The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 23

Tuesday morning at the construction, I do get a text this time from Kat saying she’s not coming. She can’t keep sidestepping me. It’s a flimsy lie to shut me up.

I drive to her apartment, but when I round the corner to her building unit, a bolt of color snags my attention, and I slow down, seeing a red truck sitting in her driveway.

Pulling up behind it, I notice the sports window decals, boat hitch, and a pine-tree air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.

This reeks of belonging to a person with a cock and balls.

After ten minutes of watching her apartment, nobody emerges from her front door. Every second I sit, staring at the walkway, I have to fight the compulsion to not knock on her door, breaking up whatever the fuck they’re doing.

This is how she tries to cover up her regret of fucking me? I’m a split decision away from kicking open her door, ripping off his goddamn balls, and cramming them into the bastard’s mouth.

Picking up my phone, I text her to casually ask how she’s doing, but she doesn’t reply, which isn’t surprising if she’s… busy.

Jesus. It’s killing me that I may need to take a number.

Fuck that shit.

Throwing open the car door, I get out, but before shutting the door, I realize I’m acting like a jealous… boyfriend.

Shit. Not happening.

I dig my hands underneath my hat, staring at her front door from the edge of her sidewalk, torn. This is the very thing I used to do in school, watching her carry on with her day like I didn’t exist when in the next breath, she was smiling and saying hello to me, ripping out my goddamn heart.

Grudgingly, I get back into the Nissan and gun it out of the complex, pissed off at myself for getting carried away.

At the build, I was severely distracted, which always begged people to question what was on my mind. Even Tony, who’d rather read Braille with a hammer, asked me. After that, I took off for the day, again sitting at the park watching paddleboats drift along the water. Unfortunately, that allows for the hurt to drift into my veins. Keeping my trip short, I went home, spending the rest of the afternoon staring at the TV but refraining from drinking since my dad will fire off his own set of questions. His aren’t easy to answer, and I can’t let anything slip.

Why can’t he have all the fucking answers for once?

Wednesday morning, I debate if I should go straight to Kat’s apartment to pick her up, but ultimately decide against it since that hovers stalker territory. After this weekend, I need to take a step back from her, just as she’s doing to me.

My dad has the day off from work, which means he’s at the site inspecting me like I’m some kind of science experiment ready to explode all over a wall.

As I work on untangling an extension cord for a circular saw, he slaps me on the back. “You okay, bud?”

I look up, irritated at the cord and him. “Why is everyone asking me that?”

“Who’s everyone? You haven’t been here long.”

I scowl at the orange clusterfuck, pulling on it harder with annoyance. “Yesterday, that was the question of the day here. Nobody has their own lives to worry about?”

“Some people are just insightful.”

“About what? I’m as boring as they come.”

Dad laughs. “So you say.” I roll my eyes at him, and he looks around. “Where’s Kat?”

I cringe at the cord for his persistence on that subject. “Am I suddenly her keeper?”

“No,” he draws out, sounding somewhat confused.

Without thinking, I say, “She’s sick. Has Brenda mentioned what’s wrong?”

As I finally unravel the fucking knot, he says, “She said Kat was sick. I thought she’d be back by now.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

“Hey, Jericho. Mr. Beckett.”

I ignore Calder while I plug the saw into the cord. I know he and my dad are giving each other a look behind my back. It pisses me off, but my overloaded mind is elsewhere. I don’t want to waste the energy arguing with them.

After a minute of their silent conversation, I have all my shit together to get back to work. My dad notices me gathering my tools and says, “I’m finding Tony.”

When he leaves, I spin around, aiming the saw at Dash. “Whose red truck would be at Kat’s apartment?”

Dash’s eyes bug out. “I don’t know!”

“She didn’t mention having anyone over yesterday?”

His gaze is stuck on the blade. “No! Come on, Jared! Put it down!”

I creep closer to him, and he moves behind a sawhorse like that’ll protect him. “I’m telling your dad!” he says, laughing, but his eyes divulge his fear.

I lower it and laugh at his scared expression. “Like I’d kill you with this. I guess you don’t know me that well, after all.”

Dash apprehensively laughs, releasing his breath in a huff. “That’s a relief.”

