Fallen fourth down, p.26
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       Fallen Fourth Down, p.26
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         Part #4 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan

  MASON

  I was heading for the locker room when a guy passed me. A second later, I heard, “Kade?”

  Turning around, I asked, “Yeah?”

  He was wearing a Cain U athletic jacket, so he was on staff. I glanced to the clipboard in his hands, but couldn’t place him. He was my height, over six feet, with a trim build and tan complexion. A whistle hung from around his neck. He was probably in his forties, his dark hair was combed to the side with grey on the sides. He pointed at me, a phone cupped into his palm. “Mason Kade. Wide receiver on the football team.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  He patted his chest, still holding his phone. “I’m Douglas Montgomery. I just got off the phone with a buddy of mine. He’s at the state cross country meet, and he mentioned that he could’ve sworn he just saw you there.”

  “Yes, sir. I was there.”

  “That’s an hour away.”

  I nodded. I was aware because I was late getting into my uniform. The buzz from the stadium was loud and parking had been a nightmare. It was the first game of playoffs. Everyone was ramped up more than normal and this guy, whoever he was, was going to make me even more late. “Yes, sir. My girlfriend ran today. I wanted to be there for her.”

  “Your girlfriend?” He eyes narrowed and he tilted his head to the side. His hand lifted, rubbing his chin. “You’re from Fallen Crest, right? My buddy was going to watch a girl from there. Which one was your girlfriend?”

  Hearing his question, I was filled with pride. I tried to hold back a smile, but I couldn’t. I said, “The one that won.”

  “Really?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “WHERE THE FUCK IS KADE?!”

  Hearing my coach, I gestured behind me. “I need to go or I won’t be seeing any playing time. It was nice meeting you.”

  “Yeah, yeah.” A keen look came over him and he held his hand out. “It was nice meeting you.” After shaking hands, he patted me on the shoulder. “You’re going to go far. I can tell. Maybe your girl too. How about that, huh?”

  “KADE HAS THIRTY SECONDS TO GET HIS BEE-HIND IN THIS LOCKER ROOM—”

  “I’m sorry, but I really have to go.” And with that abrupt statement, I sprinted and crashed through the locker room door. Once inside, I ducked my head down and ran through the team. They had already formed a circle in the middle of the room, all in uniform, all raring to go. Even though I just got there, I felt the nervous excitement from the guys. “I’m here. I’m here. Sorry, Coach.”

  “Get your gear on, and you will be giving me a damned good excuse why you’re late.”

  I nodded. He meant after the game. He had already taken his spot in the middle of the room with his coach’s jacket on and his whistle in hand. He never used it, but he liked to swing it around for his speeches. I caught the look in his eyes. He was primed and ready to go.

  As I dropped my bag and started changing, Drew patted me on the back. He leaned in close and whispered, “Did she win?”

  I nodded, not saying a word. Coach was still watching me. Matteo started to lean in close, from the other side, but Coach pointed at him. “Swallow your words, Robards.”

  Matteo scooted away. “Swallowing, Coach.”

  “This is team time.” As he said those last two words, he pointed at the floor. His hand moved up and down in an abrupt motion. “Team. Time. Not social time. Not time to ask how his girlfriend did. Team. Time. My time. Mine.”

  He swept his gaze around the room, waiting, watching. That one gesture changed the feel of the room. There’d been nerves, some jokes, but as our coach lifted his chin, everything settled in the room. As he started his speech, I finished getting my uniform on and slowly sat down between Drew and Matteo.

  “Gentlemen,” he looked at each person, holding their gazes for a beat before moving onto the next person, “this is the first game of the playoffs. This is the game that when we go out there, we either win or we lose. If we win, we keep going. You keep doing your jobs. If you lose, we’re done for the season.” He shook his head, taking off his hat. As he did, he rubbed a hand over his hair before putting the hat back into place. “For the veteran players, you know how I get during playoffs. I don’t believe this is the last game. It’s the next game. It’s the next win. We keep going. We always keep going. Sometimes we go all the way and sometimes we don’t. That’s fine. You can go home, rest, and enjoy the off season. You’ve had a good season so far, but the playoffs…” His voice was soft, but everyone could hear him. Everyone was so still. “The playoffs is where we make our season great. That’s my job. My job is to keep you going, to remind you how great we can be as a team, that there’s a reason our stadium fills up every game.” He pointed out the door. “Do you hear that?” He paused and the buzz from the crowd filtered into the room. “That’s our fans. Those are your fans. We love them. We’re grateful to them, but we’re not here for them. You’re here for you. We aren’t playing against the other team. We’re playing against ourselves. Each game, to do better. Be better. Each game, play as if we’re six down, thirty yards to go, and we’re at fourth down. It’s the next play that’ll make or break the game for you. Fourth down. That’s our mindset. Every play, we go hard. Every play, you strive to be perfect. Every play is fourth down. You got that?”

  No one said a word. No one looked around. We were all focused on him.

