The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 21

Kat ends our kiss, and we sit in breathless silence. When I go to kiss her again, she pulls back, nervously whispering, “God, Jared. Why’d you do that?”

Unashamed, I grin, looking into her eyes before mine fall to her lips. “I couldn’t help it, Kit Kat.”

Her mouth twitches into a doubtful smile. “Why don’t I believe you?”

I shrug and look back into her worried eyes. “If you were me and felt what I do when I’m inside you, then you wouldn’t be able to keep quiet, either.”

Holding onto her waist, I push her onto my semi-hard dick, and she makes the humming sound I like so much. Kat looks at the door again, asking, “Do you think they heard us?”

I again shrug, grinning wider. “Maybe.” Hopefully.

“You’re not even worried about what they’ll say?”

My smile tumbles into a frown. “Why should I be?” Putting my hands into her hair, I lean in to kiss her, trying to ease her anxiety while taking advantage of her lips. It can’t be helped.

If they tease Kat, making her regret us being together this weekend, then I’ll make sure they regret they ever asked.

Knowing she’s not into our kiss, I end it, hovering over her mouth. “I’ll go downstairs. Stay here.”

Kat sighs as she lifts off me, and I morosely fall out of her. “It’s probably better if you go and feel them out.”

“I’m not feeling Liberty’s ass. I’d rather feel up Calder.” A wave of nausea washes over me for thinking of those two while I’m not wearing pants. But I still laugh when I see the annoyed look on Kat’s face.

Kat smacks my thigh. “Stop joking.”

“Ow!” I laugh, rubbing the sting. “That’s the total truth.” I lean closer, kissing her cheek. “But I’ll feel you up anytime.”

Ignoring me, she says, “They may think I’m a slut.”

I sigh, sitting back. “They won’t. If they do say anything, it’ll be the last thing they say before they’ll need their jaws wired shut.”

Getting up, I grab my shorts, and Kat says, “Maybe I can listen from here.” She snaps her fingers, and her eyes brighten. “Or you can text me. My phone is in my shorts. Do you have yours?”

Grinning, I nod as I sit on the bed to put on my shoes. “It’ll be okay. Not a big deal.”

She looks away. “Oh.”

Knowing she’s worrying too much, I lift her chin and kiss her. “Don’t worry about it, baby.” Standing, I offer her my hand, and she proceeds to put on her clothes. Waiting for her to be dressed before opening the door, I stare at her. When she finally notices, I grin as my gaze unabashedly wanders over her, taking in the fact that her body has been all over mine.

She giggles and quietly yells, “Go!”

I roll my eyes, and my grin amplifies as I leave the room to go downstairs. As soon as the three come into view, I feel their eyes on me.

Trying to remain casual is a bust, but I do try to tone down my smile when I reach the bottom of the staircase.

“Flipping hell, Jared Beckett!” Calder exclaims with bugged-out eyes and a cavernous hole where his mouth should be.

Dropping any trace of a smile, I scowl at his reaction as I head to the kitchen, but Liberty screeches, “Stop right there!”

Actually listening to her, I stop but don’t turn around. “What now?”

“Did you…? Was that what…? You and Kat…?” I reluctantly turn around. Sitting next to Rio with his arm around her, the skank’s facial expression is like one of those Scream masks.

Dash perches himself on the edge of the couch cushion and splutters, “Did you and Kat just have sex?”

Before I can answer him, Rio throws his hands into the air. “Okay, stop. None of our concern.” He avoids looking at me and nods at the TV. “Aren’t we watching this movie?”

“Not when there’s a porno upstairs!” Dash squeals.

Irritated by his comment, I shout, “Jesus Christ, Dash! Why do you have to say shit like that?”

Laughing over at Liberty, he then raises an eyebrow at me with a smirk. “So, you didn’t shout her name in the throes of passion?”

Crossing my arms, I look at him with a shrug. “So what if I did?”

