The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 16

“Is this the calm before the storm or something? We’ve been on the road for forty-five minutes, and I’ve been doing all the talking. You’ve said ten words, and six of them were fuck.”

“Fuck. Seven.”

“You never answered me. I’ll try again. How’d the park and driving go yesterday?” When I continue to stare out my window, he shouts, “Jericho! What the hell happened? I know something did! Kat won’t talk about it, either!”

“Take. A. Hint.”

“I thought I was your best friend?”

I sigh. Dash has always been a good friend, and I have very few, but I’ve always kept them at a comfortable distance. And after last night, I’m not leaving myself open to another person. I made that mistake against my better judgment and was brutally rewarded in kind for it. Besides, he’s probably more loyal to Kat. “Could you hold off on the nail polish, makeup, and gossip? If that’s what you’re planning this trip, then drop me off at the next fucking exit. I’ll walk home.”

Dash mutters something that sounds like stubborn dickhead.

I don’t care anymore. If I have to be a dickhead to stay detached, then so be it.

Because Dash almost always has to be talking, for the bulk of the drive, he seeks out conversation by calling people. Since he used speakerphone, I had to listen to his calls with his father, mother, somebody he called Flip, and then the best, which he saved for last.

Dash hits a number, and the familiar voice fills the car. “Douche, where are you?”

“What’s up, Rio de Janeiro? I’m on speaker.”

“Hey, Jare.”

I glumly reply, “Hey.”

“Watch. He’s pissier than a goddamn urinal.” I give Calder the finger as I close my eyes, wishing we were at the house so I could get some air or maybe set one of their beds on fire.

There’s a pause before Rio asks, “You okay?”

“Yep.”

“Dash, you didn’t answer me. Where are you?”

“We’re outside of Cambridge, so we have about an hour left. Where are you?”

“Fifteen minutes away.”

“How in the hell did that happen?”

“I’m good. Jare, remind him how I’m always early.”

“That’s entirely false! You were late for dinner two weeks ago! Remember, Jericho?”

“Once in a while, I’m late.”

“You wish. You were also last to the club.” His voice turns toward me. “Tell him!”

“Jare, you know how Douche exaggerates.”

Not able to fall asleep, I sigh. “Why don’t you both go fuck yourselves?”

Dash laughs. “I told you he was in a bad mood. You’ll have to wait on the deck for me to get there with the key. Did you get the package?”

Rio’s quiet before he chuckles. “Yes. All is good.”

“Did it need extra stamps?”

Rio laughs louder. “Yeah, it did. You owe me.” He laughs, and I open my eyes just to roll them before closing them again.

I hear Dash picking up a sucker he had in front of the stick shift. “Don’t fuck up the delivery.”

Rio retorts, “Fuck you.” Christ. They’re such a doomed partnership. They couldn’t even run a meth lab.

I hear Dash thumping his sucker against the steering wheel. “What’s the return policy?”

“It’s covered. Don’t worry.” Rio then asks, “Jare, how’s Kat’s driving going?”

Giving up on getting a nap, I open my eyes and glare at the sun visor. “Fine.”

Dash inclines closer to his phone mounted on the dashboard and loudly whispers, “I think he misses her.”

Rio laughs. “Is she tired of your winning attitude yet?” I roll my eyes yet again. I swear, if I roll my eyes anymore, I’ll take flight.

I pull on my cap, lowering it. “I have a lighter. Both of you better fucking sleep with one eye open tonight.”

Dash says, “That’s a fat yes.”

Unable to hide his damn amusement, Rio replies, “Cool. I’ll see you guys there.”

When we pull up to the gray, two-story house an hour later, I’m out of the car before Dash turns off the engine. I go straight to the side of the house and up the three steps leading to the deck. Spinning the combination into the lock, I open the gate and walk onto the beige-painted deck that has a table and chairs, a covered grill, and beyond the awning’s reach, a sunken Jacuzzi at the corner. The stairs lead down to the small, fenced-in yard containing a small storage shed, where we keep our spare fishing gear. In the center of the yard is a large, stone fire pit that we helped Dash’s dad, Dave, build three summers ago. Arguments ensued, mistakes were numerous, and Dash was nearly sacrificed in the first bonfire. Another example of why we shouldn’t go into business together.

