We ate enchiladas, and he joked that if they made a Mexican-Sushi restaurant, he would never eat anywhere else again. Even though I wasn’t a fan of sushi, I snorted at the hilarious concept.
“So why did you ask me out?” I dipped one of the remaining chips from our meal in the salsa and took a bite.
“Honestly? I’ve been wanting to for a long time. I never had the guts, though. You’re kind of on my bucket list.”
I wasn’t sure whether that was a compliment or an insult. “How do you mean?” This date might be ending sooner rather than later.
“You know, one of those ‘I-simply-must-do-this-before-I-die’ type lists? I needed to get to know you better. I was always interested. Then, when you came back from Europe, and I saw you the first day of school, I just couldn’t get you out of my head.”
I narrowed my eyes, listening to him. I’d kept my head down for most of high school, not knowing that Ben had a crush. I couldn’t help but think how different school would have been if Jared had never turned on me?
“So you’ve been scared away by rumors all these years? What a coward.” I chastised sarcastically. What surprised me was that the barb came out of my lips so easily. I wasn’t nervous around him, and my shoulders relaxed. It nipped at the back of my mind that it also meant that I didn’t care what he thought either.
He leaned in, his full lips turned up. “Well, I hope I’m remedying that tonight.”
“So far, so good.”
We left the restaurant and laughed as we walked around downtown, talking about plans for college. On the way back to our cars, I sucked in a breath as he leaned in to kiss me. Surprisingly, his lips were soft and gentle, and his warmth willed me to lean into him. I placed my hands on his chest as he wrapped his arms around me, and he didn’t try to force his tongue into my mouth. It was safe …comfortable.
Definitely not what it should be.
I hadn’t experienced any of the thrill K.C. talked about when being close to a guy you’re attracted to. Definitely not the kind of excitement I read about in the books about high school girls and fallen angels. And not the kind of pulsing heat I feel when I’m around….no, no!
I stopped my train of thought dead in its tracks. That’s not attraction, I told myself. It’s just adrenaline brought on by confrontation. My body’s reaction to him wasn’t something I could control.
“Can I call you?” he whispered.
“Yes.” I nodded, a little embarrassed that my mind was preoccupied on another guy.
I was interested in spending time with him again. Maybe the spark hadn’t been there tonight, but I was stressed, and he deserved another chance. Maybe it just took time.
Ben waited for me to get into my car before he pulled out. Grabbing my phone, I hurried to text K.C. and share the details of my date. Even with the slight doubt about my attraction, I had a good time and was excited to share good news with her.
Can I come over?
Did you have fun? she asked.
Yes, but I wanted to talk…in person. I am not about to have a whole conversation over text messaging.
Was he nice?
Yes! It was good. No worries. Just kind of excited and wanted to talk. My impatience almost made me start the car and head to her house without an answer.
I have to work late. See you tomorrow before class? My shoulders slumped slightly at her response. I was close to her work, but I wasn’t going to bug her there.
Yeah, that’s fine. ‘Night. I shot back.
‘Night! Glad you had fun.
Just then, I heard the rumble of a motorcycle engine cruise past my car and perform a U-turn ahead. It came to stop on the other side of the street, about fifty yards away, in front of Spotlight Cinemas—where K.C. worked. My fingers tingled at the sight of Jared, and everything else stopped. He left the engine running as he sat back, holding the bike in place with both jean-clad legs on either side of it. He took out his phone from his black hoodie and appeared to be texting…and waiting.
Not a minute later, K.C. came bouncing out of the theater, running up to him. She leaned in and touched his arm.
Holy mother son of a…
I was having trouble breathing. What the hell am I seeing right now?
I watched as she smiled up at him. He grinned back at her but didn’t touch her. She was so intimate with him. Taking off his helmet, he offered it to her with a few words. She wasn’t getting the smirks or threatening kinds of looks I received. She ran her fingers through his mussed hair before taking the helmet and putting it on her own head. He fastened the straps for her before she climbed on behind him and wrapped her arms around his stomach.
I instantly slouched in my seat as they sped past me. They both knew my dad’s car, but I was hoping they wouldn’t notice it. At any rate, it wasn’t like they were going to stop and say “hi.”
Needles dug under the surface of my skin, and my ears were ringing. My throat ached as I fought back tears.
He had won over K.C.
K.C. had lied about working late.
She had her arms around him.
I wasn’t sure which one I was most upset about.
After sitting in my car for more minutes than I cared to admit, I was calm enough to drive.
The entire time it took me to get home and stalk up my front porch I had several versions of internal conversations with K.C. and choice monologues directed at Jared, including all of my favorite expletives. The more I talked to myself, the more pissed I got. Screaming, crying, stomping on some bubble wrap—they all sounded good right now.
What was she thinking? Even if Jared had smooth-talked her, was it worth hurting her best friend over?
I now guessed what Jared’s move was. He was trying to turn my friend against me. K.C. was very aware of what Jared had done to me, but he had gotten to her. He brought it to her attention that her boyfriend was cheating and then swooped in to pick up the pieces. How else could she be so weak-minded?
She needed to know Jared was using her. But how the hell could I tell her that?