Dash’s gaze drops to my crotch, and I frown, but before I can yell at him, Liberty jumps up and squawks, “What the hell? How?”

Behind her, still sitting on the couch, Rio makes a face at her. “Really, Lib?”

Shaking her head at him with a scoff, she then turns to me. “You said you weren’t dating!”

My scowl can only deepen so much. “We’re not.”

Dash says, “Wait, wait, wait. Hang on. Are you only using Kat to get laid? Not to figure out anything?”

“Figure out what? We’re friends. It works out for both of us.”

The tart whines, “Friends just don’t jump into bed together.”

Rubbing the back of my neck, I casually shrug. “Some do.”

Dash throws himself back against the couch with a look of dismay. “Fuck.”

“What, Calder? You mad I beat you to her?” Inherently, I doubt that.

Dropping his hand, Rio snaps, “Shit, Jared! She’s not a swing at the playground!”

“How can you fucking say that?” Dash’s boyband blond hair bounces as he shakes his head. “You don’t feel anything for Kat?”

Losing my patience, I shout, “Why am I the one under a microscope with my damn feelings and shit? It’s a twisted fascination with everyone! It’s none of your fucking business!”

“So, it’s just sex? No strings?”

Rio loudly sighs and grabs her hand to sit her back down or throw her into a kennel. “Lib, stay out of it.”

She swats Rio’s hand. “Kat told me today how she really feels about you. I just didn’t know about this detail.”

Rio warns, “Lib, don’t!” She turns her head, shaking it at Rio, before looking at me again.

“Told you what? Does she want me like a storybook, obedient boyfriend? Not news, and not for me.”

Liberty squeals, “If it was only that.” She looks to Dash, and then back to me. “You’ll casually have sex with Kat but won’t date her or call her your girlfriend?”

I laugh. “Jesus. I suppose that’s how it does work. I’m only fucking her for the hell of it.” Throwing my hands out, I yell, “You figured it out! Congratulations!” I inwardly roll my eyes at stealing my sister’s go-to PMS reply.

“What the fuck, Jared?” I spin around to see Kat on the staircase holding onto the banister. Shit.

Rio’s bitch set me up.

Watching Kat descend the stairs, her face takes on different expressions, kind of like a slot machine.

Liberty sullenly whimpers, “Oh, God, Kat.”

Shaking my head as Kat approaches me, I try to say something, but she cuts me off with a sharp tongue. “I know. That’s not what you meant, right?”

I nod and then shake my head, unsure of which one I should do. “Kat…”

“Cut the bullshit!” I cringe as I’m reminded of her saying that to me before we had sex for the first time. “So, it is true? You’re just killing time with me until you have to leave? Of course, what better way to do that than to screw with my head and pussy?”

“Kat, no!”

Her eyes are darker with her fury. “You just couldn’t wait to come down here and tell everyone! Not that they didn’t hear first-hand!”

“I told you I didn’t care if they knew!”

Her hands clamp into fists. “But I did! I wanted to hang onto some kind of dignity!”

“Dignity? Christ! You make it sound like I’m a damn player, and I rented a billboard to brag about my conquest!”

She crosses her arms. “How do I know you won’t?”

Putting my hands on my hips, I try not to divert my attention away from Kat to the three watching us. “I wasn’t doing that! I—”

“Do you have to make a mockery of me?”

“I wasn’t making fun of you or…” Frustrated, I harshly sigh. “Kat, please, just—”

“Shut up, Jared.” Kat looks around to Rio, Dash, and the bitch. “Now, you all know how stupid I am. I had sex with Jared.” She sourly laughs, looking at the floor. “I’ll give him credit. It was more than twice.” Kat clears her throat and says to Calder, “I wouldn’t say you’re the only charming one, Dash. Jared knows exactly what to say and how to look at me, turning me into a mindless bimbo.”

My eyes nearly pop out like Dash’s did earlier. “What in the hell?” Stunned by her assertion, I stare at her, leaving out that she was the first to seduce me both at the bonfire and in my room.