  “How are we playing?” he asked us.

  As one, we answered, “Fourth Down?”

  “How?” he raised his voice.

  “Fourth Down!”

  “HOW?” He cupped the backs of his ears. “I WANT TO FUCKING HEAR YOU!”

  The other coaches waved their arms in the air. “Stand up!”

  “Get to your feet!”

  We stood. The ones who were kneeling clambered up and as we did, Coach jumped up on a chair. He yelled, his hands around his mouth, “HOW ARE WE PLAYING?”

  “FOURTH DOWN!”

  “HOW?”

  “FOURTH DOWN!”

  “I WANT TO HEAR YOU SAY IT ONE MORE TIME!” He jumped off the chair and the assistant coaches started clapping their hands. They started to chant, “Fourth Down. Fourth Down. Fourth Down.”

  Matteo was intense. He was waiting next to me, cheering with the group, but he was watching our coach. When he nodded at Matteo, it started. Matteo jumped into the middle of the circle and started bobbing up and down. They were still chanting Fourth down, but it was going to change. Any second. The adrenalin was coursing through me. In this moment, we were one. We were going out there. We were going to conquer, and Coach was right. It was us against ourselves. To be better. To be the best. To be perfect. Every single word he said resonated through me. It resonated through all of us. We were proud to be at Cain U. We were going to keep being proud. Matteo tipped his head back and let out a battle cry.

  Everyone started banging their helmets against the lockers. Those in the middle stomped their feet and Matteo started the next chant.

  “Cain U. Cain U. Cain U.”

  We kept going, kept banging our helmets, but there was another section. Drew would lead us out and we would keep chanting as we ran out of the locker room and onto the field. We were just waiting. It would be any moment. The longer he waited, the higher our adrenalin grew.

  He stepped forward. He was the signal. Everyone turned. We fell in line, single file, and started from the locker room. He led us out, taking over as the leader for the chant. Matteo fell in line behind me. We stopped banging our helmets. Instead, they were held at the waist by both hands. Our heads went down and our shoulders hunched forward. It was a sign of respect to those who followed Cain U’s traditions. We entered the stadium like this every time, like gladiators going out to fight. As we jogged out like that, each assistant patted us on the shoulder, giving us their approval.

  We ran down the hallway, our feet a constant clattering sound against the floor, echoing around us. We could hear the crowd in the stadium. Music, cheering, announcements. We kept cha
nting the whole time. It was this moment that I savored the most, when the crowd heard us coming. As they did, the volume dipped for one second. There was a slight pause and a cheer erupted. They started cheering with us and it would spread through the entire stadium.

  Cain U.

  Cain U.

  Cain U.

  Drew paused at the threshold. He held his helmet up and started ahead. We didn’t jog. We ran out. The crowd stood and waited with their hands lifted. Drew waited on the field, and still in single file, we ran around him to form a circle. His helmet was still in the air. Then he brought it down and we finished the chant. Everyone did.

  “Cain U, conquers you!”

  After that, it was time to play football.

  *

  SAMANTHA

  The state meet was a two hour drive from Fallen Crest. With most away meets, we traveled together on a bus and were allowed to get a ride home with family afterwards. But since this was the last meet, Coach wanted everyone to travel back together on the bus. We were a team on the way there. He wanted us to keep that unity on the way home, at least for this last time. After showering and changing, everyone agreed to a celebratory pizza stop.

  I was in the back of the bus with my headphones on as we headed to the pizza place. Logan had texted earlier. He was going to meet us there, but I knew Malinda, David, and Mark had gone home. Mark needed to get back for some reason, but Malinda made sure that it was okay with me if they skipped the pizza stop. I was fine with it. I had to admit that I was still glowing from the win, the medal that was hanging around my neck, and the talk a Cain U scout had with me. He wanted to talk later in the month about a scholarship. When he found out that I ran track too, the talk was scheduled for the next week. All of those things, plus seeing Mason there and knowing Logan was waiting to eat with us, I was on cloud nine.

  “Kris! Woman! My god.”

  Hearing that shriek, I lifted my gaze. Kris was three seats up and bent over, whispering to one her friends. Judging from the wide eyes, sly smile, and red face on both of them, I wondered what they were talking about, but I saw the giddiness on Kris’ face. She seemed happy. In fact, the entire team was in a good mood. A few runners hadn’t placed, but as a whole, the entire team got medals.

  “Shut up,” Kris laughed, hitting her friend on the arm. “Shh.” Before bending back down, she shot me a look. Our gazes collided and the laughter stopped abruptly. Guilt flashed in her eyes, then she looked away and jerked her head down again.

  I hadn’t asked Logan about their relationship. They were still having problems, which magnified after it came out that he didn’t love her, but Logan had been spending a lot of his time with her. Or, at least, I had assumed. He wasn’t home and he wasn’t at my house. I couldn’t stop myself. I was happy. I wanted to make sure Logan was happy too, so I took my phone out and sent him a text.

