Rival Page 8

He had ordered a crap-load of running shorts with gun holsters attached to the back, but I refused to wear them. If he wanted me to attract less attention, that was the wrong way to go about it.

If you run in your underwear, someone will get the wrong idea, he’d said. And then I have to hurt people. You know I like to do that as little as possible.

I didn’t run in my underwear. But some spandex running shorts and a sports bra? Fuck it, it was hot.

So we had compromised. He had a bracelet designed that featured a small pocket knife and some pepper spray. It looked like some sick, twisted charm bracelet, but it made him feel better to know I wore it whenever I went out running.

Scanning the trail ahead of me—because I listen to my daddy—I noticed a young woman, about my age, standing between the trail and the pond, looking out over the water. I saw her lips were turned down, and she sniffled. That’s when I noticed the shake to her chin. Slowing to a walk, I took a quick inventory. She was dressed like me, running shorts and sports bra, and from what I could see, she wasn’t hurt. There were no other runners or hikers. She just stood there, eyes narrowed, watching the soft ripple on the water.

“Nice tunes,” I yelled over the noise from the iPod strapped to her arm.

She jerked her head toward me and immediately wiped the corner of her eye. “What?” She pulled out her ear buds.

“I said ‘nice tunes,’” I repeated, hearing Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” spitting out of her ear buds.

She choked out a laugh, her flushed face brightening a little. “I love the oldies.” She reached out her hand. “Hi, I’m Tate.”

“Fallon.” I reached out and shook her hand.

She nodded and looked away, trying to covertly wipe away the rest of the tears.

Tate. Wait . . . blond hair, long legs, big boobs . . .

“You’re Tatum Brandt,” I remembered. “Shelburne High?”

“Yeah.” She draped the cord to her ear buds around her neck. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I remember you.”

“It’s okay. I left at the end of sophomore year.”

“Oh, where’d you go?” She looked me straight in the eye as we spoke.

“Boarding school out east.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Boarding school? How was that?”

“Catholic. Very Catholic.”

She shook her head and smiled as if she couldn’t believe what I’d told her. Or maybe she thought it was ludicrous. Didn’t people ship their unwanted kids off in her world? No? Weird.

The wind blew through the trail, causing the leaves to rustle, and the breeze was a welcome comfort to my hot and wet skin.

“So are you just back for the summer before college or for good?” she asked, sitting down on the ground and looking up at me. I took that as an invitation and sat down, too.

“Just a week or so. I’m heading to Chicago for school. You?”

She looked down, losing her smile. “I was supposed to go to Columbia. Not now, though.”

“Why?”

Columbia was a great school. I would’ve applied, but my father didn’t want me so close to Boston. The farther away from him the safer, he’d said.

“My dad is having some . . . issues.” I could see her damp lashes as she leaned back on her hands and continued to study the pond in front of us. “For a long time, apparently. I think it’s best to stick close to home.”

“It must be hard to give up Columbia,” I offered.

She stuck her bottom lip out and shook her head. “Nope. I didn’t think twice about it, actually. When someone you love needs you, you suck it up. I’m just upset that he didn’t tell me. He’s had two heart attacks, and I only found out through hospital bills I wasn’t supposed to see.”

She acted like it wasn’t even a choice. Like it was so easy. My dad is sick. I stay. I was jealous of her resolve.

“Wow, I’m sorry.” She smiled and sat up, dusting off her hands. “I bet you’re glad you stopped to say hi.”

“It’s okay. Where do you think you’ll go to school now?” I looked over at her and saw that she had a little tattoo on the back of her neck. Down at the curve where it met her shoulder. It wasn’t that big, but I could make out flames bursting out of a black lantern.

“Well, I got into Northwestern,” she offered. “It’s a good option for my degree, and it’s only about an hour from here. The more I think about it, the more excited I get.”

I nodded. “Well, that’s where I’m going.”

She raised her eyebrows, surprised. “Well, well . . . you like old-school GNR, you’re going to Northwestern, you’ve got some nice ink”—she motioned to the Out of Order tattoo I had written behind my ear at my hairline—“and you jog. Tell me you’re into science, and I may have found my hetero soul mate.”

“I’m majoring in Mechanical Engineering,” I singsonged, hoping that was close enough.

She put her fist out to bump me and smiled. “Close enough.”

Her smiles were a lot more frequent than the last time I’d seen her. She must’ve either gotten Thing 1 and Thing 2 to leave her alone, or she’d put them in their place.

“So,” she started, standing up and brushing off her butt. “My friend is having a party tomorrow night. You should come. He has no problem with pretty girls crashing. You may have to forfeit your underwear at the door, but I’ll protect you.”

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