Fallen crest public, p.12
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       Fallen Crest Public, p.12

         Part #3 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
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  “Mmm?”

  Mason grinned, tipping my head up to meet his eyes. “What’s wrong? You spaced there for a second.”

  “Oh.” I shrugged, dipping my head back down. “Nothing.”

  I could feel his gaze on me and knew his wheels were spinning. “I talked to my mom. She won’t come up here. She knows you’re staying here and agreed it would be for the best if she stayed away. Is that what’s bothering you?”

  “Oh.” Had that been my dad in that car? Why was I even thinking about him? “That’s fine. I’m tired. That’s all.”

  Mason knew I lied to him, but he didn’t push. I was thankful.

  I was thankful for my social outcast status the next day at school as well. It was peaceful, but when I went to gym class, I should’ve been prepared. I wasn’t. Kate had warned me on the first day, but she spent the rest of the week focusing all her threats on Heather. It was only a matter of time before she turned her attention back to me.

  It happened when I was done showering. All of my clothes were gone. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where they were.

  “Um …”

  The locker room emptied as soon as I stepped from the shower. It made sense now, but there was a girl behind me. She wore a baggy sweatshirt and a baggy pair of jeans. Her sneakers might’ve been white at one point, but they were frayed on the soles and almost black now. She brushed a strand of red hair behind her ear, but it popped back out instantly. It was frizzy, and I knew it would’ve been beautiful if she would put some hair gel into it. Her eyes held my interest. There was no sympathy or warmth. She jerked her hand over her shoulder and said in a flat tone, “If you need clothes, I might have some for you.”

  “You wouldn’t get in trouble for helping me out?”

  She lifted one shoulder, but the blank face remained. “I don’t really care. It’s not like they’d know who helped you. They aren’t my clothes.”

  “You keep the lost and found in your locker?”

  “No.” I caught a glimmer of a grin as she went to her locker. When she handed me a boy’s jersey, the name on the back made me pause—Kade. “Uh …?”

  “Told you.” She pulled out a pair of jeans that looked like they’d been on the bottom of her locker for years. They were wrinkly and smelled musky. Then she handed me a swimsuit, which looked new. That was comforting. “The shirt and jeans belonged to a friend of mine. No one’s seen them in years since she transferred two years ago, but the suit’s mine. It’s clean; I was going to go swimming after school, but I can borrow one of my friend’s.”

  They’d do in a pinch. “Did they at least leave my shoes?”

  “Yeah.” She pointed to my locker. My shoes had been stored underneath a bench. “I don’t think they knew which ones were yours.” Twenty other pairs of shoes were beside them, lined up and down the row of lockers.

  “Small favors, huh?” I gave her a grin, but her facial expression still didn’t change. It was still blank and flat. Then she started to go around me. “Wait. Who was your friend?”

  “No one you’d know.” She didn’t stop and continued to the door.

  I lifted Mason’s jersey. “I’m betting that I might. This was Mason’s, wasn’t it?”

  “Yeah, but like I said, you wouldn’t know her. She wasn’t his girlfriend or anything.” She paused. “And she wasn’t a stalker either. They were friends.”

  Then it clicked. “Marissa.”

  That finally got a reaction from her. Her eyelid twitched and she frowned. “He’s talked about her?”

  “A little. I know they were friends.”

  “Oh.”

  “And you were friends with her, too?”

  “She left those clothes in my locker all the time. Kate and friends did the same thing to her. She liked wearing his jersey because it shut ‘em up.” She took a small breath. “Anyways, there you go. You don’t have to give them back or anything. It’s not like Marissa still wants them.”

  She started to push open the door, but I asked, “Would you tell me about her?”

  She let the door close again. “Why?”

  I shrugged, clutching the clothes to my chest. I was standing there, dripping wet from my shower and the towel was starting to slip, but I was insistent. “I’d like to know more about her. He doesn’t say too much.”

  She snorted. “I’m not surprised by that.” The small opening that had appeared was gone. The wall was back in place. “Good luck with the Princess Bitches. See you.”

  I didn’t move for a while after she left. Mason never talked about his friend except that she’d been bullied by Tate and Kate’s group. I never pushed him for information. He’d tell me if I did, but I wanted to hear it from someone else. This girl was Marissa’s friend, and in the two minutes that I had talked to her, I could tell she still missed her.

  She had been kind to me and I didn’t even get her name.

  With that depressing thought, I heard voices outside the door and knew the next gym class would be heading inside, so I darted into the bathroom stall and changed. The jersey hung on me and the jeans were a little baggy, but they would do. The swimsuit helped underneath since my bra and underwear had gone missing as well.

  When I went into the hallway, the reaction wasn’t what they wanted. Mouths dropped and girls bent close to whisper to each other. At the end of the hallway, Kate was at Natalie’s locker. She was furious and looked ready to march over, but Mason came up from behind me. He wrapped an arm around my waist and nudged me against my locker. His hand lifted to hold the back of my head so I didn’t hit the locker, but he pressed into me.

