Fallen fourth down, p.7
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       Fallen Fourth Down, p.7
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         Part #4 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan

  “Oh.” He sounded disappointed. “Sam, listen. Please. I will call him. I will tell him not to go to the game and that it’s too soon for you. Don’t travel at night. Wait till tomorrow. Go with Logan. Fallen Crest Public and Fallen Crest Academy are playing against each other tonight. He’d want you to watch. I know it’s important to him.”

  “I know what game it is.” Closing my eyes tightly, I bent over and caught my head in my hands. My elbows rested on my knees, and my pulse was pounding. He was hurt. Why did my dad sound hurt? My biological dad was in town. I didn’t want to deal with that. “I’ll be fine, Dad. I promise. I just have to…figure stuff out.”

  “Okay. Well, call me if you need anything. Please, Sam.” He sounded so exhausted. “I’ll call Garrett and tell him to back off. We can figure this out at your pace.” He paused. I heard the scrape of his hand against the door. “I love you, honey.”

  I nodded and said, “I love you.”

  I stayed there, just waiting until I calmed enough to drive, but everything he said filtered in. Mason was at college. He wasn’t here. I couldn’t run to him for everything, and going with Logan and Kris in the morning was the smart thing to do. Pushing back the old panic that had kept me company for so long, I went to shower before I could change my mind. It didn’t take me long to dress. Pulling on jeans and a tee shirt, I was out the door within fifteen minutes. I didn’t think. I didn’t allow myself to dwell on anything. I just drove, and when I pulled into the parking lot by the school, I felt some of the anxiety rising.

  No. I shook my head. Closing my eyes, I imagined a lever being pushed down, shoving my anxiety down with it. It left my head clear. I waited to let it sink in and felt better a moment later. I didn’t want to waste time so I took off through the cars before the anxiety came back up.

  While weaving through the cars and the last little bit of a crowd that lingered outside the ticket booth, I braided my hair. When it was my turn to pay, Natalie stared back at me. A scowl formed on her face and she had a smug smile. “Well, well. If I don’t let you in, something tells me your stepbrother’s going to be upset with you.”

  Irritation rose in me. “Give me a ticket or I’m leaving money with the first teacher I see and going through anyway.”

  I stared her down. We both knew who they’d believe.

  She rolled her eyes. “Five bucks.”

  I put it on the counter and she gave me a ticket. As I took it, I asked, “How’d you end up back there in the first place?”

  “Fucking detention. We’re still paying for beating your ass last year.” There was no remorse in her tone and the girl next to her froze. She glanced sideways as if fearful another beat down would happen. Natalie mused, “We’ll be doing this shit and anything else the superintendent wants us to do until we graduate. Those were the terms or we would’ve faced legal charges and expulsion.” She chewed her lip, studying me. “I’m starting to think legal charges wouldn’t have been that bad.”

  I grinned. Natalie was harmless to me now. I felt it. There wasn’t any heat behind her words. I could feel how empty they were. “We could go another round? Maybe it’d lessen your sentence, although, think about all the fines you would’ve had to pay.”

  “Yeah, that sucks.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Go. Stop torturing me. My life’s already pathetic as it is with me behind this table.”

  I laughed and headed towards the football field. A large crowd spilled out from two sets of bleachers. There was one on either side of the field and enough people lingered at the end of them to form one large crowd that circled the south end of the entire field. Fallen Crest Academy fans mingled with Fallen Crest Public fans. It was a sea of red and black mixed with the occasional neutral normal clothing. I didn’t want to run into any of the Fallen Crest Academy Elite so I hightailed it to the FCP bleachers. When I got there, it was packed.

  I hadn’t counted on that. I thought there would’ve been a few empty spots. I was missing Heather. She would’ve waved someone over and voila, we would’ve had a perfect seat.

  “Sam!”

  I instantly groaned, but couldn’t ignore Kris. She stood from the far end in the student section and was standing in the second row. The first three seemed reserved for the most popular people in school. She was second row. That meant she already had higher status than I ever would, if I’d been social. With her hair split and woven into two side French braids, she waved at me, holding an extra sized liquid cup in the other, gesturing beside her. She yelled, “Come on. I saved you a seat.”

  Uh…I had no choice. Trying to smile at her, I walked past the entire bleacher and stepped up to her row. The girls in her row stood up and filed out without a single complaint. My eyebrows shot up. I’d been prepared to look like an ass as I stumbled over everyone. They continued to watch the game and waited until I went in.

  “Hi!” Kris’ eyes were lit up. Her free hand grasped mine and she pulled me down to the seat. The others filed back in. The one next to me was one of the most popular girls in Kris’ grade. From what I could recall, most of them were on the drill team. Kris patted my arm and her smile stretched wider. “Logan told me you’d probably be late because you were running. He was right, huh? Tabitha,” she leaned across me and said, “when you guys come back from your routine, you know what to bring.”

  The girl gave her a thin smile. “We know. It’s not our first rodeo.”

  Kris giggled, falling back into me. That was when I got the first whiff of booze. “Whoa. When did you start?”