I sit down on the top step. I just need a few minutes to myself before I have to listen to Rio and Dash arguing for four days. Then throwing Liberty into the mix, I’ll have to stay trashed the entire vacation.

I try not to think about Kat’s rejection, but the more I try not to think about it, the more I do. Isn’t that a law of physics, Murphy’s Law, or some crazy shit?

Kat asked about us having a long-distance relationship. With past girlfriends, if I couldn’t stay interested when we lived in the same fucking town, how am I able to carry on a thing with Kat when we live in different states?

I won’t be able to and yet again, my dad’s words about reeling her in and then dumping her resonate. I hate that.

The sliding glass door opens, and Dash says, “Jericho, I’m not your bellhop, but I did unload your shit from the car. It’s in the living room, and so is Rio. You might want to come in because he’s snooping through your suitcase.” I have nothing worth hiding in there, but that doesn’t sound like anything Rio would randomly do.

I shift to question Dash, and that’s when I see Kat standing next to him. Dash says, “Look what Rio found on the side of the road.”

Incensed, I stand. “What the hell?” I look at a grinning Dash to a somber Kat for an explanation and then back to Calder. “Dash, you fucking promised you wouldn’t pull this shit on me!”

The sliding door opens again as Dash protests, “I didn’t!”

Rio says, “I did, Jare.”

“What the fuck, Rio? Do I have any damn friends here?”

Rio frowns as he approaches me. “Don’t do that. You know we have your back.”

Dash nods, putting his arm around an unsmiling Kat. “Come on. Kat’s here. Be happy.”

I glare at Kat. “You knew about this shit?”

“It was a last-minute thing.”

“After last night, you still did this?”

From beside me, Rio sucks in a loud breath. “Whoa. What happened last night?”

Dash says, “Jericho, you said nothing was wrong.”

Rio scoffs, “Right. He never reveals shit like that.”

“Stop talking about me like I’m a fucking child! How can all of you stand here, duping me?”

“Duping you? Jare, I thought you’d like having Kat here, and I knew you’d probably never ask her yourself. So, I did.”

“Well, somebody better take one of us home.”

Dash yelps, “Jared!”

Rio puts his hands on his hips. “Jared, shit. What’s the matter with you?”

Glowering at my two supposed best friends, I then look to the real target of my ire. My everlasting pain. Kat wipes her eyes with her hands. “Jared, fuck you. I’m gone.” She pivots and escapes as Rio and Dash watch in horror.

Rio turns to me with a glare, which I counter with one, and he spews, “What the fuck is your problem?”

“Fuck you, Duquesne. Stay out of it.”

“Yeah, I don’t know because you don’t say shit. Kat told me you had an argument.”

Through my teeth, I fume, “Understatement.”

Dash says, “Kat cares about you! A lot!”

“Shut the fuck up, Calder. You don’t have a clue, either.”

Rio contends, “He knows more than you fucking do. Go work it out with her!”

I take a step back from both of them. “Why in the hell do you care?”

Rio shouts, “We care because she’s your friend—our friend—and you just did that to her! What aren’t you telling us? Everything’s a fucking secret with you!”

“Like you don’t have any, Rio?”

He throws his hands out. “Ask away, Jare! I’ll tell you anything you want to know, but you already know everything about me!”

I scornfully roll my eyes, and Dash says, “You have to talk to her!”

Looking down to the ground over my crossed arms, I shake my head with a resolute, “No.”

“Asshole,” he ridicules before trotting to the gate and swinging it open with a clattered slam.

Rio says, “If you’re mad at someone, be mad at me. Don’t take it out on Kat.”

