Fallen fourth down, p.20
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       Fallen Fourth Down, p.20
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         Part #4 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan

  pumping her fist to the music. The deejay started a new song, bleeding the songs together so the beat slowed. So did Marissa’s hands and she paused. As the beat built, speeding up and getting louder, everyone waited. Then the beat exploded and another wave of energy went over the crowd. Marissa reacted, jumping up and down in a frenzied motion. The guy leaned back, just holding onto her hips to keep her close.

  Drew said over my shoulder, “Dude. She’s clueless. She doesn’t even know that guy is there.”

  A growl came from me, and I pushed Matteo forward.

  He said, “Hey.”

  I kept propelling him forward, using him to break through the crowd. I said over my shoulder to Drew, “Stay close. Watch the crowd to see if any girls react when we get to her. She might be here with a friend.”

  He nodded.

  When we got to them, the guy looked up. They did a double take at the sight of Matteo and grinned, waving at him. Matteo said, “Hi, douchebag. Release the wench.”

  “What?”

  I rolled my eyes, stepping around Matteo. When the douchebag saw me, saw the scowl on my face, his hands lifted in surrender. “Oh whoa. I thought she was single. I swear.”

  I grabbed Marissa’s arm, but she kept dancing. I said to him, “She’s wasted. She doesn’t even know if she’s single. Get lost before I decide to find out who you are and kick your ass later.”

  His eyes got big, and he was gone in an instant.

  “Marissa.” I pulled her closer. “Hey.”

  One of her eyes opened, peeking at me. “Huh?”

  The smell of alcohol singed my nostrils, and I moved so I could yell into her ear, “Who are you here with?”

  Giggling, she stopped dancing and rested a hand on my chest. She lifted her shoulder up and cringed. “That tickles.”

  Drew moved closer. We were beginning to attract attention. I lifted an eyebrow, silently asking if he noticed anyone. He shook his head and said, “She might be alone. I have no idea.”

  Matteo started dancing next to us. When he began moving away, Drew grabbed his arm, anchoring him in place.

  “Marissa, do you have your phone on you?” I couldn’t see any pockets on her skirt, and she didn’t have a purse with her. I said to Drew, “She has to have friends here.”

  “Yeah, but if she does, they’re not around.” He was skimming the crowd. “I’m not seeing anyone I even recognize. How did all these people get invited? We’re the only football players here.”

  Matteo bumped into us.

  I jerked my head at him. “Take a guess.”

  Drew groaned. “Yep. It’s time for us to go home.” He focused on Marissa. “What do we do with her?”

  “I have no fucking clue. I would call Nate to see if he knew where she lived, but I don’t have my phone.”

  “Why don’t you have your phone?”

  “We came here straight from class. I left it at home, thinking we’d go back to the house before coming here.”

  He nodded, then lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “Well, she can come with us? I’ll sleep on the couch. She can have my room. It’s a single.”

  The thought of Marissa sleeping at my house didn’t sit well with me, but I had no other choice. I grimaced. “All right. Let’s head home.” My hand curled tighter on Marissa’s arm, and I yelled in her ear, “Last time. Are any of your friends here?”

  A fresh wave of giggling sputtered out of her and she shook her head. “No,” she said. “I don’t have any friends. Not even you. You used to be my friend.” She poked my chest. “We’re no longer friends.” The laughter subsided, and her tone turned sad. “I wish we were still friends.”

  Drew heard her and an alarmed look flashed over his face. “She’s going to start crying. Let me take her.”

  I nodded, released her, and took hold of Matteo. Drew leaned close to her ear. I assumed that he was telling her who he was, even though it wouldn’t have mattered. She was too drunk to care. On that note, I slapped a hand on Matteo’s back. “Time to head home, buddy.”

  He jerked his head in a nod, leaned forward, bunched his shoulders so he looked fierce, and began to lead us out of there.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  SAMANTHA

  Logan was distant during the entire week and people took notice. Heather asked what had happened. I didn’t want to talk about it. He’d been right. Since Mason left, I had pulled away from him. The Threesome Fearsome was down to a Twosome Fearsome, but with different players. I’d been so worried about losing my family because of Logan’s feelings for me that I’d been the one to jeopardize it. Because of that, I had kept to myself for the week.

  It was Friday night, the football team had won, so of course, that meant a party. This time one of Logan’s friends was throwing the party. When I pulled onto the road by the house, I parked towards the end. I didn’t want to be boxed in. As I started walking towards the house, more cars passed me to park closer to the house. I glimpsed at some of the drivers and knew it was going to be a big party. Fallen Crest Academites had been invited; I recognized a few of the people. As I got to the house, I realized there were more people there than I had thought. The house was packed. There was barely any walking space. I started to wedge myself through two big guys, both with their backs to me. Suddenly, from behind me, someone shouted, “OUT OF THE WAY! KEG COMING THROUGH!”

  I was pushed to the side, ramming against two people. One cried out in pain, then a growl sounded close to my ear. “You bitch! Get off me.” I was shoved back. Time slowed, and I knew what was going to happen.

