Fallen crest public, p.15
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       Fallen Crest Public, p.15

         Part #3 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
 

  “So what?”

  “Logan, I spelled it out for you.”

  “Threats to Heather. Camcorder. Tate thinks Kate’s crazy. None of this is really new here, brother.”

  I sighed. Even I knew what Mason was implying. Logan wasn’t dumb. If he wasn’t figuring it out that meant something else was going on with him. Moving to the couch, I perched on the end and said, “I think he’s saying that Kate might think Tate’s on our side.”

  “She is,” Logan snorted. “No way would she go against you. She knows what we’d do to her.”

  “Logan,” Mason groaned.

  I lifted a hand to his arm and felt his tension. My hand began to rub. “Do you think Kate would take a camcorder to Tate’s out of the goodness of her heart?”

  “Wha—oh shit. No. No way. You think?”

  “Are you going over there?”

  Logan glanced at his brother again. A resigned look came over him. “Yeah, I am. What do you want me to do?”

  “Don’t say anything or make it obvious, but look to see if there’s a camcorder stashed somewhere.”

  “Wait,” Logan shook his head. “You think she’s in on it? We do things or we have done things in the living room. They could’ve put it there—”

  “They were going there tonight.”

  “Oh.” His shoulders dropped. “So what do you want me to do? You want me to grab it?”

  When Mason didn’t reply, Logan looked to me. I shrugged. “Mason’s the mastermind. Not me.”

  “Mase?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe leave it in place?”

  “I’m not going over there anymore. No fucking way, not if they have a camcorder in there. That’s messed up.”

  “I know. I’m not saying that,” Mason bit out. “But if we move the camcorder, then they’d have to change tactics again. We know what they’re planning right now. Maybe we can wait to see what else she’s planning?”

  “Should I tell Tate?”

  Mason didn’t respond.

  “Mase, that’s not right.”

  “No,” he sighed. “I know. Yeah, tell her, but she needs to act like she doesn’t know it’s there. We’ll figure out the next step later.”

  “What about her parents?” I asked. “Should they know? They might talk about things that are personal.”

  Logan shook his head. “Nah. She’s not here with them. Her dad lost his job so they shipped her out here to live with her older sister, but she’s gone on a modeling trip. Tate said she wouldn’t be back for a week or so.” Then he jerked his head in a nod and started for the door. “Oh wait,” he braked and gestured to me. “Did you tell her about the mannequins?”

  “Not yet.”

  “Mannequins?”

  “Yeah.” He flashed me a smile as he headed out the door. “We torched ‘em, all of ‘em. Natalie’s aunt’s going to get a nice little surprise when she goes to work in the morning. On that note, I’m out.” The door shut behind him, but we could hear him whistling as he went down the hall.

  “You burned them?”

  He nodded.

  “All of them?”

  He narrowed his eyes, and I got a glimpse of the cruel Mason again. “Every single one of them.”

  “Was that safe?”

  He shrugged, turning to me with a hand on my leg. He nudged it over and stepped between them as he looked down at me. “We were safe. We took all of them to a place where it’d be okay.”

  “And Natalie’s aunt? She won’t press charges?”

  “We left a note with a few images I kept from when they messed with Marissa. We let her know she could thank her niece for all of it.”

  I held my breath. It’d been so long since he’d mentioned Marissa, and now that he had, I wanted to ask him more about her. I wanted to understand what had happened to her, but I sensed his unease. It was like approaching a wild animal. I had to go slow and with caution. My heart started to pound again as I took that first step. My hand raised to touch his arm. The muscles were corded tightly in a bunch. He was so tense, but I had to try. “You still had those pictures?”

  His arm began to tremble underneath my touch, just a tiny bit, but it was enough to take my breath away. His voice was rough when he spoke, “Did you know they did the same to her?”

  The lump was back in my throat. It was big and wobbly, but I nodded. “Yes.”

  “Heather told you?”

  “Yes.” My heart was racing so fast now. He was finally talking about her. I felt the wall coming down. I needed to know so much. She was important to him. I needed to understand. “Will you tell me about her?”

  “I thought I had?”

  “More. You didn’t say much before. She transferred because of Kate and her friends?”

  He let out a deep sigh and moved away. I ached, I still needed his touch, but then he surprised me. He came back, a conflicted look on his face, and lifted me from the couch. I was curled against his chest as he sat down on the couch, with me on his lap. Then he tucked his chin over my head and began to talk about her.

  “It was Tate, too,” he paused for a moment, “towards the end of her relationship with Logan, and before she tried to sleep with me, when Heather had stopped being friends with her. I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t care about your friend back then, but I remember Logan saying something about it to me. He seemed to care, but then I started noticing that Tate was becoming friendly with Kate and the girls. Made sense. Tate was always around Logan and the girls were always around us. The guys considered them friends, you know?”

  “Where’d your friendship with Marissa come in?”

