Fallen crest home, p.21
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       Fallen Crest Home, p.21

         Part #6 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
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  Matteo turned to Mason. “You dated her?”

  “I used to fuck her.” His lips thinned. “Unfortunately.”

  “She and her friends thought they were in an actual girl gang and jumped Sam,” Logan said. “They put her in the hospital one night.”

  “Oh. Wow.” Matteo’s voice grew quiet. “I’m sorry, Sam. I had no idea Kate was like that.”

  “You guys were told someone was snitching?” Nate asked Mason and me.

  I nodded. “Kate found me at the carnival one night. She said we needed to be wary, that someone in the inner circle was talking.” I looked back at Matteo. “You had no way of knowing, so don’t feel bad.”

  “He didn’t really know anything, right?” Logan asked Mason.

  “Not really.”

  Matteo frowned, scratching his head. “Yeah, you guys talk in riddles sometimes. I think I’ve gotten used to it, but now I’m starting to realize it’s just all code for things. Look, don’t tell me anything. I’ll stop seeing Tiffany. We’re not serious. We were just having fun until I go back to school and football.”

  Nate and Logan seemed satisfied with that. Both leaned back on the couches, stretching their feet out.

  Mark kept looking from person to person, and after a moment he threw his hands up in the air. “Am I the only one pissed right now?”

  Matteo said nothing, just sat between Logan and Nate on the couch. Mason moved to stand next to me and touched the small of my back, his hand shifting under my shirt to rest against my skin.

  “Why are you mad, Mark?” he asked.

  “Because—” he sputtered. “I want to know what’s going on.”

  “We can’t tell you.” Logan disentangled his arm from the back of the couch and leaned forward.

  “Why not?”

  “Because you’re friends with Quinn,” Logan explained.

  “But he’s working with Adam.” Mark pointed to Mason.

  “Doesn’t mean I’m friends with him.”

  “He thinks you are.”

  Mason frowned, his hand pressing harder against my back. He tugged me against him. “What do you mean?”

  “He thinks you guys are all copacetic. Becky, too. They were asking what was going on last night, since everyone knew you were at that party.”

  That didn’t sound right. “Becky asked, too?” I said.

  He looked at me. “Well, I mean…” He lifted a shoulder. “She was there, and Adam was asking me. She didn’t tell him to be quiet or anything. I just took it to mean she agreed with him.”

  Becky loved Adam, but she understood we weren’t friends with him. That made me feel like something else was going on, but it wasn’t something I could get from Mark. When Mason and Logan fell quiet and remained that way, I knew what they were doing. Mark might be friends with Logan, and friendly-ish with Mason, but he was my stepbrother. He was mine to handle.

  I moved forward. “Mark, are you asking because you were worried about me, or because Adam asked you to find out what was going on?”

  “He—” Mark stopped again. He gripped the back of his neck. “Adam didn’t really ask in so many words, not like he wanted me to find out. But it still pissed me off. I had no clue what was going on, and then I heard there were gunshots at a party you were at? Yeah, I guess I got mad.” He glared at Logan, then Mason. “She’s not just yours. She’s mine, too. My sister. My family. You can’t keep putting her in danger all the time.”

  I didn’t look up at Mason. I didn’t dare because he was either ready to rip Mark’s head off, or—I didn’t want to know. I stepped toward my stepbrother. “Mark, it’s not like that.”

  “Yes, it is, Sam. It has been for a long time.”

  He was coming after Mason. There was no way things would end fine now. I saw Logan stand to come to his brother’s defense. You attack one, you attack all. That was our motto. But this was my stepbrother.

  I held my hands out, as if to help silence him. “Mark, it’s not like that. I swear.”

  “It has been, Sam! You can’t argue that. Those girls putting you in the hospital. Didn’t you guys deal with a drug dealer the other year? How is that safe for Sam? And Sebastian? I mean, there’s a pattern, and you guys can’t deny it. Over and over again my sister is in danger. And this year, a guy tried to hurt her at the carnival, the fucking carnival. We gotta go to work tomorrow, and I’ll be worried the entire time that someone’s grabbing her or worse, just like that Broudou guy tried.”

  I felt Mason right behind me. Logan had moved forward to stand on his other side. I saw Nate rising out of the corner of my eye. This was so not good.

  Mark opened his mouth to keep going, and there was so much he could say.

  I closed my eyes. The list was long, but then I felt that storm inside of me again—it was pressing and pressing, trying to get free, until suddenly I yelled out, “It’s not them!”

