Fallen crest public, p.24
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       Fallen Crest Public, p.24

         Part #3 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
 

  shoulder. Channing had followed me but he headed to the Roussou side of the party. He went to Heather’s side. It was then when our gazes collided. Her eyes burned bright with condemnation. Channing hadn’t judged me, but she was. Sam’s best friend hated me.

  Kate gasped, swaying on her feet, “Mason! You’re here!”

  I hated myself, too.

  I smirked at Kate as she came over to me. She was trying to be seductive. She looked like a drunken idiot and reeked of booze. Then she looped her arms around my neck, pressed her breasts against me before sliding them up my chest as she moved into me. Then her fingers curled into my neck and she drew my mouth down. As my lips stopped above hers, she whispered, “Are you going to fuck me tonight?”

  I didn’t think. I couldn’t.

  I slammed my lips onto hers.

  It wasn’t home.

  That was my first thought when I walked inside. David unlocked the door, but waved me through first. Nothing felt familiar about my old home anymore. It was cold. It was dark, and there was a musky smell in the room.

  “Oh, sorry.” David rushed around me, and the door slammed shut in his wake. “I meant to drop by earlier and turn the heat up. I knew you were coming, but things happened at school and …” he trailed off as he stared at me.

  “What?”

  “Nothing.” A quick shake of the head. “It’s … you’re here. You’re staying.”

  “Yeah?”

  “I just thought …” He shook his head again. The corners of his mouth darted up and down as he cleared his throat. “I just never thought you’d be back.”

  There was so much emotion in his gaze, and they were too visible to me. He hadn’t turned the light on, but the moonlight lit the room up. A sudden lump formed in my throat, and I looked away.

  “Oh, right.” He finished with the heat and flipped the light switch. The room was flooded with new light, and I was struck with the same emotions.

  This wasn’t home. Not anymore.

  The kitchen counter was covered with empty pizza boxes. There must’ve been thirty of them, and the floor had empty cases of beer scattered around. The kitchen table had mail all over it. Not an inch of the tablecloth could be seen. When I spotted a television in the corner of the room, I gestured to it. “That’s new.”

  “Oh.” He sighed, flushing at the same time. “Yes. Before Malinda, I watched a lot of the game tapes here.”

  “Not in the basement? You used to watch them down there.”

  “Yeah. I, um, got into a habit of staying up here in case …” His glanced at me, but turned away. Bumping into the pizza boxes, the pile fell to the floor. “Oh no.” He dropped down and began picking them up with rushed movements. “I’m sorry. This place is a mess. I haven’t cleaned since—” He stopped himself and took a deep breath.

  I sensed a change as he straightened. I waited for whatever he was going to say next, and my heart began pounding in my chest.

  “I don’t know why I’m lying to you. You’ve been through enough. You deserve me to tell it to you straight.”

  My stomach tightened.

  “I would sit up here,” he gestured around the kitchen, “in case you ever came back. It sounds stupid, but I wanted to be here if you ever came back. You never did. Well, you did, but it was the day after you moved.”

  “Yeah.” My voice was hoarse. “She forgot something and asked me to get it. I did …” And he had come home. A stabbing pain pierced me. If only I had realized how final it was going to be. If I had known he wasn’t my real father then, but no. It wouldn’t have changed anything. She still would have forced me to go with her.

  “Like I said before, it became a habit. Sitting here. Eating here. Watching the games here. I did everything here. Even months later when I knew you weren’t coming back, I couldn’t stop. It made no sense to me.”

  I nodded, but I didn’t know what to say. When I saw the broom in the back, I asked, “Do you want me to clean up?”

  “What? No. Oh no, Samantha. This is my mess. I’ll clean it up. You can go upstairs if you’d like to get changed or get comfortable. Maybe email or check your Twitter. Mark’s always talking about that with Malinda, but I never understand what they’re talking about. I’m not big on technology.”

  “I know.” Neither was I. I thought I had inherited that from him.

  “You know what?” With a garbage bag in one hand, he began stuffing the pizza boxes inside. “I bet you’re hungry. Malinda asked if she should make us something, but I told her that I’d take you to dinner. Do you want to go out to eat?”

  “That’s okay. We can eat in.”

  “Oh.” He frowned. “Um … I could go and pick something up. Chinese? You used to like Chinese.”

  “That’s fine.”

  “Or there’s that new noodle place. You want to go there?” His eyes lit up.

  I gestured to my face. The bruises had started to fade, but I had another two weeks until they’d be completely gone. “I’m not feeling like going out yet.”