  Dropping his head, he kissed my neck. As his lips caressed me, he asked, “Where did you get this? This was my freshman jersey.”

  I spotted a few girls beside us, within hearing distance, and shrugged. “Just something I found in the locker room.”

  One girl made a sound of disgust before shoving from her locker. She stormed down the hallway, past Kate, sneering at her as well before she turned into the senior hallway.

  “Who was that?”

  “Hmmm?” Mason lifted his head from my neck and glanced around. “Who?”

  “No one.”

  “Hey, nauseating lovebirds.” Heather appeared at my locker. She gave Mason a bright smile and placed her hands on her hips like she was going to do a cheer for him. I caught the twinge of tension in her gaze before it slipped away. “I need to steal your gal, Kade. I need her to walk me to my next class.”

  His hands fell away and he stepped back, but he frowned. “You keep interrupting. When’s your boyfriend transferring? I’d like to return all these favors.”

  “Ha, ha. We both know you’re proud of your girl for landing a friend like me.” She pointed to her own chest, walking backwards and looping her other elbow through mine. “I’m a hot commodity. There’s only one Heather Jax in this town.”

  “That doesn’t make you a hot commodity. That makes you expendable. No one would miss you.”

  She pretended to hiss, grinning at the same time. “That hurts, Kade. I thought we had something going between the two of us.”

  “The boyfriend and best friend never like each other.”

  Her eyes widened and she paused in her footing for a second, but lifted her fingers to her forehead. She saluted him. “You win, Mason Kade. You always do.”

  But there was no response. Mason had already turned and was walking the other way. Even now, with their little exchange, so many people had been hanging onto every word. As he passed by groups in the hallway, the girls followed him with hungry gazes. A few didn’t, but the guys were almost as bad. A lot of them stopped what they were doing and puffed out their chests. Their backs straightened and most struck a cocky pose until he walked past them, without acknowledging them. When he disappeared into the senior hallway, the hallway went back to normal. The girls giggled and whispered. The guys, most of them, went back to their drooped shoulders and lounging stances.

  I’d never get use
d to it. I don’t know how he did it.

  “I heard what happened,” Heather brought me back from my thoughts. Her hand tightened on my arm and she pulled me closer, lowing her voice. “You okay?”

  “Yeah.” Waves of anger and curiosity mixed together now. One thing at a time. “Do you know a girl that used to be friends with Marissa?”

  “Marissa?”

  “I don’t know her last name. She was friends with Mason and transferred out of here two years ago.”

  “Oh.” Her facial features tightened and her lips pinched together. “Yeah. Red hair? Frizzy? Average weight?”

  “Yeah. Who is she?”

  “Her name’s Paige.” She grimaced. “I wouldn’t get close to her.”

  “Why not?”

  Stopping at her locker, I leaned against the one beside it and waited as she opened the combination. “Because she will never be your friend. A lot of girls lust after your boys, but there’s a few that hate them. Paige is one of them. She blamed Mason for everything that happened to Marissa.”

  “And by everything that happened to Marissa, you mean …” I gestured to my clothes. “Getting her clothes stolen.”

  She grabbed her book and shut her locker, but turned to fall against it with her back. “Getting the clothes stolen is the first step. That’s why I found you right away.”

  “How’d you know?”

  “My friend Cory’s in your gym class.”

  “The one …” I frowned, trying to remember and then it clicked. “The angry one? She wears black. She hated me on sight.”

  “Yeah, that one.”

  “And she’s another one of those girls who hates Mason and Logan?”

  “No, she doesn’t hate them, not like Paige. She hates Kate and her friends. She doesn’t like Mason and Logan because they never stopped Kate. She’s been okay this semester so far, but everyone can sense she’s got things in the works. It’s tense around here. Don’t you feel it? You’re not coming into this school at a good time.”

  It was because of me. Everyone knew that and it was starting to make sense why the welcome wagon had been missing. It’d been doused in gasoline somewhere, waiting for Kate to strike the match.

  I couldn’t do anything about it. That was the hard part. “How’d you escape their wrath?”

  Heather chuckled. “I don’t know, but if I were to guess, it’s because of Channing at Roussou. He’s still in my life. Everyone knows that and he holds his own over there. If they did anything to me, he’d get even. That,” her head bobbed forward, “and because I think one of those four always had a thing for him.”

  “One of them with someone from Roussou?

  “He’s hot. People can still date between the two schools. It’s not really encouraged, but it’s not forbidden or anything.” She laughed again, eyeing me up and down. “But that doesn’t matter anymore. We both know I’m on Kate’s shit list now.”

  The first bell rang at that moment, and everyone started to scatter.

  I shook my head at the mass chaos. “I feel like we go to school with a pack of wolves. It’s everyone for themselves.”

  Heather grinned. “Only the strong survive here.”

  “Yeah, well, I don’t like to fight back. I will when I can’t avoid it, but I’m starting to realize being proactive might be the best solution here.”

