I arrived outside the classroom at straight-up 9:00, knowing that Kennedy, habitually punctual, would already be there. The classroom was large and sloped. Slipping through the back door, I spotted him, sixth row center. The seat to his right was empty—my seat. Dr. Heller had passed around a seating chart the second week of class, and he used it to take attendance and give credit for class participation. I would have to talk with him after class, because there was no way I was sitting there again.
My eyes scanned the back rows. There were two empty seats. One was three rows down between a guy leaning on his hand, mostly asleep, and a girl drinking a venti something and chattering nonstop to her neighbor. The other open seat was on the back row, next to a guy who appeared to be doodling something into the margin of his textbook. I turned in that direction at the same time the professor entered a side door below, and the artist raised his head to scan the front of the classroom. I froze, recognizing my savior from two nights ago. If I could’ve moved, I would have turned and fled the classroom.
The attack came flooding back. The helplessness. The terror. The humiliation. I’d curled into a ball on my bed and cried all night, thankful for Erin’s text that she was staying with Chaz. I hadn’t told her what Buck had done—partly because I knew she’d feel responsible for making me go, and for letting me leave alone. Partly because I wanted to forget it had happened at all.
“If everyone will be seated, we’ll begin.” The professor’s statement shook me from my stupor—I was the only student standing. I bolted to the empty chair between the chatty girl and the sleepy guy.
She glanced at me, never pausing in her weekend confession of how trashed she’d been and where and with whom. The guy unsquinted his eyes just enough to notice when I slid into the bolted-down chair between them, but he didn’t otherwise move.
“Is this seat taken?” I whispered to him.
He shook his head and mumbled, “It was. But she dropped. Or stopped coming. Whatever.”
I pulled a spiral from my bag, relieved. I tried not to look at Kennedy, but the angled seating made that effort challenging. His perfectly styled dirty blond hair and the familiar uncreased button-down shirt drew my eyes every time he moved. I knew the effect of that green plaid next to his striking green eyes. I’d known him since ninth grade. I’d watched him alter his style from a boy who wore mesh shorts and sneakers every day to the guy who sent his fitted shirts out to be pressed, kept his shoes scuff-free, and always looked as though he’d just stepped from the cover of a magazine. I’d seen more than one teacher turn her head as he passed before snapping her gaze away from his perfect, off-limits body.
Junior year, we had pre-AP English together. He focused on me from the first day of class, flashing his dimpled smile in my direction before taking his seat, inviting me to join his study group, inquiring about my weekend plans—and finally making himself a part of them. I’d never been so confidently pursued. As our class president, he was familiar to everyone, and he made a concerted effort to become familiar with everyone. As an athlete, he was a credit to the baseball team. As a student, his academic standing was in the top ten percent. As a member of the debate team, he was known for conclusive arguments and an unbeaten record.
As a boyfriend, he was patient and attentive, never pushing me too far or too fast. Never forgetting a birthday or an anniversary. Never making me doubt his intentions for us. Once we were official, he changed my name—and everyone followed suit, including me. “You’re my Jackie,” he told me, referencing the wife of Jack Kennedy, his namesake and personal idol.
He wasn’t related. His parents were just weirdly political—and also at odds with each other. He had a sister named Reagan and a brother named Carter.
Three years had passed since I’d gone by Jacqueline, and I fought daily to regain that one original part of myself that I’d put aside for him. It wasn’t the only thing I’d given up, or the most important. It was just the only one I could get back.
Between trying to avoid staring at Kennedy for fifty minutes straight and having skipped the class for two weeks, my brain was sluggish and uncooperative. When class ended, I realized I’d absorbed little of the lecture.
I followed Dr. Heller to his office, running through various appeals in my head to induce him to give me a chance to catch up. Until that moment, I hadn’t cared that I was failing. Now that the possibility had become a probability, I was terrified. I had never failed a class. What would I tell my parents and my advisor? This F would be on my transcript for the rest of my life.
“All right, Ms. Wallace.” Dr. Heller removed a textbook and a stack of disorderly notes from his battered attaché and moved around his office as though I wasn’t standing there. “State your case.”
I cleared my throat. “My case?”
Tiredly, he peered at me over his glasses. “You’ve missed two straight weeks of class—including the midterm, and you missed today. I assume you’re standing here in my office in order to make some sort of case for why you should not fail macroeconomics. I’m waiting with bated breath for that explanation.” He sighed, shelving the textbook. “I always think I’ve heard them all, but I’ve been known to be surprised. So go ahead. I don’t have all day, and I presume you don’t, either.”
I swallowed. “I was in class today. I just sat in a different seat.”
He nodded. “I’ll take your word for that, since you approached me at the end of the lecture. That’s one day of participation back in your favor—amounting to about a quarter of a grade point. You still have six missed class days and a zero on a major exam.”