  “That’s right. Your face.”

  “Nicely put.”

  “Oh,” he sighed again. “I’m nervous, Samantha. I’m your father. I’ve raised you since you were little, but I’m very, very nervous right now. I can go and get you something from the noodle place.”

  “You don’t have anything in the refrigerator?”

  “I don’t stay here often.” The corners of his mouth lifted again in a quick grin. “Things went fast after my first date with Malinda, and I’m there most of the time. I use this place more for storage. I guess.”

  Another thing that changed. “It’s nice that you’ve kept the house.”

  “Yeah, well, I had hoped you might need it someday.” He frowned. “But not like this. This was a horrible way to need it.”

  “I know, Dav—Dad. I know.”

  A smile formed on his face. It widened as his eyes blinked rapidly. Then he brushed at his eye and jerked his head towards the door. “I’ll go and get us something to eat. I’ll be back quick. I promise.”

  Unsure of what to do, I began cleaning up. The rest of the pizza boxes were put in the garbage bags, along with the beer cases. All of that was taken to outside to trash bins and then I started organizing the mail. He had bills from the fall. When I found one from August, it was the date we left him. My hand trembled as I stuffed the envelope underneath the rest. The magazines were thrown out—they were Analise’s. She never bothered to cancel her subscriptions. The pile I moved to the side were the football ones. All the coaching newsletters went there, too. Then there were the newspapers. Most were still folded together, and I knew he hadn’t opened any of them. All of them were tossed. I put what I could into recycling piles. After sweeping the floor and wiping down the counters, I skimmed over the sink. There weren’t many dishes, but David never dirtied a lot of dishes. The few he did, he cleaned right away. That was something Analise could never complain about.

  I glanced around. He still wasn’t back, so I wandered into the living room. I couldn’t bring myself to go upstairs yet. I knew too many memories would surface when I went to my old bedroom, but I took one step into the living room, and memories slammed into me anyway.

  He hadn’t touched a thing.

  I couldn’t believe it.

  The couch hadn’t moved. The two blankets were still folded and perched on the ends. I remember putting them there. I was going to grab them when we left, but she told me not to. She said David would need extra blankets, so I left them. He hadn’t moved them. A box that I had packed was still in the corner. I hadn’t been looking at what I put in there, but she didn’t want it. It was filled with pictures albums, but Analise saw the wedding album on top. She wouldn’t listen when I explained mine were in there, too. That was another item left behind.

  I didn’t turn the lights on. For some reason, I couldn’t fathom the idea of sitting there with bright light cast over this room.

  “Samantha?”

  His keys
jingled together as he took them from the door and pushed it open, the screen door banging shut behind him. “Are you in here?”

  I hadn’t heard him open the door. “I’m in here.” As I heard him come closer, I brushed the tear from my cheek and stood. I plastered on a bright smile and he paused, frowning at me. He was going to ask if I was okay. I couldn’t lie to him, so I pointed to the two pizza boxes tucked under his arm. “Were they closed?”

  “What?”

  “The pizza. You went for noodles.”

  “Oh.” He glanced down, as if remembering them. “Oh, uh. Yeah. No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know what you wanted so I got pizza. You used to like this, so I’m hoping you still do.”

  My stomach growled at that moment.

  His eyebrow lifted up. “I guess you do.”

  The aroma had filled the room, and I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast with Malinda. “Pizza sounds great.”

  “Great.”

  I nodded.

  He stared back at me.

  Neither of us moved.

  “OH. Um …” He glanced around. “I … we could sit.” His gaze lingered on the couch.

  “I cleaned the kitchen. We can sit in there.”

  “Okay.” He sounded relieved.

  “That’s your routine, right? I don’t want to break you of any habits you picked up when …” When we left him. I flinched. When I left him.

  “It doesn’t matter, Samantha. It was something I picked up, waiting if you came back and now,” he gestured to me, “we could go downstairs. That’s where we used to watch television. We could watch a movie.”

  “You still have it hooked up downstairs?” A brief spark of hope flared in me. That was our thing. We watched movies together, and Analise stayed upstairs. She didn’t like the basement, said it was like a dark dungeon. It was our haven.

  He nodded. “Yeah and you didn’t have to clean up. Thanks for that. I didn’t mean to run out and have you pick up after me.”

  “It was no problem.” Where did I put my hands? I had no idea anymore. I crossed them over my chest, but that didn’t feel right. In my pockets? Would that be less awkward?

