Fallen fourth down, p.8
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       Fallen Fourth Down, p.8
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         Part #4 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan

  “Hey.” Hearing loud music and an announcer on his end, I asked, “Where are you?”

  “I’m at a restaurant with the team. They’re doing some grill thing. The guys flip food in the air and tap their cups. It’s not my thing, but Matt seems to live for it.”

  I grinned. “How is your roommate?”

  “Sam.” Suddenly all the background noises disappeared and I could hear his voice clearer. I also heard the concern in it. “What’s going on? You don’t call this early.”

  “My dad is here.”

  There was silence before he asked, “You don’t mean David?”

  “No.”

  “Where are you right now?”

  Sudden cheering and clapping came from inside the locker room, followed by a thunderous sound. I said, “I’m in the hallway outside the locker room. Logan brought me in here. I was at the game when I saw him. Mason…” Gripping the phone tighter, my feet slid back and I pulled my knees tight to my chest, resting my forehead on them. “I didn’t even know. David knew, but didn’t tell me until today.”

  “Is he there for a visit?”

  “To stay.”

  He sighed. “I’m sorry, Sam.”

  “I’ll be fine.” As I said it, I knew it was true. I knew I was overreacting.

  “No, I meant that I’m sorry I’m not there.”

  “Oh.” Hearing the raw emotion in his voice from over the phone, a warm feeling flooded me. A little tingle started and it continued to spread. “Why does that make everything better?”

  He laughed. “There’s nothing I can say over the phone that’ll help, but if I was there, I would just be with you. I know that helps me, when you’re standing next to me.”

  “I don’t like this long-distance thing.” Pressing the phone even tighter to me, I wanted to reach through it. I wanted to feel his arms around me. Right now, the phone was my closest connection to him. “And you did help me.”

  Another softer laugh. “It’s for a year, just one year, and then you’ll be here.”

  “Yeah.”

  There was another moment of silence before he asked, “Are you okay otherwise?”

  No. “Yes.” Hearing the team cheering again, I knew they were coming outside, and I lifted my head. “I will be. I promise.”

  “Okay. I can hear them in the background.”

  “Yeah.” God, there was so much I wanted to say. The phone wasn’t enough. His presence would’ve been. He should’ve been there, right with me, alongside of me. He wasn’t, though. “I love you.”

  “I love you back.” He seemed to hesitate, and then added, “Be strong, Sam.”

  My breath caught in my throat.

  He said, “You already are, but don’t be afraid of it. Be you, who you are on the inside. You won’t lose anything.” He paused again. “You won’t lose anyone.”

  The door burst open and the first of the football players took off past me, shoving open the doors back for the field. As they went by, their sounds deafening, I said into the phone, “I will. I am. I love you.” I thought I heard him say the same and a second later the call was disconnected. Logan broke off from the line of players and stood next to me. I held my hand out, he caught it, and pulled me to my feet. His gaze fell to the phone still gripped in my hand. My knuckles were white around it.

  He asked, “Mase?”

  I nodded. The emotion was choking me, but it was the good kind of emotion. I wiped a tear away.

  He threw an arm around my shoulder and turned for the door. “Come on. Stop being a sniveling, crying mess—” I elbowed him in the side and he chuckled, “—and come cheer me on. I’m awesome, Sam. Have you not gotten the memo recently? It’s supposed to go out every Friday morning with Twitter alerts. #Logansawesomenooneforgetit.” He flashed me a crooked grin. “I’m going to make shirts. Yours can say Kade Crew on the back of it. How about that? But no family discount. Sorry. I’m a cheap bastard.”

  I laughed. It felt good to laugh. As we started through the cars, I saw them. Garrett and a woman were coming down the path in our direction. They were watching the players run by them, making sure to stay out of the way. As the last of the players ran past them, they turned and saw us. Only a few yards separated us.

  Logan dropped his arm and moved forward a step. I touched the back of his arm and shook my head. Reversing our positions, I was the one in front by a small inch. Two parked cars were between us and them, but I could see they were holding hands. This was his wife. He had left and not come back because of this woman. Their shared history was the span of my entire life. It was then that I realized I’d been jealous of her. I met my father, thought he would be around, and lost him to her. It took him a year to return.

  There were questions. There were emotions, and I didn’t want to deal with them.

  As if sensing my decision, Garrett led the woman around the opposite side of the cars. Logan’s coaches were behind us and one said, “Kade, get your ass with the team.” They moved around us. Logan remained at my side. As they moved further up the hill, he called out again, “Logan! Now.”

  I didn’t say anything, but I pushed Logan ahead.

  “You sure?”

  I nodded. I was still watching Garrett. They paused when the coach spoke, but his head went back down as he led her away. They began angling further away, moving through all the cars, until they were on the sidewalk next to the school.

  Logan had gone ahead. I was the only one in the parking lot and I couldn’t stop watching them. Even after he was out of eyesight and turned to follow the sidewalk around the other side of the school, I still stood there.

  It hit me. My dad really was back.

  *

  MASON

  “Dudette.”

