Chapter 17- The Tale of the Green Lace Panties
“A certain darkness is needed to see the stars.”
“Today we will be discussing the merits of the nature versus nurture argument. Find your assigned partner and choose a side. No, you cannot both choose the same side.
In twenty minutes, I’ll expect to hear some strong arguments for nature versus nurture on the human mentality.”
Landon dropped into the seat beside me. His hair was wild, sticking up in almost every direction, and I was pretty sure he was wearing the same black Bon Jovi T-shirt he’d fallen asleep in.
“What’s wrong?” I demanded. “Why were you late?”
The classroom had filled with sounds of self-
righteous college students arguing their positions, so our conversation was relatively muted.
Staring intently at the ceiling of the room, Landon sighed. “Nothing’s wrong.” I pursed my lips.
Landon glanced at me and smiled slightly. “You look like my high school librarian.”
“That’s something every girl wants to hear,” I said sarcastically. “Seriously, whose ass do I need to kick?” I made a show of cracking my knuckles only to wince when they actually popped. Gross.
Now Landon was grinning. “You ready to kick some ass for me, huh?”
I wiggled my fingers. “Just give me a name, dollface.”
Thankfully, I was saved from making a complete fool of myself when Garfield started calling on students to share their thoughts. I didn’t hear a word, too focused on trying to read Landon’s mind.
“You still haven’t told me why you were late, or why you seem so tired,” I blurted.
Landon ran a hand through his hair, getting his finger stuck in a knot in the back strands. Before I could secondguess myself to death, I reached forward and parted the strands gently.
“Thanks,” he murmured.
I waited patiently.
After much pencil tapping, tugging at his leather wrist bands (today’s read ‘Be-LIE-ve.’ Damn, I needed to get him less depressing wrist bands), he finally sighed. “This week is the anniversary of my Mom’s death. Tonight, actually.”
Oh. Oh. Instinctively, I grabbed Landon’s hand and laced my fingers through his.
“And you’ve been working yourself to the ground so you’re too busy and tired to think about it,” I stated.
He smiled humorlessly. “On the money again, noodle.”
“I hate your nicknames.”
“No, you don’t. You really don’t.”
I didn’t, I really didn’t. But there was no way I was ever going to tell him that.
“My father’s been calling me relentlessly for the past few days. He doesn’t seem to get the message that I don’t want to talk to him, now or ever.” Heavy bitterness laced Landon’s words with an anger I couldn’t comprehend.
Here, I didn’t know what to do. I had the kind of personality where my first instinct was to offer comfort, or a viable solution. I hated empty, fluffy words like, ‘I’m sure it’s nothing’ or ‘it’ll all work itself out’. It was baloney, pure and simple. People want solid, specific advice. They need someone to tell them what to do when they have no clue themselves.
But Landon’s situation was different. No advice I could give would bring his Mom back, or repair his relationship with his Dad. With Landon, the only thing I could do was squeeze his hand a little tighter.
“I’M GOING TO SKIN HIS FURRY FACE AND HANG IT OVER MY BED!”
Rolling my eyes, I turned my music up a little higher to drown out the sound of Raven’s complaining. She’d had a fight with Poe over the window seat- a fight that Poe won- and was currently throwing a tantrum.
Poe smugly licked his paws.
“I have an idea!” Raven clapped her hands. The sound of a drawer opening and shutting filled me with dread. If she tried to shoot my cat-
“Here, kitty kitty. Like this underwear? There’s much more where that came from, over yonder.”
I reluctantly swiveled in my seat to find Raven leaning over Poe, dangling green lace panties from her index finger.
“There are so many problems with this picture…my biggest one has got to be the use of the word ‘yonder’. Welcome to the 21rst century, Jones.”
“Shhh, he’s doing it,” Raven hissed, walking back slowly towards her underwear drawer. Unfortunately for her, Poe was a smart cat with a horrible vindictive streak. With one graceful leap, he tangled the green panties in his paws and booked it back to the window seat. By the time Raven stopped blinking in shock, Poe was purring happily with a face full of panty.