  There was a moment of silence.

  “You can’t say it’s not them, Sam. I know—”

  “It’s me.”

  I opened my eyes, knowing everything was right there. He could see the pain, the yearning, the rage. All of it was showing, and I couldn’t do a damned thing to hide it.

  “This summer, it’s been me, Mark. I went to that fighting event without Mason. I shouldn’t have gone, and I should’ve left right away. I didn’t. I’m the one who put him in danger. And getting a job at a carnival, where someone from Roussou could easily find me? It was your idea, but I sure went for it. All summer I’ve been lost. I was thinking of psychology, but it didn’t feel right. Not completely. All the other majors I thought of didn’t fit either, so I don’t have one. I have no clue what I want to do with my life. Mason’s got two career paths he’s getting ready for. Logan is doing communications, and everyone knows he’ll be amazing at whatever he ends up doing with it.”

  “I will?”

  “Heather is running Manny’s, and she’s going to marry Channing.”

  Mason looked down at me. I saw the movement from the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. Shame flooded me as my words spilled out. “Even Becky and Adam know what they’re doing with their lives. They’re getting married. He’s either going to take over his dad’s company or go to law school. And she’s going with him.”

  One by one, I was removing the knots inside me. I tossed them out until there were just two left. They were the biggest of all, and I moved away so Mason wasn’t touching me. It didn’t feel right to let him comfort me as I said this.

  My voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “And my mom’s getting married this summer. I’m not avoiding her because she wants back in. I’m avoiding her because…” Here it was. The first boulder was her, but the second was what she represented. “…She’s getting married, and I think the whole thing is a crock of shit.”



  All of it.

  I didn’t want to get married.

  That was the last boulder sitting on my chest, but I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t tell Mason because I knew it was something he wanted.

  I didn’t believe in marriage anymore. It was one more thing my mother had destroyed for me.

  “Excuse me.” I left. I didn’t know where I was going, but I couldn’t stay here. The truth was going to spill from me, and I wouldn’t risk it. I could lose Mason that way.


  He followed me outside, but I turned and held my hands out. “No. Let me go.”

  I still couldn’t look at him, but his voice sounded closer when he said, “Sam, what’s going on?”

  It was me. I was the monster here. It was all me.

  “Just…let me go, for now.” I started forward again. “I need some time.”

  And before he could grab me or change my mind, I took off.

  I didn’t stick to the sidewalk or the roads. I cut through back paths, and when I came to a crossroads, I ran away from any place I’d ever been before.

  I ran and walked
for hours.

  I went all over. I was close to Roussou at one point before I circled back to the east end of Fallen Crest. I didn’t go to anyone else. It wasn’t right to talk about this feeling with anyone other than Mason, but I wasn’t ready to talk to him about it.

  For once I was in a position where I couldn’t go to him and know everything would be fine, no matter what. It might not be. This could be a game changer.

  My stomach rumbled, and spotting a grocery store, I went inside. I needed water and some kind of sustenance. I still had a few miles to cover before I was home. I’d have to rest the rest of the night and tomorrow morning to recover before going in to work.

  I wanted to dart in and out. I wanted it to be quick. I knew I smelled, so I decided to just grab some energy gel packets. I wouldn’t have to wait for my stomach to digest them.

  I moved toward the right aisle, and that was when I saw her.

  I had to laugh.

  I’d been avoiding Analise for so long, but this was the moment we would really cross paths: in the freaking grocery store. My aisle was next to hers, but there she was, holding a bag of coffee. No one else was in the aisle, and she hadn’t looked up. I could still go.

  But I must’ve made a sound because even as that thought flitted through my mind, she looked over.

  She dropped her bag of coffee. “Oh.”

  A lump formed in my throat.

  It wasn’t surprise, or fear, or pain that flashed across her face. She didn’t pale. Whatever was going on with her face, I was not seeing those things, because that didn’t make sense. My mom was evil. She was a bitch. She was the monster who wanted to take Mason’s future away, not this woman who seemed to shrink in size the longer I stood there, staring at her.

  She hadn’t seemed like this before, when I saw her walking. She’d looked like a ghost then, an eerie figment of my imagination. This woman was real. I could see emotions inside of her.

  “Stop it.” I couldn’t take it.

  Seeing her as a real person was too much.

  She’d bent down to pick up the bag, and paused when she heard me. She looked up, suspended there a moment, before she snatched it. Straightening, she frowned at me. Her gaze grew clouded, and she dropped her eyes to the coffee.

