He’s trouble. She’s falling apart.
I should have known he was trouble when I watched him drive his motorbike onto campus, leaving a trail of people whispering as he made his way into the Art Building.
Word around here is, he doesn’t date. So why do his eyes keep following me? Why does he want to talk to me?
Rumor has it, Hunter’s good at two things: making art, and getting into fights. I love art, but I can’t stand violence. I’ve been on the receiving end of it too many times.
My life is simple, it needs to be if I want to graduate and keep my eating disorder at bay… I sleep, I eat, I go to class and I definitely Do. Not. Date.
So why do I feel so safe in his strong arms?
She’s like a spooked little mouse. Not my type at all. Until she looked up at me and I was caught in her azure eyes.
But I won’t let her get close. In the last four years, I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved. I will never trust anyone ever again. The second I do, I’ll find myself alone again. So, what’s the use?
So I create big metal installations, I go to class when I feel like it, I drink and get into fights at the bar.
I have to stay away from Lizzy, because my darkness will only make hers worse. I know I have to, but that isn’t what my heart wants. When I see the pain in her eyes, I can’t resist her. I want to help her, touch her…
CHAPTER ONE – Shattered (Damaged Hearts 1), New Adult Contemporary Romance
“I don’t know if I can do this again.” I pull the sleeves of my dress down as I lean back in the car seat. It’s almost nine in the morning on the last Monday of August—it’s supposed to be the end of summer, but the sun is already making the inside of the car boil. “I feel like I’m four years old all over again.” It’s early, I’m tired, and I barely slept last night because I was so stressed. To say that I’m in a bad mood would be an understatement.
“Of course you can do it. It’s only college. And if you run into problems, Lola will be there too.” Mum puts her hand on my leg, squeezing in what she probably believes is a comforting way, but I only want to pull away. Of course, my sister, Lola, my twin. The one who is beautiful, and smart, and good, and everyone’s favorite.
“Yeah, she’ll be doing her graduate degree, and I’m still here trying to finish my undergrad. You know it’s not the same.” I sigh, but I know that I’ll need to get out of the car eventually. I can’t stay locked up in here all day, no matter how much I’d like to.
Mum checks the clock on the dashboard and eyes the other students walking past the car. She needs to leave, she needs to get to work, not worry about her twenty-year-old daughter having a meltdown. “You’ll be okay. They’re all first-years, you’ll just be one of the group.”
Yeah. That was what I thought last year. I thought that it would be easy to start over at a new college, that everybody would be a first-year and I’d easily make friends… Not so much. Lots of people already had friends and having a different accent and a preference for black clothes didn’t make it easier. Of course, I did make some friends, even had a boyfriend… But it all went horribly wrong, and now I’m stuck back at home. Great.
Mum reaches out again, touching my arm, and I flinch, a stupid reflex. I see the pain go over her face. She pulls her hand back and stares out the window again. “It’s not scary. It’s just a class with Tamara. You’ve done that many times before.”
“I know.” I open the car door, grab my bag, and get out. “I’ll be back before dinner.”
“Just make sure that—” She eyes my bag, but then stops, putting on a big smile instead. “Good luck, sweetie!” she calls out, her happy voice way too forced, before I close the door. Then she turns the car back on, waves, and drives off.
Great. Now I’m stuck here until the next bus comes. Or until I dare to walk into the class…
Going back to college is one of those things that my parents want me to do, like having dinner with them every night and making college my priority instead of other things. I turn to the big gray block behind me, the arts department. As I walk towards it, I wonder how they managed to put the most creative department into the most uncreative gray cube they could find.
I pass small groups of students, people chatting with each other all around me, and I feel so alone. I don’t have any friends here—never had many friends at high school anyway, and being gone for a year doesn’t help. Someone bumps into me, and I nearly lose my footing, but as I turn around, they have just walked on, ignoring me. Everyone here seems to know each other already. Either they were already friends, or they connected during student orientation last week… which I, of course, couldn’t attend. My illness and social issues wouldn’t let me party all day and night.
I swallow hard, feeling so invisible, unwanted, unwelcome. I squeeze my hands closed, the tight feeling in my chest growing.
Starting all over again? How many times have I done this now? How many times will I have to introduce myself to others before I can finally settle down and have a normal life?
I squeeze my eyes closed for a moment and then blindly walk into the closest bathroom, closing the door of a stall behind me and sitting down.
No matter what other people think, I can’t do this.
Itry to keep my breath steady as girls come in and leave again, chatting excitedly about classes and boys—no surprise there. I don’t want anyone else to know I’m here. I don’t want any questions or assumptions about me. I hiccup and pull some toilet paper from the roll, dabbing at my eyes with it. I hate crying. It’s always so obvious afterwards.
A knocking on the door stops me in my movements.