I nod at the deck. “It’s not about you, but yeah.” Raising my head, I’m in agreement. “I’m fucking pissed at you, too.”

“I promised I’d take her home if you didn’t want her here, so I’ll take her, but don’t expect me to come back to deal with your shit.”

“Good.”

Rio paces, glowering to the side of the house, around the yard, and then back at me. “Why do you think your friends are conspiring against you? There was no malice, bringing Kat here. We just thought you’d have some fun with her.”

“What? Do you think I should be fucking her? FYI: I’m not and won’t! Do I have to rent a damn billboard?”

“God, Jared. Grow up. Do you know you’re all Kat talked about on the way here?” I roll my eyes. “You bastard, she thinks you hung the fucking moon. Too bad you just brought it crashing down on top of her. You may have just lost your driving student, as well as a great friend. Don’t worry about it, though. Dash and I will help her get her license.” I can’t help her now. Not after this. Was last night a fucking attempt at a joke at my expense, too? To see what I would say when she turned me down?

I sneer, “Such great friends you are.”

“Why don’t you be the same?”

“If I’m such a shitty friend, why do you keep coming around?”

“Don’t make me ask myself that question, Jare.” He runs his hand over his stubbled jaw. “You’re a good person. You just need to work on being a better friend. Don’t take it for granted that you’ll always have us if you keep acting like this.”

“If you’re putting conditions on our friendship, then you can all go straight to hell.”

Rio calmly studies me. “Jared. I consider you my family. You need Dash and me just as much as we need you, but you’ve got to be more user-friendly. Talk to us. Trust us. Hold up your end of the friendship. That goes for your friendship with Kat, too.” He frowns as his blue eyes go skyward. “If it still exists.”

Not knowing how to respond, I roughly inhale as I grind my teeth. Rio shoves his hands into his jeans pockets and nods to the side of the house. “Go talk to her before I take her home.”

I contemplate that as he waits for me to go. If Rio leaves, he’s taking Kat with him. I don’t see him much anymore, and driving all of that way back would be senseless.

I don’t know what to think of Kat’s reasoning for being here. And I don’t understand why I now want her to stay. I give up.

As my anger settles, which Rio is good at subduing, I grasp that the fucker is probably sincere. He’s usually more logical than I am, apart from the Liberty shitstorm. This time, he and Dash were moronic, deluded bastards with nothing better to do than to drive me fucking crazy.

Frowning to myself, I yank on my cap and leave the backyard. When I round the front, Dash and Kat aren’t on the porch, sitting in Dash’s car, or Rio’s truck. Doubting she went into the house since she wants to avoid me, I look up and down the narrow dead-end drive for them but see nothing. There’s only one place left she could’ve run off to, so I cross over and go to the public beach access diagonal to the house. When I reach the sand, the beach is a sea in its own right with people, umbrellas, and towels sailing it, but I immediately see Kat’s red tank top. She’s holding onto Dash near the water, with her head buried in his chest. Even though Kat doesn’t want to have sex with me, and I don’t want an official relationship with her, I suddenly want to drown my best friend for touching her like that.

I irritably rip my shoes off, stuffing the socks into them. I trudge through the sand toward the blinding afternoon gleam radiating from the noisy, undulating water. Dash sees me from over Kat’s head and frowns, not releasing her. I know I should take this moment to appreciate his loyalty to his friends, too, but seeing her in his arms incites me.

When I reach them, he says, “If you’re here for another round, forget it. I’ll take you home, and she can stay.”

Ignoring him, I say to the back of her head, “Kat, you don’t have to go. I’ll leave if you want me to.”

She looks up from Dash’s chest. “I shouldn’t have come. I didn’t mean to ruin your trip.”

Dash says, “You were invited. It’s my dad’s house. You’re welcome here anytime.” He shoots me a look, and I ruefully sulk.

Kat sniffs as Dash rubs her shoulder, irking me more, and he tilts his head to look at her face. “If Jared can be an adult, will you stay?” He then glares at me, and I can’t even argue with him. Dash has never been so mad at me before. “Right?”