Raising the saw again, I nod at it. “I’d need a masonry blade for your gel and hairspray shit.”

“Thanks, BFF.”

I laugh again because it makes me feel better, especially seeing the look on Calder’s face.

As I grab a pair of safety glasses out of the van, he says, “Wait a minute. How would you know there was a red truck at her place?”

“I went by to see if she was okay, but someone was already there.”

“Oh.” Dash shrugs. “Maybe she’s seeing someone.”

Speaking before I think, I wave the saw. “Why would you fucking say that?”

Dash frowns at the saw and then at me. “Shit, Jericho. Chill out. Why wouldn’t she, unless you are dating and didn’t tell me?”

“No.”

“I don’t know if you want me to say this or not—”

“Not.”

He sighs. “Kat’s your soulmate. Just wanted to remind you.”

“If you don’t want to eat sawdust, you’d better scram.”

“Don’t you need a license to operate that thing?”

Lining up the blade with my pencil mark, I look up and wickedly grin. “No. Isn’t it cool?”

“Jesus, Jericho. How in the hell did you ever pass the civil engineer exam?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“You’re right. You want to go to the races tonight?”

I move the tape measure and look around for my pencil. “Not really.”

“Do you have other plans?”

“I’m supposed to take Kat driving, but she won’t text me back.”

“Why don’t you go see her?”

“No. She seems to be recovering well. I’ll wait for her to call or text me.”

“Okay. So, let’s go to the races tonight. Get your mind off her.”

“It’s not on her.”

He chuckles. “Um, right.”

I rev up the saw like I’m revving up my car, and Dash jumps back. He shouts over the metallic whirring, “Just meet me at our usual spot, same time!”

Rolling my eyes before I put on my glasses, I find my pencil, stick it between my teeth and start the saw again.

Every twenty minutes, I check my phone but still no replies. By the end of the day, I’ve lost my appetite and any remaining sense of humor. Fuck. We’re still in the same city, and I’m already having withdrawal symptoms from not being with Kat. All over again.

Dash does talk me into the races. At the marina, I sit on top of a picnic table with my feet on the seat and my elbows on my thighs, staring out at the gathering boats. I continue to check my phone, but the silence is deafening and aggravates me even more.

“There you are,” Dash says, hopping up onto the weathered table. “I didn’t see your car.”

Watching the boats, I reply, “I didn’t bring it.”

“You walked all the way here?”

I roll my eyes. “I have the Nissan.”

Dash looks over his shoulder to where the Nissan sits, probably next to his. “Why? You haven’t needed to drive it.”

“Because I felt like it.” Because it smells like her perfume now, and it’s where we had our first kiss.

“What the hell? You’re driving a Nissan whatchamacallit, not your Charger? Because you felt like it? Are you sick?”

I scowl at the water. “Fuck off, Dash.”

“What’s wrong, Jericho? Talk. Your dad isn’t here.”

“But you are.”

“You can’t let your problems fester. They’ll eat you alive.”

I turn to give him a dubious look. “Are you reading cue cards Duquesne gave you?”

“No. It’s common sense.” He takes out a green sucker, and I roll my eyes.

“Coming from someone with no sense.”

“I’m the one who has no sense? Really?”

Choosing not to answer him, I keep watching the boats but not caring about what I’m watching.

After a few minutes of peaceful silence, he asks, “You miss Kat, don’t you?”

Gritting my teeth, I warn, “Calder.”

“I know you do, and I know you didn’t sleep with Kat for the hell of it. That was a bunch of bullshit you told Liberty.”

So tired of telling Dash to fuck off since he doesn’t even listen, I sigh as I lift my hat to ruffle my hair. That seems to give him some kind of green light to keep talking. “Being with her meant something to you, didn’t it?”

“Dash,” I turn to give him a dirty look, yet answer, “Yeah, it did.”

Twirling the stick of his green sucker as he stares at it, he says, “Tell her that.”

“I did.”

He looks at me. “You told her that you… what exactly?”

Hanging my head, I tell the ground, “Forget it. If it mattered… Fuck it. Just stop talking.” Raising my head, knowing what I need right now, I mutter, “I’m out of here. Later.”

“Jared, don’t leave.”