“Hi?” A soft voice reaches me.
I keep quiet, hoping the girl will go away if I don’t say anything.
“If you don’t want others to know you’ve cried, you shouldn’t use toilet paper to dry your tears.”
I grit my teeth but keep quiet. What is she doing? Why is this girl talking to me?
“If you want I can help you with your make-up so others won’t know what happened.”
“Why?” She has my attention now, even reluctantly. “How did you even know I was here?”
“I’m not a stalker, I promise. I just saw you go in and you looked like you could use a friend.” The girl knocks again. “The classes have started, so there won’t be many people coming in here for another hour or so.”
“How do you know?” I stand up, throwing the last bit of toilet paper into the toilet and flushing.
“Ehh… It’s how schools work.” I can almost hear the shrug in her voice. “People won’t come early unless they have to, especially not on the first day of class.” I can hear her step away from the door and after I’ve made sure that my dress is draped right and isn’t bunched up anywhere, I take a deep breath and open the door.
The girl in front of me has black hair with bright red streaks, a black tank top and wide jeans that are tucked into her army boots at the front. She holds her head to the side as she looks me over. “Hi.”
“Hi.” I step in front of the mirror, looking at the dark streaks on my face. No matter my attempts to rub them off, they still leave marks.
“Here.” The girl tugs on my shoulder to turn me towards her, but pulls her arm back when I flinch. “I can help.” She opens her bag and shows me her make-up.
I nod and turn to her, leaning against the sink.
“Do you trust me?” She takes some face-cleaning stuff and some make-up from her bag, putting it to the side.
It takes me a moment to think but then I nod. Why not? It’s not like she can make it worse.
“Close your eyes.”
I do as she asks, trying to control myself so I won’t flinch when she touches me again.
The girl wipes my face with a soft cloth and then I hear the opening of the liquid eyeliner. “Keep your eyes closed.” I feel the cold brush on my eyes as she skilfully applies the make-up. Her movements are careful, almost as if she is used to doing other people’s make-up. “Open your eyes.”
I turn to the mirror and look at myself. The make-up is applied very neatly, better than I can do myself, even after years of practising.
“Now, only dab at the inside of your eyes, before the tears fall, and don’t push too hard. That should keep your eyes clean.” Her smile is infectious, and I find myself smiling back at her.
“Thank you.” I look at the girl again. “I’m Lizzy.”
“I’m Hanna. Not very inventive, right?” She’s right, Hanna was a pretty popular name when I grew up. I’ve always had at least one Hanna in my class.
“Better than Lizzy.” The girl opens her mouth, but I cut her off before she can even start. “No, it isn’t short for anything.”
Hanna laughs. “You get the question all the time?”
I roll my eyes. “Not just that, some people insist I’m making it up to make it easier on others or something. Seriously, being called Elizabeth or Isabella would have been so much easier. Nope, I’m stuck with Lizzy.”
“Hey. I know classes have already started, so just walking in right now would be weird. Do you wanna go somewhere else?” She shrugs and I have to admit that the prospect of walking into the class late isn’t a happy one.
I check my phone to be sure and realize it really is too late to just drop in on Tamara’s class. “I guess…” Not attending my first class of the year… Great start. “Lead the way.”
Sometimes it’s for the good of everyone involved.” Hanna balances her wallet, a bag of snacks and her college pass in one hand as she tries to order a coffee from the machine. “You know?”
I nod, not having a clue what she is talking about. She seems to be bad with quiet and apparently doesn’t need much prompting to keep chattering on. It’s only been a few minutes, but I’ve realized that I don’t mind her chattering. She has a comfortable voice to listen to, or space out to…
“And then there was this one girl. Gah. She was so annoying. She was all, ‘I already studied with this guy, so I know what he likes.’ And you know what happened?” Hanna looks at me for a second and hands me the snacks as she grabs her coffee from the machine.
I stare at the bag of chips in my hands. Chips, when was the last time I had those? I can’t even remember. But just holding the little thing I can almost sense the fat, salt and calories in them. I shiver. Bad, bad, bad.
Almost without thinking Hanna takes the bag back from me and walks in front of me out of the cafeteria. “I know this amazing place to sit. Lots of people-spotting there.”
I follow her, simply listening to her chattering. I’ll be okay, I’ll be okay. I didn’t touch the chips themselves. People who don’t know about my eating particulars can be so annoying, but if I want to make friends, I’ll need to put up with this.
“Here.” Hanna stops, and I almost bump into her. “This is the place.” She motions around and I can see what she means. This corner is kind of secluded because of the way the art building is angled, but I can see the parking spots on both side of the building, and we have a clear view of everyone coming and going. “It also has great sun during the afternoon, you should totally try it out.”
