Fallen fourth down, p.23
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       Fallen Fourth Down, p.23
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         Part #4 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan

  added, “I haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t think. And I always say hi to him. I try to talk to him, but he just looks at me and walks away or says something to someone else, like I haven’t even spoken. I have no idea what I’ve done wrong.”

  Oh boy. “Um.” I had no idea what to say. Mason was an ass at times. “Have you talked to Logan about it?”

  She nodded. “Yeah, but he doesn’t say much. He changes the subject or leaves like Mason does.” A soft groan came from her. “We’ve been having problems. I’m sure you’ve noticed. I mean, everyone has. I don’t even know how to talk to Logan sometimes.”

  “The last girlfriend Logan had really hurt him. She came onto Mason one night, and he might be standoffish to you because he doesn’t want the same thing to happen again.”

  Her eyes lit up with hope. “You think that’s it?”

  No, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. If Mason had one inkling she might come onto him, he would share that tidbit with Logan immediately. The only redeeming fact I could think was that Mason wasn’t being mean. He just wanted nothing to do with her. I smiled at her. “It’s just the four of us tonight, so see how the rest of the evening goes?”

  “Yeah, you’re right.” She nodded to herself and turned for the door, squaring her shoulders back like she was going into battle. “Let’s do this.” A determined expression came over her. Her eyebrows furrowed, her lips pressed together, and she raised her chin up. She was on a mission.

  As we walked back to the table, I caught a glimpse of Mason and Logan with their heads together. I could see the intensity in their expressions from across the restaurant. When we got closer, they didn’t stop their conversation. Logan was saying, “I don’t agree with you. We should call Nate tonight, go over there, and deal with this. I’m coming to this same school next year. I don’t want to come in the middle of a battle. It’s fucked up that you guys haven’t squashed this.”

  Mason flashed him a grin and rubbed my shoulder when I sat next to him. He said to his brother, “We can’t go and bomb their cars. These guys don’t fight like that. The situation isn’t a situation. And I will squash this with Nate, for the Marissa incident.”

  “That’s bullshit.”

  Mason’s eyes narrowed. “What’s up your ass? You’ve been in a mood since you showed up.”

  “Nothing.” Logan’s scowl deepened, and he moved his chair back. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

  Kris spoke up, “He’s mad at me. We had a fight on the way here.”

  Mason and I shared a look. I had no idea what to say to that.

  Mason nodded. “Okay.”

  Her forehead wrinkled and her lips were pressed together, like she couldn’t decide something. Then she nodded to herself and rested her hands on the table. She looked right at Mason. “Why don’t you like me?”

  Oh, shit.

  Mason lounged back in his chair. His hand had been rubbing my shoulder, but stopped. “What?” He looked at me.

  I told him, “She’s not talking to me.”

  He scowled, but it was gone instantly. “Excuse me?”

  Kris’s throat moved up and down as she swallowed. Her hand lifted from her lap, shaking, and she laid it down on the table, spreading her fingers wide as if she could calm herself that way. “I have not done anything to you. I’ve been polite and even friendly, but you act as if I’m not here. I would like to know why you don’t like me.” She paused a beat. “Please. Is this why Logan and I are having problems? Do I need your approval to date your brother?”

  “You already are dating.”

  “I meant for the next level, where we’re more serious.”

  He glanced at me. I shrugged. This was on him to handle. He turned back and settled all of the weight of his gaze on her. I had been on the receiving end from one of those looks from him, before I knew he loved me. When she grasped onto the tablecloth and her hands fell into her lap with a thud, I could sympathize with her.

  He said, “I can give you my honest answer, but I will warn you. You won’t like it, and it will hurt your feelings.” He waited before adding, “Do you still want my answer?”

  “Yes.” She raised that tiny chin again. “I do.” I could see fear lurking in the depths of her eyes. Pain flashed in there as well, but it was moved aside, and her shoulders rolled back once again.

  “I don’t dislike you. I don’t like you either. I’m sorry if I come across as rude. I don’t intend to be, but I just don’t think about you.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You don’t matter to me.”

  She sucked in her breath, and the blood drained from her face.

  Mason added, “Your relationship with Logan won’t last. It’s only a matter of time before he decides to dump you and you know that. I can see it in you. I don’t know why you’re kidding yourself. You’re just lying to yourself and the longer you do, the more you’re allowing yourself to be hurt by him.”

  “You have no idea—” she started, snarling at him.

  He shook his head, stopping her. He softened his tone. “I’m not saying this to hurt you. I am sorry if that's what you think, but I know my brother.”

  She began to shake her head as tears started to fall. “You don’t know this. You can’t…” Her voice trailed off and doubt clouded over her face. Her head dropped until her chin tucked against her chest. From my seat at the table, I could see tears dripping onto her hands. She never brushed them away as they fell steadily.

  Mason glanced at me, a small frown on his face. He said, “I know you love my brother, but he doesn’t love you.”

