“You okay, Jericho?” Dash knocks my arm with his when it’s clear I’m not into talking.
Whipping my head to face him, I expeditiously string my words together. “Is this a joke? How’d you know about her? Are you shitting me, Calder?”
Dash laughs, of course. “What are you talking about? Kat is a friend of mine. I didn’t know you knew her. We went to Bowie together.”
Kat says, “When my mom was visiting my aunt last fall, her house caught fire. It was a total loss. Jared and his dad are helping with the rebuild.” She darts her eyes to me. “Jared didn’t realize who I was. I thought he forgot about me.”
I never forgot about her.
I’m just an imperceptive moron when it comes to seeing something right in front of my face.
I never wanted to reopen this particular old wound, even if I had my suspicions, fears, and hope that it was her.
Here goes ripping off the bandage that’s been fused to my skin for over a decade.
I was sixteen when I met fifteen-year-old Katriona Merrick. As soon as I saw her in that after-school class, it became apparent something was different about the way she made me feel, and she had yet to even look my way. I was enthralled with her. She was so pretty, but she was one of those girls who didn’t see it. She wore small, gold-rimmed glasses that complemented her chocolate brown eyes, and as much as I liked her chin-length, dark brown hair, it often hid her face, which irritated me. I wanted to move it out of the way, running my fingers through the silkiness. The lip gloss she wore made her lips an iridescent, cherry red. Once, I caught her licking her lips while we were taking notes, and I automatically gripped the edge of my desk. Damn it to hell and back if she didn’t almost drive me to groan out loud.
I was thinking about her to no end—during class and everything in between, the ride home from school, while not eating dinner, not doing homework, in the shower, in bed… Yeah. I was thinking about Kat nonstop. I was distracted and forgetful, having to ask people to repeat things because I wasn’t paying attention the first two times or had forgotten what they told me altogether. My dad and Hadley gave me strange looks that seemed to stay on their faces. I blamed my preoccupancy on complicated gameplays. Luckily, they fell for it, which was a miracle since my dad was always on my ass about something.
In the hallways, I was endlessly looking for Kat, and when I found her, I followed her to see where her classes were. It was ridiculous how much of a stalker I had become. I was late to a couple of my classes more than once, even snaring detention, but being on the football team, it didn’t stick since my coach dragged me out of it after half an hour there. Though, he made me make up for it in extra drills.
In a matter of two weeks, I found myself obsessed with Kat Merrick, yet I didn’t realize the depth of how much until the girl sitting between us called me out.
“Oh, my God. Are you checking out Kat?”
I looked at my desk, caught off guard, yet a buzz coursing through me, and a smile overtaking my face. When I glanced back to Kat, her mouth and eyes were wide open. She looked scared.
So was I.
“Do you like her? You two would look so cute together! You should totally ask her out on a date!”
I wanted to.
Kat jerked her head away, looking at the back of the chair in front of her.
Was that an appalling suggestion? Would she have gone out with me if I asked? I didn’t casually date. I had had a few short-term girlfriends. For the most part, they were restricted to only seeing me at school. I didn’t even do much of the phone thing because many times, I wanted to fucking hang myself with the phone cord.
For our parking lot excursions, as Carl one of the instructors called them, we were to pair together. I wasted no time snapping up Kat, almost knocking her over in the process.
Kat uneasily glanced at me. “Do you want to drive first?”
“No. I’ll watch you.”
“Great. I’ll be even more nervous.”
“It’s just you and me. Nothing to worry about.”
“Just don’t laugh at me too much.”
I was gawking at her too much to notice her driving.
I stood on the curb while Kat walked around the car, checking the tires for flats or objects embedded in them. Watching her stoop in front of me was challenging.
Crossing my arms, I stepped off the curb, and as she walked past to check the taillights, she brushed against me.
“Sorry!” she said, looking over her shoulder with an apologetic smile before turning to look at the rear of the car.
All my fault.
I smiled back without an ounce of remorse, having enjoyed every sliver of her skin on my arms. The sensation was galvanizing.