  Grinning, I turned. Matteo had left the table and was in the doorway of the lobby, pounding his chest. With a wide smirk, he pounded his chest again and grabbed his pectoral, jiggling it. He winked. “Like that? There’s more to come.”

  I shook my head. He’d already had too much sake. “My girl called.”

  He grunted. “She’s still coming this weekend, right?”

  “Should be here before the game.”

  “Good. I want to meet her. Georgie and I will be at her place all weekend.” He puckered his lips out and lifted a hand, pretending to make out with himself. “You two can get it on. All. Weekend. Long.”

  He stopped, waited for a reaction from me, and I gave him a smirk of my own. I had every intention of enjoying Sam this weekend. Even the thought of feeling her again was getting me hard.

  Matteo burst out laughing. “You’re a too-cool type of guy, Kade.”

  I shrugged. “Why don’t we stop talking about my girl and head back to the festivities.” I clapped a hand on his shoulder. “It’s your birthday, brotha. How crazy are you getting tonight?”

  He sighed. “Not as crazy as I’d like.”

  “That’s why you’re going out tomorrow night after the game too.”

  “Yeah.” He pursed his lips together. “Why aren’t you coming again?”

  Because Nate’s fraternity was having another party, and he wanted Logan and Sam to go. Knowing the history with my roommate and Nate’s fraternity, I only shrugged. “We’ll do a stop-over. I told Sam she’d meet you since you didn’t get to when they helped me move.”

  “Yeah. True.” He nodded as we started back to the main room. “I intend to spend the rest of my birthday weekend between Georgie’s legs. That girl is like paradise. One touch and I’m salivating like I’m in a damn desert.”

  “Ah,” a voice spoke from behind us, and we turned. Park Sebastian had come into the waiting room of the restaurant, dressed in a tuxedo. A girl wearing a red, slinky dress was perched on his arm, and he hustled her inside, towards us. As he did, she lifted a hand and caught a tendril of hair in her finger. Twisting it around, she gave me a seductive smile. Her lipstick matched her red dress. Park didn’t seem to care about his date as he scanned Matteo and me up and down. As the roo
m filled with more of his fraternity brothers, he said, “Enjoying a quiet dinner before the big game tomorrow?”

  Matteo grunted, showed him his teeth, and lumbered back into the main room. As he walked by me, he said, “Sorry, brotha. I’m out. I want to keep my birthday buzz.”

  “Understandable.” I clapped him again on the arm before he left.

  Park tilted his head to the side, and his eyes narrowed. “He’s never going to not-hate me, is he?”

  Glancing through the room, trying to find Nate, I murmured, “Well, you did screw over his best friend.” As I said those words, my best friend finally came into the room. Nate’s eyes widened and he began to push his way to us. As he did, I murmured, “Speaking of best friends…” When he moved around the last of the crowd, Nate’s date came with him, and my tone trailed off. Marissa was with Nate. Seeing my attention, her cheeks pinked and her head turned to the floor. The hand she was holding onto Nate’s arm with tightened, her fingers digging into his tuxedo jacket. Her other hand readjusted a strap from her dress as it slipped off her shoulder.

  “Hey.” Nate flashed me a grin. He pulled Marissa forward a step. “I totally forgot Marissa was coming to Cain U. Did you remember?”

  “Yeah.” Marissa still wasn’t looking at me. “We ran into each other the other day, and she’s in a class with me.”

  “That’s awesome.” Park moved forward too. His date was behind him, closed out because Nate had adjusted so he was slightly in front of her. It was a small circle of Nate, Park, myself, and Marissa who was looking at the wall. Park seemed eager. “Another high school friend.” His eyes fixed on her with a keen look in them. “I’ll have to get to know you better.”

  Nate shared a look with me. I was fighting from rolling my eyes, and Marissa looked ready to disappear into the floor.

  Nate said quickly, “Hey, so, Logan and Sam are coming tomorrow night, right?”

  Marissa’s head jerked back around. Both her and Park focused on me.

  I nodded. “Yeah. You going to the game?”

  “Yeah, I’m going—”

  Park interrupted, “A bunch of our brothers are going. Who’s Logan and Sam?”

  I had no intention of telling him and started to tell him that when Nate forced out a laugh. “Uh, yeah. I guess Park and some others are going with me. I’ll send Logan a text. We can meet up at the end or something.”

  I nodded. That sounded fine with me, but Park asked again, “No way. These are more friends of yours? They can sit with us. We have a private box. Lots of food and booze.” He winked at me. “If your friends are into that. I know you’re not a big drinker yourself.” He swung his head to Marissa. “How about you…”

  My irritation level had been on a good, slow burn with the conversation, but seeing that Park didn’t know Marissa’s name switched the level to slightly amused. Marissa shot him a glare, and Nate seemed to be holding back his own laughter. Park forced out a small laugh. “I’m sorry. I must’ve forgotten your name.”

  “We were never introduced.”

  At her soft retort, Nate and I shared a grin. Some of the old Marissa was still there. She could be feisty at times.

