Authors: Micalea Smeltzer
“I can’t believe this,” I muttered, burying my face in my hands.
He stepped towards me and his cologne hit my nostrils once more. I gagged and dove for the door.
I ran through the house, looking for a bathroom. A line had formed outside a door of what I assumed was my destination. I was so screwed. I did not want to get sick all over the floor of Jude’s townhouse. That would be enough ammunition for him to make fun of me for the rest of my life—or at least until college was over and I never had to see him again.
A hand reached out for mine, before I could wrench it away I saw that the hand belonged to Jude. “This way,” he said, guiding me through the hallway and up a third set of steps.
His pace was quick, trying to get me to a bathroom before I got sick. I had news for him, he better have me there in seconds if he wanted to avoid that.
He stopped at a door, pulled a key out to unlock it and shoved me inside.
It was obviously a bedroom, but bless his heart there was a bathroom. I ran for it, collapsing to my knees. My stomach heaved, trying to rid itself of those dang bears.
I startled when Jude’s fingers gently coasted against my neck, but then he was pulling my hair back and I was sick again, so there was nothing I could do to stop him.
Jude was the last person I would ever want to see me like this, so of course I was stuck in a bathroom with him. That’s just how my life worked.
And the most ironic part of it all was the fact that I was drunk on gummy bears. I didn’t even drink! How did stuff like this happen to me?
Once I was done emptying my stomach, Jude let go of my hair. I hoped he was going to leave me alone, but my luck wasn’t that good.
He grabbed a washcloth from under the sink, dampened it, and knelt in front of me. I blinked heavy, shock-filled, eyes at him as he gently cleaned my face.
I knew he saw the surprise in my eyes. Jude Brooks was taking care of me. The only words to describe this situation were: what the fuck? Clearly, I was drunker than I thought and I’d stepped into some parallel universe. This was not good. I did not want to start liking him. He was the reason my brother was dead, and that was enough ammunition to hate him for the rest of my life.
“Gummy bears are the devil,” I muttered, causing him to belt out a deep, throaty laugh. Taking a deep breath, I told him, “I’m fine.” I stood shakily, using the bathroom wall for support.
“You’re not fine, Tatum,” he growled, using his body to close me in so I couldn’t edge towards the door. “You’re clearly not used to drinking and those gummy bears will really get to you.”
n’t need you to look out for me.” I groaned. “I’m fine on my own. I don’t need you or anybody else to try and save me.”
I put a quivering hand against my fore
head, feeling dizzy from my outburst.
“Tate,” he grabbed my shoulders to keep me from wobbling.
I collapsed against him, unable to hold myself up anymore. His strong arms wrapped around me. I was never going near a gummy bear ever again. Those things were dangerous.
Jude swept my legs out from under me. Before I could protest he laid me down on the softest surface imaginable. Maybe I wouldn’t argue with him.
I curled my body around the pillow and smiled. “This feels nice.”
He chuckled in response. He laughed at me a lot. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t very funny.
“Is this your room?” I asked, crooking my elbow over my eyes to block out the glow of the light. It hurt my eyes. “Why’d you lock the door?”
“So no one can get in.” His tone of voice told me exactly what he thought of that question. “No one is allowed to have sex in my bed that isn’t me.”
“Does this mean you want to have sex with me?”
I don’t know what made me ask the question. I guessed I’d blame it on loose lips courtesy of gummy bears.
I felt the bed dip down beside me. For a moment, my heart stopped, as I feared he’d taken my words as invitation. I rolled my head to the side to look at him but found that he was staring at the ceiling. I looked up to, and noticed the ceiling was decorated with those peel and stick stars and moons lots of kids have on their bedroom ceiling. I wondered why he had them here. He wasn’t a kid anymore and I wouldn’t think Jude, being a twenty-two year old male would want something like that in his bedroom. I hated to admit it, but maybe I was wrong about him. I really didn’t know that much about
as a person. Everything I knew was based on assumptions from what I saw and heard. I did know one thing, and that was that he was responsible for my brother’s death. I wondered if that fact weighed heavily on his shoulders. Probably not. Based on what he’d said about not being able to figure out why I hated him so much, I’d bet he wasn’t even aware of the damage he’d caused.