Kat looks at Dash, her eyes filling with tears before returning them to me. “I agreed to something that had no possible good outcome, yet I gave in and pushed past my doubts because I believe in something you don’t.” She inhales a deep breath, still holding onto her tears. “I sacrificed my body for the sake of my heart, so I could get close to yours. Now, I just feel used and humiliated.”

Stepping closer to her, I say, “Kat, you know I’m not using you. I was telling you the truth.” I glance at the three shocked faces watching us, and I grit my teeth as I cringe.

Kat says, “If it’s not dirty talk, you don’t want to hear what I have to say.”

“That’s not true.”

She steps back, waving her hand. “Okay. Then, ask me, Jared. In front of everyone here, ask me to be your girlfriend. Tell them you’re not using me. That you only want me and no one else.”

I lower my voice. “I do want you.”

Kat suddenly looks confused, tapping her chin. “You on top, or me? Or is that not what you meant?”

My hands go into my hair, anxiously fluffing. “Goddamn it! Stop!”

She laughs, but it’s an eerie laugh. “You’re right. You want me. It’s just the everyone else you can’t give up.”

“I don’t want anyone else, Kat! I never have! Just you!” Fuck. I didn’t want to admit that much in front of a live audience.

Dash utters, “Holy shit, Jericho.”

Glancing at Dash because of his remark, he gives Rio a panicked look, but before I demand to know what that’s about, Liberty shrilly asks, “So, you agree to be Kat’s boyfriend?”

Whipping my head to glare at her, I impatiently inhale. “Are you serious? I will not be fucking railroaded into that, especially right now and by you!”

Rio gets up and stands next to his nanny. “Jare.”

Widening her eyes, Liberty gripes, “Are you serious? You’re still refusing?”

Rio says, “Lib. That’s enough. They need to talk.”

Kat turns her head. “Liberty, what I said to you today is now null and void. I’m over it.” Looking up, she glowers at me. “God knows Jared can’t commit to anything, other than to being an asshole.”

Heaving my arms out, I yell, “You aren’t giving me a fucking chance to say anything!”

“You’ve had plenty of chances, and it’s always something you don’t mean to say!”

I darkly laugh. “Commit to anything? I’ve been helping you to get your damn license! Don’t fucking tell me I don’t do shit for you because I’ll make damn sure you’ll get that fucker!” Kat looks away from me as I glare at her, waiting for her to refute that.

Rio says, “Okay. Why don’t you cool off?”

I keep my glare aimed at Kat. “I do want to go elsewhere.”

Kat laughs, but nobody else does. “To your bed? You just had me there. Maybe the laundry room?”

“Damn it! Can’t you fucking be a reasonable adult about this?” Hearing Liberty’s shrieking gasp, I roll my eyes.

Out of nowhere, Kat shoves my shoulder, taking me by surprise, and I stumble backward. “Jesus Christ, Kat!”

Her eyes are more volatile than before. “As long as you can be a selfish prick, I guess I can be an immature brat!”

She steps back, and I go to grab her wrist so she won’t leave, but Rio jumps between us, putting his hand on my chest, saying, “Enough! This is over!”

Kat peers past him to me. “Yes. Our extended one-night stand is over.”

Liberty whines, “Oh, fuck.”

I shout around Rio, “It’s not what we had!”

Dash mumbles, “Jesus.”

Kat jaggedly sighs. “I can’t do it anymore. I thought I could, but my heart won’t stay out of the way, and if I want to be an adult about this,” I look away from her, shaking my head at the wall, “then, I’ll accept the reality and move on.”

Shakily, she turns and swiftly walks to the staircase. I take steps to go after her, but Rio grabs my arm, holding me back. “Jare, leave her alone.”

“No.”

He narrows his eyes, miraculously curtailing me, and I know he’s right. For the time being.

Liberty points at me. “How could you do that to her? Again?” She just won’t shut the fuck up.

