Fallen crest public, p.32
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       Fallen Crest Public, p.32

         Part #3 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
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  Mason was right. Kate had to be destroyed. He had done it for me. He had done all of this for me. “Thank you.” The words wrung from me.

  “Sam?”

  “Mmm?”

  He had turned away, and his hand gripped the steering wheel tightly. “Next time you’re pissed at me, can you do me a favor?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Don’t go to Logan.” His eyes moved to mine and held them captive. My mouth dropped open as he stole my breath away. That hand went back into my chest and squeezed, but it was a different pain this time. It was from the pain I caused him.

  I nodded. “I’m sorry.”

  “He’s my brother. You’re my other half. I can’t …”

  When he struggled for words, I reached for his hand. I started to go to him, but my ribs protested, so I gripped his hand as tight as I could. “I won’t ever do that again. I promise.”

  He nodded, but I saw that he couldn’t say anything.

  “Mason,” I whispered.

  “What?”

  “I’m sorry for that.”

  He nodded again, exhaling a deep breath at the same time.

  “That must’ve looked,” horrible “not good.”

  A harsh laugh came from him. “Probably the same as you seeing me with Kate.”

  The anger began to flood back in, but I didn’t want to think about it. I felt bad for her, but he was right. Kate got what she had coming to her, and whatever else was going to happen, it wasn’t me. Mason took care of me again. The magnitude of everything that had happened over the last few weeks rushed in, and I grew overwhelmed. “Let’s go to bed.”

  As we went inside, the lights were left off, and I took his hand, leading him to my room.

  I hadn’t taken full inventory of my room my first night back, but taking Mason to it made me look at it through new eyes. My desk was covered in old pictures: Jeff. Lydia. Jessica. All four of us at various events and Jeff’s football games. Jessica and Lydia were both on the cheerleading squad our freshman year. I was the only one not in a uniform. I hadn’t cared then, but now it struck me. Had I always been the odd one out?

  Mason went to sit on my bed, and I held my breath.

  My quilt was patched together with different patterns and colors. My grandmother made it before she died, and it was an item I was surprised Analise let me keep. As she handed it over to me, her jealousy had me clutching it close. I had come home every day for a year wondering when she was going to ruin it. She never did, but as Mason stretched over it, it looked too old-fashioned for him. My entire room was too old-fashioned.

  “What’s wrong?” He followed my gaze as I studied my old books. “Babysitters Club?”

  “I used to read a lot.” I used to do a lot of other things, but that seemed so long ago. I sat beside him and felt him take my hand. “I’m seeing everything through your eyes. It must seem so …”

  “This was your home, Sam.”

  I ended with, “Childish.”

  “Why do you think that?”

  Gesturing to my desk with my old books, my old CDs, the pictures, even my old backpacks. “Analise told me not to bring a lot of my stuff. She said it was pointless. That none of my stuff would fit in at the Kade house. Your place was too modern and wealthy. My stuff would remind everyone of how poor we were.”

  He laughed, tipping my head up to his. “I never thought you were poor.”

  “You didn’t? You could’ve. I forget sometimes that you come from money.”

  “Why does that matter?”

  “It doesn’t.” But it did.

  “Then why’d you look away just now? Sam,” he brought me back to face him, “money is just padding. It can be used to shelter you from some things, but there’s no sheltering from other things like love and kindness. Money has no effect on the real stuff.”

  “Is Helen going to buy that house? Nate’s old house?”

  “Wait. Where’d that come from?”

  Money was important to her. Helen Malbourne would never approve of me; she didn’t think I was good enough for Mason. “I know she’s there. It’s another thing you didn’t tell me this past week.”

  “Oh.” His hand fell away from my face. “You don’t trust me now?”

  After all he had done, that was the last thing I should be feeling. “No. I’m sorry.”

  “Sam.”

  I sighed on the inside. Would I ever be secure enough?

  “Sam.”

  “What?”

  “Look at me.”

  I refused, glancing at my hands. Twisting them in my lap, I looked again after he gently nudged me with his shoulder. He smiled at me. Seeing the tenderness in his gaze, I melted inside. Then he murmured as he drew closer to me, “You have baggage. I understand. Your mom betrayed you. Both of your dads left you. Your two best friends and your ex screwed you over. I start keeping secrets, and you see me kissing another girl. I get it. I’m sorry for making you doubt me.”

  “This week sucked.”

  He laughed, capturing my hand again and bringing it onto his lap. He held it with both of his. “The past couple weeks have sucked.”

  “Is it done?”

  “Who knows?”

  I cracked a grin. “That’s not very reassuring.”

