“Well, I’m a rebel, or didn’t you know?”
We pushed through the door, hand in hand. My eyes shot to Jared, who had his forehead leaned into the wall. He turned around, and I noticed that the whites of his eyes were red. Hands tucked into the front pocket of his black hoodie, he was breathing like he’d just run a mile. Other than that, there was no emotion. He didn’t look upset or happy. Nothing.
“See ya, Jared,” Ben called out as we passed, oblivious to what had just passed between Jared and me in the classroom.
Jared didn’t reply but kept his eyes focused on me. For once, there was no anger or cruelty in his stare.
What was happening in his head?
And would I ever find out?
I twirled around, stunned out of my celebration, and met my grandma’s expectant stare.
Whoops. I wondered how long she’d been standing there.
I ran over to the CD player and switched off AFI’s Miss Murder. “Sorry. Just getting my groove on.” I smiled sheepishly. After a practice where I could’ve run at least another hour, I returned home with energy to spare. A weight had lifted off of me, and I felt like celebrating.
I’d decided to shelve my homework—since nothing was due this week, anyway—and forge a whole in my carpet with some horrendous dance moves.
“Well, you left your phone downstairs. K.C. called.” She tossed me my cell, which I caught. “And it’s almost seven. Are you ready to go eat?” Grandma waved her hand towards the door.
“Absolutely.” I grabbed my black cardigan and black Chucks. I’d changed into jeans and a t-shirt after I’d come home to clean up following practice. Since Jared’s locker room intrusion, I’d opted to shower at home.
“I’ll be down in a minute. I want to call K.C. back.”
Grandma nodded and walked out.
The idea of apologizing to K.C. caused my stomach to roll. She was dating a guy that treated me badly, and it hurt that she could turn a blind eye to that. But, I also realized the she and Jared were using each other. In time, probably sooner rather than later, this fling of theirs would be over. As long as she wasn’t teaming up with him to treat me like shit, then I’d decided not to give him what he wanted.
“Hey,” I greeted K.C. timidly when she picked up.
“Hey.” Her voice sounded curt.
I took a deep breath and let out a sigh. “So, I hope I can cash in a Get Out of Jail Free card. I’m sorry I said what I said today.”
She was silent for few moments as I nervously drifted around my room.
“You acted like a dick,” she mumbled.
I almost laughed. Well, she was talking to me at least.
“I know. He has nothing to do with me anymore. If he’s what you want, then I can grow up and get over it.”
“Apology accepted.” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m off to dinner with Grandma.” I could hear her mother calling her in the background anyway.
“Have fun. And I love you, Tate,” she said sweetly.
“Love ya, too. Later.”
We hung up, and I already felt better. Thank goodness that was done. Now, if I was lucky, I’d only have to endure minimal meetings with Jared. If I was really unlucky, though, he’d make all of K.C.’s and my outings into threesomes.
I also still felt like slapping my friend a little. But, at least, I’d let go of my bitterness about Jared. If she wanted to rebound with him, then that was on her. I was tired of making a problem where there wasn’t one, and to save myself some stress, I decided to mind my own business. She knew how I felt, and I knew she wouldn’t betray my trust. That’s all I needed.
I practically danced down the stairs, feeling like the hippo that’d been sitting on my chest decided to finally move on.
“Well, you seem like you’re in a good mood.” Grandma’s eyes followed my movements. “School was good today?”
“Yeah, actually. It was great.” Leting Jared know how much I’d been hurt by him let the frustration out. I no longer felt buried under his actions and my struggle to maintain a faÃ§ade.
“Good. What are you in the mood for? Judging from your jeans, I guess O’Shea’s is out.” Her flat tone showed disappointment. O’Shea’s was her favorite restaurant in our less than diverse town.
“How about Mario’s?” I asked as I sat down to tie my shoes. I loved their pasta with basil and olive oil. The old couple that ran the restaurant was sweet and inviting, and my parents went on their first date there.
“Sure. Sounds good.” She grabbed her purse, and I snatched her keys. I always had to drive unless the situation didn’t allow it. Everywhere felt like forever to get to unless I was in control of the vehicle. Luckily, the adults in my life were indulgent.
As she stopped to fluff her hair and button her blazer in front of the mirror by the door, I slipped my arms through my cardigan and hooked my purse strap over my head.
“Gram? While we’re out, do you mind if we circle some lots, so I can check out some cars after dinner?” Finding a car hadn’t been on my mind in weeks, but the idea spilled out of my mouth like it had been on the tip of my tongue all day.
I couldn’t pretend that I needed the car to get around. After all, I had my dad’s Bronco. The control I’d asserted today was like slipping into new skin. Everything felt warm, delicious, and possible. Getting a car of my own was another dose of control, straight to the vein.
Grandma narrowed her blue eyes at me through the mirror. “Does your dad know you want to get a car?”
“Yeah, but I’m just looking right now, anyway.”
“You won’t want a car in New York City, honey,” she asserted, turning around to open the door.
“Is it okay if we just look? After all, I might still like a car when I come home for vacations.” I followed her out.
Turning to lock up the house, she nodded. “Sure, I don’t see any harm in looking.”
