During my year away, I had fought the urge to ask K.C. about him. Even after everything he’d done, part of me still missed that boy that was my waking thought and constant companion as a kid. But that Jared was gone now. In his place was a sour, hateful douchebag that had no regard for me.
Shutting and locking the French doors, I pulled the sheer, black curtains closed. Moments later, the sky opened up with a crack, and the rain let loose.
Awakened later that night, my brain unable to ignore the thunder and thrashing of the tree against the house, I flipped on my bedside light and crept to the doors to check out the storm. I caught the sight of headlights speeding dangerously down the street. I tilted my head as far to the side as I could and caught the view of a black Boss 302 charging its way into Jared’s driveway.
The car fishtailed slightly before jetting out of my sight into the garage. It was a new car model with a thick, red racing stripe running down the length of the car. I had never seen it before. Last I knew Jared had a motorcycle and a Mustang GT, so that car could’ve been anyone’s.
Maybe I had a new neighbor?
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that possibility.
On the other hand, that car would totally have been Jared’s taste.
After a minute or so, a dim light fell across my floor with the illumination coming from Jared’s room. I caught the sight of a dark figure moving behind his blinds. My fingers started to tingle, making them too weak to curl.
Trying to refocus my attention on the fantastical display of wind and curtains of rain, my heart jumped at the sound of Jared’s blinds lifting up and the wash of light spilling between our two houses.I narrowed my eyes as I saw Jared lift up his window and lean out into the night storm.
He appeared to be observing the spectacle, same as me. I could barely make out his face through the dense spatter of leaves, but I knew when he noticed me. His arms stiffened as he supported himself on the windowsill, and his head was bowed in my direction, unmoving. I could almost picture those chocolate brown eyes piercing me.
He didn't wave or nod. Why would he? Absence wasn't going to make his heart grow fonder—clearly. Dread and apprehension used to plague me when this guy was around, but now....I felt a strange mixture of nervousness and anticipation.
I slowly backed up to close and secure the doors. The last thing I wanted was to trip and give away the emotions boiling under my calm exterior. During my time away, I’d thought about Jared, but I hadn’t dwelled on him, figuring that time and distance would cool him off.
Perhaps that prediction was too hopeful.
And maybe I wasn’t as bothered by his shit anymore.
“So, have you seen him yet?” K.C. leaned on the frame of my double doors looking over towards Jared’s house. I didn’t have to ask who she was referring to.
“No…well, yes. Kind of. I saw a pretty severe looking Boss charging into his garage late last night. Would that be him?” I didn’t want to tell K.C. about seeing him at the window. Hoping to have a couple of days’ reprieve before we came face to face, I was trying to hang on to the calm I’d achieved during my year away.
I continued to sort through the clothes in my suitcase, picking out what needed to be hung up and what needed to be washed.
“Yep. He traded in the GT shortly after you left and bought that. I guess he’s been making a name for himself racing out at the Loop.”
My fingers clenched the hanger tightly at her words. Disappointment coursed through me as I realized that things had changed in the year I’d been gone. When we were younger, Jared and I had dreamed of putting a car together for the Loop.
“It’s a hot car.” I hated to admit it.
Jared used to work with my dad and me in our garage fixing up my dad’s old Chevy Nova. We were both eager students and appreciated the mastery it took to get a car in prime condition.
“In any case,” I continued, “with racing and his job, I just hope he’s too busy to get in my face this year.” I circulated the room putting things away, but my brain throbbed with annoyance.
K.C. backed away from the door frame and belly-flopped onto my bed. “Well, I, for one, am pretty excited to see the look on his face when he sees you.” She leaned her head on her hand, giving me a teasing grin.
“And why is that?” I muttered as I walked to my bedside table to reset my clock.
“Because you look great. I have no idea what happened between the two of you, but he won’t be able to ignore you. No rumor or prank will keep the guys away, and Jared will probably be sulking that he treated you so badly.” K.C. wiggled her eyebrows.
I don’t know what she meant about me “looking great”. As far as I knew, I looked the same as I always had. I stood at 5’7”, blondish hair falling to the middle of my back, and dark blue eyes. Gym workouts made me want to gag, but I had continued my running to keep in shape for cross-country. The only difference was my skin tone. After traveling this summer and being in the sun so much, I was pretty tanned. In time, though, that would disappear, and I’d be pale again.
“Oh, he never had a problem ignoring me. I wish he would.” I sucked in a breath through my teeth and smiled. “I had such an awesome year. The people I met and the places I saw! It all gave me a lot of perspective. I have a plan, and I’m not letting Jared Trent get in my way.”
I sat down on the bed and let out a sigh.
K.C. grabbed my hand. “No worries, babe. This shit has to come to a head eventually. After all, we graduate in nine months.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the foreplay between you and Jared,” K. C. chirped, straight-faced as she hopped off the bed and into my closet. “It can’t go on forever,” she called out.
“Excuse me?” Foreplay was a sex word, and my stomach flip-flopped at the thought of “Jared” and “sex” in the same sentence.
