Be there in 5.
“Oh, Dad? I forgot K.C. is stopping over. Can I let you go?”
“Sure, but I’ll be leaving tomorrow for a day or so. Taking the train to Nuremberg for some sightseeing. I want to chat with you in the morning before I leave and hear about the Science Fair prep you’re doing.”
Ugh, shit. No prep had been organized, because I hadn’t even come close to deciding my project.
“Ok, Dad,” I mumbled, leaving that discussion for tomorrow. “Call me at seven?”
“Talk to you then, sweetie. Bye.” And he was gone.
Closing my laptop and tossing my book onto the bed, I walked to the French doors and opened them wide. School had ended for the week three hours ago, but the sun still cast a radiant glow around the neighborhood. Leaves from the maple outside my doors rustled in the subtle breeze, and a few tiny clouds sprinkled the sky.
Turning around, I slipped out of my school clothes and into a pair of plaid pajama shorts with a white and gray fitted raglan t-shirt. I let out an overly dramatic sigh. Of course, I would be in my pajamas at six p.m. on a Friday night.
The doorbell echoed from downstairs, and I jogged to answer the door.
“Hey!” K.C. breathed, stepping into the house with her arms loaded down. What the hell? We were just doing my hair, not a makeover.
My eyes watered at her perfume. “What’s that scent you’re wearing?”
“Oh, it’s new. It called Secret. You like?”
“Love it.” Don’t loan it to me.
“Let’s go up to your room. I want to have access to your bathroom when we do this.” K.C. insisted on coming over to give me a honey hair treatment she read about in Women’s Day. It’s supposed to soothe sun-damaged hair, which she says is a danger with all of the outdoor sightseeing I did this summer and with the cross-country practice.
Okay, so I didn’t really care. I thought my hair looked fine, but I wanted to catch up with her after the busy first week.
“Can I take the chair to the window? There’s a nice breeze coming in.” The honey would be messy, but the room boasted dark hardwood floors, so it would be an easy cleanup.
“Yeah, sure. Just take your hair out of the pony tail and brush it out.” She handed me a brush, and I positioned myself in front of the doors, enjoying the serene evening.
“I’m going to put some olive oil in, to thin it out, and a bit of egg yolk for protein.”
“Whatever you say,” I accepted.
As she mixed the ingredients and brought me a towel to protect my clothes, I caught sight of Jared backing up his car from the garage into the driveway. My stomach fluttered, and I realized my teeth were clenched together like glue.
His black t-shirt rode up as he got out and popped the hood. Grabbing a towel out of the back pocket of his jeans, he used it to unfasten something under the hood.
“So you like the view?” K.C.’s voice made me blink as she appeared at my side. I quickly looked down.
“Back off,” I mumbled.
“It’s fine. For an ass**le, he’s pretty.” She began dampening my hair with a water bottle, while running her fingers through the wet strands.
“But he’s still an ass**le.” I looked for a change of subject. “So, how bad is it? The talk at school, I mean?” I had stayed far away from Facebook, Twitter, and the cheer team’s secret blog. Seeing pictures of myself in a towel, photos that everyone in town had probably seen, would only make me want to jump a plane back to France… or murder someone.
K.C. shrugged. “It’s already dying down. People are still circulating this story or that, but it’s lost its momentum. I told you, no prank or rumor will keep the guys away this year. And with this hair treatment, you’ll be absolutely fabulous.” I couldn’t see her face, but I was sure she was kidding around with me. Absolutely Fabulous was a British television show we watched on Comedy Central a couple of summers ago.
I tossed around the idea of telling K.C. about the things Madoc told me at Jared’s party—the date sabotaging and the rumors. But the drama that followed me every year was embarrassing. I had no interest in being one of those friends always caught up in trouble, so I tried to act like it all bothered me less than it really did.
As she started brushing the syrupy mixture onto my hair, my eyes darted to Jared, who was now pulling his shirt over his head. His amazingly toned arms were put to shame when he turned around, and I saw his chiseled torso.My mouth went dry, and chills shot out like needles over my body.
It was the breeze. It was totally the breeze.
“Oh, you get to look at that every day?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, I have to look at that every day. Whose side are you on, anyway?” My whine was meant as a joke, but I wasn’t sure it came out that way.
“The boy doesn’t have to talk for me to look. I’m appreciating from afar.”
“You have Liam, remember?” It bugged me that she was drooling over Jared, even if it was jokingly. He was beautiful, but it didn’t need to be pointed out like it actually mattered. His personality sucked.
“How’s everything going with you and Liam?” I hadn’t seen him, except in passing since being back to school.
“Oh, we’re fine. He’s gotten his Camaro ready for the Loop, and he’s been hanging out down there a lot. I’ve gone once, but it’s boring hanging on his arm while he discusses cars all night. He doesn’t even race yet. Apparently, there’s a waiting list, and even then you’re behind proven cars that get first dibs, because that’s who the audience wants to see.”
I hated to ask, but it spilled out anyway. “How’s Asshole performing out there?” Why did I need to know that?
“Jared? He’s one of the ones that doesn’t have to wait. He can usually just race whenever the mood suits him. According to Liam, he’s out there either on Friday or Saturday nights but not usually both.”
