Fallen fourth down, p.25
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       Fallen Fourth Down, p.25
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         Part #4 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan

  “I see.” I didn’t ask how it had been for him. There were red marks on his neck. A couple bruises had appeared over his cheek, and his eye was swollen. I ran a hand over my hair and gestured to his. “They made you cut your hair?”

  “Yeah.” He grimaced.

  It was short, almost as short as mine. Nate kept his black hair longer than mine, enough so he could spike it when he wanted the badass look. From his reaction, I was guessing the haircut hadn’t been his choice.

  “Look, I’m sorry I brought Marissa to the lunch,” he said abruptly. Kicking out his leg, he rested it on the railing a few feet from me. His chin lowered to his chest, and he looked straight ahead. The corners of mouth were strained. “I fucked up. Again. I was pissed at you about Park. I like him. He’s a big fucking deal with my fraternity, and this is important to me.”

  “What’s important to you?”

  “This.” He gestured around him. “All of this and you’re fucking with it.”


  “Because.” His feet kicked off the railing and he jerked forward. His elbows slammed down onto his knees, but he still didn’t look at me. “You just are. I mean, would it kill you to be friends with Park? He’s not a bad guy.”

  “To you.”

  “What?” A wary look filtered over his features.

  “He’s not a bad guy to you.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “He doesn’t give a shit about me. He gives a shit about what I can give him. I’m not stupid. He was good friends with a teammate last year. That teammate got injured and couldn’t play on the team anymore. Guess what happened?”

  Nate shook his head. “No. No way. Park said he had nothing to do with it. He said it was preposterous that the guy even came to him.” He looked up, a cloud of denial and disbelief hanging over him. “Park’s got connections, but for him to expect him to do that? He’s not god. He can’t work miracles.”

  “The scholarship was given to him by Park’s dad.”

  As I said that, I waited. Nate’s eyes narrowed, but he started shaking his head. “No. No way. I mean, that’s an ass move.”


  He stood slowly, his eyebrows bunched together, but he kept shaking his head. “I can’t believe that. I mean, why wouldn’t he help them? That just makes Park look like an ass. There’s more to it. There’s gotta be.”

  Did it matter? I shook my head. “I’m not here to convince you the guy is an asshole. I’m here to tell you that I don’t have to be friends with him. I told you that to give you a clue that this guy doesn’t walk on gold-rimmed clouds. He’s just a guy and you’re here, pissed at me, your best friend, because I’m not friends with him. Since when do we hold each other to friendship contracts? You’ve never had to be friends with mine. Shit. Half the time you and Logan don’t get along. I’m not forcing my brother down your throat. That’s on you. If you don’t like him, you don’t like him.”

  He was still fighting what I was saying. A small amount of irritation built in me. I didn’t need to plead my case. Nate was breaking the deal we made. I was pleading my side as a consideration to him, to our friendship, but this was beginning to piss me off. My eyes narrowed.

  “Fuck it.” I stood from the railing. “I don’t have to be friends with your friends. That’s the bottom fucking line. If that’s an issue with you, we’re done as friends. I won’t be controlled and manipulated. It’s an insult every goddamn time your buddy tries to manipulate me. I’ve held back. I’ve held back a lot, but if he keeps it up, that’s it. My time of not fighting is over. It’ll be game on after that.”

  Nate’s lips curved up in a snarl. “Why are you like this? Why can’t you just be friends—”

  “Because I won’t be fucking used or controlled.” I got in his face, stepping close. “I had enough of that crap growing up with my parents. No more. After my dad screwed our family, I vowed to be done with these games. Park,” I tapped the side of Nate’s head, “got in there. This isn’t you. You kept screwing Parker when I wanted a freeze-out. I didn’t push, and that was for someone’s safety. That was agreed upon by all the guys, but you broke it. Even then I never gave you this fucking ultimatum.”

  “No, Mason.” Nate backed up. He kept shaking his head. The cloud of denial was a fully enclosed wall. It slammed down between us, and when he took another step back, I knew I couldn’t break through it. He was gone. Park Sebasstian had taken my best friend from me. “This is insane. I’m just asking you to be friendly with him. That’s all.”

  My jaw clenched, and I felt as if a nerve had been hit one too many times. “If that’s all you think it is, he’s brainwashed you a lot more than I realized.” It was pointless trying to talk to him. I needed to move onto the second matter at hand. “What’s up with you and Marissa?”


  “Marissa. What are you doing with her?”

  “Nothing. Why?” He had a hand on the side of his face, as if he was still pondering something, but it fell back down to his side. His head straightened and he focused on me more clearly. “Don’t tell me you’re interested in her.”

  “No, but she’s causing problems for me and Sam. I don’t want to deal with her again. Keep her away from me.”

  A spark of anger lit up his face, and his mouth tightened. “So you’re giving me orders? I thought that’s what you said Park was doing. He can’t, but you can?”

