The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 22

“None of our cars have been stolen.”

“Do you think he’s in there with her?”

“After last night, he can’t be.”

“I can’t imagine she’d let him—”

“No way. You two aren’t doing this. Get away from the door.”

“I wonder if this means he came to his senses?”

“Only if Jericho got his head out of his ass. I doubt that happened.”

I roll my eyes and then close them, inhaling into her side-swept hair. With my head propped on my curled arm on my pillow and my lips against sleeping Kat’s forehead, I intermittently kiss her but keep it light enough she doesn’t notice. My hand rests on her hip, and I battle the constant urge to draw her closer to me, drifting my fingers over her skin to awaken her and making her beg until we’re heatedly panting together as our loud moans fill the room.

Yeah. A monstrously bad idea.

Last time I was loud, it cost me big.

Since she had rolled over hours ago, I’ve been cautiously motionless, so I don’t wake her, ending what we unexpectedly found together this weekend.

Kat cried herself to sleep, and I was unable to help as usual. All I could do was lie here, holding onto her until her sobs quieted. I maybe slept for twenty minutes. For the most part, I’ve been listening to her steady breathing and silently begging for someone to give me the answers to the mounting list of questions I’ve been asking my entire life, even more so now.

Kat stirs against me in her sleep. Her hands fall against my chest, and she lightly tugs on my chest hair. Christ. This is not easy.

Seemingly content, she sighs, which causes me to, but more out of frustration over the entire situation.

“Jared?” Kat quietly slurs as she moves, and I promptly take my hand off her. Tipping my head back, I look down at her blinking eyelids before she brings her sleepy gaze up to my face. “You’re still here?”

“Not leaving you,” I repeat what I said last night.

Looking back to my chest, she mumbles, “Oh. You didn’t have to.”

“I wanted to.”

As Kat re-situates herself, she slides her leg up, her knee grazing my thigh, and I impulsively pull away from her.

“Sorry,” she mutters, sitting up. Kat puts distance between us and combs her hand through her messy hair. As she does this, her shirt rides up, and I can tell she’s not wearing a bra, forcing me to remember how her hard nipples felt on my tongue and how sweet her skin tasted. Fuck. I can’t take this. When my gaze unwillingly falls, I see a sliver of her stomach above the waistband of her shorts, and my balls agonizingly tighten. I move my hand to cover my hardening, but I can’t completely hide it.

Unintentionally, I peer up to her face. She has to notice the uncontrollable burning look in my eyes. Kat’s gaze travels to my hand, futilely hiding my reaction to her. I could move, but then it would be more visible. Jesus. She’ll think I’m only thinking of doing one thing. Truth is, I’m thinking of doing more than one thing to her.

Kat blinks, her eyes falling on my bare chest. “Uh… I need to go to the bathroom.” She hurriedly turns away, shaking the bed as she scurries to the edge. I quietly sigh, knowing that this is the new normal for us, even if things weren’t normal in the first place when it began a few days ago.

When she walks to my side of the bed, I quickly twist around and swing my legs over the side. Leaning forward, I prop my elbows on my legs to bury my hard-on.

Warily looking over at me as she opens her suitcase, Kat says, “I’m taking a shower.”

I nod, and she continues to look uneasy, anxiously playing with her hair and straightening out her shirt. Kat has always been fucking sexy, but since the first time I’ve been inside her, she’s even sexier, and I can’t stop staring at her.

She crosses her arms, lifting her tits, which works against me. “Um, so, I’ll need to be in here.” When I continue to stare, she clears her throat. “Alone, Jared.”

Blinking out of my trance, I shake my head. “Oh. Um, yeah. Okay.” I ruefully smile, but my smile doesn’t last long. “Sorry.”

Turning from me, she sighs, grabbing things for her shower, and I’m back to watching her every move. Dash was right about one thing. Just watching Kat move around is a potential porno waiting to happen.

She looks over her shoulder and notices me still on her bed. “What?”

“You’ve only driven once since Wednesday.”

Dangling a dark blue T-shirt in her hand, she counters, “I drove with Liberty.”

I irritably scowl, deflating my hard-on. “That doesn’t count.”

“Yes, it does.”

“Oh.” I bow my head again and sigh. “Right.”