“Are you spending enough time with Liam?” I’d noticed a change in tone and demeanor when I’d brought him up.
She shrugged. “I feel bad, because I should take an interest in his hobbies, I guess. It’s just that, if he’s not going to race, I feel like I’m wallpaper standing at his side. I don’t know many people or anything about the car scene.”
“Well, maybe you could just go once in a while? Tough it out for him now and then?” I suggested as the weight of my head increased with the amount of honey she piled on.
“I don’t know.” K.C. walked around me to the doors and peered out. “I’m thinking of coming over to your house more instead.”
I gave her a light kick on the leg.
“Mmm.” She devoured Jared with her eyes as she backed up to my hair. “I hate to say it, but I wonder what it’d be like to have him.”
“K.C.! Stop it. You’re my friend,” I scolded.
“I’m sorry, okay? It’s just that he wasn’t that bad while you were gone. Honestly. He wasn’t the hell raiser he was before you left.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if it had anything to do with you. He seemed moodier for a while but then got better. It’s just that I got to see him with different eyes. Before it was always about how he treated you—which was horrible,” she rushed to add. “But after you left, he seemed different. More human.”
The idea of present-day Jared as human was incomprehensible to me. He was driven, confident, and severe. That’s the only side of him I’d seen since we were fourteen. I hadn’t seen him happy in years, and I thought for sure he’d be pleased as punch to be rid of me for a year.
But why had he acted moodier after I left? It didn’t make sense.
Was he having a hard time entertaining himself without his favorite chew toy?
Aww, poor baby.
“Ugh!” I let out a guttural moan into the darkness as I stared at my ceiling that night, which was lit up by the headlights of another arrival next door.
It was after one in the morning, and the bombardment of party noises coming from next door wouldn’t relent. The pillow brought up to both of my ears to drown out the sounds hadn’t helped. Texting K.C. to text Liam to text Jared hadn’t helped. Calling the police and filing a complaint an hour ago hadn’t helped.
If it wasn’t the loud music or the constant arrival and departure of muscle cars with their sorry exhaust systems, then it was the shouting or laughing coming from Jared’s yards. I liked loud music, but a party in the middle of the night that was keeping the whole neighborhood awake should be shut down.
Throwing the covers off, I stomped out of bed and stood at the French doors. His whole house was lit up and bustling with noise and activity. Some people stumbled around the front yard, which was littered with red Solo cups, and some gathered in the backyard either smoking or enjoying the hot tub.
He is such a dick! My hands were on my hips, gripping harder than usual. What kind of person had no regard for anyone else? The self-absorbed asswipe living next to me, I guess. I had a video chat with my dad in six hours, and I wasn’t going to be up all night just because they wanted to get drunk and high.
Screw it. I slipped on my purple Chucks and black hoodie and headed downstairs.
I opened the door in the kitchen leading to the garage and went to my dad’s workbench, still as organized as we’d left it. Grabbing the big bolt cutters from the bottom tool-box drawer, I maneuvered them up my right sleeve. With my free hand, I opened another drawer and picked a padlock out of the three extras. Sliding that into the front pocket of my hoodie, I headed out.
I rounded the corner of my house and strode to the rear, my heart beating faster with every step. Finding the hole I had made in the hedge years ago, I swiped the new growth aside and slipped through. As I took a right and continued to walk, I could hear the partygoers in his backyard on the other side of the hedge. I was about five feet away from them, but there was no way they could see me.
Jared’s backyard, as well as mine, was encased by fences on the sides and tall hedges on the back. When I made it to the fence at the other side of his house, I poked my hand through the dense brush of leaves. I tried to push the branches aside as much as possible but still the needle-like sprigs scraped and stung my legs as I shimmied my way through. The party was going hard, and there were tons of people here.
What I was going to do needed to happen fast.
Taking several glances in all directions to make sure I had arrived unnoticed, I jogged up the side of Jared’s house to the circuit breaker. I’d spent enough time at his house as a kid to be able to find it in the dark. I slid the bolt cutter out of my thin sleeve and clamped both handles down with all of my strength on the padlock securing the panel. As soon as I’d shoved the old padlock into my pocket, I opened the panel door and began flipping switches.
I tried not to register what was happening around the house, the sudden loss of music and light, and the cacophony of What the f**k? coming from everywhere. I finished flipping switches, took the new padlock out of my sweater, and secured it to the closed panel.
Jared wasn’t stupid. Once he realized that no other houses lost electricity, he’d be out here checking the circuit breaker. So I got out of there. Fast.
Running with jello-like legs and sliding back through behind the hedge, I started panting instantly. A drop of sweat glided down my back, and I realized that I wanted to laugh, scream, and throw up all at the same time. I wasn’t certain which law I’d just broken, but I was sure I’d get into some kind of trouble if anyone found out. My legs pumped with liquid heat, making my knees feeble.
The anxiety of being caught drove my tense muscles back through my side of the brush and into the garage. I couldn’t help the ear-to-ear smile on my face. I was scared of being caught, but the feeling of giving him a metaphorical kick in the ass made my toes curl.