“Good Morning, Pumpkin. Looks like I woke you. Sleeping in today?” He sounded concerned.
Glancing at the clock on my laptop, I saw that the time read six thirty. “Damn!” Throwing off the covers, I ran into my closet. “Dad, can I talk to you after I get home tonight? I’m supposed to be in the lab in thirty minutes.”
Tuesdays and Thursdays worked best for Dr. Porter, my mentor and Chemistry teacher from Sophmore year, so I opted to make it to the lab those mornings for some extra work time on my Science Fair research.
“Yeah, sure, but it will be pretty late for me…or early, actually. Listen, I just needed to tell you that Grandma is coming in tonight.”
I poked my head around the closet door and suppressed a groan. “Dad, do you think you can’t trust me? I’ve been just fine here by myself.” It almost felt like I was lying. Everything from the night before, K.C. and then the fight, hit me so hard that I wanted nothing more than to punch something.
“I trust you completely …but your grandma doesn’t.” He laughed. “She’s just worried about you being on your own, so she said she’d come by for a few days, possibly a week, and lend a hand. You are still a minor after all, and she keeps watching those news shows like Sex Slaves in the Suburbs. She worries.”
My dad and his mom hated the idea of me practically living alone for three months, but my desire to be in my own school for my senior year won out.
I shimmied into some skinny jeans, slipped a long-sleeved, fitted violet tee over my head, and walked out of the closet.
“If it will put her mind at ease, but as you can see, I’m fine,” I sighed.
“I’m not even sure what the law says about this, actually. You are staying out of trouble, right?” His eyes narrowed at me as I slipped on some black ballet flats. Dad was calm about most things, but trying to parent me from Germany was driving him up the wall. This was the seventh time we’d talked in the past two weeks. With the time difference, that was an accomplishment.
“Of course.” I almost choked on my words. If you could call running out of the house to possibly shoot a couple of street thugs “staying out of trouble…” “And I’ll be eighteen in a couple of weeks. I’m barely a minor anymore.”
“I know.” My dad exhaled wearily. “Alright, I’ll let you go. Just be home for dinner for your grandma tonight.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll call you tomorrow morning. Sound good?”
“Talk to you then. Have a great day, Pumpkin.” And he clicked off.
The breakfast bar and juice box I grabbed before leaving the house held me over during the lab work, but by first bell, the hunger pangs started. Coupled with the fact that K.C. hadn’t shown up or texted back this morning, I rushed in aggravation down the hall to the cafeteria for a vending machine run before class.
My concentration was flying in five different directions this morning. I’d forgotten to run to the hardware store for supplies last night, so the research I’d wanted to accomplish this morning turned out to be very little. After I broke a beaker and damn near burned my hand with the Bunsen burner, I’d cleared out of the lab before I killed myself.
My jaw ached from clenching my teeth all morning. Images of K.C.’s legs hugging Jared’s h*ps on the motorcycle kept assaulting me. “What if’s” of what would have happened last night if that knife had sliced Jared’s neck or stomach instead of his arm flashed through my mind.
Rounding the corner, I immediately halted.
K.C. leaned against the yellow wall next to the cafeteria doors, while Jared leaned into her. His arm was posted to the wall above her head, and his head was dipped, bringing his lips within inches of hers. The white top she wore rode up to reveal a sliver of skin as Jared’s thumb caressed her softly while holding her hip.
He said something against her lips, and K.C.’s chest rose and fell in deep breaths.
My heart pounded, and heat rushed through my body. I watched him finally catch her lips with his. He slowly pulled her body to him, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. Nausea rose in my throat, and my eyes burned. K.C. looked like she was at a buffet, savoring all of the desserts one bite at a time.
Wait, what? I should be mad at him, if not more so than K.C., then at least equally. Jared had pursued her, and I knew, with all certainty, that it was to hurt me. Why did I want her off of him instead of him off of her?
Luckily, nearly everyone was already in class. Otherwise, they’d be putting on quite a show. I was their only audience.
As I glanced to them again, Jared’s lips were still devouring her. He nibbled at her mouth before moving on to her neck, achieving a groan of pleasure from her. Her eyes were closed, and she bit her bottom lip, showing that she was putty in his hands. He did look like a good kisser, and I was breathless with the ache in my chest. I flinched when I saw the delicate way he buried his lips behind her ear.
The second bell sounded. We had one minute to get to class. K.C. jumped and giggled at the interruption. Jared gave her a smirk before tapping her on the tip of the nose. As she turned to run to class, he gave her a light slap on the ass.
I dashed back around the corner. If he didn’t follow her, then he was coming this way. I definitely didn’t want him to know I’d witnessed their display. My anger fed his hunger, and I didn’t want to lose my cool around him.
“Hey, man.” I heard Madoc’s voice as he barged through the cafeteria doors. “Was that K.C. that ran off? You haven’t tapped that yet?”
Jared exhaled a small laugh as their footsteps came closer. “Who’s saying I haven’t?”
I swallowed hard.
“Uh, because you’ve never been seen with girl after you’ve f**ked her. I doubt you even wait until the condom’s off before forgetting their names.”
