Fallen crest forever, p.7
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       Fallen Crest Forever, p.7
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         Part #7 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan

  Faith flipped her dark braid back over her shoulder and stuck her chin out. “Calm down. This is for the teams from last year. It’s an early celebration. It’s not anything official.”

  “Is that true?” I turned to Coach Langdon. “This wasn’t official?”

  He frowned, a big line marring his forehead. “Faith, Rae, you didn’t tell the new girls?”

  Faith flushed. “They just joined a few hours ago.”

  “Doesn’t matter. It’s for teams. There was nothing said about last year versus this year, and even if there had been, I wouldn’t have respected that. A team’s a team.” He pointed at me, still speaking to Faith and Raelynn. “If you want to go to nationals, you’re going to want her on this team.” He looked to the woman. “Come on, Ruth. I want to introduce you to some people.” He gave the rest of the girls and myself a cursory look. “Let’s leave the team to get things right.”

  Faith’s mouth snapped shut, and she glared at me as she swirled her fork through her hash browns.

  “Who was that?” I asked her once they were gone.

  Faith forced a tight smile and turned to talk to Raelynn, shutting me out.

  This bitch—I started for her, but a hand caught my arm and tugged me back. I thought it was Taylor at first, then it registered that the hand was stronger than hers.

  “Far be it from me to get involved in a chick fight,” Logan began, as Faith and Raelynn both looked up. “I’ve seen Sam in action. A fair warning: she’s not one to piss off.”

  Faith narrowed her eyes. “That’s sweet. Your stepbrother is standing up for you.”

  So she did know who Logan was.

  She leaned forward, propping her elbow on the table and almost posing for us. “Word to the wise. You’ll never see a man fighting my battles. I’m woman enough to take care of myself.”

  “So, I won’t see your rich daddy?” I shot back.

  Her fake smile dropped, and she went back to glaring. “Like you’re one to talk. I know Park Sebastian. I’m well aware of who your daddy is, and you’re not hurting any more than I am.”

  This bitch knew who I was. Knew who Logan was. I assumed she knew who Mason was, and she even knew Park Sebastian, the asshole who once tried to recruit Mason into his fraternity and hadn’t taken rejection well. At all.

  She’d done her homework.

  “So this is how it’s going to go? Full-out war between us?” I asked. “Why?”

  Sighing, Faith grabbed her bag and stood up. Raelynn was behind her. Faith raised her chin, like she was too dignified to breathe our same air.

  “If you’re expecting a team welcome hug, it’s not going to happen. This is my team. Those winning times are mine, not yours. And today was just a small sample of how I can make your time on the team a living hell. Stick around. I’ll turn destroying you into a hobby.”

  She started to leave, but I grasped her arm. When she tried to pull away, my fingers tightened. She gasped, her shocked eyes finding mine.

  I didn’t take threats lightly.

  She was only a few inches from me and I said, in a low, soft, and somewhat lethal tone, “You’re going to find out what I can do now. And I almost feel sorry for you.”

  Her eyes widened.

  I let go, and she was gone in an instant. She started to shove past Mason at the door, but thought better of it and went around him with Raelynn hot on her heels.

  Logan started laughing. “Ice-Cold Strattan is back. This’ll be good. But remember, none of this can blow back on Mason.”

  I frowned. It wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let that happen.

  I went back and sat with Logan and Taylor for breakfast. Nate arrived not long after, and Mason joined us when the football team was told they could do their own thing. The rest of the girls from my team left the restaurant as Mason settled in. I caught their looks. Several glanced over, and I recognized the wistfulness and jealousy. Grace and Nettie didn’t look. Courtney did, but she seemed somber. She lifted a hand in an awkward wave as she followed the rest of the team out.

  “You have another run today?” Logan asked.

  I nodded, slipping my hand in Mason’s. “At three.”

  “We’re there.”

  “No.” I shook my head. This was my fight. I had to be the only one involved. Which led me to Taylor. “You shouldn’t come today.”

  Her eyebrows shot up. “Are you kidding? I joined because I wanted to, and because I wanted to do something with you. You need me there for backup.”

  “They can hurt you to get to me.”

  She shook her head. “You’re jumping to conclusions. You have no idea what they’re going to do.”

