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

  He was grinning. He looked like the usual carefree Logan that most knew, but I knew part of it was an act. He wouldn’t let it go, knowing that something was wrong. It was only a matter of time before he’d get it out of me. I just wasn’t ready for that day because when it came out, when I told him that I knew, everything would change. No matter what the truth was, I was scared of losing him and Mason.

  He lowered his hand, his grin fading to a small, concerned look.

  I shook it off. I couldn’t lose them, either one of them. I gave him a reassuring grin and vowed that the truth wouldn’t come out. It couldn’t. I would be destroyed the day it did.

  He lifted his hand again, but the dark concern was still in his eyes. As I watched, he masked it himself and threw the first toss. It landed in the cup right in front of me and without a moment’s hesitation, I downed the beer. He could win. I wouldn’t care. I was ready to drink all of it that night.

  “Well, then.” Heather grinned at me. “Looks like Sam’s ready to party this year.”

  I gave her a half-grin, but hung my head at the same time. Mason should’ve been there. When I looked back up, Logan was studying me. Our gazes collided and he saw the pain in my eyes. Somehow I knew that he understood. He nodded, growing serious for a brief moment. In that one second, we were on the same page. We both missed Mason.

  That made everything worse. A burden like I had never felt before was placed on my shoulders. No one could get hurt. It was on me. Tate told me the secret, whether Logan’s feelings were true or not, I would shoulder it on my own.

  I didn’t wait for them to throw again. I grabbed another cup and downed it.

  Mark’s mouth fell open, but he lifted his arms up in victory. “Keep going, Sam. Mom won’t do my laundry so guess what you’ll get to do?” He dropped his arms and rubbed his hands together.

  I didn’t care. My chest and throat were burning. I was willing to do anything to make that sensation go away.



  It had been a week since Nate’s party, and he called once to have lunch together. Things were different. That was obvious, but I didn’t know if it was me or him. I figured it was him since I hadn’t changed. I kept to myself and did my own thing. Like right now, most of the team had gone, but I stayed behind. Coach switched my position. I’d been big enough to play lineman in high school, but I wasn’t big enough in college. With my speed and still being muscular, just not lineman muscular, he had me as wide receiver now. I had known since the summer he was planning this, and I tried to train a lot during then, but it was different being here. The feeling to play catch-up was weighing me down.

  I was running drills when Matteo hollered at me from the sidelines. “Yo, Kade. We be out, man. You sticking around?”

  I stopped and wiped the sweat from my forehead so I could see. “Yeah. I’ll see you back at the house.”

  “We’re grilling tonight. Grab any food you want grilled up.”

  “Yeah.” When they left, there weren’t many others on the field. A few of the assistant coaches were standing in a huddle, talking, but I glanced over and saw my coach watching me.

  He changed my position on this team so I needed all the extra training hours I could get. I exploded to cone two, ran around to cone three, passed the second for the fourth cone, and circled back to the second cone. I finished strong going back to the first cone. Drop your shoulder. Drop your shoulder. Chop your feet, up and down, up and down. Lower the hip. Pivot with your arms.

  When I was done, I repeated it four more times and turned in bounds for twenty yards. I repeated that three times, leaping as high as I could as I covered the distance. After resting for two minutes, I began again with my drills. I kept doing them until some of the lights were shut off.

  One of the assistant coaches hollered from across the field, “Go home, Kade. We’re closing up.”

  “Okay.” I lifted an arm, but it was too heavy, so I nodded instead. Panting, knowing every inch of me reeked, I headed off to the shower. The locker room was empty except for another player. He was in the weight room and glanced up, but neither of us said anything. We nodded to the other as I went to clean-up. When I left, he was still doing curls.

  Walking into the stadium during the day was daunting. This was my dream. I’d been planning to play professional ball since I could remember. Playing for a Division One school was the next step. I was on the doorstep to the professionals. I could taste it. As I left the stadium, a lot of the hallways were dark since the late hour. I got out the doors and headed for the parking lot.

