Mason, p.2
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       Mason, p.2
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         Part #0.5 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
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  I heard the wariness in her tone and knew she didn’t like me. That was part of the reason I wanted to speak to her. “I know we stay here a lot. Thank you.”

  She nodded. “Yeah, well, your dad’s good friends with us, and I know you mean the world to Nate.”

  “I know, but I know you don’t like me.”

  Her eyes widened and her hand went to her chest in an absentminded gesture. “No, Mason. I don’t want you to thi—”

  I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter. I know you don’t and you shouldn’t.” What the hell was I doing? I wasn’t a great kid. I knew that. I smarted off to my dad all the time. I cursed around Logan every other minute. I was disappointed in my own mother, but this was Nate’s mom. She used to like me, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew when she stopped; it was when my dad’s cheating started to be more obvious. All that crap at my house pissed me off. Logan handled it differently than me. He didn’t seem as angry as me. I said to her, “You’re a good mom to Nate. I know you’re worried I’ll get him in trouble or something.”

  “Mason, really—”

  “I won’t.” Well… “I’ll try not to. I just want to say thanks for always letting us stay here and for letting Logan come with me.”

  Genuine warmth sparked in her eyes and her hand fell from her chest. As a fond smile lit up her face, a dimple appeared on one cheek. “He’s a sweet boy. You take good care of him. I know you do.”

  I nodded. I wasn’t there to talk about Logan so I said, “Anyway, I wanted you to know that I will never purposely get Nate in trouble.” I turned away, then turned back. “Thank you.” Then I took off. When I got downstairs, Nate and Logan were both on the couch. Neither said anything about me being last and when the pizza was done, nothing was said about not eating it. As we ate and watched a movie, Nate’s mom came down to check on us, and again when we were getting ready for bed. And she cooked breakfast for us in the morning. Every time I felt her gaze on me, I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. I assumed she thought the worst of me, but I didn’t know what to do. I owed Nate’s family. When our house was full of fights or painful silence, we could always go there. One of his parents was always there. That felt good, for some reason.

  When we walked home later that Sunday night, Logan glanced up at me. “Nate’s mom helped me with my homework.”

  I frowned. “I thought you didn’t need help with it.”

  “I didn’t. It was nice, though, so I didn’t tell her that.”

  Anger blasted me. My kid brother enjoyed doing his homework with an adult. I wasn’t wise or old, but fuck, I knew there was something wrong with that picture. When we got to the house and went inside. I ignored the cold feeling in our own home, but I couldn’t stop myself from tensing up. There’d be fighting later. I saw a note on the table and read that my dad had been in the cities all weekend; I knew the fight would be more explosive than normal.

  When we went upstairs, Logan asked me, “Are you going to tell Mom we’re home?”

  “Yeah.” I pointed to his room. “Get ready for bed. It’s late.”

  “Okay.” He took off, but turned around. “Thanks for taking me with you this weekend.”

  I nodded. “Go to bed, punk.”

  “Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled, but shot me a grin before darting into his room down the hallway.

  I went into my own room. I had no intention of telling her we were home. Nate’s mom usually called and left messages, giving them updates; I knew she would’ve this time. I didn’t want to see my mom. I didn’t want to see if she was wasted or passed out. I went to bed instead.

  *

  “You can’t bring them here anymore.”

  I sat up and ran a hand over my face, groaning. Again. This was fucking happening again. I glanced at my phone and saw it was three in the morning.

  My dad yelled back, “This is ridiculous, Helen. Our marriage is not working. We need to stop this charade.”

  “Charade?” She laughed. Her voice was muffled through the floor, so I threw on a shirt and headed to the hallway. Her voice became clearer as I did, so I knew they were in the front entrance, right below my stairs. “There’s no charade. I’m telling you the facts. Your children are being affected by this. Stop bringing your women here. I mean it. I won’t say it again.”

  “Helen.”

  “I mean it. No more. You saw how Mason reacted.”

  I padded barefoot down the hallway until I was above them. The lights were still off in the hallway and when I got there, I saw Logan already sitting there. His knees were pulled up and his head was pressed against them. I sat down and nudged him. “When did you wake up?”

  He didn’t lift his head. His voice was muffled by his knees. “They’ve been fighting for an hour. I heard them when I went to the bathroom.”

  They couldn’t hear us or see us, but we could hear them too well. I could hear the emotion in our mom’s voice as she said, “We need to go to counseling. James, you need to go to counseling.”

  “No.” He was calm.

  I frowned. Logan lifted his head and held his breath.

  Our dad continued, “No, Helen. Our marriage is over. It was over before it even started.”

  “No.”

  “Yes.”

  Hearing that, I closed my eyes. Relief, sadness, and anger all blasted me. Logan stirred next to me. “You think it’s for real?”

  I nodded. I heard the finality in our dad’s voice. “Yeah.”

  Then he said, “Finally.”

  I shook my head. This was too messed up. “Come on. Let’s go downstairs to the media room and watch a movie.”