I jump off the table and head to the torturous car, needing to get home for another night of drinking until I’m numb, forgetting everything I felt with Kat.

And about how much I fucking miss her.

Thursday, I arrive at the site late morning, having slept in. “Fucker,” I growl, prying out a stubborn, bent nail with the claw end of my hammer.

“Give it hell,” Dash says from the doorway. I shoot him a glare as the nail finally releases its death grip, and I toss it into a nearby trash bucket. “Have you heard from Kat today?”

“No.” I glance at him more warily this time. “Have you?”

He crosses his arms. “No. Tony said she called him this morning saying not to pick her up. I’m worried. This isn’t like Merrick. I need to check on her.”

Distractedly shoving the hammer into my tool belt, I unbuckle it, draping it over a sawhorse. “I’ll go.”

“You sure? I can go with you.”

I dust off my shirt. “No. I’ll talk to her.”

Dash grins but quickly purses his lips. “Okay. Call me. I want to know how she is.”

“Yep.” I walk out of the room, determined to solve Kat’s problem.

Driving over, I think about the reason why she’s hiding. She said that I broke her heart in high school, and now she put her heart on the line to get closer to me. I just hope to God she didn’t listen to Dash’s crazy horoscope shit, or even worse, believing the same thing she did with… him. That only led her to get married for a stupid and nonexistent reason.

Turning onto her street, I immediately notice the red color in front of her apartment. That color bleeds into everything I fucking see.

She promised me she wouldn’t fuck anyone else while I’m here. I don’t give a shit if we’re not fucking anymore.

Stepping on the gas, I pull behind the truck and throw the Nissan into park, not bothering to turn off the engine or shutting the door. I storm up the walkway taking the wooden stairs two at a time.

Not hesitating this go-round, I firmly knock on her door, unsure of what to expect on the other side but preparing to expect the worst and to put up a damn fight.

Kat opens the door within six seconds. Yeah, I counted. Her glasses are gone, her hair is down, yet brushed, but the pained look on her face remains. “Jared? What’s wrong?”

“I’ve been asking you that question all damn week, Kat! No more! What’s going on with you?”

She uneasily tucks hair behind both her ears. “I’m feeling a little better.”

“I can see that. We’re driving today.”

She avoids eye contact as much as possible. “I’m kind of busy right now. Can I meet you at the site?”

“No. Now.” I look past Kat into her living room but don’t see anyone. “Who’s here? Don’t lie to me because it’s obvious someone is.”

“It’s not—”

“Are you dating someone? Couldn’t you wait until I’m gone? You had to do it while I’m still fucking in town? Is he the boyfriend you need?”

“Jared, I—”

“Don’t even, Katriona! I—” A brunette fucker walks into the living room from the hallway, and a smile lights up his damn face.

Shit.

Goddamn it.

Kat flips her hand in his direction as he walks over. “Jared, this is my brother, Pete.”

Kat isn’t cheating on me.

Holy fuck. Thank God.

Pete asks, “I saw you at Oceanic with Dash Calder, right? You look familiar like I’ve seen you somewhere else, though.”

Kat says, “He was a year between us in high school, Pete. You probably know Jared from him playing football since you were in the band.” Fuck. I’m an idiot.

Swiftly nodding, he shouts, “Oh, yeah! Okay!”

He puts his hand out and reaching past Kat, I take it. “Jared Beckett. Nice to meet you.”

“Pete Merrick. Same here.” He narrows his eyes at Kat before looking back at me. “Beckett. I do remember that name. First string? Running back?”

“Wide receiver.”

“I played the trumpet in the band.” I know that. Pete suddenly snaps his fingers. “Shit!” He laughs and smacks Kat’s arm, pointing at me. “Now, I remember why your name is so damn familiar! You were the kid who Kat always asked me for play-by-plays of what you did in the locker room, who you talked to, and what you talked about with anyone. Jesus, it was annoying.”

Christ. I was always listening to his conversations to see if he mentioned his sister. What fucked-up world do we live in?

She covers her mouth, turning to him. “Oh, my God, Pete! Shut up!”

He says, “You two hung around each other in the hallway near my senior English class. I remember because I used to throw wadded paper at her when I walked past.”

I laugh at Kat’s pout. “Yeah.”