I nod at him and then look to Kat. She eventually answers, “Okay. Just give me some time here.”

Dash lets go of her and bends to shove his feet into the shoes he had in his hand. Avoiding me, Kat turns and walks to the wet sand. As I watch her, Dash says, “You know, I should set you on fire and throw you into the ocean.”

Because I have no words, I again can only nod, summarily looking at him before watching Kat standing along the tide’s reach.

Dash folds his arms over his chest as we scrutinize her. “I hope you realize she thinks you hate her.”

“Dash…” I sigh and anxiously pull on my bill as I continue to observe her.

“I’ll be back to check on her. Don’t make her cry again, or you’re deep-sea diving without a tank.” I’m quickly growing irritated with his gung-ho attitude.

“I won’t.”

“You need to apologize.”

Losing my patience, I snap, “Will you fucking let me handle it now?”

“We all saw how that went!”

I lick my salty lips, fighting not to drown him in front of a crowd. “Just go. I’ll talk to her.”

We glare at each other before he concedes, “Okay.” Giving Kat one last glance, he leaves, and I slowly walk to her, trying to come up with something to say. Stopping next to her, she doesn’t acknowledge me as she watches the waves crashing at our feet. Kids splash nearby while shouting and laughing around us, accompany the tide.

I want to hold Kat like Dash did, but if I value my testicles, I’ll stow that thought.

Every second that nothing is said, I feel ten times worse about my tantrum. I want it back to where we were. Only better.

Seeing something in the backwash, hoping I don’t lose my shoes in the water, I step in front of her to pick it up. Holding the dried and broken starfish, I ask, “You know that starfish regrow their limbs? When they’re alive, I mean.”

Kat looks at it. “Yeah. I’ve heard that.” Reaching over, her hand brushes mine, and my body buzzes as she cautiously runs her thumb over the star’s spiny ridges. “Did you also know a starfish is a symbol of renewal, healing, and longevity—losing a part of yourself, only to come back new and improved, stronger than before?”

I stare at her face, captivated by her mouth and the sweet voice coming from it, and I relive the feel of her lips. I distractedly say, “No, I didn’t. Kat, back there… I didn’t—”

“I’m sorry for surprising you. Rio got my number from Dash and texted me. He wanted to surprise you by inviting me here. After last night, I shouldn’t have done this, but I…” She looks to the water. “Please, don’t hate me.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“You have so many reasons to be mad at me.”

I sadly look at the starfish in my hand. “Not… mad.”

“Why do I feel like you’re not saying what you want to say?”

I shrug as my finger traces the star shape. “Because I don’t know what to say.”

When she doesn’t say more, I look up. Frowning, Kat squints at the water. “We should get out of the sun without sunscreen. We’ll be fucking lobsters the entire weekend.”

She pivots in the wet sand and walks over to her shoes. I follow but keep a distance. I regret the way I acted, but I’m still hurt from last night. That won’t disappear, but I committed to helping her get a driver’s license.

We say nothing on our way to the house. Once there, I grab her bags and lead her upstairs. There are four bedrooms, so I take her to the spare one, which is next to Duquesne’s room and around the corner from both Calder’s and mine.

Kat looks around her yellow, floral room as she walks to the window. Too chipper for the three of us—even Dash—so it’s hardly ever used. Dash’s second stepmother had decorated most of the house, and when she and Dave divorced, he left it as-is.

Setting her brown suitcase on the bench at the end of the bed, I clear my throat. “The bathroom is across from Dash’s room, around the corner, but he also has one in his room if you need it. We all use it, even if he’s in the shower, so if you want to hear him squeal like a girl, make sure you flush the toilet when he’s in there. There’s a bathroom with a shower downstairs, between the living room and kitchen.”

She nods at the window, her purple and brown ponytail bobbing. “Okay. Thank you.”

