Part of me wanted to believe him. Desperately. But the other part of me was wondering why the hell I was here. Was I really entertaining the possibility that he didn’t have anything to do with this? Wasn’t it a little too farfetched that this was all put together without Jared’s help?
“Look,” I said, trying to change the subject, “this tracker’s only accurate within fifty meters. So…”
“So start dialing my phone. Maybe we’ll hear it.”
I slid my phone out of my back pocket and dialed his number, letting it ring and keeping our ears peeled for any noise. But our school was huge, and we had almost no time until last period ended, and the halls flooded with bodies.
Every time his voicemail picked up, I ended the call and redialed.
“Let’s split up,” I suggested. “I’ll keep dialing. Just listen for a sound. I think it’s in a locker.”
“Why? Someone could have it on them, too.”
“With me calling every ten seconds? No, they would’ve turned off the phone, in which case it would’ve gone straight to voicemail. It’s on, and it’s in a locker.” I nodded.
“Fine.” His voice was hesitant and a little biting. “But if you find it, call my mom’s phone immediately. I don’t want you in the halls alone, not today.”
I started to get my hopes up at his concern for me. This was the Jared from the past week. The one that held me and touched me gently. The one that cared.
In that moment, I wanted to grab him and hold him close.
But then I heard their laughter in my ears again. And I remembered that I didn’t trust him.
Hitting “redial”, I turned and leapt up the stairs, two at a time.
My boots hit the tiled floor with more of a thud than I would’ve liked. Trying to lighten my step, I crept along each side of the main hallway with my ear to the lockers. But each time I called Jared’s number I heard no rings or vibrating noises.
I passed two students in the hallway, both of whom did a double-take when they saw me. Yep, they knew who I was, and in no time at all everyone would know I was on campus. My heart sped up as it became more and more obvious that I’d made a mistake in coming back here today.
The phone was in a locker, probably Jared’s, and silenced. This was just another trick. My throat tightened.
I breathed hard as I paced each hallway, continuing to punch “redial”. Each time the voicemail picked up, I wanted to cry again.
I wanted him to be innocent. I could live with the talk and the look in everyone’s eyes, knowing that they’d seen the video. I would live with that, because I had no choice.
But I didn’t want to be without Jared. I needed him to be innocent.
Because she made you.
His words floated through my mind.
I don’t want to take one more step in this world without you next to me.
Neither did I.
I was hoping we could move forward without looking back.
I caught a tear with my thumb before it spilled over, turned a corner and called his phone again.
Limp Bizkit’s Behind Blue Eyes echoed down the hall, close to Dr. Kuhl’s classroom. I narrowed my eyes and tilted my head towards the music. When it ended, I tapped the button again to call it back.
Please, please, please.
When the line started ringing, the slow, sad ballad played again from down the hall. I nearly dropped the phone as I took off toward the sound.
I put my hand to locker 1622.
I smiled for the first time since this morning, and with shaky fingers, I texted Jared’s mom’s phone.
2nd floor, next to Kuhl’s room!!
I jerked my head up at the sound of the school bell sounding. My stomach sank. Doors swung open and flocks of students poured out, sounding more like a murder of crows than humans.
Yep, that’s about what was going to happen right now. But I didn’t know if I’d be the predator or prey.
I stood facing the lockers with my back to everyone, hoping that I could get away with it for as long as possible. Out of instinct, I put my head down, trying to be invisible. My heart pounded in my ears, and I felt like a thousand eyes were boring into the back of my skull.
But then the flame of cowardice hit me. More than the shame I felt this morning, I hated the way these people made me want to crawl into a hole.
I used to love people. I loved being a part of things and socializing. Now, I only wanted to be alone. Because alone was the only way I was safe.
I had done nothing wrong. Those in my school who had passed the video around or gossiped about it were the ones to feel ashamed. Not me.
But I was the one hiding.
Isn’t it about time you fought back?
Taking a deep breath and turning around, I leaned back on locker 1622 and looked up, daring them to come at me.
I didn’t have to wait long.
“Hey, Tate.” Some kid with stringy, blonde hair walked past, undressing me with his eyes.
“Whoa, she came back!” Another guy taunted.
Others slowed in passing and laughed to their friends. The girls didn’t tease like the guys did. They bullied more quietly, with whispers behind their hands. With looks.
But everyone had something nasty to offer.
Until Jared ran up.
And then everyone stopped.
He looked between them and me and took my face in his hands. “Are you alright?” he asked, his eyes full of love.
“Yes.” My voice was softer on him now. “The phone is here, in 1622. I don’t know whose locker it is, though.”