Fallen crest alternative.., p.24
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       Fallen Crest Alternative Version, p.24

         Part #2.1 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan  

  snapped back to attention and hurried after them. Miranda was the last to follow and she remained where she had stood during my conversation with Cass. Her eyes were flat and she watched me for another few seconds before her eyelids fluttered to a close. Her shoulders deflated and I felt released from whatever scrutiny she had conducted when she went behind the rest, but at a more sedate pace.

  Adam jostled my shoulder with his. “Look at that. You’re going to be going to the Country Club anyway. Perfect timing, huh?”

  I was growing tired of all the knots in my stomach. One of them had to pass at some point, but he was right. As I drove to the Fallen Crest Country Club, my hands hadn’t stopped shaking since I got behind the steering wheel. When I parked behind Lamborghinis and BMWs, I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants and tried to ignore their intimidation. I hadn’t cared before, why now? But I hadn’t gone in to meet Garrett’s wife. I liked to avoid meetings like this, but here I was, heading right into the fire in order to avoid a different firestorm.

  I gulped. God help me.

  When I walked into the Country Club, one of the guys at the front desk recognized me from the week before. He’d been the one that recognized Mason and nodded as he pushed his co-worker’s clipboard down.

  I walked inside but stopped when I got to the foyer.

  Garrett had his back to me as he sat at the bar’s counter. Beside him was Adam’s boss, Mrs. Carmella. She had her hand on his arm and her other hand on her chest. Her head tipped back in laughter and my biological father’s shoulders shook with her.

  I frowned. That wasn’t normal laughter. That was flirting laughter. I sighed but moved towards the kitchen. When a young girl was about to walk inside, she wore a server’s uniform and she seemed nice so I stepped in front of her. “Hey, hi.” I didn’t want to scare her too much. “I was wondering where Bella was. I know her. She’s in charge of the catering.”

  She relaxed and gave me a relieved smile. “Oh, yeah. She’s in the back.” I started forward, but she called after me, “She’s great, you know.”

  Ookay. I gave the girl an odd smile, but I wasn’t sure what to do with that testimony so I tucked it inside of me, far far away. I was tucking everything deep inside of me, from where I didn’t have to feel any of it.

  Another guy pointed me towards her office, but it was empty. When I rounded a corner, I saw her at a far counter. A small stove top was in front of her and the counter beside was covered in bowls. Two cookbooks were open in front of her and she swept back a lock of hair as she frowned at one of them. A trail of grease lingered on her cheek, but she shook her head and bent forward to the biggest cooking bowl.

  “Hi…” I left the statement hanging. I wasn’t sure what to follow that up with.

  She looked up and a second later her eyes flared wide. She jerked back and the bowl was knocked down from her hand’s movement. “Oh.” She caught it, flustered, but all the ingredients went on the floor. “Oh, dear.” She bit her lip as she looked at the damage on the ground. Then she scratched the back of her head.

  I grinned at her state.

  Her blonde highlights had been pulled back into a braid, but the ends were loose. They hung over her face and she kept brushing them back. When everything was picked up from the floor, she dumped it all on another counter and turned with her hands on her hips. She had a polite smile now. “You’re Samantha, right? Garrett’s told me so much about you. You’re all he talks about.”

  “Right.” I nodded. “Garrett’s daughter.”

  Her head bobbed with me. “Garrett’s daughter. Yes, indeed, you are.”

  “Hi.”

  “Hi.” Her smile was lopsided.

  “Uh.” I wasn’t sure what to say anymore. I tightened my hold on my bookbag and looked away. Why was this so hard?

  “Are you here about him? He was hoping you’d come over this week, but I guess he didn’t want to push it.” Then she exhaled a dramatic breath. “Oh, dear. I don’t think I was supposed to say anything. He told me not to and now look at what I’ve done.” Her hands twisted together, but then she shoved them behind her and squared her shoulders.

  She looked so prim and proper, I wanted to gag. But I shook my head instead. “No, I’m not here about him. I avoided him, actually, but whatever.” I cleared my throat. “I have these friends who are doing some birthday shindig tomorrow night. Her name is Cass, it’s for her boyfriend. I know she asked you already, but she wanted me to ask you if you’d cater the party for her?”

  “Oh.” Her smile dimmed a bit. “I thought your birthday was tomorrow night. Your mom invited Garrett. He was planning on taking me to the dinner so I could meet everyone.”

  I shook my head. “That’s not happening. I’m not doing anything for my birthday, but I told my friend I’d ask you so I am. Would you cater Peter’s birthday? He seems like an okay guy, I guess.”

  She frowned at me a bit. “You’re not friends with him?”

  I shrugged. “I guess I am. I don’t know. He’s a bit stiff.”

  “Oh.” She looked around. “Well, um, I…you’re really not doing anything for your birthday? Garrett was so excited. He’s told me so many things about you and Mason. I guess there was an intense basketball game between the two of them. Garrett was sore for a week after.”

  I swallowed over a knot. What right did he have to boast about me? He kicked me out for her, but I gave her a polite smile anyway. My face felt like it stretched against cement.