Once we were in the car, the tables weirdly flipped on me, and I was the nervous one. I teased her about stupid shit, just to ease my own anxiety. I had no idea how to talk to her. She was so different from the girls I dated before. Dash had called them airheads and tits with mouths. He was right. Besides sex, they held zilch of my interest. I wasn’t into those types of girls but followed what my friends were doing. Except for Dash. Nope. He held onto his virginity like it was his lifeline. He said he wanted to wait for the right one to come along. This all coming from a kid whose mother was a stripper, and father owned the club where they met. I’m not stupid. He was waiting for my sister to take it, but he gave up on that notion. What a dumbfuck. I laughed at Dash, yet I hated my first time. Isn’t sex just a mechanical act to achieve a release? It’s always been for me, anyway.
Losing my virginity was a necessity. It liberated me from my mother once and for all since she was the one who gave me that innocence.
After my first time, sex got easier. I kept it to girlfriends, not sleeping around with any pussy within a ten-foot radius like some guys I knew did. I’d ask a girl to be exclusive with me, and when I lost interest, dumped them. I always did the breaking up, staying fine-tuned to them. If I sensed they were listless, I immediately got rid of them. That wasn’t hard. I was always bored first.
Then I met Kat Merrick, who changed everything.
At my football games, I looked for her. By doing research, I found her older brother Peter was a senior and in the school’s band, therefore, a good chance Kat would be at the games. I was so distracted my coach threatened to pull me. I swore I felt her eyes on me, but I thought it was wishful thinking until she recounted things she saw me do. I was awestruck.
Each week, I made sure she was my excursion partner. I asked her question after question about her likes and loathes. Her favorite food was salted French fries, her favorite day of the week, Monday, her favorite actor, Johnny Depp, and her favorite color was purple.
That should’ve been a huge flag for me when I saw her striped hair.
I didn’t know how to proceed with Kat. I had to approach her in an entirely different way. To be more calculated with my moves, I suppose. Yet, all my planning evaporated when we were alone in a car together. I had an urge to touch her. So, I did.
“What kind of earrings are these?”
“You like sailing?”
“Never been, so I don’t know. I thought they were cute.”
“Ha. Do you like the beach at all?”
“I love it.”
“So do I.”
Asking Kat to go to Sandy Point with me, which is a state park on the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t push it forward. I couldn’t even muster the courage to ask her to a damn movie with me. I was so fucking awkward around her.
Even so, I couldn’t resist her.
“This is a pretty ring.”
“Oh, thanks. I got it for my birthday.”
“Yep. We were meant to be driving partners.”
I wanted to keep her talking. It was diverting her attention. There I was, holding her hand, and I didn’t want to let go, which was strange to me. I didn’t hold any of my girlfriends’ hands. I never even took it upon myself to kiss them first. Not only is kissing intrusive, but it’s also disgusting when you really get down to it. When I got to college, I refused to kiss anyone, and even now, I still don’t do it. I don’t do the exclusive thing anymore, either. I haven’t called anyone my girlfriend since high school.
When Kat and I were alone in a car, it became my sanctuary with her. Her perfume had ransacked me, and it lingered on my clothes for the rest of the day. There were times I’d lie on my bed, smelling my T-shirt. Twisted? Yeah. Desperate to keep some part of her with me? Yeah.
I took a chance, touching her in new places whenever I could. I obviously couldn’t touch her everywhere. When she drove, I stroked her shoulder and the back of her neck, telling her she needed to relax, which I was partially telling myself to do. I even audaciously brushed an imaginary eyelash off her cheek, thoroughly enjoying it and taking my time doing so.
The time she wore jeans with a hole in the knee presented itself as another opportunity. Before I could stop myself, I reached over, touching her knee. Instant hard-on. Even though I was wearing jeans, when she looked at me with huge, brown eyes, I was praying she wouldn’t see what she had done to me and run away screaming.
Just as I calmed down, it was my turn to drive. When she touched my thigh, teasing me in return, I was suddenly stiff again. Goddamn. Right then and there, I fantasized about fucking her hard and fast in the back seat of that car. Fucking her anywhere. Aside from a couple of actresses, I had never fantasized about having sex with anyone I knew in particular.
Kat was the first and last.
A few days later, I finally grew enough balls after class to ask her out on a date, but I posed it more as theoretical to see what her answer would be. She seemed open to it, so I asked for her phone number, writing it down on a lunch receipt. I took that small piece of paper home with me, setting it on my nightstand. I could have called her to ask her to a movie that night, or I could sit and stare at her number, thinking of all the things that could go wrong.
