Fallen crest alternative.., p.5
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       Fallen Crest Alternative Version, p.5

         Part #2.1 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan  

  “I’m sorry for getting so riled up. I’ll see you in a couple hours, okay?”

  I nodded, suddenly choked up for an unknown reason.

  He gave me another soft kiss on the head and brushed back some of my hair. “I know that he’s protecting you, Sam. For that, I have to respect him, but this old guy has some kick in him. I’m going to make your boyfriend work tonight and he’s going to respect me too.”

  *

  It was later when I felt my bedcovers pull back and Mason crawl in beside me. I turned and groaned when I felt his hair. He’d recently showered and slid his arms around me to pull me close. One of his legs fit between mine, and he tucked his head against my neck. When he started to nuzzle there, I murmured, “Who won?”

  He bit back a laugh as his body jerked in reaction. “My team.”

  “Did Garrett do okay?”

  He didn’t respond right away and then sighed. “Yeah, he’s good. He must’ve been good when he was younger. He’s a natural athlete.”

  I grinned as I heard that. “He told me he’d make you respect him for that.”

  “I do.” He sounded grudgingly to do so. Then he wrapped his arms around me tighter. “What’d you do tonight?”

  “Homework.” I yawned and twisted for the clock. “What time is it?”

  “One in the morning.” Mason started to kiss underneath my chin and trek his way up. He shifted so he was above me again. He lingered at the corner of my mouth. “You okay from dinner?”

  I slid my fingers through his hair and looked up. Desire shot through me in bursts, and I was wide awake now. “I’m a little confused at what that was?”

  He grimaced, and the mood was done. He shifted to his side but pulled me close. We were face to face, and I felt his chest rise up and down at a regular rhythm. Though desire still pumped through me, my eyelids grew heavy from the shelter of his arms.

  “Your bio dad was trying to kiss our asses. I don’t like that. I’d rather deal with the cards laid out front, you know?” He glanced down and pressed a kiss to my forehead. “I got mad and wanted to go after him. I wanted to force him to show his cards.”

  “He didn’t.”

  “Yeah, I know.” He grew silent. “But he will. Your dad’s good. He’s smart.”

  “He’s a lawyer.”

  “Doesn’t matter.”

  “So you got mad because my dad was trying to charm you?” I couldn’t suppress a yawn. A silly smile came to my face. “He wants to be your friend. Is that so bad? You’re still here because of that, you know.”

  He grimaced again and fell down on the bed beside me. I turned to my side and pressed into him. I shivered from the contact when I slid an arm over his chest, and he held me in place. I already knew I was addicted to him, but my stomach kicked at that moment. What if something happened? Would my addiction go away?

  “He’s not being honest. He wanted to charm us, make us feel comfortable, get information about whatever and then bam. The guy would turn into your father and we’d be duped into doing what he wanted. I don’t like it. He’s a snake.” Mason turned and regarded me. “I’m not lying when I say your dad was trying to play us. No one plays me, or you, or Logan.”

  I frowned at that mention. “What was Logan’s deal?”

  He shook his head. “He’s convinced your dad really is jerking our mom around.”

  “Are you?”

  He shrugged. “I have no idea. If he is, then he’d better watch his back. My mom’s ruthless. Since he knows that, I don’t think he is jerking her around.”

  “Why does Logan think that?”

  “Because she won’t talk about him at all. She’s gone radio silent on that matter. That’s not normal for her. It makes us think something’s going on.”

  “That doesn’t always mean that.” I shifted so I was more comfortable on my side and raised myself up on an elbow. I looked down at him now. He lifted a hand to trace the side of my face, and I closed my eyes at the contact. Goosebumps broke out as I struggled to remember what I’d been about to say. “Oh yeah. So just because she’s not saying anything doesn’t mean he’s what? Stringing her along? They’ve been together since she and your dad separated? That’s been two years, right?”

  Mason gave me a duh look. “And he’s been married the whole time.”

  “I thought he found out his wife had cheated on him.”

  “I just don’t think it’s so black and white with your dad and his wife. It’s weird, Sam.”

  “Yeah,” I had to admit as I lay back down. “It is weird.”

  “Anything new happen since I saw you last?”

  His question was an innocent one. It was something any boyfriend would ask a girlfriend, but my eyes snapped open. Dread filled me next and I groaned. “Uh…yeah…I have some things to tell you.”