  “If I run with them, I can beat them. They won’t be able to catch me.” I let the rest hang between us. Taylor wasn’t as fast. They could get to her. “I don’t want them to hurt you,” I added, flattening my hand on the table between us.

  “This is stupid.” She swore. “Nothing could happen. Have you thought of that?”

  Nothing wasn’t in my history. “I’ve learned to take threats seriously. I got jumped in a bathroom one time.”

  Mason’s hand tightened around mine. “This is ridiculous. You didn’t join the team to deal with this bullshit.”

  “Oh, you mean it’s more ridiculous than the bullshit we normally get involved in?” Logan retorted.

  I looked between the two. “Don’t get involved. If you guys get involved with girl drama, all bets are off. That could bounce back on you and make you guys look really bad.”

  “We know,” Mason said softly. “I just don’t handle it well when my girlfriend is getting jerked around and I can’t do anything about it.”

  “You and me both, brother,” Logan added.

  “Wait.” Nate leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “What are those girls’ names?”

  I tried to remember what Courtney had said. “Faith . . .”

  “Shaw,” Taylor supplied. “And Raelynn Quang.”

  “Shaw. She’s a junior?”

  “I think so.” I nodded.

  “She has an older sister,” Nate said. “I think I slept with her when I was with the fraternity. Yeah . . . Hope Shaw. She told me her mom named all of her sisters like that. Hope. Faith. I think Charity is the youngest.”

  “What was the sister like?”

  He smirked.

  Logan chuckled. “She’s not asking about the sex.”

  “Oh.” The smirk vanished. He lifted a shoulder. “Hope was cool. I remember she talked about her spoiled little sister, said she was one of those types who has her own coach and everything. She must’ve been talking about this one.”

  “You think we could talk to her? Just try to see how far her sister might go with this whole thing about pushing me off the team?”

  He nodded. “Yeah. I’ll message her, see if she’s around.”

  And we had a plan.

  Taylor didn’t want to miss the three o’clock run, but I made her. I’d been through too much not to tackle this drama right away, and I planned to say the same thing in Coach Langdon’s office that afternoon.

  Mason drove me. He was going to go work out and lift weights until I was done with my practice, but I know he wanted to be close in case something happened. I had no doubt Logan, Taylor, and Nate would all be camped out along the running trail. Matteo had probably been recruited too.

  After I regaled Coach Langdon with some of my history with threats, he wore a serious expression.

  “You think my girls would conspire to hurt you?”

  “From what I’ve heard, I know they would.”

  “Because they didn’t tell you about the breakfast today?”

  “Because Faith’s exact words were that she’d destroy me.”

  He pushed his clipboard to the side of his desk. “I don’t know what you want me to do, Strattan. They haven’t done anything, and I have a girl who’s already skipping a practice. She hasn’t even been on a full day.”

  “Coach.”
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  “I’ll have to kick her off the team.”

  He wasn’t taking this seriously. He was taking their side. A spark of anger lit in me, but I kept it simmering.

  “If I were to take my concerns higher, would others make the same decision as yours? To disregard a bullying concern and instead kick that runner off the team?”

  He started to laugh, reaching for his whistle.

  “You do remember her last name, right?”

  He paused and looked back at me. “Are you doing what I think you’re doing?”

  “Depends on what you think I’m doing.”

  “Are you using Taylor’s father as a threat? You think my decision will change because her daddy is one of the football coaches?”

  “No. I’m reminding you that if I take my concerns to your supervisor, he might weigh the decision differently because of who her father is.”

  He stared at me.

  I stared at him.

  We were at a stare-off.

  He had to know I was right. The university adopted a strict no-bullying policy last year after some incidents in the dorms and with the tennis team.

  I softened my voice. “If I were to look into the history of this team, I’d find other incidents of girls joining and then dropping out shortly afterwards. Wouldn’t I?”

  I saw the guilt in his eyes. He looked away.

  “I’m right.”

  “That doesn’t mean they were bullied,” he said.

  “It doesn’t mean they weren’t.”

  “Goddamn, Strattan. What do you want me to do? Kick my two best runners off this team? They could qualify for the Olympics.”