  “Are you going to celebrate your birthday some other time? He really wants to be there. You mean the world to him.”

  Her smile seemed genuine and my knot shrunk. Then I hardened. She had no right to care. I shook my head. “I don’t know. I don’t care about my birthday. Can you do the party or not?”

  “Oh.” She blinked from the sudden aggression. “Um, sure. Anything for you, Sam. I mean that, I really do. I know Garrett loves you so much and I’m really hoping the two of us work things out.” Her voice quieted and she looked down at her hands that were knotted together in front of her. “I’m ashamed of what I did. I really am, but I’m trying. I really am.” When she looked back up, there was a renewed intensity on her face. She seemed so earnest.

  I shrugged again and looked away. Then my voice came out strained, “Just triple your normal rate for her.”

  “But—”

  “She’ll pay, trust me. She’s desperate. Charge her triple. She’s a bitch.”

  “Um—”

  I didn’t care whatever else she had to say and I swung away. I hurried out of there and my heart seemed like it was about to explode out of my chest by the time I got to my car. My fingers fumbled for the door handle. It took three tries before I could open it and then I sat inside with my heart beating and my breathing erratic. I tried to calm myself. I tried to force my hands to loosen from the balls they had formed, but my head bent down and it took a while.

  CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

  When I pulled into the mansion’s driveway, I was surprised to see Mason’s Escalade. Then I went inside, saw my mother and felt gutted. She had on a soft pink dress. It was a simple dress, but it wrapped around her body and I could see that she’d lost weight. I wasn’t sure when it had started, but she was rail thin now. A part of me wanted to ask her if she had an eating disorder, but I held my tongue. Then I saw Mousteff emerge from the kitchen and place a steaming bowl of soup in front of her. She grimaced at him, but his lips pursed together and he dropped two packages of crackers beside the bowl. “Eat,” he barked before he disappeared back into the kitchen.

  She sighed but picked up her spoon.

  As I watched, she ate the bowl one sip at a time. I stood there for an hour. It took her that long before she pushed the empty bowl away and stood. Her face was twisted and she held a hand over her mouth. Then she rushed down the hallway. I knew where she was going and hurried to stop her. As she pushed through the bathroom door, I grabbed her arm and reeled her back into the hallway.

  “Sam,” she gasped.

  I slammed the door shut and planted myself in front.

  Panic came over her and she tried to shove me aside. Her hands grappled for me, but I evaded each time. I twisted my arms free, dodged when she tried to hook around my waist, and her struggles became more frantic.

  “Samantha, please. I’m going to be sick.”

  I heard the whimper in her voice and shook my head. “Keep it down, mom. You need to.”

  The fight left her. She reared back, but a different fight was in her eyes now. She lifted her lips in a snarl and she grew still. “What do you care? You’ve been absent from my life since we moved here. Get out of the way, Sam.”

  “No.”

  “If I die, you’ll be rid of me.”

  I felt the blood drain from my face and I flinched. I couldn’t stop it. Then I caught movement from the corner of my eye and saw Mason there. He stood at the end of the hallway, but he shook his head in a small movement.

  I took a deep breath. “When did this start?”

  She snorted. “Like you care.” She leaned against the wall and raked her hands through her hair. Her body crumbled to the floor and I knew she’d lost another fight. Her shoulder shook and sobs sounded from her.

  I slid to the floor across from her and gentled my voice. “Where is James?”

  “With Helen.” Her voice was hoarse. “He’s going to get back together with her. I just know it.”

  I rolled my eyes. Even I knew the fool was besotted with my mother, but I held back my disdain. “Analise—”

  She lifted her head. Her makeup was smeared from the tears and black splotches ran down over her cheeks. Her eyes were rimmed from it as well and she let her head fall against the wall with a hard thump. Then she did it again as she moaned, “What am I going to do, Sam? I love him. I love him so much. I can’t lose him. I’ve already lost you. I can’t lose him too.”

  I curled my arms around my knees and pulled them tight. My chin rested on top of one of my knees and I tried for a small smile. I knew it came out strained. I didn’t care. It was the best I could do. “I’m sure James isn’t getting back together with Helen—”

  “He is.” Tears filled her eyes again and she buried her head in her own knees. “What am I going to do, Sam? I have no idea. She called today and said her and Garrett broke up. James left as soon as he got that call. I knew he was going to console her. She sounded hysterical on the phone.”

  I frowned. “This happened today?”

  “Yeah.” She hiccupped on a sob.

  “But that doesn’t make sense.”

  Her sobs stopped and she looked back up. A flicker of hope was in her eyes. “What do you mean?”

  “They broke up a week ago.”

  The hope doubled and she wiped away the tears now. “How do you know that?”

  “Because I walked in on them fighting.” I closed my eyes. Here I went. “His wife is here, mom.”

  “What?” Her voice was so soft, so small.