  “That’s right. We were all in such a hurry to get to the restaurant.” Unfazed, Park drew his date closer to his side, bringing her into the circle. She lifted her head and looked down her nose at Marissa, whose shoulders pinched together. Her size seemed to shrink, and she took a step backwards. Park ran his hand up and down his date’s arm. He said to me, “I don’t know how long your group will stick around, but head over to our table at the end. We’re all going to a formal banquet for the fraternity after this. This is our dinner. It’s an exclusive thing, just for the brothers and their dates, but you’re welcome to join. Just you, though.” He glanced over my shoulder. His fraternity brothers started to move around us and into the restaurant, but I knew he was focused on Matteo’s table. “We can find you a date, if you’d like. That’ll be no problem for a guy like you.”

  My grin chilled.

  “You can call me, if you decide to join us.” Nate lifted his eyebrows, giving me the unspoken message to hold back. I rolled my eyes and leaned back on my heels. Fine. I’d play silent for now, but the asshole needed to stop insulting me. Offering up a girl for me when I had Sam—I took that as a big fucking insult. Nate propelled Marissa forward. “Park, they have our table ready for us. We should go. Mase,” he halted, seeing the glare I had fixed on Park. He cleared his throat. “Uh, call me later.”

  He moved forward, but Park held back. I turned. I wasn’t going to wait around for a private chat with the douche. As I began to follow the end of his group, waiting until I could veer off to my table, someone brushed against my arm, giving me a good graze of a breast. Glancing to the side, I saw Park’s date. She shot me a secretive smile before she turned to follow Park, who was always watching me. When he saw my look, he shot his eyebrow up in question, and I had a feeling he wouldn’t have minded if I wanted his date. He winked at me, but turned and ducked into a private room before he saw my real reaction.

  When I got to Matteo and took my seat again, he asked, “What’d Park Sebasstian want?”

  I grunted and took a good swig of my sake. “The guy’s going to be a pain in the ass, isn’t he?”

  “He’s got a man boner for you. Big time.”

  I sighed. I had hoped not to make enemies so soon, but that time was coming faster than I thought. I shrugged. I’d have to deal with him sooner than later.

  CHAPTER NINE

  SAMANTHA

  The next morning, I headed across the street with my backpack on and a big paper cup filled with coffee. Malinda had it ready for me when I came up from the basement. She gestured to it on the counter and said, “I know your night sucked.” A wave of thanks rolled over me and I grinned at her, heading to grab the coffee, but she intercepted me. “Hold up there, honey.” She wrapped her arms around me and rocked back and forth. As she did, she murmured against my ear, “I am so sorry about last night. You must’ve felt ambushed.” Giving me another tight squeeze, she pulled back, but gazed at me as she kept her hands on my shoulders. “Your father doesn’t think and when he does, he’s got Analise still in his mind, chirping away, and he freezes sometimes. It’s not an excuse. He should’ve dealt with Garrett way before last night. I’m sorry you went through that.”

  Her embrace had been warm and welcoming. As she continued to hold me, a tear came to her eye. This was going into the territory of loving motherhood. It was foreign to me. I gave her a small smile. “I’ll be fine. I have to deal.” I eased out of her hold and grabbed the coffee. Lifting it, I added, “Thanks for this.”

  She nodded, heading back to the sink where she’d been doing dishes. “You go and have a good time. I know you’ve been missing Mason like crazy.”

  I had turned, headed for the front door, but glanced back at her words. She gave me a small wave, looking over her shoulder at me. “Have fun, Samantha.” It was said softly, but she meant it. There was something else in her tone. Sadness? It sent alarms off in me. I was uncomfortable. She was sad for me. I nodded again at her. I felt stupid. What was I supposed to say here?

  “SAM!”

  Hearing Logan yell from the street, I laughed. Some of the awkwardness left me. “I’ll call you later?”

  At the warmth that surged in her eyes, I assumed that’d been the right thing to say. Another tear slipped from her and she brushed it aside. “You do that.”

  “SAM! You butt-munch, get out here.”

  I started to laugh, but Malinda rolled her eyes and yelled back at him, “BUTT-MUNCH? YOU YELL AT MY DAUGHTER AGAIN, I’LL SHOW YOU A REAL BUTT-MUNCH! I’ll take one big-ass bite out of your ass, and it won’t be the feel-good type of bite, you hear me?”

  My eyes went wide and there was a beat of silence before we heard Logan laughing. “Oh god. I have nothing to come back with.” He raised his voice, “You WON, Malinda. You hear that? This one time. The butt-munching mother ha
s won.”

  She grumbled, but she was still grinning. She said, “Go, Sam. I’m good. And yes, please call tonight.”

  I nodded. When I went outside, Mark had slowed his car next to Logan’s. Cass was next to him, a smug, satisfied smirk on her lips. The sight of her should’ve made my smile dim, but it didn’t. Malinda’s daughter. Hearing her call me her daughter hadn’t sent panic racing through me. I had liked it, a lot.

  Mark was closest to me. Cass had her window rolled up, but as I rounded their car to Logan’s, Mark stuck his head out of his window. “I forgot you were going to see Mason this weekend.”

  “Yeah.” Tossing my bag into the backseat, I went to the passenger door and opened it, but I didn’t get in. I rested my arms on the top of his car. “Where are you going?”

  Mark pointed to the house. “Mom said she was cooking
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