**Please note: the following excerpt
probably most likely definitely contains spoilers to Collide. Please make sure that you have either read Collide already, or you don’t care about spoilers.
The following is an excerpt from Consumed. Copyright 2014 J.C. Hannigan. All rights reserved.
Adjusting to my busy new schedule after a summer off from the worries of University was disorienting. It was difficult to get back into the groove of classes, work, and a meager social life…but I was determined to not let anything fall through the cracks.
I caught myself scanning each classroom for familiar faces…one in particular. I couldn’t understand why he stood out in my mind, why my thoughts would occasionally drift to him with open curiosity. I suppose certain people make lasting impressions on us.
I saw a few people I had shared classes with in previous years, but I didn’t see the face I was looking for. I wouldn’t see Jax again until our psychology lecture that following Monday.
Knowing the professor’s strict intolerance for lateness, I didn’t want a repeat of last week, so I arrived early to class. Professor Pedersen was setting up the slideshow she had prepared on her laptop. She barely lifted her eyes at my arrival. I quietly made my way to a secluded section where I would still be able to see and hear Professor Pedersen’s seminar.
I sat down, relishing in the emptiness of the hall. I flipped down the tray on the armrest, setting my notebook down and opened it. I started to dig for a pen in the bottom of my messenger bag.
“Is this seat taken?” a voice asked, rousing me from my search for a pen. I looked up, feeling flustered at the wave of nervous anticipation and excitement that washed over me upon hearing his voice. Jax grinned down at me, and I was struck with how remarkably tall he was. His presence was commanding, I couldn’t help but feel slightly intimated by him.
A wave of guilt accompanied the pleasant sensation that rolled in my lower belly. It perplexed me; attraction, lust, and guilt were rolled up in one. Three perfect emotions to deal with on a Monday at an ungodly hour.
“No, but neither are any of the others,” I replied, my brow furrowing in annoyance at my body’s reaction. I gestured with my head to the near empty hall pointedly. Jax grinned, amused by my answer, and sat down in the seat beside me.
“I like the view from here,” he answered, sending me an appreciative look. My frown increased to match the tempo of my heartbeat. I took a deep, calming breath, closing my eyes as I tried to regain my composure and patience.
When I opened my eyes, Jax was still looking at me, his head tilted as if he was studying something incredibly complex and yet captivating.
“If you’re going to be here, be quiet,” I grumbled, forcing my gaze away from his intriguing eyes. The golden rings that danced around his pupils were borderline hypnotizing.
“Yes ma’am,” Jax said coyly with a salute of the hand.
I tried to ignore him, but class wasn’t due to start for another ten minutes. I resumed my quest for a pen, knowing I had ten of them buried somewhere in the depths of my bag.
“Need a pen?” he asked, holding one out to me.
“No, thank you,” I sighed in aggravation. He shrugged, drawing his arm away. A moment later, I found one. I pulled it out, testing it on the blank page of my notebook. Blue ink flowed from the tip of the pen. Satisfied, I wrote the date and rested the pen against the page.
I bit down on my lip, feeling the heat of Jax’s gaze upon my face. It was doing strange things to my blood. All at once I felt a wave of heat come over me. I was blushing, an uncommon thing for me. He was unsettling me, and I didn’t like it. “If you’re going to stare at me the whole time, I’d rather you move to another seat. Preferably one further away.”
Jax smiled, amusement dancing in his eyes, causing my annoyance to grow. “Who says I was staring at you?”
I rolled my eyes, shaking my head. “Whatever. Just…don’t be distracting.”
“I should be telling you to not be distracting,” Jax argued, angling his body to me. His eyes lit up something in me, something that had been sleeping for the last little while. Desire.
I didn’t like it.
“How am I distracting you?” I narrowed my eyes. “I’m not stalker-staring at you.”
Jax laughed, a rich, delightful sound that prompted my lips to curve up slightly in response. “Stalker-staring, huh?”
“Yup,” I said, accenting the P with a pop of my lips. I sent him a challenging look.
“Actually, I was just trying to figure out a polite way of telling you…” he hesitated, looking deeply amused.
“Telling me what?” I frowned.
