Fallen fourth down, p.18
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       Fallen Fourth Down, p.18
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         Part #4 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan

  girlfriend out of the house.”

  Derek laughed. “Quinn’s going to love that.”

  Logan ignored him, his hand still on my side, as he directed me to the car and to the passenger door. I frowned as he opened it for me, and when I got inside, I waited until he went to his door. When he opened it and got into his seat, I asked, “What’s going on with you?” I jerked my hand back and pointed to the door. “Since when do you open doors for me, and two, I thought you said Kris wasn’t going?”

  He lifted a shoulder. His shoulders were so rigid. “I don’t know, Sam. Okay? I was trying to be nice. I won’t, if that’s your deal.”

  Taken aback, I didn’t comment. Holy shit. Where did this side of Logan come from?

  He cursed. His hand dropped from the steering wheel and his car remained idle. “I’m sorry. I’m being an ass to you, and you don’t deserve that. Quinn started texting Kris a bunch, and she’s been responding. It’s pissing me off.”

  “Oh.”

  “She’s my girlfriend. She shouldn’t be talking to him. She knows how I feel about him, but she won’t stop. She keeps saying they’re just friends.” He grunted. “Fuck friends, that’s what Quinn wants.” He glanced to me, seemingly hesitant. “I haven’t said anything to you. I know you’ve got your own stuff, with Mason gone and your dad here again. Again, I’m sorry for being an ass.”

  He hadn’t picked up anything about Jackson. I felt like I had just bypassed a bomb exploding. “It’s no problem. You and Kris are you and Kris. For what it’s worth, I don’t think she’d ever cheat on you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

  He cursed again and hit his hand against the wheel. “I don’t fucking know what I’m worried about. I feel like this whole year is off, you know?” He sounded haunted. “Is it just me? Is it because Mason’s not here?”

  He was looking for an answer. I lifted both my shoulders up and let them fall. I didn’t have one for him. “I miss him too.”

  “Yeah,” he said softly. “Maybe that’s just it.” He groaned, raking a hand through his hair, letting it rub over his face before dropping it to his lap. “It’s just, it’s Quinn, you know? I hate that loser. Anything she gives him makes me feel like crap. Any time she texts him or smiles at him or takes his phone call, the douche thinks he’s winning her over me. I hate this shit. I hate relationships.” He grinned at me. “I think Tate messed me up for every girl.”

  “Just talk to Kris. She told me that she used to sleep with guys to feel loved, something about having daddy issues. If she’s talking to another guy, maybe it’s those old issues rearing up, and she’s just not handling them. I don’t know.” I reached over and squeezed his hand. “For what it’s worth, she’s crazy about you. I know she is.”

  He turned his hand over so his palm rested against mine. He sighed, lacing his fingers with mine. “Thanks, Sam. You’re right. I’ll just talk to her first.” His eyes narrowed, and his hand tightened around mine. “Then I’ll kick his ass.”

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  I had Logan drop me off at home. He went to the party, but I never heard if there had been any drama or not. Mark was still sleeping when I got up the next morning and headed for a shift at Manny’s. As I got to the little diner, I breathed in the smell of grease, dirt, dust, and sweat. The front door was open, and I could hear yelling, mixed with a fast country song from inside. Opening the screen door, I noticed a group of guys huddled around the bar. The top of Brandon’s head was visible as a bottle was tossed in the air. When I didn’t hear glass shattering, I assumed he was doing his usual bartending show. When I moved past the bar for the back employee room, he saw me from the side of the group. In mid-pour, he flashed me a smile. “The prodigal sister has returned.”

  I grinned. “Still dreaming about being in Cocktail?

  “You know it.” He winked at me. Finishing the pour, he slid the glass to its customer and held his hand towards me. “Hold up, Sam.”

  I paused, but glanced around with my uniform in hand. There were two other servers that I didn’t recognize, along with Rosa and Frank, who was doing the dishes. When Brandon finished putting the money in the register, I asked him, “Where’s Heather?” It wasn’t normal to have five servers on a shift.

  “That’s what I wanted to let you know. She’s at Channing’s. Rosa’s filling in for her.”

  “Oh.” I was disappointed. It’s why I had picked up the shift, to work with her. “Okay. I’m still on till nine tonight?”

  “Yeah, that’s the other thing. Our numbers are down, so we don’t need you today. I’m sorry, Sam. I was supposed to call you and let you know.”

  Double oh.

  He grimaced. “I got slammed, or I would’ve called you earlier. I am sorry.”

  “So you’re saying I have a free day?”

  “Go find Logan and get drunk.” He paused and then added, “Road trip to see Mason?”

  I laughed, but I was considering it. I turned back and was headed outside when someone stepped forward. The screen door hit him in the head. “I’m sorry—” I started, but stopped when I saw who it was.