  “Whatever else happens, we’ll deal. We always do.” Turning to me, he lifted me onto his lap and scooted back until he was resting against my headboard. For some reason, sheltered in his arms in my old room gave me a peaceful feeling. My old and new had combined and somehow that was all I’d needed. He pressed a kiss to the side of my head. “You don’t believe me?”

  I did, but words weren’t coming to me right then and there. My throat swelled and a big knot lodged in my chest, but it was the good kind. For once.

  “Sam,” he whispered, his breath caressing my skin, “I love you.”

  I clasped my other hand over his and squeezed with as much force as I could. I loved him. I just couldn’t say it. The knot had doubled, so I tried to turn around so he could see it. I needed him to see my love. Tears and all, they were shining within me, and I wanted him see it all. He always saw everything.

  Then he groaned, “Do you know how hard I am right now?”

  A laugh broke free. My ribs hated me, but I kept laughing. It wasn’t until later that night when the lights were off and we were in my bed that I was able to speak over the pain, “So your mom really is buying that house?”

  His arms tightened around me. “Yeah, I think so and especially after last night.”

  “What else happened?”

  He stiffened underneath me. “I got a call last night from my dad, and I didn’t even think about it until now, but you should know something. Your mom had another freak out. My dad had to call the cops on her.”

  I didn’t know what hit me first: fear or hope.

  He added, “She was admitted to the hospital and she’s under a seventy-two-hour psychiatric hold. My dad says that your mom has a disorder or something. She’s going to some treatment center.”

  “For how long?”

  “He’s hoping for as long as it takes.”

  “Takes? For what?”

  “I don’t know. For her to get better, I guess. Maybe just for her to deal with things before bringing her back. The bottom line is that they’re going to be gone for a long time. My mom hasn’t said anything, but I’d be surprised if that doesn’t seal the deal. She’ll buy that house or another one in the same neighborhood.”

  “To be close to your dad’s house?”

  “Because of you.”

  I lifted my head from his chest. “What?”

  “Because of Malinda Decraw. It’s where she lives.”

  “What are you talking about?” I sat up and leaned against the wall, gazing down at him.

  He grinned at me, reaching for my shirt and pulling down on the top so he could graze against my breasts. He captured one in his hand. “Your dad’s going to marry that woman, and you’ll be there from now on.”
>
  “We could go back to the old house, your dad’s.”

  “Nah.” His thumb rubbed back and forth over my nipple, and I sucked in my breath. A burning sensation was going through me, the kind that I couldn’t do anything about. “I’m not dumb, Sam. You moved back in with your dad. You can’t leave him, not when you just got him back, and that’s his woman, so I’m guessing we’ll be spending a lot of time going between Malinda and my mom’s houses.”

  “What about this house?” I just got it back, too.

  “You really want to stay here? We can if you want.”

  But he was right. This home was cold now. David was right. This was Analise’s home. There were too many bad memories here. Malinda’s was warm. Loving. Caring. She was the future for my dad. I sighed out loud and laid back into his side. “Well, that’ll be interesting.”

  “What will?”

  “Going between Helen and Malinda’s houses all the time.”

  “Yeah.” His voice dipped and he shifted to his side. His arm tightened around me and he slid his hand down the length of my side. When he stopped and began to rub my thigh, he said, “I know you can’t do much, but maybe I can make you feel better.”

  His hand inched down and began to rub between my legs. I closed my eyes and laid there as his fingers dipped inside of me. Later, as he moved down between my legs, and I felt his lips on me, I opened my eyes and gazed at him. His lips were sending me over the edge, but it was the sight of him that sent a burst of desire through me. His back was sculpted. All the power was there, but he held himself so he wouldn’t hurt me. Even now, he protected me. Then his tongue swept inside and I was gone.

  Kate dropped out of school. Heather told me the rumor was she was going to get her GED, but I didn’t care. I was happy she was gone, although in her absence Natalie became the new leader. She appealed to Mason and promised they learned from Kate’s mistakes, but it didn’t matter. The guys were done with them. The bathroom beat down finalized the decision for each of the guys, which I was thankful for. School was easier when I returned. People were friendlier.

  Once I healed enough, Coach Grath had me running with a select group of girls in the mornings before school. There were five of us, but there was only one that was competition for me, or she was the closest thing I had to competition. When real practices started, I was still leery about running with so many others, but I went at my own pace. I shut it all out. The guys. The girls. The people who were talking with each other, the girls who gossiped, the ones who complained about practice. All of it. Half way through the season, after a few scouts started coming around, my status changed again.

  I was one of the best.

  I was also becoming popular. Slightly.