My brain chose the latter.
At my next football practice, some of my teammates were discussing whether their girlfriends wore their spare game jerseys on Fridays. I was no longer with Anya, not that I would have given it to her even if we were still together.
I wanted to give mine to Kat.
Surprising myself, I had asked Kat, and she said she’d wear it, but when Friday came, I chickened out. Why? Because we weren’t a couple. I could change that, yet so could she. If she refused, she’d essentially be breaking up with me before I could do it first.
Looking down at my maroon jersey hanging limply in my hand, I crumpled it and bitterly threw it into my locker, mad at myself for getting my hopes up about something that should never happen. I was pretty useless. I wanted to go out with her—fuck—I wanted her.
I tried to convince myself she wasn’t my type of girlfriend material.
Yet, despite my turmoil, I went in deeper.
Approaching the end of the semester, and our class together, I was desperate and so pissed off for being such a damn pussy. I wanted to ask Dash for advice, but I didn’t want him to know about Kat. So many times, I stood at Hadley’s bedroom door, poised to knock and ask her for help, but each time, I chickened out of that, too. She’d tell our dad, and he would’ve been judgmental and absolutely no help, considering his apparent problems with this kind of thing.
I had nobody to talk to about Kat—except Kat. I could’ve gone straight to the source of my conflict, putting my pride on the line, but I couldn’t.
On my own volition, I went out and bought Kat a keychain for when she got her license. I didn’t want it to symbolize anything other than her getting her license, yet at the same time, I wanted her to not forget about me when we weren’t in a car together anymore.
Then one night over winter break, I was loading the dishwasher, and Hadley was putting food away when I heard the TV in the living room say Kat Merrick and her grandmother were in a horrendous car accident. Her grandmother had been killed. Shaking, I ran into the room and stared at the TV. I told my dad I needed him to take me to the hospital because my driver’s ed. partner was the girl in the accident. He said she was in critical condition and in the ICU. There was no way I would be able to see her.
I was silently hysterical. I tried calling the hospital to find out information, but they wouldn’t release any to me.
When winter break was over, I still hadn’t heard anything about Kat, but no news is good news, so I kept that in mind. Overhearing two girls talking about her condition, I learned she was in a coma because of a head injury. I thought back to me, holding her hand in the car and wished I could right then, too.
Two weeks later, Kat was brought out of her coma and allowed visitors. Since giving her a keychain would be insensitive, I left it in my room. My dad took me to the hospital and waited in the downstairs waiting room, surprisingly not quizzing me about my motives. Upon finding out Kat’s room number, I went to her floor and stood outside the door. I was frozen to the spot. I didn’t know what to say to her that wouldn’t make me look like a bumbling idiot. Before I could make up my fucking mind, a nurse came out of her room, smiled at me, and said Kat was asleep and to try coming back later.
But I wasn’t anyone who should be impeding her recovery.
Shortly after, on a Tuesday morning during school, I had dull pains in various parts of my stomach and generally felt like shit. By the end of the day, the pain migrated further down my abdomen and was suddenly sharp, doubling me over as I walked into the house. Dad and Hadley were instantly on me. Suspecting I had appendicitis since my dad has had it before, he took me to the emergency room, where I was put through some tests, diagnosing me with acute appendicitis. I was admitted to the same hospital as Kat. We were in the same building again, and I still couldn’t talk to her. After the medicine stopped the swelling and a majority of the pain, I was released two days later.
Throughout my own recovery, I did a lot of thinking. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to lose Kat. The moment I saw Kat in the hallway her first day back to school, I walked over to her, landed my Colts hat on top of her head, and gave her a gentle hug from behind. Hearing her soft gasp, she seemed shocked, and so did her friends. Yet again, I was even astonished by my own actions, but it was part of my new initiative.
“How are you feeling, Kit Kat?”
“Good. I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.”
The smell of her hair and having her in my arms was too fucking much. I gave her another light squeeze before letting go. I wanted to tell her more than that, but I was at a loss for words.
I didn’t tell her I went to see her in the hospital. I didn’t think it was a big deal that I had.