  “Okay.”

  We stood and left. They never knew we were there; we left through the north stairs, at the opposite end of the house. Neither of us slept the rest of the night. A movie played on the television screen. Logan picked it out, but I never focused on what it was. I didn’t think he did either. Their voices kept going for the rest of the night, but they were muffled since we were further away. I glanced at Logan, he was looking back at me. We didn’t need to hear the rest.

  The family was done.

  3

  POOL BREAK-IN AND CHOICES

  I had to get out of that house, so I waited until Logan had fallen asleep. It was a few days later, but for once, the house was quiet. Our dad took off and Mom was around, but once she handed me the keys to my new Escalade, she packed a bag and went to my aunt’s. She asked if we wanted to come along and Logan thought about it, then asked if our cousins could swap with her. She would go there and they would come to our house. She laughed, but I hadn’t. I knew what Logan was thinking. Our mom would cry. She would drink wine, lots of it, and would talk shit about our dad the whole time to our aunt. There’d be lots of ‘I told you so’ and ‘Amen. Just like all the other men’ and other phrases women liked to say. It was uncomfortable. He wanted to avoid being around that, but he wanted to see our cousins. In the end, our mom kept laughing softly to herself as she pressed a kiss to both of our foreheads, then told us to call Mousteff if we needed something.

  A rock was thrown and landed on the sidewalk in front of me. I looked up, seeing Nate wave from behind the gate, and darted over. When I slipped over the gate, Nate had stuffed his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched forward. He asked, “Are you sure about this?”

  I paused. “Yeah. Why?” He couldn’t have had cold feet. We had done worse things.

  He lifted a shoulder and nodded to the house. “Aren’t your parents gone? Will Logan be okay in there?”

  “Yeah.” I turned, just to make sure, but his window was still dark and his curtains never moved. “Mousteff is staying so if anything happens, he’ll call.”

  “Your chef is your chaperone?”

  I smirked. “I know. My mom’s idea to soothe her guilty conscience.” Wait. We started down the sidewalk, but I stopped. “How’d you know both my parents are gone? I only told you about my mom.”

  Guilt flared over his face. “Sorry. Your d
ad’s at our house.”

  “Really?”

  He nodded and grimaced. “I’m sure he’s doing the same thing as your mom. There’s lots of drinking, lots and lots of it. I think Mom’s getting sick of it. I caught her glaring out the kitchen window at our dads on the patio.”

  “What’d they do?”

  He laughed, following me further down the sidewalk. “Nothing. They were both wasted. I think my dad’s kind of happy yours are splitting. He’s got his old drinking buddy back. I heard him telling my mom last night that it was like his old college days.”

  “What’d your mom say?”

  “To grow up. He’s too old and fat to be in a fraternity again.” He grinned. “My dad wore his old fraternity shirt for the rest of the day yesterday. I knew it was to get back at my mom.”

  “What’d my dad do?”

  “I think he found his old one too. I swear, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found a game of beer pong going on in the garage when I get home.”

  It was hard to hear that. My parents were getting a divorce. Hoo-fucking-rah. No more fighting, wait—who was I kidding?—they would always fight, no matter if they were together or not. Man, though, my parents were getting a divorce. No more Mom in the house. No more Mom and Dad together in the house. I couldn’t say my parents were together, but shit, I haven’t been able to say that for a long time anyway. I couldn’t remember a time when we had a real sense of family, of Mom being Mom and Dad being Dad. They’d been cold roommates for so long.

  Nate sensed the turmoil in me and grew silent. When I told him I wanted to get out of the house, he knew of a party. The rich pricks from Fallen Crest Academy were having one. I wasn’t sure about being social tonight. We’d be allowed in, no matter our age. I was Mason Kade. My dad owned half the town and my reputation on the football field gave me an advantage. Even the seniors knew to let me do what I wanted, but when we got there, I stopped on the sidewalk.

  Nate looked over. “What’s wrong?”

  I shook my head. “I’m not feeling all that social.” I gave him a grin. “Sorry, I know you snuck out.”

  He shrugged. “It’s fine. Mase, your family is dunzo. I’ll do whatever shit you want me to do.”

  “I know.” He was a good friend, my best one besides Logan. The house was filled with lights, loud music, and drunken laughter, but I saw the pool in the backyard. It was gated off so no one was using it. I gestured to it. “If we climb the fence, we could hang out down there.”

  “You want me to sneak into the party and grab some booze?”

  “Nah.” I indicated my backpack. “I stole beer from the garage. It’s the good shit too.”

  Getting over the fence was easy, and we headed to the far corner of the pool. Neighboring trees gave us some camouflage so we were able to put our feet in the pool and watch the festivities in the house. The music and laughter was still loud, but it wasn’t as bad. I handed a bottle to Nate.

  We didn’t talk. We sat, listened to the party, and drank. After we both finished half the bottles I brought, Nate let out a belch. Then he laughed, looking at me in shock. “Sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

  I lifted my bottle in the air. “From this. It’s supposed to be the good stuff.”

