Fallen crest public, p.22
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       Fallen Crest Public, p.22

         Part #3 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
 

  The rest of the conversation was a question and answer forum from Logan while Mark looked ready to throw up. I even caught Mason listening intently to her. He told me later that he’d be stupid to pass up information like that. When I came back from the bathroom, ready for bed, his eyes had darkened in lust. His hand skimmed over my waist, gently rubbing before he moved to cup my breasts. Curling into my side, he kissed the side of my neck and remarked, “Six weeks cannot get here sooner.”

  I knew what he meant. The ache lingered in me, but it was mixed with pain and stiffness. However, that ache conquered all other aches when he would get ready for school in the morning, or for bed at night, or come back from basketball practice, or being around me in general. By the end of the week, when the pain was starting to lessen even more, the ache for Mason was unbearable at times.

  During the time when they were at school, it was easier, but Mason was gone. Malinda didn’t hover. Thank god. I had worried she would, but she seemed to pop in at the right moments. She brought me smoothies. At first, my stomach protested at the sight of the green color, but I was reassured it was delicious. I soon craved them, so I spent hours in the kitchen watching her experiment with new recipes.

  The rest of the time was spent watching movies and I napped. I napped a lot.

  Mason was granted half-day practices. He could leave after an hour into practice, so he was there when I woke from my naps. Principal Green approved of his request so he didn’t lose any playing time for their games. Between the two, they got all of my homework assignments for me, every day. It wasn’t until the end of the week that I asked, “What’s everyone saying at school?” Heather had called a few times, but she hadn’t said much either. When she was vague, I let it go, but something was wrong. I wasn’t stupid, but I hadn’t been ready to tackle this hurdle.

  I was now.

  Mason, Logan and Mark were all doing homework at the dinner table. An instant hush came over them, and they stopped what they were doing. Malinda was in the kitchen, experimenting on more recipes. She loved sneaking tofu into dinner. She loved sneaking tofu into dinner. We were having chicken enchiladas that night. The tofu was going to be covered in cheese, but she paused as well.

  David wasn’t there. He had an evening meeting for school.

  Everyone looked at Mason. He asked, “You want the truth?”

  The truth. That felt like a kick in the gut. The truth was that everyone had been pretending. This week was a haven for me. I was allowed to hide from the rest of the world, but the truth was that I had been attacked. I had two fractured ribs. It still hurt to talk and eat because of my jaw. The truth was that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to look in a mirror because I knew I looked like an assault victim, but I was one. It was time I started to deal with it.

  I never flinched. “Yes.”

  Mason narrowed his eyes, searching inside of me. He always did that when he was checking to see if I was being honest. When he saw that I was ready, he nodded. “The truth is that Kate thinks she won.”

  I held my breath.

  He kept going, “She thinks we’re friends again.”

  It hurt to breathe.

  “She thinks she’s at the top again.”

  An intense pressure was on my chest now; it felt as if someone was pushing down on it.

  “She thinks I’m going to dump you.”

  I flinched as I felt someone kick me again. I heard the crack in my ribs from that night. I felt the crack in my ribs from that night.

  He looked like a cold stranger to me as he finished, “And she thinks she’s going to be my girlfriend.”

  I couldn’t talk. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to do anything except sit there and let his words sink in. All the pain that my medication had been holding at bay flooded me. It all came back in one wave, all at the same time, and I was paralyzed in my chair. I couldn’t fight any of it. “Why would she think that?”

  Logan looked away. Mark’s head went down, but Mason didn’t turn away. He stared right back at me as he said, “Because I’m letting her think that.”

  I hadn’t let myself think about Kate. I couldn’t, not the first week. I needed to heal and get through it. Everyone had been so supportive, but now I remembered that I was going back into the lions’ den. Fallen Crest Academy had different problems, but no one got assaulted there. I was tired, I was in pain, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what Mason said. He was letting Kate think she had won.

  It didn’t matter what he said after that: he was setting her up; he had a plan; he didn’t want me involved because he knew I wouldn’t approve; I needed to trust him because he was going to make her pay.

  He tried reassuring me over and over that night.

  He failed. I wasn’t reassured.

  I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to pound my fists on his chest. I wanted to throw things. Everyone else had gone to bed by then, but I wanted them awake. No one deserved to sleep. No one deserved to go about their daily routines, not when mine had been destroyed by her, but I couldn’t enact my revenge on those in the household. Except Mason. He stayed awake with me during the night. I couldn’t sleep. The need to make Kate pay had my heart pumping. I wanted to be the one to set her up, to watch her suffer. I wanted to find her in a bathroom, but there wouldn’t be three other friends with me. It would be her and me, and I’d beat her senseless. When she’d crawl to the door, I’d start again.

