He frowned. “We did nothing wrong, Tate.”
He was right. I had nothing to be ashamed of. Granted, I hated that people had seen what they did, but I gave my heart and body to someone I loved. There was nothing dirty in that.
“Let’s go.” I walked to my truck and opened the door.
Jared had parked in front of me, and I cringed when I saw the damage I’d done to his car.
If he was, in fact, guilty, then screw him and his dumb car. But if he was innocent, then I didn’t even want to think about how mad my dad was going to be when he saw the bill for repairs.
“Is…um…is your car safe to drive?” I asked timidly.
A tired smile tugged at his lips. “Don’t sweat it. It gives me an excuse to do more upgrades.”
I filled my lungs with a deep breath, feeling like I’d been suffocated all day. The cool wind danced across my face and gave me a little more energy.
“Stop at your mom’s firm and pick up her phone. I’ll meet you at school.” And I climbed in the truck and sped off.
Everyone was still in their final period, so Jared and I walked silently through the halls without interruption.
“Is it still flashing?” I glanced over to his mom’s phone in his hand.
“Yeah. I can’t believe my phone is still on after two days. GPSs use a lot of battery.” He was looking around, but I wasn’t sure what for.
“Well, the video was sent this morning. If what you say is true, then whoever used your phone has probably charged it since Saturday night.”
“If what I say is true…” He repeated what I said in a whisper like he was aggravated I didn’t trust him.
Part of me wanted to believe him. Desperately. But the other part of me was wondering why the hell I was here. Was I really entertaining the possibility that he didn’t have anything to do with this? Wasn’t it a little too farfetched that this was all put together without Jared’s help?
“Look,” I said, trying to change the subject, “this tracker’s only accurate within fifty meters. So…”
“So start dialing my phone. Maybe we’ll hear it.”
I slid my phone out of my back pocket and dialed his number, letting it ring and keeping our ears peeled for any noise. But our school was huge, and we had almost no time until last period ended, and the halls flooded with bodies.
Every time his voicemail picked up, I ended the call and redialed.
“Let’s split up,” I suggested. “I’ll keep dialing. Just listen for a sound. I think it’s in a locker.”
“Why? Someone could have it on them, too.”
“With me calling every ten seconds? No, they would’ve turned off the phone, in which case it would’ve gone straight to voicemail. It’s on, and it’s in a locker.” I nodded.
“Fine.” His voice was hesitant and a little biting. “But if you find it, call my mom’s phone immediately. I don’t want you in the halls alone, not today.”
I started to get my hopes up at his concern for me. This was the Jared from the past week. The one that held me and touched me gently. The one that cared.
In that moment, I wanted to grab him and hold him close.
But then I heard their laughter in my ears again. And I remembered that I didn’t trust him.
Hitting “redial”, I turned and leapt up the stairs, two at a time.
My boots hit the tiled floor with more of a thud than I would’ve liked. Trying to lighten my step, I crept along each side of the main hallway with my ear to the lockers. But each time I called Jared’s number I heard no rings or vibrating noises.
I passed two students in the hallway, both of whom did a double-take when they saw me. Yep, they knew who I was, and in no time at all everyone would know I was on campus. My heart sped up as it became more and more obvious that I’d made a mistake in coming back here today.
The phone was in a locker, probably Jared’s, and silenced. This was just another trick. My throat tightened.
I breathed hard as I paced each hallway, continuing to punch “redial”. Each time the voicemail picked up, I wanted to cry again.
I wanted him to be innocent. I could live with the talk and the look in everyone’s eyes, knowing that they’d seen the video. I would live with that, because I had no choice.
But I didn’t want to be without Jared. I needed him to be innocent.
Because she made you.
His words floated through my mind.
I don’t want to take one more step in this world without you next to me.
Neither did I.
I was hoping we could move forward without looking back.
I caught a tear with my thumb before it spilled over, turned a corner and called his phone again.
Limp Bizkit’s Behind Blue Eyes echoed down the hall, close to Dr. Kuhl’s classroom. I narrowed my eyes and tilted my head towards the music. When it ended, I tapped the button again to call it back.
Please, please, please.
When the line started ringing, the slow, sad ballad played again from down the hall. I nearly dropped the phone as I took off toward the sound.
I put my hand to locker 1622.
I smiled for the first time since this morning, and with shaky fingers, I texted Jared’s mom’s phone.
2nd floor, next to Kuhl’s room!!
I jerked my head up at the sound of the school bell sounding. My stomach sank. Doors swung open and flocks of students poured out, sounding more like a murder of crows than humans.
Yep, that’s about what was going to happen right now. But I didn’t know if I’d be the predator or prey.
I stood facing the lockers with my back to everyone, hoping that I could get away with it for as long as possible. Out of instinct, I put my head down, trying to be invisible. My heart pounded in my ears, and I felt like a thousand eyes were boring into the back of my skull.
But then the flame of cowardice hit me. More than the shame I felt this morning, I hated the way these people made me want to crawl into a hole.
