“Well, you were awesome on Saturday.” Jess finished off her juice before tossing the bottle. “Oh, and Friday, too. I didn’t see the race, but the school’s been buzzing about it. You made people a lot of money. Derek Roman was pretty pissed, I hear.”
“I’m sure he was.” I swept my long hair up into a ponytail and felt a flash of heat bore into the back of my neck.
It was crazy how my awareness of Jared worked, but I was pretty sure he was in here somewhere.
He’d been AWOL all morning, no sign of his car or him. I kept my attention on Jess, even though the pull to turn around vibrated all over my body. After the two kisses and the dream, not to mention his apology, I’d thought about him a lot this weekend.
Before I could give in and search for him, I made my way to the doors with Jess. A moment later, I halted when I heard someone calling my name.
I jumped, instantly embarrassed that the person yelling made me the focus of the entire lunchroom.
“Will you please go to the Homecoming dance with me?” the idiot’s voice asked behind me.
I closed my eyes. I. Am. Going. To. Kill. Him.
I spun around slowly to see that Madoc was kneeling a few of feet away. He stared up at me with big, blue, puppy dog eyes, and I noticed that the lunchroom had gotten very quiet as people hushed others and looked at us wide-eyed and breathless.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I mumbled out and offered an apologetic smile to Jess. Walking on his knees in short, hilarious steps, he came flush with my shoes and cocked his head all the way back to peer up at me. He took my hand in his.
Girls were giggling, and everyone was staring at us. Only Madoc could get away with this flamboyant display and still be considered manly.
“Please, please! Don’t say no. I need you.” His dramatic tone caused an uproar of laughter and chants encouraging him further.
My heart was pounding. Any second now I was going to go ballistic on him, and I probably wouldn’t be lucky enough to stay out of the Dean’s office a second time.
“Get up,” I snapped, pulling on my hand. My head swam with ideas of how I was going to hurt this kid. They’d never find the body.
“Please, let’s make this work. I’m sorry for everything.” He was deliberately speaking above the laughter so that everyone knew our business.
“I said no.”
“But the baby needs a father!” he implored.
My heart sunk at his words. Oh, my God. No, no, no…
Hoots and hollers erupted from every corner of the room, and heat rose up my neck and face. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. This could not be happening. Is this how he was making amends? By embarrassing me more?
He grabbed my h*ps and pressed his face into my stomach. “I promise I’ll love our kid,” he whispered for only me to hear. “I can say it louder if you want.”
“Fine, I’ll go. For now,” I said through clenched teeth. “But if you pull any more shit, I’ll break your arm.”
He popped up, wrapped his arms around me and pulled me off my feet into a hug. Swinging me around, everyone clapped and whistled, and I felt like throwing up. Once I was back on my feet, I slapped him on the arm and stalked out of the cafeteria, knowing I did not want to catch the expressions on Jess’s or Jared’s faces.
Thankfully, by the time school ended, everyone knew Madoc’s joke was just that…a joke. At least the douche bag proved honorable in correcting the rumor. I still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that I’d said yes. Homecoming was still two weeks away, so hopefully I’d find a way out of it. As proven in the last month, a lot could happen in a short time.
Jared wasn’t in Themes class, so instead of fighting to not look at him, I had to fight to avoid Ben looking at me. Life could be a bitch. I was going to Homecoming with the one person in this school who made my skin crawl, I was getting attention from a gorgeous, star football player that I could care less about, and I was having wet dreams about a potential sociopath who acted like he hated me most of the time.
Eight more months.
“Hi, Dr. Porter.” I smiled tiredly as I walked into the lab after school. Since the room wasn’t available tomorrow as we’d scheduled, I’d opted to take him up on the offer to work today. Coach had given us the afternoon off, so it all worked out.
“Hi, Tate.” Dr. Porter was a middle aged ex-hippy who often left his long, rust-colored hair flowing free and drops of coffee dangling from his scraggly mustache and beard. My first few classes with him sophomore year were irritating. I kept wanting to take a napkin to his face.
“How long can I stay today?” Dropping my bag on the floor underneath my usual table, I looked to Dr. Porter.
“I’ll be around for at least an hour, probably more.” He gathered some folders and papers, trying to find a way to grab his coffee cup, too. “Do you need anything?”
“I’ll go get my crate from the closet, and I know where everything is that I need.”
“Good. I have a planning meeting with the Science department, but it’s in another classroom. Feel free to come and get me if you need anything. I mean it. Room 136B.” He headed for the door.
“Okay, thanks.” Grabbing a heavy vinyl apron off the coat rack, I slid it over my head and tied it around my waist. The tie scratched at my back in the small sliver of space where my jeans and top failed to cover my skin.
Digging my supplies out of the closet, I nearly dropped the heavy load as soon as I walked back into the classroom. Jared sat at the teacher’s table up front.
He leaned back in the chair with his hands behind his head and one foot propped up on the edge of the table. His eyes gave nothing away, but his stare was focused entirely on me. That alone made the heat rise to my face and a cool sweat seeped out of my pores.