Raven pounded her head on the door for a few minutes. “I’m going to go hang with Jesse before I do something you regret.”
I laughed. “Have a good time. Try to let the boy do some studying, I think he’s one of the rare few who came to college to actually learn.”
Raven twirled a blue strand of hair. “The nerd in him is pretty cute, strangely enough. I get ridiculously turned on every time he starts talking about math, and what follows is usually a lot hotter than the Pythagorean Theorem, if you know what I-what’s with that face?”
“That’s my incoming-vomit face.”
She rolled her eyes and opened the door. “I’ll text you if the spider is going to be itsy bitsied.”
I made a choking noise, and Raven disappeared with a wink.
Shaking my head, I returned my attention to laptop screen and the blinking cursor. I glanced at Poe, who was still having a field day with Raven’s underwear. “You’ve got to stop torturing that girl. I am not responsible for what she might do to you.”
Poe had an expression that was disturbingly similar to my incoming-vomit face.
Two hours later, I was rubbing my sore eyes and hoping against hope a headache didn’t form. The clipboard I took whenever I met up with Landon to work on the project had coffee rings on the pages, and I’d lost track of how many internet tabs I had open.
“I think I’ve earned a chocolate shake. Don’t you?” I asked Poe, standing up to stretch my tired limbs. Poe was napping and opened one eye to track my movements.
“A good Pedro’s chocolate shake means I’ll be less likely to throw my laptop out of the window and become a stripper. That’s a bad idea, right? I’d be an awful stripper. I would want my stripper name to be Shirley. Or maybe Bonnie Bodacious.”
I threw on my jacket and laced my sneakers, struggling to remember if Pedro’s was still open. They should be, it had just gotten dark twenty minutes ago. Pocketing my phone, I locked the door on a sleeping Poe and followed the sweet siren call of my waiting shake.
The wind outside was biting, and I huddled deeper into my jacket. Hurrying down the road, I lost all semblance of sanity when I opened the door to Pedro’s and was hit in right in the nose with a magnificent aroma.
I waited in line and grimaced when I saw Shawna would be taking my order. But I got lucky-Pedro’s was too busy for her to spare more than a sneer and grunt my way.
By the time I walked out of Pedro’s, I was regretting not getting a hotter drink. I booked it back to the building, fingers freezing around my shake.
Girls were scattered in the halls, reading and chatting. The lounge had a movie playing, per usual, and the smell of burned brownies made my mouth water. As much as I wanted to stop and hang out, I had to finish my stupid assignments if I was going to go on a Psych session with Landon tomorrow.
I stuck my key in the lock and twisted, but I didn’t hear the sound of sliding metal. Weird. I peeked my head inside, checked that there was no psychotic dude hiding in the corner, and entered the room.
Poe wasn’t on the window seat.
I was a second away from freaking out when I heard a soft meow from my bed. Poe was nestled between a pillow and the wall, still chewing mournfully on Raven’s panties. I rubbed his tiny head. “I thought you’d escaped, you crazy cat. Don’t scare me like that.”
Taking a huge sip of my shake, I set it on the desk, kicked off my shoes, and hung my jacket on the door of my closet. Back to work now.
My butt was halfway to my seat cushion when a folded piece of paper on my clipboard halted my descent. It was clean, without a trace of coffee residue.
It wasn’t my paper.
My heart started racing as a sick, heavy feeling spread in my chest. Hands shaking, I lifted the paper and opened it slowly.
“I spy with my little eye…a murderer.
I spy with my little eye…truth buried alive
I spy with my little eye…a dead man walking
An eye for an eye”
Oh God. The paper fluttered to the ground as my lungs stopped working. I plastered my back to the door, eyes darting wildly around every corner of the room to the window. What if he could see me now? What if he left another note somewhere? If Raven had been here…I pounded on my chest with my fist as the corners of my vision started darkening.
Fumbling frantically through my pockets, I found my phone and called the first name that came into my head.
“Caramel drop, I know you’re making the
PowerPoint, I promise I’ll do the verbal part. Deal?”
“Landon,” I gasped, staring at the piece of paper as if it would burst into flames.
