And after all of that, I wasn’t tired anymore. Just f**king awesome.
I made sure the doors were locked, out of habit, and ran up the stairs, two steps at a time. I closed the door to my room and, keeping the lights off, went to the French doors and peered outside in hopes of seeing the party disperse. I scanned the front and back yards, and, thankfully, saw a few people heading to their cars. I grimaced as I thought that maybe putting drunken people on the road wasn’t the smartest idea.
I saw more and more people heading to their cars and some starting to walk down the street to their homes. The only way Jared could get the electricity back on was by cutting the lock or calling the electric company.
As I glanced around, from the front to the back, my eyes quickly reverted to the one light I did see. Jared was standing at his bedroom window with a flashlight in one hand and both hands on either side of the window frame above his head.
And he was staring at me.
My pulse sped up again, and a scorching heat washed over my body. My sheer, black curtains were drawn, but I was positive he could see me. His head was bowed in my direction, and he was still…too still.
Throwing off my hoodie and climbing into bed, I resolved to deny anything if he came to my door. Or maybe I shouldn’t, I thought. It wasn’t like he could do a damn thing about it, anyway. Maybe I wanted him to know.
I lay there for about two minutes resisting the urge to investigate what was going on outside. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the party was dispersing, though, as the sound of engines fading away filled the neighborhood. Thrill surged through my body, giving me energy enough to want to hop out of bed and start dancing.
I’m awesome. I’m awesome. I sang to myself.
But I froze mid-song and damn near choked on a breath at the sound of a door slamming shut through the house.
“What the…” Tremors shook my legs down to my bones. Was that the vibrations or me shaking?
Scrambling out of the covers, I grabbed my baseball bat from under the bed and ran out of the room. I had no intention of going downstairs, even though that’s where I’d stupidly left the pistol. I just needed to peek over the railing to see if I’d actually heard someone entering my house.
My body instantly reacted at the sight of shirtless Jared rounding the corner into the foyer and flying up the stairs. He was definitely pissed and primed for murder with the way he charged up the staircase, taking two at a time. I darted back into my room, letting out a little yelp as I tried to run for the French doors and escape. I had no idea what Jared’s plan was or if I should be afraid, but I was. He’d just broken into my house and that freaked me out.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Jared burst through my bedroom door, and the doorknob slammed against the wall, probably denting it.
There was no way I’d make it out the door on time. I spun around to face him, raising the bat. Jared yanked it out of my hands before I even got primed for a swing.
“Get out! Are you crazy?” I started to veer around him, trying to get back to my bedroom door, but he cut me off. I was surprised he wasn’t strangling me, judging by the look on his face. Lava was about to come out his nose, I was sure.
“You cut the electricity to my house.” His nostrils flared as he got an inch from my face and stared me down.
“Prove it.” A tap dance was happening in my chest. No, more like the Paso Doble.
He cocked his head to the side, lips curling dangerously.
“How’d you get in here? I’ll call the police!” Again, I thought. Not that it did me any good when I called earlier about the noise. Maybe they’d show up if I was murdered?
“I have a key.” Every word was slow and threatening.
“How do you have a key to my house?” If he had a key, I wasn’t sure if I could call the police.
“You and your dad were in Europe all summer,” he said with a sneer. “Who do you think got the mail?”
Jared collected our mail? I almost wanted to laugh. The irony of him doing something so mundane slowed my heartbeat a bit.
“Your dad trusts me,” Jared continued. “He shouldn’t have.”
I clenched my jaws. My dad and grandma knew very little about the state of Jared’s and my relationship. If they knew how bad it’d gotten, then they would’ve spoken to his mother. I wasn’t a whiner, and I didn’t want to be rescued. It hurt that Jared was pleasant with my dad but a monster to me.
“Get out,” I gritted through my teeth.
He advanced on me until I was forced back against the French doors. “You’re a nosy bitch, Tatum. Keep your f**king ass on your own side of the fence.”
“Keeping the neighborhood awake makes people irritable,” I spit back.
I crossed my arms over my chest as Jared braced against the wall with both hands positioned on either side of my head. I don’t know if it was from the adrenaline or his proximity, but my nerves were shot. Something had to give.
I looked anywhere but in his eyes. The burning lantern tattoo on his arm was all in blacks and grays. I wondered what it meant. His abs were tight with tension—at least I hoped they weren’t normally that rigid. The other tattoo on the side of his torso was in script lettering and impossible to read in this light. His skin looked smooth and…
The air left my lungs as I tried to ignore the tingling sensation in my core. It’s best to just look him in the eye. We hadn’t been this close to each other in a long time, and we’d been nose to nose a lot since my return.
Jared must have realized the same thing, because his eyes hardened on me and his breathing turned ragged. His gaze drifted down my neck to my camisole, and my skin burned everywhere he looked.
Refocusing and straightening his expression, he inhaled deeply. “No one else is complaining. So why don’t you shut up and leave it alone?” Pushing off the wall, he started to walk away.
