“What is she doing here?” Jolted out of my internal musing, I found Jared braced in the doorway between the pool room and the stairs. His arms were above his head, hands secured to both sides of the door frame.
My breath caught. Seeing him face to face made me forget everything else. Madoc, his disclosures… Shit! What the hell were he and I just talking about? I couldn’t remember.
Even with my resentment towards Jared, I couldn’t look away from the way the muscles in his smooth chest stretched with his arms. My body involuntarily reacted as heat gathered below my belly and steam moved up my neck. I’d been in France for a year, and seeing him again up close sent my stomach into a double back handspring.
His dark brown hair and eyes seemed to make his skin glow. The severe straight eyebrows enhanced his forbidding presence. Looking at him should be a sport. Whoever pulled their eyes away from him the soonest won.
He stood half naked, wearing only a pair of black pants featuring a wallet chain hanging from his pocket. His skin was tanned and his hair was shamelessly mussed. His two tattoos blazed, one on his upper arm and one on the side of his torso. His blue and white checkered boxers peeked out of the top of his pants, which hung loose due to the unfastened belt looped around his waist.
Unfastened. I closed my eyes.
Tears burned behind my lids, and the magnitude of his deeds came flooding back. Seeing this person that hated me enough to hurt me day after day made my heart ache.
He’s not getting my senior year, I committed to myself. Blinking away the unshed tears, my breathing slowed. Survival is the best revenge, my mother would say.
Under one arm, I saw Sam peeking in, looking comically like Dobby cowering behind Lucius Malfoy. Under the other arm, a sexy brunette—whose name I assumed was Piper—squeezed through, looking like the cat that just ate the canary. I recognized her vaguely from school. She wore a skin tight red halter-top dress with scary, black heels. Even with the six inches added to her height, she still fell below Jared’s chin. She was pretty in a…well, in every way, I guess.
Jared, on the other hand, might’ve been about ready to eat a live baby with the scowl he wore. Making no eye contact with me, he made it clear that he spoke to Madoc and that I wasn’t being addressed.
I stepped in before Madoc opened his mouth. “‘She’ wanted a brief word with you.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and hooded my gaze, trying to look tougher than I was. Jared did the same, and while his lips were still, his eyes were amused.
“Make it quick. I have guests,” he ordered.
He strolled into the room and took position on the other side of the pool table. Madoc and Sam took their cue and shuffled back into the kitchen. I caught Madoc out of the corner of my eye, swatting Sam over the head.
The control I was desperately trying to maintain threatened to rupture. After the epiphany brought on by Madoc’s confession, I hated Jared more than ever. It was hard to look at him.
“I.Have.Guests,” Jared repeated, fixing me with an annoyed stare.
“Yes, I can tell.” I peered around him to the doorway where the brunette still stood. “You can get back to servicing them in just a minute.”
Jared’s expression fell to a slight scowl. The brunette finally took the hint, walked over to Jared whose eyes never left mine, and kissed him on the cheek. “Call me,” she whispered.
His glare stayed on me as he continued to ignore her. After a few moments’ hesitation, she backed out of the room, twisted on her heel and left. No wonder guys acted like jerks. Girls like that let them.
Pulling myself together, I held my head high. “I have to be up in about five hours for an appointment in Weston. I’m asking politely that you please turn down the music.” Please don’t be an ass, please don’t be an ass.
So much for the power of prayer.
“Jared.” I paused, already knowing that I wouldn’t win. “I came here being neighborly. It’s after midnight. I’m asking nicely.” I was trying to keep my tone even.
“It’s after midnight on a Friday night.” He kept his arms crossed over his chest, giving the impression of being bored.
“You’re being unreasonable. If I wanted the music off, I could file a noise complaint or call your mom. I’m coming to you out of respect.” I looked around the empty room. “Where is your mother, by the way? I haven’t seen her since I’ve been back.”
“She’s not around much anymore, and she won’t be dragging her ass down here in the middle of the night to break up my party.”
“I’m not saying to ‘break it up’. I’m asking that you turn the music down,” I clarified, as if I still had any chance that Jared would concede.
“Go sleep over at K.C.’s on the weekends.” He started circling the pool table and rolling balls into pockets.
“It’s after midnight! I’m not bothering her this late!”
“You’re bothering me this late.”
“You are such a dick.” The whisper left my lips before I could stop it.
“Careful, Tatum.” He stopped and glared. “You’ve been gone for a while, so I’ll cut you a break and remind you that my goodwill doesn’t go far with you.”
“Oh, please. Don’t act like it’s such a burden to tolerate my presence. I’ve put up with more than a little from you over the years. What could you possibly do to me that you haven’t done already?” I, again, crossed my arms over my chest and tried to look confident.
My past nervousness came from my inability to handle him. He was clever and quick-witted, and I always lost when we verbally sparred. But I was not afraid of him.
“I like my parties, Tatum.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I like to be entertained. If you take my party, then you’ll have to entertain me.” His hooded gaze and husky voice were probably meant to be sexy, but it only came off as threatening.
