“Hey, here you go.” Ben walked up with two beers, handing me one.
“Thanks.” I licked my lips and took a sip, letting the bitter taste wet my tongue and throat.
Ben ran his fingers down my hair and combed it behind my ear. My muscles tensed. My invisible three feet of personal space had been breached, and I wanted to step away.
Why? Why couldn’t I just like this guy? I was frustrated with myself. He seemed decent and goal-oriented. Why wasn’t he turning my insides to goo or making me daydream?
I felt the certainty creep up on me, and I was powerless to stop it. I didn’t want Ben. Plain and simple. I wasn’t going to be one of those silly girls in a love triangle romance novel who couldn’t choose. Not that I was in a love triangle, but I never understood how a girl can’t know whether or not she wants a guy. We can be confused about what is good for us but not about what we truly want.
And I didn’t want Ben. That much I knew.
“Was that Jared you were talking to?” He gestured with his beer to the other side of the fire where Jared laughed with a couple of guys from school.
“Yeah.” I took another sip.
Ben exhaled a chuckle and took a gulp of his beer. “Still not big on giving up information, are you?”
“Oh, it was nothing. I was looking for K.C., and I thought they came together.”
“She gets around, huh?” Ben commented more than asked.
“How do you mean?” I said defensively. K.C. and I had been stressed lately, but she was my best friend.
“Moving from Liam to Jared, and back to Liam. I saw them after your race. They looked pretty close.”
“Two guys means she gets around?” I was actually relieved that she’d moved past Jared, but I didn’t like Ben or anyone else drawing conclusions about her.
Ben gave me a contrite look and changed the subject. Clearly, he was smart enough to know that he shouldn’t go there. “Well, you did great tonight. The school is going to be talking about it for a while. Looks like I scored the jackpot.” Ben hooked an arm around me and led me around the bonfire.
The jackpot? What was that supposed to mean?
Ben and I circulated to different clusters of his friends, in between him running back and forth to the keg. I’d had two sips of my beer and put it down. Despite my best hints to Ben that I needed to be home soon, he was on his fourth beer, and I knew he wasn’t going to be able to drive. I was starting to wonder how I’d be getting home.
I’d spotted K.C. and Liam a half an hour ago, sitting on a boulder talking. Or rather, Liam talked while K.C. listened and cried a little. Their conversation looked intense and important by the way their heads were together, so I’d opted to leave them alone.
While I tried to ignore the vibe of Jared’s presence, I found myself unable to keep from looking for him. I’d seen him chatting with his friends, and the last time I looked, Piper had her face buried in his neck. She looked trashy in her short, tight black dress and heels. Who wore heals to the beach? Not even a real beach, either, but a rocky and muddy lakeshore.
To my delight, he looked about as interested in her as he would a plate of parsnips. I stole enough glances to see him try to throw her off a few times. She finally took the hint and stalked off in a pout.
Jared caught my eyes more than once, but I broke contact immediately every time. The images of the other night mixed with his penetrating, smoky stare created a throbbing need deep inside of me.
I let out a rough sigh. It’s definitely time to get out of here.
Glancing at my watch, I met Ben on his way back from the keg. “Hey, I really need to go now. I have that race tomorrow,” I reminded him.
Ben’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Oh, come on. It’s only eleven-thirty.”
The whining was a shock, and I was definitely turned off.
“We can stay for a little while longer,” he said.
“Sorry, Ben. That’s why I offered to drive myself instead. I really do have to go.” With my best apologetic smile, I stood my ground. I wasn’t afraid of what he thought, because I knew that this was probably our last date. The spark wasn’t there, and aside from the racing, I would’ve been happier staying at home with a book tonight.
“Let’s just stay for another half an hour.” He tried shoving his beer at me as if getting me drunk was the answer, but he ended up swaying to the side and had to latch onto my arm for support.
“You’re not okay to drive,” I pointed out. “I can drop you at home, and you can pick up your car at my house tomorrow.”
“No, no.” Ben held up his hands. “I’ll cut myself off now and sober up. We’ll be on our way soon.”
“Well, you shouldn’t drive. Not at all.” I averted my eyes, my aggravation building
“I can take care of myself, Tate,” Ben asserted. “If you want to leave now, then you’ll have to find another ride. If you want to leave with me, I’ll be ready in a while.”
What?! How long is “a while?”
This was getting ridiculous, and my patience was spent. He’d said we could leave by 11:30, and I’d taken him at his word.
Ben pulled at my arm to lead me back to the bonfire, but I yanked it free and stalked away. He didn’t say another word, so I assumed he kept going without me.
I needed to get home, and Ben was no longer my ride. Was this the scene I’d been itching to be a part of? Ben and his friends were about as interesting as cornflakes, the girls had no other interests beside shopping and makeup, and the guys here gave me the urge to sanitize my eyeballs after seeing the way they looked at me.