  Heather snorted when a few of the drill team girls hurried to open a door for me one day. She said I was now the prime target—get close to Samantha Strattan meant getting close to Mason and Logan Kade. They didn’t care that I was Mason’s girlfriend, they were lining up to be his next one or Logan’s go-to girl since Tate had stopped his all-access to her.

  When I asked Heather if it was because they felt sorry for me, she started laughing. “Are you kidding me? People don’t give two shits if someone gets hurt or not unless you’re their friend. You weren’t friends with anyone. They’re being nice for two reasons: you got Kate out of here and they want to use you to get in with the Kades. It’s a good thing I don’t give a damn about either Kade.”

  My eyebrow arched up at that. “You going to finally talk about Channing?”

  Heather kept her lips sealed tight about that relationship, but I wasn’t blind. Channing was at Manny’s more often than not. He now had his own stool right next to Gus and they kept Brandon entertained during the slow nights. Logan and Mason joined them after their basketball practices, and all five of them had become friendly. Logan mentioned going running with Gus since the guy had a beer gut that was bordering on becoming a bear gut.

  He even invited Gus to family dinner at Helen’s. That didn’t go well.

  Nothing went over well with Helen.

  Mason had been right and wrong. She didn’t buy Nate’s old home. She bought land at the end of the block. She was going to build her ultimate dream home. Since James and Analise were gone, she moved into their house until it was done. I moved into Malinda’s home, and that seemed to be the official move in day for David as well. He reassured me he wouldn’t sell the old house. It would be there for me if I ever wanted it. Mason spent the nights with me while he ‘lived’ with Helen in the old house. Logan came over for almost every breakfast and they were around most of the time during the weekends.

  This was another arrangement Helen didn’t like, neither did David, but neither of them could say anything—it was going to happen whether they wanted it or not. We’d already fought one parental unit about our relationship. They knew we would’ve done it again, but it didn’t mean Helen didn’t make things uncomfortable at times.

  Today was one of those days.

  It was a Saturday, and Mason had spent the night, but so had Logan. Helen didn’t like that. He and Mark came back to the house after a party and played video games all night. He fell asleep on the couch, and Helen started calling at eight that morning. She called both of their phones, and then she began calling the house phone. When she asked for her son, Malinda knocked on our door and gave the phone to Mason. Wrong son. When he sat up and I heard her yelling on the other end, I rolled out of bed and grabbed my running clothes.

  Helen was a saner version of Analise.

  It was time to run.

  I headed towards my favorite path. Instead of driving to my old neighborhood and jumping on it from the park, I found another trail that connected to it from behind Malinda’s house. When she learned where I ran the most, she pulled out a map of walking trails and showed me new trails, but I kept with the one that ran past Quickie’s and into the hills behind it. I could get lost back there and today was a day I needed that. It was when I came back that I noticed something was wrong.

  The clerk was pacing back and forth outside the side door. He would stop, wring his hands together, shake them out, and return to pacing. After a few moments, he stopped again, took a deep breath and peeked around the back corner. Jerking back, he shook his head and started twisting his hands together again.

  I made my way down to him. My heart was pounding so I pulled my earbuds out and silenced the noise. As I got to the bottom of the hill, I took a few breaths so I could talk and not pant through a conversation. He was turning around again in another sharp circle when he saw me, and his eyes bulged out. I recognized the same clerk from all the other times I’d been around here. I saw him through the window the first morning when the Broudous showed up for a pit stop and a few times when I’ve run past here.

  “Hey,” I murmured, “are you okay?”

  He jerked his head in an abrupt movement. “No.”

  “Okay.” I frowned at him. When he didn’t say anything more, I leaned my leg against the building and started to stretch it out. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

  “Ahh-hmmmggbbb—”

  “What the hell?” I whipped around. It sounded like someone was being strangled. I started to step towards the back, but the clerk grabbed my arm.

  He held me back. “Don’t.” His voice was trembling, as was his hand. The longer he held me, I realized all of him was shaking.

  A foreboding sensation started in me. “What’s your name?”

  “Ben.”

  I nodded. This guy was about to piss his pants and I glanced down. He hadn’t, but he was close. Reaching up, I started to remove his hand from my arm, but his fingers tightened. He hurried out, “No. You can’t go over there.”

  “Okay.” I let his hand stay in place. “Where?”

  “They’re on the other side of the gas station, by the back.”

  I nodded. He looked ready to bolt. “Why?”

  “AHHHHHHHHHH! No …” The last ended on a whimper. A
girl’s whimper.

  I started to turn again. The girl was in trouble, and it wasn’t
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