I wished I could be more like him—not caring what other’s thought of me and doing whatever the hell I wanted.
I’d stopped being carefree a long time ago.
“I want to have sex with you.” I startled at his voice. He’d taken so long to answer that with my foggy brain I’d completely forgotten that I’d asked him anything. “But I know you don’t want that.”
He turned his head slowly to look at me. His warm brown eyes caused something to stir in my stomach that I didn’t even recognize. Despite my hatred of Jude there had always been
between us, and I’d always tried my hardest to squash it. The last year, having to share my best friend with him, had somehow managed to soften my heart towards him—and I hadn’t even realized it was happening. It didn’t mean I actually liked him, though. That would never happen. “When I touch you like
,” he reached out with his index finger to graze my lips, “you’re going to
for it. You’re going to want it, and you’re going to scream my name because it’s the only word you can remember.”
My breath faltered. “You’re crazy.”
“No, I’m not.”
He rolled onto his back once more, crossing his arms behind
his head, looking up once more at the glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling.
I was too tired to move and my heavy eyes soon closed. I was asleep within minutes.
I really hoped I still hated Jude when I woke up.
Sunlight warmed my skin. I blinked open my eyes wondering why I’d fallen asleep with the blinds open.
Only they weren’t open and the heat wasn’t from the sun.
A very heavy, manly arm was draped over my chest and I was pulled against a body where I was cradled like a teddy bear.
What the hell happened last night?
I tried to lift the arm off me, but it was futile.
I really hoped I hadn’t done something stupid, but since my clothes were still on chances were good that I was safe.
Since I couldn’t move, I looked around at the room.
That’s when the memories flooded me.
With a strength that I didn’t know I had, I scrambled from the bed and fell on the floor. The noise caused Jude to stir. I hopped up in time to see him stretching his arms above his head and yawning loudly. I kept backing up until I ran into the wall.
This had to be a really bad dream or a cruel joke.
There was no way I slept all night in a bed
“Morning darlin’,” he chortled, running his fingers through his already mused dark hair.
“Why am I in your bed?!” My voice was shriller than I intended. I was in shock, to be honest. I grasped at my shirt, trying to pull it down from where it had ridden up to expose my stomach.
“You fell asleep,” he rolled over and stood, cracking his back. “You were too cute to wake. Don’t worry, I didn’t fondle you in your sleep,” he waggled his fingers innocently. “I’m not
“You’re not desperate at all,” I stated, knowing just how many girls he had
probably ‘fondled’ in this room. “I can’t believe Rowan abandoned me,” I muttered, anger filling my body. Some friend she was.
“She didn’t,” he shrugged easily, opening a dresser drawer. He pulled out a fresh shirt and removed the one he wore. I forced my eyes to the ground so that I didn’t stare at his chest. I couldn’t help wondering how he was so muscular. Between
school and his volunteer hours I doubted he had very much time to work out.
“What do you mean she didn’t?” I asked once he’d put on the clean shirt.
“I let her know what happened. She checked on you, and since
trusts me, she left you alone.” Shrugging, he added, “To be honest, I think she would’ve had Trent carry you out of here but she said something about not knowing how to get you into your house. Are your parents strict or something?” He asked. “You still live with them, right?”
I wanted to laugh. My parent’s strict? They didn’t care what I did. Not anymore.
“It’s complicated,” I answered, tucking a piece of blonde hair behind my ear. I felt extremely uncomfortable and I wanted nothing more than to get out of here, but I didn’t have a car, which meant I was dependent on Jude. Something told me this situation had played out exactly as he wanted.
“Since you’re here,” he crossed his arms over his chest and his shirt rode up a bit, exposing his smooth stomach
and the small patch of hair that disappeared beneath the waistband of his jeans, “maybe we should go somewhere.”
I cocked my hip to the side and stared him down. I was not going to play games with Jude. I wasn’t in the mood.
“If you’re taking me anywhere, it’s home.”