“You probably should go before they all think we…”

I laugh. “Does it matter what they think after…?” I hang my head again, fucking hating myself for letting Rio’s bitch get to me last night. Things would be so different this morning. I’d be inside Kat, hurtling to our orgasms, instead of inside my head sprinting to a breakdown.

I look up to see her choosing a pair of gray shorts from her suitcase and idly gazing around the room. “I guess not. The damage has already been done.”

“There’s no damage, Kat. It’s me they have a problem with. They don’t think any less of you.”

Kat looks at me and sadly says, “But I do, Jared.”

“You shouldn’t. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I kind of exploited you.”

My forehead wrinkles as I contemplate that. “To get closer to me? All you had to do was ask.” Kat tucks a pair of pink underwear into her pile of clothes, which reminds me of when I licked my fingers. Goddamn it.

She frowns. “Ask you for sex? That’s not the way I wanted to get closer to you.” She shakes her head, and her frown intensifies. “Why does it matter now?”

“We’re still friends, so it does matter.”

“You don’t tell Dash everything.”

“He’s different.”

“What about Rio?”

My irritation builds. “Not the same.”

“Why not? They’re your best friends. Why would I be any different from them?”

I shrug as her poorly hidden underwear catches my eye. “I don’t know. Maybe they aren’t my best friends.” I can still taste her. Just thinking about how delicious she’d taste when I lick inside her…

If I had.

Damn it to hell.

She asks, “Why do you think that? They would do anything for you, and they do more than you even realize.”

Tightening my fingers together, I tersely answer, “Apparently, I’m not doing that great in the friends department.”

She inches closer to the door. “Hopefully, you’ll get better.”

“I doubt I will.”

Kat holds onto her pile of clothes like it’s her security blanket. “You’ll also meet new people in Philadelphia.”

“I don’t care.”

“You should care. It’s your new home.”

“I’ll only work there. I’ll still be in Annapolis quite a lot.”

She yanks her lips to the side. “It’s farther than Baltimore. You’ll come back that often for Dash?”

Looking right at her, I say, “Not him.”

Understanding flickers in her eyes, and they blink closed for a few seconds. “Jared…” She shakes her head as her eyes open. “I will not be your damn port of call.” I’d think that was funny if she weren’t so serious, thinking that’s what I imagine she’d be to me.

Fuck. I’ll need a keg tonight.

“You’ve basically said that already, but I was talking about my dad. You know. Try to be a better son, too.”

“Oh.” Kat pulls in her lips, looking slightly embarrassed she made a wrong assumption about me.

I smirk. “You, Kat. Yes, I’ll be visiting you.”

Twisting to the door, she mumbles, “I don’t think so, Jared.”

Not wanting Kat to leave yet, I shoot off the bed and go over to her, but don’t get too close. So I don’t touch her, I put my hands on my hips. “We said no regrets. I don’t want to see you wallowing in it.”

Kat only looks at the door. “Maybe it was a mistake.” That was a fucking sledgehammer to my gut.

“I’ll never see it that way. Please, Kat. Say you don’t, either. It’s something that we both wanted for so long.” Something I wanted, at least.

She whispers, “It was.”

“How can you regret us sleeping together when you married someone you shouldn’t have?”

She turns to face me, her expression stoic. “Because the fallout of my marriage was nothing compared to the fallout of you. After you left, I cried for months on end and missed you every fucking day since.”

My jaw drops like a penny from a skyscraper. “Christ. Why am I that damn significant to you?” I’ve been living the same, miserable way, though. How in the fuck is it possible that we walked similar paths without even knowing?

Her eyes glaze over. “Because you are, Jared. I…” She rapidly blinks and looks at the door again. “I need a shower.”

I sigh as Kat promptly leaves the room, leaving me alone. Yet, outside of being in the Nissan with her, I should get used to it.

Leaving in her scented wake to go to my room, Dash rounds the corner, and we both abruptly stop. He looks me up and down, and since I’m shirtless, I can only imagine what he’s imagining I was doing.

“Where were you, Jericho?”

I impatiently glower at him, wanting to mess up his hair. Throwing him into the ocean before we leave will remedy that. “I’ve been here.”

Calder looks past me, whispering, “You slept with Merrick again?”

“Stay out of it.”

He smirks. “Maybe you should stay out of her.”

I grab a handful of his T-shirt, yanking him closer. “You didn’t just fucking say that.”

“Don’t you remember your little scene last night? So, you do owe an explanation of why you were in her room.”