“You’ve got a little toothpaste, right here…” Jax said, using his thumb to wipe away what he claimed was toothpaste from the corner of my mouth, leaving tingles in its wake and me almost breathless. I frowned deeper, irritated at the uninvited personal contact. I grabbed his hand, pushing it away from my face.
A strange torment of emotions took over me. On the one hand, I was mortified that I’d left my apartment with toothpaste on my face. Being mortified was rare for me. I didn’t embarrass easily, or at least I didn’t show it outwardly. On the other hand, I hated being touched without permission, or at least me without me initiating it. Third, I found myself not hating that Jax’s touch, which both angered me and made me feel guilty.
“I don’t like to be touched,” I said, my voice wavering slightly. I hoped he couldn’t sense what his simple, brief touch had done to me.
“Sorry,” Jax’s voice was sincere, but at the same time…it wasn’t. “It’s gone now,” he assured me.
Before I could reply, the firm click of the lecture hall doors closing alerted me that class was about to start. I closed my mouth, watching Professor Pedersen’s smart heels click against the floor as she returned to the podium.
Professor Pedersen was dressed in a conservative looking pencil skirt, brown in colour. Her plain brown heels complimented her stern personality perfectly. She surveyed the now full hall, as her eyes swept from one side of the room to the other, silence fell in its wake. The other students sensed the same thing I did…Professor Pedersen wasn’t the kind of professor to take any shit.
Despite her calling me out on the first day, I couldn’t help but respect that about her. I settled back in my seat comfortably, ready to focus.
Professor Pedersen’s voice washed over me. At first, I listened with rapid attention, then Jax’s arm accidentally brushed mine. I felt a sensation similar to that of an electric shock. My body responded with goose bumps and raised hair. I pulled my arm to my side, rattled. Jax seemed unbothered by the contact, he was listening to the lecture and writing down notes.
I tried to regain my focus, but all I could do was sit and analyze my own behavior.
I hadn’t dated since the whole Iain thing. I hadn’t had the slightest desire to. At first, I waited for him to contact me. I was sure that our love could withstand anything. As time wore on, I realized that he wasn’t going to reach out to me. I got angry.
The one good relationship I thought I had been with Iain. I received no closure from him, so moving on had been difficult. I was stuck in a strange limbo, unable to move forward, but also not wanting to. Not a single guy had sparked my interest since then; at least no one until Jax.
I spared a glance at Jax. He was still writing, pen to paper, looking up every once in a while at Professor Pedersen. Occasionally, he’d tuck a strand of his hair behind his ear.
I sunk lower in my seat, pushing myself as far away from Jax as I could without drawing attention to myself. I saw him smile out of the corner of my eye, his gaze still facing the front of the classroom.
When class ended, I couldn’t get away fast enough. I shoved my stuff into my bag quickly, wincing at the fact that I had not taken any notes and had scarcely paid attention to the lecture at all.
* * * *
My third class of the day, Sociology, was canceled, leaving me with a three-hour window of leisure before my shift. It was a beautiful day, warm with just a hint of coolness to the breeze. I decided to head to Tabaret Lawn to spread out under a tree and do some psychology reading.
I pulled my books out, leaning against the trunk of the tree and shifting my weight, attempting to get comfortable. I was reading the first chapter, focusing all my attention on the words so that my thoughts wouldn’t drift elsewhere.
When I realized I was just reading the same sentence over and over again, I closed my book and leaned my head back against the tree.
I breathed in the crisp September air, allowing the hint of fall to envelop me in a comfortable blanket of familiarity. I watched the breeze make the leaves, just beginning to change colour, dance in sync with one another. I felt peaceful for the first time in over a week.
“Do you mind if I join you?” I tore my eyes from the dancing leaves, in the direction the voice came from. A girl I vaguely recognized from my Sociology class stood in front of me, looking hopeful. She was a shy looking girl with wiry, curly red hair, thick-rimed glasses and freckles dusting across her cheeks. She seemed harmless enough, although something about her was familiar.
I was bad with faces, and the familiarity might have just been that I had seen her somewhere before. Her red hair did stand out in a crowd.
