C3 Chapter 3
Liv – 7 ½ years earlier
He walks into the library and, unconsciously, I hold my breath. I watch as he looks around the room, knowing he is looking for me. We’ve been meeting here at the same time every Thursday for the last five weeks. For a second I let myself pretend he scans the room for me because he’s mine. Not because Mr. Hunter is paying me to tutor him. He looks so different from the other boys, and it’s not just because he’s taller and wider. No, it’s definitely more than that. Something about the way he carries himself sets him apart. It’s hard to put into words what it is...he just has it. Strong, confident, unaffected by the normal high school stuff going on all around him.
I watch from a distance as he spots me and smiles in my direction. The way his dimples dip deep into his beautiful tan skin sends my mind racing. He makes me forget where I am. Hell, he makes me forget who I am with that smile. Vinny walks with purpose directly to the table I’m sitting at, completely unaware of the girls stopping in their tracks to watch him pass by.
“You okay, Liv?” I can see in his face he’s concerned, but I’m not sure why.
I don’t answer, but not because I don’t want to. Suddenly, I physically can’t respond. I’m lightheaded, the room begins to spin, and I feel as though I might pass out any second.
“Liv?” Vinny repeats himself, his voice louder, more urgent this time. It snaps me out of my daze and I realize I’m not breathing. A strong rush of air whooshes out of my lungs and I gasp to take my next breath. But the deep inhale after depriving my lungs of oxygen burns my throat, sending me into a coughing fit and I can’t seem to stop myself from coughing uncontrollably. The whole library is looking at me now and I want to climb under the table and hide. Vinny is holding my hand and hovering over me. He looks genuinely concerned.
It takes me a minute, but I finally catch my breath and my coughing fit slows enough to squeak out an answer. “I’m fine. I just choked on a cough drop,” I lie. I can’t tell him he steals my breath away and I forget to breathe sometimes when he’s around me. I’m sure he already thinks I’m a weirdo.
Vinny grabs a chair and turns it backwards to sit, his forearms leaning on the top of the chair back as he straddles it. Such a boy way to sit. “Jesus, Liv. I thought I was going to have to perform the Heimlich on you there for a minute. I was worried I might break you, you’re so tiny.” He leans in and whispers as he teases me with a devilish smile that makes my heart pound loudly in my chest.
“I’m fine.” Luckily, my face is still red from my coughing fit, so he can’t see that I’m heated from just feeling his breath on my neck as he speaks. “We better get started. We have a lot to cover today if you want to pass the English midterm next week.” That, and my heart just might explode if we don’t get back on track. I can’t think around this boy. He makes my brain turn to mush so that I forget to breathe. Who forgets to breathe? I’m such a dork.
The librarian shushes us and Vinny throws his hands up in playful surrender and smiles at her. Her angry face changes when she’s on the receiving end of his smile. His charm knows no age boundaries.
Eventually we fall back into our roll of student and tutor and I’m able to refocus on the reason I get to spend so much time with Vinny Stonetti. Although he’s a senior and two years older, he’s a year behind in English and I’m a year advanced, so we’re both in the same English class. And he’s in danger of failing this year. Again. Most likely it’s because he doesn’t spend much time in our actual class. He seems to be either out sick or suspended for fighting most of the time.
Six weeks ago when my dad told his friend that his daughter would tutor a boy who was struggling in English, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. Not until I found out the boy was the same one I’ve had a major crush on since seventh grade. I spent three long years watching him from a distance, secretly obsessing over the way he walks, the way he sits, and even the way his full lips move as he chews when I steal glances of him in the cafeteria.
And now, here I sit. Up close and personal for three hours each week with the boy who visited my dreams on more nights than I can count. I expected him to be something very different, although I’m not sure what it was that I thought he’d be. But he’s even better than I’d made up in my head. He’s smart, a fast learner, and funny too. We actually have a good time while we work through the material, and I’m surprised that we’ve almost caught up on the full semester’s work already.
“Did you figure out what comes after Juliet tells her mother about the wedding in the courtyard? I’m wondering when we’re getting to the good stuff...the wedding night?” Vinny wiggles his eyebrows playfully.
I still can’t believe I told him about my little geeky hobby. Ever since I was old enough to read, I’ve been a sucker for tragic romances. Devouring every word, I sometimes cry through the tragic beauty that sweeps me away. Then, when I’m done, I just can’t help myself. I rewrite the ending. Every story deserves a happy ending in my mind.
Two weeks ago, when we were finishing up Romeo and Juliet for class, I was so caught up in the love story that I blurted out the ending I had begun writing. Embarrassed at my own admission, I wanted to crawl in a hole, but Vinny actually seemed interested. Intrigued even. Instead of finding my quirky habits odd and scaring him away, he seems to want to know more. More about what I like to do. What makes me happy.
“Actually, I think after her mother....” I’m just about to tell Vinny about the chapter I wrote over the weekend, when I’m interrupted by a voice I’ve come to despise.
“Well don’t you and your little tutor girl look like you’re having a good time?” Missy Tatum’s snide voice brings me crashing back to reality. One look reminding me of everything I’m not. I’m pretty sure if she wore any less clothing she would get arrested for indecent exposure. From where I’m sitting, the underside of her full boobs are clearly visible. Her half shirt barely covers her at eye level, even less so from the view from below. Immediately I feel self-conscious about my lack of curves. She’s a senior and I’m in tenth grade. A late blooming tenth grader at that. In less than thirty seconds the comfort I’ve felt settle in with Vinny the last few hours is gone, and I’m back to being the little girl.
“Wait outside Missy, I’ll be done in a few minutes.” Vinny’s voice changes from the gentle and playful tone he has with me to something harsher, more controlling. For a second I think Missy is going to complain, but Vinny gives her a look daring her to respond. She pouts, but turns and walks toward the door to wait without another word.
“Sorry about that.”
“No, it’s not. She shouldn’t talk to you that way.” His voice is still angry, so different than how he usually speaks to me.
“Thanks, but I’m used to it.”
“What do you mean you’re used to it?”
“Her crowd.” I shrug, motioning with my eyes toward the door where Missy and her friends are gathered smoking cigarettes outside the library. “They just make little comments, that’s all.”
“Like what?” Vinny’s jaw flexes and his temper flares. It’s a side of him that I’ve seen from a distance, but never up close, never directed at me. He’s scary when he’s angry. His relaxed and playful demeanor is gone, replaced by clenched fists and shoulders more squared than usual.
“It’s not a big deal.” I feign an indifferent smile and start to pack up my books.
Vinny’s quiet for a minute, but I can feel him watching me as I pile all my things back into my backpack. It makes me nervous and I feel my face heat from the intensity of his stare. I have no choice but to look up at him when I’m done, even though I’d rather crawl under the table. He doesn’t say anything, but his beautiful, pale blue eyes capture my attention, and for a minute I forget who we are and surrender to his hold. But then he abruptly stands and grabs his books off the table.
“See you next week?”
I nod my head, my words stuck beneath the lump in my throat.
I watch from the table as Vinny walks out of the library. Missy wraps herself around him the minute he exits the glass door. For a second, Vinny turns back and looks at me still frozen in my seat. Then he puts his arm around Missy’s shoulder and I watch as they walk off arm in arm.