“And what disgusting task, pray tell, would you like me to do?” I lavishly waved my hand through the air as if talking to a Duke or Lord. Maybe the jerkoff wanted his toilets cleaned or socks folded. Either way, he was only going to get my middle finger pointed in his face.
Sauntering over to me, Jared grabbed the hem of my hoodie and said, “Take this off and give me a lap dance.”
My eyes widened. “Excuse me?” I choked out in a husky whisper. He stood so close to me, and my body hummed with energy. His head was level, but his dark eyes were downcast with a penetrating gaze. I was hyperaware of his body, his bare skin, and then the mental pictures of a lap dance started flowing. Oh, my. I hate him, I hate him, I reminded myself.
Jared flicked the Seether emblem on the left breast of my hoodie. “I’ll put on Remedy. Still your favorite song? You give me a quick lap dance, and the party’s over.” The corners of his mouth turned up, but the dead coldness was still in his eyes. He wanted to humiliate me again. The monster needed to be fed.
Isn’t it time you fought back?
If I accepted his offer, Jared would only find some way to back out of the deal and embarrass me. If I didn’t accept the offer, we’d be at an impasse. Either way, Jared was aware he didn’t have to surrender anything. The jerk also assumed I was too flustered to think of a third choice.
Isn’t it time you fought back?
In the brief moment it took me to make my decision, I took one final survey of him. It was such a shame. Jared was stunningly gorgeous, and once upon a time, he was a good guy. If things had been different, I could be his. Once upon a time, I thought I was his. But I wouldn’t be sacrificing my pride to him. Ever. Again.
My legs started to shake, but I refused to let go of my resolve.
I backed away and screamed into the living room. “Cops!” Dancers looked around in confusion.
“Cops! Everyone get out of here! Cops coming in the backdoor! Run!” I was surprised by the amount of commitment I could summon to pull this off, but it worked. Damn, it worked!
Pandemonium ensued as the mob reacted with immediate panic. Partiers, the underage ones at least, started scattering to the four winds and seemed to pass the word to the people outside, too. Everyone else grabbed their weed and bottles before running off. They were too drunk to scan the area properly and actually look for the cops. They just ran.
Twisting around to meet Jared’s eyes, I took notice that he hadn’t reacted. He hadn’t moved. As everyone bolted from his house in a flurry of screams and engines revving, Jared just stared at me with a mixture of anger and surprise.
Approaching me slowly, the huge smile that developed across his face forced my stomach to do a cartwheel. Letting out a fake pitiful sigh, he declared, “I’ll have you in tears in no time.” His tone was calm and decisive. I believed every word.
Taking a long breath, my eyes narrowed at him. “You’ve already made me cry countless times.” I raised my middle finger to him slowly, and asked, “Do you know what this is?” I took my middle finger and patted the corner of my eye with it. “It’s me, wiping away the last tear you’ll ever get.”
The next few days passed in a flurry of activity as I prepared for school to begin. As much as I tried to talk myself into believing that Jared’s silence was a good thing, it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.
My actions at his party had been careless, but sometimes the worst ideas felt the best. Even now, after a week, my pulse sped up, and I couldn’t help but grin at the thought of how I'd gotten him. The awareness I’d gained while living abroad made things that were once threatening seem more trivial now. Nervousness still surged in my chest at the thought of Jared, but I no longer felt the need to avoid him at all costs.
“So, are you in the fishbowl today!” It wasn’t a question. K.C. bounced up next to me as I put my books away. Her hand gripped the top of the locker door as she peeked around it.
“I’m afraid to ask.” I let out a small sigh without looking at her. It was the first day back, our first day of senior year. I’d had a full morning of Physics, Calculus, and P.E. I grabbed another notebook for French, which was my last class before lunch.
“So you haven’t noticed everyone noticing you today? In a school of about two thousand people, I think you might’ve caught on that almost all of them were talking about you,” she said with a giggle.
“Did I sit in chocolate pudding again? Or maybe a new rumor is circulating that I spent the past year hiding a pregnancy and gave the baby up for adoption.” I slammed my locker door shut then turned to head to French, knowing she’d follow me. I really didn’t want to hear what people were saying, partly because I didn’t care what bullshit they were circulating now and also because it was nothing new. France had been a peaceful respite, but Shelburne Falls was probably the same old, same old. Thanks to Jared, my high school experience had been one long succession of rumors, pranks, tears, and disappointments. I hoped for more this year, but I wasn’t holding my breath either.
“Not even close. And actually, the talk is good. Really good.”
“Oh, yeah?” I absent-mindedly responded, hoping she’d sense the disinterested tone and shut up.
“Apparently, your year in Europe has transformed you from ubergeek to ubercool!” K.C. broadcasted sarcastically, knowing that I had never been ubergeek. Not that I was ever considered ubercool either. My default identity had always been “of those on the outside”, but only because the long arm of Jared Trent had deemed me less than acceptable in most social circles.
I jetted up the stairs to the third floor for class, sidestepping other students as they rushed down to their next destination.
“Tate, did you hear me?” K.C. jogged behind me, trying to catch up. “I mean, look around you! Would you stop for two seconds?” she whisper-yelled, eyes pleading when I glanced back at her.