He sucked in his cheeks and continued down the highway.
As I glanced at the speedometer, my eyes bulged when I noticed that Jared was driving over eighty miles per hour.
“Slow down,” I ordered.
He ignored my plea and gripped the steering wheel harder. “There’s going to be situations you can’t handle, Tate. Nate Dietrich wasn’t going to take too kindly to what you did to him tonight. Did you think that was going to be the end of it? He would’ve come after you again. Do you know how badly Madoc wanted to do something after you broke his nose? He didn’t want to hurt you, but he wanted to retaliate.”
Why didn’t he then?
Madoc had been humiliated, no doubt, at that party more than a year ago when I broke his nose. But he’d just let it roll off him, or so I thought, and hadn’t sought any payback. Thanks to Jared.
I guess Nate Dietrich wouldn’t be seeking retribution, either. Not with Jared involved.
I felt gravity pull my body towards the other side of the car, and my heart thumped wildly when I saw that Jared wasn’t slowing down as we rounded the soft turn.
“You need to slow down.”
Jared snorted. “No, I don’t think so, Tate. You wanted the full high school experience, didn’t you? Football player boyfriend, casual sex, reckless behavior?” He goaded me with his sarcasm.
What was he talking about? I never wanted that stuff. I just wanted to be normal.
And then he switched off his headlights.
The road was black, and I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of us. Thankfully, there were reflectors that separated our lane from the oncoming traffic, but the country roads were busy with deer and other animals, not just traffic.
What the hell was he doing?
“Jared, stop it! Turn on the lights!” I braced one hand on the dash as I turned to confront him. We were zooming down the road at a frightening speed, and a lump formed in my throat.
The tattoo on his arm peeked out of his t-shirt, and it stretched with his tensing muscles while he gripped the stick shift. My legs were weak, and for the first time in a long time, I was too scared to think.
“Jared, stop the car now!” I yelled. “Please!”
“Why? This isn’t fun?” Jared’s voice was disturbingly calm. None of this scared him, or even excited him. “Do you know how many squealing airheads I’ve had sitting in that seat? They loved it.” His eyebrows pinched together as he looked at me with mock puzzlement. He was pushing me.
“Stop.The.Car!” I screamed, my heart pounding with dread. He was going to kill us.
Jared twisted his head to face me. “You know why you don’t like this? Because you’re not like them, Tate. You never were. Why do you think I kept everyone away from you?” His voice sounded angry, but clear. He wasn’t drunk, at least I didn’t think he was, and this was more emotion than I’d experienced from him in years, except for the night of the kiss.
He kept everyone away from me? What did that mean? Why?
The tires screeched as he rounded another turn, and we drifted into the other lane. I was breathing as fast as the car was speeding now, I was sure. We were going to hit something or flip over!
“Stop the f**king car!” I bellowed with the full force of my lungs, pounding my fists on my thighs before hitting him on the arm.
The last thing I wanted to do was distract him, driving at a speed like that, but it worked. Jared slammed on the brakes, using some choice words directed at me and down-shifted as he veered to the side of the road and stopped.
I scrambled out of the car, and Jared hopped out at the same time. We both leaned over the roof, eye to eye.
“Get back in the car.” Jared’s teeth were bared as he growled.
“You could’ve killed us!” My throat tightened, and I noticed his furious eyes graze over my ripped shirt that had poked out of the button down I was still wearing.
“Get back in the damn car!” He slammed his palm down on the roof, his eyes on fire.
“Why?” I asked, tears threatening.
“Because you need to go home,” he spat out like ‘duh’.
“No.” I shook my head. “Why did you keep everyone away from me?” He’d started this conversation, and I had every intention of finishing it.
“Because you didn’t belong with the rest of us. You still don’t.” Jared’s eyes narrowed in disgust, and my heart sunk. He was being deplorable as usual.
I hate him.
Without another thought, I ducked inside and grabbed Jared’s keys out of the ignition. Rounding the car door, I ran a few yards ahead and unfastened the twist oval key ring. Slipping one of his keys off, I held it in a fist near my face.
“What are you doing?” He approached slowly, annoyance evident in his eyes.
“One more step, and you’re losing one of your keys. Not sure if it’s the car key, but eventually I’ll get to that one.” I loaded my arm behind my head, ready to toss it at any second. He halted.
“I’m not getting in your car. And I’m not letting you leave. We’re not moving from this spot until you’ve told me the truth.”
Sweat beaded my brow, even with the temperature down to the mid-sixties. Lips pursed, I waited for him to start.
But he didn’t. He looked to be working something out in his head, but I wasn’t about to give him to time to think of some lie to distract me.
When I raised my arm to toss the first key, his eyes shot helplessly between me and my fist, while he raised his hand motioning for me to stop.
After only a moment’s more hesitation, he finally let out a defeated sigh and met my eyes.
“Tate, don’t do this.”
“Not the answer I was looking for.” And I flung one of his keys into the brush off to the side of the road.
“Dammit, Tate!” he snapped, looking nervously between me and the dark forest where his key had disappeared.