  “Hey.” She grabbed my arm before I could go to my class and pulled me back. Her eyes grew hard. “That’s why I found you. Stealing your clothes is the first step. Kate and her Bitch Crew don’t do cliché pranks. You’re not going to find your clothes in a toilet. They did this to Marissa a few times. They’d steal her clothes and put them on a mannequin. Natalie’s aunt owns a clothing store and I think that’s where they get them. They’ll take pictures of it wearing your clothes and then Photoshop it to make it look like you. They’ll even have a picture of your face blurred on the thing. It’s really creepy how close to being real it is. Then they’ll put the pictures on the internet.”

  “Of a mannequin wearing my clothes? They could use any clothes then.”

  “They use the person’s real clothes. It’s the extra kick in their prank. Again, they Photoshop it so it looks just like you. Same hair, same everything. Your name will be attached to it. It’s scary.”

  “But then what? It’s just a big doll that looks like me.”

  She gave me a ‘come on’ look. “Sam, think about it.”

  A sick feeling came over me. “What’ll they have the mannequin doing?”

  “If you’re lucky, nothing. If it’s what I’m thinking, really bad things. People won’t care that it’s not you. They did this to Marissa and it was bad. Guys talked about raping the mannequin, but it was like they were saying that they wanted to rape her. With you, can you imagine what all the girls will do? There’s a bunch of girls besides Kate and her crew that don’t like you. A lot of the drill team. Most of the cheerleaders. They’ll be vicious.”

  The sick feeling spread all over now. “How can I stop that?”

  “I know you’ve wanted to handle Kate on your own, but this is too much. Tell Mason, or at least Logan. They might have an idea of where they’re doing this. They could probably stop them.”

  I shook my head. “I can’t. Nate’s car accident. I know Mason’s going to go see him after basketball practice.”

  “Then tell Logan.”

  “He’ll tell Mason. I’m scared of what they’d do.”

  “Are you really trying to protect Kate? She’s not sitting back and hoping you’ll go away. She texts me every day now, and she’s making threats to me, threats to even my dad and my brother. Now this.” She stopped and took a deep breath. Her eyes held mine, a plea filled them. “Please, Sam. If not Mason, then tell Logan.”

  “I’ll think about it.”

  “Don’t think about it. Do it.”

  I frowned. There was an edge to her voice.

  She finished, “If you don’t, I will.”

  “Heather.”

  “No.” She shook her head. “Kate’s gone too far. She did this to Marissa and she ended up transferring. They didn’t stop once they started. I know it’s going to be worse for you. I just know it. Everyone else does, too. No one wants to get hit in the crossfire, so they’re all leaving you alone. Please, Sam. You’ve got the two biggest enforcers on your side. Use them. They can stop Kate. I know they can.”

  As she left, hurrying away for class, I couldn’t move. The last bell rang. I was going to be late, but my feet wouldn’t budge. Heather’s last warning echoed inside of me. It wasn’t that they couldn’t stop Kate, it was how they were going to do it.

  They had forced wine down my mother’s throat. They did that to prove to her what they could do, but that hadn’t stopped Analise in the end. Whatever they did to Kate wouldn’t stop her. I knew that in my gut, but I had no idea what to do. A part of me was scared. If I let Mason and Logan loose, I worried they’d cross a line. I couldn’t let them do anything that would jeopardize their futures, not after Mason’s had been threatened by my own mother. I couldn’t go through that terror again, but Heather was right. I had to do something, but I had no idea what.

  I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, even when Mason caught me after school. He was heading to basketball practice, and I was headed to Coach Grath’s office. Heather’s warning had stuck with me all day, sending pangs of terror through me, but I was still worried. Being loved and protected by Mason and Logan was like holding a loaded gun. I could pull the trigger at any moment, but the consequences could be disastrous.

  When he asked if I was okay, I lied. He knew it, but I wasn’t ready to tell him yet. When he pressed a soft kiss to my lips and left, I realized that was my second lie to him. Two lies in two days. What lie would I tell him tomorrow?

  Meeting with Coach Grath, he told me to run on my own. There was a select group of girls he wanted me to train with, but he caught wind that I wouldn’t be welcomed. I was supposed to train on my own until the time
came to ‘bite that bullet.’ His words, not mine. He wanted me to record my times to check for improvement. That wasn’t a hard thing. I was bursting from the inside. Getting to the hotel room and driving to my old park took too long for me. I couldn’t hit that trail fast enough and when I soared past Quickie’s, I shot past all the cars in the parking lot and hit the hills at a full sprint. Once I got to the top, I skimmed over Fallen Crest below me and kept going to the next hill and the one after. The air temperature had noticeably dipped when I finally stopped.

  My heart was racing and my chest was heaving as I gasped for breath.

  I’d never felt more alive.

  Then it hit me at the same time. It was like a cold wind to the north decided to make an abrupt turn and crash into me. It staggered me.

  Kate. My clothes. A mannequin. I gulped. Whatever she was going to do would be on the internet, probably even tonight. Then the
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