Bully Page 23

After K.C. left, I went back to the patio to clean up and water the plants. Decked out in my little red bikini I’d bought in Europe but was only brave enough to wear at home, I grabbed the hose and turned up the speakers on my iPod dock. Chalk Outline came through ear-splittingly loud as I turned the mist on the flowers and bushes.

My h*ps and shoulders swayed, while my head was lost to the music.

A couple of fruit trees decorated our small back patio area along with bushes and various plants and flowers. The cobblestone pavement and smell of roses made our oasis a great retreat. When the weather was pleasant, my dad and I ate most of our meals out here, and I often read in the hammock. Homework was a no-go though, since the birds, wind, or barking dogs created too much sporadic distraction.

Speaking of dogs…

Excited barking pierced through the music, catching my interest. It was close, like next door close.

Madman!

Jared and I found this crazy little Boston Terrier when we were twelve. My dad was gone a lot, and my grandma was allergic, so Jared took him home. The dog was insane but completely adorable. We named him Madman. I swear he purposely waited for oncoming cars before he tried to cross a street. Picking fights with bigger dogs was child’s play, and he would jump to amazing heights when he was excited…which was a lot.

I switched off the water and walked to the fence separating Jared’s backyard from mine. Squinting through the sliver of space offered between the wooden panels, I felt like I was glowing on the inside. My heart warmed at seeing Madman again.

He did the whole “bounce when you bark” thing that little dogs do and switched between racing the length of the backyard to jumping up and down. Even though he was technically Jared’s dog now, in my heart, the little guy was still partly mine.

I found a small hole to peer—ok, snoop—through. Jared entered my vision, and I flinched, remembering our last encounter. He started tossing miniature chunks of meat for Madman to catch. The dog gobbled them up and wagged his tail anxiously for another morsel. The little animal seemed giddy and well-cared for.

Jared knelt and offered the last piece of meat from his hand. Madman approached and licked his palm after scarfing down the treat. Jared smiled and closed his eyes while Madman stood on his hind legs to lick his master’s face. Jared grinned, and I realized how long it’d been since I’d seen him genuinely happy. His smile hollowed my stomach, but I couldn’t look away.

As my heart tugged at the rare scene of Jared actually looking human, my eyes snapped to his na**d back and the faded scars marring his skin. Funny I didn’t see that the other night when he was shirtless in my room, but the light was dim, so I guess I missed it.

Scattered in no particular pattern were welts, about five or so, covering his muscular and otherwise smooth back. He didn’t have them when we were kids. I tried to remember if I’d heard about him getting injured. I came up with nothing.

At that moment, Apocalyptica’s heavy cellos vibrated out of my speakers, and Madman’s head twisted towards me. I momentarily froze before deciding to back away. He started barking again, and the sound of claws scratching the fence got my heart beating faster. Madman loved this heavy metal cello music that I’d been listening to for years. From the looks of it, he remembered.

Grabbing the hose off the ground, I dropped it again when I heard the fence panels shaking. Turning around, I laughed at seeing Madman climb through one of the loose boards and charge me at top speed.

“Hey, buddy!” I knelt down and caught the little dog in my arms as he squirmed with excitement. His panting breath warmed my face, and the slobber was pretty gross. But he was happy to see me, and I smiled with relief. He hadn’t forgotten me.

I stopped dead at the sound of Jared’s voice. “Well, if it isn’t the party pooper disturbing the whole neighborhood with her noise.”

My temper flared. He had no problem with my music, just me.

I looked up and met Jared’s sardonic stare. He tried to look annoyed with his cocked eyebrow, but I knew he wouldn’t engage me unless he got off on it. He hung over the top of the fence, his body perched on something giving him height.

Son of a bitch. Why did it always take me a second or two to remember why I hated him?

His shiny brown hair was a mess.

I loved that.

His chocolate eyes glowed with confidence and mischief.

I loved that.

His toned arms and chest just made me wonder what his skin felt like.

I loved that.

He made me forget how awful he was.

I hated that.

Blinking, I refocused my attention on Madman and petted his black and white fur in long, soothing strokes. “Shelburne Fall’s noise ordinance doesn’t go into effect until 10 p.m.,” I clarified and looked at my invisible watch. “See? Plenty of time.”

Madman started playfully gnawing on my fingers, and I shook my head, unable to believe how we could just pick up where we left off after so long. Since Jared’s and my fallout, I hadn’t pressed him about seeing the dog. The only contact Madman had with me over the past few years were accidents like today. But I hadn’t seen him at all since my return, and, even after a year, he responded to me like we’d just been together yesterday.

Jared still stood on the other side of the fence, watching us silently. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but part of me wondered why he didn’t try to get the dog back immediately. It almost seemed nice of him to let us visit.

I couldn’t help the huge ass smile on my face even though I tried. What the hell? The damn dog seemed so happy to see me that my chest shook with silent laughter. I never had a pet other than Madman, and after being alone the past couple of weeks, I guess I was hard up for a little love. If a dog’s attention could do this to me, I couldn’t imagine how glad I would be to see my dad when he came home.

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