Fallen crest forever, p.21
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       Fallen Crest Forever, p.21

         Part #7 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
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  His gaze lingered on Sam before he kept going, forcing a lighter note in his voice. “And there you go. The new kingdom was created, and the new and loving queen replaced both the evil queen, and also the sad and lonely queen, who was never heard from again.” He held his glass out. “And let’s all drink to that odd and kind of twisted fairytale.”

  Logan was about to sit down as everyone sipped from their drinks, when a new voice spoke from the room’s doorway. “Is that what you think of me?”

  Helen stood there, a hurt look in her eyes. “You think I’m sad and lonely, and that you’ve never heard from me again? You think I abandoned you?”

  Logan didn’t reply.

  I knew my brother. He did think that, but he wasn’t going to say anything because he still felt some loyalty toward her.

  I did not. “If the shoe fits, Mom.”

  SAMANTHA

  “That’s hilarious.” Helen gave Mason a scathing look, folding her arms over her chest. She was dressed in a pencil skirt with a white silk top. With her pointed heels, she looked like an older model who’d stepped out of a business magazine. Her blond hair was pulled up into a fancy twisted bun, but every time I saw Helen, that was how her hair was done.

  Garrett stood. “Helen, to what do we owe the pleasure?”

  A gargled sound came from Taylor’s throat, and when everyone turned her way, she held up an apologetic hand. “Sorry. She texted and said she couldn’t get ahold of Logan. I told her we were at dinner and he’d probably call when we were done. I had no idea she was in town.”

  “Or that your phone pinpointed the actual restaurant you were at?” Helen didn’t sound amused. “Yes, well.” She swept a cold gaze over everyone. “I’m afraid I have to interrupt. As happy as my sons seem to be with my arrival, I need to pull them away.”

  She turned to Mason. “A journalist friend of mine gave me the heads-up about an article coming out on Monday. I may be sad and lonely, and I may have abandoned you, but with this bit of news, I could not stay away. Can we talk in private, please?”

  Mason narrowed his eyes, but a half hour later, we were in Malinda and David’s hotel suite. Malinda had insisted, and Helen took a minute to scan the room again. Mason had insisted the parents be present, along with Nate, Logan, and myself. The only adult who’d excused herself was Sharon, Garrett’s wife. I wasn’t sure if that was because of Garrett and Helen’s brief dating history or because she just didn’t feel her presence was necessary. Either way, I couldn’t blame her. Helen hadn’t seemed happy to see her, and Sharon only managed a brief smile as everyone left the restaurant.

  “Is everyone necessary?” Helen asked Mason again.

  He shrugged, standing behind where I sat on a couch. Logan stood next to him, and both had their arms folded over their chests.

  “They’d all find out anyway. Besides—” He gestured to Garrett. “Meet my new lawyer. If memory’s right, you two know each other, in a biblical way?”

  My biological father grimaced, rubbing a hand over his face.

  Helen bristled. “Is this what’s to come? Have you and Logan switched roles? You’re the sarcastic one now?”

  “No.” Logan leaned back against the wall, giving his mother a dark look. “He’s just a bit meaner to you than I am. You took me to Paris. And you’re actually nice to my girlfriend. Mason doesn’t have those reasons to be kind. You like to be a dick to his girlfriend. Remember?” His voice indicated that he wasn’t all right with that, but he bared his teeth in a forced smile. “Trust me, mother. I’m walking a fine line here between being pissed at you too about Sam and being somewhat grateful to you about Taylor. Keep being a dick, though, and I’m certain Taylor won’t care to have anything to do with you either.”

  “Noted.”

  She glowered at me before letting out a loud sigh, pulling out a magazine, and tossing it on the hotel’s table. “This is running on Monday. It’s an article saying my son was given special privileges because of his ‘promising’ future. He was arrested for assault and battery, but was released and received no consequences from the Cain University administration.”

  Mason let out a savage curse.

  Helen kept going, as if her son hadn’t reacted, “It was supposed to run later in the month. They wanted to wait for a bowl game, but it was pushed up because Samantha ran an impressive race yesterday afternoon. A second article is coming out on Tuesday where they’ll talk, at length, about my son’s history, along with his Olympic-hopeful girlfriend and my other son. Now,” she said, looking around. “Was I wrong in interrupting such a cozy family meal?”

  “Come on, Mom.” Mason moved forward to pick up the article. “Don’t be snide because you weren’t invited. If you were ever around, I’m sure we would’ve thought about inviting you.”

  Logan snorted.

  Helen sighed. “I’m having déjà vu. Aren’t we missing a few people?” She glanced to Nate and added, “And we’ve picked up a few new ones too.” Her eyes fell on Malinda. “Were you at the first meeting? When we learned how sexually active Mason and Samantha had become?”