Alright,” he grabbed his keys off the top of the dresser and spun the ring around on his finger, “let’s go then.”
I was surprised he agreed so easily. Maybe he knew the chances of me spending the day with him were slim to none.
As we walked through the townhouse I noticed more than one person passed out in the hallway. One guy raised his head and gave Jude a thumb’s up. My mouth fell open in shock as I realized what the guy believed had transpired between Jude and I. There was no need to correct him, he’d only think I was lying. I was stuck looking like I was doing the walk of shame. This sucked.
Once in Jude’s truck I gave him the directions to my parent’s house.
As soon as he parked in the driveway, I hopped out with no intentions to look back.
“See you later, Tater Tot.”
I whipped around, that nickname grating on my nerves. He started to back out of the driveway and when he looked back at me I waved my middle finger at him.
He simply laughed at the gesture, so something told me I hadn’t proven anything.
I slid into the truck, glaring at the driver.
“I don’t understand why you need to drive me. I’m perfectly capable of driving my car and following you. There’s no need for this.” I waved my arms around wildly to encompass the truck.
Jude chuckled, shifting the truck into gear.
“Yes, there is Tater Tot.” He smirked like his ridiculous nickname for me was so clever and cute. I wondered what he’d think of it when I stabbed him with a pencil—or whatever other sharp object I could get my hands on. “If you didn’t ride with me, we wouldn’t get to have such enlightening conversations. And remember our bet?” I nodded reluctantly at his question. “This is the perfect time for each of us to ask our one question.”
Buckling the seatbelt I stifled the urge to roll my eyes. “I deserve a giant bowl of ice cream for dealing with you.”
“With gummy bears on top?”
I gagged at the mention of those devilish little creatures. “Never. Again.” I assured him.
He chuckled. “I really am sorry about that, just so you know.”
“I’m sure you’re very apologetic,” I muttered, my voice laced with sarcasm as I looked out the window.
“Let me put it this way, I’m sorry you got sick, but I’m not sorry I got to spend the night with you.”
I looked over to find him watching the road, his expression serious. There was no crinkling of his eyes or smirk on his lips. He was serious.
I chose not to comment on that. I’d probably only end up getting in an argument with him if I did and frankly, he wasn’t worth it.
As silence stretched between us, he asked, “What’s your favorite color?”
Once again, I was surprised by the simplicity of his question.
I didn’t look at him as I answered. “It always changes, depending on my mood and where I’m at, but right now it’s orange.”
I decided to answer instead of telling him he’d already asked me one question.
Sometimes, I just needed to talk to someone—about anything—it just really sucked that I was stuck with Jude.
“Because of that,” I nodded out the truck window at the setting sun. “It’s beautiful, warm
, vibrant…” It was everything I wasn’t. “It comes every evening, but it’s always slightly different—the colors brighter and more vivid, or dulled depending on the weather. It’s always pretty though.”
He cleared his throat. “I wasn’t expecting that detailed of a response.”
I shrugged. The answer was more for myself than him, anyway. Even if he did ask.
“What’s your question for me?”
I ignored him for a moment, so I could gather my thoughts. I rolled the window down and let it whip my hair around. It was really still too cold outside for this—winter was only beginning to melt away—but I didn’t care. The cold air helped to calm me.
“Why did you help me?” I don’t know why that was the question that popped into my head. It wasn’t even really the one I wanted to ask, but apparently my mouth had different ideas.
“What do you mean?” His gaze flicked briefly my way—long enough for me to see his thick brows furrowed together across his forehead like a caterpillar.
“Why did you help me the other night, when I was sick? You didn’t have to do that. I’m sure you had more important things to do than hold my hair back as I puked confetti.” I said the words quickly, desperate to get them out. I felt antsy since Friday night. I’d spent most of my weekend pacing my house, and when I couldn’t take that any longer I hung out
at Griffin’s and got buzzed on coffee.
