“I have a key.” Every word was slow and threatening.
“How do you have a key to my house?” If he had a key, I wasn’t sure if I could call the police.
“You and your dad were in Europe all summer,” he said with a sneer. “Who do you think got the mail?”
Jared collected our mail? I almost wanted to laugh. The irony of him doing something so mundane slowed my heartbeat a bit.
“Your dad trusts me,” Jared continued. “He shouldn’t have.”
I clenched my jaws. My dad and grandma knew very little about the state of Jared’s and my relationship. If they knew how bad it’d gotten, then they would’ve spoken to his mother. I wasn’t a whiner, and I didn’t want to be rescued. It hurt that Jared was pleasant with my dad but a monster to me.
“Get out,” I gritted through my teeth.
He advanced on me until I was forced back against the French doors. “You’re a nosy bitch, Tatum. Keep your f**king ass on your own side of the fence.”
“Keeping the neighborhood awake makes people irritable,” I spit back.
I crossed my arms over my chest as Jared braced against the wall with both hands positioned on either side of my head. I don’t know if it was from the adrenaline or his proximity, but my nerves were shot. Something had to give.
I looked anywhere but in his eyes. The burning lantern tattoo on his arm was all in blacks and grays. I wondered what it meant. His abs were tight with tension—at least I hoped they weren’t normally that rigid. The other tattoo on the side of his torso was in script lettering and impossible to read in this light. His skin looked smooth and…
The air left my lungs as I tried to ignore the tingling sensation in my core. It’s best to just look him in the eye. We hadn’t been this close to each other in a long time, and we’d been nose to nose a lot since my return.
Jared must have realized the same thing, because his eyes hardened on me and his breathing turned ragged. His gaze drifted down my neck to my camisole, and my skin burned everywhere he looked.
Refocusing and straightening his expression, he inhaled deeply. “No one else is complaining. So why don’t you shut up and leave it alone?” Pushing off the wall, he started to walk away.
“Leave the key.” I called out, getting used to this new boldness.
“You know.” He laughed under his breath and turned around. “I underestimated you. You haven’t cried yet, have you?”
“Because of the rumor you started this week? Not a chance.” My voice was even, but a smug smile threatened to break out. I was getting off on our confrontation, and the realization that things between us were finally “coming to a head” as K.C. had said. Look at us already. Jared and I hadn’t been alone in my room in over three years. This was progress. Of course, he was uninvited, but I wasn’t going to nit-pick.
“Please, like I even have to resort to spreading rumors. Your cross-country pals did that. And their pictures,” he added. “Everyone drew their own conclusions.” He let out a sigh and inched towards me again. “But I’m boring you. I guess I have to step up my game.” His eyes were spiteful, and my foot twitched with the urge to kick him.
Why did he keep this up? “What did I ever do to you?!” The question that coursed through me for years erupted out of my cracked voice.
“I don’t know why you ever thought you did something. You were clingy, and I got sick of putting up with it is all.”
“That’s not true. I wasn’t clingy.” My defenses were crumbling. I remembered, very well, the history between the two of us, and his words made me want to f**king hit him! How could he forget? As kids, we’d spent every waking moment together when we weren’t in school. We were best friends. He’d held me when I cried about my mom, and we’d learned how to swim together at Lake Geneva. “You were over at my house as much as I was at yours. We were friends.”
“Yeah, keep livin’ the dream.” He pushed all of our history and friendship back at me like a slap in the face.
“I hate you!” I screamed at him and meant every word. An ache settled in my gut.
“Good!” he shouted in my face, boring down on me. “Finally. Because it’s been a long time since I could stand the sight of you!” He slammed his palm against the wall near my head, causing me to jump.
Flinching, I screamed to myself. What had happened to us? He’d scared me, but I stood my ground, telling myself that he wasn’t going to hurt me, not physically. I knew that, didn’t I?
My brain shouted for me to run, to get away from him. No tears fell, thankfully, but the pain of his words made my breathing almost turn to dry heaving.
I had loved Jared once, but now I knew, without a doubt, that “my Jared” was gone.
As I took a deep breath, I met his eyes. He seemed to search mine, probably for tears. Fuck him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed flashing lights coming from outside and turned to stare out the window. A small, insolent smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.
“Oh, look. It’s the police. I wonder why they’re here.” Jared couldn’t have missed my insinuation of why the cops were there and who’d called them. I guess they’d finally responded to my noise complaint. Turning my head to face him, I delighted in his fury. The poor guy’s face looked like someone just pissed on his car.
He raised his chin and relaxed his brow. “I promise you will be in tears by next week.” His vengeful whisper crowded the room.