  “Okay.” A grin teased at the corner of his mouth. “Why don’t you take the pizza down, and I’ll grab everything else. There should be pop and water downstairs, too.”

  “Okay.”

  “I think I have chips, too. You still like Doritos?”

  I nodded and headed for the basement door. Once it swung open and he headed to the kitchen, I stopped at the top of the stairs. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I needed one deep breath. Then I felt for the light switch and flicked it on. The stairwell lit up and a glimmer of home came back to me.

  It was only a glimmer, but it was something.

  Watching a movie with David wasn’t so bad after that. The awkwardness or tension had lifted, and it was our spot again. When we started the movie, I closed my eyes halfway through it. I could pretend for a moment. This was before the cheating. Before the divorce. I was transported back to the time before my world fell apart. Then I heard David laugh and turned to him. His eyes were sparkling. His paused with a handful of popcorn going to his mouth as he waited for the punch line in the movie. There it was. I heard the actor say it, and David roared with laughter. His head fell back and his hand waited in the air until he was done. Then he tossed the popcorn like nothing happened and went back to watching the movie.

  I felt the tears coming.

  This was it. This was the moment I had been craving since Analise took us away. Home. It wasn’t my old home. I knew that, but it was a new home. Mason and Logan would join this home and we’d be together. Everything would be fine. I knew it.

  “Did you see that?” He laughed and pointed to the screen.

  Yes. We put in the same movie we always used to watch. I had it memorized. So did he, but I laughed with him. It felt right to do so. We were still laughing about the same jokes when reality hit me. I remembered everything and stopped laughing. I stopped breathing.

  “Samantha?”

  “What?”

  “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah. I’m fine. I just,” remembered that I didn’t have a mother, “realized that Mason never texted me back.”

  “They have a game tonight? You didn’t want to go?”

  Pointing to my face again, I grinned. “Look like the walking dead.”

  “Oh. Right. Sorry.”

  I shrugged and joked, “What do you do? Life of the Bullied and Attacked, right? I should write a blog about it.”

  “You should.”

  I was struck by the serious tone from him. “What?”

  “You should.”

  I laughed again. I must’ve heard him wrong. “What’d you say?”

  “That’s how you get your voice out? I say, do it. You have something to say, put it in a blogger. I would be proud if my daughter bloggered.”

  “It’s,” blogged and not bloggered, but I kept quiet. He was so proud, and it was because of me. I stopped for the moment. He had no idea what he was saying, but he was trying. More tears threatened to spill, and I turned away again.

  I had missed him.

  “Samantha?”

  “I’m fine.” I waved him off.

  “Did I say something wrong?” He had grown quiet again.

  I wanted to cry, hide, and wrap my arms around him at the same time. There was that hesitation and anxiety in him again. I hadn’t heard it in so long, but memories flooded me from their fights. He would respond to a question and Analise would become enraged. I heard it so many times, but it was never him. That’s what I wanted to tell him for so long. It was her. She was the problem. She ripped apart our family. Everything was her fault.

  “No,” I choked out. “You said exactly the right thing.”

  “Oh. Good.”

  His obvious relief sent another wave of emotion through me. Malinda had been right. “Does Malinda come over here?”

  He froze.

  I frowned. What had I said wrong now?

  Then he said, “I don’t let her.”

  “Why?”

  “I’m ashamed.”

  So many emotions went through me at that statement. He was ashamed. No one should be ashamed of their home.

  “This was,” he stopped. When he spoke again, his voice was clearer. “This house is where I failed my family. I failed you. Malinda is a new beginning. Her home is warm and loving.”

  Like her.

  He continued, “I don’t want her to see this place. It’s mine, but it’s still Analise’s too.”

  A shiver went over me. He was right. I’d been feeling her presence since I walked inside.

  “I decided that I’d keep this place for you, even if you didn’t want me around you. I wanted you to have a home. I can’t change the memories of this place, but you can. Even if it means your,” he hesitated, “new family comes with you, that’s alright with me.”

  “You’re talking like this isn’t your home anymore.”

  “It’s not. It hasn’t been since she took you. It’s been a shelter for me. My home will probably be with Malinda now.”

  I drew in a sudden breath. It was serious between them. Mark had been right, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. The first time I saw them together, I hated it. I hated her. It was more change. She was taking him further away from me, but I could no longer lie to myself. “Malinda’s good for you. You’re lucky to have her.”

  His head had been down during our talk. It jerked up now. “You mean that?”

 
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