Then, on my seventeenth birthday, I got the best gift ever. I was at my locker when Kat grabbed my arm, sliding her hand up and down my bare skin. Her brown eyes sparkled as I stupidly stared into them with awe. Except for the one time in the car, she never initiated any touching.
“Happy birthday, Sonic.”
I stuttered, “Th-thanks.”
My arm hair, as well as the hair on the back of my neck, instantly stood on end, along with my dick. I had to move my fucking books in front of me as I leaned against my locker, practically in a catatonic stupor. Her skin on mine… I’d never been so affected like that. Touching her knee in the car was nothing compared to what she just did.
The last day of school also happened to be Kat’s sixteenth birthday. I couldn’t give her the keychain yet. So, I stayed casual about it. However, seeing Kat at her locker that morning, I was anything but casual. Going over, I picked her up, giving her a twirl around, making her squeal before setting her down.
I whispered, “Happy birthday.”
Kat’s smile lit up the fucking hallway. “Thank you!”
Her reaction was astonishing, and it left me wondering if I was wrong about stepping up our friendship. For the first time in my life, I actually wanted to kiss a girl.
“I hope you have a good summer.”
“You, too, Kit Kat. I’ll call you.” I wanted to.
“I’d like that.”
But I didn’t call her. Her birthday had me in a tailspin. Watching Kat walk away for three months, strangled me. I only had one year left in that school with her, and I felt helpless because of my self-imposed limitations.
Being away from Kat didn’t help to clear my head. It only made it more fucked up. I wanted to taste her lips, feel her breasts heaving against me, and her hot breath panting my name over my skin.
Even if I decided to make concessions, I still held back with one stipulation. I wanted Kat to want me, but if she didn’t respond, then I’d have my answer without her saying the words.
By the time school had started back, I was ready to up my game, but on the first day, I began doubting my plan.
I needed help.
I could’ve asked Dash since he was polluted with female attention and might have advice to give. I had considered it and vowed to kick his ass if he laughed about it, but even so, as I was busy with my part-time job at Blake’s grocery store or football practice, he was busy with working the books for his dad’s club or doing his track and field shit after school. Unfortunately, that also meant if I tried to kick his ass, he could outrun me any day. Bastard.
Taking a seat in the back of my new economics class, Amie Stoltz took a seat in front of me. She was in my homeroom, so we knew each other, and she was always friendly.
Leaning forward, I chatted her up and quickly poured out my predicament to her. I was desperate.
“What can I do to make her notice me?”
“Make her jealous.”
“How do I do that?”
“Flirt with other girls in front of her. If she has feelings for you, that will piss her off, and she’ll want to mark her territory.”
“You could fake a girlfriend.”
“Make her think you’re dating someone else, and she may ask you about it. You then would ask her if she’s jealous. Then, you tell her you’re actually single. She’ll want to snatch you up before you really do find someone else.”
“You think that’ll work?”
“It’s worth a try.”
“Who could I get to be my decoy?”
She gave me a wide smile.
From being in her homeroom, I knew Amie had a longtime boyfriend who was in the navy and stationed overseas. He also had gone to another high school, so he wasn’t known around our school.
So, that’s what I did.
I lured Kat to a school dance, so she was my audience when I slow danced with Amie and a few of her friends. Kat watched me the whole night but didn’t say anything to me about it on Monday.
I needed to push it further.
I gave Amie my spare jersey to wear, hoping that would spur Kat. I then strategically told Amie where to stand so Kat would see her. When that still didn’t get a response from her, I stood close with Amie, out in the open, to make sure Kat saw us together. When I finally caught her eye, she hurriedly looked away. Kat didn’t make any effort to say hello to me after that. I thought for sure I was onto something. I just had to push her to the tipping point.
Seeing her in the gym before a school rally, I walked up and put my arms around her. I hadn’t done that for so long, and it made me realize how much I missed her close to me. It also forced me to remember why I had a tough time doing it. Her sweet perfume was like a sledgehammer to my resolve.
My mouth was close to her ear, and I wanted to run my lips over her neck, taking in her taste and scent. If I stayed like that any longer, I would’ve been fully erect and rubbing my cock against her ass.
Not that I didn’t think about ever doing that.
Every damn day.
Her body was rigid—not like mine. Hers was a distant aloofness, and I got the feeling she didn’t want me touching her, so for the sake of public decency, I reluctantly stepped away.
