At Jared’s house.
There was no sign of him, and the porch light flickered off as soon as she was in her car. The uncontrollable pounding in my chest started, so I closed my eyes for several minutes trying to get back the peace I was enjoying just a minute ago.
“Sitting in a tree during a thunderstorm? You’re some kind of genius.” The deep voice almost shocked me right out of the tree. My eyes popped open, and I twisted around to see Jared leaning out his window. He was clothed, at least. That made me feel better after seeing K.C. leave his house.
“I like to think so, yes,” I mumbled, turning back to the storm. My anger with Jared had lessened. Considerably. After my hateful words to him today, I just felt embarrassed and ashamed now.
“Tree? Lightning? Ring any bells?”
Of course I knew it was dangerous. That’s what made it so fun.
“It never mattered to you before,” I pointed out, keeping my eyes focused on the glistening road shining under the streetlights.
“What? You sitting in a tree during a storm?”
“No, me getting hurt.” The urge to look at him was strong. I wanted to see his eyes so badly that it felt like an invisible hand was forcing my face to turn to him. I wanted him to see me. I wanted him to see us.
There was no response for several seconds, but I knew he was still there. My body reacted to his presence, and I could feel his eyes on me.
“Tatum?” His voice sounded soft and gentle, and I instantly felt warm all over. But then he spoke again. “I wouldn’t care if you were alive or dead.”
All the air left my body, and I sat on the tree branch feeling completely defeated.
No more. I couldn’t do this anymore. There was no life in feeling like this. It was all a game to him, but I didn’t have the heart to play it anymore. I’m not strong. I’m not a bully. I’m not happy. I knew what I needed to do.
I’m letting you go.
“Jared?” I said, still staring out to the rain-soaked street. “I’m sorry about what I said to you today.”
I looked over to him, but he was gone.
“Hey, did you get my text?” Ben rested his hand on my shoulder as he came around to face me.
“Yeah.” I vaguely remembered some sweet words about being anxious to see me again. “But not until much later. I went to bed early.”
I’d finally fallen back asleep last night at about two o’clock and woke up at four with a stomach full of knots. After my disgusting behavior yesterday in class and the way I’d gotten sidetracked from my goals, I decided to give up the tough-girl act. His game was too hard, and I was turning into a person I didn’t like.
I needed to talk to K.C., but I wasn’t sure how to handle her. My temper still flared over the idea of her and Jared dating, but one thing she said made sense. This anger wasn’t getting me anywhere, and I wanted to move on. I just didn’t know if I could without holding a grudge.
“So would you like to go out this weekend? There’s a bonfire at Tyler Hitchen’s place on Friday night after the race.”
“I’d love to, but I’m so swamped right now. I’ll have to see how my week goes.” I closed the locker door and began inching away.
“Can I help with anything?” Ben’s knit his eyebrows together in concern. It was sweet and made me smile.
“Well, you can’t run my laps for me, or do my Math or Science, or take my tests, so you’re pretty useless.”
“Yes, yes, I am. I see you’ve been talking to my mom.” His eyes shined with amusement, and his grin was teasing. “Try to make yourself free. It’ll be fun.”
Hannah the Bitch walked by us with her crew, and they threw Ben some sultry looks of the you-don’t-even-need-to-buy-me-dinner variety. Their antics were so transparent. Flipping hair and biting your bottom lip? Really? Who does that? She slapped me with an “L” for loser, and I flipped her off behind Ben’s back as they walked past.
I guess I should be delighted that a guy like Ben wanted to date me. Hannah, and probably most of the other girls in this school, would be grateful to have his attention. He was attentive and behaved like a gentleman. I enjoyed spending time with him. It was just taking longer than I thought it would to develop a spark.
“Fine,” I answered. “I’ll try.”
He took my bag and walked me to Physics. “Meet you at lunch?” He looked at me expectantly.
“Sure. I’ll be sitting outside today.” His presence would be welcome. I might need a buffer between K.C. and myself if I lost my temper again.
“See you there.” His voice was low and warm. Arriving at class, he handed me my bag and backed away, heading off down the hall.
I wished I was more into Ben. Maybe I just needed to get to know him better.
The surprise Physics quiz burned panic right through my bones. Luckily, it was enough to take my mind off my personal life. I’d done the reading and completed the questions this morning in my haze, but I still felt unprepared.
The running we did in P.E. afterwards let off the steam of the morning. Even though Coach was testing us on our mile run time, and I completed that in six minutes flat, she let me keep running. The burn in my muscles singed off the frustration and hurt of Jared’s words last night that had been floating through my head all morning.
I wouldn’t care if you were alive or dead. My heels dug into the dirt as I envisioned digging his grave.