  My eyes were almost slits. The ball of anger spread, moving up from my stomach. It was in my chest, but it was still rising. “I know you’re friendly with her. You took her as a date to that dinner. I don’t know what her agenda is with me, but I know she’s got one. If you see her,” I emphasized that word, “tell her to stay away from me. It’s never going to happen. The sooner she accepts that, the sooner she can move on and maybe fuck you.”

  My own anger mirrored his features. His eyes snapped to attention and his shoulders shifted back, readying for a fight. Nate moved closer to me this time. “Excuse me?” He lowered his voice.

  So did I. “You heard me.”

  I was waiting. The crowd was cheering from the backyard, but we were about to have our own fight in the front. There was no announcer, no microphone, no audience for us. Nate had gone into that world where he needed those things. Attention. Power. Control. That’s what he wanted. I didn’t need any of it. His eyes shifted to the left and I knew he was going to throw a punch.

  His arm lifted. So did mine. I blocked his right arm with my left, then reared back with my own right and let it go. My fist slammed into his face. It happened, as if in slow motion. We were standing so close together. Neither of us stepped back, but as I made contact with his face, I could see his skin rippling from the force of my hit.

  He dropped. His body went to the ground, and at that same moment, another burst of cheers went up from behind the house. I knelt, checked to make sure he was breathing. He was. I’d only knocked him out. I turned, stepped over him, and left.

  Now I knew. That friendship was over.

  Fucking hell.



  It was morning.

  Every tendon in my body was stretched tight. I had perpetual butterflies in my stomach. It felt like they were on speed, whipping back and forth. When the first gun sounded, it was our alert to head for the starting lines. As I did, my legs were almost numb. I couldn’t feel them, just the nerves inside me. I looked to the sidelines.

  David, Malinda, Mark, Logan, and Heather all waved back at me. Mason had a game that afternoon. He couldn’t make it, but he had called last night and this morning. There’d been ten text messages from him the last time I checked my phone. All were filled with good lucks and reassurance that everything would work out no matter what. It was easy for him to say; he was already at Cain University.

  I was being irrational. He was there. I wasn’t. I needed to get there. It was on me. This was my job.

  People were yelling out good luck to me. I heard my n
ame being cheered, but it all faded. My eyes were trained on the referee holding his hand in the air. I waited. Everyone waited, and the more I focused on him, the more my nerves faded away.

  The horn sounded, and he dropped his arm in a dramatic motion.

  We were off.

  The front of the group started off. I had been placed in the middle. It never took long for the groups to scatter. I waited again. Because of the press from the other runners, I couldn’t start out at my normal pace. I was itching to go, though. It was taking everything in me to keep from veering to the edge of the crowd and putting distance between me and them, but some girls spread out, and it took only a few more paces before I was able to stretch my legs.

  I could see the front runners. They were going hard, but this meet meant everything to some of us. It meant my future.

  “Don’t hold back, Strattan.” My coach had pulled me aside when everyone left the bus earlier.

  I’d been confused. “What are you talking about?”

  Eric Hayes got off the bus, followed by two more guys. They all glanced at us as they went, but Coach waited until they were out of hearing distance. He lowered his voice, “I know you, Strattan. You hold back automatically. Don’t. Not here. You go as hard as you can. Most girls might lose their momentum in the second half, some don’t. Some go faster the last half, but you go strong the whole time. I know you run on your own still.”

  “Only sometimes.”

  “It doesn’t matter. I’ve known. This is your run. Run today as if you’ll never run again. You got it? You can take state. You could even go to nationals. Run your ass off. That’s all I’m telling you.” He pointed to my head. “Turn that off and just go.”

  “Okay.” I could do this. “I will, Coach.”

  “Good.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “Do what you need to do. I’ll see you at the finish line.”

  With that said, I set my internal speedometer to full force. Once I did this, I knew this was how I would go the whole way. I didn’t pay attention to who I was passing. I didn’t look to the sides as people were lining up ahead, trying to keep up with me. It wasn’t long until I realized I was alone. Either I was in first or the girls who were in first were too far ahead of me.

  I wasn’t running against them. I was running against myself.

  The first marker was set up. I soared past it. The second had a small group of people. My eyes were focused, but I caught movement from the corner of my eye. They were waving their arms. I heard the yelling, but it was muffled. I rounded for the third. This time, a larger group was there. Someone was running to get there, to be there when I went past it.


  That was Logan. A small tear came to me, but it flew off my cheek. I kept going.

  The fourth marker had more people.

  The fifth doubled in size.

  The sixth and seventh were the same. As I flew past, I realized they were there for me. I heard my name clear as day, but it didn’t slow me down. I didn’t let it distract me.

  I remembered Mason’s last text as I cleared a hill and started down it: Run your ass off. Run to me. All roads, Sam. I’ll be there.

  I had one more marker. A referee was supposed to be at each one of them, but I didn’t remember seeing him. I wasn’t seeing anyone. The finish line wasn’t far and I wasn’t tired yet. My legs stretched wider. I envisioned everything in my mind. My heels dug into the ground. My muscles bunched, pulling me forward with my momentum, and my toes went next. I pushed off from them, sending myself forward into another sprint. Over and over again. I could go faster. I saw the end and the large crowd that had formed, waiting on me.