For days, I tried talking to Kat, but she avoided me. That was agonizingly obvious when she suddenly disappeared from the usual places we ran into each other. I had my timing down to a science just so I could see her for five seconds after my biology class. Therefore, when it turned into days on end, I knew something was wrong.
That Friday, I hung outside her classroom like a snake, waiting to strike its prey. When she rounded the corner, I hooked her arm and reeled her to me. Her eyes flew over my face as she gulped for air. I asked her what was wrong, hoping she’d tell me she was jealous, yet she didn’t say that. She didn’t say anything. My face was a breath away from hers, not because I was mad. I was close to kissing her, wanting to lose fucking control in that hallway for anyone to see.
The day I got out of English to catch a glimpse of Kat at lunch turned into nothing less than a shock. I saw her, but I didn’t see her with a bunch of girls. I saw her walking next to a guy—a guy whose face I wanted to slam into a locker until his teeth crumbled. The rage I felt was new and hard to swallow. I was trying to make her jealous with Amie, but I hadn’t anticipated she’d not be affected or for her to run to someone else. This was backfiring. I was beyond frustrated, yet I still refused to give up the need for her to want me.
When I confronted her about the fucker, she denied he was her boyfriend. I wanted to tell her everything. I wanted to tell her I was teasing her but failing. I wanted to tell her I wanted to be her boyfriend, even if I hate that term. It’s juvenile, really.
By my eighteenth birthday, we were barely speaking to each other. So fed up with the clusterfuck we were in, I spent my entire English class writing Kat a long note, laying it all on the line, telling her there was… something… going on between us, and that she had to feel it, too. Thus, leaving the ball in her court for her to say she wanted me. That part was crucial. I was getting my answer and, hopefully, my Katriona Merrick.
Before class was dismissed, and I had to meet Kat to give her the note, I was so fucking anxious. My leg bounced like a jackhammer breaking concrete. Unfortunately, Dash sat next to me, witnessing my crunching nerves.
“What’s your problem, Jericho?”
“Nothing. Who says I have a problem? I don’t have a problem.”
“Yeah. Convincing. You’re setting off the Richter scale with your leg bouncing. Girl trouble?”
“Uh-huh. Is Hadley single yet?”
“What the hell?”
I irritably scowled at Dash, but at least it stopped my leg for ten seconds.
Kat had chemistry class during my lunch hour, so I headed down to her classroom. I leaned against the open door, impatiently watching everyone walking toward me. Finally, when Kat turned the corner, I smiled, but it soon crashed to the floor. Around her shoulder hung an arm that wasn’t mine. It was some douchebag’s, and they were smiling at each other. Mid-hallway, they stopped, and he hugged her, kissing her forehead. My hand clutched the door, willing it to break before I did. Pissed off beyond anything I’d ever felt, I swung the door, making it loudly bounce off the bank of lockers next to the room before storming down the hall to the cafeteria, not stopping until I was outside.
She said she didn’t have a boyfriend, but that was months ago. Had I wasted my time?
No matter. Since I didn’t matter, I was finished. Done.
I was wrecked for months—for years—over her, and I never wanted to suffer through something like that ever again. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.
I swore I’d never let another female rip my fucking soul out like she did to me. I never told anyone about the one-sided tug-of-war I had with Kat. Not Dash, my dad, Hadley, or Rio. No one knew.
“Jared, what’s wrong?” Kat’s voice rattles me, and I look back to her face—a face I didn’t even recognize five minutes ago, not that she made it easy with all the makeup she has on or her sunglasses hiding her blue eyes, which really aren’t blue.
Dash laughs. “I think you shocked Jared into last week.”
She says, “Believe me. I was shocked when he showed up at my mom’s. I thought I saw a ghost.”
“Jericho? Yeah, he can be scary sometimes.”
Their carefree joking and the encroaching crowd around us are too much for me to take. Kat had changed the course of my life, and now she was back to fuck it up even more. She’s all I thought about, day in and day out, for my last two goddamn years of school.
And I’ve tried to forget her every day since.
I open my mouth to say something, but I’m speechless. The only thing I can manage is, “I gotta get out of here.”
Taking a step back, I push through the crowd, leaving Kat behind me.