“You’ve been friends with her for five damn minutes! Why is it suddenly your business to be all up in hers?”

“Because I like Kat! I even had her drive my car earlier!”

Even more pissed off, I bark, “What the fuck did you do that for? I’m helping her!”

“Jared, watch it!” I scowl at Rio, but his glare is resolute.

Liberty shrieks, “Kat did great!”

“She’s too nervous to drive on the road and especially with someone she’s not used to!”

“She wasn’t too nervous. I took her on quieter streets, and she handled them with ease. Maybe it’s you who makes her nervous.”

I’m teaching her how to drive!” Rio clears his throat, and I roll my eyes.

Folding her arms, she says, “I want to help her, too. Kat is very lonely. She doesn’t have many close friends.” She scornfully studies me. “And it looks like she just lost one.”

“We’re still friends. I’ll talk to her.”

“Just friends? Are you kidding? Earlier you basically admitted to being in—”

“Lib!”

I humorlessly laugh, throwing my hands out. “In what? The most fucked-up house on the beach? Got that memo.”

She impatiently turns to Duquesne. “Really? We have to tip-toe around it?”

Glaring at me, unusually quiet, Dash replies for Rio, “For now.” He then looks at Liberty. “We don’t have enough alcohol in the house. Rio is a degree or two shy of being a shrink, and we’d need one for that catastrofuck.”

Rio says, “It’ll be dealt with soon. Just not here. It’s better if it’s self-realization, not force-fed.”

I suspiciously look at the three. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Liberty scowls at me. “That’s a shitload of denial.”

“I’m not denying shit!”

Dash laughs. “No kidding, Liberty Bell.”

Not caring about their continued rambling, I look to the staircase. “I’m going up there.”

Getting up from the couch, Dash states, “No, you’re not.”

Liberty heads for the stairs. “I’ll go.”

As she leaves, Dash stands next to me with an accusatory frown. “You threw that box of condoms into my room.”

Rio asks, “What condoms?”

“Calder thought it’d be funny to give me a massive box as a gift, signing your name, too. So, no thanks, Duquesne.”

Pursing his lips, Rio rubs his forehead. “Oh, Douche. You’re so bizarre.”

“I should’ve been more grateful, loading them up and then tossing them onto Calder’s bed.”

“Gross.” He clears his throat. “Speaking of that, I don’t want details, but I’m telling you this. If you got her pregnant this weekend, you’d better not drop her.” I warned Finn about doing that to Hadley. How in the hell is it coming back to me now? Unbelievable.

“Fuck you, Dash.”

Rio says, “Oh, no, Jare. I’ll back him up on this.”

I glower at him, crossing my arms. “Well then, fuck you, too. Like I’d ever do that to her.”

Calder argues, “Well, look what you just did to Merrick!”

Peering over to the stairs, I mumble, “We were careful.” I scrape my hand through my hair, looking to both of them. “This was not my fault! Dash, you asked me if Kat and I were having sex, and then Liberty egged me on!”

“Jare! You’re not blaming anyone else for this! It was all you! You’re the one who joked about it. Take responsibility for your actions!”

Done with this shit, I move to go upstairs, but Dash promptly blocks me. “I’m going to have to talk to her eventually, Calder, so move.” He’s stupid if he thinks he can stop me.

“Not tonight, you’re not.”

“I want her to know I didn’t…”

“Do it tomorrow before we leave.”

“Jare. He’s right. Tomorrow.”

I hate the way they’re judging me. I roll my eyes. “Fine. I’m going to bed.”

Dash finally steps out of my way, and I go upstairs, but he watches me from the bottom.

Furtively looking down the hall as I go to my room, I notice Rio’s bedroom door is open, but I don’t see Liberty skulking around. She’s still with Kat. Bitch.

I take a quick shower and go to bed, but I don’t sleep. I can’t. Every noise I hear in the hallway makes me look at the door to see if Kat is sneaking in, but she doesn’t. Sadness settles into me everywhere.