  When I stepped off the curb to my vehicle, I noticed there were only a few cars in the lot.


  I stopped when I saw a girl leaning against the far wall of the stadium, and a wave of recognition came over me. Seeing me, she straightened from the wall. She had two friends with her, but they moved farther down. She glanced back to them, and they nodded their encouragement. When she drew closer, I took in the brown hair and dark eyes. The petite frame was the same, but she wasn’t the shy high school girl anymore. Dressed in a tight pink shirt and tight jeans like all the other girls at this school, I was surprised to see the confidence in her now.

  I grinned. “Marissa.”

  Her hands lifted to her side. She pressed the back of her hands against them for a second before a smile appeared. She let her arms drop down. Her head was tilted to the side, and as she drew closer, her cheeks grew pink. “Mason.” She said my name in a rush.

  The confidence was there; I saw it appear for a moment. This was the shy girl from high school that I remembered. “Is this a coincidence or…” I studied her friends. They were turned towards each other with their heads bent forward. One was watching me over the other one’s shoulders. When she saw me watching them, she jerked back and whispered something to the other. The girl standing with her back to me stiffened. This wasn’t a coincidence, but I asked anyway, “Or were you waiting for me?”

  “Um.” She lifted a hand to scratch her ear. It fell and linked with her other hand, and she lifted up on her tiptoes in a nervous movement. As she rocked back down to her heels, a high-pitched laugh came from her. “This is really embarrassing.”

  She’d been waiting for me. I had known she was a student at Cain University. She emailed me after she was accepted. I hadn’t responded. In fact, I hadn’t responded to any of her emails in over a year. She never stopped sending them and because of that, I could understand her embarrassment. Logan told me that I was leading her on after bringing her to the cabin with us. I cut all communication after that, but I'm guessing it hadn’t been enough.

  I wasn’t going to dance around the conversation this time. “Marissa,” I started.

  She stopped fidgeting. Her gaze jerked to mine and she gulped. She heard the seriousness in my tone, and she held a hand up. “Wait. Mason, wait.”

  I narrowed my eyes.

  She ducked her head down. Her fingers slipped into her pockets, and her hands hung there. “I’ve been thinking a lot about our friendship over the years.”

  I didn’t have a good feeling about this. “And I think that you started to assume I liked you. I didn’t.” Her eyes lifted, met mine, and looked away again. Her cheeks grew redder. “Okay, that was a lie. I did like you. I mean, I thought you were my knight in shining armor, the popular guy who became friends with me. I’m nothing. Then the girls started in.” She stopped and drew in a ragged breath. Her voice grew thick with emotion as she continued, “You have no idea the things they did.”

  Regret stabbed at me. “They did the same to Sam.”

  She still wasn’t looking at me. Her hand had been moving back and forth, but she stopped it. All motion froze for a moment. “Your girlfriend?”

  “Yeah. She transferred to Public last semester and they tried to do some messed up things to her.”

  “Like what?”

  “Stealing her clothes was the nicest of their pranks, for one.” The image
of Sam in that hospital bed, her face bruised up, and her body wrapped in bandages flashed in my mind again. It was seared there. I’d never get it out. “They put her in the hospital.”

  “They did?” She lifted her head again. Her lip trembled. “They never did that to me.”

  “Sam fought back.”

  She flinched and looked away. “Oh.”

  I grimaced. I had insulted her, but that hadn’t been my intention. “Look, I’m sorry. That wasn’t a shot at you. I was trying to tell you that you weren’t the only one who got hurt by Kate and her friends.”

  A sad laugh came from her. “It wasn’t just Kate for me. It was half the school. All the girls hated me. All of them.”

  “I’m sorry that I didn’t stop it.”

  “I don’t know how you could have.”

  “I could’ve tried. I did when they were hurting Sam, but I didn’t when they were hurting you. I should’ve stepped in. I’m sorry that I never did. I’m sorry that you had to transfer because of all that shit.”