“How do you know all this?” I turn to Hanna at the exact same moment as she opens her bag of chips, and quickly turn away again.
“Ah.” She blushes, almost as if caught out on something. “I moved here in the second semester last year, so technically I’m still a first-year. What about you? I didn’t see you last week.”
“I’m not that comfortable around big groups of people. I’m a first-year though.” I shrug. Better put it out there right now.
“What class were you supposed to be at?”
“Drawing, with Tamara.”
“Tamara? Tamara who?”
“Oh.” Of course, here she is a professor, not a friend. “Tamara Winters. I used to have art classes from her years ago, when I was still in middle school.” Tamara runs a local workshop where kids who like to experiment with art can follow classes after school. It was probably the best part of my week.
“Ah. Her. I heard she is very strict.”
I shrug. I can’t remember if she was or not. She was pretty cool though, at least for thirteen-year-old me. “No clue. She might be worse here. What were you supposed to be taking now?”
“Prof Winters too, but I’ll talk to her on Thursday. I’ll just have forgotten today’s class.” Hanna smiles and then offers me the bag of chips.
I try not to flinch and muster up a smile for her instead. “No, thanks, I just ate.” My doctor’s approved breakfast of oatmeal and fruit… I probably won’t be hungry for another while.
“Your loss.” She happily munches away as she stares out over the college grounds. She was right, this is a great spot to sit—nice and secluded and not too busy.
Aloud noise makes us both look up. A motorbike drives onto the parking lot, weaving its way past cars and groups of people. We’re not the only ones looking—everyone between the art building and the end of the parking lot is staring as the bike pulls up to the building and a guy steps off. He pulls off his helmet and unzips his leather jacket, his movements precise and proud. He runs his fingers through his bleached white hair, spiking it. Then he puts his helmet on top of his dark red bike—the helmet even matches the color—as he shrugs his jacket off, revealing a tight black t-shirt that hangs just over his snug black jeans. He grabs a lock from somewhere on his bike and bends over to attach his helmet and his bike to one of the rings in the wall.
My mouth goes dry as he stands up straight, his muscles moving under his clothing. There are few words to describe how perfectly he moves, but I know that I can definitely draw it, and I probably will. It doesn’t happen often that you run into a guy who puts Michelangelo’s David to shame.
He picks up his jacket and walks into the building, unaware, or maybe even ignoring, the looks he gets from everyone since he came onto the campus.
“That is Aitch.” Hanna pulls me from my daze.
I probably heard that wrong. Aitch doesn’t sound like a name. “Who?”
“Aitch, from Hunter,” Hanna explains, but it takes a moment for me to connect the dots. Aitch, H, Hunter, of course.
“He famous or something?”
“Infamous, maybe. He’s got a temper and dropped out last year after… after something happened.” Hanna looks uncomfortable.
“Something happened?” Something always happens, that’s kind of how life works.
“The guy’s had a stroke of bad luck in the last couple of years. That is all. And he doesn’t date.” Hanna pretends pouts and then smiles.
“You tried?” Of course she would have. What healthy girl, or guy, wouldn’t have tried?
“He was already gone before I came here, but I’ve heard the stories from classmates. It’s… bad.” Hanna doesn’t smile anymore, but looks at the building. “I haven’t seen him around town. It seems he is keeping to himself mostly. I don’t really know the details. People here like to gossip about him, but I don’t think most of what they say is true, if any of it.” Hanna looks at me. “Sorry, it’s just such a damn shame. He’s gorgeous. Many would love to get him back into the dating game. And the bike is definitely a plus.”
I nod. Yeah, the guy has that something about him. He has charisma and attraction, but his darkness is all-consuming. It’s like a shadow that makes him radiate danger in a way that attracts some, but also keeps others away from him. It’s… intriguing.
“Hey, do you have literature this afternoon?” Hanna stands up and sweeps crumbs off her jeans, then extends her hand to me.
“Yeah, don’t know where, though.” I look up at her and grab her hand, pulling myself up. The campus has changed a lot since I came here for the first time, back when Lola was looking at colleges to attend. I never considered coming here, so I didn’t bother taking a good look. The art building is still the same, so I knew what to look for, but the college has changed a lot in four years, extended in all directions.
“I’ll take you there. Do you wanna go into town while we wait? We’ve got like three hours or something left.”
Three hours, including lunch. “No, thanks. Maybe next week. I need to talk to Tamara—uh, Prof Winters—about something first. See you here in… two and a half hours?”
“Sure. Good luck. Don’t tell her that I was here.” Hanna grins, embraces me for a moment, and then steps back. “It was nice to get to know you, Lizzy-not-short-for-anything.”
“You too. Thanks for saving me back there.” I watch as Hanna walks off towards the bus stops. I never thought that I would actually meet someone here on the first day. Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all.
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