  “So could I.”

  And as I said those words, I felt them ricocheting inside of me. The Olympics. I’d never thought about that. Running was in my blood. I had to run to be happy. It hadn’t been something I’d trained or worked hard for. I just did it. But as I heard myself saying those words, I knew they were true.

  I could go to the Olympics.

  Holy fucking shit.

  “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I saw you run this morning; that was it.”

  “I held back.”

  “Why’d you hold back?”

  “I was following your instructions. I didn’t know the route.”

  “And the second time?”

  I met his eyes. “I didn’t want them to hate me even more.”

  His eyes narrowed, and he leaned back in his chair. “You’re saying you can go faster?”

  “You know I can. Coach Carillo gave you my times.”

  “For track, for the mile run.”

  “Let me know the routes, and don’t hold me back.”

  “And then what? I’m supposed to let your friend join the team and protect her against the other girls? I can’t promise they won’t do something to her behind my back. I can’t watch her at all times. What about the locker room?”

  “Who was that other lady today?”

  “Ruth. She’s going to be your warm-up coach.”

  “Then she can be in there.”

  “Strattan.” He sighed, pushing the brim of his baseball cap up so it perched on his forehead. “I can’t promise you anything, except that if your friend still wants to run with the girls, I’ll have Ruth follow in the golf cart. She’ll keep an eye out for anything shady. How about that?”

  I nodded. I’d been clenching my jaw, and it relaxed now, but throbbed a little. “That’s all I want. And for you to keep an open mind.”

  He leaned forward, opening one of the drawers. Shifting through a few folders, he pulled out a piece of paper and offered it to me. “Here.”

  I took it. “What is this?” It was a map of campus. I could see the paths highlighted on it.

  “Those are running paths.” He stood and used a pen to point to the route labeled C. “That’s the route you girls are running today. They know all the routes, so you’re right about that. I should’ve given this to you earlier.” His pen followed the trail until it connected to another route labeled D. “If you really want to knock my socks off, follow C until it leads here. Then follow D all the way back. You’ll have gone twice as far as the other girls today. Faith and Rae do that sometimes. They branch off on their own. I’m offering the same privilege to you.”

  I memorized the two trails, then folded the paper and put it in my pocket. I’d have to pull it out again later to review. “I’ll do it. Thank you.”

  He held a hand toward the door, grabbing his clipboard, stopwatch, and whistle. “It’s almost three. Taylor is excused for the day, and I’ll keep an open mind, but my hands are tied beyond those two things. I can’t kick off two of my best runners because they said mean things to you. It’s not enough to go on. Not yet.”

  That was the most I’d been hoping for. “Thank you, Coach.”

  “Now, go get warmed up. I want to see how fast you can really go.”

  I headed for the door. I was itching to do just that.

  Since I was already dressed, I stopped to fill my water bottle before heading out to where the team had congregated. They paused when I pushed through the door, and I made a point of going to a different section of grass to stretch. It didn’t surprise me to see Faith and Raelynn stretching on their own too, nor was I shocked by the way everyone looked to them like they were waiting for orders on how to handle me.

  Faith narrowed her eyes, but didn’t move toward me. She resumed her stretching, and the rest of the team followed suit.

  “Samantha.” Courtney called my name.

  I shook my head. “Save it.”

  She sat next to me and reached for her toes. Nettie and Grace watched, but they didn’t come over with her.

  “I can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry for this morning.”

  I released my leg and reached for my toes, mirroring her. “You made me feel bad about excluding you.”

  “I know.”

  “I felt like an idiot when I saw you there.”

  “I know.”

  “Why are you here?”

  She looked around, her forehead wrinkling a little. “Where’s Taylor?”

  “She’s skipping today because I was worried something might happen to her.”

  “Are you kidding me?” Her eyebrows shot up. “You think we’d do something to hurt her?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Faith and Rae might be a lot of things, but actually harming someone isn’t something they’d do.”

  I stopped stretching. “Are you here on behalf of them, or are you here because you feel bad about your part?”

  “I . . .” She hesitated, her head dipping down for a moment. She took a breath and looked back up. “I feel bad for my part. I knew they were going to do that, and that’s why we asked to join
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