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Authors: Victoria June

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BOOK: Breath Of The Heart
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Chapter Fourteen

 

Emma

The first day back at school was a cold one. I wrapped my pink wool scarf tightly around my face and walked, then nearly ran to my building. Zach followed closely behind and when we reached the glass double doors he grasped onto my arm. "We meet back here at three?" His intense stare said it all. Watch my back.

"Is that when the Zach train leaves?" I said for levity.

He smirked. "Yes, so don't be late. This train leaves on time."

I stuck to large crowds. I couldn't believe how paranoid I was. I went to class, ventured to the library and hit the cafeteria. I made no other stops and saw none of Bianca's crew. Campus was enormous, I had no classes with any of her friends and the odds of running into them were remote. I trudged back to our meeting spot at three and saw Zach there with a perky blonde. I kept my distance, not wanting to interrupt, but something tugged at me. The way they laughed and how she playfully touched his arm bugged me. If he was possibly into me, why was he flirting with other girls? Reality hit. Because he wasn't into me.

They each pulled out their phones and obviously exchanged numbers. She was blushing now, having scored the number of Zach Walker. There couldn't be another guy on campus who was a bigger catch. They said a few more words and she scampered off. I approached him and pretended that I hadn't seen a thing.

"Hey," he said, a smile still plastered on his face. "How was your day?"

"Exciting," I deadpanned. "How was yours?"

"Not too bad. Ran into Genie. She's coming over for dinner. Hope you don't mind."

"The girl you were talking to? That was your sister?"

His eyebrows furled. "No, that was someone from class."

Course it was. "Oh. Well, I'm looking forward to meeting Genie."

"I thought you'd make some awesome meal to show off your skills."

I was still thinking about the cute blonde and only half-listening to what he was saying. He rambled on some more as we walked back to his truck. When he fell silent I realized he was waiting for me to say something.

"Well?"

"I missed that last part."

"What time should I tell her to come?"

"Six. We can eat around six-thirty."

He texted her and I got into the truck and sulked. It was nice to think that Zach had some interest in me other than pity. That dump friend of his, the one I hadn't even seen and didn't know the name of had gotten my hopes up that maybe, just maybe, a member of the opposite sex under the age of eighty and over the age of ten found me attractive. But he was the senator's son and it didn't hurt that he was gorgeous, smart and had an amazing personality. What woman wouldn't want him?

"So what are we having?"

I hadn't even thought about it. I went through my last grocery run. "How about pork Wellington, roasted potatoes and a salad? Is that enough?"

"I'm foaming at the mouth just thinking about it, but Genie won't eat pork."

I know who else was foaming at the mouth. The blonde with his number. "I don't have any other protein. How about a vegetarian lasagna?"

"She'll love that."

We chatted about school until we got back to the apartment. While he stationed himself in front of the television, I got to work. Dinner was pretty simple because I was doing some cheating. I wasn't making the lasagna noodles from scratch, but I did have homemade sauce, and a variety of cheeses to add to it. A little ricotta, mozzarella and asiago for punch. If I'd had more time I would have attempted a dessert, but after a long day at school and a whole lot of watching my back, my heart wasn't into it.

Zach dragged himself from sports highlights to set the table as I was putting everything into the oven. I was looking forward to meeting Genie, the sister I knew little about. She had a boyfriend that she lived with, beyond that she was a mystery.

The front door swung open and I nearly jumped out of my skin. A young woman, her thick mane of dark brown hair flowing behind her, breezed in. Her enormous brown eyes fixed on me and wide smile spread across her face. "You must be Emma," she said.

"Yes. Genie?"

"The one and only."

Zach waved over his shoulder from the position he'd resumed on the sofa. "Hey, Genie."

"It's great to meet you," she said, scooping me into a hug. I was tall, but Genie was easily an inch or two taller. I put her at five foot ten. Like her brother, good looks ran in the family. The Walker family seemed to be blessed with everything life could offer them. "I've heard so many great things about you," she said, releasing me and hanging her coat.

"You have?"

"Don't be so surprised. You seem so sweet."