“Ms. Brandt, don’t tell me this hasn’t crossed your mind.” K.C. poked her head out of the closet, using a Southern accent as she pinched her eyebrows together and placed her hand over her heart. She held one of my dresses up to her frame as she examined herself in the full-sized mirror that hung on the back of my closet door.
Foreplay? I spun the word around in my head trying to figure out what she was talking about until it finally clicked.
“You think his treatment of me is foreplay?!” I almost yelled at her. “Yes. It was foreplay when he told the whole school I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and everyone made farting noises as I walked down the hall freshman year.” My sarcastic tone failed to cover up my anger. How could she think all this was foreplay? “And yes, it was completely erotic the way he had the grocery store deliver a case of yeast infection cream to Math class sophomore year. But what really got me hot and ready to bend over for him was when he plastered brochures for genital wart treatments on my locker, which is completely outrageous for someone to have an STD without having sex!” All of the resentment I had let go of this year was now back with a vengeance. I hadn’t forgiven or forgotten anything.
Blinking long and hard, I took a mental vacation back to France. Port Salut cheese, French bread, bonbons…I snorted when I realized that maybe it wasn’t France but the food that I had really loved.
K.C. stared at me, wide-eyed. “Uh, no, Tate. I don’t think he is engaging in sexual foreplay. I think he really does hate you. What I’m saying is, isn’t it about time you fought back? Played the game? If he pushes you, push back. I tried to let her words sink in, but she continued, “Tate, guys aren’t mean to attractive girls for no reason at all. In fact, most teenage guys’ energy is for the sole purpose of getting laid. They don’t want to diminish their options, so they are rarely mad at any girl……unless she’s betrayed him, of course,” she mused.
I knew K.C. was right to an extent. There had to be a reason for why Jared acted the way he did. I’d wracked my brain a thousand times trying to figure it out. He was cold to most people, but he was downright cruel to me.
I stood up and continued the task of hanging up clothes, my scarves draped over my shoulder. “Well, I haven’t betrayed Jared. I’ve told you a hundred times, we were friends for years, he went away for a few weeks the summer before freshman year, and when he came back, he was different. He didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
“Well, you won’t know anything until you engage. Like before you left for France. You pushed back that night, and that’s what you need to keep doing.” K.C. shot out advice like I hadn’t thought about it for the past year. My anger got away from me the night of Tori Beckman’s party, but no good was going to come from me sinking to Jared’s level again.
“Look,” I evened out my voice in an effort to appear calm. There was no way I was getting sucked into any more drama with this guy, damn it. “We’re going to have an amazing year. I’m hoping Jared has forgotten all about me. If he has, then we can both peacefully ignore each other until graduation. If he hasn’t, then I’ll do what I think is best. I’ve got bigger things on my mind anyway. He and that asshat Madoc can poke and prod all they want. I’m done giving them my attention. They are not taking my senior year.” I stopped to look at her.
K.C. looked thoughtful. “Okay,” she offered complacently.
“Yes, I said ‘okay’.” She let the discussion go. My shoulders relaxed. She wanted me to be David to Jared’s Goliath, and I just wanted to focus on getting into Columbia and winning the Science Fair in the spring.
“Okay,” I mimicked and quickly changed the subject. “So my dad isn’t due home for three more months. What trouble should I dare to stir up? Do you think I should actually break curfew while he’s gone?” I continued to sort out my clothes.
“I still can’t believe your dad is leaving you alone for three months.”
“He knows that it’s ridiculous to make me stay with my grandma, start a new school and then move back here when he gets home at Christmas. It’s my senior year. It’s important. He understands.” My grandma always stayed with me while my dad was away, but her sister wasn’t well and needed constant help. I was on my own this time.
“Yeah, well your grandma is only like two hours away anyway, so I’m sure she’ll pop in here and there.” K.C. pointed out. “Should we possibly risk having a party?”
She knew I was a worrywart, so her tone was cautious. My parents raised me to think for myself but to use common sense. Far too often had K.C. been disappointed by my lack of “devil may care” attitude. “That way, you wouldn’t be breaking curfew! Because you’d…be…home,” she quickly reasoned.
My chest tightened at the thought of an unauthorized party, but I had to admit, it was still something I wanted to do at some point.
“I guess it is a rite of passage for all teenagers, having a party while the parents are away,” I admitted but swallowed hard when I remembered that I only had one parent. Although my mom had passed away eight years ago, it still hurt every day. I glanced over to our last family picture sitting on my bedside table. We were at a White Sox game, and my parents were each kissing one of my cheeks, my lips scrunched up like a fish.
K.C. patted me on the back. “We’ll go slowly with you. We can start stretching the rules before we break them. How about having a guy over before you have a huge crowd?” She grabbed a black silk top I’d bought in Paris and held it up.
“Yeah, somehow I think my dad would find one guy more threatening that a houseful of teenage partiers. And I do break rules sometimes. I’m guilty of speeding and jaywalking and…” My voice trailed off as my lips pulled up into a grin. K.C. and I could be adventurous, but it was never of much interest to me to lose my father’s trust. Normally, I didn’t even bend rules. I respected him too much.