  Logan’s head tipped back. “I can’t. I can’t keep quiet.” He shook his head, letting out a dreamy sigh. “Fond memories. We all bonded together over our hatred for Analise.” He glared at Helen and drawled, “Sorry, Mother, but apparently hell’s frozen and you’re now taking the Anabitch’s place.” His tone cooled. “Stop being a bitch.”

  “Okay, okay.” Garrett held his hands up and moved into the middle of the room. “There are issues that need to be addressed, I agree, but—” He pointed to the article in Mason’s hands. “Can we brainstorm on how to get that pulled? It’ll be very bad if that article comes out.”

  “You can’t.” Helen shook her head. “I got an early copy out of consideration because my friend works with the magazine.”

  Mason finished reading and handed it to me. His jaw clenched, but that was his only reaction. “Who’s your friend?” he asked.

  Helen paused.

  “Answer the question, Mom.” Logan growled.

  She flicked an annoyed look his way. “You’re nicer when you’re not around these two.”

  “I’m nicer when you’re not a bitch.”

  She sucked in an angry breath. “My God, can you be more disrespectful?”

  Logan started laughing again, and I read enough to feel my heart sink. Everything was there. Everything that had happened this summer.

  I stood, fed up with the mudslinging. “Stop!” I couldn’t read it. I’d vomit if I did, and threw the article on the floor. “Your friend told you about the article. You’re in the best position to fix this. Why are you here?”

  “What?” Her eyes narrowed.

  I stepped toward her, folding my arms over my chest too. I lowered my voice to the same cruel level as hers.

  “This is something you could’ve fixed. If you have the pull to get an early copy, you could’ve flown to your friend instead of here. You knew about this days ago. You would’ve had to get the story, book a flight from Europe, and have the foresight to text Taylor and not your actual sons. Did you even text Logan, like you told Taylor you did?”

  “No,” Logan answered. “I checked. There were no messages from her.”

  “Am I blocked?”

  “No, Mom,” he shot back. “Why the fuck would I block you? You just took my girlfriend and me to Paris. We were on good terms until this.”

  “Why are you blaming me?” Her question was directed to Logan and me. “I’m the one bringing this problem to you.”

  Logan was about to say something, but I spoke first. “Because you’re the parent. No matter James’ faults, he would’ve handled this before even bringing it to Mason’s attention. My mother too.”

  The last was meant as a jab, and Helen closed her eyes. She shuddered briefly as it made contact. When she looked at me again, the loathing had gone up a notch. “I hate that my son is infatuated with you. It’s because of you that all this is happeni—”
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  “SHUT UP!” Mason burst out.

  He lunged forward, and everyone jumped at his quickness, but he only took my arm with a gentle touch and pulled me behind him. Logan moved forward so both were shielding me.

  “You hate Samantha because she’s Analise’s daughter. That’s the only reason. Get over it.” His words were calm, but there was rage in them. They sent shivers down my spine, making him seem almost deadly, even though I knew he’d never touch his mother. “I’m going to spell it out once and for all. If you don’t get right with Sam, you and I are done.”

  “Me too, Helen,” Logan added.

  I couldn’t see her, but I heard her sharp intake of breath.

  “I don’t give a shit if you like Taylor,” Logan continued. “You better love my sister, or we’re done. And don’t think you can go around my back to have a relationship with Taylor. She’s loyal to Sam.”

  Garrett cleared his throat. “Look around, Helen.” There was a firmness in his voice too. “Everyone in this room is loyal to Samantha, who is my daughter.”

  “She’s my daughter too.” Malinda stood, sounding like she was fighting back tears.

  Nate was next. “Sam is family to me. I know you don’t care about my opinion, but I wanted to offer it.”

  Then David cleared his throat.

  I held my breath. That man raised me. He put up with Analise’s cheating. He knew I wasn’t his by blood, but he stayed anyway. He didn’t want to risk losing me. He didn’t speak a lot, but when he did, his words meant something. I was already trembling, and I leaned forward, resting my head against Mason’s back. His hand swept back to touch mine. Our fingers intertwined together, and then I heard my father speak.

  “I’ve held some sympathy for you in my heart because even though Analise didn’t directly affect your marriage, I know she had a part. I also know she’s the woman who has kept your ex-husband faithful when you couldn’t.”

  Helen expelled a shuddering breath.

  “I know I don’t talk often, and I can’t have any voice on your relationship with your sons, but I stand with everyone in this room,” David continued. “It’s time you stop tearing into my daughter. She was not the one who tore apart your family, and she’s not the one who continues to keep it apart. That’s you. You’re the adult, and you have to take the first step toward mending your relationships with your sons. Even if Samantha were like Analise, which she is not, the responsibility would still fall on your shoulders. You’re the mother. Not her. You’re the top of the family hierarchy, you and James. When you continue to put your sons above you on that line and expect them to model unconditional love and support, that never works. You’re cheating your sons out of being your sons. Malinda has been remarkable in modeling the kind of unconditional love and support a parent should. I think you would love my daughter very much, if you would allow yourself to be humbled. You can learn from a child, but it always starts with the parent. Be a mother. Stop being the scorned wife.”

