“Dude! That’s not happening!” Roman glanced over to his girlfriend, a petite Mexican girl with more weight in her chest than the rest of her body. Knowing Roman, they could’ve been dating for two months or two minutes. Who knew?
“Zack, I don’t have a girlfriend. I never have a girlfriend,” Jared stated point blank to the Race Master, emphasizing the word “never.”
“What about the pretty little thing you arrived with?” Zack asked.
Jared’s stare flipped over to K.C., and her eyes bulged.
Swallowing hard, K.C. yelled, “He’s just my rebound.” The crowd let out a loud “ohhhh,” to which K.C. smiled at her own tenacity. Jared raised his eyebrows to Zack in a “you see?” kind of look.
“No one drives my car,” Jared clarified to Zack.
“I agree with the Princess here.” Roman jerked his head at Jared. “This is stupid.”
Zack shrugged. “The crowd’s already seen you two race. They want to be entertained. If you two have any interest in settling this score so people can get paid, then you’ll play it my way. Be on the starting line in five minutes or leave.” He started walking away, but stopped and turned. “Oh, and you can ride shotgun if you like…you know, for moral support.” He couldn’t get the last words out without cracking up. He probably expected the poor girls to wind up in tears before finishing the race.
Zack walked off, and whispers broke around the crowd. Roman stalked away, while Jared walked over to us.
“This is bullshit.” He ran his fingers through his hair.
“Hey, man. I could drive for you,” Madoc chimed in. “We’d just have to tell them about our secret relationship.” He hooked his arms over my and Ben’s shoulders playfully, but I shrugged him off.
Jared ignored him. The wheels in his brain were turning as he paced the ground in front of us. He was probably trying to think of a way out of this, but when he stopped and let out a defeated sigh, I knew he was cornered.
I looked over at Roman, who was leading his girlfriend to his car, apparently giving her instructions on a manual transmission.
Oh, boy. My cheeks sucked in as I tried not to laugh.
“Jared, I can’t race for you,” K.C. laughed out. “There’s got to be someone else.”
He looked up to the sky and shook his head. Even though I didn’t want to see his car get trashed, I found the situation amusing. Serves him right.
“There’s only one other person who I’d even slightly trust driving my car.” He raised an eyebrow and turned to lock eyes with me.
All the air left my body. “Me?”
“Her?” Madoc burst out, and Ben and K.C. echoed.
Jared crossed his arms over his chest and approached me like a cop in an interrogation room. “Yeah, you.”
“Me?” I peered up at him like he was crazy. If he thought I’d do him any favors, he was crazy.
“I’m looking at you, aren’t I?” Jared’s snotty tone and condescending stare made me want to say “yes” and then crash the damn car in the hopes he’d be the one to break into tears.
I blew him off and looked at my date. “Ben, can we get an early start to that bonfire? I’m bored here.” Turning around, ignoring Ben’s dumbfounded look, I headed for the edge of the crowd.
A hand hooked me at the crook of my elbow and gently pulled me to a stop. I looked up to see Jared struggling to meet my eyes.
“Can I talk to you?” His voice was hushed, and his demeanor gentle. It had been so long, I’d forgotten how human he could be. Though, it wasn’t enough for me to forget how horrible he’d been, either.
“No,” I spat out the same, flat response he’d given to me weeks ago when I’d asked him to turn down his music.
He took a breath. “You know how hard this is for me.” He looked away and then back again. “I need you,” he sighed, sounding defeated.
I sucked in a breath at those words. He needed me? By the way he breathed through his nose and wouldn’t make eye contact, I knew he was uncomfortable saying those words. Part of me wanted to help him, but the other part of me just wanted to walk away. Where was he when I’d needed him in the past?
I hated myself for, even a moment, considering that I could forgive him for everything after uttering those three simple words. Too little, too late.
“And tomorrow when you don’t need me? Will I be shit under your boot again?” My response was angrier than I’d planned. I resented how easily I found myself caving to him.
“She’ll do it,” K.C. called out over Jared’s shoulder. I hadn’t realized she was standing near us, but when I looked up I noticed Ben and Madoc crashing our conversation, too. My heart sped up again.
“K.C.!” I chastised. “You don’t speak for me. And I’m not doing it!” I directed the last to Jared.
“You want to,” she retorted.
And she was right.
I wanted to drive his car badly. I wanted to show all of these people what I was made of. I wanted to show Jared that I was worth something.
And it was that thought that made me want to walk away. I didn’t have to prove anything to him. I knew my worth, and I didn’t need his approval.
“Perhaps,” I conceded. “But I do have pride. He’s not getting a damn thing from me.”
“Thank you.” Jared cut off K.C. before she had a chance to respond.