Mason, p.8
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       Mason, p.8

         Part #0.5 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
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  He gave me a dirty look then and said, “Do not touch that girl, Mason. She’s not like you. She’s innocent.”

  I smirked at that, but replied, “I’m not planning on it. She’s a refreshing break from the rest of the chicks.”

  Kate popped her head in the doorway at that moment. She stared at us, then jerked her head to the hallway. “I need to talk to you.”

  Whatever. “Meet me in the south stairs.” She nodded and disappeared. I turned to the teacher. “The assigned seat is fine. Trust me.” I gestured to where Kate had gone. “I have to deal with her. My new table mate is like getting cake during class. I doubt I’ll have to deal with any drama from her.”

  He shook his head. “You’re perplexing. Are you aware of that?”

  “Do I care? That’s the question you should be asking and no, I don’t.” When I left, I headed to my locker and saw Logan was already there. He was leaning against my neighbor’s locker with his arms crossed. A few girls were watching him from across the hall. As I got there, he flashed them a grin and a few of them began laughing.

  I stopped. Shit. He was flirting with them.

  He saw my reaction and tensed. “What?”

  “Nothing.”

  “What?”

  “You’re flirting.” He hadn’t flirted in months.

  “Yeah. I’m a dude.”

  I frowned at him. “You haven’t flirted in a long time.”

  “What are you talking about? You were lecturing me this morning on not becoming a man whore.”

  “Hooking up and flirting are different.” It was easy to grab a girl and have sex with her. It took work to flirt. I didn’t flirt. Girls got the wrong idea then, but Logan was doing it again. That meant he was getting better.

  “So what? Maybe I like flirting?”

  I narrowed my eyes at him. “Just don’t get a girlfriend right now.”

  “Maybe I want regular sex? Is something wrong with that?”

  “You get regular sex already. You don’t need a girlfriend for that.”

  “What’s your problem?”

  What was my problem? I was on edge and then I glanced at the girls beside us. It was them. It was their games, even now I felt it. They had moved closer to listen in. “I’m sick of this shit.” Gesturing to them and around the hallway. “If I want them, I’ll pick one at a party, but they cling during the day. They’re annoying. They think they’re funny when they’re not and they try to manipulate you, like if I say hi to them, then that means I want them. I don’t. I might’ve said hi because, for once, I didn’t feel like being an ass.”

  I didn’t want another one to hurt Logan. Studying him now, I saw it happening. He wanted to cover the pain up. So far he had only used sex to do it, but he was considering dating again. I saw it in his eyes. It wouldn’t work. I knew my brother too well. He had loved Tate and she had shattered him. I didn’t want him to depend on another girl, be used, and get hurt all over again.

  The entire group of girls was now listening to us, not just the few who’d been flirting with Logan. They all wanted something. I could feel it. I always felt it. The more my status grew in school, the worse it got. I said to them, “Yes, I know I’m being an ass again, but it’s true. You all just want something from us. You want to be our girlfriends. You want the attention we can give you. You want to be powerful and popular.” They were like pigeons, just waiting to see if I would throw them some breadcrumbs. “Go away. Find me at a party and I’ll be nicer, but not in school. I don’t have the patience in school to deal with this.”

  I skimmed over Logan. He’d been flirting, maybe I shouldn’t stop that? Fuck. I didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t get hurt again. All I knew was that enough damage had been done.

  Ethan came down the hallway and pointed at me. As he went past us, he said, “Supposed to tell you that Kate’s waiting for you.”

  “See. That shit.” I shook my head. “I’m not her boyfriend. I don’t come when she barks.”

  Logan asked, “Does she want a quickie?”

  “Who the fuck knows.” I grabbed my bag from the locker, then shut it. The girls were still there. They didn’t go away. They would scatter at times, but they never went far. “I’m not in the mood.”

  He asked, “Are you going?”

  “No.” I gestured to the parking lot. They weren’t leaving so we’d have to go. “Let’s get some food before practice. We got an hour to wait and I don’t want to deal with Kate.” She’d come looking. She would want something, demand something, and I’d have to be an asshole yet again to get her to back off. It was tiring.

  Logan laughed and as we headed for our cars, I saw Marissa at her locker. She was different and perplexing. She didn’t want anything from me. She didn’t even want me to sit with her. She wasn’t like the rest. Even now, she stood out from the others. There were cliques all around her. Girls were giggling, whispering together, but she wasn’t. She stood alone with her back turned to us. She wasn’t even paying attention to us. She was focused on a book she was holding, but she wasn’t putting it in the locker. She wasn’t reading it. She was staring at it with her head down.

  Logan saw her too. “Who’s that?”

  “Mr. Rooney assigned seats today.” I pointed at her. “She’s my table mate, but I’m not supposed to talk to her.”

