But I still shake my head.
Every second of this makes me feel worse, and I don’t want to use Gavin. To make what we’re doing dirty, just so I can feel better.
Jared’s voice pours into my head. “You’ve been turning my world upside down for eight years. I can’t get enough of you.”
I gasp, choking on tears as I push Gavin away and cover my face with my hands.
“Tate, what’s wrong?” He sounds worried.
I shake my head and collapse against the wall next to the bathroom, sliding down to the floor. “You have to go,” I cry softly. “I’m so sorry, but you have to sleep somewhere else tonight.”
He approaches. “Baby, we can sleep somewhere else. What did I do?”
I shake my head again. “Please just leave.”
This is Jared’s and my room. No one else’s. “Please leave,” I cry louder.
“Tate,” he presses.
“Now!” I shout. “Just leave me alone.”
I put my head down on my knees and cry. I don’t know why I feel guilty. I’d only ever had sex with Jared until Gavin came along. I don’t sleep around, and Jared drowned his sadness and pain in plenty of girls before me.
Why couldn’t it make me feel better, too?
I cry for a long time, still hearing the music going strong downstairs and not knowing if Gavin left, went back to the party, or found another room.
A hand touches mine, and I shoot my head up, seeing Madoc kneeling down on one knee.
My face cracks, and I can’t hold it back. “Why can’t I forget him?” I sob.
He closes his eyes, running a weary hand through his hair, looking about ready to cry himself.
Instead he pulls me in and hugs me, letting me release it all.
“When Fallon was sent away,” he starts, choking on his own tears, “I tried to get lost in so many other women.” I heard him swallow hard. “But it never helped for longer than a day, and I always felt worse later.”
I look up at Madoc. “It’s been months. Jared’s probably moved on, but I don’t want anyone else.” I’m sobbing, wiping away my tears only to feel more come to take their place. “It hurts. Everything hurts. I almost cut down our tree last fall, Madoc. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get over it?”
He lifts my chin, tears pooling in his blue eyes. “Do you want to get over it?” he asks.
I narrow my eyes. “Of course I do.”
He cocks his head. “I think you still love him, Tate, and I think you know deep down, he’s going to be back for you.”
I sniffle, dropping my eyes. “I can’t trust him. Too much has happened.” The tears spill over my lips. “Gavin’s a good guy. I need to try to move on.”
He nudges my chin, urging my eyes back up to his. “You’re forcing it,” he insists. “Do you remember senior year? You were stronger when you stood on your own, Tate.”
Madoc was right.
The next day, I broke off my brief relationship with Gavin and joined my dad and Jax in working on my car, and that spring, I started racing.
It wasn’t until recently—more than a year after that talk with Madoc—that I started seeing Ben, taking it slow but testing out the waters for the first time in a long time.
I sat in my G8, the cool black interior and tinted windows encasing me in my own private world as Limp Bizkit’s “My Way” droned through the speakers. The crowds milled around outside, already tipping their drinks as they stumbled around the track, and I held back my little grin, not for once feeling bad that I never joined in. Ben wanted me to. He craved the happy girlfriend who could ease in and out of social situations without complication.
After all, if I was determined to race, why not enjoy the atmosphere and the hype?
But Ben was far too late to make an impression on my personality. I learned back in high school that I was who I was, and I slept a lot better at night when I didn’t make apologies for that.
I didn’t need them, and I didn’t even need the win.
I just need this, I thought as I gripped the wheel and the stick. The blood in my arms felt like it was dancing under my skin, and I was ready.
Yes, Madoc was right.
I was stronger when I stood on my own. And when Jax encouraged me to take up some racing at the Loop, I’d found there was one thing that I did by myself—one thing I owned—that put strength in my veins.
There was no guilt, no pressure—just silence. And I would keep that going when Jared showed up tonight.
Which he would.
I hated to admit it, but he’d put a nice little rush in my blood today. And it wasn’t just because of how good he’d looked. Beautiful ink covered more of his arms than it had two years ago, but he still had the same smooth, toned chest that now looked even more incredible, tanned by the West Coast sun.
And of course, all it took was a look for him to get under my skin.
At ten years old, Jared was my friend. At fourteen, my enemy; at eighteen, my lover; and at twenty, my heartbreak. I’d known him more than half my life, and although the roles had changed, his impact was always all consuming.
I leaned over, digging my mom’s Leaves of Grass out of my backpack. Tossing the pack into the backseat, out of the way, I opened the paperback, pressing my thumb over the edges of the pages as I fanned them, the soft breeze of the flutter wafting across my face.
Finding page sixty-four, I headed straight for the lines my mother had underlined on verse twenty of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”