  She twisted around. Her friends were watching us. They moved closer when they saw Marissa looking at them. “I have to go.” She shook her head, and I could hear the sob in her throat. “I’m sorry, Mason. I have to go.”

  She started for her friends, and they met her half way. Both of them put their arms around her shoulder, and they hurried from the parking lot. They headed down the sidewalk and into the main campus. I watched them for a moment and shrugged. Marissa wasn’t my problem anymore. I felt bad about what happened to her and I apologized to her. I meant the apology, and whether she took it or not, that was on her.



  After changing into my running clothes, I headed to the field where everyone was waiting for the coach. The guys had been sent ahead, but we would be running the same course as them. I dropped down to the grass to stretch. When the other girls came out, some of them began stretching like me, but they sat away from me. A burst of laughter sounded from further down the field and everyone looked. A group of girls were coming towards us. Someone groaned a few feet from me, “Juniors. Honestly. Why do we have to run with them?”

  I bent over my leg, reaching for my toe. The seniors kept their distance from me, so the juniors wouldn’t be a problem. A lot of them were just in awe that I was dating Mason Kade, but I heard my name, “Sam!”

  I paused and cursed. Kris was waving at me. Dressed in running pants and a tight top, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she bounced over to me. Literally bounced. She dropped down next to me. Bringing her feet together in front of her, she cupped them and bent over, but turned to me. She was beaming. “Hey! Did Logan tell you I was joining the team?”

  Fuck no. I smiled at her. “He didn’t. I didn’t know you were a runner?”

  “Oh.” She shrugged. Her knee was lifted and pressed to her chest as she hugged it for a moment. She did the same with the other one. “I like running. I’m not in your league, but when he found out, he suggested I join the team. I’m new, all for a team spirit, you know.”

  Still smiling, still forcing it, I commented, “I’m surprised you didn’t do cheerleading.”

  She laughed and spread her legs. She reached for her right ankle, cupped it, and began to lower down over her leg. “Oh, you know, I did think about it. I can be peppy and annoying, I know, but I would’ve joined to try and make friends. Not to inflate my own balloon, but because I’m dating Logan, I don’t have to try at being popular. Being his girlfriend makes a lot of girls super nice to me, if you know what I mean.”

  My smile widened, and I showed my teeth. “That’s funny. They tried to kill me last year.”

  She chuckled, switched legs, and continued, “Yeah, so there’s that. But, to be honest, I doubt my sister would come to see me if I was cheerleading for the football game or something. She’ll come to a cross-country meet, though. I know that.” She shook her head, wearing a fond smile. “She likes to stalk around in the shadows. She and I are completely different.”

  “Kris!” One of the girls she walked out with waved. “Come here. I need a partner.”

  “Oh.” Her chuckle faded. “I joined the team to hang out with you, but do you mind if I run with those girls? They’re in my grade and the friendships are new. You know how those things are.”

  My eyes widened. She had expected to run with me? “Uh, that’s no problem. I run alone.”

  “Oh yeah. Logan said something about that. Okay. Good.” She hopped to her feet and pretended to punch me in the shoulder. “I’ll see you later, if you don’t make us eat your dust too early.” Without waiting for a response, she went over and dropped next to her group of friends. They moved so they formed a circle, all of them facing each other, and it wasn’t long before they were counting out loud at the same time.

  The same girl from before groaned again. “Fucking juniors.”

  I grunted in agreement and went back to stretching. After I finished, I started jogging in place until Coach came out. As he did, everyone stood and he gave us our instructions. It was the same every day. We were told which trail to run, which we always knew because it rotated, and we were told to clock our times when we returned before another stretching period. He looked at me. “Strattan, stay behind a second.” He blew his whistle and the girls started off.

  I waited until everyone cleared out. “Yeah, Coach?”

  “The boys took off ten minutes ago. See if you can take ‘em and let me know if they give you a hard time.”


