Chapter 87

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January 2015

Luckily I know my way home from here. I walk over to the bus stop out on the corner and perch on the freezing bench to wait for the #39. I'm fuming. I have a strong suspicion that Max knew Jared was going to be here tonight. I feel like I was set up, like the whole evening was a part of some elaborate plan of his to ruin things between Jared and me even further. Mission accomplished.

"So, are you two like together now?"

I jump at the sound of his voice, but I'm not surprised to see him standing there. I expected Jared to follow me out; he's been ignoring me for so long and I know that neither of us are capable of staying away. I look over at him, in his dark jeans and gray thermal shirt, and instantly feel myself being drawn into him. He's not wearing a jacket. He must've left it inside when he hurried out after me. How can he not be freezing? I feel the urge to go to him and wrap myself around his hard body to keep him warm, but just as quickly I remember why I need to stay away. I shake my head numbly and turn my gaze over to the empty road, willing the bus to hurry up. He's too distracting.

"We got paired up together for a history project. That's all." It sounds like a lie but it isn't.

"Jeeze, Ellie you just waltzed right into his arms. Did you even give it a minute?" His voice barely restrains the accusation he's making and I don't appreciate his tone. I flick my eyes over to meet his.

"First of all, you don't know what you're talking about Jared so I suggest you butt out. Secondly, you walked away from me remember? So I don't know where you think you get the right--"

"The right?" He cuts me off. "Let me refresh your memory Ellie, I walked away from you because you lied! And because of him!" He jabs his thumb back towards the library. "You kissed Max! I was already trying to be cool with you and Derrick, and now you're here with him?"

"It's just a stupid project," I hiss, pushing myself up from the bench and walking over to the street, but he doesn't believe me. He thinks it's more.

"Just because we aren't together right now Ellie, doesn't mean I don't still care about you! I'm just finding it hard to stand here and watch you demean yourself by being with him."

"She's not with me, and even if she was I don't see how she'd be demeaning herself in any way. It's a step up for her, as far as I'm concerned." Max's voice cuts into our conversation. Neither of us noticed him approach.

"Shut up Max!" I snap, not understanding why he has to involve himself. "Jesus! This has nothing to do with you!"

"I think Ellie's made herself clear," Jared states firmly. He begins walking towards Max before I can stop him, physically backing him off just with his very presence. Jared doesn't get too forceful, which he easily could, but Max stands his ground.

"I think Ellie's wrong. I think this has everything to do with me. I don't see how it's any of your concern." He pokes Jared in the shoulder and I can see the anger ripple through him as his body tightens like he's about to pounce on Max. "You did dump her after all."

I move in between them, pushing Jared back with my hands. It takes every bit of strength that I have. This is about to get ugly and that's the last thing that I want to happen.

"I don't want her to get hurt Max and that's all you seem to know how to do, hurt people." Jared spits over my shoulder at him.

"And you think you don't hurt her Jared? That you're so high and fucking-mighty? Because she skipped school with you she's now out of the running for valedictorian next year; did you know that?"

I flip my head back and glare at Max, warning him to back off, but he isn't looking at me. His eyes are focused on Jared's and they're filled with arrogance. He's enjoying this.

"Most of the scholarship committees won't even look at her now. She's pretending to date some guy who, for some reason or another, seems to attract violence everywhere he goes, and then you dump her because your daddy thinks she's a whore from the wrong side of town."

I flinch at Max's choice of words even though he's only speaking the truth. Jared looks down at me and I can see the guilt build up in him.

"Remind me now, who's the one who hurts her?" Max has split open Jared's deep patience and I see something inside him snap. He pushes past me, charging at Max and grabbing his collar. I force myself back in between them, getting smashed in between their two bodies. The force is enough to rattle my teeth and my brain feels like it bounces back and forth inside my skull. Neither of them notices though, they're so entangled in their own blind jealousy.

"What about you?" Jared yells over me as I push him back from Max again. "Forcing her to go out with you? Getting her drugged? Taking advantage of her?"

"Stop it!" I scream at him as I give him one good shove. I've had enough of both of them!

"Jared, he's right; you made your decision and it was the right one. You don't get to have a say in what I do anymore. You need to forget about me."

Jared lays his hard gaze down on me combined with regret and fury. A tremor tears up my body as the urge to succumb to him fights to get free. I get distracted by Max who makes a poor attempt at holding back his laughter.

"And you!" I turn on him, marching over, with my eyes blazing as I jab my finger in his direction. "You are trouble! You always have been! Jared didn't cause me to lose valedictorian that was in the process long before I met him, and I don't care! So I don't see why either of you should." He takes a step back and raises his hands in surrender but the amused smile never leaves his face.

My bus pulls up. I couldn't be happier with its timing. Backing away from both of them with my hands up in the air, I welcome the escape.

"I've had enough. I'm done with all of this."

Turning my back on them, I jump on the bus as soon as the doors open. I dump some change into the box and shove myself into the first seat I find. Forcing myself to keep my eyes forward, I don't bother looking back at the two of them. We all bring each other nothing but trouble and it's time for me to end that cycle.

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