“I slept in the same room as her. That’s all. Is that enough to quench your thirsty curiosity?”

Dash pulls on my arm but not that hard. “I’m looking out for Kat, Jared.”

“So am I. Back off.” I let go of him and try to walk around, but he steps with me.

“Hang on. Has she forgiven you already?”

I shove his arm. “Fuck off, Calder.”

Pushing past him, I go into my room, slamming my door. I stay in there until I hear Dash and Rio talking about loading the cars.

Taking my suitcase downstairs, Rio looks up from his phone. “Who are you riding with, Jare?”

“You.”

Dash rips the pink sucker from his mouth. “You’re supposed to be riding back to Annapolis with me.”

I set my suitcase next to Rio’s. “The only place you’re driving me to is the brink of fucking insanity.”

As he returns to his phone, Rio says, “It’s no problem. Kat’s riding with Lib.”

Dash screeches, “What the hell? Why are three of us driving to Annapolis? Jericho and Kat can just ride with me.”

Rio raises an eyebrow. “It’s probably best if she doesn’t.”

Kat comes down the stairs with her suitcase, and when she nears the bottom, I walk over and take it from her. She gives me a brief smile and mumbles a thank you.

Liberty opens the door, smiling at Rio, and I have to move, so I’m not tempted to drag her to the ocean with Dash.

Calder whines, “So, I have to drive back alone?”

I offer, “I’ll drive your car back.”

His fake pout changes to a genuine frown. “You’ll burn out the clutch.”

I smirk. “Now, would I do that to you of all people?”

“Without a doubt.”

Dash slides a hand into his hair while smacking Duquesne’s chest with the other. “Isn’t Jericho outrageous, Rio? I mean, he’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.”

Liberty cackles, “Jem!” She throws her arms around Dash’s neck from behind, making Kat laugh, which makes me smile. Rio and I raise an eyebrow at each other as they laugh over fucking nothing.

When the cars are loaded, I stop Kat on the way out the door. “We’ll drive tomorrow afternoon.”

Still not looking at me, she says, “My driving class will be in the evenings at 6:00, but they haven’t given me a start date yet. Hopefully, this week.”

“Okay. Let me know.”

“My mom can take me.” She shrugs and goes to walk outside, but I grab her arm, turning her to face me. I look at the cars to see who’s watching, but I can’t tell from the sun’s reflection off the windows.

“Kat. I will.”

I almost bend to kiss her, but I effectively stop myself, crossing my arms. Dash and Liberty are probably texting each other with their commentary, no doubt.

She half-heartedly smiles at me before walking over to the wench’s white Audi A4. Nice car. Too bad the owner downgraded its resale value straight to the shitter.

Knowing that skank probably will let Kat drive, I’m instantly nervous. “Kat.” She swiftly spins around, and I say, “Don’t be driving on the interstate without me.”

She doesn’t answer as she climbs into the passenger seat but gives me a quick, rebellious look before they pull out of the driveway.

Son of a bitch, I need a drink.

Several.

The ride home with Rio, I slept most of the way. He didn’t feel compelled to yammer on about my behavior or want to talk about my fucking feelings. Maybe he should’ve become a shrink instead of a pussy whisperer.

When I wheel my suitcase into the front door, Dad looks up from his laptop. “Hey, bud. How was your trip?”

“Fine.” Parking my suitcase at the bottom of the stairs, I go into the kitchen for something to drink. He expectedly follows me but doesn’t say anything, which is weird. I glance over at him as I open the refrigerator door, noticing his perceptive grin. I roll my eyes as I peer inside. I wish he’d get a new fridge. “What, Dad?”

“Did Kat have a nice time?”

Seeing his smug expression from over the top of the door, I say, “Ah. You were in on the joke, too.”

Crossing his arms, he says, “No. Brenda told me Thursday morning about Kat going. I had no idea until then. It was supposed to be a surprise for you.”

I look back to the contents of the fridge, irritated that there’s no more beer. “She wasn’t my surprise. She went because Rio invited her.”

“Were you glad to see her?”

Settling for a bottle of water, I shut the door. “I didn’t gush about it in an infomercial, but I was okay with it.”

He smiles. “So, you two got to spend some time together outside a car. How was that?”

I frown at his strange mirth. “Uh, it was fine since we do that at the construction.”