Damn him. Why did he have to look like that?
The softness of his lips, and his tongue hot and heavenly on my neck flashed through my memory. An anxious twitch started between my legs, and I really wanted to straddle him on that chair.
Shit. I was a walking time bomb of nerves.
I shook my head and averted my eyes as I carried my crate to my table. “Not now, Jared. I’m busy.” Honestly, that was the truth. I needed to focus, and as much as part of me wanted to indulge in this drama, I needed to be left alone.
“I know.” His smooth voice was strangely calm. “I came to help you.”
I stopped unloading the crate and stared at him wide-eyed. “Help me?” My tone dripped with sarcasm as I was sure this was either a joke on his part or an effort to sabotage my experiment. “I don’t need help.”
Dropping his arms, he stuffed his hands into the front pocket of his black hoodie. “I wasn’t asking if you did,” he replied, quickly and assertively.
“No, you’re just assuming.” Continuing to unload my materials, I avoided his eyes. That damn dream kept coursing through my mind, and I was scared that I’d give something away if I looked at him.
“Not at all. I know what you can do.” There was laughter in his voice, and I didn’t miss the double meaning in that remark. “I thought that if we’re going to be friends, this might be a good place to start.”
Getting off the chair, he walked towards me. I breathed in and out slowly.
Just take the beaker and flask and set them down slowly. Nice and slow.
“I mean, it’s not like we’re going to be able to go back to climbing trees and having sleepovers, is it?” he asked suggestively as his fingers grazed the lab table.
Sleepovers? My core started pulsing harder, and I knew my body was ready for what it needed. I felt it.
The idea of having Jared for a sleepover, even though he was joking, thrilled me. Damn, I’d love to let him keep me up all night doing things that we sure didn’t do as kids. I wanted his hands on me, bringing me close, and his mouth all over.
But I wanted him to care, too. And I didn’t trust him.
Blinking, I narrowed my eyebrows at him. “Like I said, I don’t need help.”
“Like I said, I wasn’t asking. Did you think that Porter was going to let you conduct experiments with fire by yourself?” He laughed bitterly and came to stand next to me.
“How do you know about my experiment? And who said we’re going to be friends?” I asked before bending down to grab my binder from my bag. “You know, maybe too much damage has been done. I know you’ve apologized, but it’s not so easy for me.”
“You’re not getting girly on me, are you?” he sneered.
Sifting through my binder, I pulled out notes and procedures I’d researched. I tried to read over the material, but having Jared so close made it hard to concentrate.
Turning to my left, I fixed him with my best bored expression. I didn’t want him thinking I was the least bit intrigued by his presence.
“Jared, I appreciate the effort you’re putting in here, but it’s unnecessary. Contrary to what your ego is blowing you up with, I’ve been surviving just fine without you for the last three years. I work better alone, and I would not appreciate your help today or any other day. We’re not friends.”
His cool façade faltered, and he blinked. His dark eyes searched mine. Or maybe he searched for something to say.
Feeling slightly guilty, I turned back to my binder but ended up knocking it to the floor in the process. Its contents, not secured by the three rings, floated to the floor. A wave of embarrassment spread over my body as my tough girl speech ended in a clumsy mess.
Jared jetted to my other side and bent with me to pick up the binder and its contents. “You’re looking at cars?” He eyed the printouts I’d taken from the internet to be prepared when my dad got home.
“Yeah,” I replied curtly. “I’m getting myself a birthday present.”
He held the information in his hand, not really looking at anything, but he seemed to be thinking about something.
“Jared?” I held out my hand to get the information back from him.
“I forgot your birthday was coming up,” he said almost to himself as I took back the papers and stuffed everything in my binder.
I wondered if that was true. Our birthdays were a big deal when we were friends, but in recent years he could’ve forgotten, I guess. I hadn’t forgotten his. It was October second.
Ugh, should I say something? I hadn’t done anything for Jared’s birthday the past few years, but now that the subject was up, I had no idea what to do.
Screw it. He would’ve forgotten mine, too.
“Does your dad know you’re looking to buy a car so soon?” Jared interrupted my thoughts.
“Does your mom know you provide alcohol to minors and sleep around on the weekends?” My remark came out way snippier than I wanted it to.
“‘Does my mom care’ would be a better question.” His sarcasm was a cover for the annoyed look I saw boiling underneath.
I frowned as I thought about Jared’s life. He grew up without a father and an absentee mother. He had no healthy role models or love in his life—that I knew of, anyway. Having no comeback to that, I remained silent as he slowly started helping me unload my crate.
Beakers, flasks, test tubes, and an assortment of liquids and dry materials covered the tabletop. I wouldn’t need all of this stuff, but had gathered it anyway when I was still trying to decide my project. Three different store-bought flame retardants and some ingredients for a homemade one cluttered the counter, along with different cotton fabrics. My experiment would consist of testing how cotton reacted to different resistant sprays. I had already put together my purpose, hypothesis, the constants and variables, and my materials. Today, I’d be putting together my procedures and getting started on one round of tests.