“What’s wrong?” the urgency and alarm in his voice helped me breathe, just a little.
“He was here, Carter was here. He left another note. What kind of poem is this? It’s not even haiku. Also I’m not sure how to make my lungs work.”
“I’m on my way, lock the fucking door and don’t move until I get there.”
I obeyed and promptly slid to the floor, arms wrapped protectively around my knees. A furry body rubbed against my calf. I bit back my screech and lifted Poe into my arms, holding him against my chest tightly.
A loud knocking on the door startled me. Keeping Poe anchored to my chest, I pressed my ear to the door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, it’s Landon. Open up.”
A swell of relief coursed through my body when I opened the door and saw Landon standing on the other side. He surged forward, pulling me hard against him. Poe fell to the ground with an affronted yelp. I buried my face into his collarbone and grabbed fistfuls of his shirt.
I can breathe again.
“You’re just determined to give me a premature heart attack, aren’t you?” he murmured. “Cause I have to tell you, I don’t think I’ll make it to forty at this rate.”
I laughed tearfully. “Your medical bills will be a bitch.”
For a few blissful moments, there was only quiet. My ragged breaths slowed, and the iron grip of terror on my chest loosened.
Landon slid his hands to my shoulders and gently pushed me back so he could look at me. “Sophia, what did you mean when you said he left another note? This wasn’t the first time?”
I studied Poe cleaning his paws with utter fascination, as if each lick held the secrets to the universe.
Landon was not amused.
“Buttercup, spill it. Now.”
I crossed my arms over my chest huffily. “You’re so bossy.”
After another charged minute, I finally relented. “The night you walked me home from the library, I found a note on my bed from Carter. It was sitting on top of a little pile of dirt.”
Landon sat heavily onto my bed, shock marring his handsome features. He covered his face with his hands and swept his hair back. “My God.”
He swallowed thickly. “Do you still have the note?” I nodded. After rummaging through my bottom drawer, I found the small slip of paper, rumpled and menacing as ever.
Landon took it from me and scanned the paper. “Why wouldn’t you tell me about this?”
Biting the edge of my thumb, I tried not to let the traces of anger and accusation in Landon’s voice intimidate me. “Because of what happened after the…attack. You disappeared. You ran. I didn’t want you to do it again.”
Standing abruptly, Landon started pacing the length of my room. The tension in the room built to an almost unbearable level. “I ran because of this, because I put you in danger just from being near you. Carter…Carter is a grieving psychopath who should take his revenge out on me. Hell, even Jesse knows the risks and is willing to take them. But you?”
Landon stopped his frenetic movements and cupped
my face. “I’ll be damned if I put you at risk too.”
He let go, and I blinked, too surprised by the rollercoaster of his mind to fully comprehend what was going on. But my mind caught up, and with it my temper.
“Why are you just accepting this guy tormenting you as an unavoidable fact? Why the hell wouldn’t you report him, get him arrested?” I stood, blocking the path Landon was burning into my carpet.
“I already took away one son from the Janson’s-I’m not taking away the other.”
My jaw dropped. He couldn’t be serious. Could he?
“Please tell me you’re kidding.”
Landon dropped his head back and stared at the ceiling. “Nothin’ to joke about.”
Gaping, I strode forward and placed my hands on Landon’s shoulders, shaking them to get his attention. Dark blue eyes flicked to me, careful and guarded. I opened my mouth, but no words came out-a first for me. What do you say to convince someone they’re not responsible for the loss of a life?
I sat beside him and fell back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. “Dammit, Peeper.”
After a beat, Landon stretched beside me. “I thought we discontinued that nickname.”
I scoffed. “You think you can have a million nicknames for me and I won’t have at least one for you? Think again, buddy.”
We just laid in silence for a while. “Sophia?” Landon murmured.
He chuckled, and I felt the bed shift. Hair tickled my ear, and despite my incoming drowsiness, my right side almost went numb with an influx of hormones.
“I’m sorry I got you in this mess. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s ‘not my fault’. But you have to admit none of this would be happening if it wasn’t for me. And I might not be ready to turn Carter in just yet. I’ll promise you this, though.”