  The rage never simmered. It kept my blood boiling, and my heart pumping the entire night. Mason drifted to sleep around three in the morning, but I was still seething at six. When he woke and glanced over, he saw I was still awake. He leaned over to kiss me, but I moved my head aside. There’d be no kisses. No words were shared as he got ready for school. When Logan came to the door, they had a quiet conversation. Logan was advised to leave me alone, and he did. They both left at the same time. Mark left for his school twenty minutes later. He sprinted through the house, and I heard Malinda yell, “It won’t matter that you’re late if you’re dead. Slow down, Marcus.”

  He yelled back, “Yeah, okay.”

  Peeking out my window, I watched as he sprinted for his car and then gunned the engine. I pretended that Kate had been in front of his car. She would be on the street now, laying in her blood and writhing in pain.

  “He’s going to get in an accident one of these days. Sleeps too late, pushes it so that he’s not late for school, and I just know it’s a bad recipe in the making,” Malinda mused from behind me. The bottom of her white nightgown was underneath her blue robe. She retied the knot in the front before yawning. “You want some pancakes? David told me that Analise never made you breakfast before.”

  “She didn’t, but she had their chef make me sandwiches.” I missed Mousteff.

  Malinda grunted, a crooked grin on her face. “Some rich folk are like that. They stop doing the little things, think it’s beneath them. The only thing beneath them is not doing a damn thing.”

  She said more, but I wasn’t listening to her. I was in my own head.

  Analise. David. Jessica. Lydia. Jeff.

  A stabbing pain seared through me. Each one of them had betrayed me. Each was someone I once loved. The pain kept coming. It wasn’t going to stop.

  “Right, Sam?” Malinda laughed.

  I turned back to the window. I couldn’t face her. She was another one. The same would happen, and she had no idea she’d do it until the day she left me, like the rest of them. “She’s going to get away with this.”

  She grew quiet. “Who?”

  I couldn’t answer. Kate. All of them. Everyone.

  “They followed me into that bathroom.” The door opened, but the hand dryer was on. “I remember it now. I knew they were coming. I knew someone was there. There was a small movement from the corner of my eye. It’s why I turned to leave, but …” I couldn’t go further. That day would haunt me, like so many others.

  I turned back now.

  Malinda straightened from the doorway. Her hand
dropped and slapped against her leg with a soft thud. Her eyes widened an inch, and her mouth fell open.

  I didn’t know what she saw in me, but she couldn’t talk for a second. I could. For once, the words were there, and they were gutting me. “How do I get over this?” How was I supposed to go back to that school? She was there. Mason said they only got in-school suspension. They got a slap on the wrist and were given a holiday from their usual studies.

  I couldn’t. That was my truth for the morning. I couldn’t go back to that school, but I couldn’t afford not to. Coach Grath already said that I’d have to bust my ass to catch up to my old times. As soon as I was cleared by the doctor, he wanted to meet for individual training sessions. I needed that scholarship, I had no one to help me now. I needed to go to college. Kate would be there …

  I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

  “What do I do?” My voice hitched on a sob.

  “Oh, Samantha.” Malinda rushed into the room and folded me against her. She wrapped her arms around me gently and cradled my head to her. “Oh, Samantha, honey.”

  At the feel of her arms, I was jerked to a different reality. This one felt alien.

  This was what a mother did. She comforted. Malinda wasn’t my mother. She was dating David, who was rarely at the house. It hit me then that he’d been avoiding me or maybe he’d been avoiding a moment like this. Malinda took his place and because of that I couldn’t let her. I wouldn’t be reassured by her. There would be a time when she’d leave me too. It was inevitable.

  I moved back and tried to give her something that resembled a grin. “It’s fine. I’m fine.” She grimaced. My smile must not have looked like one. I tried for another and repeated, “I’ll be fine. Really.”

  “Oh, Samantha.”

  I heard her stricken tone and prepared myself.

  She raised a hand and tucked some of my hair behind my ear. Her touch was gentle. “I’m not like the rest.”

  My eyes jerked to hers.

  “I know what it’s like to be abandoned and left behind. I do. I know what it’s like, and I’m not here to make excuses for your father. That’s between you and him, but me—I’m here for you. I won’t leave you. I had Mark when I was young. His dad didn’t stick around.” She chuckled. “His dad didn’t even stick around long enough for me to say he didn’t stick around. He was out the window the second he saw my pregnancy test. You know what happened to me?”

  I was listening to her. There was a pull to her, and I couldn’t not listen to her, but I didn’t answer.

  “I got thrown out of my family. I’ve been out on my own ever since. My family is full of pretentious assholes and bitches that think they’re better than everyone else. Pissed my grandfather off. He didn’t like not being able to see Mark, so he left me his money.” Another dry chuckle. “That changed their tunes. They tried seeing me, apologized out of their asses. They sent over Mark’s cousins to be friends. That one I couldn’t fight. He’s close to a few of them, but I could fight the rest. I was an embarrassment to them, but I became an inspiration when all those dollar signs were connected to me. Pansies. I hated my family. For years I hated them, and now I just want nothing to do with them.”

  I grinned as an ache started in my chest. “Didn’t you hear the phrase that family means everything?”

