“Jared, stop the car now!” I yelled. “Please!”
“Why? This isn’t fun?” Jared’s voice was disturbingly calm. None of this scared him, or even excited him. “Do you know how many squealing airheads I’ve had sitting in that seat? They loved it.” His eyebrows pinched together as he looked at me with mock puzzlement. He was pushing me.
“Stop.The.Car!” I screamed, my heart pounding with dread. He was going to kill us.
Jared twisted his head to face me. “You know why you don’t like this? Because you’re not like them, Tate. You never were. Why do you think I kept everyone away from you?” His voice sounded angry, but clear. He wasn’t drunk, at least I didn’t think he was, and this was more emotion than I’d experienced from him in years, except for the night of the kiss.
He kept everyone away from me? What did that mean? Why?
The tires screeched as he rounded another turn, and we drifted into the other lane. I was breathing as fast as the car was speeding now, I was sure. We were going to hit something or flip over!
“Stop the f**king car!” I bellowed with the full force of my lungs, pounding my fists on my thighs before hitting him on the arm.
The last thing I wanted to do was distract him, driving at a speed like that, but it worked. Jared slammed on the brakes, using some choice words directed at me and down-shifted as he veered to the side of the road and stopped.
I scrambled out of the car, and Jared hopped out at the same time. We both leaned over the roof, eye to eye.
“Get back in the car.” Jared’s teeth were bared as he growled.
“You could’ve killed us!” My throat tightened, and I noticed his furious eyes graze over my ripped shirt that had poked out of the button down I was still wearing.
“Get back in the damn car!” He slammed his palm down on the roof, his eyes on fire.
“Why?” I asked, tears threatening.
“Because you need to go home,” he spat out like ‘duh’.
“No.” I shook my head. “Why did you keep everyone away from me?” He’d started this conversation, and I had every intention of finishing it.
“Because you didn’t belong with the rest of us. You still don’t.” Jared’s eyes narrowed in disgust, and my heart sunk. He was being deplorable as usual.
I hate him.
Without another thought, I ducked inside and grabbed Jared’s keys out of the ignition. Rounding the car door, I ran a few yards ahead and unfastened the twist oval key ring. Slipping one of his keys off, I held it in a fist near my face.
“What are you doing?” He approached slowly, annoyance evident in his eyes.
“One more step, and you’re losing one of your keys. Not sure if it’s the car key, but eventually I’ll get to that one.” I loaded my arm behind my head, ready to toss it at any second. He halted.
“I’m not getting in your car. And I’m not letting you leave. We’re not moving from this spot until you’ve told me the truth.”
Sweat beaded my brow, even with the temperature down to the mid-sixties. Lips pursed, I waited for him to start.
But he didn’t. He looked to be working something out in his head, but I wasn’t about to give him to time to think of some lie to distract me.
When I raised my arm to toss the first key, his eyes shot helplessly between me and my fist, while he raised his hand motioning for me to stop.
After only a moment’s more hesitation, he finally let out a defeated sigh and met my eyes.
“Tate, don’t do this.”
“Not the answer I was looking for.” And I flung one of his keys into the brush off to the side of the road.
“Dammit, Tate!” he snapped, looking nervously between me and the dark forest where his key had disappeared.
I quickly unhooked another key and stuck my hand behind my head ready to catapult it at any second. “Now, talk. Why do you hate me?”
“Hate you?” Jared breathed heavily and shook his head. “I never hated you.”
I was stunned. “Then why? Why did you do all the things you’ve done?”
He let out a bitter laugh, knowing he was cornered. “Freshman year, I overheard Danny Stewart saying he was going to ask you to the Halloween dance. I made sure he never did, because he also told his buddies that he couldn’t wait to find out if your tits were more than a handful each.”
I cringed in disgust.
“I didn’t even think twice about my actions. I spread that rumor about Stevie Stoddard, because you didn’t belong with Danny. He was a dick. They all were.”
“So you thought you were protecting me? But why would you do that? You already hated me by that point. That was after you’d returned from your dad’s for the summer.” My confusion sprang forth with every syllable. If our friendship had ended by that point, and he didn’t care for me, then why did he care to protect me anymore?
“I wasn’t protecting you,” Jared said matter-of-factly, pinning me with a heated stare. “I was jealous.”
Flutters attacked my belly. It felt like something was circling a drain in my stomach, the tingles going further and further down.
I barely registered him inching forward, stalking closer as I tried to catch my breath. “We got to high school, and all of a sudden, you’ve got all these guys liking you. I handled it the only way I knew how.”
“By bullying me? That makes no sense. Why didn’t you talk to me?”