  Jackson.

  He had taken off his sunglasses and rubbed his forehead as he squinted to see me. “Sam?” He held his sunglasses up. “Apparently I need more than these. That sun is blinding. I didn’t see you at all.”

  “I hit you. I’m sorry.”

  “I’m good.” Giving me a grin, he turned and looked around us. He scanned the parking lot, the patio, and leaned around me to see inside the diner. “Are you here with someone?”

  I held up my uniform. “I work here.”

  “You do? I’ve been eating here for the last three weeks.”

  “I work here,” I paused, “randomly. I don’t have that much time with cross country. You know, with school too.”

  “Ah. Yes.” His hand lingered on the side of his face as he gazed down at me. “Jeff used to talk about you running all the time. You still run?”

  “Yeah.”

  He laughed and shook his head, rolling his eyes. “Jeff always bitched about you running. He tried to tell me that’s why he cheated on you, because you ran all the time.”

  “What?”

  “What?”

  He said… “You and Jeff talked about him cheating?”

  “Yeah—” The screen door opened again as three guys left Manny’s. Jackson glanced around, then gestured to a table and chairs in the corner. “Can we just…do you want to…I don’t know. Could we talk…a little? After what happened and last night, I feel like we should talk. Maybe for some closure or something.”

  “Yeah.” That sounded good. He was right. Closure. As he sat down, I sat across from him.

  I stared.

  He stared back.

  This was going wonderfully. “So…”

  At the same time, he said, “Yeah, so—” He laughed. “Man. This is awkward, huh?”

  “Little bit.” I curled my hands together on my lap. “It’s probably me. I don’t socialize much. I don’t have to. Pretty much everyone knows me by now.”

  A keen look came into his eyes, and he leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table. “Yeah. Jeff said when you guys broke up, it wasn’t long before you were with Mason Kade. Since I’ve been here, I can tell that probably sent some shockwaves through school, huh?”

  “You could say that.” I grinned. “Things are fine, for the most part.”

  “That’s good.” His head bobbed up and down. His smile never left his face. “And your boyfriend is at Cain U?”

  “Do you know that because of the gossip or—”

  He shook his head. “Football. It’s known where the big recruits go. Signing day and all.”

  “Signing day?”

  “Yeah…” He trailed off. “He would’ve committed then, well officially committed.”

  “Oh.”

  “You didn’t know?”

  I shook my head. “Mason never said anything.”

  He scratched
his ear and tilted his head to the side. “I think he only had his mom and some old guy there. Yeah. I’m sure of that. It’s televised…” I felt like I’d been punched in the chest. His eyes widened. “And you didn’t know that either.” He glanced down to the table. “I was going to say it’s weird that his brother wasn’t there or I would’ve recognized Logan.” His voice quieted. “Signing day’s a big deal too…I’m not being helpful, am I?”

  Signing day. Helen and another guy had been there. It was televised. My jaw clenched. More things Mason had kept from me.

  “Sam?”

  He said that so softly, so tentatively, I wanted to melt. Feeling my throat choke up, my fingers pressed into my palms, and I willed all the weakness to go away. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. As I forced everything down, I gave Jackson another smile and brushed that damn little tear away. I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t going to act like it anymore.

  I forced out, “What were you saying?”

  “I’m sorry,” he said, an extra layer of earnestness in his eyes. He leaned forward again. “It’s always February fourth. Maybe something was going on, and he didn’t want to bother yo…” He trailed off again. A look of concern came into his eyes as he noticed that I winced.

  That was around the time I was in the hospital. Mason hadn’t said a word.

  “I didn’t want to talk to cause problems. I’m sorry.”

  I shook my head. “No, it’s fine.” Change of topic, please. “So your parents are getting a divorce?”

  He winced, gritting his teeth at the same time. Lifting a hand to run it through his hair, he blew out a puff of air. His shoulders slumped down, and he started to pick at the tablecloth with his fingers. “Yeah. Uh. My dad kicked us out.”

  I frowned.

  “Not me, but he kicked my mom out. He can be a huge asshole.”

  “It must run in the family.” Memories of Jeff flashed in my mind.

  “Yeah. It does, but this is what I wanted to tell you.” His tone dropped to a serious note, and he lifted his head. When his eyes found mine, I saw an intensity in them. “I didn’t set out to sleep with you that night. I’m sorry if it came across like that. I’d been drinking. My parents were having problems, and I wasn’t a real nice guy that year at school. I was kinda like my cousin. I was a whore, but anyway, I didn’t mean for anything to happen. I want you to know that. You were just so nice, and you were hurting. I knew Jeff had done something to upset you and we hugged and …”

  I swallowed over the knot in my throat. “I’m aware of what happened that night.”