I quickly unhooked another key and stuck my hand behind my head ready to catapult it at any second. “Now, talk. Why do you hate me?”
“Hate you?” Jared breathed heavily and shook his head. “I never hated you.”
I was stunned. “Then why? Why did you do all the things you’ve done?”
He let out a bitter laugh, knowing he was cornered. “Freshman year, I overheard Danny Stewart saying he was going to ask you to the Halloween dance. I made sure he never did, because he also told his buddies that he couldn’t wait to find out if your tits were more than a handful each.”
I cringed in disgust.
“I didn’t even think twice about my actions. I spread that rumor about Stevie Stoddard, because you didn’t belong with Danny. He was a dick. They all were.”
“So you thought you were protecting me? But why would you do that? You already hated me by that point. That was after you’d returned from your dad’s for the summer.” My confusion sprang forth with every syllable. If our friendship had ended by that point, and he didn’t care for me, then why did he care to protect me anymore?
“I wasn’t protecting you,” Jared said matter-of-factly, pinning me with a heated stare. “I was jealous.”
Flutters attacked my belly. It felt like something was circling a drain in my stomach, the tingles going further and further down.
I barely registered him inching forward, stalking closer as I tried to catch my breath. “We got to high school, and all of a sudden, you’ve got all these guys liking you. I handled it the only way I knew how.”
“By bullying me? That makes no sense. Why didn’t you talk to me?”
“I couldn’t.” He wiped his brow before stuffing his hand into his pocket. “I can’t.”
“You’re doing fine so far. I want to know why all of this started in the first place. Why did you want to hurt me? The pranks, the black-listing from parties? That wasn’t about other guys. What was your problem with me?” I accused him.
His cheeks puffed out as he sighed. “Because you were there. Because I couldn’t hurt who I wanted to hurt, so I hurt you.”
That can’t be it. There has to be more.
“I was your best friend.” Frustration pushed my patience further away from me. “All these years…” My voice broke off barely containing the tears that pooled in my eyes.
“Tate, I had a shitty summer with my dad that year.” His voice sounded closer. “When I came back, I wasn’t the same kid. Not even close. I wanted to hate everybody. But with you, I still needed you in a way. I needed you to not forget me.” Jared’s voice never cracked, but I could tell there was remorse in his tone.
What had happened to him?
“Jared, I’ve turned it over and over in my head wondering what I could’ve done to make you act the way you did. And now you tell me that it was all for no reason?” I looked up to meet his eyes.
His body inched closer, but I didn’t care. I wanted to hear more. “You were never clingy or a nuisance, Tate. The day you moved in next door I thought you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I f**king loved you.” The last was barely a whisper as his eyes dropped to the ground. “Your dad was unloading the moving truck, and I looked out my living room window to see what the noise was. There you were, riding your bike in the street. You were wearing overalls with a red baseball cap. Your hair was spilling down your back.” Jared didn’t meet my eyes with his confession.
We’d moved to a new house in town after my mom passed. I remembered seeing Jared for the first time that day. He remembered what I was wearing?
I loved you. A tear spilled over as I closed my eyes.
“When you recited your monologue this week, I ….” he drifted off with a sigh. “I knew then that I’d really gotten to you, and instead of feeling any satisfaction, I was angry with myself. I wanted to hate you all these years, I wanted to hate someone. But I didn’t want to hurt you, and I didn’t really realize that until the monologue.”
Suddenly, he was in front of me. Cocking his head to the side, his glistening eyes searched mine. I didn’t know what he looked for, and I didn’t know what I wanted to reveal. I hated him for the years of torment. He threw away everything we had because he was angry at someone else. Needles pierced my throat as I struggled to hold back more tears.
“You’re not telling me everything.” My voice cracked, as he reached up to cup my cheek and wipe the tear away with his thumb. His long, muscular fingers were warm on my skin.
“No, I’m not.” His husky whisper caused tingles to spread over my body, or maybe it was his thumb caressing circles on my cheek. I was becoming light-headed with everything that had happened tonight.
“The scars on your back,” I choked out, my eyes fluttering with the sensation of his touch. “You said you had a bad summer, and that when you came back you wanted to hate everybody, but you haven’t treated anyone else as badly as…”
“Tate?” His lips were inches from mine, and his body radiated heat. “I don’t want to talk any more tonight.”
I blinked and noticed how his body had drawn me in. Or maybe I’d drawn him in. We were like the positive sides of twin magnets again. He was so close now, and he’d eaten the distance between us without me noticing.
You’re not getting off that easy.
“You don’t want to talk anymore?” I spit out, not quite believing what I heard. “Well, I do.” And I twisted around to launch another key into the air, but Jared’s arms darted out and circled around my body, trapping me from behind.
I gasped for breath, while I tried squirm free. Thoughts swirled in my head, and it was hard to latch onto just one. He’d never hated me. I’d done absolutely nothing! Even though I knew that, part of me always thought there had to be a reason. And now he didn’t want to finish his story? I needed to know!