Pete asks, “Didn’t you ever go out together?”

Kat says, “No, Peter.” She glares at him, but it makes him grin wider.

“Oh. I get it. Unrequited. That’s sad, Katydid.” He looks at me. “Well, you were at the club together. Are you dating now?”

Kat answers for me, “No! You’re done here.”

He frowns. “You’re the one who wanted me to come over. Don’t be bitchy now.”

She shoves his arm. “Goodbye, jackass. I will talk to you later.”

He rolls his eyes as he teasingly pushes her against the door. “I’m afraid of that.” I move, so he can leave, and he turns to his sister. “Do you want me to follow Jared and report back to you what he says to people today?”

With a look that rivals lava, she seethes, “Go, Pete.”

He laughs. “By the way, kickass karaoke. People talked about you all night.”

I grin. “Thanks. I was a tad drunk.”

“It’s always better when you’re sloshed. So, Kat says you’re helping her get her license?”

Shoving my hands into my pockets, I say, “Yeah.”

“That’s awfully nice of you. She’s a handful. Are you sure you’re not dating?”

“Peter! Get out!”

He looks back at her, laughing before he turns to me again. “Good seeing you, Jared. Come by the club again for some more karaoke and free drinks. I hope you can make sense of my sister because I sure the hell can’t. It’s probably for the best if you aren’t dating her.”

Kat warns, “Go, or I’ll tell Mom you’re home. You know how she’ll love to see you.”

“I’m going. Jesus.”

As he trots down to the stairs, I say, “I have to move the car.”

Kat sighs. “I’ll put my shoes on, and we can leave.” I smile and head for the steps.

When I get to the car, Pete is standing next to his truck. He says, “Hey, I was kidding. Kat’s cool most of the time. So, if you do want to date Kat, don’t use what I said against her.”

I grin. “I won’t. Too much.” We both laugh, and I get into the Nissan.

After moving into the spot Pete occupied in the driveway, I push open her front door and look at the kitchen to see Kat bending, tying her shoe on the seat of a chair. Fuck me. I cannot get a hard-on now.

I cannot. I cannot.

I twist away, heaving my hands into my jeans pockets, peering around her living room. “Nice place.”

“Thanks. I’d like to buy a house someday, but I’ll have to get a car first. I’ve never owned a house before.”

I check out the pictures hanging, but there aren’t many of her. “Me neither.”

“Maybe you will in Philadelphia?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t want something major to call your own? A place to call home?”

I glance at her as she brushes her fingers through her ponytail. “I own a car.” I thought I owned you. “If I don’t like it up there, I’m not buying a house.”

“Why wouldn’t you like it?”

“A lot of reasons. I don’t need a house, anyway.”

I risk looking at her again, and she nods with a shrug. “I did hear their cream cheese is better when eaten in the city.”

I grin. “I’ll try it and let you know if it’s true.”

“Okay.” Her smile slides somewhat, and she tugs at the hem of her shirt, making her tits strain against the material. Fuck.

I nod to the couch. “We can stay here for a while if you want. Watch TV or something.” Shit. My something definitely won’t be her something.

“I’ve been cooped up in here. Let’s go somewhere.” I’m relieved yet disappointed at the same time.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Nowhere in particular.”

I cock my head and smile. “That’s my favorite place.”

Her responding smile is shaky. “I’ll meet you downstairs after I lock the door.”

“You okay?”

“Yep.” She grabs her key, not saying more. Sighing, I go down to the car.

Leaning my elbow on the roof, I prod my fingers underneath my hat, restlessly waiting for her. When she finally comes around the corner of the garage, I lift my head with a smile. Kat walks past me to go around the car, and I ask, “Where’re you going?”

At the rear of the Nissan, Kat spins around, genuinely confused. “I… Uh… To get in the car?”

“Huh-uh. Wrong side.”

“I have to start now?”

Grinning, I step closer but keep a distance. “Oh, yeah. Right now.”

When she approaches me, I go to move, but she goes the same way. We continue to block each other until I laugh and grab her arms. “You move.” Her eyes grow wide, and she darts out of my way, causing my hands to clutch air. Looking behind me, she’s already in the car, buckling her seatbelt.