  I soared over it and my head went back. My chest was gasping. That had been the fastest run of my life. I wanted to keep going, but I forced myself to stop. As I did, people ran at me.


  That was Logan. I turned to him, a wide smile on my face, and saw Mason instead. He was standing in the middle of the crowd, a proud look on his face. I registered that he was wearing Cain U athletic clothes, a warm-up jacket and pants. They hugged his form, accentuating his muscular build and lean waist. His pants rode low on his hips. He looked good enough to jump. I met his gaze. I couldn’t look away. His eyes were lit up with love.

  I didn’t think. I leapt for him. My legs wrapped around his waist, and I clung to him as my arms went around his neck. I didn’t think he would be there and he was. I wasn’t going to question it. I was just going to revel in it.

  “Okay. Where’s the sharing means you’re caring?” Logan held his arms out. “I’m right here. I care too.”

  Mason started to let me go, but I clung tighter to him, pressing my face into the crook of his neck and shoulder. He wrapped his arms around me once more, and his hand splayed out over my back as he rocked me back and forth. For a moment, just one more moment, it was only him and me. I breathed him in, remembering what it had felt like as he pressed me down on the bed. With him inside me, holding me, kissing me.

  He was home.

  “Logan.” He cleared his throat. “Standing right here. The two love-tweeties can get alone time later. Still wanting to share some caring here.”

  Laughing, I lifted my head.

  Logan patted his chest and spread his arms wider. “Sam, you just kicked major record ass today. I’m still willing to be your bitch, but I want a hug.”

  Before I could unwind my legs from Mason’s waist, I was transferred from him to Logan. “Oh!” My legs dropped to the ground and Logan lifted me back up. His arms were tight around my back as he whirled me in a circle. When he set me back down, he leaned back and grinned down at me. A stupid happy look was on his face and he shook his head. “I’m so fucking proud of you. You have no idea.”

  “We all are.” Malinda was next. She pulled me in for a hug. Then David. Heather. Mark was last, and it was an awkward hug. There was no body contact. His arms lifted up and around me, then he patted me on the back and moved away as soon as it was done. From a safe distance, he nodded. “You did really good.”

  I laughed. I had to. “They’re not going to hurt you for hugging me.” I pointed to Mason and Logan, and realized Logan was gone. “Logan?”

  Mason was looking past my shoulder, and I turned to follow his gaze. He was greeting Kris, who looked ready to fall down. Her hair was soaked with sweat. After he hugged and kissed her, he handed her a water bottle.

  “Uh.” Mason stepped forward. He sent an apologetic smile to Malinda and David, his gaze sweeping over everyone as he touched my elbow. Applying pressure, he guided me away from the group again. “I have to head back right away.”

  “That’s right. You play today, don’t you?”

  He nodded. “I do. It was nice seeing everyone.”

  Malinda held her arms out and shook her head. “Oh no, you big muscular football hottie. Get that tight ass over here. I am the mama bear and I want a hug. I don’t get to see you that much anymore.” Instead of waiting for Mason, she lifted his arms and wrapped hers around him. They were standing close so I heard her whisper, “David’s relieved you’re not going to be around for Christmas break, you know with the slumber parties, but not me.” She moved back, brushed a tear away, and cupped the side of his face. “You’re just so handsome. I miss you, and I know Sam does too. Everyday.”

  Mason’s gaze met mine. I let him see the truth in her words. Having him there made everything right.

  Seeing the look, Malinda made a crooning sound. Her other hand lifted to cup the side of my face. She was holding us in the palm of her hands, looking back and forth between us. “You two will go the distance. I just know it. Neither of you need to worry. True love always survives. It’s supposed to.” She patted us both on the cheek and groaned. “I just love you both so much, and on that note, I will step back. You two love-tweeties, as Logan called you, need some time alone. It was so nice seeing you again, Mason. I’ll invest in a teleporting machine. I think everyone would be happier with that invention.”

  He laughed. “Yeah, that would be nice.”

  “Okay.” She turned, waving as she did. “Love you and drive safe.”

  “Malinda,” David called, “leave them be.”

  “Mom,” Mark groaned.

  I glanced to Heather who was waiting beside Mark. She gave me a two finger salute. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but assumed it wasn’t bad as she watched Logan and Kris. A small smirk was starting to form on her face when I looked back to Mason.

  He was waiting for me. He sighed and pulled me close for another hug. He had to go. That’s what he was saying. When his chest tightened and he lifted his head, I knew he was going to say something. I shook my head. No talking. Not now. Just us. That’s all I wanted.

  But when he pulled back and dropped a soft kiss to my lips, it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. As he headed for his car, the feeling of victory dimmed a little bit.


  I turned and hugged the rest of my teammates as they came over the finish line.


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