After a much-needed night out and light-hearted conversation with my grandma, I’d come home feeling calmer than I had in weeks.
I sat back on my bed, reading one of Chelsea Cain’s thrillers, when I heard yelping coming from outside.
My French doors had been open a crack, so I could hear the rain. The light drizzle that started when Grandma and I got home was coming down in buckets now. Swinging one of the doors open, I leaned outside and listened.
The barking was consistent, distressed…and close.
As I peered down into Jared’s yards, I didn’t see any lights or sign of the little dog. The whole house looked quiet and dark. It was after eleven, so he and his mom must be asleep or still gone for the night.
Slipping on my Chucks, I walked down the stairs, taking a moment to check that my grandma’s bedroom light was off. Once at the front door, I switched on my porch light and walked outside.
Shit! It was raining.
How had I forgotten that in the three seconds it took me to get downstairs? Thank goodness for the covered porch. Hugging myself, I walked to the edge nearest Jared’s house and took another look. I put my hand to my mouth to stifle a small gasp at the sight of Madman whining and clawing at the front door. He was soaking wet, and I could tell from here that he was shivering. Luckily, he had a small awning protecting him from the thunderous downpour.
Without a second thought, I dived out into the storm and ran across our yards to Jared’s small front stoop. I only wore my sleep shorts and a tank top, so, like Madman, I was now shaking with the cold rain splattered on my bare legs and arms.
“Hey, buddy. How’d you get out here?” I bent down to pet his head, and he licked my hand excitedly. “Where’s Jared, huh?”
A shiver shot down my body, making my shoulders twitch.
The last thing I wanted to do was knock on the dickhead’s door, but there’s no telling what bullshit I’d wake up to if I took Madman home with me. Jared would probably accuse me of trying to steal his pet.
Madman had been collateral damage in Jared’s and my fallout. As much as I loved the dog, it just seemed like he should be with Jared. A few things had been like that after he came back from that summer away. One of our favorite hangouts was a fish pond at Eagle Point Park. When Jared and I stopped being friends, he stopped going there.
I got the pond. He got the dog.
“Jared? Ms. Trent?” I called while ringing the doorbell. The rain pounded to the ground, giving a flood-feel to our street. The howling wind forced the rain sideways, which soaked my shoes and calves, even under the awning.
I doubted anyone could hear someone scream in this ruckus, so I pounded on the door and rang the bell two more times. The house remained dark and silent. “Well, Madman. You may be coming home with me.” The little guy yelped again, clearly unhappy being outside.
Before I walked away, I gripped the door handle and turned. To my surprise, the door opened.
Not locked? Weird.
Madman darted inside, pushing the door completely open like he was running from a fire. His claws against the hard wood floors echoed down the hall. He’d gone to the kitchen, probably to his food dish.
I took a hesitant step into the foyer. “Hello?” The house was nearly pitch black except for the streetlights that cast a dull glow through the windows. “Ms. Trent? Jared?” I looked around and felt a chill shoot down my arms.
Something’s not right.
The house seemed almost dead. No ticking clocks, no hum of a fish tank. I wasn’t even sure if they had fish, but an occupied house makes some kind of noise, even in the middle of the night.
Madman barked, and I took a step towards the kitchen, but I stopped when I heard a crackle under my shoe. Taking a closer look, my eyes having adjusted to the dark, I noticed broken glass or…maybe it was pottery, on the floor. I surveyed the area and took in more disarray that I hadn’t noticed when I’d entered.
Chairs were overturned, a lamp was broken, and couch cushions lay about the living room. Even the framed pictures of Jared on the wall by the stairs were shattered and hanging by a corner.
Jared?! My heart pounded in my ears. What had happened here?
Madman continued to bark, more persistently this time. I ran down the hall and into the kitchen. The dog sat looking out of the open backdoor, whining and wagging his tail.
As I looked through the door, I could see Jared sitting on the top step leading down to the backyard. I let out a breath.
His back was to me, and he was drenched. Water poured down his bare back, and the hair on his head stuck to his scalp.
“Jared?” I called out, stepping up to the doorframe.
He turned his head enough to see me out of the corner of his eye, which was almost completely covered by his soaked hair. Without acknowledging me otherwise, he turned back around and lifted a liquor bottle to his lips.
Jack Daniels. Straight.
My first thought was to leave. He was safe. The dog was safe. Whatever he was doing wasn’t my business.
But my feet wouldn’t move. The house had been vandalized, and Jared was drinking alone.
“Jared?” I stepped outside, thankful for the covering over the backdoor as well. “The dog was barking outside. I rang the doorbell. Didn’t you hear it?” I guess I felt a need to explain my presence in his house.
When he didn’t answer, I walked down the stairs to face him. Rain cascaded down my face, drenching my hair and clothes. My muscles tensed with the urgency to get back inside, but, for some reason, I stayed put.
Jared’s head was level, but his eyes were downcast. His arms rested on his knees, and the half-empty bottle was secured in his left hand where he swung it back and forth between his fingers.
“Jared? Would you answer me?” I yelled. “The house is trashed.”