Feeling awkward and having a weird sense of been-there-done-that, as Hadley calls it, I say, “I’ll probably get the bonfire going soon since I’m the designated fire starter.” I realize my comment is insensitive, and I cringe. “Um, Dash brought hot dogs and marshmallows. We can make s’mores, too.”

“Sounds fun,” she indifferently answers.

“Okay. I’ll be outside if you need me.”

I grasp the edge of the door as she makes no move to turn around. “I’ll be fine. If I need something, I’ll ask Dash or Rio.”

“Kat, I’m here, too.”

“I know you are, Jared.” She finally turns from the window, only to dig into her purse, pulling out her phone. “I need to call my mom to tell her I’m here.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, come outside when you’re done. We’ll all be out there.”

She nods at her phone but doesn’t agree, refuse, or say fuck you.

I reluctantly back out of the room, and when I close the door, I hear her sniffing and gasps. Fuck. I want to go in there and… Shit. I didn’t even know what to do the last time she cried.

I mouth to the door, “Please forgive me, Kit Kat.” I lean my forehead against it, listening to her quiet sobs, feeling like the beast I’ve been told I’ve become.

When her crying finally stops, I quietly step away from the door. Going downstairs, I grab the lighter from a kitchen drawer and go out to the yard, where Rio and Dash intently watch my every step. Seeing the plastic bag containing the lighter fluid, a newspaper, and matches, I pick it up from the table where they’re sitting. Dash asks, “Is she still at the beach?”

I shake my head, and Rio asks, “Does she want to leave?”

I again shake my head and carry the bag down to the gigantic pit, the size being my idea. Walking around it, I notice one of the jackasses had thrown logs in haphazardly. There’s an art to starting a fire. This isn’t it.

I set down the bag and remove all the logs, replacing them with crumpled newspaper and dried twigs. I open the lighter fluid and squeeze it over the small pile, and taking the lighter out of my pocket, I ignite the paper. I then pick up the two largest logs that have no business being in the pit and set them upright near the fire to use as seats, tables, or to be split later.

Dash brings over the plastic chairs, also setting them around the fire. I keep looking at the patio door or up to her window, hoping I see Kat, but I don’t.

Over a few hours, Dash disappears twice, so I assume he’s talking to Kat, which dejects me even more. My reaction was uncalled for, at best, but it was a reflex to being played, setting off the bottled-up feelings of leftover rejection. I didn’t intend to say things to hurt Kat, but I couldn’t stop once I started.

It’s unusually quiet among the three of us. Between roasting something over the fire or me getting up to add kindling, I stare into the flames while they stay busy texting and sporadically insulting each other.

As the sun begins to set, Kat comes down the deck stairs, going out of her way to not make eye contact with me. Suddenly uncomfortable, I get up and add more unnecessary fuel to the fire, just to keep myself busy.

She takes a seat on one of the wobbly logs, smiling and talking to Dash as she rocks it back and forth. Kat looks happier now than she did hours ago. From the other side of the pit, with the firelight on her face, she’s luminous.

Kat and Dash continue to talk, but I can’t make out what they’re saying because of Rio’s grating phone conversation with his keeper on the other side of me, and the crackling of the fire in front of me. I watch them like a hawk through the flames. Dash hands her a bottle of beer, and she takes a long swig, and I again remember how her lips tasted.

I don’t know if it’s selfishness, the beers I’ve had, or how sexy she looks but when Dash gets up from his seat to go into the house, I hastily grab another beer from the cooler and walking over to his chair, I drag it with me, setting it behind Kat. She stops rocking and stiffens as I sit down, straddling her. Twisting to the side, I put my beer on the ground and reach for the bag of marshmallows.

Leaning forward onto her back, I hold out the bag of marshmallows to Kat, but she shakes her head, her ponytail swishing against my chest. Keeping close to her, I sigh and drop the bag to the ground. Resting my hands on the tops of my thighs, I glance over at Rio, who is now poking at his phone just as Dash returns. “Hey, Jericho. What’s with the chair-stealing?”