  “I liked you.”

  “What?”

  “I liked you, before that night. Jeff showed me your picture, and he talked about you a lot. Regardless of how he treated you, I know my cousin loved you, but yeah. I think I started to crush on you because of what he’d say and then I met you in person, and you were more, you know? So I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t using you or anything. I would’ve dated you too, or pursued dating you, but you disappeared the next morning, and Jeff told me later you two were trying to make it work.” A shadow crossed his features. “I thought maybe I’d leave you alone after that.”

  My mouth was slightly open as I listened to what he was saying. I never expected to hear that. He liked me? Because I had no idea how to respond, I snorted. “Jeff did not love me. No matter what you say. He had been screwing one of my best friends for two years.”

  “He did?” A flash of anger appeared in his gaze.

  I straightened, taken aback. “I’m over it. Trust me, things got better for me.” And with all the talking about Jeff… “Where is Jeff? I haven’t seen him since this summer.” A small buzzing sensation was in my stomach from Jackson’s explanation. I should address it, but I had no idea what to say. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to talk about what would’ve happened if he had pursued me. It didn’t matter. It was in the past.

  He leaned back, rolling his eyes. “My cousin has a girlfriend.”

  A grin tugged at the corner of my mouth. “Why am I not surprised?”

  “Yeah.” He was grinning too and propped his hand up, shaking a finger in the air. “His new girlfriend is a serious Christian.”

  “What?” Bombs exploded. “Jeff’s with a Christian? Manwhore Jeff?”

  Jackson nodded, a smile stretched from ear to ear as he laughed. “I know. Can you believe that? And get this, he’s not been around because on the weekends, he goes to a wilderness camp with her.”

  My eyeballs were going to fall out. I couldn’t believe this.

  He added, “They do bible studies, bonfires, singing. All of that.”

  “Sex?”

  He kept laughing. “Oh, they’re having sex. Jeff said she’s changed him and strengthened his faith, but the sex is his influence on her. He said he can only be so much of a saint, you know.” Jackson kept laughing, and he shook his head. “Man, I laughed so hard when he told me he’s in love with this girl. I never thought it would last.”

  “How long have they been together?”

  “I think they’re going on three months.”

  “Wow.” I was stunned. “That would explain why he hasn’t gone to any parties.”

  “Nope. He said he’s been praying. They do lots of praying.”

  “Good for him.”

  “Yeah.” His grin faded a bit, and his laughter changed to a soft chuckle. “This has been nice.”

  “This?”

  He gestured from me to him. “This. Talking to you. It was so easy to talk to you that night. I wasn’t used to that. I’m usually shy around girls.”

  “I thought you said you were a manwhore that year?” But I agreed with him. It was easy to talk to him.

  He chuckled again, stretching an arm up to rub the back of his neck. “Talking and having sex are two different things.” He flashed me a grin. “Sometimes being a football star comes in handy. I’m sure Mason and Logan have that affect. They’re like gods around here.”

  “Yeah, they are.”

  Memories of when I first moved in with them came back to me. Going to eat with Mason and him getting free food. He had been given free beer at the gas station a few times. So many girls. They had all wanted him. I’d almost forgotten what that limelight was like. He was gone, and all that attention went with him. Now, I was only Sam.

  “Sam?”

  I glanced up and realized Jackson had been watching me, waiting. “Sorry.” I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. “I was just remembering when I first started dating Mason. It was hard to get used to, but now it’s different.”

  “What do you mean?”

  I glanced up. He seemed genuinely interested, but not like others would have been. Other people would’ve wanted to know about Mason or Logan. It was different with Jackson, and I knew that he would understand.

  I heard myself asking before I realized what I was saying, “How do you handle the attention?” I flushed. I had no idea what I was asking. “I’m sorry. I don’t know where that came from.” I started to stand from my chair. “I should go—”

  “I don’t.”

  His words stopped me, and I slowly sat back down. “What do you mean?”

  His tone was so soft. “I don’t handle it. I meant it when I said that I’m shy around girls. You’re different, Sam. You don’t have an agenda. You’re not trying to use me for anything. Hell, I don’t even think you want to talk to me, but I like it.” He waved his hand over his face. “I’m not dumb. I know I’m good looking, and I’m good at football. I might have a future there; I’m not sure yet. I know I’m playing in college, but that’s all I know. Girls are already looking at me with dollar signs in their eyes.” He looked away, but raised his eyes again.

  He was looking at me, but it was different. I felt a sudden tension go through me. It was like he was seeing through me. No one looked at me like that except Mason. My fingers curled around the sides of my chair, and I bit down on my lip. I wasn’t sure what he was going to say.

 
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