“People can survive on water alone for weeks.” I tried to keep serious, but I started laughing when his eyes widened.
We chatted for a few more minutes. I told him about my experiments, but left out how preoccupied I’d been lately. He listened while I gave him a rundown of my upcoming meets, and he reminded me to get all of my college applications ready by Thanksgiving. Even though I couldn’t entertain the idea of not getting into Columbia, we both agreed applying to other schools was smart. I suggested a few places, and he suggested Tulane, my mom’s school. I agreed to add it to the list.
“So,” K.C. taunted as soon as I’d hung up with my dad, “Madoc, huh?” I knew she’d been itching to ask as soon as she’d knocked on my door. She dug into me with her stare as she pulled her long, dark brown hair into a ponytail.
I climbed off my bed and took off my jacket. “Oh, it’s not like that, and you know it. You should’ve seen how he ambushed me in the cafeteria.” I walked into my newly redecorated bathroom.
Grandma had done it for me last week. The once off white bathroom walls now boasted a calming deep gray. A black shower curtain was accented with matching accessories throughout the room. Black and white pictures of bare trees adorned the wall opposite the mirror, and a radio with an iPod dock sat on the sink counter. My Scentsy warmer contained My Dear Watson, my favorite scent.
This was my oasis. As silly as it sounded, the bathroom should be revered more. It’s the one place where absolute privacy is respected.
For the most part.
“You said ‘yes?’” K.C. shouted from my bedroom.
“I think I said ‘fine,’ actually. Believe me I don’t want to go anywhere with Madoc. I’ll get out of it.”
But maybe not. Now that I knew his asking wasn’t orchestrated by Jared and that Jared was upset by it, I was considering a devious move by actually going.
“You could’ve just kicked him in the balls again.” K.C. peeked around the corner of the bathroom.
“Maybe, maybe not.” I raised my eyebrows, and K.C. let it go and came to stand beside me at the sink.
Taking one of my lipsticks off the counter, she began to apply it and spoke while looking at me through the mirror. “We can go shopping for dresses,” she suggested.
“Are you going with Liam then?” I asked, tugging my hair out of my ponytail.
“He’s asked, but I haven’t agreed.” She waved her hand at my questioning look. “Oh, I’ll agree eventually. I just want him to suffer a bit.”
“Are you sure you don’t just want to space yourself from him for a while? I mean, he did cheat on you.”
K.C. was smart, and even though I liked Liam, I didn’t want her to get hurt again. If he cheated once, he might do it again.
“You don’t have to worry, Tate. You’re not saying anything I haven’t told myself a hundred times already.” She sighed and fixed me with a pensive expression. “I love him. And I believe he’s sorry. Do I trust him? Of course not. And he knows it.” She walked back into the bedroom, and I leaned on the bathroom doorframe.
So she and Jared were over then. How far had it gone, I wondered?
“And Jared?” I couldn’t help myself. “You two…” Drifting off, not sure how to ask what I wanted to ask.
She gave me a look that made me embarrassed to ask, but she answered. “It wasn’t like that. He took my mind off Liam, is all.”
“So you two didn’t…” I stared down to my dark hardwood floors, feeling incredibly awkward.
“No! What do you think I am?” She was shocked. That was a good sign.
I exhaled, my body suddenly feeling more relaxed until the next thought occurred to me. “Could you have?” Maybe she and Jared hadn’t done the deed, but maybe it was just because she’d resisted. If he’d wanted to, it would be like they had done it in my book.
“You mean was he interested in ha**ng s*x with me?” She smirked, trying to figure out how to carry this out and toy with me. “Maaaaybe. Why do you care?”
“I don’t. Of course.” I looked around the room, anywhere but at her. Why did I care?
“So you were hot for Ben, now you’re hot for Madoc, and secretly hot for Jared?” I could tell by her pursed lips that she was trying to contain laughter.
“You’re baiting me. Knock it off,” I warned playfully and changed the subject. “Alright, dress shopping this weekend. Preferably Saturday after the meet.”
Grinning and looking at me out of the corner of her eye, she walked to the door and grabbed her jacket off my bed. “See ya later, Hot Mama.”
I grabbed my running shoe off the floor and hurled it at the door as she left. She squealed as she ran down the stairs laughing.
“I think you should know…” a snippy female voice came up beside me the next day at my locker. I turned to see Piper, whose last name I had yet to discover, giving me the stink-eye right before she slammed my locker door shut, missing my nose by centimeters. “…that Jared is not interested in you. Back off.” Her warning came with a raised eye brow and laughable duckface lips.
Really? She was making this too easy.
“So are you naturally insecure or just with Jared?” I innocently inquired, enjoying a weaker opponent a little too much.
“I’m not insecure. I just protect what’s mine.” I could see up her nostrils with how high she held her sharp nose. She stuck her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, pushing her D cup chest further in my face.
Taking in her look, I felt insecure. She was sexy in her skin tight jeans and red halter top shirt. My look screamed goodie-goodie in my tight but not too tight jeans and black peasant blouse. She was stylishly adorned with silver bracelets and high-heeled sandals. Really? Sandals in October? My wrists were covered in rubber bracelets.