  CHAPTER SIX

  It was Friday night and the inevitable had come. I stared at the house across the street and took a breath. I couldn’t explain why I had a sense of dread in my stomach, but I did. I went through the list of people who would be attending.

  It was at Malinda’s house. She seemed odd but friendly enough. Mark would be there. He had never given me reason to doubt his sincerity or tentative friendship. There was Adam, who seemed to have moved in with them. His family life had taken a toll for the worse, or so Malinda said. Becky was next. The knot loosened an inch. She was fine, but the other two females added that inch back. Amelia seemed all right as long as I never looked at Mark, breathed near Mark, or spoke a word to him. I swallowed. That’d be easy enough. That brought me to Cassandra. She was still hostile in private, but it was all smiles in front of the student body at Fallen Crest Academy.

  One person left. David. I froze again. He was my father while I was living in the home of my biological father.

  “Are you going over there?” Garrett asked as he came from his office. He had an easy grin on his face and a pile of papers in one hand. “I thought the dinner started ten minutes ago?” He checked his watch. “Make that twenty minutes ago.”

  “You look nice.” My limbs couldn’t move.

  “This?” He glanced down at his dress pants and grey sweater. “Date night with the woman I’m apparently jerking around.” The humor failed to show in his eyes. He blinked and a dark glimmer appeared. “Your week’s almost up. Why don’t you stay another week? We haven’t spent much time together.”

  I looked back at the house. A car pulled up and Cassandra and Amelia hurried inside. They wore dresses. I wore jeans. I could hear their laughter through the glass before the door opened and Malinda welcomed them in. She kissed both on their cheeks. She kissed them on their cheeks…why did my gut tighten at that motion?

  “Sam?”

  “Huh?” I jerked back.

  Garrett gave me a thin smile. It seemed strained. “Are you okay?”

  “Yes.” No.

  “What’s wrong?” He moved closer and gentled his tone.

  I bristled on the inside. He had no right to try to invoke that trust from me. “Nothing. I’m fine.”

  “Of course.”

  He didn’t believe me. I didn’t care.

  I saw my father every day at school. He coached there. Goodness sake. What was wrong with me? My hand splayed out over my stomach, and I tried to soothe the storm that rose inside of me. My pulse picked up as I clamped my eyes closed when my fingers started to tremble. My voice would be next. That meant I couldn’t speak, and I had to speak. I had to go over there. I had to be normal. No one could know—

  “Don’t go.”

  “What?” I whirled around again. My eyes were wide, and I knew he saw the terror within me.

  He cursed and ran a hand over his face. “You’re pale. You’re shaking. Don’t go over there.”

  “I promised Malinda,” I said faintly. It was true. “I can’t back out. Becky will be there too…”

  He gave me a rueful grin. “I’ve met that girl before. She seemed like the girl who could bounce through any gathering. She struck me as a rabbit on crack, and I mean a rabbit. They’re the horniest animals on the planet.”

  He was right, but the sentiment failed to calm my storm. “Malinda came over here. This entire thing is for me.”

  “Well that’s total bullshit.”

  “What?” Everything paused.

  He bit a curse and shook his head. “This entire thing is about Malinda ingratiating herself with your father.”

  I jumped at his intensity.

  “David is your father. Your real father, and she knows it. I’ve met the guy. I still talk to him on occasion and I know he’s holding off everything for you. He wants you to be settled. He doesn’t want to pressure you, but look at you. You’re being pressured. You’re not ready for a family dinner five months after you lost your last family. You look like a ghost, Sam. Don’t go over there. Get rip roaring drunk. Don’t have sex with Mason, but let the guys take care of you. I know you gravitate to them because they tell all of us off. They speak up for you when you can’t. I’m not stupid. Mason gets under my skin, but I know he’s a relationship that you need right now. Just don’t hide behind him when it’s the time for you to step forward.”

  I had warmed with every word he spoke. By the end, tears threatened to flood, but I rasped out with a crooked grin, “Is this you being a father or a friend?”

  “Neither.” The smile on his face was haunted. “I’m an outsider, but I’m an adult and I care. That’s all this is.”

  I jerked my head in a nod. Tears flowed free, and I brushed them away as I cursed.