  I jerked my head in a nod. Every muscle in me was rigid, they felt like cement. “She moved in on Sunday. It’s why I moved home.” I took a deep breath. “She’s the caterer at the Country Club. I—uh—I asked if she’d cater one of my friends’ birthday party tomorrow night too.”

  “What?”

  My eyes went wide.

  All the sadness, loneliness, and tears were gone from hers. They were alert and focused. She repeated, “What did you say?”

  I bit my lip. “I don’t want a family dinner. I’m going to that other birthday dinner.”

  “It’s your birthday, Samantha. We are celebrating your birthday.”

  Oh, dear. I took another deep breath. “I don’t want one, mom. Really.”

  “I don’t care.” Her voice was rock hard now. “We’re having a family dinner and that’s that. Thanks to your charade, we’ll have it on Sunday.” Her head jerked in an adamant nod. “That’s better. Yes. Yes, it is. Sunday is the day for family and worship. We’ll all go to church too.”

  I paled.

  Then she stood and smoothed out her dress in two brisk hand motions. Her face was clear and her hair was patted back in place. “You need to go to church. You and Mason need to start confessing all that sex the two of you have. If you won’t stop for me, maybe you’ll stop for the Lord Himself.”

  “Oh my god.”

  She threw over her shoulder, “And don’t take His name in vain. He’s listening, you know.”

  When she disappeared down another hallway, her high heels sounded like she was marching for world domination, and I groaned. What the hell had just happened?

  I heard Mason’s chuckle as he came to stand beside me and I tilted my head up. “I think my mom is bipolar. I swear.”

  “Nah.” He caught my hand and hauled me to my feet. “She’s just dramatic.” Then he patted my butt. “Come on; let’s get out of here before Analise decides we should go to church now.”

  When we left in his Escalade, I glanced over. “What are you doing at the house today? I thought you had a game tonight.”

  He grinned. “I do, but Coach still won’t let us play. He doesn’t even want us at the warm-ups until the doctors clear us from everything. I wanted to spend some time with you.” The corner of his lip curved up. “So it’s your birthday tomorrow, huh?”

  The warmth I’d felt from his words changed and I tensed under his scrutiny. Even though it was only from the corner of his eye, I felt it full force and saw his hand tighten around the steering wheel. “Yeah.”

  “Why didn’t you say anything?”

  The boulder in my stomach dropped all the way to my feet. I closed my eyes and tried not to shudder at the idea of that family event. My voice was hoarse as I rasped out, “Are you kidding me? The only good thing about my birthday is that I don’t have to live with Analise. I have a say in where I go, what I do.” I groaned. “I’m sorry. I should’ve said something, but there’s no way I could handle that dinner with David, Malinda, Garrett, his wife, and your dad with Analise? She was so gracious to want you and Logan invited, of course.” I mimicked her words and how condescending they were. “She worded it like she was doing me a favor to invite you two.”

  He grinned and turned the wheel so the Escalade pulled through a fast food restaurant. As he went through the drive-thru and ordered food, I declined anything. Since the run-in with my mother all food had lost its appeal to me. When we’d gotten the food, which was given with a blush and squeal, Mason pulled forward and parked the car. We remained in the car as he ate and I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother’s plans.

  “She wants us to go to church.” I groaned. “All of us? Are we all going to take up one entire pew? Can you imagine the looks we’ll get from people? She hasn’t made me go to church all my life. David took me a few times, but that was it. She always stayed home and now she goes all the time with your dad.”

  Mason finished his chicken sandwich, balled up the wrapper, and tossed it with the rest of the trash in the bag. Then he leaned back and turned to watch me. His hand reached over and he tapped my knee. “We’re not going to church. Don’t worry about it.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  He gave me a smirk, one that sent an excited tingle through my body and one that gave me a sense of dread at the same time. “What are you planning?”

  “Something that has to do with a hotel room, you and me naked, and a whole box of condoms.” He gave my knee a squeeze and turned the engine back on. As he wheeled out of the parking lot and shot down the street, he glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “What do you think I have planned?”

  “A whole night of orgies?” I joked, though it wasn’t really a joke.

  The smirk formed into a wide smile and I couldn’t hold back my own.

  I teased, “What’s a girl to do with romance like that?”

  “Hopefully get naked.”

  I barked out a laugh and the boulder in my gut diminished a bit, just a bit. But then I saw where he was headed and it doubled in size. My eyes went wide and I grasped his arm. It was cement as the muscle flexed from the movement of turning the steering wheel. I clung tighter. “Where are we going?”

  He glanced over with a small frown, but kept driving. We passed hundreds of cars, it must’ve been hundreds of cars. He went through his school’s parking lot that was filled with their colors of red and black. Students milled around the entire parking lot. Some were getting out of their cars, laughing. Others hung out at their cars, waiting for friends. I saw parents, older people, and too many that reminded me of the last game I attended at Fallen Crest Public School.

  I shook my head. “Seriously, Mason. I don’t want to be here.”

  The teasing was gone between us and he regarded me with an intensity that had me blinking back some tears. The onslaught was sudden and the old Mason where he always looked deep into me was
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