Sweet? I'd never been called that before. "Uh, thanks."

"And I hear you're an amazing cook," she said, standing in front of me. She was stunning. Everything about Genie was prim, proper but approachable.

"I like to cook. And thank you for letting me have your room."

She waved it off like it was nothing. "No problem. At least now Zachy isn't all alone."

"Zachy didn't mind being alone," he said,

"Don't listen to him. He loves having you here."

Zach and Genie caught up on family drama which I didn't feel comfortable listening to. I checked in on my lasagna then began working on the salad. A few minutes later I had everything on the table ready to eat. Zach and Genie took their seats as I plated food. Genie looked at her plate and whistled.

"This looks delicious. If you eat like this all the time, how to you keep that figure of yours?"

"I have my dad's metabolism."

Genie turned to her brother. "This meal puts Louisa's food to shame."

"Who's Louisa?" I asked. Another of Zach's exes?

"Our housekeeper."

Zach said it so casually like I should have known.

"Emma, this is to die for," Genie said after her first bite. "Where did you learn to cook?"

"My grandma taught me, and I like to find recipes and play around with them."

"I think I might need to come around more often."

"Technically you live here," Zach said wryly.

Genie turned her attention back to me. "I hear you had a run in with Zach's cohorts. You're welcome to hang out with my friends any time."

"Really? I'd like that," I said, feeling a bit giddy.

"There's a reason I never hang out with Zach's friends. They're all idiots."

"Not all of them," Zach said, going for seconds.

"Most of them. Emma, Bianca used to be one of my friends, in middle school, so I know the kind of person she is. You don't know how happy I was to hear you broke her nose."

"I'm not proud of it. It's the first time I've ever hit someone."

"She deserved it, especially after what she did. She's always been a jealous bitch."

My body stiffened. She knew? Zach told her? I didn't want my total humiliation broadcast throughout Minnesota. If Genie knew, how many others knew? My cheeks burned, more out of embarrassment than anger, but I was pissed too.

Zach shot Genie a look and I saw the pity set in on her face. "Oh, I'm sorry, Emma. Zach told me everything. I haven't told a soul. I promise. My brother and I are tight and neither of us gossip, right Zach."

I wanted to get up, go to my room and hide under the bed with a box of tissues. I tried so hard to forget all about that day, and here it was, thrown back in my face like a dirty diaper.

"It's okay," I said quietly. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole.

Genie gave me a sympathetic smile. "Look, Bianca didn't say all those things because she actually thought they were true. You're a beautiful girl and for whatever reason, you don't think so and trust me, she knows that. She can smell weakness. From what Zach told me, I'm gathering she's pretty jealous of your friendship with her boyfriend, so she had to knock you down. She probably didn't think you'd see those texts, but it was her way of diminishing you in the eyes of her lame boyfriend. So forget about what she said because it's crap. I see a gorgeous girl with a killer bod who cooks like a Michelin star chef. You're a catch. She's a skank. Right, Zach?"

"Right."

I smiled. "Thanks, guys. You're both fantastic liars."

Genie howled. "Liars! Put yourself out there, Emma, and the men will come. Right, Zach?"

"Right."

"Just don't put yourself out there with any of his friends. They are all Neanderthals. Except my little brother. He's a catch," she said, pinching his cheek.

"She's only eight minutes older than me," Zach said, shooing her hand away.

His statement made my eyes grow wide. "You're twins?"

"I got the looks and the brains and Zach got the jock thing."

"That's cool. To have a twin."

"We gave Mom and Dad a pretty hard time," Genie said, looking over at her brother. "We used to throw some crazy parties, but once we got to college, that changed, at least for me. I decided to hit the books while Zach liked to hit the parties."

"This year I had an epiphany," Zach said, grabbing another helping.

Genie laughed. "Dad told him if he didn't get his grades up, he'd cut him off."

"You don't get into Harvard with my grades," Zach said, mocking his dad's voice.

"But I'll get into Yale with mine."

I loved their banter and it was easy to see how much they cared about one another. Growing up I would have killed for a brother or sister. Jake was like a brother except that we didn't have this kind of relationship. Jake made the rules and I followed them. That simple.