I walk over to the bar to see if I got any of my forwarded mail. Setting down my water bottle, I sort through my bills, trying to sound uncaring. “Why does it matter what we did at the beach?”

“I just thought you spending time with her would be nice.”

I toss my mail back down. “That still doesn’t answer my question.”

He fluffs his hair while covering a slow yawn. He’s stalling. Picking up my water, I sigh. “Just say it, Dad.”

He crosses his arms again. “Are you dating Kat?”

I angle my head to look at the ceiling. “Jesus. I just walked in the door.” I pull on my hat and drone, “Not dating.” I then smile, making his disappear. “Doing the nasty will complicate our friendship, and we’ve decided against it, acting like mature, responsible adults. If that changes and we elect to go without our clothes, I’ll make sure you get the first engraved announcement.”

He sighs with an eye roll. “Jared Adam.” Still aiming for that unobtainable triad.

Gulping my water until it’s gone, I slam the empty bottle onto the counter, noisily crushing the cheap plastic into a flat pile. I then look at him with a shrug. “You asked.”

“I didn’t ask for all of that.”

I frown. “I’m surprised you’re endorsing your son to be so irresponsible.”

“I was only wondering if things changed between you two. Things still could.”

Truly surprised by his audacity, I shake my head. “Holy sh— No! You told me to stay away from her! What’s your problem?”

“When you’re with her, you finally look happy. I can’t help but notice that.” Holy fuck. He won’t leave this alone.

“So? I’m also happy when I hit an interstate with no cars around me, or when I’m not being grilled about what makes my heart swell with disgusting joy. You read way too much into things.”

“I don’t think I am.”

“She’s not my type! Satisfied?” I grab my car keys. “I’ll be back.”

“Jared.”

I keep walking until I’m behind the wheel of my Charger, squealing tires out of the driveway.

I need to get drunk ASAP. It’s been entirely too long since I haven’t been able to remember my own trifecta.

“Morning, Jericho. You look a little rough.”

Ignoring him, I rub a hand over my face as I peruse the clipboard containing Tony’s daily to-do list that he leaves in his van.

Smelling his probable MC Hammer cologne, I know Calder is behind me before he says, “I didn’t think you’d be here today. It might be awkward for you.”

Flipping through the pages, I shrug. “Nothing’s awkward, only annoying.” I pointedly peer up from the papers to Dash, who rolls his eyes.

While I return to the clipboard, Dash leans his shoulder against the doorframe. The sun reflecting off his hair nearly whites out the page I’m reading. “You did see Kat naked, or was it more of a wham-bam kind of thing?”

Throwing the board onto the seat, I grab a hammer from Tony’s toolbox and thrust it into Dash’s face. “What was that you just fucking said? I warned you to watch your mouth!”

He backs away from me. “Holy shit! Did you skip out on coffee or your chill pill this morning?”

“Dash, don’t make fucking jokes! She’s off-limits!”

“Okay! I’m sorry! Shit.”

Satisfied somewhat, I toss the hammer back into the box and spin my hat around, giving him another warning look.

“So, it wasn’t just about cheap thrills for you?”

I glare at him but go with the truth as I check my phone messages. “No.”

“Then, what was it?”

I darkly laugh. “I’m not fucking talking to you about that.”

“Why can’t you? I’m serious. I just wanted to see if she mattered to you.”

Shoving my phone into my jeans, I snap, “Fuck you.”

“Jericho, I know you’re hurting. You broke up.”

Checking my watch, I argue, “We weren’t even together to break up. We’re still friends. Drop it.”

“Yeah, but you don’t miss seeing me naked.” He smirks, and I immediately dispute that shit.

“How can I ever forget? Gym classes? When we stayed at each other’s houses? You stripping your clothes when I was still in the room? Jesus Christ. You’re always taking off your damn clothes. What about when you stripped on the school’s track, senior year, because you lost a bet to Trey Dawson? I was there, Calder. And Trey never said you had to strip naked.”

Dash shrugs. “I have nothing to hide.”

I frown at his nonchalance. “Apparently, son of a stripper. I’m still scarred for life.”

“You could’ve looked away, Jericho.”

“You always did it so fast I didn’t have a chance! And for the track stripping, we were all shocked. I don’t think any of us could look away.”

Shaking his head, Dash laughs. “Well, I hope you and Merrick talked, at least.”

Looking around, I ask, “Where is she anyway?”