  She pointed to Tabitha and her cheeks got redder, along with the tip of her nose. “We had a few in the bathroom.”

  Tabitha gave her another cold smile, but Kris just clutched my arm. “You were so much fun at that one party. You should drink with us more often, Sam. Yeah.” Her eyes lit up again and her mouth fell open, like she had the most wonderful idea in the world. “That’d be amazing. Let’s both get drunk.”

  “Uh…”

  “Oh, come on. Logan will take care of us, and you’ll see your man tomorrow. You have no worries, none whatsoever.” She bent over, giggling into her lap.

  I asked Tabitha, “Did you slip her anything else?”

  She shrugged. “Just a good dose of Jack Daniels, not what you’re suggesting.”

  “Why are you the Ice Queen and she’s Giggling Rudolph?”

  She lifted another shoulder. “Because she insisted on drinking a third of the bottle. That’s on her, not me. We have a few during the game, but we have to get to the party. That’s when we only do shots and nothing else. We’re not stupid.”

  I gritted my teeth. “You’re stupid for talking to me like that.”

  She opened her mouth, a hot retort on the tip of her tongue, but she caught the warning in my gaze. She closed her mouth and shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re problem is. We didn’t do anything. We like Kris, unlike you.”

  I grunted. That was fair. Turning my back, I patted Kris on the arm. “Okay. You might want some coffee at halftime or Logan will be putting you into bed before he goes and parties after the game.”

  She grimaced. “Oh my god. You’re right.” A pained expression came over her face. “No more, Jackie, not until the party anyway.” She sighed and rested her forehead against my shoulder. Her hand reached for my hand. “I’m so glad we became friends. You’re not stuck-up like I thought you might be. Anyone else in your position would have the head of a Uranus.”

  Really? That planet? Catching a small grin from Tabitha, who must’ve overheard, I shook my head. “Okay. Let’s keep that one between us.”

  “I think you’re so cool.”

  “Yep.” I was not commenting on that one. “Let’s watch the game.”

  “Okay.”

  For the most part, Kris tried to watch. When Logan scored, she stood up because everyone was standing up. When FCA punted, she stood up again. I tugged her down, and she started another giggling fit. She clamped her hands over her mouth and whispered in
my ear for everyone else to hear. “It’s so weird for me because I dated the one quarterback and now I’m with the other quarterback.”

  “You dated the second string quarterback also.”

  She gasped. “I did. I forgot about Jeff. I shouldn’t have. He’s a sweetie.”

  I gave her a dark look. “You know a different Jeff than I do.”

  “That’s right. You dated him too. Wait.” She cocked her head to the side. “He cheated on you. He didn’t cheat on me, but I didn’t really date date him. We hung out. It was like the before-dating, before being a couple. Does that make sense? That’s what Adam and I did. And I didn’t sleep with them. I only fooled around with them.” She groaned. “A year before that, I probably would’ve slept with them, but Charlie yelled at me enough. She said I used guys to make myself feel loved.” Her voice tapered off and her eyebrows slowly lowered together. Her head went down as well. “She said it’s because our dad left us and I compensated—”

  BUZZ!

  It was halftime. I grabbed her arm. “Let’s continue this in a bit. I have to get some water.” The girl in front of me stood up and I saw my opportunity. Slipping over her seat, and instead of fighting the crowd for the stairs on the side, I grabbed the lowest bar and slid my body underneath it. Landing on the grass, in front of the bleachers, I ran alongside them until I could slip around the fence that kept the crowd from going onto the field.

  The teams were still milling off the field, and I was almost to them when the last of the Fallen Crest Public team stepped off the track field. I figured Logan and my dad were both ahead, so I started to cross their path for the concession stand. I didn’t really need a water, I just didn’t want to get pulled into Kris’ story. Just hearing the small amount of pain with her first words, I knew there was a ton more. I had my own trauma to deal with. I didn’t want to start feeling sorry for Logan’s girlfriend.

  I heard: “She said that, David?”

  “It’s too soon, Garrett. I’m sorry I didn’t catch you in time.”

  “No, no. I forgot my phone in the car and you wouldn’t have Sharon’s…”

  They kept talking, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. All the anxiety from before blasted up, exploding into my chest and throat, filling me with dread, like I was about to witness a car accident and saw it coming. I knew to avoid it, but I couldn’t. As that registered with me, my head turned and I saw them. They were standing off to the side. David’s head was bent down, his hands on his hips. A clipboard was in one of his hands and he was chewing on his whistle at the same time. Garrett stood over him. His features were as chiseled as I remembered from the last time I saw him, but his hair seemed whiter. I continued to study him and laughed softly to myself.

  They looked at me. David straightened abruptly and Garrett moved back a step.

  I laughed again, shaking my head. “For some reason, I imagined you in a business suit. That makes no sense. It’s a football game. I suppose you only wear those when you’re working, being a big hotshot lawyer…” My mind was spinning and I stopped. My throat was dry. I’d been going to get water, that’s right.

  “Sam—” David started.

  Garrett stepped around him. His eyes were glued to my face. He said, “It’s because the last time you saw me I was in a business suit.”

