“Alright,” I offered, “so how do you know for sure that Liam was cheating regularly? Did you talk to him?”
“Yeah,” she almost whispered. “I had gotten out of Jared’s car. He picked me up since you can only enter by invitation, and we circulated, looking for Liam. I saw him leaning against his car with a really sexy looking girl in super-slutty clothes. They were kissing, and he had his hands all over her. There was no mistake.” Her chin started wobbling, and her eyes filled with tears again, so I dug in her bag for more tissues.
She continued, “We got into it, and that girl rubbed it in that they’d been hooking up for months! Months! I’m sick to my stomach. I gave that guy my virginity, and now I have to go get checked for STDs.” She continued to cry, and I held her hand while she let it out.
Liam had always treated me respectfully, and I was a little heartbroken for K.C. What an ass! We’d all hung out for years, and there were few people in this town I could call a friend. Now he was just one more person that couldn’t be trusted. I was jaded when it came to people, but K.C. wasn’t, and I hated that she was being hurt. She was completely blindsided.
Two things could be safely assumed, though: Jared probably knew Liam was cheating for a while but didn’t interfere until now and K.C.’s breakup with Liam served a purpose in his trying to antagonize me.
“Well, I hate to ask a silly question, but how was the race? Did Liam win?” He probably hadn’t raced. Another ploy on Jared’s part to get her to the Loop.
“We stayed for a while, but Jared raced, not Liam.”
Exactly. “How come? It might’ve been nice for you to see his ass left choking in the dust.” I tried to sound like I was just lightening her mood, but I really wanted information.
“Oh, it turns out he wasn’t racing last night. Jared misunderstood.” She waved it off.
“But Jared did say he would make sure Liam is on the roster for next week, and he’ll beat him for me.” K.C. let out a small laugh, as if that would make her feel better.
“Are you going to be okay?” The end of a two-year relationship by the time you’re seventeen was going to take time to get over.
“I’m sure…eventually. Jared was really attentive and brought me home early. I think he felt bad that I’d had such a horrible time. Really, Tate, even if he did know, he did me a favor.” Leaning back in her chair, she pulled out another tissue.
K.C. stayed a while. We lay under the sun, trying to cheer each other up. She obviously needed to come to terms with the fact that she gave her virginity and two years to that lothario, and I’d had a less-than-stellar first week of school.
Liam had cheated on K.C. I still couldn’t wrap my brain around it. If ever there was a case for longevity in a high school romance, Liam and K.C. were it. So why was I preoccupied with Jared’s role in all of this? K.C. clearly believed he was on the up-and-up, but I knew he had a plan. Would she listen if I tried to steer her away from him?
After K.C. left, I went back to the patio to clean up and water the plants. Decked out in my little red bikini I’d bought in Europe but was only brave enough to wear at home, I grabbed the hose and turned up the speakers on my iPod dock. Chalk Outline came through ear-splittingly loud as I turned the mist on the flowers and bushes.
My h*ps and shoulders swayed, while my head was lost to the music.
A couple of fruit trees decorated our small back patio area along with bushes and various plants and flowers. The cobblestone pavement and smell of roses made our oasis a great retreat. When the weather was pleasant, my dad and I ate most of our meals out here, and I often read in the hammock. Homework was a no-go though, since the birds, wind, or barking dogs created too much sporadic distraction.
Speaking of dogs…
Excited barking pierced through the music, catching my interest. It was close, like next door close.
Jared and I found this crazy little Boston Terrier when we were twelve. My dad was gone a lot, and my grandma was allergic, so Jared took him home. The dog was insane but completely adorable. We named him Madman. I swear he purposely waited for oncoming cars before he tried to cross a street. Picking fights with bigger dogs was child’s play, and he would jump to amazing heights when he was excited…which was a lot.
I switched off the water and walked to the fence separating Jared’s backyard from mine. Squinting through the sliver of space offered between the wooden panels, I felt like I was glowing on the inside. My heart warmed at seeing Madman again.
He did the whole “bounce when you bark” thing that little dogs do and switched between racing the length of the backyard to jumping up and down. Even though he was technically Jared’s dog now, in my heart, the little guy was still partly mine.
I found a small hole to peer—ok, snoop—through. Jared entered my vision, and I flinched, remembering our last encounter. He started tossing miniature chunks of meat for Madman to catch. The dog gobbled them up and wagged his tail anxiously for another morsel. The little animal seemed giddy and well-cared for.
Jared knelt and offered the last piece of meat from his hand. Madman approached and licked his palm after scarfing down the treat. Jared smiled and closed his eyes while Madman stood on his hind legs to lick his master’s face. Jared grinned, and I realized how long it’d been since I’d seen him genuinely happy. His smile hollowed my stomach, but I couldn’t look away.
As my heart tugged at the rare scene of Jared actually looking human, my eyes snapped to his na**d back and the faded scars marring his skin. Funny I didn’t see that the other night when he was shirtless in my room, but the light was dim, so I guess I missed it.
Scattered in no particular pattern were welts, about five or so, covering his muscular and otherwise smooth back. He didn’t have them when we were kids. I tried to remember if I’d heard about him getting injured. I came up with nothing.