  He snorted. “You were talking? To a stranger?”

  “She’s different.”

  As we headed farther down the hallway, we glanced back. She saw us, then gasped, turned red, and whipped back around. Her head hit her opened locker door, but she didn’t do anything. She buried her head inside her locker as if she hadn’t hit it. Then we turned the corner and Logan nodded at me. “Yep, she is. That’s for sure.”

  I was okay with that. When we were almost to the door, we saw Tate was coming back in. Her path came across us and she stopped. The blood drained from her face, and she jerked back as if she’d been hit. We stopped and I glanced at Logan. Pain flashed over his face. I’d been right. He was covering it up. He looked away and walked around her. Nothing was said. The encounter was filled with tension and hurt. At seeing that, at seeing how much it still hurt him just to see her, I gritted my teeth. She had hurt my brother. It was time for her to know.

  She spoke first. “What do you want, Mason?”

  “He loved you.”

  She flinched again and turned away. “Yeah, well—”

  “You don’t get to talk right now.”

  She flushed, but she didn’t leave.

  I added, “You’re like all the other girls. You used my brother and you wanted to use me too.”

  “It wasn’t like that.”

  I snorted. “Yes, it was. You were friends with Kate. I saw you guys. You’re the popular girls in our grade and what? You wanted more, didn’t you? You didn’t even like me, Tate. You wanted the power that I could give you, but you didn’t think it through.”

  “MASON!”

  Hearing Kate yelling my name, I turned to make sure she couldn’t see me. I wasn’t hiding, but I didn’t want to hear her crap at that moment. I told Tate, “Logan asked me today if I sicced Kate and her friends on you.” She met my gaze then, waiting for the answer. “I didn’t, but I’m glad they’re making your life hell.” Logan acted normal today. He was getting better, but it had taken months. “When Kate is done with you, that’s when I’ll start. I will break you just like you broke him.”

  10

  THE SURPRISING CONNECTION

  The next week, Mr. Rooney sent half the class to the library. We were assigned a project to work on, but the same instructions that he enforced in his classroom were applied there. No talking. Period. The only person you could talk to was your table mate. Glancing to where mine had gone, she scooted around the group and walked to the very back of the library.

  As I followed her through the book cases, she went to a table set in its own section. It was away from the main lobby and isolated with bookshelves all around it.

&n
bsp; I put my notebook on the table and took a seat. “I’m not a typical dumb jock, but I had no idea this was back here.”

  She paused, her fingers stopped flipping through her pages, and she studied me for a moment.

  I narrowed my eyes. She still hadn’t talked to me. When Mr. Rooney announced the project, he pulled me aside at the door and said that I would have to talk to Marissa. Then he added, “Be nice. Be respectful and then back away from her. I mean it, Mason.”

  I rolled my eyes. “I don’t care about deflowering virgins, Mr. Rooney. I have enough headaches in my life because of women. Your warnings are insulting now.”

  “You heard what I said.”

  I did. I didn’t care. I’d talk to her, but I had no intention of anything else. Focusing on her again now, I frowned. “You have to talk. I’m not doing a presentation all on my own to prove that I did the work.”

  She frowned. She had stopped becoming flustered after the first few days. Now she was hostile instead. I was starting to get sick of it. If I had done something to her, then yeah, I deserved it. Unlike most of my run-ins, I’d been nice to her.

  Then she said, “I don’t want to be held back by you. This is important to me.”

  I laughed.

  She looked ready to piss her pants, but that made me laugh even more. “So you do think I’m a dumb jock?”

  “No…” She did. I could see it in her eyes.

  “I’m number one in our grade. If anyone holds anyone back, it won’t be me.”

  Her mouth fell open an inch. She became flustered again. “You’re in the number one spot?”

  I nodded. “Yep.” I flashed her a grin. “See. I’m not the typical dumb jock.”

  “Oh.”

  Then I reached for the worksheet with the instructions. “Hand it over. Let’s get this bitch done with.”

  We worked the entire week together. Every day Marissa relaxed and by the end of the week, she was a chatterbox. I didn’t talk, but that was fine with me. I didn’t want to talk. Everyone else wanted me to talk. They wanted to know what I was thinking. They wanted to know an ‘in’ to get with me. Not her. Marissa did most of the talking for our presentation. She surprised everyone. I could tell no one expected her to be as enthusiastic or as confident as she was. A few of the guys were looking at her with interest.

  She wasn’t bad to look at. A heart-shaped face, cute lips, a decent body underneath her baggy clothes. A few of them were giving her lewd looks and I knew they were imagining her naked. For some reason, that ticked me off. I blocked the view of one of the guys and he glanced up. He moved back, seeing the warning in my gaze, then he lifted his hands in the air. He didn’t lift them high, just off the table, but enough to show me he would back off. The others caught the motion. Marissa kept rambling on about the effects of desertification, but a new spark of interest went around the room. The others saw that I was protective of her. I glanced towards Kate. She was staring straight at me. She was dissecting me. Her eyes were clear and filled with interest. I frowned. I shouldn’t have done anything. There was a target on this girl now. Kate wasn’t going to forget the look I gave that guy.