I wouldn’t change for any guy, but I could see why guys found girls like her attractive. My skin burned to think that she had slept with Jared. He’d been on her body, inside of her.
My head started to ache. I fought the urge to give in to my jealous rage when I really just wanted to rip her hair out.
I picked up my bag from the floor and stuffed my Physics and French books inside. I opted to spend lunch in the library today, since I wanted to avoid Madoc and let K.C. have some time with Liam.
When I didn’t say anything, she continued, “Every time I turn around, there you are making a spectacle of yourself, getting his attention.”
“He’s yours?” I asked calmly, remembering Jared’s and my two-almost-three kisses. “Does he know that?”
Her expression faltered, but she quickly recovered. “Jared’s a bad boy. He is what he is, and I can handle that. But if you come after him, you’ll have to deal with me.”
“He is what he is, huh?” For once, I felt no nervousness. My attack matched hers, and I wanted to see it out. “What’s his favorite color? What’s his mother’s name? His favorite food? When’s his birthday? Why does he hate the smell of bleach? Which band could he listen to every day for the rest of his life?”
Piper narrowed her eyes at me. Clearly, she was at a loss. Moreover, she was annoyed, because I was insinuating that I had the answers to these questions while she didn’t. And I did.
I put my hand up before she retorted. “Rest easy, kitty cat. I’m not after him. But don’t ever threaten me again, or I’ll make a real big spectacle of myself. Got it?” Without waiting for her comeback, I twisted on my red ballet flat and headed toward the library.
“I do know where he goes on the weekends,” she called behind me. “Do you?”
I turned around, the hairs on my neck prickling with interest. Piper seemed satisfied with my puzzled expression and gave me a smug smile before turning around and walking away.
That’s right. He was gone most weekends. But where?
As far as I knew, he spent most Friday nights at the Benson farm, but the rest of his weekend was a mystery. There was usually a party at his place on either Friday or Saturday nights, so it’s not like he’d disappear all weekend. But she was right. I had no idea where he was during the days. I assumed at work.
The rest of the school day I was a shadow in my classes as my mind was consistently preoccupied with ideas about Jared’s whereabouts on the weekends, his scars, and that summer three years ago.
His constant stare on me during Themes was my only distraction as I tried to form a mental list of what I knew and what I didn’t. And what I truly knew about Jared wasn’t much anymore.
An idea popped in my head, sending a thrilling heat through my chest. It was Tuesday, and I had my lab after school today. But some afternoon this week I needed to do a little recon work. Hopefully, he still kept his window unlocked.
“Are we heading into Chicago to dress shop this weekend? We’re already behind. The selection probably sucks by now,” K.C. pointed out as I drove her home from school Friday afternoon. She was heading to the races tonight, and although Madoc had invited me to be his “co-pilot,” I had other plans.
“I have that meet tomorrow morning, but it’s local. Can you come? We can get a late breakfast afterwards and head into the city.” Downshifting to second as I slowed and rounded the corner to her house, I noticed Liam’s car parked in front of her two-story red brick colonial.
“Yeah, that sounds good. Text me the time later, and I’ll be there. And you’re getting a red dress, Tate.” She pointed her electric blue finger nail at me and smirked. This was an old argument. She thought blondes rocked it in red, whereas I thought I looked best in black.
“Oh, yeah?” I challenged.
“You’ll see,” she chirped as if she’d already won our impending argument.
Shifting into neutral and pulling up the e-brake, I turned down Five Finger Death Punch on the radio and asked, “Did you know Liam was going to be here?”
She looked ahead of her outside the window at his Camaro. “Yeah. He’s invited for dinner tonight before we head to the race. My parents don’t really know what went down between us. Just that we had an argument and split up for a while. If they knew—“
“Yeah,” I cut her off. I could only imagine Sgt. Carter’s reaction.
“Alright.” She opened the door and climbed out. “Text me later, okay?”
“Sure. See you later,” I called out as she slammed the door to my dad’s Bronco.
The drive home took less than two minutes. A few twists and turns, and I was in my own driveway pulling into the garage. I took note that Jared’s car was parked inside his garage before I noticed him and two other guys crowded under the hood.
Ignoring the tingling that started in my belly and drifted downward, I stomped into the house with a heavy sigh.
Spending the rest of the evening tied up in any menial activity I could think of, I passed the time waiting to hear the rumble of Jared’s engine as it left for the Benson farm. I’d already swept and vacuumed, finished the laundry, and eaten dinner. I was about to go defrag my hard drive when the vibrations of Jared’s Boss caused me to jump.
My bare feet got rug burned as I leaped up my stairs. I looked out my French doors to see his car peeling out of the driveway. The black machine raced down the street, and my heart started thumping with what I was about to do.
His house was dark, so I assumed his mother was already at her boyfriend’s for the weekend.
I climbed out of the doors and through the tree, using my bare feet to clutch the branches. I swayed with the déjà vu flooding me. It’d been a long time since I’d made this trip.
My body weight had increased over the past three years. Branches creaked, and I hurried to his window, since there was no longer much density with the leaves. Most of them had already fallen for the upcoming winter, and I was sure to be seen from the street if I lingered too long.