Even with as little sleep as I’d had, the opportunity to pound out some energy and frustration proved useful at the meet. My team took part in a competition in which we placed second, and I also competed in an individual race spanning a few miles through a nearby recreational area. The high walls of the quarry around us, and the dense population of trees made the trail space feel cramped. And that was how I liked it today. I couldn’t imagine that I was alone, so it was hard to let my mind wander off the race.
Coming in second again, I smiled as my grandma snapped picture after picture. I was glad she was here to see me race, probably for the last time in my high school career. Although, my dad missed it, and now I missed him even more. It’d been hard dealing with my mom not being around for the important events, but I really wanted my dad today.
After chilidogs at Mulgrew’s, she drove us home.
“I’m going to miss you. I told your dad I’d be back at Christmas, though.” Grandma packed up the last of her belongings and set everything by the front door.
“Looking forward to it. And I will miss you too.”
“So, do you want to tell me about last night?” She peered up from her purse as she checked to make sure she had everything.
My heart skipped a beat. “Last night?” I could come clean with her, but instead, I chose to play ignorant. I had no idea where to start about last night.
“Yes. A dangerous looking black car, similar to the boy’s next door, dropped you home after curfew?” She questioned with laughing eyes. Clearly, she wasn’t too concerned.
“Yesss,” I drew it out dramatically. “Jared gave me a lift home. We were at the same party. No big deal.” My eyes averted to my shoes as my omissions had me feeling guilty. There was more to tell her, a lot more, but as always, I chose to keep my Jared issues quiet.
And now there was a whole new can of worms to sort out—his kissing and my dirty dreams.
She stood there for a few moments studying me as I continued to act oblivious. “Okay, if you say so.” She hooked her purse over her shoulder. “You remember the rules about locking up?”
“Good. Well, give me a hug.”
She held out her arms, and I wrapped myself around her, inhaling her perfume-lotion scent one more time. I picked up one of her bags and led the way to her car.
“See you in no time,” I assured her as I saw her bring a tissue to her eye.
“In no time,” she sniffled. “Put up some Halloween decorations. It’ll cheer you up if you get lonely.”
“It’s October,” she laughed. “That’s the time for Halloween, Tate.”
October? I hadn’t realized. My birthday was coming up.
After my grandma left, I texted K.C. After everything that happened last night, I hadn’t had a chance to talk to her.
How’s it going?
Fine. Sorry I couldn’t make the meet. Busy. She shot back a minute later.
So…you and Liam? I queried. Part of me hoped that she and Liam were back on. I felt guilty. Only a lousy person would kiss the guy her best friend was dating, and I worried about how I would tell her. If she and Liam were back together, then maybe I wouldn’t need to come clean?
Don’t judge. She texted back.
Relief flooded me. There were back together.
Never. If you’re happy…
I am. Just hope I can trust him. She still had doubts, and rightly so. I don’t think I could take back a guy that cheated on me, but then again, I’d never been in love. I guess I wouldn’t know anything until I’d experienced it.
You may never know for sure, but as long as he’s worth it. I wrote.
I think so……So Jared’s all yours.
What?! The thumping in my chest actually hurt.
Apparently, I took too long drowning in my own sweat, because she texted again.
No worries, Tate. He was never mine anyway.
I couldn’t text back. What would I say? Thanks?
Jared wasn’t hers, and he definitely wasn’t mine. He made it abundantly clear that he belonged to no one. Was Jared holding back with her because of me? Is that why she said what she said?
I spent the rest of the weekend doing anything to keep my mind off Jared. Saturday and Sunday I spent cleaning the house, washing the Bronco, completing homework, typing up procedures for my experiment, and avoiding texts from Ben and K.C.
I needed to be alone, and I wasn’t sure I could keep what happened between Jared and me a secret. K.C. deserved to know that I kissed him, but I didn’t want anyone to know, so I chose to avoid everyone. Even my dad when he called.
Ben deserved my silence, even if he had called and texted several times to apologize. If he’d just taken me home like he’d promised, then I wouldn’t have gotten into that mess with Nate.
Honestly, Ben was probably a very decent guy, despite his behavior at the bonfire. But the problem remained—I didn’t feel firecrackers going off in my stomach when he kissed me. I didn’t feel anything.
Jared was like the Fourth of July…all over my body.
As I stepped out of French class Monday morning, I immediately halted. Madoc stood across the hall, leaned up against the lockers, eyeballing me with a goofy grin.
“Hey, Little Speed Racer.” He sauntered over as kids behind me bumped into my back trying to get out of class.
I rolled my eyes, not ready for another irritation. Already this morning, I’d been late to school after coming out of the house to find that the Bronco had a flat. Dr. Porter had emailed to tell me the lab was off limits tomorrow afternoon. And people had been talking to me all day about the race Friday night.
As positive as that attention was, it was like someone scraping their teeth across their fork. I didn’t want to be reminded of how Friday night had gone from good to bad, and then good again, and then to worse. The week was starting off rough, and I wasn’t in the mood for ass**le Madoc.
“What do you want?” I mumbled, walking past him down the hall.