Keeping myself busy so I wouldn’t do anything stupid, I finished my Calculus homework, completed the assigned reading for Government, and cleaned out the refrigerator and cabinets of expired food. After I’d exhausted myself with enough chores so that I’d finally stopped talking to myself, I walked upstairs to take a bath.
About an hour after I’d gotten out of the tub, the whir of Jared’s motorcycle sounded down our street. I leapt out of bed to spy through the window. Noticing that the clock read midnight, I calculated that it’d been three hours since I’d seen him with K.C.
Three f**king hours! What’d they been doing?
He arrived home alone. That was good, at least.
As he pulled into his driveway, I noticed the headlights of another vehicle coming to an abrupt stop in front of his house. Jared hopped off his bike and removed his helmet but kept it secured in his hand. He raced to the curb to meet the car’s occupants. The driver and his passenger had already vacated the car and met up with Jared toe to toe.
Jared towered over them, not only in height but in build. He had been tall at fourteen, and by now he had to exceed six feet. Judging by the way he got in their faces, these guys were not his friends.
I opened the double doors to get a better view. Jared waved the helmet in the space between them, and the other guys were yelling and trying to advance in his face. I caught the words “fuck you” and “get over it.” They continued to bark at each other, loudly and intrusively.
It was hard to catch my breath all of a sudden. Their argument seemed to be getting out of control. Should I call the cops?
As much as they pushed into his space, Jared didn’t retreat. The odds were against him though. Shit, Jared. Just get out of there.
One of the men pushed him, and I flinched. Reacting, Jared got in the guy’s face and pushed into him with his body until the guy was forced to back up.
At that moment, Madoc’s GTO sped down the street to a screeching halt. As soon as the strangers saw him hop out of his car and run in their direction, they started throwing punches at Jared. He lost hold of his helmet, and it slammed to the ground.
Jared charged one of the guys, and they dropped to ground level looking like an MMA fight. Each boy rolled on the lawn, jabbing and belting.
Snatching my phone off the bed, I raced out of my room and down the stairs. Pulling open the drawer to the entryway table, I grabbed the Glock-17 my father instructed I keep there when I was home alone.
I clutched the door knob. Call the cops or go outside? This would be over before the cops got here. Screw it.
I swung open the door and stepped onto the porch. The boys were all on Jared’s front lawn, with Madoc and Jared straddling their opponents, punching them into oblivion. My heart pounded at the display, but I couldn’t look away. The sense of urgency that made me run outside lessened when I realized Jared was winning.
Mesmerized by the fight happening in front of me, I blinked when I heard Jared’s disgusted howl. His opponent, an older, tattooed guy, had pulled out a knife and sliced his arm. I ran down the stairs, gun in hand, in time to see Jared dive for his helmet and hit the guy over the head with it. The other guy crumpled to the ground, moaning and blood dripping off his forehead. The knife lay on the grass at his side. Jared stood up, hovering over the nearly-unconscious guy.
Madoc pounded his fist one more time into his opponent’s gut, and swinging him over his shoulder, he dumped him onto the ground near his Honda.
Jared left his opponent bloody and barely moving on the ground, while he squeezed his left bicep. The arm of his black hoodie was blood-soaked and glistened where he’d been cut. My worried eyes shot to the hand on that arm. A steady red stream dripped off his fingertips. I had a brief impulse to go and help him but resisted. The kindness would only be thrown back in my face. He and Madoc would need trips to the ER, but as it was a school night, Jared’s mom should be home.
Walking over to the Honda, Jared raised his helmet above his head and brought it down with a deafening crash on the windshield. Again, he repeated the action, smashing the windshield again and again until it was shattered beyond usefulness.
Heading back towards the house, Jared stopped by the man on the ground. “You’re not welcome at the Loop anymore.” His voice was low and strained. His tone was eerily calm.
I could do nothing but stand there, paralyzed with shock at the scene I’d just witnessed.
As Madoc bent to pick up the second guy, his attention snapped to me. “Jared,” he warned. Jared, following his gaze, turned his eyes on me.
A little too late, I realized I was standing with a gun…in the open…in my underwear. My Three Days Grace t-shirt and red boy shorts covered me, but they were tight. My feet were bare, and my hair hung loose down my back. The Glock secured tightly in my right hand hung at my side with the safety on. Was the safety on? Yes, the safety was on…I think.
Madoc was bleeding from the nose, no doubt broken again, but he grinned at me. Jared looked…dangerous. He studied me, his dark eyes and severe brow making me feel more exposed than I already felt. His hands clenched into fists, while his gaze traveled warily down my body and then to the gun in my hand. I could feel the energy coming off him in heat waves.
Ugh, I’m a stupid girl! Had I really wanted to help him?
I cocked my eyebrow and pursed my lips in an effort to look annoyed. What an ass**le to bring this drama to our street! Turning, I walked quickly up my porch steps and slammed the front door behind me.
Taking the gun to my bedroom that night, I wasn’t sure what I was protecting myself from. A damn gun wasn’t going to keep those brown eyes out of my dreams.
The bubble-popping sound of my computer sounded early the next morning, notifying me that I had an incoming call.
“Hey, Dad,” I drawled out sleepily after clicking on the call.