“Leave the key.” I called out, getting used to this new boldness.
“You know.” He laughed under his breath and turned around. “I underestimated you. You haven’t cried yet, have you?”
“Because of the rumor you started this week? Not a chance.” My voice was even, but a smug smile threatened to break out. I was getting off on our confrontation, and the realization that things between us were finally “coming to a head” as K.C. had said. Look at us already. Jared and I hadn’t been alone in my room in over three years. This was progress. Of course, he was uninvited, but I wasn’t going to nit-pick.
“Please, like I even have to resort to spreading rumors. Your cross-country pals did that. And their pictures,” he added. “Everyone drew their own conclusions.” He let out a sigh and inched towards me again. “But I’m boring you. I guess I have to step up my game.” His eyes were spiteful, and my foot twitched with the urge to kick him.
Why did he keep this up? “What did I ever do to you?!” The question that coursed through me for years erupted out of my cracked voice.
“I don’t know why you ever thought you did something. You were clingy, and I got sick of putting up with it is all.”
“That’s not true. I wasn’t clingy.” My defenses were crumbling. I remembered, very well, the history between the two of us, and his words made me want to f**king hit him! How could he forget? As kids, we’d spent every waking moment together when we weren’t in school. We were best friends. He’d held me when I cried about my mom, and we’d learned how to swim together at Lake Geneva. “You were over at my house as much as I was at yours. We were friends.”
“Yeah, keep livin’ the dream.” He pushed all of our history and friendship back at me like a slap in the face.
“I hate you!” I screamed at him and meant every word. An ache settled in my gut.
“Good!” he shouted in my face, boring down on me. “Finally. Because it’s been a long time since I could stand the sight of you!” He slammed his palm against the wall near my head, causing me to jump.
Flinching, I screamed to myself. What had happened to us? He’d scared me, but I stood my ground, telling myself that he wasn’t going to hurt me, not physically. I knew that, didn’t I?
My brain shouted for me to run, to get away from him. No tears fell, thankfully, but the pain of his words made my breathing almost turn to dry heaving.
I had loved Jared once, but now I knew, without a doubt, that “my Jared” was gone.
As I took a deep breath, I met his eyes. He seemed to search mine, probably for tears. Fuck him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed flashing lights coming from outside and turned to stare out the window. A small, insolent smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.
“Oh, look. It’s the police. I wonder why they’re here.” Jared couldn’t have missed my insinuation of why the cops were there and who’d called them. I guess they’d finally responded to my noise complaint. Turning my head to face him, I delighted in his fury. The poor guy’s face looked like someone just pissed on his car.
He raised his chin and relaxed his brow. “I promise you will be in tears by next week.” His vengeful whisper crowded the room.
“Leave the key,” I called out to him as he left.
On Sunday afternoon, I was laying out tanning in the backyard when K.C. arrived and plopped down in a chair at the patio table.
“Liam’s been cheating on me,” she cried. Her head was in her hands as she sniffled.
“What?” A shriek sprang out of my throat as I popped my head up. I pushed myself up off my stomach and walked over to sit next to her.
“I saw him last night wrapped around another girl. Apparently, he’s been double dipping for a while! Can you believe it?” She wiped away tears but more fell. Her long, dark hair looked as if she hadn’t brushed it today. K.C. was always dressed to impress and never left the house without hair and makeup done. Red splotches covered her face, so I knew she’d been crying for a while. Probably all night.
“What did you see exactly?” I asked, rubbing circles on her back.
“Well,” she said, wiping her tears and taking a breath, “I was at the Loop, and he was there. Jared said he was racing last night, so I showed up to surprise…”
“Wait, what? Jared?” Confused, I interrupted her. “What are you talking about? You’ve talked to him?” I hadn’t seen Jared for two days. He and K.C. were hardly chummy. What the hell?
“Yeah…no,” she answered vaguely. “I just ran into him at work yesterday. I was at the theater, and he came in to see a movie. He mentioned that Liam was getting a shot at racing last night and that he’d be happy to give me a ride to surprise him.”
Ugh! Was she seriously that stupid? “That didn’t seem a little convenient to you?”
“Tate, what do you mean?” K.C. looked confused as she blew her nose with a tissue from her bag. I instantly felt guilty for taking the focus of the conversation off Liam and turning it to Jared. But I couldn’t let it go.
“Jared, nice guy that he is, offers you a ride to surprise your boyfriend who you conveniently discover has been cheating on you. K.C., Jared knew what Liam was up to.” I’m sure it’s some code with guys that you don’t get them in trouble with their girlfriends. So why would Jared do that?
Looking puzzled and flustered, K.C. threw her tissue on the table. “Okay, but it doesn’t change the fact that Liam was being unfaithful. I mean honestly, Jared seemed just as shocked as me. He was really nice about the whole thing.”
Of course he was. Jared broke up Liam and K.C., which was a good thing considering, but his actions didn’t spring from the goodness of his heart. He definitely wasn’t protecting K.C. So what was his angle?