  I turned, seeing some of Logan’s friends headed right towards me. They weren’t looking ahead. Their faces were straining as they pushed the keg on a dolly, and it was coming fast. People had scattered and I had a brief thought that they must’ve done this before. I closed my eyes. I was still in the air from being shoved back. I couldn’t do anything. I was going to get hit, so I braced myself. At the last second, someone grabbed me and yanked me the other way.

  A rush of air slammed into my chest, but I pressed against whoever was holding me, flattening myself as much as possible. The guys barreled past me. A litany of curses followed them. “Watch where you’re fucking going!”

  Someone yelled, “You almost hit someone. She would’ve been wiped out.”

  The rush of relief left me weak, and I turned to thank whoever had saved me. Natalie. Her lips were pressed tight together, the ends curved down, and a dead look was in her eyes. She shoved me away from her and shook her head. “You got your ass kicked last year. If I knew a keg could’ve done it, we would’ve saved the trouble. Honestly, Sam, you suck. You almost got laid out.”

  “Thank you.” I blinked a couple times. I had no idea what else to say. I blurted out, “Why?”

  Her mouth opened into a snarl, then she stopped. “I have no idea. I don’t even like you.” She lifted a fist between us. “You attacked me at the football game.”

  “You attacked me during a basketball game.”

  She paused.

  I waited, and my eyes narrowed.

  She shrugged. “I’m tired of fighting your ass.”

  My eyebrow arched at that one. “You’re tired? Try being me. That’s all I’ve done since I transferred to your school.”

  “Whatever. Whine about it. You’re through the hazing.” She started around me and threw over her shoulder, “You’re one of us now, Sam. Christ. I need a beer.” She shoved through the crowd, and a surreal feeling came over me.

  I shook my head. I had no idea what had just happened and reminded myself why I was there. To talk to Logan. Make things right. So I headed off again and searched through the house. He wasn’t in any of the rooms. When I was going through a screened-in porch, I glanced to the side and noticed someone huddled in a chair in the far corner. A beer was open next to him, and he had a sweatshirt on, the hood pulled up to cover his face. I stopped. I knew that guy. Taking a step closer, I asked, “Jackson?”

  He turned. His hood
slipped back an inch, revealing his face. The ends of his mouth were strained, and there were bags underneath his eyes.

  “What are you doing there?”

  He sat up. His leg had been resting on the chair across from him, but he removed it and I sat down. He cast a wary look behind me and into the house. “I forgot how much I don’t like parties.”

  “Why’d you come?”

  He flinched, picking up his beer. It was still full, but he took a little sip and grimaced after he swallowed it. “It’s better than being home.” He lifted a shoulder up in a shrug. “A bunch of the guys invited me and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I came. I figure I could hide until I go home in a few hours.”

  “Stuff with your mom?”

  “Something like that.” His eyes narrowed, as if a different thought came to him. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Hey, listen. I lied to you.”

  “What?”

  “Yeah. Last weekend. I knew you worked there. It’s why I went. I’d never been to that place before, but I didn’t stalk you for a creepy reason or anything. I just wanted to talk about that night, you know, with us.”

  “I know.”

  “Your boy came up to me. He told me to stay away from you.” Lifting his hands, as if surrendering, he leaned back in his chair. “I’ll be honest. I’d date you, Sam. I’d do it in a heartbeat if you were single, but no shade here. I’m not trying to manipulate you or anything. No tricking. Nothing like that. I really did just want to clear the air.”

  “My boy?”

  He gestured outside to the backyard. “Logan Kade.”

  “He told you to stay away from me?”

  “Yeah. Look,” he shook his head, “it wasn’t in a bad way. He was actually nice about it, but I could tell that he wanted to rip my head off. I don’t want to cause problems. I had kinda hoped we could be friends, but like I said, no problem. Since I am interested in you, he’s right. I’ll stay away.”

  Jackson was interested in me? He said he would’ve pursued me before, and he was saying the same thing again. There was a ball of tension in my stomach. The more he talked, the deeper it dug down. Jackson was different than Mason or Logan. He understood the shadows, how comfortable it could be there. That was a foreign concept to Mason and Logan. I sighed, rubbing a hand over my face. Jackson had been easy to talk to the night he took my virginity, and he still was. That hadn’t gone away, even though I had been ripped apart with guilt over cheating on Jeff. Now he was here and a different part of me was coming back.

  “Jackson, you’re fine. You don’t have to worry about Logan.”

  “Yeah?”

  “Yeah.” I didn’t know what I meant when I said that, but Jackson was like me. If he had pursued me, I would’ve dated him, but I couldn’t think about that. Things would’ve been different, maybe. I would’ve been with him instead of Jeff when my mom left David for James Kade. For a split second, I envisioned that year if I had been dating Jackson, then the memories of that time came back to me. Mason watching me in the kitchen. Seeing me in the dark when Logan had no clue. The day he made me a sandwich and never said a word about it. All the tension I felt around him. The night Logan went to a party, and Mason stayed home with me. Then the cabin, being with him. I hadn’t been able to fight my feelings for him.

