This is how bullies are made I thought, but it still felt good to lash out, and I didn’t want to stop.
I let out a small, spiteful laugh. “You know, I think I might have to thank Jared for saving me from all this drama over the years. Friends I can’t trust and boys that would only piss me off. What are you doing with him?”
She ignored my question. “Jared saving you from what? What do you mean?”
Bloody hell. What did she care, anyway? I should just walk away, but I didn’t.
“Madoc told me all about how they both sunk every potential date I had freshman and sophomore year. They started all of the rumors and ruined any hope I had of making friends or getting a boyfriend.”
“You’re listening to Madoc now?” She slammed me with an accusatory tone.
“Seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Madoc wouldn’t lie about his best friend. And he wouldn’t tell me if he thought Jared would be mad. I think they’re both proud of themselves.”
Jared’s pleasure would come from me starting a fight with my best friend over my hatred of him or her involvement with him. The painful lump in my throat got bigger. I wanted to calm down and fix this, but it took every ounce of reason I had to not walk away. She’d betrayed me, but she’d also stuck by me through everything. I owed it to her to not run away at the first sign of trouble.
“K.C.” I continued after a couple of breaths, “I’m not okay with this. If you’re going to date Jared…” I guess I shouldn’t worry about running into Jared at K.C.’s house or trying to double date. If he succeeded, I’d lose my friend, anyway. I should tell her that he was using her, but that’d just piss her off. “I don’t trust him, and that’s not going to change.”
K.C. looked me in the eye. “And we’re friends. That will never change.”
Still mad as hell at her, I exhaled the breath I’d been holding. “Is it worth it?” I asked. “Dating him when you know I hate him?” Why was this so important? Did he really mean anything to her?
She offered a tight smile, eyes downcast. “He deserves how you feel about him, but what good has it done you to carry around this hatred?”
Annoyed, I shook my head. Believe me, if I could get rid of it, I would.
Last ditch effort to get her to use her head. “You know Jared is a major player, right? Like he’s had a lot of girls in this school and a few other schools, too.”
“Yes, Mom, I’m aware of his history. I’m not an easy target, you know?”
“No, but Jared is a good shot,” I deadpanned.
We both looked at each other and laughed. The tension in my chest eased as I realized our friendship was safe…for today.
“Come over for dinner. We need a girls’ night,” K.C. asked while peeling an orange.
“No, I can’t.” I was exhausted, and to be honest, I didn’t want to act like everything was okay. “My grandma is coming in today. I’d invite you over, but I’m sure she’ll want to do a lot of catching up. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen her. “
“Yeah, right.” At that moment, she got a text. Opening it up, she grinned from ear to ear as if enjoying a private joke.
Noticing me watching her, she gave me an apologetic smile and continued eating. Glancing at the windows to the cafeteria, I spied Jared inside, leisurely sitting at his table with his phone in his hand. He smirked at me, and I knew he’d been watching us.
And I wiped a fake tear with my middle finger. Again.
By early afternoon, yawns were erupting from my body every five minutes. After the wake-up call, the lab, the episodes between Jared, K.C. and Madoc, the sob session in the bathroom, and the heart-to-heart at lunch, my body needed to shut down for a while. One more class and I could head home to crash. If I were lucky, we’d be watching a movie in Themes. When I remembered that Jared shared this class with me, though, a renewed tension spit fire through my shoulder and neck muscles.
After I sat down, Nate Dietrich walked up to my desk and leaned in. “Hey, Tate, how about you come out with me this weekend?”
I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. This guy passed me in the hall last week and grabbed his crotch in my direction. “No thanks, Nate.” With his curly brown hair and hazel eyes, he was somewhat cute, but too stupid to tolerate. If he wasn’t cracking some immature joke, then he was the immature joke.
“Oh, come on. Give me a chance.” His long, sing-song tone sounded like he was speaking to a toddler.
“Not. Interested.” I made deliberate eye contact, shooting him a warning with my eyes. It was definitely no secret now that I could handle myself. He should take the warning. Opening my notebook and looking at my notes, I hoped he’d take the hint that this conversation was over.
“I don’t get you.” Nope. As I said, too stupid. “You give it to Trent in the locker room last week, and then you let Jamison take you out. You probably gave it up for him, too.” He leaned in further and ran his hand up my arm.
Every nerve in my body was electrified. I wanted to bring this guy’s head down on my knee hard enough to sprout blood flow that would rival Niagara Falls.
“Leave,” I gritted out, still trying to study my notes. “That’s your last warning.” I couldn’t even look at him, as gross as the encounter had made me feel. The idea of everyone thinking I was some sleazy throw-away made the walls cave in on me. As much as I tried to act like this was normal for me and that I was used to it, it still felt like shit. What people thought of me mattered.
“Jared’s right. You’re not worth it,” Nate whispered with a snarl.
“Sit down, Nate.” The deep, commanding voice startled us both.
Looking up, I saw Jared standing behind Nate, giving him his death glare. My heart skipped a beat when I realized that, for once, Jared’s scowl was not directed at me.
As usual, Jared gave the impression that he could take on an army all by himself.