  What’s going on with you and Kris?

  There was a slight pause, and my phone buzzed back. Still screwing. Why?

  Snorting, I rolled my eyes. Are you guys still good?

  You never ask. Why now?

  I’m worried.

  Why? Something I should know?

  Why are you not answering the question?

  Why don’t you tell me when you and Mason have problems?

  I groaned, but he was right. Sorry. Just concerned.

  I’m at the pizza place. We can talk later.

  I frowned. Okay…

  There was another long pause. I wasn’t sure how to take his last text. If they’d been better, he would’ve said they were humping like rabbits. He didn’t say that. My phone buzzed once again. Let’s just talk later. You sure you have to ride home on that bus?

  Coach said I did.

  What if you missed the bus after eating?

  That never happens.

  I’ll pay someone to say you’re there.

  Laughing, I shrugged. Sounds fine with me.

  Awesome. Okay. I just ordered pizza for you guys. Tell the coach. You guys have a private room in the basement.

  Thanks. I will. I put my phone away just as the bus pulled into the parking lot. As soon as everyone had gotten off, I relayed Logan’s message to the coach, who nodded and asked, “Did he already pay—never mind. I’m going in there to pay before that kid does. Don’t have these problems with normal kids.”

  I didn’t know what he meant by that. When I went inside, the front lobby was full. Everyone was waiting around so I slipped to the side and headed for the bathroom. When I was in there, the door opened again and Kris’ friend from the bus was giggling. She shrieked, “He’s here, Kris! What are you going to do?”

  The sink was turned on, but I heard Kris respond, “So is Logan. It’s awkward.”

  I’d been about to flush, but I caught myself. Pulling my hand away, I held still. I was in the back stall so they couldn’t see my feet unless they looked.

  “Wait.” Kris abruptly turned the water off. “Are we alone?”

  “Yeah, yeah.” Her friend yawned. “No one else came in here. We’re good. So,” her voice rose from excitement, “what are you going to do?”

  Kris sighed. “I have no idea. I always get myself in these situations.”

  “You’ve been spending almost every night with the guy. Isn’t that what you said? He’s always at your house?”

  “He is, but we’re studying. Nothing’s been going on. I’m still with Logan.”

  Her friend snorted. “Logan Kade who doesn’t love you. I mean, my god, Kris. Mason Kade is the one who broke that bubble for you. Wait. Let me swoon here for moment. Fucking hell. Mason told you that. That’s like real and intense. I’d die to have him talk to me like that. Just to be that close. He was always so standoffish and exclusive, you know. He’d only talk to his friends and Strattan. Ugh. Don’t even get me started on Strattan.”

  “I like Sam.” Kris sounded tense. “She’s been through a lot. Leave her alone, and no, it wasn’t wonderful being told by my boyfriend’s brother that my boyfriend doesn’t love me. Mason’s gorgeous, but he’s scary. At least to me.”

  “Yeah, but that’s over. You got a new boy toy, right? Are you going to break up with Logan tonight?”

  She let out a sigh. “I don’t know if I’m going to break up with Logan. Things with me and AJ are just friends. I still love Logan.”

  “Who doesn’t love you.” I could imagine her friend rolling her eyes. “Come on, Kris. You look like a fool. The longer you stay with him, people are going to look down on you.”

  “No one knows he doesn’t love me.”

  “Yeah, right. Everyone knows.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “It’s pretty obvious that he never loved you. Look,” she dropped her voice, making it softer, “I’m being a friend when I say this, but you were never taken seriously. We know when Logan loves someone. He loved Tate, and sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but most people think he loves Sam too.”

  “What?” A guttural groan came from Kris. “Sam’s like family to him.”

  “There’s been distance between them this year, which makes sense. He’s got a girlfriend, but trust me, he definitely loves her, whether it’s as family or something more, but it’s there. Both of them love her.” She groaned. “The bitch doesn’t know how lucky she’s got it, and when you and Logan break up, he’s going to be all over her. Trust me. You won't be defending her when that happens.”

  Every word Kris’ friend said felt like a knife stabbing into me. Tate’s words came back to me, and I pressed my hands over my ears. I didn’t know if it was to block Kris and her friend out or block Tate’s words from haunting me. Biting down on my lip, I shook my head. Silence. I tried to calm the storm unleashed in me, but it didn’t matter.

  “Logan’s in love with you. Now you have to deal with it.”

  Tate’s words slammed back, full force, and they almost drowned out what Kris and her friend were saying.

  I tried to clear my thoughts and straine
d to hear when her friend added, “Look, you need to prepare yourself. You have to end things with Logan. You’re free pussy to him. It’s why he’s keeping you around, but he doesn’t love you. As your friend, I’m telling you that you look like a fool.”

  Logan loves you.

  STOP! I screamed in my head and it worked. For a split second, the storm went away, and I could hear someone softly sobbing from inside the bathroom. Kris was crying.

 
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