  Her shoulders lifted, and she inhaled a sobbing breath.

  He added, “I think you know that too.”

  “Excuse me,” she choked out and rushed from the table.

  “Kris—”

  Mason grabbed my hand and held me back. “Don’t.”

  “You broke her, Mason. Let me go after her.”

  “No. Let her go. It’s the best thing for her.”

  “She’s hurting—”

  “Yes, she is, but if you go after her, you’ll end up saying something to give her false hope, whether you mean to or not. Logan doesn’t love her. You know that. I know that. Logan knows it, and she does too. Let her deal with this on her own. She’ll be stronger because of it.”

  I sat back down. Maybe he was right.

  Logan came back at that moment. He scanned the table. “Where’s Kris?”

  Mason never faltered. He never looked away. He spoke clearly, “She asked me why I didn’t like her.”

  Logan froze. “You didn’t. Oh, god. Mase, tell me you didn’t.”

  “So I told her.”

  “Oh my god.” Logan’s hand flew up, and he pressed his palm to his forehead. “For real? Why? Shit, Mason. Why? That’s not on you to tell her.” He shook his head and raked his hand through his hair. “Look, I have to find Kris and see if I can do something to make this better.”

  When he rushed from the restaurant, an alien feeling settled over me. This was off; Logan’s reaction wasn’t normal. I turned to Mason, still stunned at what had happened. “You basically ended his relationship, and he wasn’t even mad at you.” I shook my head. “That’s not normal. Why didn’t he get mad? Why didn’t he do anything?”

  “He went after her.”

  “To make it better. That’s what he said, but…” I looked towards the front of the restaurant where Logan had gone, but didn't see him. I blinked, still in shock. “Why did you answer her like that?”

  We were attracting attention. There hadn’t been any raised voices or angry movements, but I felt the audience growing. Head after head had turned in our direction. Mason saw them too and cursed. He gestured to the door with his head. “Can we finish this outside?”

  As I followed him, a foreboding sensation grew in me. When he led me down the street, then around a corner for more privacy, almost all of me had stopped feeling. I said again, “Why did you answer her like th
at?”

  “Because she asked me.”

  “Why didn’t you lie to her? You knew it would hurt her.”

  “Because she wanted to know the truth.”

  It sounded so simple coming from him, but I couldn’t get over the surreal feeling of this situation. “You broke them up. Why did you do that? You just caused pain for them.”

  His eyes narrowed, and he shook his head. He looked puzzled. “Because it’s the truth, Sam. Logan doesn’t love her. She knows that, and she asked me because it was time for her to hear it. You don’t seek out an answer unless you actually want to hear it. She’s not dumb. She knew what she was going to get when she asked.”

  “You hurt them, though.” I couldn’t get past that. A tightness had settled in my chest, burrowing deeper and deeper. “If you hadn’t said anything, they’d be still together. She wouldn’t have left crying. Logan wouldn’t have chased after her. I mean, even if they get back together, this will still be between them.”

  “He doesn’t love her.” Mason shook his head, slowly, as he gazed at me. “Why is this bothering you so much?”

  A bitter laugh gurgled up from my throat. Why was this bothering me? “You could’ve held your words and no one would’ve gotten hurt. That relationship is done, but if you’d just kept quiet, everything would’ve been fine.”

  “Sam.” He started for me.

  I moved away. My voice rose. “I mean, this is their relationship. That’s his girlfriend. It’s gone because of a few words from you; you destroyed them.”

  Tate’s voice haunted me. “Logan’s in love with you.” I closed my eyes as that thought screamed in my head. I could destroy everything. I could destroy us.

  “Sam.” Mason was shaking his head as he took another step towards me. Concern flashed in his eyes. “She loves him and he doesn’t return the feeling. That’s not fair to her to remain in that relationship. She asked me for a reason. She wanted to know the truth, and I’m guessing that she didn’t have the heart to hear it from him.”

  “But how do you know?”

  “I’ve known since the beginning.”

  I sucked in my breath. “Have you guys talked about it? I mean, what other stuff do you talk about? How do you even have those conversations with each other?”

  “I know Logan. I know when he’s in love, and I know when he’s using a girl for a distraction.”

  Oh god. My heart skipped a beat. I shook my head. This was my nightmare coming true. The real truth was right there. I felt it lingering beside us, and he was so close to it. One step and he’d stumble on it, and he’d know. I was holding my tears back. The truth would be out.

  I shook my head. I couldn’t lose him. I couldn’t lose Logan either. “Mason,” I whispered, my voice hoarse. It was there, on the tip of my tongue. But I stopped myself. I couldn’t lose him.

  “Sam?”

  “Nothing.”

  His shoulders lifted in a silent breath and I turned away. His hand touched my arm, and I turned into him at the gentle touch. He pulled me in, his arm moving around me, his other smoothing back my hair, falling to cup the side of my face. His thumb moved back and forth on my cheek in a comforting motion, and he pressed a soft kiss to my forehead. His lips brushing my skin and his breath warming me, he whispered, “I love you.”