Jared stopped just in front of the stairs across from the darkened doorway where I’d hidden. He knit his brows together in surprise. “And you do?” he asked defensively, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. His white t-shirt and black thermal hung loose over his torso.
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” Madoc rolled his eyes, bruised from the night before. His nose wasn’t bandaged, but it was cut. “I’m just saying, you never had to work this hard to get a girl into bed.”
“I’m in no hurry. I might want to play around with this one for a while.” Jared shrugged as he started to climb the stairs but stopped and turned to face Madoc, looking like he was about to say something before Madoc cut him off.
“Tate’s going to be pissed,” Madoc’s voice sounded amused, and I wanted to run at hearing my name.
“The whole point,” Jared stated flatly.
“Oh…so that’s the plan.” Madoc nodded, finally understanding the end game.
My throat tightened, and my mouth was dry. He knew she was my best friend, my only friend pretty much, and losing her would make me miserable. The tightness spread to my jaw, and I shook my head in disgust. He hated me that much?
“Thanks again for backing me up last night.” Jared jerked his chin at Madoc before turning to the stairs.
Madoc spoke. “This thing, with Tate…” Jared stopped and turned again. Madoc continued, “why do we do it? I know I’ve asked before, but you don’t tell me shit. I just don’t get it.”
Jared’s eyes narrowed. “I think you go above and beyond. You mess with her without me telling you, so why do you care?”
Madoc let out a nervous laugh. “This isn’t about me. I never wanted to make an enemy of that girl. She came outside last night like she was ready to back us up. She’s hot, athletic, tough, and she can handle a gun. What’s not to like?”
Jared descended the stairs to stand one above Madoc. His dark brow pulled together in a scowl as he stared his friend down. “Stay away from her.
Madoc held up his hands. “Hey, man, no worries. She broke my nose and kicked me in the balls. I think that ship’s sailed. But if you don’t want her, why can’t anyone else have a shot? ”
Jared paused as if searching for words. Them he let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m not standing in her way anymore. If she wants to date and screw every guy in school, she can have a ball. I’m done.”
“Well good, because word is she went out with Ben Jamison last night.” Madoc’s tone sounded a little too pleased to deliver that news. Jared’s eyebrows pinched closer together, if that was possible. His grim expression accompanied by his dark looks made him appear formidable.
“That’s fine,” he said, but his jaws remained clenched. “I couldn’t care less. They can all have her.”
My breath caught in my throat.
He finished climbing the stairs and disappeared. Madoc stared after Jared for a moment before continuing down the hall and disappearing himself.
The stabbing sensation in my throat surrendered to the tears wanting their release. I raced to the nearest ladies room and locked myself in a stall. My back collapsed against the wall, and I slid down until my rear landed on the floor. Hugging my knees, I gave myself over to the tears. My breakdown was quiet, the misery uprooted from my gut and not my throat. The worst part was I didn’t know if I was angry, sad, desperate or miserable. The deep wailing came from my body silently, but the tears streamed down my cheeks like a river.
Jared indulged in my misery like it was candy. He had fed me to the wolves time and again, reveling in the unhappiness he caused. Jared, my friend, was completely gone, leaving a cold monster in his place.
His last words also irked me. He was setting me free, allowing me to date. The nerve! In my sick, twisted attachment to the boy who used to be my friend, I still took some comfort in the attention he showed me. Even if it was negative attention, at least he acknowledged my existence in some way. Maybe, if he still took the trouble to cross my path, then he might be holding a piece of me with him, too. But he was done, as he’d said.
As I stood, I remember that Jared had promised to have me in tears this week. Job well done, and it was only Tuesday. Wiping my eyes, I had to admit that the dick had skill.
“Sorry I left you hanging this morning,” K.C. apologized while sliding her leg over the picnic table bench. She was late to lunch, too. “So, tell me everything about last night!” She sounded plastic, like her excitement took effort. Her head was elsewhere.
Last night, I thought. The first image that hit me was her and Jared on his motorcycle, and then the kiss this morning. The second thing that came to mind was the fight I’d witnessed. The super scary figure Jared presented last night as he pounded his opponent was why people at this school fell in line around him. Some wanted to be in his orbit while others kept a respectful distance. Some people wanted to be recognized by him, while others considered themselves lucky to be unnoticed.
“Last night? Why don’t you go first?” I looked at her out of the corner of my eye while I sipped my water. I tossed around the idea of acting like I knew nothing, but her and Jared weren’t going to be in control of my emotions. This needed to be settled.
“What do you mean?” K.C. was wide-eyed.
“You’re going to lie to me then? I saw you. I saw you and him on the motorcycle last night and then again this morning by the cafeteria.” I pursed my lips and threw my wadded up napkin on the table.
“Tate, this is why I didn’t tell you…”
“Tell me what? That you’re screwing the guy that hurts me? That you two are laughing behind my back?” My voice cracked, but I was grateful that I hadn’t started yelling.
“It’s not like that.”
I knew she didn’t want to hurt me, but I just couldn’t listen to it. There was no excuse. The heat of anger clouded my reason. I was f**king mad, and I wanted her to feel as bad as me.