“Well, it’s nice to see you, too.” He seemed to hold back his usual sinister self. He wasn’t making innuendoes or trying to grope me. He just stared down at me, almost timidly, with his ridiculously playful smile.
Ignoring him and making a beeline for my locker, I felt an urge to kick something when Madoc only increased his speed to keep up. “Listen, I want you to know that I was really impressed with your driving Friday night. And I heard you placed second in the three mile. Sounds like you had a great weekend.”
No, actually, I’m completely in knots. I hadn’t seen Jared at all since Friday. His house seemed abandoned until late last night when I heard the roar of his engine crawl up the driveway. I hadn’t seen him today either.
And I was looking for him. I was more irritated about that than anything.
“Spit it out, Madoc. What disgusting, demeaning prank are you pulling on me today?” Reaching my locker, I didn’t even spare him a glance as I dumped my bag and books.
“I have absolutely nothing up my sleeve, Tate. I’ve actually come to beg your forgiveness.” Madoc took my hand, and I turned my face to look at him.
He placed his hand over his heart and made a low bow.
Oh, what now?
Looking around to see the flood of students in the hall, all gawking at Madoc Caruthers making his grand gesture, I swatted him on the back.
“Get up!” I whisper-yelled as people around us laughed and murmured to eachother.
What was he up to?! Dread tightened my stomach.
“I am truly sorry for everything I’ve done to you.” Madoc raised his body again to face me. “I have no excuse. It’s not my thing to make an enemy out of beautiful girls.”
So you’ve said.
“Whatever.” I crossed my arms, ready to go get lunch. “Is that it?”
“Actually, no.” He waggled his eyebrows. “I was hoping you would go to the Homecoming dance with me?”
My muscles tensed. I immediately started scanning the hallway to see if anyone was laughing, a sign that this was all a joke.
But none of Madoc’s pals were around to witness the prank, and Jared was nowhere in sight.
Turning back to Madoc, I fixed him with a glare. “Did you really expect me to fall for that?”
“Fall for what? My charm and amazing body? Absolutely.”
His sarcasm did nothing to ease my distrust. I rolled my eyes, already wondering why the hell I’d stood here listening to him. “Enough. I’m going to lunch. Tell Jared that I’m not that stupid.”
I turned around and headed for the cafeteria.
“Wait.” Madoc jogged up beside me. “You think this is a setup?”
Ignoring him, I kept walking. Of course, this was a setup. Why would Madoc want to go to Homecoming with me? And why would he think that I’d say “yes?” We’d been at each other’s throats for years.
“Tate, Jared would probably set fire to my hair if he knew I was talking to you, let alone asking you out. I’m being serious here. No pranks. No jokes. I really want to take you to the dance.”
I pushed on towards the cafeteria hoping he’d get the hint. I started to feel like I was suffocating. He needed to get away from me.
“Tate, please stop.” Madoc touched my arm.
I whirled around to face him, hot with anger. “Even if you are being serious, did you really think I’d ever trust you? You’ve groped me, and I’ve broken your nose. You’re asking me out? Really?”
This was the dumbest turn of events I’d never anticipated, and what’s more? It was a waste of my time.
“I realize we have an interesting history,” Madoc started, holding up his hands, “and I want to assure you that I’m not asking you out in a romantic way. Jared will have my balls as it is. I’ve been a jerk, and I want to make amends. If you don’t already have a date, I’d love to take you and show you that I can be a good guy.”
Aww, what a nice little speech.
“No,” I replied.
His charm didn’t work on me the way it worked on others, but the shocked look on his face gave me a little pause. Part of me wanted to laugh, because he actually looked disappointed. And part of me was troubled, because he actually looked disappointed.
I owed Madoc nothing. I told myself.
After everything, I shouldn’t even be speaking to him. But then again, after overhearing his talk with Jared last week in the hall, it seemed like he never was fully on board when it came to trying to hurt me. Maybe he really did want to make amends.
Doesn’t matter. It’s not going to happen.
Twisting around, I headed for the cafeteria again when I really just wanted to run out the front door. It was only Monday morning, and I was already climbing the walls to get out of here.
It was true that I wanted to go to the dance, and I didn’t yet have a date. And going with Madoc would make Jared jealous. Maybe I wanted to see him twisted up in knots over me.
I shook the thoughts from my mind. Don’t go there, Tate.
“Are you thinking of trying for an athletic scholarship?” Jess asked me as we threw away the remains of our lunches.
“Not really. I like running, but I’m not sure if I want to make that kind of commitment while I’m in college,” I answered.
K.C. and Liam had joined us for lunch but had disappeared a while ago, probably underneath the bleachers near the football field to talk. She seemed happy, and Liam had been even sweeter than usual. It would be a long time before I could look at him without thinking about his betrayal, but I was glad they were together again.
After they’d left, I barely ate any of my chicken burrito. Madoc kept smiling at me from across the cafeteria.
Ben kept texting me, too. He wanted to talk before lunch was over, but thanks to my friends, I had an excuse not to be alone with him. He’d been stupid, and while I was aggravated, I knew I’d have to talk to him some time. Even if it’s just to say “let’s be friends.”