  I clasped onto him and I nodded. I couldn’t talk.

  He whispered again, “I won’t push you, but I know something else is wrong, other than Sallaway. You can tell me whenever you want, but I love you. I’m not going anywhere, not unless you want me to.” His chest lifted and stayed there, suspended on his last word, until I burrowed to get even closer to him. His chest fell, as if he’d been scared for a moment.

  I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say a word. I held on tighter to him.

  Logan called when we were in Mason’s Escalade. He and Kris were at the hotel, and they’d be going back tonight. Mason asked, “Is there anything we can do?”

  I waited, but I never heard Logan’s response. Mason put his phone away and told me, “He’s not mad, but they’re talking. Kris called her sister, and she demanded Kris be taken back or she was coming to get her.” He gave me a halfhearted grin. “The sister sounds like a handful.”

  I nodded. “She doesn’t like Logan.”

  Mason laughed, but it was halfhearted as well. The conversation was dropped after that. When we got to the house, he held my hand and led me upstairs. After changing, I slid into bed and sighed from contentment as Mason pulled me into his chest. We didn’t talk. We didn’t do anything. We just held each other. I remained awake, but I never moved. I wanted to savor this feeling. I never wanted it to go away.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  Logan and Kris didn’t break up. I didn’t ask how he pulled that off, and he never told me. However, things didn’t go back to normal for them. Everyone knew the happy couple was no longer the happy couple. Even the girls in cross country steered clear from asking questions about Logan, and I knew they used to love gushing about him. As the season was winding down, our coach had the girls and boys run together. Everyone was pushing themselves because of it. It was no longer a competition against each other, but a competition against ourselves. As it was, more people began running alone and without the cliques. Almost every practice ended the same, I ended first with Hayes behind me. We were getting close to the state meets, where college scouts would come to recruit. I already had a scholarship, but I wanted one to Cain University. That scout was going to be there. I qualified to run, but the entire team did as well. Our last practice was grueling. We had two days of rest, but everyone was pushing themselves to their maximum limit. When Hayes came up to me after everyone had finished and were stretching, I wasn’t surprised when he asked if I would do another run with him.

  We were supposed to rest, but I knew he was concerned. He hadn’t gotten as much attention with scouts as I had so I nodded, and we started off again. We didn’t talk. We didn’t need to. If I lengthened my stride, he did too. If I picked up my pace a half second, he matched mine. He was using me to make himself better. When I realized that, I threw him and grin and really let loose. I held back during practices, but if he wanted to really get better, I was going to put him through the wringer. Switching off the normal running path, I took him to my favorite one. We sailed past Quickie’s and up to the hills. By this time, I had almost every part of that path memorized; I didn’t think as I avoided rocks and big branches. Hearing Hayes curse behind me, I glanced back and saw that he was on the ground.

  Panting, I went back. “What’s,” breath, “wrong?”

  “I almost tripped.” He scowled at me. “Is that why you brought me here? To injure me?” He stood up and brushed dirt off his running tights. “You must really hate me. I was hoping to get recruited too.”

  I rolled my eyes. Six months ago his words might’ve stung. They bounced off me. “Chill, buddy. If you want to go against the best, you have to go where the best goes.” I spread my arms out and began jogging backwards. Giving him a cocky grin, I said, “I’m the best and this is where I run my best. Get your ass up and let’s go. If you can’t keep up, then slow down. I didn’t put those rocks there. If you don’t see them, that’s on you. You didn’t have to follow me.”

  “You’re arrogant.”

  “No.” I took off, and threw over my shoulder, “I’m the best. I’m just confident.” I took off and it wasn’t long before I heard him behind me.

  He never caught up to me, but he stayed within viewing distance. When we got back to the school, Hayes looked like a puddle of bones. I wasn’t sure if he could keep standing, but to be honest, my legs were like jelly too.

  There were no cars in the parking lot and no one was in the locker room, so I collected my bag and keys. Hayes had done the same. He was heading out the door as I came out. Seeing me, he held it open and fell in line with me.

  “Uh.” He cleared his throat.

  I lifted an eyebrow, and as we got to my car first, I turned
and waited.

  He was so stiff. “Thank you. I know I’m an asshole. It’s just pretty fucking humbling when a girl comes on the team and kicks my ass. You’re good, Stratten. You’re really good. Thank you for running with me.”

  “Are you being sentimental?”

  The wind had picked up, brushing over us both. Both of us reeked and were covered in sweat; my hair never moved an inch. It stayed in its high ponytail.

  He shrugged, looking away. “I hated you for half the season, but now that we’re almost done, I can say that I am glad you were on the team. You made us better. The entire team wouldn’t have gone to state if you hadn’t pushed us.”

  “I did?”

 
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