I forced myself to smile, actively trying to look more inviting. I think I just scared her, though. She took a step tentative step back.
“Sorry, I’m still working on my friendly face,” I said, wrinkling my nose at her discomfort. She laughed awkwardly, managing to sit down and cross her legs in one fluid movement. “My name is Harlow,” I told her, raising my eyebrows in question. She stared intently at my lips as I spoke.
“Oh cool!” the girl’s face lit up, her pale blue eyes sparkling. She leaned forward eagerly. “A unique name! It’s very pretty! How did your parents come up with it?”
I blinked once, caught off guard by her response as my earlier assumption that she would be shy evaporated. “Um…my dad picked it. I think I’m named after Jean Harlow…he had a thing for old movies.”
“Cool,” she said, smiling, still looking at my lips. I arched my eyebrow again, waiting for her to answer return the favor. “Oh, sorry. My name is Crimson.”
“Interesting,” I gave her a small smile, feeling worn out from all the social interaction I’d been doing lately. I could count on one hand the amount of people I spoke to regularly. Making conversation wasn’t something I’d been interested in, at least not since high school. Conversation seemed to cause me a lot of trouble if I wasn’t careful.
“Yeah, believe it or not…it basically means red,” the girl, Crimson, rolled her eyes, as if bonding with me over strange names. She didn’t seem to notice my demeanor.
“I would have never guessed,” I said dryly. Crimson winced, sensing the sarcasm. I felt bad, not wanting her to take it to heart, which was unusual for me. Usually, I didn’t care if I offended someone. “I’m sorry. I’m naturally sarcastic. I truly don’t mean to offend.”
“It’s okay,” Crimson blushed, thrown off by my apology. She dipped her head down. “It’s just hard for me to tell with most girls what they mean by what they say…most people, for that matter.”
The sentence may not have made sense to most, but I thought I understood where she was coming from. I had to agree with her. Most girls were two-faced and cruel…or at least, the majority of the ones I had come in contact with. My heart warmed slightly towards her. She looked lost, as if she was desperately trying to find a familiar face that wasn’t cruel.
“I know what you mean,” I said, nodding in agreement. “You’re in my sociology class, right?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed, seemingly excited that I had remembered her. “I mean, yeah. Totally. I can’t believe class was canceled already, what luck is that?” the girl rambled on nervously. “I’m also in psychology with you, only you probably didn’t notice. I can’t believe how massive that class is! I can’t hear a damn thing!” Then she laughed with delight, shaking her head as if she’d just told a hilarious joke and couldn’t believe how perfect the deliverance had been. She turned her head from side to side, gesturing to the small hearing aids she wore in her ears. “Get it? I’m partially deaf.”
Now it made sense why she was staring at my lips intently; she was lip-reading. Before I could respond, I saw Jax walking towards us and my words melted on the tip of my tongue. He was just the person I wanted to avoid, and there he was…sauntering up to me like he had no idea how much his presence irritated and confused me.
“Fancy running into you here,” he said, coming to a stop beside Crimson. He dropped his bag on the ground and sat down beside her, across from me. His eyes swept across my face, and I felt that annoying, yet familiar, swell of attraction surge through my belly again.
Crimson’s jaw dropped as she drank him in, her eyes widening slightly before she shook her head, breaking herself out of the spell his face cast upon anyone with ovaries.
“You again,” my eyes narrowed. I couldn’t help the nervous butterflies fluttering in my stomach, but I could be pissed about it. I didn’t do butterflies, at least…not since Iain. “Please stop stalking me.”
“You can stalk me,” Crimson said, almost in a daze. Jax’s laughter made her shake her head again, and she flushed deep red…as if she hadn’t meant to say it aloud. I couldn’t help but smile with amusement. Her innocence was endearing.
“You’re both hilarious, you should consider doing stand up comedy,” Jax said, shaking his head. I watched his beautiful hair flow with the movement, angry at how he kept captivating my attention with the most subtle of actions.
“You should consider getting a haircut,” I retorted, bristling.
“We’re not even dating yet and you’re already telling me how to wear my hair?” Jax asked, arching his eyebrow at me. Conflicting emotions of anger and desire reared up, making me glower at him. “Kidding,” he said, raising his hands in innocent surrender. My eyes were still locked on his, his annoyingly magnetic pull making me even more hostile.
