I backed away and screamed into the living room. “Cops!” Dancers looked around in confusion.
“Cops! Everyone get out of here! Cops coming in the backdoor! Run!” I was surprised by the amount of commitment I could summon to pull this off, but it worked. Damn, it worked!
Pandemonium ensued as the mob reacted with immediate panic. Partiers, the underage ones at least, started scattering to the four winds and seemed to pass the word to the people outside, too. Everyone else grabbed their weed and bottles before running off. They were too drunk to scan the area properly and actually look for the cops. They just ran.
Twisting around to meet Jared’s eyes, I took notice that he hadn’t reacted. He hadn’t moved. As everyone bolted from his house in a flurry of screams and engines revving, Jared just stared at me with a mixture of anger and surprise.
Approaching me slowly, the huge smile that developed across his face forced my stomach to do a cartwheel. Letting out a fake pitiful sigh, he declared, “I’ll have you in tears in no time.” His tone was calm and decisive. I believed every word.
Taking a long breath, my eyes narrowed at him. “You’ve already made me cry countless times.” I raised my middle finger to him slowly, and asked, “Do you know what this is?” I took my middle finger and patted the corner of my eye with it. “It’s me, wiping away the last tear you’ll ever get.”
The next few days passed in a flurry of activity as I prepared for school to begin. As much as I tried to talk myself into believing that Jared’s silence was a good thing, it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.
My actions at his party had been careless, but sometimes the worst ideas felt the best. Even now, after a week, my pulse sped up, and I couldn’t help but grin at the thought of how I'd gotten him. The awareness I’d gained while living abroad made things that were once threatening seem more trivial now. Nervousness still surged in my chest at the thought of Jared, but I no longer felt the need to avoid him at all costs.
“So, are you in the fishbowl today!” It wasn’t a question. K.C. bounced up next to me as I put my books away. Her hand gripped the top of the locker door as she peeked around it.
“I’m afraid to ask.” I let out a small sigh without looking at her. It was the first day back, our first day of senior year. I’d had a full morning of Physics, Calculus, and P.E. I grabbed another notebook for French, which was my last class before lunch.
“So you haven’t noticed everyone noticing you today? In a school of about two thousand people, I think you might’ve caught on that almost all of them were talking about you,” she said with a giggle.
“Did I sit in chocolate pudding again? Or maybe a new rumor is circulating that I spent the past year hiding a pregnancy and gave the baby up for adoption.” I slammed my locker door shut then turned to head to French, knowing she’d follow me. I really didn’t want to hear what people were saying, partly because I didn’t care what bullshit they were circulating now and also because it was nothing new. France had been a peaceful respite, but Shelburne Falls was probably the same old, same old. Thanks to Jared, my high school experience had been one long succession of rumors, pranks, tears, and disappointments. I hoped for more this year, but I wasn’t holding my breath either.
“Not even close. And actually, the talk is good. Really good.”
“Oh, yeah?” I absent-mindedly responded, hoping she’d sense the disinterested tone and shut up.
“Apparently, your year in Europe has transformed you from ubergeek to ubercool!” K.C. broadcasted sarcastically, knowing that I had never been ubergeek. Not that I was ever considered ubercool either. My default identity had always been “of those on the outside”, but only because the long arm of Jared Trent had deemed me less than acceptable in most social circles.
I jetted up the stairs to the third floor for class, sidestepping other students as they rushed down to their next destination.
“Tate, did you hear me?” K.C. jogged behind me, trying to catch up. “I mean, look around you! Would you stop for two seconds?” she whisper-yelled, eyes pleading when I glanced back at her.
“What?” Her urgency to pass on the latest gossip was amusing, but all I wanted was to walk into school without wearing my invisible body armor. "What’s the big deal? So what? People think I look nice today. Today! What will they think tomorrow after Jared gets to them?” I hadn’t told her about Jared’s party and what I’d done. If she knew, she wouldn’t be so optimistic about my chances.
“You know, he wasn’t that bad after you left. Maybe we’re worrying about nothing. All I’m saying is that—” K.C. was cut off.
“Hey, Tate.” Ben Jamison came up behind K.C. and reached behind me. “Let me get the door for you.”
I stepped aside, giving him room to swing the door open. Having no choice but to end our conversation, I pursed my lips and waved at an open-mouthed K.C.
“It’s great having you back,” Ben whispered as we walked into class, me first and him close behind. I widened my eyes and had to stifle a nervous laugh. The reality of Ben Jamison engaging me in small talk was too surreal.
He starred on the football and basketball teams and was one of the best looking guys in school. We had been in French I and II together, but he’d never spoken to me.
“Thank you,” I muttered, keeping my eyes downcast. This was out of my comfort zone. I slipped stealthily into a front row seat. Weird!