I can’t let it go on like this.

When the house is finally quiet, I check the clock on my nightstand, reading 2:33. Getting out of bed, I go down the hall to Kat’s room. Slowly turning the doorknob, I’m not surprised to find it stiff. I reach up to the top of the doorjamb, feeling around for the wiry key that I know is there. Working the lock, I wince when the door lightly creaks as I push it open. Returning the key, I assess the dim hallway to make sure I wasn’t being watched before going into her room.

Carefully shutting the door, I quietly make my way over to her bed. The light from a nearby street lamp illuminates the floor enough that I don’t have to feel my way.

Gingerly getting into bed with her, I cautiously inch closer, staring at the back of her striped hair.

After a minute of listening to her breathing, she asks, “What’re you doing here?”

I slightly jump. “Have you been awake?”

“I knew you’d be here. I guess if you can build a skyscraper, you can open a locked door.”

I hesitantly mumble, “I couldn’t sleep.” Kat softly sighs. I try not to touch her, but it’s hard not to. “I can’t say anything that’ll make this better. I’ve been a total asshole this weekend.” She doesn’t reply, but she isn’t yelling at me, which is a positive sign. “I didn’t intend to humiliate you.”

She quietly answers, “I was a meaningless fling.”

Propping my head on my upright hand, I argue, “You weren’t. That’s the truth. Sex brought us closer.”

“Physically, but I feel further away from you now.”

I sigh. “Kat, roll over so that I’m not talking to the back of your head.”

“Just go back to your bed, Jared. I meant it. I’m not having sex with you anymore.”

“I wasn’t asking.”

I sense her surprise by the way she holds her breath. Ultimately, Kat says, “You couldn’t sleep. So? Neither can I.”

I whisper, “Then, let’s suffer together.” Tentatively, I put my arm around her and rest my chin on her shoulder. I feel her body tense, and I assume it’s not a good thing, but still, she’s not elbowing me in the gut or back-kicking me in the balls. “I want to be here with you.”

“I’m not delusional. You don’t have to pretend to want to be with me now.”

“I do want you.”

She scoffs against her pillow, “Only for sex.”

“Something we’re no longer having.”

“You laughed, Jared. You made me a joke.”

I reach down and brush my fingers over her hand, but she jerks it away. “I’m sorry, Kit Kat. I wasn’t making fun of you. I was biting back at Liberty, and I got carried away.”

Silence drifts heavily between us until she says, “Liberty says she’ll help me get my license.”

Lifting my head, I’m determined. “I am. That doesn’t change.”

Kat raggedly whispers, “Maybe… Maybe it should. You’re not responsible for me. You’re not even my boyfriend.”

Peering down at her profile, I ask, “Why do you have to put a label on what I am to you?”

“Because I thought you were special to me. I wanted you to stand out from the rest.”

I drift closer to her face, softly saying, “You are special to me, Kat. I just don’t want to ruin what we have.”

“We don’t have anything.” Her voice catches, and my chest aches.

Trying for her hand again, I take it whether she likes it or not. “We do. Kat, I need you in my life. I didn’t know how much until you weren’t there.”

“You’re leaving, Jared. Don’t forget that.”

“But I’m not leaving you. Don’t you forget that.”

Closing her eyes, she tucks her face into her pillow more. “When you come back to visit Dash, don’t expect me to be waiting with open legs.”

I gape at her. “Kat. Jesus. I’m not using you. You’re the only one I’ve not used for sex.” It’s an expression of what I feel for her. With Kat, I don’t want it to end.

She rolls her head against the pillow. “God. I don’t want to hear about all the women you’ve slept with. I’m sure it’s… a lot.”

“It’s not that bad. I don’t have an exact number, but—”

Her eyes fly open. “It doesn’t matter. It’s up to you what you do with your… life.”

Resting the side of my head against the side of hers, I whisper, “But it does matter. With you, it wasn’t just about getting off. I can’t describe it, but I felt… something… with you.”