  His arms tightened around me, securing me in place. “That was a fluke thing. We sat next to each other in a class and got paired up for a project. My parents were going through a divorce at the time. My dad had been cheating for so many years, and I watched my mom go through that shit storm, then your mom started popping up. Anyways, I had a pretty low opinion of the female gender from Tate and other girls. I didn’t even like Kate and the rest of them. Kate must’ve thought she was my maybe-girlfriend, I don’t know what she thought, but I didn’t care. I used her so I can kind of see where she got it wrong, but I didn’t trust her or any of the others. They were mean.”

  I hid a smile.

  He must’ve sensed it because he said, “I know. I’m not the nicest person, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to choose people like that to trust. I don’t trust anyone except you and Logan.”

  “You began to trust Marissa?”

  “Yeah. We’d talk. That’s it. We didn’t hang out or anything. I think I sat at her table a few times for lunch. That seemed like a big deal to everyone, but whatever. I didn’t want to deal with the bullshit from the girls. They’re hard to handle sometimes. Logan understood. Just dealing with the divorce and the fights at home, I didn’t want to deal with hearing shit at school, too. Marissa was nice. Her friends were quiet, but they didn’t seem to mind me when I sat with them. Looking back, I think that’s what put a target on her. It was after that when I began hearing things.”

  My fingers curled into his, interlocking our hands together. “Marissa never told you?”

  “No, she never did, but I started noticing things. She lost weight. She looked tired all the time. I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. She wasn’t my girlfriend. I didn’t care that much; she was just nice to talk to at times. That was it.”

  I heard the struggle in him. He didn’t quite understand. “You trusted her.” It was beginning to make sense. “You never trusted those other girls. You tolerated them. They must’ve seen it.” And hated it. The pieces were coming together. They had destroyed Marissa because he enjoyed her company. If they did that to her, what were they going to do to me? A shudder went through me at the thought. I was much more than a friend. I was beginning to realize he had no idea what they had done to her. Guys weren’t told when girls tormented other girls. It was an unspoken rule, one that I had broken. I gulped now. Would
it be worse because I brought them in? But no. That wasn’t the right thought. They would win if I started to think like that. Heather was right, it was time for me to fight back.

  “Yeah, maybe.” His chest lifted and lowered as he took in a deep breath. “I’m sure I don’t even know half the shit they did to her, but I knew about the mannequins. It wasn’t Marissa, but it looked just like her. The pictures were all over. People laughed at them, and it was like they were laughing at her.”

  “What happened after that?”

  He started to lift his shoulder in a shrug, but dropped it. “More,” he bit off the end of his word. His hold on me tightened, as if trying to guard me from it, too. “I heard little things they did, like breaking the lock on her locker. She used to ride the bus to school, and I’m sure things must’ve happened there, too. Towards the end, her parents drove her.” His hand had a cement hold on my arm now. “You don’t understand. Kate and the girls had a lot of power over all the other girls back then. They don’t anymore. When they were exiled from the guys, I knew that would fracture the power they had over the rest. I see it too. The other girls aren’t doing what Kate wants. They’re starting to go against Kate and her friends.”

  He was holding me so tightly. When a slight tremor went through him, I knew he wanted to protect me. Turning my head to the side, I looked at him. His eyes were closed and his eyebrows were bunched forward, strained together. Then he said further, “I didn’t stop them and I should have. I’m not a bully, Sam. I don’t pick on the weak or try to make someone’s life hell, but if they come after me or someone I love, then I’ll go after them with everything I’ve got. I’ll use all of their weaknesses to destroy them, but I never start the fight.”

  He didn’t start the fight, but he finished it. I understood what he was saying. “Mason.”

  His eyelids lifted and the regret in them took my breath away. Then I swallowed over the lump in my throat and spoke, “She didn’t tell you what was happening. She wasn’t your girlfriend. Your parents were getting a divorce. You can’t blame yourself for not stopping Kate. I’m betting that you didn’t even know half of what they did.”

  “That’s the problem,” he bit out. His eyes growing cold. “I should’ve. She was my friend. She was a good person, and I didn’t fight for her like I should’ve. What they did to her is on me. I didn’t stop them when I could’ve. No one else could’ve, so it was my place to do it. I didn’t. A part of me checked out, Sam. You’re right. All the crap from the divorce. It went on long after Logan dumped Tate, too. She made it worse. Thinking back, it was how Tate hurt me back, through Marissa, but she stopped talking to me at the end. She had the teacher assign her to someone else and she stopped even saying hi to me. It was like we were strangers.”

  “Did it stop then?”

  “No.”

  That one word came out like an ache. He was haunted by it.

  I waited for him to continue, and he did, “I was grateful when she left. It stopped. She was safe.”

  “You started talking again after she left?”