  “Not to you.” There was nothing held back from her. “Not to me. Sometimes family hurts you more than they could ever love you. That’s a truth a lot of people don’t want to hear, but sometimes people get the opposite. They get the families that love you more than they could ever hurt you. Those people are the luckiest in the world. You know what pisses me off? Is that they probably don’t even know it. They don’t know how lucky they are, but, Sam, you’re one of them.”

  I sucked in a breath. That ache was a stabbing pain now.

  She leaned forward. Some of her long hair fell forward, but she ignored it as she grasped my shoulders. Malinda moved so we were eye-level. “Forget the people who’ve hurt you. You don’t have them anymore, but you have two others that’ll do anything for you. Mason and Logan would move mountains for you. I see how you are with them. You love them, but you’re scared to let yourself be happy. Why? Because that’s when they’ll leave? Is that what you think? You’ve got it all wrong. Those two will never leave you.” She tapped my chest. Once. Twice. “You. You’re the one that’s going to hurt them. You have that power, and you don’t know it. You could rip those two apart in a second, and they’re the ones who are scared of you. Not the other way around. You need to recognize the real situation.”

  “My situation?”

  She moved back. As her hands left my shoulders, I was able to breathe again. My chest was lighter. She went to the far wall and leaned against it. Folding her arms, she shook her head. “You got beat up. Bones and bruises heal. Those girls didn’t win because they didn’t do what they wanted. They wanted to break you.”

  I was already broken.

  “You’re not broken at all.”

  I held my breath at her words.

  She added, “Those two boys have healed you. They took you in. They protected you. They continue to love you because they’re your family and both of them know it. They love you for the same reasons they don’t love anyone else. You’re pure. It might not make sense to you, but you don’t use them. You don’t want anything from them. You don’t want to hurt them. Your love for both of them is pure.” Then she cracked a grin. “I might come off as a batty old shithead, but I’m no dumb broad. I know it because I recognize it; it’s why I snatched your father up so quick, and I made sure he had no choice but to date me. I’m not saying he’s made the best choices, but your father has the same pure love inside of him.” She rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t mean he knows how to show it. He’s dug himself a grave and instead of filling it back up, he ends up digging himself another one. He’s been doing that with you all these years, but he’s a good man underneath. He’s a good man to me. I love your father very much, and I’d like to love you like a daughter.” She brushed a tear away, giving me a trembling smile at the same time. “But I’m not here to pressure you or tell you what to do. Believe it or not, I meant to ask you about breakfast, but then I got on my damn soap box. Sorry about that.”

  You’re not broken at all. I couldn’t get those words out of my head. “Did you mean that?”

  “Mean what?”

  “That I’m not broken?”

  “Oh, honey. You have so much strength in you. You have no idea how much.” She gave me another smile, though it wavered as more tears slipped down her cheeks. “I meant what I said before. I will never leave you. Whether I’m with your father or not, you’re friends with Mark or not, know this will always be a home for you. Okay?”

  I could feel her love. It was that same alien feeling I felt when I was bleeding on the bathroom floor. I had clung to it then. I was scared of it now, but I nodded. “Okay.”

  She began laughing. “You’re so scared of me right now.”

  “I’m not.”

  “You are, but that’s okay. Every time you come and I open my door, some of that fear will go away. Being loved and accepting love are two completely different things. It’s my job to continue to show it to you. All you have to do is accept it, little by little. That’s how I finally convinced your father that I loved him. Between you and me, I still have to convince him sometimes. Being with your mother hurt him, too. That’s something both of you have in common.” A few more tears had fallen, and she brushed them away. “Look at me. I’m hideous. Alright, I’m off to shower and get ready. You want to go out for breakfast?”

  I nodded.

  “Good.” She gave me a bright smile. “Pound on the wall if you need help getting dressed. I’ll hear it all the way upstairs. Oh, and don’t tell Mark that. I caught him with a couple girls with that secret. He still has no idea.”

  When she left, I could her laughter all the way to the second floor. I couldn’t move, but I started to hear a scra
ping sound. That’s when I looked down. My hand was shaking. It was hitting the cord for the blinds that was scraping against the window frame.

  She said I wasn’t broken at all.

  Sam called me before my game. She had an unusual conversation with Malinda that day, but we would talk tomorrow. It was her first night back at her home, her old home. She wanted to spend time with David, which worked for my plan.

  “You ready for this?” Logan got into the seat beside me. We were on the team bus, returning from our away game.

  I nodded. My phone was out. The last text from Sam said: I love you. Wake me up when you get here. Key’s under the broken step in porch. I want to talk.

  Logan saw the text. He didn’t say anything at first, but after a moment asked, “She doesn’t know? You didn’t tell her last night?”

  “Nope.”

  “And she doesn’t know we’ll be gone all night?”

  “Nope.”

  “This could backfire, you know.”

  “I know.” I clutched the phone in my hand.

  “She might leave you.”

  “I know.”

 
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