Crimson’s pale eyes bounced back and forth as she watched our heated exchange. I had almost completely forgotten about her, until her head moved slightly, the copper highlights in her hair catching the sunlight and reflecting it back to me.
“I’d love to say and chat, but I’ve got to go…see you around Crimson,” I said, grabbing my things in one quick motion. I was on my feet in an instant hoping that nobody would follow me. I walked quickly, my feet digging into the grass as I tried to give myself momentum to get away.
I barely knew this guy, and yet he was rattling my core and I didn’t want to be rattled.
“Hey, Harlow…wait up please!” Jax shouted, obviously not getting the hint. I didn’t slow my movements for him. I didn’t even turn to see if he was catching up. He was suddenly beside me, gently touching my arm. I stopped, freezing upon the contact; his simple touch sent an electrical shock that coursed through my body.
“What is your deal?” I demanded, shaken at how out of control I felt. I crossed my arms, trying to keep my expression from betraying the inner turmoil I felt. Jax seemed to read me, despite my attempt to hide my feelings. He lowered himself slightly so we came eye to eye.
“I just want to get to know you a little, is that so wrong?” he asked. I frowned at the thrill his words evoked inside of me.
“Maybe I don’t want to get to know you,” I muttered, breaking his gaze so that I could figure out how to think straight again.
“I don’t believe that,” Jax said confidently. I shot an angry look at him, and he grinned. “Come on, I know you feel it. I can’t be the only one who feels this…connection.” his voice grew deeper, almost husky, the rumbling low tones vibrating into my core, making my pulse do strange things.
“Easy Romeo,” I backed away, heart pounding with anticipation, thrill and fear.
He smiled a genuine friendly smile. “Would you settle for being friends? Comrades in arms? You know we need each other. I heard through the grapevine that Professor Pedersen loves assigning group homework.”
I chewed my lip, eyeing him suspiciously.
“Besides, I think you might want my notes,” he added, winking. For the first time, I realized he was holding a couple of loose pages in his hand. I’d been so caught up in his physical presence, watching his face, that I hadn’t even noticed them. He held the pages out to me, a peace offering of sorts.
“Thanks…” I muttered, warily accepting them. I bit my lip when our fingers brushed.
“See you around, friend,” Jax uttered smoothly, his eyes pausing to rest on my lips. His eyes raised, meeting mine, that captivating golden swirl aglow with the same lust I was feeling.
I watched him return to the tree, where he’d left his bag beside Crimson in his haste to catch me. I sighed deeply, realizing that I’d been appreciating the toned muscles of his back the entire time.
This was not going to end well.
* * * *
I opened the door to our apartment, my head aching from the day I’d had. After leaving Tabaret Lawn, I’d worked a four hour shift at The Bean, hedging off a torrent of questions from Jamie about Jax.
It felt good to finally be home. I knew I had a long night of studying to do. I had to copy over the notes Jax loaned me, and actually absorb some of the information in them so that I would be prepared for the next seminar.
“OH MY GOD,” Jenna squealed with excitement, rushing towards me in a blur of blond hair flailing arms. It was almost comical. “You’ll never guess what happened to me today!”
“What?” I asked warily, pulling my shoes off and dropping my bag on the floor. I kicked it over to the corner, waiting for Jenna to spill the beans. I knew it likely had to do with her crush, from the way she was buzzing with happiness.
She stood in front of me, practically bouncing on her heels, her lips tight as she tried to reign in her excitement. Giving up, she screeched, “LUCASASKEDMEOUT!”
“Could you say that a little slower?” I frowned, rubbing my sore eardrum.
“Lucas…asked…me…out!” Jenna tried again, this time annunciating each word with care.
“That’s great,” I smiled, my words sincere. I wondered why Jamie hadn’t spilled that little piece of gossip. “Details?” I inquired.
Jenna followed me as I made my way into the kitchen to load up a plate with leftover Chinese. I didn’t even care if it was cold…cold Chinese food tasted even better than fresh takeout. I headed to the couch, sinking down into the comfortable worn cushions. Jenna followed me the whole time like an excited little puppy.