  He grunted and started walking away. “Because their egos have grown the size of a planet. I need ‘em crushed.”

  “Oh.” I grinned. “Will do.” I started off. The girls weren’t too far ahead, and I was beginning to hit my first stride as I came up to the last ones. I felt the urge to lengthen my stride and lose myself, but I kept it in check as I concentrated on slowly moving up the group. Kris was at the back of the line with her friends. They were still laughing together, but I knew that’d end in another half mile. Kris’ cheeks were slightly pink, and she waved as I came up next to her. Giving her a small grin, I continued forward. I wasn’t pushing it. I was maintaining my normal pace. It wasn’t long before I passed the majority of the girls. There was another group at the front. I’d been running with some of these girls over the last two weeks in August and before school started, so they didn’t react when they saw me edging past them. Two more girls were in the lead, but they were staggered, one behind the other. Both of them were seniors and I knew one, Tori, was hoping for a track scholarship. Both wore grim expressions. Their lips were flat. Their shoulders were slightly bent, their head down a tiny bit, and they were breathing easy.

  After a few strides, I passed both and the path was clear for me. I had the guys to catch up to. They had a good start on us so I wasn’t surprised when it took me almost a mile to catch up. Clearing a hill, I saw their heads go down over the next hill. My blood was pumping, but the sight of them sent a surge through me. This was the ultimate competition, going head to head with the males. Bending forward a bit, I kept my hands loose and continued going down on my heels and pushing off with my toes. When I began the incline for the second hill, my head went low and I kept going. They were halfway up another hill as I cleared it.

  They were laughing and one glanced back. His eyes widened when he saw me, then he said something to the others. Their pace picked up.

  I grinned. That would make it sweeter. It took one more hill until I was neck and neck with the last of them. They were all glancing at me. The laughter was gone and each wore a somber expression. Without a word spoken among them, they sped up again. One guy quickened his speed and the rest followed. I knew they were running faster than they normally did. It would tire them out so I waited. I fell behind them, keeping my normal pace.

  One glanced at me. A small smirk was on his face, and I knew they expected me to fall further back. I didn’t. I kept on their heels, out of reach, but close enough to press them a
head. They covered half a mile and one broke. He fell back. Two of his friends shared a look. They weren’t surprised. I ignored the guy beside me, and it was four steps before he was behind me as well. Thirty more yards and another fell behind. I passed him instantly. The last two grew worried. They cast a look at me. I smiled, yes, I was still there. They didn’t look again. Their breathing was louder. They were fighting to keep ahead of me. Looking ahead, I saw the main group of guys. I could feel the surprise from the two in front of me. They had caught up, but as soon as they realized that, one slowed his pace. He was winded. A blink of an eye later, he was behind me like the others. The last one went as well, and I picked up my pace to close the distance between the other runners and myself. This time I didn’t wait. I bypassed them. I didn’t want to deal with any games. When I cleared them on the side, I ignored the surprise I sensed from them.

  I was in front of them and I went back to the center of the trail. There were more ahead of me. We were on a long run that day so I knew I had two miles to go. With that thought and knowing those two miles weren’t going to tire me out, I steadied my breathing and increased my speed. My toes pushed off deeper and my shoulders dug forward. The blood was pumping through me. I felt the strength in my legs and imagined the clean lines from my head to my feet. I kept the perfect running posture and grinned. The rush was there. I loved this, possibly more than anything, and when it only took me half a mile to see the next runners, I opened the gate.

  I’d been chomping at the bit, holding back, keeping a tight controlled run, but I let loose. I was sprinting and it was seconds before I passed the first guy, the second, and then the third. He was sixty yards ahead of the rest. I covered that without trying. I felt his surprise and ignored him. Swinging in front of him, I moved so there was plenty of space between him and me, but I wanted to make sure I was in the middle. I wanted to make sure he could see right into the back of my head.

  One last mile.

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