“Finders keepers.”

He stares at the way I’m sitting with Kat, and in the diffuse light, I see the warning look he shoots me before taking a seat next to Rio. They both watch us, whispering to each other but then seem to lose interest. When they both go back to playing with their phones, I take the open opportunity. Lowering my head, reveling in her scent, my lips unintentionally sweep against her ear as I whisper, “I’m sorry, Kit Kat.”

Being so close to Kat, I hear her inhale, but she doesn’t reply. Though, she seems to relax because she starts gently rocking again, which rocks me with her, putting me on a fast track to a hard-on. I need to back away from her, but I can’t. I have already laid everything out for her, so to try to hide it now is just pointless unless she gets up and leaves.

But she doesn’t.

Astonishing me, Kat puts her arms on my legs, using me to push herself closer and more firmly between my legs.

Holy fuck. She’s encouraging my erection.

Other than her quiet rocking, she doesn’t say anything or makes it obvious what she’s doing to me. With each sway forward, her ass grinds on my cock. Keeping an eye on Dash and Rio, I sigh into her hair. For a moment, I wonder if she’s aware of what’s happening, but when she shifts her back, causing me to softly groan next to her ear, and she does it again, eliciting the same response from me, there’s no fucking doubt she knows.

Realizing this, I scoot forward in my chair, pressing into Kat more, ever watching Dash and Rio since she’s essentially jacking me off in front of them.

Keeping my chest on her, I pull my hips back, and Kat stops rocking, probably assuming I want her to stop. I reach down to my long, cotton shorts and adjusting the front of my waistband, freeing my dick, which is thrumming from the friction. Still watching the other two sitting at a fair distance, perpendicular to us, I slide up Kat’s tank top, exposing her skin. Pulling my shirt to the side to cover me, I lean steadfastly onto her again. When my cock touches her back, I clamp my teeth on my bottom lip while her responding gasp is loud. Dash looks over at us, but when he doesn’t see anything bothersome, he returns to his phone.

Kat slowly starts rocking us again, rubbing my cock up and down in a rhythm along her skin. I turn my head towards the house as my eyes close, and I huff quiet, discordant breaths over the back of her head. My cock leaves a slight, damp trail, slickening my movements over her.

I thought I’d never feel her skin like this, and it’s too much. The closer I am to coming, the harder and faster I need to stroke. I ball my hands into fists as I struggle not to grab her tits and push her tighter to me, but I have to remain aware of our audience. I can’t rock out of rhythm, and we can’t rock too much in a rhythm, either, or it will be evident what we’re doing. We. Amid the deep tingling moving up my shaft, I still am in complete awe of her doing this to me.

I pant through my teeth as I feel my orgasm speeding forward. Before it reaches the head, I yank my waistband up as I come in my underwear instead of onto her, my shorts being the barrier between us to avoid the mess that would be hard to hide.

Shifting back slightly, she thankfully stays. I don’t want to explain my still-existent hard-on to Dash and Rio. As I use my forearm to swipe the sweat from my forehead, Kat silently sits, not saying anything still, but then again, I don’t say anything to her in return. Aside from my apology, we haven’t said a word to each other since this afternoon.

We sit together while I slow my breathing, but before I can stand, Kat does. She says to Rio and Dash, “I’m going to bed. Can I take anything into the house before I go?”

Dash says, “No, we’ll get it. Jared starts the fires, Rio puts them out, and I clean up.” Kind of symbolic. “There’re towels and anything else you might need in the bathroom closet.”

“Okay. Night.” She waves at them, still avoiding looking directly at me. Christ. I just got off on her, and she acts like nothing happened.

I watch her go up the stairs and into the house in a hurry. I need to follow her but not wanting to tip off Rio and Dash any more than I probably have, I gingerly sit back in the chair, putting my ankle over my knee. The stickiness clings to me but compared to the horrible feelings I experienced this afternoon with Kat, I’ll take the cum sticking to my crotch any day.

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