Nate twisted around slowly. “Hey, man, no offense. If you’re not done with her…” Nate shrugged, backing off out of Jared’s way.
“Don’t talk to her again.” Jared’s voice was even, but his eyes were threatening.
What the hell?
“Go.” Jared jerked his chin, and Nate left as if he was just dismissed.
I let out a bitter sigh. How dare he try to troubleshoot a problem he created? They all, at one time or another, had thought I was a slut because of him. Isn’t this what he wanted? Isn’t me being harassed and uncomfortable the goal of his bullying? Sick of his torment and games, I forced down the urge in my twitching fists to hit him. It was then that I realized I wanted to hurt Jared. Really hurt him.
I hate you.
My emotions fell into a relaxed lividness. “Don’t do me any favors,” I bit out, meeting his eyes. The satisfaction of hurting him for once would feel f**king great. “You’re a miserable piece of shit, Jared. But then, I guess I’d be miserable, too, if my parents hated me. Your dad left you, and your mom avoids you. But who can blame them, right?”
Jared flinched, and I immediately felt my insides shake. What was I doing? This wasn’t me! Bile rose in my throat. What did I just say to him? I waited for the satisfaction to come, but it never did.
He remained silent, and his eyes narrowed on me with a hint rage and despair. There was no way I could erase what I’d just done to him. Even though he hid his emotions, I’d seen the cringe.
This is how bullies are made.
I’d just purposely made him feel unloved and unwanted. I’d told him he was alone. Even with everything he’d pulled on me, I’d never felt abandoned or isolated. There was always someone that loved me, someone I could count on.
“Okay, class.” Mrs. Penley walked through the door, startling me. Jared said nothing and continued down the aisle to his seat. “Please take out your compasses and lookup your East. When I say ‘go’, please take your materials and sit next to that person for today’s discussion. Feel free to move desks side by side or face to face. Go.”
Blinking away the tears that’d pooled, I barely had time to catch my breath before my East walked up to me.
“Hey, pretty girl.” I looked up to see Ben already at my side, looking for a vacant desk.
Not today. I tucked my hair behind my ears and took a deep breath. Ben and I hadn’t talked since our date last night, and I hadn’t realized that until now. “Hi, Ben.” Hold on for one more hour, I chanted to myself. I needed my music, my bed, and definitely my grandma.
“I’m good. Now.” He flashed a bright smile, and I couldn’t help but exhale a weak laugh. He was a happy guy and easy to be with. I’d give him that.
“Alright, everyone, as you did with your South last class, please introduce yourself to your East,” Mrs. Penley instructed the class. Everyone moaned, just like last class, because we all pretty much knew each other anyway.
“I know, I know.” The teacher waved her hands to shut everyone up. “It’s good practice for all of those college interviews you’ll be doing. As well as introducing yourself, I want you, this time, to share your favorite memory to get to know each other. Go ahead.”
Mrs. Penley started circulating the classroom that already buzzed with conversation. I looked to Ben, and we both snorted like this was the last thing we wanted to spend our time doing.
“Hi.” He held out his hand, which I took, rolling my eyes and nodding. “My name is Benjamin Jamison. My favorite memory is making my first touchdown in high school. Knowing I was varsity, and the crowd was so much more intense, the feeling was incredible.”
It was hard not to sympathize with a memory like that. With all of the spectators cheering him on, I bet it’d been heart pounding.
“Hi, my name is Tatum Brandt.” I waved and felt like I was in a movie during an AA scene where I would tell him “I’m and alcoholic” next. “And my favorite memory was when…” My eyes immediately flashed to Jared and then my desktop. This particular memory was priceless to me, but I had a hard time admitting it to myself. Maybe I should just lie, but then why should I be the one to hide? “Uh, I guess it won’t seem like as big of a deal as yours, but… I had a picnic in a cemetery once.”
Ben’s eyes widened. “Really?” He looked at me curiously. “So what was that about?”
“Well.” I swallowed hard. “My mom passed away when I was ten, and I was afraid to visit her at the cemetery. It really freaked me out. For two years, I refused to go. I hated the idea of her being under the ground like that. So, this boy I was friends with…at the time, he packed a lunch for us and took me to the cemetery one day. I was pretty mad when I realized where he was taking me, but he was told me that I should be happy that my mom was there. He said it’s the prettiest, quietest place in town. He was really understanding and patient. We sat near my mom’s grave and ate our lunch, listened to a radio he brought. He had me laughing in no time. We stayed a while, even after the rain started. Now, it’s one of my favorite places to go. Because of him.” My face hurt, and I realized I had a grin plastered to it during the entire story.
As awful as Jared had become, and now how terrible I’d become, I still treasured that memory. I smiled every time I thought of what he’d done for me that day. He gave me a little of my mom back.
“Wow. My touchdown story seems kind of shallow now.” Ben actually looked interested in what I’d told him.
“I like your touchdown story. I wish I’d had more touchdowns, so to speak.”
“So, are you and this kid still friends then?” Ben asked.
As I looked over at Jared across the room, his gaze caught mine, and the hair on my neck stood on end. His frosty stare drifted to Ben, and then back to me. No hint of emotion resembling anything human.