Nausea burned my stomach. While I was wasting away my summer resenting him for not calling or writing, he was being hurt. “Did you try to call your mom?” I choked out.
“Once.” He nodded. “It was before my father started abusing me. She was drunk, of course. She didn’t see it as a bad situation, so she didn’t come to get me. I tried to tell her about Jax, but she didn’t consider him her problem. I thought about just getting out of there, running away. But Jax wouldn’t leave, and I couldn’t leave him.”
Thank God she’d cleaned herself up otherwise I’d have to hurt her.
“So I gave in to my father,” Jared admitted flatly, his eyes waiting for my reaction. “I helped him and Jax do jobs. I broke into houses, delivered drugs for him.” He walked back to the window and peered out at the tree. “One day, after weeks of hell, I refused to listen to him and demanded to go home. And I was taking Jax with me.” He pulled his t-shirt over his head and showed me his back. “He took a belt to me, the end with the buckle.”
I ran my fingers across his scars. The edges were rigid, but the dip of the welts was smooth. There weren’t very many, and his skin was still gorgeous.
He paused for a moment and turned to meet my gaze, the ghost of his pain still deep in his eyes. “So I finally just ran away. I stole fifty bucks and jumped a bus home. Without Jax.”
I could see the agony in his eyes. What had happened to his brother? Jared had thought that life with Katherine was bad, but his father turned out to be a horror. And he had to make the decision to abandon ship without his brother.
“Did you go to the police?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not at first. There was no way I wanted to deal with that. I just wanted to forget about it. But when my mom saw what happened to me, she forced me to go. I never told them what happened to me, but I did report what happened to my brother. She insisted on taking pictures of me just in case, though. The police took my brother away from my dad and put him into foster care. I wanted him with me, but my mom’s drinking didn’t inspire any confidence with the state.”
“Have you seen your dad since?” I wanted to gag using the word “dad” for a man like that.
“I saw him today.” Jared stunned me. “I see him every weekend.”
“What?! Why?” So that’s where he went, but how could he put himself in the same room as a monster like that?
“Because life’s a bitch, that’s why.” He gave me a bitter smile and looked away. “Last year, after you left for France, I went a little crazy. I drank and got into a lot of fights. Madoc and I both had a ball for a while. I hated that you were gone, but I’d also found out that Jax had been transferred to another foster home after the last family had hit him. It was a bad time.”
He got up to go stand at the window, and I noticed he was clenching his fists. He wasn’t teary anymore. He was pissed.
“So I tracked down his old foster dad, and I f**ked him up. Like, really bad.” His eyebrows lifted, but there was no regret in his tone. “He was in the hospital for a week. The judge decided that, while my feelings were understandable, my reaction was not. He thought it would be poetic to sentence me to forced visits with my father in prison, since he was still in jail for abusing my brother as well as the drugs that the cops found at his house. It looked like I was on the same path, so the judge ordered one visit a week for a year.”
“So that’s where you go. To Stateville Prison in Crest Hill.” It wasn’t a question, just a clarification. I remembered the receipts in his room.
“Yeah, every Saturday. Today was my last visit, though.”
I nodded gratefully. “Where is your brother now?”
The first hint of a smile played on Jared’s lips. “He’s in Weston. Safe and sound with a good family. I’ve been seeing him on Sundays. But my mom and I are trying to get the state to agree to let him live with us. She’s been sober for a while. He’s almost seventeen, so it’s not like he’s a kid.”
This was a lot to absorb. I was elated that he’d finally confided in me. He’d been hurt, which had probably made him feel abandoned by the people that should’ve protected him. But I was still puzzled about one thing.
I walked over to him. “Why didn’t you tell me all of this years ago? I could’ve been there for you.” I got up from the bed, and walked over to him.
He ran a hand through his hair and inched away from me to lean on the railing. “When I finally got home that summer, you were my first thought. Well, other than doing what I could to help Jax. I had to see you. My mom could go to hell. All I wanted was you. I loved you.” He gripped the railing at his sides, and his body went rigid. “I went to your house, but your grandma said you were out. She tried to get me to stay. I think she saw that I didn’t look right. But I ran off to find you, anyway. After a while, I found myself at the fish pond in the park.” He raised his eyes to meet mine. “And there you were…with your dad and my mom, playing the little family.”
The little family?
“Jared—” I started.
“Tate, you didn’t do anything wrong. I know that now. You just have to understand my mindset. I had been through hell. I was weak and hurting from the abuse. I was hungry. I’d been betrayed by the people I was supposed to be able to count on: my mom who didn’t help when I needed her, my dad who hurt me and my helpless brother. And then I saw you with our parents, looking like the happy, sweet family. While Jaxon and I were in pain and struggling to make it through every day in one piece, you got to see the mother that I never had. Your dad took you on picnics and for ice cream while mine was whipping me. I felt like no one wanted me and that life moved on without me. No one cared.”