Shit, Tate! Get a grip.
His hooded stare faltered while I maintained eye contact. “I’m bored,” I finally choked out. “Are you going to tell me what you want or what?”
“You know?” He looked at me curiously. “This new attitude you came back with? It surprised me. You used to be a pretty dull target. All you’d do was run away or cry. Now you’ve got some fight in you. I was prepared to leave you alone this year. But now…,” he trailed off.
“What will you do? Trip me in class? Spill O.J. on my shirt? Spread rumors about me, so I don’t get any dates? Or maybe you’ll up your game to cyberbullying.” Though that was no joke, and I immediately regretted giving him the idea. “Do you really think any of it bugs me anymore? You can’t scare me.”
I should shut up. Why wasn’t I shutting up?
He studied me as I tried to control my temper. Why did he always appear so calm, so unaffected? He never yelled or flew off the handle. His temper was in check, whereas my blood boiled to the point that I felt like I could go another round with Madoc.
My eyes were level with his mouth as he leaned in slowly. One of his arms stretched over my head resting on the lockers to bring his face within an inch from mine. A sexy grin played on his lips, and I had a difficult time looking away from his full mouth.
“Do you think you’re strong enough to take me on?” His slow, soothing whisper caressed my face. If it weren’t for his formidable words, his tone might’ve calmed me…or something.
I should move away, but I wanted to appear confident by standing my ground. I could give back as good as I got. At least I thought I could.
“It’s on.” My stare met his as the raspy challenge left my throat.
“Tatum Brandt!” Shocked out of the strange trance Jared created, I looked up to see Coach and half the team at the end of the row staring at us.
“Coach!” I knew there was something for me to say, but words failed. Horror took root in my brain and held it hostage as I tried to search for an explanation. Jared was leaned into me, speaking intimately. It couldn’t have looked good. A few of the girls had their phones out, and I cringed at the sound of pictures being taken. No!
“There are other places for you two to do this.” Coach spoke to me but then looked to Jared. “Mr. Trent? Leave!” She spoke through her teeth, and the girls around her stood giggling behind their hands. No one looked away.
Jared assaulted me with a smug grin before walking out of the locker room, winking at some salivating girls as he left.
Realization dawned, and my eyes widened. He’d planned this!
“Coach—” I started and pulled the towel tighter around me.
“Ladies,” Coach interrupted me, “get on home. We’ll see you Wednesday. Tate? I’ll see you in my office before you leave. Get dressed.”
“Yes, ma’am.” My pulse thumped in my ears. I’d never been in trouble before, not at school. I dressed quickly and tied my wet hair into a bun before hauling ass to Coach’s office. Only a few minutes had passed, but I guessed those pictures were probably up on the Internet already. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and swallowed down the bile rising in my throat.
Jared had sunk low—really low—this time. I came back to town prepared for another year of aggravations and embarrassments, but it chilled my bones when I realized how our exchange must’ve looked. The rumors before had been just that, but now there were witnesses and evidence to our encounter.
Tomorrow, half the school would have some version of what was happening in those pictures. If I was lucky, the story would be that I’d thrown myself at him. If I was unlucky, the rumor would be more sordid.
Jess exited Coach’s office as I made my way in that direction. “Hey.” She stopped me. “I talked to Coach. She knows Jared ambushed you in there… that he wasn’t invited. I’m sorry I abandoned you like that.”
“Thanks.” Relief flooded me. At least my butt was safe from Coach’s wrath.
“No problem. Just please don’t tell anyone I spoke up for you. If people knew I got Jared in trouble, it wouldn’t be good,” Jess explained.
“Are you scared of him?” Jared had a lot of power around school.
“No.” She shook her head. “Jared’s fine. He can be a jerk if he’s provoked, but he’s never concerned me. Honestly, it seems like you’re the only one he wants to beat down—metaphorically speaking, of course.” Jess’s narrowed eyes made me think she was turning over something in her head.
“Yeah, well. Lucky me.”
“Jared’s important around here, so I don’t want people getting on my case about ratting him out.” Her eyebrows lifted as she waited for my understanding.
I nodded, wondering what the hell Jared did to deserve anyone’s loyalty.
The fishbowl got smaller over the next few days.
Some people heard that Jared and I were in the locker room having sex. Others believed that I’d invited him in an effort to seduce him. A few thought that he’d come in to threaten me after the episode with Madoc. Whatever story people latched onto, I was receiving more stares and hearing more whispers behind my back.
“Hey, Tate. Do you just screw in the locker room or do you do blowjobs as well?” Hannah Forrest, queen bee of the mean girls, shouted to my back while I walked to Calculus. Her drones laughed with her.