  Shifting back into place, Marissa paused, but I leaned against the wall and let her finish the speech. When she was done, Mr. Rooney asked, “Marissa, please tell me that you didn’t work alone on this project.”

  “No.” She frowned, her hands grasping tighter onto her paper. “Why?”

  He indicated me. “Because your partner didn’t say a word through the entire presentation.”

  “That’s because he hates speeches.” She didn’t blink an eye. “He’s shy.”

  The room burst out laughing. Marissa fell back a step, taken aback by their response, and then turned to me. She was confused.

  “Why do you think I’m shy?”

  Mr. Rooney came to the front of the class, shaking his head, chuckling. “Uh, Miss Hooper, I can think of a lot of words to call Mason Kade, but shy is not one of them. It’s not even close to any of them.”

  “Tread lightly.”

  He kept laughing, but held his hands up. “No offense intended.” The class continued to laugh except Kate. She was staring Marissa down like she wanted to tackle her. I tensed. That would be a battle.

  When we took our seat, Marissa leaned close and whispered, “Why are they all laughing at me?”

  “Because I’m not shy at all. If I was, that’d probably help me in life, but I’m not. Why do you think I’m shy?”

  “Because you never talk.” She said it louder than she had intended and another roar went through the class. Her cheeks grew red and she ducked her head down. “Oh god.”

  I glanced at Kate and saw her chewing the corner of her lip. If I didn’t talk, that meant I didn’t care for them. She knew that about me. The problem was that wasn’t true for Marissa. I enjoyed her presence, but for her own safety, I didn’t want Kate to catch onto that.

  I sent Marissa an apologetic look before I cleared my throat. I made sure people could overhear me, “Why would I talk? You don’t need encouragement to talk more.” It wasn’t that hurtful, but I knew people would take it as that. I was throwing her under the bus. As hurt flared in the depths of her eyes, I wanted to explain it to her. But I couldn’t. Then I snuck a look back again. Kate had gone back to flirting with a guy.

  Damage was done.

  Marissa went back to not talking to me. After class, she fled to the hallway and the next month was strained between us. It wasn’t until one day when I stayed for extra training and had showered. It was late, around six in the evening. I was heading for the parking lot when she turned the corner. When she saw me, she squeaked. Her hands clenched around her book, but she lost her footing and fell to the floor. I could’ve caught her. My hand had started to reach out, but I kept it held back. She didn’t need my help. I’d only be damning her.

  “Oh ugh.” She moaned, standing up, brushing off the back of her pants. “That was embarrassing. Ouch.” She looked up, and then hung her head again. “You’re still there.”

  I glanced around. There was no one else around so I grinned. “Were you expecting me to leave?”

  “That’s your reputation. You’re an asshole, right?”

  I winced, but she had a point. “When was I an ass to you?”

  She scowled at me. “You know.”

  “That was for your own good.”

  She rolled her eyes and scoffed. “Please.”

  “It was.”

  “Right. Because I’m in danger, right? You have a reputation for being an ass, but not for screwing with someone’s mind and feelings. You’re known for saying it how it is.”

  “I am.”

  She shook her head and began to turn away. “You’re just screwing with me. You’re like those other guys.”

  She started to walk away, but I caught up with her and grabbed her arm. “What other guys?”

  Jerking her arm away, anger flashed across her face. “Back off, buddy. All those other girls may fall all over you, but that doesn’t mean you can touch just anybody.” Rubbing where I had grasped her arm, she scowled at me. “I’m not one of those girls. I don’t care about you. Not at all.”

  A firm look came over her. I tried to hold back a grin. She looked like a pissed off Chihuahua.

  “You think this is funny?”

  “Sorry.” My grin vanished. “Look, I had to be mean. Kate was noticing you.”

  “Noticing me? She used to pick on me, but that stopped.”

  “She did?”

  “Yeah, from the first time we worked together on a project…” Her voice trailed off when she saw my reaction. “What?”

  “It was because of me?”

  She nodded. A stark note appeared in her gaze. “Yeah. It’s been on and off all year. Tate too—”

  “What?”

  “Yeah.” She was becoming scared again. “Don’t tell them I said anything. Don’t say anything to them at all. It’ll get worse. I know it. I—” She curse
d.

  My eyebrows shot up when I heard words from my daily vocabulary.

  When she saw the surprise, she rolled her eyes. “Right. Like you’re the only one with a potty-mouth. I don’t think so.”

 
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