  He nodded. “She emailed me, told me that she didn’t blame me for what happened. I was such an ass. I didn’t even comment on it. I still have never said a word about it to her.”

  I didn’t know what to say so I moved until I was straddling him. He fell back against the couch. His hands went to my legs, where mine rested on top of them, and he watched me from underneath heavy eyelids. His jaw clenched and some of his old wall came back in place. He was always so guarded.

  He shook his head and cursed under his breath. His hands turned to lock with mine. “When she came to Nate’s cabin, it’s why I wanted him with her at all times. Plus, you were there, and I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

  “Has she emailed you since then?”

  “A few times. I haven’t responded. That wasn’t intentional, I’ve just been wrapped up with you and everything going on with your mom.”

  I saw the struggle in him. He was the unbeatable one, the ruthless one, and that broke me. I would protect him how he protected me. Lifting a hand to his face, I cupped his cheek and leaned forward to press my lips to his. It was a soft graze, but my heart fluttered. The ache started between my legs, and I moved closer, grinding on him. Then I moved back, just enough to whisper, “We’ll make it different this time.” My lips brushed against his. “We’ll change things this time. We’ll make it count.”

  His reaction was instant. His hands caught my face and his lips opened over mine. His hunger had been unleashed, and it was demanding more. He stood with my legs wrapped around his waist and took us to bed. A primal need started in me as I met his ghosts that night, and as he thrust into me, that need took over. The need to protect him was more than before. I had worried before, knowing I could lose him, but now it went beyond that. He hadn’t stopped Kate from hurting his friend and it still hurt him, but now I was angry that they had even put him in that spot. It should’ve never happened in the first place, but that was on Kate. She was going to pay for what she had done.

  Everyone knew what happened the next day at school. I had no idea how, but the news was out: Mason and Logan torched the mannequins. The truth got stretched to the whole clothing store, and by the end of the day everyone was whispering that they were going to get arrested. Apparently, Natalie’s aunt died in the blaze. Poor Natalie. Or that was what I heard a freshman telling her friend as they passed us, heading towards the bus lot.

  Heather heard them too and laughed, shaking her head. “They’re idiots.”

  Putting my last book into my locker, I took a few others out and stuffed them inside my bag. “I was an idiot, too. By the time I was a freshman, my boyfriend had already been cheating on me for a year.”

  She wrinkled her nose. “Were they already sleeping together? Or were they just making out?”

  I shrugged. “Who knows? I don’t even want to think about it. They were hooking up somehow.”

  “Speaking of your ex. He came into the diner last night. He was with that other guy. Adam?”

  I was surprised. “He’s moving up in the Academy social scene if he’s buds with Adam now.”

  “Adam’s the top dog at your old school?”

  “Yeah.”

  “He’s the guy you avoided the other night?”

  We began walking to the senior hallway. Mason wanted me to stop by his locker before he went to practice. As we turned the corner, I grimaced. “Yeah. He said he was okay with friendship, but I can’t handle that drama right now.” Natalie brushed past me at that moment, glaring the entire time. She took a step into me at the last second to hit her shoulder against mine. I kept going, jerking my thumb in her direction. “I got enough drama like that going on. I can’t deal with much more.”

  Heather watched the Tommy Princess disappear in the direction we had just left. She murmured, “They’ve been quiet today.”

  “No texts?”

  “Last one was yesterday afternoon. Your clothes were still there after gym?”

  “Didn’t shower. We only walked during class.”

  “I see.”

  By unspoken agreement, we stopped and watched Kate at her locker. She was alone. For once. Then Heather remarked, “I don’t like it.”

  “Me neither.”

  “Ladies,” Logan boomed in our ears before he wedged himself between us, throwing his arms around our shoulders. He squeezed us into his side and made a tsking sound. “Have I not made my wishes clear enough? When you come to greet me, I prefer cupcakes and those skirts that show off half your ass. It’s pleasing to the eye and pleasing to my mouth, if you know what I mean.”

  Heather retorted, “Don’t you get tired of hitting on your stepsister?”

  “Future stepsister to you.” He flashed a dimple at her, his mouth curving up. “Are you jealous, Jax? Do you only want me to hit on you? That could be arranged, you know. Cupcakes and ass-skirts. All I’m asking here.”

  She elbowed him in the gut, stepping out fro
m his arm. “Whatever, Logan. From what I hear, you’ve got all your free time spoken for.”

  All traces of humor left. His arm dropped from my shoulder, but he didn’t move away. He only tensed. “What are you talking about?”

  “You and my ex-bestie. I’ve heard that you two get it on almost every night now.”

  He narrowed his eyes at her. “Who told you that?”

  “Was that supposed to be a secret?”

  His jaw tightened as he ground out, “It wasn’t supposed to be public knowledge.” He cast an accusing look to me.

  Heather spoke up, “Nope. No way. She didn’t say one word so don’t blame her for that gossip. It came straight from Tate’s
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