Rival Page 28

And I swam off toward the shore, diving deep into the chilly water not warmed by the sun.

No reason to give a seven-year-old a lesson on the male anatomy, either.

CHAPTER 12

FALLON

Enough was enough. I couldn’t let him continue to affect me so much. True, Madoc had grown up. No buts about it. He was smart, fun, and more good-looking than ever. He seemed to care about his friends, and someday, he might even make a good husband and father.

I just wasn’t the right girl for him, and he certainly wasn’t for me. He’d had me once and forgotten me. Now, I wanted to leave this house of my own free will with my head held high. I wouldn’t be a rat in a cage, dressed to my mother’s approval or a toy for Madoc to play with when he felt like it. I would never want to be like her and end up with her life. Jason Caruthers cheated on his wife—constantly. Although my mother also cheated. I’d found that out—not that I had doubted it anyway—through my preparations.

Their marriage was empty and superficial, and Madoc had grown up with an innate entitlement. He knew he could do what he wanted, when he wanted, and if a girl didn’t like it, another one would come along to replace her.

I wouldn’t be one of the numbers.

I trudged out of the water, shivering as the air hit my wet skin. Tate leaned back on her hands, legs bent and her bikini slightly more modest than mine. I would’ve worn a one-piece if I’d known a kid was going to be here. Jared lay on his back next to her with a hand on her thigh and his eyes closed. Lucas was eating an apple and peanut butter sandwich crackers.

“So what’s up now?” Madoc asked Jared and Tate as he grabbed a towel and threw it at me. I reached up just in time to stop it from hitting me in the face.

Jared sighed as in “Here we go.” “I asked her to move in with me,” he admitted, and my eyebrows shot up.

Madoc snorted. “And she threw shoes at you? Sounds like a marriage to me.”

“In Chicago,” Tate clarified with a sharp, scolding tone. “He asked me to move in with him in Chicago. I told him that I want to be around for my dad more, so I’m going to Northwestern instead of Columbia. He then tells me that he didn’t want to go to New York anyway and wanted to stay in the area to be close to Jax.”

Madoc busied himself taking out waters from the cooler. “So that’s good. It’s a win-win. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is,” I chimed in for Tate and turned toward Madoc, “that he wasn’t communicating with her. He already had his own plans that he wasn’t involving her in.”

“So did she,” he argued back.

“But he sounds like he never wanted to go to New York.” My voice got louder, and I could feel Tate’s and Jared’s eyes on me. “Now she feels like she pressured him or was making him do something he didn’t want to do.”

Madoc rolled his eyes. “Cover your ears, Lucas.”

Lucas obeyed, and Madoc looked around the circle, meeting everyone’s eyes.

“Look, I’m sorry, Tate, but you’ve been living in f**king rainbow-sprinkle-cupcake land if you actually thought that Jared Trent was going to move to New York City. People don’t drive there. How’s he supposed to stretch his legs? Do you even know how much it would cost to park a car there?”

Jared’s eyes were still closed, but his chest shook with silent laughter that he was smart enough to keep to himself.

Tate’s jaw hung open, and not in a wow-that-really-made-sense kind of way. It was more of a what-an-asshole-I’m-going-to-dropkick-him kind of way. I couldn’t tell for sure, but Madoc probably felt the heat of her fire behind her sunglasses.

I held up my hand. “So you’re saying that his car is more important than her?” I yelled at Madoc.

He blew out a sigh and walked behind me, standing at my back and covering my mouth with his hand.

I could hear the smile in his voice as he spoke to Jared and Tate. “So you’ll both be in Chicago. I’ll only be an hour and a half away at Notre Dame. Win-win.”

• • •

Around four o’clock, Jared and Tate left to go break the news to her father about her change in college plans, and Madoc and I took Lucas home in time for dinner.

Madoc drove the twists and turns of the quiet roads leading to our—his—house, and neither of us broke the silence. The tension was thicker than wet clay, and I didn’t know what was on his mind. He was usually such a chatterbox. Now, he looked almost stoic as he zoned out on the road and sped over the black highway. Trees loomed on both sides, making me feel like we were in a cave.

“Fallon,” he started, and I looked to him. “We’re not sixteeen anymore.”

I stared at him, not sure what that meant.

“I know.”

He yanked down on the stick shift, sending us into sixth gear. Between looking out the window and the front windshield and not meeting my eyes, he looked uncomfortable as hell. “I think we can get along better if we grow up. You can stay the summer if you want.”

What? Was he serious? When the punch line didn’t come, I just averted my gaze out the window.

He doesn’t want me to stay, I thought to myself. Or maybe he did.

“Yeah, Pussy-on-the-Premises, right?” I felt the flutters in my stomach dull as I realized why he probably wanted me to stay.

He shook his head. “I didn’t mean that.”

Yeah, right. Why else would he want me around? We may have cleared up some miscommunication, but he still saw me as damaged goods. Not good enough, just like my mother said.

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