It was great having me back? Like he ever cared before? This was probably one of Jared’s tricks. I made a mental note to apologize to K.C. for trying to warn me about the unusual attention. Cute guys talking to me equaled unusual.
Madame Lyon, our actual French French teacher, started launching into a full blown lecture right off the bat. Aware of Ben sitting right behind me, I tried to concentrate on the lesson, but even studying Madame’s cute, bobbed haircut couldn’t take my mind off the stares boring into the back of my head. Out of my peripheral vision, I noticed several students around the room glancing my way. I shifted in my seat. What was everyone’s problem?
Thinking back to what K.C. had said when I first got back, I didn’t really think I looked any different. After all, my year abroad hadn’t consisted of any great makeovers or shopping trips. My skin was a little darker, my clothes were new, but my style hadn’t changed.
I wore skinny jeans tucked into mid-calf high black boots with no heels, and a white, flimsy boat neck t-shirt long enough to cover my butt. I loved my style, and no matter what anyone thought, I stuck to it.
After a painfully long fifty minute class of smiles from unexpected people, I retrieved my phone from my black messenger bag.
See you outside for lunch? I texted K.C.
2 windy! She shot back. Always about the hair.
Fine. Heading in now, look for me.
As soon as I stepped in line in the cafeteria, goose bumps crept over my skin. I grabbed a tray and closed my eyes. He was in here somewhere. I didn’t need to turn around or hear his voice. Maybe it was the climate of the room, the way others traveled or the polarity of his presence in relation to me. All I knew for sure was that he was definitely here.
In elementary school we played with magnets that clash together when you flip them to the positive side, but if you flip them to the negative side, then the magnets will repel each other. Jared was one side of a magnet, never flipping over to accommodate anyone. He was what he was. Everyone else either had a pull to him or was pushed away from him, and the flow of a room reflected this. There was a time when Jared and I were inseparable, like the positive sides of the magnets.
My lungs ached with a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding, and I exhaled. After choosing a salad with Ranch dressing and a water bottle, I handed the cashier my card to swipe and found a seat near the windows. The bustle of the room was an entertaining distraction from meeting his eyes. Several students nodded in passing and offered a “welcome back.” My shoulders finally relaxed after the swirl of greetings.
Jess Cullen waved to me from a few tables over, and I reminded myself about practice this afternoon.
Where are you? K.C. shot a text.
By the north windows.
In line now!
K. I texted back. Twisting around in my seat, I spotted her in line. I gave her a little wave to signal my location and quickly turned back around before I gave in to the urge to scan the room for him.
Twisting the cap off my water bottle, I took a long swig, relishing in the relief. I felt like my heart had been beating a mile a minute for the last hour. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
My relaxation, however, was cut short by the voice of Madoc Caruthers.
“Hey, baby.” Madoc placed his hand on the table to my side and leaned into my ear. As I replaced the cap on my water bottle, my shoulders slumped slightly. Not again! Didn’t the little f**ker ever learn a lesson? I stared straight ahead in an effort to ignore him.
“Tate?” He was trying to goad me into acknowledging him. Non-confrontational me was still not making eye contact.
“Tate? I know you can hear me. In fact, I know every part of you is very aware of me right now.” Madoc ran the knuckles of his left hand down my arm. I sucked in a breath, and my body jerked at his touch.
“Mmmm, you’ve got goose bumps. You see?” He toyed with me.
Goosebumps? If I weren’t so sickened, I would laugh. “Yes, you do make my skin crawl. But you knew that, right?” My disdain couldn’t get any thicker.
“I really missed you last year, and I would actually like to call a truce. In fact, why don’t we put everything behind us and you let me take you out this weekend?”
He had to be dreaming if he thought—
His hand glided down my back and quickly descended to my rear. I sucked in another breath.
Son of a bitch! Did he really just grab my ass? Without my permission? In public? Oh, no.
Then, he squeezed.
Everything after that point happened in a rush of reaction and adrenaline. I popped out of my seat like my legs had springs. The muscles in my thighs were taut with tension, and I clenched my fists.
As I faced Madoc, who had raised himself to meet my gaze, I grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted my knee into his groin. Hard. The amount of pressure must’ve been a lot, because he yelped and fell to his knees, moaning while holding his crotch.
I had been manhandled my Madoc enough. There was no way I was going to be able to turn the other cheek anymore. Breaking his nose a year ago clearly wasn’t the end of my rope. It was the start of a new one.
With my heart pounding and a cool heat surging down my arms, I didn’t stop to think about where this would put me tomorrow or next week. I just wanted him to stop.
Jared had been threatening for years, but he had never crossed that line. He had never touched me or made me feel physically violated. Madoc always crossed the line, and I wondered what the f**k was his problem! If what Sam had said was true, that I was off limits, then why did Madoc mess with me so much? And in plain sight of Jared?