  He continued to chuckle, shaking his head, then bent over and pressed his face to his legs. “I don’t think this is the good stuff. Your dad brought over a truckload of booze to the house. Wait.” He held a hand up, his head still pressed to the tops of his legs, his shoulders shaking. “I take that back. I saw some cheap shit on their table last night. Yeah, you’re right. This is the good stuff. Your dad would have left it behind to save it.”

  He kept laughing, the sound was muffled, but it got worse. “Your dad. He looked so ridiculous in his shirt. It was a size too small for him.”

  I grinned, finishing my fourth beer and reached for another. “He probably shrunk it on purpose, to show off his physique.”

  “Not my dad.” Nate lifted up. A silly grin was still there, but the laughter had lessened. One or two chuckles still slipped out and he started laughing all over again. “My dad’s shirt is so small, there’s a little pooch hanging out.”

  I grinned. “As long as my dad’s not holed up with some other woman. I don’t know. That makes me feel better.” I sighed. Not my mom; she would’ve been hurt either way. I stopped thinking about it. That shit didn’t matter. It was done with. We got our lives back. Still, it was a hard fucking pill to swallow.

  Nate must’ve sensed my thoughts. Growing quiet, he asked, “So how’s Logan handling it?”

  I snorted. Finishing my fifth beer, I tossed the bottle in the pool. I shrugged. “He’s been a bigger pain in my ass than normal, so I guess that means he’s not handling it well. I don’t know. He doesn’t talk about it much. We’re just glad it’s over.” It felt as if there was a knot in my gut, and it never went away. I didn’t know how to explain it.

  “You’re staying, right?” He sounded anxious. “With your dad? He told my parents that your mom will probably go back to L.A.”

  “Yeah, she will.”

  “So you’re staying then?”

  I nodded. “Yeah, coach is here.”

  “Did your mom even ask?”

  I shrugged. “Yeah, she said something once. I don’t know if she’ll ask again, but she knows I’m staying. We could go back with her, but this is home. Fucked-up as it is, this is home.” Nate was there. I didn’t have to deal with city driving. Coach was there. I could make sure Logan was fine here. He’d have different friends and a different school if we went to the city. I could watch him better this way.

  “Hey!” A large guy was heading down from the house, squinting at us, with a couple others behind him. “Who’s out there?”

  A smaller guy tugged on his arm. “I told you I heard voices out here. They broke in.”

  Some girls were with them, but it was obvious the bigger guy was the leader. He came to the fence and stuck his hand through it, pointing at us. “This is my house. Get the fuck off our land. PJ, call the cops.”

  “On it.”

  I snorted. PJ. He could’ve been called BJ for the way he was acting, on his knees and at the guy’s beck and call.

  The guy heard me and barked out, “What was that? You’re laughing?”

  “Yeah.” I stood up and grabbed my backpack. The emptied beer bottles stayed where they were and I left the other ones in the pool. Nate stood with me, walking beside me as I walked out of the shadowed area. When he could see me better, I said, “I’m laughing because your friend is a wuss. I saw him earlier.” I was on my second beer when he came out, saw us, and headed back inside. I smirked at him now. “It took two beers to tattle on us.”

  The bigger guy relaxed when he saw me. “Oh. Kade. Why didn’t you just say something?”

  “Hey, Graham.” Going to the fence, I reached through and he slapped my hand. “We weren’t up for being social tonight.”

  “Nah. That’s fine. I heard about your parents. Sorry to hear that.”

  Yeah. Everyone in this town had heard about my parents. Graham was a starting running back for Fallen Crest Academy’s football team. We trained at summer camp together. His friend was looking between us, his eyebrows bunched together, and he frowned. “Kade?”

  “Yeah.” Graham shifted on his feet and gestured to me as he turned to his friend. “Why didn’t you tell me it was him? I wouldn’t have cared. Kade, you can hang out here anytime you want.”

  “Thanks.”

  “I mean that.” He placed his arm around a girl next to him and pulled her into his side. Leaning on her, he turned to his friend. “PJ, this is the guy who’s going to demolish you when we play FCP.”

  PJ swallowed, glaring at me.

  I smirked. “I think he’d like to try and demolish me now.”

  Graham laughed, shaking his head. “No way, PJ. Don’t do it. You’ll lose. This guy’s going pro. All the scouts came early to see him. He’s too young, but the r
umors are already spreading.” He sobered. “I am really sorry, man. My parents split last summer too. They got back together, but it sucked. Please tell me you’re sticking around? My dad knows yours and he said something about your mom leaving.”

  I shook my head. “No, we’re sticking around. My little brother knows this place.”

  “Your parents won’t have a custody battle?” one of the girls asked.

  “No, they both said I get to choose.”

  Both of them had come to my bedroom. It was the day after it had been decided. My mom sat on the couch and my dad stood in the doorway. They had a fucking speech prepared. It was nice, neat, and
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