“She didn’t tell you? She isn’t coming over today.”

Dropping my arms, I demand, “What? Why?”

“She says she doesn’t feel well.”

“Why didn’t she tell me?”

“Maybe her illness has to do with you.”

Annoyed again, I bite, “I didn’t give her anything.”

“Think again.” Holy fuck.

“I did not knock her up. Shit. That’s quick. If you think—”

He sighs and pushes off the van. “That’s not what I was saying. Damn. Thanks for reminding me of what you were doing with her to cause that.”

I roll my eyes. “Shut up.” Like I don’t have to imagine what he wants to do to my sister.

“I have to say, you both were stealthy about it.”

“We weren’t as sneaky as you think.”

“I don’t want to know.” He starts walking but stops, turning to me. “Just tell me you didn’t do it on my bed.”

“We didn’t.”

“Holy shit. That’s what you were doing with her in the Jacuzzi. Wasn’t it?”

I try not to waver my gaze. “Just talking.”

He laughs. “Thank God! You know how awkward that would be if I did interrupt you, especially in there?”

I shake my head as I look to the street. “Can’t imagine.”

“It would also be hypocritical since you commented on Rio and Liberty having sex in there.”

“Okay, Dash. I’m done here.”

As I walk into the house, I text Kat, asking how she’s doing, but she doesn’t answer. I text her repeatedly, yet still no reply.

This is fucking ridiculous.

Changing my mind and walking back outside, I get in my car and go to my grandparents’s house to grab the Nissan. I then drive over to Kat’s apartment. When I knock on her door, there’s no immediate response, so I try several more times before I text her, warning that she needs to answer the door, or I’ll call her mother to open it since I’m guessing she has a spare.

If that fails, I am good with locks, and I have all goddamn day.

Two, long minutes later, Kat answers the door. She’s somewhat disheveled with her brown-and-purple, limp ponytail, worn sweat shorts, an old T-shirt with our high school’s name emblazoned across her tits, and without makeup. She’s wearing gold-framed glasses. I swear they’re the same ones she wore in school. Behind those glasses, her eyes are red. Still, she’s the one to ask, “What’s wrong?”

Inhaling, I prop my fist on the doorframe. “I’ve been asking you that all damn day!”

“Oh. My phone’s in the kitchen. You called my number this time?” I scowl while she winces, wrapping her arm around herself. “My stomach hurts. I told Dash. He said he’d tell you.”

My eyes fall on her stomach. “Are you feeling any better?” She shakes her head when I look up. “You don’t think you can drive today?”

“If I do, my mom is grocery shopping later. She’ll let me drive.”

“No. Call me. I’ll take you driving.”

She leans on her door. “Jared, I need to try driving with other people. I can’t completely depend on you.”

“You’re trying to not be dependent on people. That’s why I’m helping you get your license.”

“But…”

“No fucking way. Don’t be hiding from me. Is this what you’re doing?”

“I don’t feel right. I’ll try driving with you tomorrow. I need to go back to bed.”

“Do you need me to do something? I can come in and make you soup or something?”

She moves away from the door. “Just go. I’ll be all right. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“What if I sit on the couch and watch TV with you? You can use me as a pillow.” Shit. A stiff pillow. “I can’t do anything for you, Kit Kat?”

She averts her gaze to the porch. “I need to be alone.”

I watch her actively trying to erase me from her porch, if not her life. Reluctantly, I say, “It looks like you’ve been crying.”

“I’m not.”

“Not currently.” I impatiently sigh. “Kat, come on. Don’t keep trying to drive me away. It won’t work.”

She steps back, grabbing the edge of the door. “I can’t. My stomach. I have to go.”

I want to yell. I want to break something. I want to… kiss her. So much.

But I can’t.

I warn, “If you’re not at the site tomorrow, I’ll be back here.”

“Bye, Jared.” She shuts the door, and I’m left gaping at it.

Not in a sociable mood, I skip out on the rest of the day at the house and drive aimlessly around until I find myself at Quiet Waters Park.

From there, I walk to an overlook and watch people on the paddleboats, remembering the time Kat and I spent laughing, teasing each other, and making small confessions. I want the easiness of our friendship, but I also want what we found this weekend. Did having sex really drive us apart?

I need her.

I haven’t left for Philly yet, but I feel like Kat has left Annapolis.

And me.

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