“My breast.”

Irritated, I slightly raise my head. “Now, you’re the one joking.” Sighing, she cringes in the dim light. Returning my head to hers, I ask, “So, do you have a little black book?”

“No. I’ve only been with three.” What?

“Really?”

She nods, moving my head. “I guess I do have an exact number. Maybe I’ll get it right on my fourth.” Holy fuck.

I’ll rip off his goddamn dick.

Licking my lip, I ask, “Is… he… still in your life?” Fuck. I hope not.

“He’s gone. Since everything has been taken care of, we no longer talk. I didn’t love him. He was only a Band-Aid.”

I guardedly ask, “For what?”

She whispers, “For my broken heart.”

“Who was that fucker you dated in high school? He was your first, wasn’t he?”

“He was, but he was my first Band-Aid. He wasn’t the one who broke my heart.”

Confused, I say, “You said you didn’t date anyone else.”

I hear her sharp intake of air. “I didn’t… Jared.”

The way she says that makes every hair on my body stand on end. “Kat…”

“You left me, barely saying goodbye. You didn’t even look back.”

“I-I couldn’t look back. I thought you were…” I sigh into her hair. “Fuck.”

“I lost you that day, but now, you’re back in my life. Yet, it’s a tease.”

“I’m not leaving you. We’ll still be together.”

“We’re not together. You’re not responsible for my happiness.”

“But I want to contribute to it. We are together, Kat. I want us to enjoy the time I’m here and maybe… Maybe we can see where it goes.”

She shakes her head, surprising me. “We both want different things. I’m a teacher. I like kids, so I want to have a baby someday.”

I don’t have an immediate response I want to share. The thought of her getting pregnant by some other fucker sends a hot wave over me, and my hand tightens around hers.

She goes on. “I want to be in love with the man who fathers my children.” Is she still searching for love? That shit will no doubt be the end of humanity.

Through my teeth, I warn, “You’ll only get hurt.”

“My heart can’t break any more than it already has.”

“Jesus.” I sigh, my breath blowing down the front of her shirt.

“Maybe we were meant to be just friends.”

Oddly, my throat constricts. That’s what I’ve wanted, yet I feel like she did just back-kick me in the balls.

I’m able to whisper, “If you’ll still have me.” We’re both quiet, with only our staggered breathing punctuating the silence.

When my throat relaxes more, I say, “I’m sorry for breaking your heart in school, Kit Kat. I didn’t know I did. I’ll find some way to make it up to you.” I want to tell her she broke mine, too, but inexplicably, repairing her broken heart is more important than worrying about mine, which has been wrecked for much longer.

“You can’t just make it up to me.”

My fingers slide against hers. “I want to try.”

“I don’t want you to fix it, only to break it again.”

“Christ. Kat. It’ll be different this time. I promised you that you’re the only one I’ll be with.”

“We can’t, Jared. I won’t delude myself, believing or hoping for a better ending to this summer. So, please don’t ask me to just as I won’t ask you to delude yourself into wanting something you really don’t. Give me that much respect.”

Swallowing my protest, I close my eyes and nod, whispering, “Okay.” That’s the only response I’m able to give as I listen to her muffled sobs.

Kat tearfully says, “You probably should go.” She pulls away, but I hold her against me. I need to hold onto her.

As she cries, I kiss behind her ear and numbly stroke her arm, but I don’t go beyond that. I want to so I can remind her what she does to me. It’s not just about sex, even if that’s the only way I know how to show her.

Holding Kat, I fight the urge to roll her onto her back to kiss her lips, but I wouldn’t be able to stop there, and she doesn’t want to have that with me anymore.

How was I lucky enough to have Kat return to my life, only to lose her without even trying? What did I do to deserve this?

Why can’t I have the life with her that she wants?

I want to be in love with her. Fuck, I do.

But I’m not.

I can’t.

And I’m fucking grateful.

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