Bully Page 35

Even though what my grandma was saying sounded sensible, the idea of approaching Jared for a heart-to-heart triggered my gag reflex. I felt horrible about what I’d said to him today, but it didn’t erase all the crap he’d done from my memory. Seeking him out would make him peel with laughter. That was an image that reeked.

“I don’t care about drawing Jared out. Whatever he’s got up his ass can’t be bad enough to treat people how he does. I don’t care.” His brown eyes flashed in my mind.

“Yes, you do,” my grandma stated flatly. “I know how your mother’s death affected you. I know you want to be a doctor, so you can help people that are hurting the way she was with cancer. I know you take her advice to heart and think everything will be better once you go off to college. But Jared’s faults aren’t the only ones hurting you.”

Throwing my fork down on my plate, I wiped the thin layer of sweat off my brow. How did this get turned around on me? “Now, wait a minute. I’m getting pretty tired of everyone being on his side. He walked away from me.” Huffing back in my chair, I crossed my arms over my chest.

“And you let him, Tate.”

“What the hell was I supposed to do?! He wouldn’t talk to me. I tried.”

Bed. Sleep. Escape.

“Calm down. I’m not saying you weren’t a good friend. Of course you were. His issues started this. But it’s easy to say you’ve tried and then just walk away. It’s easy to say that you can’t force help on someone that doesn’t want help and then walk away. You think you’re being noble and strong by turning the other cheek or biding your time until school’s over. But that baggage that you aren’t letting out is weakening you. Sometimes it’s the best medicine to be vulnerable, to let it all out and let him see how he’s hurt you. Then you can say that you’ve tried.”

My eyes closed, and I cupped my forehead once again. I had so much on my plate right now with the Science Fair, cross country and K.C. Why was I even wasting my time having this conversation?

Exasperated, I waved my hand in the air and let it plop down to my lap. “Why do you care? You threatened to go talk to his mom when this started.” As far as I knew, my grandma wasn’t Jared’s biggest fan. While she always encouraged me to talk to him, she was also disgusted over his behavior. I’d stopped telling her and my dad every nasty detail of his treatment of me, because I didn’t want this resolved unless Jared initiated it. When that happened, I figured he’d seek me out. He never had.

“Because you’ve never been the same. And because when you do go off to college, I want your heart to be free.”

Free. What did that even feel like anymore?

“I’ve let it go. I am free.” I didn’t know what she wanted from me.

“Acting like you don’t care is not letting it go.” She pinned me with her challenging stare.

My body slumped. There wasn’t anything in my arsenal after that.

Feeling mentally and physically drained, I was pretty delighted when Grandma let me head up to bed without helping with the cleanup. Once in my bathroom, I stripped down and stepped into the warmth and quiet of my shower. This pulsating hideaway was the one place I could escape without leaving my house. I could think and just be quiet whenever I needed, and no one was the wiser, and no one disturbed me.

It was only six o’clock, and I had some chapters for Catcher in the Rye due tomorrow as well as some questions for Physics, but it was no use fighting the drowsiness. I set my alarm for four a.m., giving me enough time to get up and do my school work, and went to the French doors to draw the curtains.

I noticed the wind picking up and the sky overshadowed with ashen clouds. The neighborhood trees were still a vibrant green, and the voltage that suddenly coursed through the sky made a tiny, grateful smile flash across my face. Knowing a storm was on its way calmed me, so I left the doors open.

***

Stunned awake by a piercing crash, I sat up in bed trying to get my bearings. I wiped the grogginess from my eyes while yawning. Looking around the room, I noticed that the French doors were still open, and the rain was falling steadily outside. Glancing at my clock, I saw that I’d been asleep for about six hours.

Peeling off the covers and stepping out of bed, I went to the railing outside my French doors and took in the spectacle of thunder and lightning around the midnight sky. That must’ve been what had woken me. The chilly air gave me goose bumps, and droplets of rain fell on my skin. Thankfully, it wasn’t falling in buckets. Otherwise, my floor would’ve been soaked.

I studied the tree next to my doors, taking into consideration that the rain coming through the canopy of leaves was light. With my heartbeat surging through my chest, I grabbed onto the crown molding around my door, put my foot on the railing and hoisted myself up. I held one of the branches above my head and touched my foot to another branch jutting into the railing. Delicious fear heated up my muscles and reminded me that I’d been a lot braver as a child. I inched out until the branches got thicker and then teetered until I reached the trunk.

Sitting down in my old space, the familiar pitter-patter of raindrops hitting leaves welcomed me home. Propped with my back against the trunk and my legs resting on the thick branch from where I came, I glorified in how easy it was to reclaim this simple part of myself. I hadn’t been out here in years.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a light, possibly from the front porch, of Jared’s house pop on. Seconds later, a girl came running down the front pathway with a black sweatshirt over her head. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew who it was when I saw the car she was running towards.

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