I used to love people. I loved being a part of things and socializing. Now, I only wanted to be alone. Because alone was the only way I was safe.
I had done nothing wrong. Those in my school who had passed the video around or gossiped about it were the ones to feel ashamed. Not me.
But I was the one hiding.
Isn’t it about time you fought back?
Taking a deep breath and turning around, I leaned back on locker 1622 and looked up, daring them to come at me.
I didn’t have to wait long.
“Hey, Tate.” Some kid with stringy, blonde hair walked past, undressing me with his eyes.
“Whoa, she came back!” Another guy taunted.
Others slowed in passing and laughed to their friends. The girls didn’t tease like the guys did. They bullied more quietly, with whispers behind their hands. With looks.
But everyone had something nasty to offer.
Until Jared ran up.
And then everyone stopped.
He looked between them and me and took my face in his hands. “Are you alright?” he asked, his eyes full of love.
“Yes.” My voice was softer on him now. “The phone is here, in 1622. I don’t know whose locker it is, though.”
His lips pressed in a thin line, and a scowl crossed his face. He knew whose locker it was.
“Back so soon? Is your p**n career a failure already?” A catty voice rose out of the murmurs, and I shut my eyes.
I felt Jared’s lips on my forehead before he pulled away. I opened my eyes to see him turn around, shielding me, but I yanked his arm back and stepped forward.
I should’ve known Piper was a part of this. I don’t know how she did it, but she was responsible, and I wanted to deal with her. Hell, I’d take pleasure in it!
I briefly noticed everyone in the hall squeezed together, patiently waiting for something.
“Actually, we’re just waiting for you.” I smiled and kept my tone even. “You know that video that came from Jared’s phone this morning? The one that everyone saw? He didn’t send it. His phone was stolen Saturday night. Would you know where it is?” I raised my eyebrows in my best condescending look.
She blinked but straightened her shoulders and tilted her chin up. “Why would I know where his phone is?”
“Oh, because…” I drifted off and hit “redial.” Behind Blue Eyes started playing from her locker, and I held up my phone screen to her so she could see that I was dialing Jared. Everyone else saw, too.
“This is your locker, Piper,” Jared pointed out after I’d hung up.
“You know, I just love that song. Let’s hear it again.” As I called his phone, everyone heard the song echo from Piper’s locker once more. Now there was no doubt.
Jared stepped forward and bent down into her face. “Open up your locker and give me my goddamn phone back, or we’ll get the Dean, and he’ll open the locker.”
Option A would prove to the entire school she was a thief and a liar. Option B would prove the same thing but also get her into trouble. She was standing there like she had a choice.
“It was Nate’s idea,” she blurted out, her voice cracking.
“You stupid bitch!” Nate growled from the crowd, and I looked over to see him step forward. “It was your idea.”
Jared pulled his arm back and punched Nate across the nose, sending the guy spilling to the ground like a wet dishcloth. The bystanders gasped and backed up, and I tried to resist the urge to do the same to Piper.
At that moment, Madoc pushed through the crowd, wide-eyed with shock at the bleeding Nate on the floor.
“Are you okay?” he asked, looking pissed as he came to stand by my side.
I nodded and turned my attention to Piper. “How did you do it?”
She pursed her lips and refused to meet my eyes. So we’re going to be stubborn today, I see.
“Your dad’s a cop, right? What’s his number?” I held up my phone, my fingers primed to dial. “Oh, yeah. 911.”
“Ugh, alright!” she gritted out. “Nate took me to Homecoming and then to Tori’s party afterwards. When we saw you and Jared head upstairs, Nate took his camera phone and climbed onto the balcony. When he showed me the video later, I saw that Jared had left his phone on the dresser, so I snuck back into the room to take it.”
“So the video came from Nate’s phone. It was transferred to Jared’s before it was texted.” I spoke to Piper but my eyes were on Jared. He looked at me, not angry like he should have been, but relieved. Now I knew he wouldn’t do something like that to me. I should’ve always known, I guess.
Shit. I really messed up his car.
“Get Jared’s phone, Piper. Now,” Madoc ordered, with a scowl I usually didn’t see on his face.
She huffed and walked up to her locker, working the combination until the lock clicked. Yanking the door open, she shuffled through her purse while the rest of us waited.
The crowd hadn’t dispersed. If anything, it’d grown. I was surprised teachers hadn’t come out of the classrooms yet. Jared hovered over Nate, who still lay on the ground holding his nose. He had to remember a night not so long ago that he’d been in the same situation with Jared and probably decided that it was better to just stay down.
Piper finally picked the phone out of her bag and threw it at my chest. Out of reflex, my hands shot up to catch it, but there was a dull ache from where it’d hit. She was scowling at me, and I almost wanted to laugh. Almost.
“We’re done,” she snapped and waved her hand to shoo me away. “You may go.”
“Piper? Do yourself a favor, and get some help. Jared is not yours, and he never will be. In fact, he won’t ever look at you again and see anything good, if he even saw anything good in the first place.”