  I couldn’t stop shaking.

  Mason felt me. I was pushed up completely against him. As if sensing that I didn’t want anyone to see me like this, Logan shifted to further block me from view. Nate came to Mason’s other side, acting as a third shield.

  I drew in mouthfuls of air, and I tried to think calming thoughts. None of it worked. I was falling apart inside, and I didn’t know why.

  Mason glanced back at me. “Can we have the room for a moment? Just Nate, Logan, Sam, and me?”

  “What?” Helen started.

  “Please. Give us a moment.”

  “We have to still talk about the arti—”

  “Mom!” Mason spoke over her. “Give us the goddamn room. For a minute.”

  Nate and Logan didn’t say a word. They didn’t move a muscle either. As soon as the last adult was gone and the door shut, Mason turned swiftly and held me in his arms. “What’s wrong?”

  I couldn’t speak. I shook my head and lifted my arms and legs around him. I just wanted him to hold me. I just wanted him to soothe me.

  He cradled me in his arms like a child as he sat on the couch. He kept rubbing a hand down my hair, arm, and back, then he’d circle up and repeat.

  We stayed like that for a long while. After ten minutes, as Logan and Nate both sat waiting in silence, Logan said, “She’s used to only being supported by you and me. Even Nate wasn’t supportive in the beginning, and now everyone stood for her, not against her.”

  God.

  The trembling started again.

  I was being such a baby.

  “Sam?” Mason pulled back to see me. The entire front of his shirt was wet from my tears. “Is that what it is?”

  I shook my head. “I have no idea.” I could barely talk. “I’ve been feeling like this since the beginning of summer. I’ve just felt something wrong with me. It got better when we came back and I started running, but your mom being here, and hearing my dad talk—” My voice trembled. “I don’t know why I’m reacting like this. I wish I did.”

  Mason nodded, bringing me back to his chest. “It’s okay. Whatever it is, we’ll be fine.” I felt his words floating over my head to Logan and Nate as he repeated, “We’ll all be fine.”

  “Sam, can we talk about the article?” Logan asked. “Is that okay?”

  I nodded against Mason’s chest. I wanted to participate, and I was trying to get there. The shaking had almost completely subsided. I still needed some time, just a little. Mason’s hand kept caressing my side.

  I needed a bit more of that too.

  I turned my head so I could see Logan when he pointed to the article. “What do we do about that? We all know Helen’s not going to do shit.”

  “Everything is in there from this summer.” Mason’s chest rumbled under my head as he spoke. “It was the Quinns. I’m sure of it. I bet if we ask Garrett, he’ll say Adam’s dad’s trial is starting. They did this to throw blame my way instead of his.”

  “You look like a wealthy, privileged boy getting off when you shouldn’t,” Nate added, nodding.

  “Pretty much.”

  “This will end your football career.”

  Mason let out a silent breath. I felt his chest lift and fall under my head. He agreed with Logan. “Probably, especially with our history in school.”

  Nate held up a hand. “Can we spin it? My parents are always saying stuff like that with scenes in movies. Maybe we can do that here. You go out before this gets out. You tell everyone about your past, and about this summer, and you show the correct footage from that day at the carnival. We have shit on Quinn Jr. I say use it.”

  Logan leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “It’s risky. That’s what it is.”

  Then a thought occurred to me, but it was one I didn’t like. I didn’t like attention. When it came, I’d been taught that it was usually negative, and this—this would be the spotlight of all spotlights.

  But . . .

  I pushed down the fear. It was a big, fat lump that formed in the bottom of my throat. It was always there. It was always waiting for bad stuff to happen. Even though I’d gotten some good things lately, a part of me was always tense, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  This time, I decided.

  I sat up from Mason’s arms. “Use me.”

  “What?”

  “Use my story. I wasn’t always wealthy and privileged. I came from a family that barely held its head above water. My dad was the only breadwinner, on a high school teacher and coach’s salary. My mom suffered mental illness all her life. She went to a treatment facility for two years, and you guys gave me back a family. Use me. I’m the underdog.” I cracked a grin. “Who doesn’t root for an underdog?”

  Logan’s grin had been spreading as I spoke, and it stretched from ear to ear as I finished.

  He snapped his fingers. “And an underdog who’s going to the fucking Olympics one day.”

  “Exactly.”

  I ignored my ice-cold panic.

  MASON

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