He chuckled at my confetti comment but quickly sobered. “I don’t know why you hate me,” his voice softened and when his eyes briefly connected with mine I was shocked to see
shining so clearly in them. “I’m actually a nice guy. Yeah, yeah,” he waved a hand dismissively, “I know I’ve been with a lot of girls, and never in a relationship, but…it’s easier not to get attached.” His voice had quieted so much with the last bit that I wasn’t even sure I heard him. I really wondered what he meant by that comment, but I’d already asked my one question and I didn’t want to push my luck.
We fell into silence for the rest of the drive to the nursing home.
I was cursing myself for not getting something from the vending machine at the library before we left. It was already five o’clock and I was used to eating dinner at this time. I didn’t dare tell Jude I was hungry. Not even when we passed a McDonald’s and my stomach rumbled like a jumbo jet.
“No,” I quickly cut him off. “I don’t know what that was. Maybe a plane.” I proceeded to look out the window, totally playing up the plane thing.
He laughed, banging his fist against the steering wheel. I was surprised tears weren’t str
eaking his cheeks at this point, since he was laughing so hard. Like the kind of laughter that shakes your whole body. “I will never understand why so many girls won’t admit they’re hungry.”
I hated being compared to anyone else, especially lumped into
a category as ambiguous as
. Honestly, what did that even
“Fine, turn around and take me to McDonald’s so you can watch me devour a Big Mac.”
He looked at the clock on the dashboard and shrugged lightly, immediately executing a very dangerous U-turn that had illegal written all over it. “We’ve got time,” he said when he saw my open mouthed expression.
“You could have killed us!” I cried in shock at the Duke’s of Hazzard move he’d pulled.
“And before you got your Big Mac?” He joked. “That would’ve been a shame. But you’re okay, so it’s all good.”
“You infuriate me,” I seethed, glaring out the window. After Graham’s wreck I was always scared
to be in a car. For a long time I wouldn’t even drive. The stunt Jude had pulled startled me. I didn’t like not being in control.
I didn’t stay mad for long though once I saw th
e McDonald’s. I was too hungry to care.
d his truck around in the drive-thru and placed our order. I slid over beside him and yelled into the speaker that I wanted a Hi-C and an Oreo McFlurry. When I returned to my previous position he shook his head, a small almost boyish smile lifting his lips.
“What?” I prompted, pushing stray pieces of hair out of my eyes. It was honestly too long now, but I refused to cut it.
“You’re going to have a severe sugar rush in an old folks home. I’m really looking forward to watching this play out.” His smile grew wider and I was sure he was probably imagining something silly—like me singing, dancing, and spinning around in wheelchairs.
“I’m hungry,” I responded, “and no meal is complete without desert.”
“That doesn’t explain the Hi-C,” he countered, sitting up a bit to grab his wallet out of his back pocket. “That drink is for five years old, and doesn’t it turn your tongue blue or something?”
“Red,” I answered, “and you’re not paying for my food.” My protests went unheard as I dug through my backpack for the money I kept stashed there.
He handed the lady working at the window his credit card and tilted his head to look at me. “Last time I checked, it was the gentlemanly thing to do.”
checked,” I countered, smiling despite the fact that I shouldn’t be enjoying this at all, “there was nothing gentlemanly about you.”
“Touché,” he chuckled heartily, scratching his chin as he waited for her to hand him his card and the receipt.
Once he had it he pulled up to the next window where they handed us our food.
He busted out in laughter at the sound I made upon smelling the food. I was starved and the smell of a greasy cheeseburger was calling my name. I
didn’t think I had ever wanted anything more than I wanted that burger.
I set my food in my lap and handed Jude his so he could eat as he drove. He promptly shoved a handful of fries in his mouth, chewing loudly. The fries stuck out of his mouth like the tentacles of an octopus. I couldn’t help laughing. “What?” He asked around the mouthful. He took a large sip of his soda and said, “Isn’t
this how everyone eats their fries?”
“No,” I shook my head, eating one single fry to make a point.
He shrugged. “I’m a man and that’s how we eat fries.”
“Maybe if you were a caveman,” I mumbled u
nder my breath, but he heard me even over the music blasting from the radio.
“Cavemen didn’t have the convenience of drive-thru’s or the salty deliciousness of French fries.”