I go to the passenger side and getting in, I notice her staring at the wheel but not making an effort to do much else. “You can start the car, you know.”

Kat nods. “Sure. Sorry.” She starts the car, but only that.

I deeply inhale, her perfume slamming me in the balls like a bag of bricks. “Okay… Check your mirrors, and if it’s clear, put it in reverse.”

“Right.”

“If you’re not focusing, we’re not doing this. You need to get your hours in, though.” And I need to focus on her face, not her tits. Jesus.

She tells the steering wheel, “My mom has been letting me drive with her.”

“Kat. No.”

“It’s getting me hours. Maybe it’s therapeutic for her. I don’t know.” She hesitantly looks at me. “You know you won’t be able to see this to the end, right? My class doesn’t begin until Monday. You’ll be gone before it ends.”

“I’m sure Dash will take you to class, but that doesn’t mean I won’t come back and take you to get your license when you’re finished. I want to do that. We still have time. Just focus on what we have now. The rest will fall into place.” I try to keep a smile but saying that hits me hard.

Her eyes slightly glisten. “I hope so.”

Her gaze falls to the console, and I want to lift her chin, but if I do, I’ll kiss her. “If you don’t feel up to it, you don’t have to drive today.”

“Maybe later.”

“Okay. What do you want to do?” That’s a goddamn loaded question aimed at my fucking head.

She looks up but only to the dashboard. “We can just go to my mom’s house.” Oh. Well, damn.

“We can go to the park and walk around. Paddleboats, maybe?”

Shaking her head, she shuts me down. “No, I can’t.” Kat looks away from me, and I sit back. Damn it.

I sigh, pushing up on my hat as I get out of the car. When I come back to the driver’s side, she’s standing there but doesn’t move. Since there’s a short brick wall lining the driveway, limiting the space where I can stand, I’m close to her, which seems to make her uncomfortable. Feeling awkward, I ask, “What’s wrong?”

If she could meld into the car, she would. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just tired from being sick.”

“Is it something I’ll catch?”

Shoving her hands into the back pockets of her shorts, she frowns. “I doubt it.”

“What was it?”

She blandly shrugs as her pointed gaze dips to my chest. “You didn’t get sick, so I guess you’re immune.”

Impulsively, I put my hands on her cheeks and tilt her head so she’ll look at me, noticing her dark circles and slightly bloodshot eyes. “I was worried about you, Kit Kat.”

She puts her hands on my wrists, dragging them from her face. “At least you are doing fine. I’ve been awake for days.”

I angle my head to look at her face. “Me, too.”

Dropping her head, she gasps like she’s in pain. She starts to move, but I put my hand on the roof, blocking her. “Where’re you going now?”

“I can’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“This twisted dance we’re doing around what happened.”

“I’m not pretending it didn’t happen. No regrets. Remember?”

“I’m trying to forget, but it’s impossible.”

“I don’t want to forget, Kat.” At least most of the time, but alcohol thankfully numbs me for the rest. “Is that why you’re hell-bent on avoiding me?”

“Jared, I—”

“No more excuses. No more avoiding. No more regrets. We move past it.” I wish I could move past it.

But I can’t.

It kills me that Kat is.

We stare at each other, and even though I’m suffering from her remorse, I’m seriously struggling not to kiss her. I need to relive her lips as the jolts spread through my body and sear across my soul.

But I can’t.

I say, “You don’t need to pretend it didn’t happen. I won’t talk about it.” I swallow hard, looking up at the sky. “Okay, Kat. Get in the car.”

“And if I don’t?”

Surprised by her saying that, I lower my head to see her looking up at me, and I tease, “I’ll make your life a living hell.”

Her brown eyes shine in the sun. “You already have.” I’m not sure if she’s joking or not until a small smile plays on her lips.

Unexpectedly, she slides the other way, grabbing the door handle, and dives back into the driver’s seat.

The grin on my face is unexpected, but it feels good.

How in the hell am I going to get through this sober?

It reminds me of when she quoted her mom about having something beautiful with someone. I thought what we had was, but I’m a guy. What the fuck do I know about that shit?

Jesus Christ. Forgetting about our former togetherness is much better for my mental health.

As well as for my not-so-beautiful broken heart.

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