  No. It wouldn’t have been different. I just would’ve cheated on Jackson.

  Jackson was watching me. He asked, “What’s wrong?”

  I stood and spoke softly, “When you told me last week that you were interested, a part of me had wished that you had pursued it. I was miserable with your cousin, and I hope that you would’ve treated me better, but hearing this, I thought about it again. I was so sad with Jeff. You would’ve been a break, just a brief one to take away some of that pain.” My head moved in the slightest shake. “It wouldn’t have lasted. I remember that year, when I moved in with Mason, and even if I had been with you, I would still have ended up with him. I love Mason so much. Being away from him is hard and Logan’s right. I’m lonely. I’m hurting. I miss Mason, but nothing would’ve changed. No matter what path I’m on, all roads lead to him. They always will.”

  Jackson nodded and murmured, “I hope he realizes what he’s got with you.”

  The corners of my lips tugged, forming a small grin. “He does. I think I’m the one who doesn’t realize it sometimes.”

  He lifted his beer and tipped it towards me. “It was nice being considered a maybe-friend for a little while.”

  My grin grew. “Yeah.” Logan. Making things right. I groaned. That was the real reason I was there. “He’s outside?”

  “Logan?”

  I nodded.

  He gestured to the backyard. “He and his friends are by the campfire, holding court.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Just go and see for yourself. You’ll understand.”

  I turned for the last screen door. Pausing, as I was about to push it open, I said, “It was nice to talk to you. It was nice seeing you again.”

  “You too.”

  I pushed open the screen door, and as it shut behind me, I heard from him again, “You too, Sam.”

  The backyard was packed as well. Bean bags were being tossed on one side. Another group was hitting a volleyball over a badminton net and laughing when the ball wouldn’t go over. The garage had its doors lifted. Light flooded out from it, illuminating the front of the garage. A basketball hoop was attached to the top and a couple of guys were holding beers in one hand, shooting a basketball with the other. People stood in groups all around, laughing, drinking, flirting, telling stories. I walked around, looking for a campfire, but it wasn’t until I circled to the other side of the garage that I saw the flame. It was set back in the farthest corner of the backyard and a ring of people had formed around it, but they stood away, standing sideways so they could talk to their friends, but the closer I got, I saw they were sneaking looks at the campfire.

  I realized why. Log benches were set around the fire, lined with guys, but there was no laughter coming from that group. Varying intense expressions were on all of them and no girls were there. The girls were in the groups standing away from the campfire, but still looking over at them every few minutes. An exclusive feel filled the air. It intensified the closer I got, until I was standing at the edge of the groups. I, too, couldn’t look away from the guys around the campfire.

  Jackson said they were holding court. I understood. Even if I didn’t know Logan and saw him sitting there, I would know these guys were the top of the hierarchy. Confidence filled their shoulders, and as they spoke, it was heard in their voices as well. Even though they weren’t doing anything, they commanded attention from everyone surrounding them. More than few girls casted lustful looks to them. Some of the guys standing on the outskirts shifted on their feet and glanced around. Their hands gripped their beer cans tight before shoving a hand into their pocket. They shifted again, finally striking a cocky pose to cover any insecurity they had shown.

  “You want another, Kade?” A guy stood from the log he was sitting on.

  People shifted, watching as he said something else to his campfire comrades, then he was joined by another guy. Both lifted their legs, stepping over their benches and moved towards the groups surrounding them. The crowd shifted, automatically letting them through. As they passed by, they didn’t notice me.

  In that moment, I felt like Jackson. I felt like I was in the shadows, not being seen, like I had before Mason and Logan came into my life. I felt the old loneliness settle back on my shoulders, weighing me down. A couple girls turned to me. They nudged each other, all moving so they could scan me up and down. I looked down at the ground, trying to hide a smile. The sense of anonymity was gone. It had been there for a split second, but I was recognized again. I let out a sigh. Being invisible and visible had pros and cons to it, but it didn’t matter.

  Stepping forward, I rolled my shoulders back and raised my chin. Being in the limelight was
how Mason and Logan lived. That meant that’s where I would be with them. As I moved closer, Logan’s friends saw my approach. Nothing was said to each other. They all stood and left, leaving Logan alone. As I got there, he glanced up. He had been sitting with his back to everyone. He said, “I figured it was you.” He gestured to the empty benches. “They wouldn’t have left for anyone else.”

  I lifted my leg to climb over and sat next to him. My back was turned to everyone else too. “Even Kris?”

  “Even Kris.” His head lowered and he closed his eyes. His shoulders dropped slightly. His hand was on his leg and it turned, opening.

  He was hurting.

  I didn’t think; my arm lifted and my hand slid into his. His hand wrapped around mine. He tightened the hold, our fingers laced together, and I squeezed.

  He gave me a half-grin. “What’s this for?”

  “For messing up. For being self-absorbed.” I bit down on my
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