As awful as Jared had become, and now how terrible I’d become, I still treasured that memory. I smiled every time I thought of what he’d done for me that day. He gave me a little of my mom back.
“Wow. My touchdown story seems kind of shallow now.” Ben actually looked interested in what I’d told him.
“I like your touchdown story. I wish I’d had more touchdowns, so to speak.”
“So, are you and this kid still friends then?” Ben asked.
As I looked over at Jared across the room, his gaze caught mine, and the hair on my neck stood on end. His frosty stare drifted to Ben, and then back to me. No hint of emotion resembling anything human.
“No, we’re practically strangers now.”
Walking to my car after school, I noticed K.C.’s ex-boyfriend leaning against it. “Liam?” I asked, momentarily curious as to why he was waiting for me but more annoyed, because I just wanted to get home.
“Hey, Tate. How have you been?” His hands were stuffed in his pockets, and he looked between me and the ground.
“I’m hanging in there. What can I do for you?” I asked abruptly. It was unlike me not to ask someone how they were when they had asked me, but I was upset with Liam. He could rot in his own tears for all I cared.
He smiled nervously. “Um, listen. I feel really bad about what happened between K.C. and me. I’ve tried calling her, and I stopped at the house, but she won’t see me.”
This was news to me. When I’d asked K.C. if she’d heard from Liam, she’d told me “no.” My friend wasn’t as honest as she used to be.
“And?” I opened the door to my dad’s Bronco and tossed my bag inside.
“Tate, I just need to see her.” His eyes were red, and he was fidgeting. “I f**ked up. I know that.”
“That’s your excuse?” It was none of my business, but I liked Liam. At least I did before he cheated on my best friend. I wanted to understand. “Why did you cheat?
Running his hands through his dark hair, he leaned back against the truck. “Because I could. Because I got caught up in the scene at the Loop. There were always girls around, and I let it go to my head. K.C. would only come with me every so often, and even then she wasn’t interested.”
My head hurt just trying to think of what to say to him. I couldn’t do this right now.
“Liam, I need to go home. I’ll tell K.C. that you’d like to talk to her, but I can’t be on your side about this. If you deserve it, she’ll forgive you.” Personally, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever forgive him if I were her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wrangle you into this.”
“Yes, you did,” I joked reluctantly. At heart, I didn’t believe Liam was a bad guy. He messed up, though, and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the risk to forgive him. Luckily, I didn’t have to make that decision.
“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. You were my last hope. Take care of yourself, and …for what it’s worth, I am sorry about this mess.” He backed away and walked to his Camaro.
Letting out a sigh, I climbed into the truck and drove off before this soap opera of a day turned into Gone with the Wind.
“Mmmm…what’s cookin’, Good Lookin’?” I yelled as I opened the front door. My body was screaming for my bed, but I decided to put on a happy face for my grandma. I’d missed her.
And I selfishly needed her to remind me that I was a good person. After what I’d said to Jared today, I didn’t even want to face myself in the mirror.
Her arrival could be smelled from the driveway. The rich aroma of sauce and meat danced through my nostrils enveloping me in a warm blanket even before I closed the front door.
“Hi, Peaches!” Grandma seemed to dance from the kitchen to the foyer, taking me into her arms. In the year I’d been gone, I’d missed her scent-filled hugs. The hairspray from her hair mixed with the lotion and perfume she used, and the leather from her belts and shoes created this aroma of home in my mind. After Mom died, I’d needed my grandma a lot.
“Oh, I forgot about “Peaches.” Dad still calls me “Pumpkin.” What is it with you Brandts naming me after fruit?” I teased, knowing their endearments were out of love.
“Oh, now. Don’t deny an old lady the pleasure of her pet names.” She plastered a kiss on my cheek with a mwah.
“Grandma, you’re younger at heart than me.” I dropped my bag by the wall and crossed my arms over my chest. “The only thing old about you is your music.” I cocked an eyebrow.
“The Beetles are timeless. Unlike that “screaming” you call music.” I rolled my eyes, and she hooked my arm, leading me into the kitchen.
My grandma is a product of fifties’ parenting—overbearing, every hair in the right place—but she also blossomed during her teens and the rebellion of the sixties. The desire to be active in her environment and experience the world led her to travel a lot as a young adult. When she found out about me going to France for a year, she couldn’t have been more thrilled. Experience is the best teacher. Her echo followed me everywhere.
While she was just over sixty, she looked much younger. Her hair was light brown with some gray, which she usually wore down around her shoulders. Healthy eating and exercise kept her fit, happy, and energetic. Her style was eclectic. I’ve seen her in pants suits and Rolling Stones t-shirts.