"Do you always tease each other like this?"

"Yes," they answered in unison.

"Do you have siblings?" Genie asked.

"I have two little brothers, but I don't see them. My mom has another family."

"Bummer."

Zach's phone went off. He looked at the number, got up and took the call in his room. The blonde?

"A bunch of us are going out this weekend," Genie said. Did she notice I'd momentarily left the conversation, wondering who he was talking to? "Why don't you come? We like to go to Bravo's. Have you been?"

"No. I don't go out much."

"Then it's settled, you're coming out with us. We'll pick you up Saturday night. I'll call you with a time."

Zach returned and resumed his seat. "What did I miss?"

"Emma's coming to Bravo's with us this Saturday. Care to join?"

A hint of a mischievous grin spread on her face as she waited for his answer. He shrugged. "We'll see."

Genie glanced at her watch. "I've got to run. I want to get in a few hours of studying before bed. Emma, thanks again for the wonderful dinner. Zach, I'll see you Saturday."

~~~~~~~

"I have to meet Billie, my boss, after school. Would you mind dropping me off before you go home," I asked Zach on our ride to school.

"You think the axe is coming down?"

"Probably." I'd dreaded returning the call she'd left me Saturday morning. After some telephone tag she summoned me to Julian's at my earliest convenience. Sure, I could have gone Monday, but I'd had enough to worry about that day, like Bianca and her friends finding me and pummeling me into next week.

"Tell you what, I'll hang out and wait. I have a feeling it won't take long and if it does, I'll get some studying in."

He was taking this whole not-letting-me-out-of-his-sight thing seriously. "Thanks. I'll probably need a shoulder to cry on afterwards."

"Mine is always available."

I sat through classes trying to formulate the perfect speech for Billie and why I should be able to keep my job, but in every scenario I came up sounding lame. I punched a customer in the face. It was wrong on so many levels. I had to accept that I'd be fired. After my last class I ventured over to our meeting place and found Zach sitting on a bench reading a paperback.

His face lit up when he saw me. He stuffed the book in his bag and we headed for the car.

"Were you waiting long?"

"Not long. I finished my Modern Lit class and have been reading the last couple of hours."

I stopped walking. "The last few hours? When did your classes end?"

"Around noon."

"You've been hanging around for two hours waiting for me?"

"No, I've been reading this damn book. It's called studying," he said and winked.

"Zach, you don't have to wait for me. How many hours a week are you going to do that?"

"An hour here and there. Em, trust me, I need to study as much as I can. If I don't pull out straight As this year, my dad will have my ass."

Jessica popped into my head, my soon to be ex-co-worker. "Can I ask you something," I said as we started walking again.

"If it's about The Sun Also Rises, I haven't finished it yet."

"Uh, no, smarty pants. I heard a rumor about you and I'm wondering how true it is."

"It's not my baby."

"Cut it out," I said, punching his arm.

"Okay, okay, shoot."

"Someone told me that you have a bit of a party reputation."

"I had a party reputation. All true. There are months I don't even remember. I had a lot of fun but then my parents found out about my less than Ivy League grades so I decided to smarten up. Threatening to pull me out of school and make me work in a fast food joint for the rest of my life can really motivate a person."

"I can't see you as a party guy. You're so normal."

"No, I'm sober. A lot of alcohol was consumed and a ton of weed smoked my first two years at Western. Let me put it to you this way; I dropped out of so many classes that I'm a whole year behind. It's going to take me two more years to graduate."

I did a quick calculation in my head. "Wait, you're older than me?"

"I turn twenty-one in May."

"Interesting. And you turned it around just like that?"

"My dad can be a very persuasive guy. His pep talks get straight to the point. Here's the thing, Em, I don't want to live in Minnesota my entire life. I want to see the world. It's not to say I hate it here, because I don't. But I want to travel, start a life somewhere else, do exciting things. I can't do that here. So, if I continued to be stoned and hammered all the time, that pretty much sealed my fate of living a bleak existence here."

BOOK: Breath Of The Heart
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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