Rival Page 12

He wasn’t breathing. The stern set to his eyes as he loomed over me reminded me of so many times I’d looked up at him, wanting things I was afraid to ask for.

But we were different now. I wanted only his pain, and judging from the girl he’d come home with last night, Madoc was still the same. A user.

I hooded my eyes, trying to appear bored, as I shoved the now-open cryptex back at him.

He took a deep breath and smiled, the intense concentration now gone. “Thank you.” Then he turned to Addie. “See? We’re getting along fine.”

And he left through the sliding-glass doors leading to the vast patio and pool area with his gift card to the go-kart track.

I swallowed, trying to calm the windstorm in my stomach. “So that’s it?” I asked Addie. “You’re letting him stay, after all?”

“You said you were okay with it.”

“I am,” I rushed to add. “I’m just . . . I just don’t want you to get in trouble with the boss.”

She gave a half-smile and started pouring batter onto the griddle. “Do you know that Madoc started playing the piano again?” Her eyes stayed glued to her task.

“No,” I responded, wondering about the change in subject. “His father must be thrilled.”

Madoc had taken music lessons since he was five, specifically the piano. Jason Caruthers wanted his son proficient, but when Madoc turned fifteen—around the time my mom and I moved in—he realized that Daddy really just wanted him to perform. Something else for Mr. Caruthers to brag about and show off.

So Madoc had quit. He refused lessons and threatened to trash the piano if it wasn’t moved out of sight. It was taken down to the basement where it sat with my half-pipe.

But I had always wondered . . .

Madoc did love to play. It was a release for him, or it seemed to be. He usually only practiced at required lessons, but he ran willingly to the piano when he was upset or really happy.

After he quit, he started doing stupid shit without that release anymore: hanging around that asswipe Jared Trent, bullying Tatum Brandt, breaking into the school to steal car parts, which no one knew about but me.

“Oh, I doubt his father knows,” Addie continued. “Madoc still won’t perform or take lessons. It’s more of an in-the-dead-of-the-night thing when the whole house is asleep and no one can see or hear him.” She stopped and looked up at me. “But I hear him. The light tinkling of the keys trails upstairs from the basement. It’s very faint. Almost as if it’s a ghost that can’t decide whether to stay or go.”

I thought of Madoc playing alone downstairs in the dead of night. What kind of songs did he play? Why did he do it?

And then I remembered the Madoc from last night. The one who’d insinuated that I was a freeloading slut.

And the rapid beat of my heart slowed to a dull thud.

“When did he start playing again?” I asked, looking out to the patio where he talked on his phone.

“Two years ago,” she said softly. “The day you left.”



Now I understood why Jared drowned himself in constant partying over Tate. Distractions were useful. If you had too much on your mind, then you could push your thoughts away with noise, liquor, and girls and keep moving forward at lightning speed. When my friend slowed down long enough to think, that’s when he got into trouble. But eventually things worked out for them. He pushed her, and she started pushing back. He kept pushing, and she finally knocked him on his ass.

Fallon and I were a lot like them. Only I didn’t love her, and she didn’t love me. I was infatuated with her once—and loved that she let me take my pubescent urges out on her—but we weren’t in love.

We were two people in a f**ked-up family taking our cues from f**ked-up parents.

And neither one of us knew how to do anything differently.

She stomped up to her room after pancakes, and I got ready for my party that was starting mid-afternoon but going ’til the next morning if I had anything to say about it.

I hoped that she’d show up, and at the same time I wanted her far away from me.

Fallon affected my body in weird ways.

But only because she’s different, I told myself.

The last time I saw her she was sleeping on the leather couch in the theater room wearing only my T-shirt. She had twisted her lips up as she rubbed her nose in her sleep, and I remember thinking how much I couldn’t stand her during the day but how much I wanted her when she put her forked tongue away at night.

Everyone at school thought she was a freak. They definitely thought she was a lesbian. And none of the guys thought she was hot.

Pretty? Sure. Even with the beanies that covered her head and the glasses that hid her eyes.

But not hot. Her piercings were scary to them, and her clothes were an embarrassment to any guy calling her his girlfriend.

Only I knew the truth. I’d seen her without the clothes—accidentally of course—and I knew what she covered up.

But that was two years ago. She wasn’t sexy to me anymore.

Now she was lethal. Despite her pale Irish ancestry, her skin was golden with the most beautiful sprinkle of freckles across her nose and under her eyes. Her hair had been colored. Whereas before it was a dull, light brown, now it was about three different shades of brown with some modest chunks of blond blended in.

Her green eyes stood out more than I remembered, and it took clenching every muscle in my body this morning to look like I wasn’t checking her out. Seeing her walk into the kitchen in her pj’s, looking like she’d been blissfully f**ked all night long, made me hot.

Prev Next