  I expected a scathing comment.

  I braced myself, ready.


  She wouldn’t tear her gaze from that damned coffee bag.

  I couldn’t handle this. I strode forward and took the bag from her. “You’re not going to say anything?”

  She swallowed, looking at me, but not really. I felt like she was looking through me, searching for something behind me even.

  She still said nothing.

  I ground my teeth together. I deserved a response. “Mom!”

  Her eyes welled up and she gasped. “Samantha.” Her hand covered her mouth. The tears rolled down. “I…” She reached out, but I backed away. “I, I’m sorry. I never thought I’d hear you say that again.”

  What? Mom?

  Emotions swirled through me, but one thing stood out: the fact that I was feeling them. I wasn’t numbing myself. I wasn’t turning on the robot-Sam. I wasn’t even feeling the itch to run. This was…new.

  I didn’t like it.

  I put the coffee back on the shelf. I didn’t know what to say.

  Apparently, she didn’t either because she just watched me back away, one step at a time. It was so fucking surreal, this moment. We’d barely spoken, but I felt like I’d just run another gauntlet.

  I was exhausted. Feeling my own eyes tearing up, I turned and left.

  It wasn’t dark, but it was close to dusk when a pair of headlights pulled into the park area where I was resting. I knew it was Mason. I didn’t move from the picnic table where I sat. I just looked up as he turned off the Escalade and came over. God, even now, my mouth watered for him.

  He was dressed in dark grey pants, the kind he wore after a workout. They were lightweight and soft to the touch. He’d pulled on a Cain University T-shirt, and as the wind swept over us, it pressed the shirt against his chest. I could see every ridge, dip, and valley in those stomach muscles, and I was already yearning for the next time he’d be holding me.

  That feeling was never going away

  Mason was it for me. He was the real deal, and I wasn’t going to find anyone else like him again. But marriage—even the idea of it sent chills through my blood.

  He didn’t say anything. He only sat next to me at the picnic table, his knee lightly pressed into mine. That was his greeting. It was small, but intimate.

  I sighed softly, hanging my head.

  His hand rested on my back, and he began rubbing circles.

  “You okay?”

  That was all he asked. No demands about where I’d gone or why I went. No lectures about how he’d worried about me.

  Even more shame bloomed in me, but I nodded. “I think so.”

  He continued to rub my back, up and down now.

  “I saw my mom again.”


  “Grocery store.” I lifted my head, turning to look at him. “I went in to grab some energy gel so I’d have enough strength to make it back home, and there she was.” I snorted. “Buying coffee. I don’t remember her drinking coffee before. It was tea—or wine.”

  Mason smiled lightly. “I thought she liked bourbon.”

  “I think she did.” I shook my head, exhaustion, shame, and sadness washing over me. Also gratefulness. I reached for Mason’s hand, and our fingers laced together. “Thank you.”

  He squeezed my hand. “For what?”

  “For coming to get me. I don’t think I had enough in me to get home to you.”

  “Well.” His top lip curved up. “You forgot the gel packets.” He leaned forward, lightly nipping my shoulder. “Makes sense.”

  I laughed, some of my sadness fading, but not all of it. I was suddenly even more exhausted than before. “You know what I mean.”

  He lifted his head and brushed my hair back from my face. He cupped my cheek and turned my face so I was looking right at him.

  “I’ll always come for you,” he said softly. “You never have to thank me for that.”

  My throat swelled, and a tear slipped from my eye. He caught it, brushing it away with his thumb, and leaned forward. His lips brushed mine, so softly, so gently. I closed my eyes, welcoming his tender touch. Then he applied pressure, and I opened my mouth. The same feelings as always surged up in me, pushing the exhaustion, sadness, and shame to the side. I was starving for his touch, just like I’d been last night, but this was slightly different.

  I wasn’t reassuring myself that he was fine. I was reassuring myself that I would be fine. Whatever my issues about marriage, everything would be worked out. It had to be.

  Mason got up from the picnic table and picked me up. We kept kissing, and my legs wrapped around his waist as he carried me to the Escalade. When we got back to the house, he parked in the garage, a place that was always empty. We didn’t make it inside the house. There were too many people in there.

  Mason locked the garage door and the side door so no one could interrupt us. Then he caught my hand, tugged me to an inflated pool bed, and for a few hours, we were completely alone—no brothers, no best friends, no parents. Just him and me.

  It was close to three in the morning when we tried sneaking inside.

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