At his words I realized I would never win in an argument with Jude. Well, more like neither one of us would win. We were both far too argumentative and neither of us would back down.
I took a bite of my burger, unable to hold back a moan. I really needed to stop forgetting to eat. It wasn’t healthy.
As I chewed, I watched Jude out of the corner of my eye and noticed him squirming in his seat. “What are you doing?” I asked, and then when he explained I really wished I hadn’t.
“I’m a guy, and when you make noises like that I can’t stop my reaction.”
My eyes flicked down and then away. “Oh,” was all I could say. I could have come back with something rude, but then I would’ve looked like an idiot and I didn’t want to argue with him anymore. Especially since I still had to spend the majority of my evening with him.
Jude parked in the back lot of the nursing home and we finished our meal in silence. He looked longingly at my Oreo McFlurry, and I told him, “You should’ve gotten one.”
“And maybe you should share.” He suggested with a coy smile, like if he flirted with me it would make me willingly give up the most delicious substance on Earth. I was pretty sure ice cream could solve all the worlds’ problems. I always had the freezer stocked with it.
“Come anywhere near my ice cream, Brooks, and I will not hesitate to bite you.”
“Biting makes things interesting,” he smirked.
“Not if I bite your hand off,” I replied easily. “Whatever will you do then?” I eyed the noticeable bulge straining against his jeans.
“Guess you’ll have to help me with
, Tater Tot.”
“I’ll gladly help you to an early grave.” My words shut me up, and Jude too. I wasn’t sure if it was for the same reason though. I thought of Graham. Of that twisted sheet of metal wrapped around a tree. How we had to bury him in a closed casket because there wasn’t much left. I shouldn’t have had to bury my brother at that age. He was far too young with his whole life ahead of him. My parent’s shouldn’t have been around to watch their oldest child lowered into the ground. From the moment Graham died, my life was filled with
. I hated that word now. I hated a lot of things. Mostly myself.
“I’m sorry,” Jude whispered. I’m sure he’d guessed where my mind went.
“Don’t fucking apologize when you don’t mean it,” I snapped. My tone was icy calm, but my words were more heated than normal. I didn’t normally get upset over much, but Jude and anything involving Graham always got my temper stirring.
“I do mean it.” His words were almost a plea, trying to get me to
that he was a good guy. But he wasn’t. He killed my brother and he didn’t even know it.
My anger got the best of me and I threw the half-melted McFlurry at him. Ice cream splattered everywhere. All over him, his clean scrubs, the cab of the truck, and even me.
I got out of the truck slamming the door behind me. I started walking in the opposite direction. I wasn’t sure where I was going. It didn’t matter. I had to get away.
But Jude had other plans.
He was right behind me and there was no escape. I whipped around so fast that he stopped in his tracks. I was crying, I felt the tears now, but I hadn’t even known they were there a moment ago. All my anger, all my frustration bubbled out of me. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. That’s what I’d been doing for seven years. I had to crack eventually and now was that moment.
“I hate you!” I screamed at the man in front of me with vanilla ice cream and Oreo’s caked into his hair and scrubs. “I hate you so fucking much that it eats me up inside! I can’t stand to look at you, knowing what you did! That it’s
fault! It’s not fair that you get to parade around like you own the place, fuck every girl you see, and my brother is dead because you couldn’t keep your fucking dick in your pants!” Jude’s mouth formed a perfect O of shock as I yelled at him. “You destroyed my life! You stomped all over it and you didn’t even care!” I couldn’t breathe I was so worked up. I clutched at my chest. Now that I was yelling I couldn’t seem to stop. I needed to get it all out in the open. I was sick of holding everything in and pretending I was okay when I wasn’t. I was always the person plastering on a brave face when inside I was breaking apart. I didn’t care what Jude thought of me, and since he was the source of every ounce of hatred I felt, I guessed it was appropriate that I lost my cool with him. “I lost not only my brother, but my best friend! One day he was there and the next he wasn’t! My mom won’t even
at me anymore! Did you know that?! It’s like I’m a ghost in my own house! My dad’s barely even there! When you killed Graham you killed them too! And you might as well have killed me, because I’ve never been the same!”