At that moment, Apocalyptica’s heavy cellos vibrated out of my speakers, and Madman’s head twisted towards me. I momentarily froze before deciding to back away. He started barking again, and the sound of claws scratching the fence got my heart beating faster. Madman loved this heavy metal cello music that I’d been listening to for years. From the looks of it, he remembered.
Grabbing the hose off the ground, I dropped it again when I heard the fence panels shaking. Turning around, I laughed at seeing Madman climb through one of the loose boards and charge me at top speed.
“Hey, buddy!” I knelt down and caught the little dog in my arms as he squirmed with excitement. His panting breath warmed my face, and the slobber was pretty gross. But he was happy to see me, and I smiled with relief. He hadn’t forgotten me.
I stopped dead at the sound of Jared’s voice. “Well, if it isn’t the party pooper disturbing the whole neighborhood with her noise.”
My temper flared. He had no problem with my music, just me.
I looked up and met Jared’s sardonic stare. He tried to look annoyed with his cocked eyebrow, but I knew he wouldn’t engage me unless he got off on it. He hung over the top of the fence, his body perched on something giving him height.
Son of a bitch. Why did it always take me a second or two to remember why I hated him?
His shiny brown hair was a mess.
I loved that.
His chocolate eyes glowed with confidence and mischief.
I loved that.
His toned arms and chest just made me wonder what his skin felt like.
I loved that.
He made me forget how awful he was.
I hated that.
Blinking, I refocused my attention on Madman and petted his black and white fur in long, soothing strokes. “Shelburne Fall’s noise ordinance doesn’t go into effect until 10 p.m.,” I clarified and looked at my invisible watch. “See? Plenty of time.”
Madman started playfully gnawing on my fingers, and I shook my head, unable to believe how we could just pick up where we left off after so long. Since Jared’s and my fallout, I hadn’t pressed him about seeing the dog. The only contact Madman had with me over the past few years were accidents like today. But I hadn’t seen him at all since my return, and, even after a year, he responded to me like we’d just been together yesterday.
Jared still stood on the other side of the fence, watching us silently. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but part of me wondered why he didn’t try to get the dog back immediately. It almost seemed nice of him to let us visit.
I couldn’t help the huge ass smile on my face even though I tried. What the hell? The damn dog seemed so happy to see me that my chest shook with silent laughter. I never had a pet other than Madman, and after being alone the past couple of weeks, I guess I was hard up for a little love. If a dog’s attention could do this to me, I couldn’t imagine how glad I would be to see my dad when he came home.
“Madman, come.” Jared barked, shocking me out of my little uptopia. “Visitation’s over.” He whistled and pulled the board back, so Madman could slip through.
“You hear that?” I choked, my lips quivering. “Back to your cell, little guy.” I let the dog lick my face, and then I patted his behind before gently pushing him away. Jared whistled again, and Madman ran back through the fence.
“Jared, are you out here?” a woman called out. Jared turned to the voice but didn’t nod or respond.
“Tate, is that you honey?” Katherine, Jared’s mom, stepped up onto whatever he was standing on to see over the fence.
“Hey, Ms. Trent.” I waved lazily. “It’s good to see you.” His mom looked great with her shoulder length brown hair and stylish blouse. A lot better than the last time I’d seen her. She must’ve gotten herself sober in the past year.
Growing up, I often saw her hair in messy ponytails from being too hung over to bother with a shower and dull looking skin from lack of healthy sustenance.
“You, too.” Her eyes flickered with genuine sweetness. “And it’s good to see you two talking again.”
Of course she had no idea we were still at each other’s throats. It seemed Jared and I had that in common. We kept the parents out of the loop.
“Why don’t you come over for a few? I’d love to catch up with you and see how your year went.”
“Come on, not now.” Jared’s face was twisted up in displeasure, much to my delight.
“That’s sounds great, Ms. Trent. Just let me throw on some clothes.” Jared’s eyes swept over me, as if just realizing I was in a bikini. His gaze lingered too long, and yet, not long enough, making my toes curl.
“Fine.” Jared sighed and looked away. “I’m off, anyway.” With that, he hopped off his step and disappeared inside the house. Before I had reached my room to change, I heard the thunder of his engine and the peel of tires.
“So why haven’t I seen you in the two weeks I’ve been home?” I asked Katherine after we’d discussed my trip and plans for senior year.
She poured more coffee for herself. “Well, I met someone a few months ago, and I stay with him a lot.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise, and she must’ve seen it. She shook her head and gave me a contrite smile.
“I guess it sounds bad,” she offered. “Me leaving Jared alone so much. Between my job, his school and job, and then all of the things he’s involved in, we just don’t run into each other a lot. I figure he’s happier on his own more and well…”
Her over-explanation and inability to finish her thought said more about her disappointment over her relationship with her son than anything else.
And why was he so busy that her being home was unecessary?
“What do mean ‘all the things he’s involved in’?” I asked.
She knitted her brows. “Well, he works at the garage a few days a week, races, and then has other obligations. He’s hardly ever home, and when he is, it’s just to sleep usually. But, I do keep tabs on him. When I bought us both new phones for Christmas last year, I installed a GPS app on his so I always know where he is.”