“Well, I went in to The Bean on my break…and he was there, only he wasn’t working. He was hanging out with his friends or something…anyway, he saw me waiting in the line up and waited until I was at the station fixing my tea. Then he came up to me and asked me out!” Jenna said, practically dancing around the coffee table.
“That’s awesome Jenna!” I smiled wider, genuinely happy for my friend. “When is the date?”
“Friday night,” Jenna’s smile wavered a bit. “Oh my God. I have nothing to wear! We need to go shopping, Har.”
“Okay,” I sighed heavily. I placed my plate down, massaging my temples with my fingers. I felt a headache coming on.
“Hey…are you okay?” Jenna asked, frowning in concern as she sank down beside me.
“Yeah, I’ve just had…a day,” I sighed again. Jenna crossed her arms and leaned back, tapping her foot impatiently as she waited for me to continue. I exhaled deeply. I didn’t want to make a big deal about anything, but at the same time I wanted Jenna’s input on things. She knew me in a way that I didn’t know myself. “Well. I saw Jax again.”
“And?” Jenna arched her brow, shaking her head slightly as she urged me to continue.
I drew my legs up, hugging them to my chest as I stared at the cold food on my plate, my appetite diminishing. “I think I like him. Like, I’m attracted to him. He makes me feel…things.”
“And that’s bad because…?” Jenna wasn’t following. I chewed on my lip, trying to put into words the conflicting emotions I was feeling.
“For one, it makes me feel guilty about Iain. I feel almost like I’m cheating on him,” I confessed. I felt a pang of sadness twinge in my heart.
“But you’re not, because you aren’t together,” Jenna reminded me, her voice gentle, her eyes understanding. She hesitated.
“Go ahead, say it,” I sighed. I knew I wasn’t going to like what came out of her mouth.
“I know you really cared about him, and he cared about you too…but Harlow, he was our teacher. He knew better. ‘Pull’ or not, he knew better. If he truly wanted a future with you, he would have waited instead of jeopardizing everything.”
I muttered a sound of displeasure. When Jenna had first found out about the relationship between Iain and I, she thought it was romantic. As she watched me suffer in silence when Iain didn’t immediately reach out to me, she stopped seeing my relationship with him as a sort of Romeo and Juliet romance. Jenna never bashed Iain’s character, but I knew she didn’t see him in the same light that she once had. She removed her rose coloured glasses way before mine came off. She made it her personal goal to help me get over him and move on. Though she wanted me to get over the relationship, she never made me feel bad about my feelings for Iain. She did, however, make it clear that I deserved better and that there were other prospects out there for me.
Jenna sighed, as if this conversation was just as painful for her as it was for me. “Har,” she said softly. “It’s been a while since his release. Have you heard from him at all?”
“No,” I said sullenly. I had let Iain’s presence (or lack there of everything) affect me to the point that it had changed who I was. I hated it. My ‘don’t care’ attitude that I had worn for so long was ripped away by Iain’s presence, and by his absence, it hadn’t returned to me. I was left bare and exposed.
I was angry about it; angry that I let the pain of our relationship, of what happened between us, affect me so profoundly. It wasn’t like I sulked in my room, day in and day out. I still tried to live my life…but I still let Iain’s memory cloud everything that I did. I closed myself off from any opportunity at happiness with someone else. I shot down guys before they could even declare an interest, just to protect my heart and myself.
Before Iain, I didn’t allow anybody the chance to get close enough to me, I was scared that I would get hurt. Letting Iain in, and then having him leave…it shredded my heart and I hated it. I knew that Iain’s reasons probably made a lot of sense – hell, he went to jail for a year because of us, but it was the silence that followed…the wondering if he hated me for it. The guilt I felt for him losing everything in the process, all because I pursued what I wanted…I pursued him.
“You feel something for this Jax guy. So go for it! Don’t let a memory hold you back…” Jenna trailed off, consuming her own words. I looked up, knowing by the expression on her face and the darkness behind her all-American blue eyes that she was thinking about Andrew.
“Same goes for you,” I said weakly, offering a small smile.
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