Warm fingers wrapped around my hand, and I really wanted to turn my head and smile at him, but I was too tired. The adrenaline and stress had wiped out the scant energy reserves I had left.
“As long as I’m around, I’ll never let anything happen to you. I may have fucked up a lot of things in my life, but this won’t be one of them. It won’t.” The determination in his voice made me think his words weren’t only meant for me.
I garbled out my witty commentary. “I have a thing against clinginess.”
Landon laughed, and suddenly, I wasn’t on the bed anymore. My eyes flew open, and I looked right into Landon’s grinning face. He was carrying me bridal style towards my bed.
“Even in your sleep you’ve got the tact of a rabid monkey,” he remarked, setting me down. “Despite that, wouldn’t want She-Devil pitching a fit that you’re passed out on her bed.”
I tried to scrub away the sleep. “I don’t think I’ve been carried since I was five.”
Landon made a noise as he sat on the far edge of my bed. He took one of my shoes into his lap and started undoing the laces. “That’s a travesty I’m here to correct.”
“Aw, I half-expect your noble steed to neigh in the distance.”
Grabbing the afghan I had folded at the foot of my bed, Landon placed it over me and crouched besides the bed so we were level. I tried not to think about my undoubtedly nightmarish appearance. Was my hair stuck to the pillow? Were my cheeks flushed?
Landon smoothed his thumb against my cheek, and I caught my breath. He tilted his head, and with the moonlight outlining his shape with an unearthly glow, he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
“I don’t know why you seem to be asleep every time we talk, but I think it’s cute. Not many people can lose consciousness at the drop of a hat.”
“Talk about something more interesting that stalkers and murder. That might influence my bedtime.”
“Challenge accepted, sunflower.” I groaned.
Landon rose, and a panic gripped me. Maybe it was residue from Carter’s visit, maybe it was just because I needed him near, but I couldn’t bear the thought of him leaving. I grabbed his arm and sat up.
He arched a brow.
“Stay. Raven’s not home yet, so I’m pretty sure she’s crashing with Jesse. I’ll text her right now to be safe. I don’t…I’m not quite ready to be alone. So stay. Don’t go.”
I bit my lip while I waited for his answer. What if he said no? Poe was always good for a cuddle, even if I had to squeeze through his squirming and kitty profanity.
Without breaking from my gaze, Landon kicked off his shoes and grinned. “I’m always down to jump into bed with you, princess.”
Relief flooded through me, but I covered it quickly, lest his ego explode and splatter all over the room. “If I have the tact of a rabid monkey, you have the class of a dog in heat.”
“Stop with the compliments, I already said yes!”
Landon hesitated. He regarded his wristbands warily, like they might jump up and attack. With a deep breath, he slowly pulled them off and set them on my dresser. To give him his privacy, I grabbed my phone and shot Raven a quick text.
Me: Itsy Bitsy Spider?
The phone buzzed in my hand a few seconds later.
Raven: Spidering pending. J finishing essay. Thinking stripping naked and writing math equations on myself might be the only way to get his attention.”
I giggled, and Landon glanced over as he shook his hair free from his beanie. Scooting over to make room for him, I tried to squash the tidal waves of excitement and nerves washing over me as the bed dipped
Me: Just tell him to calculate you like one of his French girls. Gotta go, goodnight, good luck!
“Raven’s annoyed because Jesse’s finishing an essay right now,” I shared, tucking two hands under my head over the pillow.
Landon folded his arms under his head. “Jesse’s always been the squeaky clean nerd who’d rather turn his homework on time than spend some time with his girlfriend. Trying to set him up on dates was near impossible.”
Landon twisted and closed his hand over my mouth. “I don’t want to talk about our friends’ love lives. Not a fan of meddling.” I frowned, at least until he continued.
“Now, I’m a fan of other things…” Landon mused slowly, leaning towards me. I froze like a deer in headlights.
He kissed me softly, lips pressing to mine once, twice, then pulling back. “Now that is much more fun.” He had me there.