“Hey, everyone, look!” Madoc shouted as I tried to hold back tears. “Her ni**les are hard. You must be turning her on, Jared.” Madoc’s goading echoed through the backyard, and everyone began hooting and laughing.
My eyes closed with mortification as I remembered that I was wearing a white tank top and was definitely chilled from the water. My first instinct was to cross my arms over my chest, but then they’d know that they got to me. Hell, they already knew. My whole face stung with humiliation.
Son of a bitch.
I’d be going home in tears again. No doubt.
I opened my eyes, feeling flushed seeing everyone visibly entertained by the harassment I’d endured tonight. Jared stared at the table, nostrils flaring, ignoring me. His behavior still puzzled me after all this time. We used to be friends, and I still searched for that kid in his eyes somewhere. But what good did it do me to still hang on to a memory of him?
“Why is she still standing here?” the blonde sitting on Jared’s lap asked. “Is she like “special” or something? She can’t take the hint?”
“Yeah, Tate. You heard Jared. No one wants you here.” Madoc’s words came out slow as if I really were too stupid to understand him.
My throat closed. I couldn’t swallow, and it hurt to breathe. It was too much. Something inside me snapped. I pulled my fist back and popped Madoc right in the nose. He dropped to his knees, hands over his face, as the blood gushed through his hands.
Tears blurred my vision, and the sobs began erupting from my throat. Before I could let them get any more satisfaction out of me tonight, I walked as quickly as possible back through the house and out the front door without looking back.
I got in my car, K.C. climbed in the passenger side and Liam into the back. I hadn’t even realized that they’d followed me. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask about Jared’s reaction, but then I realized that I shouldn’t care. To hell with him.
I looked out the front window, letting the tears dry on my cheeks. Liam and K.C. sat silently, probably not sure what to say or do.
I’d just hit Madoc. I’d just hit Madoc! The novelty of my action was overwhelming, and I let out a bitter laugh. That really just happened.
I took a deep breath and blew out slowly.
“Are you okay?” K.C. looked at me.
She knew I’d never done anything like that before, but I loved the rush of fright and power I felt.
Hell, the last thing I wanted to do was go home now. Maybe a tattoo or something else was in the cards tonight.
“Actually, yes.” It was weird to say that, but it was true. Wiping the tears away, I looked to my friend. “I feel good.”
I reached to put the key in the ignition but paused when Liam chimed in. “Yeah, well, don’t let it go to your head, Tate. You’ll have to come back to town eventually.”
Yeah. There was that.
“So...how does it feel to be back home?” My dad and I video chatted on the laptop he bought for me before I left for Europe.
“It’s great, Dad. I’m set.” I counted off with my fingers. “There’s food, money, no adults, and you still have beer in the ‘frig downstairs. I smell a paaarty,” I teased. But my dad could give it as good as he got.
“Well, I also have some condoms in my bathroom. Use them if you need.”
“Dad!” I burst out, wide-eyed with shock. Fathers shouldn’t use the word “condoms”, at least not around their daughters. “That…just…crossed a line. Seriously.” I started to laugh. He was the dad that all of my friends wished they had. He had a few simple rules: respect your elders, take care of your body, finish what you start, and solve your own problems. If I maintained good grades, demonstrated direction, and followed those four rules, he trusted me. If I lost his trust, I’d lose my freedom. That’s a military parent. Simple.
“So what’s the plan this week?” Dad asked, running his hand through his graying blonde hair. I’d gotten my coloring from him but thankfully not the freckles. His once vibrant blue eyes were dull with fatigue, and his shirt and tie were wrinkled. He worked too hard.
I lounged cross-legged on my queen-sized bed, thankful to be back in my own room. “Well, there’s about a week before school starts, so I have a meeting with the guidance counselor next Wednesday about my fall schedule. I’m hoping the extra classes I took last year will boost my Columbia application. She’s helping with that, too. I also have some shopping to do and then catching up with K.C., of course.”
I also wanted to start looking for a car, but he’d tell me to wait until he got home at Christmas. Not that I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew he’d want to share that experience with me, so I wasn’t going to burst his bubble.
“I wish you were home to help me research projects for the science fair.” I changed the subject. “I guess we should’ve done that while I visited you this summer.”
My father retired from the military after my mom’s death eight years ago and worked for a company in Chicago, about an hour away, that built aircraft and sold it around the world. Currently, he was on an extended trip to Germany, holding mechanical trainings. After my year ended in Paris, I’d joined him in Berlin for the summer. My mom would be happy to know I’d traveled and had plans to continue as often as possible after high school. I missed her so much, even more so in the past few years than when she first passed away.