s hand is on the knob, twisting it when I bounce out of my seat and block the door with my body.

“Don’t you dare open that door.” Peter towers above me and looks down into my face. He’s too close, but I can’t step out of the way. “You can’t tell her. They’ll fire me, not you.”

“Then, what do you want me to do, Sidney?” Peter closes his eyes for a second and runs his fingers through his hair. It’s the only indication he’s given that this is stressing him out too. “I want to do what’s right, but I don’t want to hurt you more than I already have.”

I stiffen. “You didn’t hurt me,” I lie. “And costing me my job isn’t right.”

Peter is silent. He steps away from the door. Our shoulders brush together as he turns away. It sends sparks through me, making my stomach twist. He doesn’t seem to notice what he does to me. Peter sits behind the desk and leans back.

When I don’t resume my place in the chair right away, he holds his palm out, indicating that I should sit. “Spell it out, Sidney. What do you want to do?”

My eyes dart between Peter and the floor. I don’t want to lie to Strictland, but Peter’s right. Technically we didn’t do anything wrong, so there’s nothing to tell. But it makes me uneasy. My world is turning into a house of cards. Throw another secret onto the pile. Sure. Why not?

“Nothing” I say. “We’ll do nothing. Nothing happened. It wasn’t important and it’s not as though it’ll happen again, so I don’t think we need to say anything.”

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