“Hey, you guys.” K.C. came up behind Ben and me where we sat at a picnic table outside, eating our lunch.
“Hi,” I said through a mouthful of pasta salad, unable to meet her eyes.
“So how are you doing, Ben? Ready for the game Friday?”
“I’m not as worried about the game as I am the race later that night. I’ve got some money riding on Wonderboy in there.” Her jerked his thumb towards to cafeteria, referring to Jared, I would assume.
“Oh, well he’s a safe bet.” She smirked and waved her hand in the air. “I’ll be at the race, too. Are you bringing Tate?” Her gaze slid to me.
“I didn’t think she’d enjoy the race, but I’m trying to get her to the bonfire afterwards.”
K.C. narrowed her eyes at me as she mixed a flavored powder into her water. “Tate knows a lot about cars. She would love it,” she pointed out.
“Guys, I’m sitting right here. Talk to me, morons.” I barked sarcastically at the both of them, feeling like they were the parents discussing what to do with the child.
Ben tucked my hair behind my ear, and I jerked a little with the intimate gesture.
“Sorry, Tate. As I was saying, you love cars. Did you know that, Ben?”
“I didn’t. Well, she has to come with me then.” He grinned while popping a Cheetoh in his mouth, and I felt squeezed like the cream in an Oreo cookie. They were pushing me.
Like every other time we’d been in a social setting in the past, Jared had done something to ruin it. Why bother?
Looking at K.C., I geared up for verbal sparring. “You expect me to come to the Loop and cheer for Jared?”
“No, but I’d love you to be there with me since I won’t know anyone. You can see the race, check out the cars, and explain to me the difference between a battery and an engine. I never understood that. If you have a battery, then why do you need an engine?”
Ben and I burst out laughing. She was being purposely dimwitted to get me to be agreeable. I wanted to go, but I knew K.C. would be all over Jared. If I wanted to spend time with her, then I’d have to be around him. I couldn’t hang pathetically on Ben all night.
“I told Ben I’d see how my week went. I have a lot to do right now.” While I was caught up on my homework, I wanted to get ahead on some reading and get to the library to research on the Science topics so I could make my final decision. Not to mention, I needed to be at school by seven on Saturday morning to catch the bus for a cross country meet in Farley. It’s not like I was trying to avoid Jared.
“And I know what that means.” K.C. picked up her phone and started scrolling, clearly pissed.
She’s pissed at me? Screw that.
“K.C.!” My mood turned as black as my finger nails. “I said I would try. Jesus.”
“I’m just saying—” her eyes never leaving her phone— “that I think if it weren’t for Jared, then you would go. You have to try, Tate. He said he wouldn’t have any problem with you being there.”
My face flushed with embarrassment, I glanced at Ben. I never aired my dirty laundry for others to witness. “Oh, he wouldn’t have any problem with me being there? I guess since I have the dickhead’s permission, then I should fall on my knees with gratitude.”
“Well, Jared isn’t the race master, and doesn’t say who’s in or out. I can invite who I like,” Ben assured as he got up. “I need a Gatorade. Do either of you need anything?” he asked, probably looking for an escape while K.C. and I settled our little argument.
“I’ll take a water.’ I reached into my pocket to dig out some money.
“No, no. I got it.” He walked off inside the cafeteria. My gaze followed him as I appreciated how nice he looked in his jeans. Well, there was that at least.
K.C.’s voice broke my trance. “So if Jared’s a dickhead, then what am I for seeing him?” K.C.’s voice was calm, but I could tell by her point-blank stare and pursed lips that anger boiled underneath.
Jared was a dickhead. It wasn’t an assumption but a proven fact. My frustration with her spending time with that ass**le started to escape me. I was trying to grab my anger before it got out of control, but the damn thing kept slipping away.
“You tell me. He’s a prick. You know it, and I know it.” What the hell was I doing? “But what you don’t realize is that he using you. He’s using you to get under my skin. He cares about you as much as Liam did when he cheated.”
Shit! Too far.
I was done for. The look on her face punctured my chest. I’d hurt her, and I hoped she would huff and puff and eventually see reason. But the look in her eyes left me with only doubt.
After a few moments’ hesitation, she started packing up her things and grabbing her tray. “You know, Jared asked me to sit with him today, and right now I want his company a lot more than I do yours.” She spat out her words before leaving. And I let her leave, because I understood her disappointment. Right now, I didn’t even like myself.
As much as I tried to take part in a conversation when Ben returned, my mind was too focused on rewriting the argument with K.C. My dad always told me that I can say what I need to say as long as I say it nicely.
And f**k me for snarling out my words like a five year old.
I could’ve handled it so much better. You know what they say about best laid plans? My emotions got away from me, and she probably went to cry on Jared’s shoulder. I’ll bet he was lapping this up.