  “That’s right.” I could picture it again. “You hugged me and never came back.”

  “Sam,” David said again.

  I shook my head. “It’s halftime and you’re the coach. Go, Dad. I’ll be fine.” I waved at Garrett. “Damage done. He’s here. I’ve seen him.” I swallowed over a lump in my throat. “I’ll deal with it.”

  He looked between us, then shook his head. His shoulders slumped down and he murmured, “All right. I love you, Samantha. Just remember that.”

  “Got it.” Lifting my hands, both of my thumbs shot up. “Two thumbs-up, Dad. That’s what you get for this whole thing. Well done. Way to prepare me and way to not follow through with what you promised. He’s here anyway.”

  David opened his mouth. “Sam—”

  “Go, David.” Garrett’s hand came down on his shoulder. “She lashes out when she’s hurting. She gets that from me.”

  I don’t.

  David said. “She doesn’t, not all the time.”

  A bubble of laughter was coming up. I could feel it making its way from my stomach, gliding past my chest, slipping around the lump in my throat; my mouth opened and it pealed out. As they heard me, they stopped. I bent over. More laughter kept coming. I couldn’t stop it, and I didn’t want to. Kris had the right idea. Get drunk. Not deal with things. That seemed to be working for her. She was popular. She had friends. She was liked. I sighed, the laughter subsided, but it was on an anguished note. Even I cringed as I heard it with my own ears. I lifted a hand to them, letting it fall back to my side right away. “Look at you two. One thinks he knows me and the other…oh my god. This is a comedy skit. Why was I panicking at the thought of seeing you? This is the best entertainment I could get. You both think you know me when only one of you was around, but you both left. Now you’re both back. Fuck,” I grunted. My eyes started to water and I flicked the tears away. “You’re both a riot.”

  My stomach rolled over and I shook my head. “Go away. I don’t want to deal with either of you.”

  “Sam?”

  Turning, the voice was like music to my ears. Logan was standing there. He was holding his helmet with his dark hair sweaty, sticking up in clumps. His cheeks were smudged with black paint, dirt, and sweat. He had mud and grass stains all over his uniform.

  “What are you doing? You have halftime.”

  “I was told to come out here.” He walked forward, then saw David and Garrett. “Fuck.”

  Exactly.

  In one motion, his arm reached out for me and I went to him. I didn’t huddle there. I stood tall, but I moved into the shelter of him for a moment. One damn second, and as I did, he rested his hand lightly on my back. His body was rock solid, and I heard a growl in his voice that started deep in his throat. “What the hell’s going on?”

  “Logan.” David sounded exhausted.

  I started laughing again. “I have to go.”

  I started to step back, but he kept me anchored to him. His head craned to see me. “Sam? Stay. No.”

  I shook my head and pushed off from his chest. “No. I’m going to see Mason.” Mason made me feel better. He always had. He always would. “I’m going to see him.”

  “Sam—”

  I started off down the field, towards the opening in the gate. Then I saw Natalie. She was standing there with the money box in her hands. Of course. They took tickets until half-time. A voice in my head said that, like I was adding what two plus two was. That was ridiculous. What was wrong with me?

  She rolled her eyes. “My god, could you be more dramatic? I don’t even know what the situation is, but I know the signs. Samantha Strattan, there she goes. Always fucking running.” She gestured to Logan. “He left his locker room to be your protector, but that’s not good enough for you. You’re running away to Mason. Grow up. Like I said, find your balls and start flashing them around—”

  I saw red. My eyes narrowed and I lowered my head, as if I was going to charge her. “You want me to find my balls?”

  Natalie grunted. She dropped the money box, kicked it to someone on the sidelines, and smirked back at me. “I’d love to get a taste. Bring it on, Strattan. I don’t need my friends to back me up. I can take you on all by myself.”

  Memories of being in that bathroom last year, of being hit, how I crawled away from them, and how they dragged me back dredged back up in my throat. A flash of white covered my vision. White hot fury. It was then my mind checked out.

  I wanted to do damage, like the damage they did to me.

  I lunged for her, but an arm wrapped around my waist. I was yanked backwards.

  “No!” I didn’t need to see who was holding me. It was Logan. He set me on m
y feet, then adjusted his hold so I was thrown over his shoulder before I could move away. He began walking from the field and down to the parking lot.

  I ignored the stunned looks on both my dads and the crowd that had formed. Natalie was glaring at me as Logan crossed the parking lot and went inside the school. He dropped me on my feet and pointed in my face. “You stay here. I mean it.”

  “No—”

  “SAMANTHA!”

  My mouth shut. I moved back into the wall.

  He let out a ragged sound. “God. Just stay. I have a coach who’s pissed at me. Wait ten fucking minutes.” He didn’t wait for a reply, he swept into the locker room. As the door opened, I heard his coach yelling, “Are you ready—” The door closed and I was left alone in the hallway. The rest of the hallways were in the dark and there were only two lights on in the entrance, for both teams to enter their own locker rooms.

  I sunk down to the floor and pulled out my phone. I needed Mason.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  “Sam?”

  The sound of his voice was enough. I felt myself calming down.
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