  He touched my shoulder. “It’s going to get better. It always does.” Then he rolled his eyes and swore under his breath. “I’m going to regret asking this, but you don’t want Mason or Logan to go with you?”

  “No.” I took a deep breath and looked again. The house didn’t seem so daunting now. “I didn’t tell them about the dinner.”

  He didn’t say anything, but I felt his surprise.

  I ducked my head down. “This is my thing, not theirs.”

  “You will make a remarkable woman one day, Samantha.” His voice was choked with emotion, and he coughed to clear it. “If you aren’t already.”

  I didn’t hold back the tears now. I couldn’t. But I looked back and saw the corner of his lip trembling. Then I asked because I needed to know. “Are you really getting a divorce?”

  The trembling stopped as he stared down at me. I felt him searching.

  “I’m not asking for Mason or Logan. I don’t care about Helen. I’m not asking for any of them. I’d like to know because…” I didn’t know why. I just did.

  His shoulders dropped dramatically. He closed his eyes. “I have no idea, Samantha. I really don’t.”

  My heart started to pound again. Did I dare…I did. “Are you trying to work things out?”

  “We’ve been separated for almost two years, but I haven’t filed for divorce. Neither has she.”

  My voice was raw. “She cheated on you?”

  “With my best friend. For seven years.”

  I was struck silent at his omission. Seven years. He hadn’t filed for divorce after two years. Something unfolded inside of me. I looked back at the house again and reached for the door. This time I opened it, went to step out, but paused before I pulled it shut behind me. I didn’t look at him. I don’t know why, but I didn’t as I spoke. My voice was hoarse. “I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”

  As I shut the door, I thought I heard a whisper, but I wasn’t sure. I thought he said “Thank you,” but it was so quiet, I could’ve imagined it. I probably did.

  Then I crossed the street and knocked on their door.

  Malinda threw it open. She stood there a moment. Her eyes were wide and her hand was pressed to her chest. She had rosy cheeks that matched her red fluffy sweater. Her long dark hair hung loose. There were curls in it this time and she swept it over her shoulder. “Oh my.”

  I prayed the tears had dried. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

  Her brown eyes sparkled in warmth, and she opened the door wider. “We thought something had come up. Come in, Samantha. Do. Come in.”

  I smiled in thanks as I went inside.

  Their home was welcoming. It was the first thought I had as I looked at the log cabin interior with granite countertops. She had wreaths hung everywhere with green foliage wrapped around tables, posts, railings. Her couches were red as well. I was struck by the living room. There was a table that was made from tree trunks.

  She touched my hand. “We’ve started to eat, dear, but there’s plenty left.”

  “Does David…” I started to turn around.

  “He knew you were invited and he’ll be delighted that you came.” She gave me a reassuring pat on the arm and urged me forward.

  My feet were clumsy. I hoped I wouldn’t fall. Everyone was silent as they saw us. My father rose in the next second and crossed the room in two steps. He wrapped his arms around me and lifted me in the air. His hand brushed the back of my head in a petting motion. “I’m happy you came, Samantha.”

  I hugged him back and whispered, “Can I sit by you?”

  He laughed. “Of course, you can. I’ve missed you.”

  “David, let the girl go. You’ll squeeze a rib out of her.” Malinda was all smiles, gesturing to an open chair. It was beside his.

  “Oh, come on, Malinda. You greet Mark the same way every time he comes home from school. You’re one to talk,” David grumbled, but the grin never faded from him. He held open the chair for me and I sat, grateful Becky was on the other side. She gave me a bright smile and squeezed my knee.

  Malinda laughed as she sat. “I love my boy. What can I say?”

  “Mom,” Mark groaned. “Come on.”

  “What?” She winked at him and fluttered her eyelashes. “You’re so handsome. I have to take my hugs when I can get them. Pretty soon, you’re going to be hugging some other girl and I’ll have to fight her for you.”

  Her eyes twitched as she glanced at Amelia, but the look was gone in a flash. I blinked and wondered if I imagined that as well? And then she held a bowl of salad across the table to me. “Here you go, Samantha. Eat up. We’ve already started on our first course. Would you like a glass of wine?”

  “Malinda.”

  She rolled her eyes and stood. “It’s sparkling wine, David. The girl can have one glass.”

  “Well, maybe one.” David shook his finger at me. “But only one. I wouldn’t want your mother saying that I’m a bad influence on you.”

  “I think we can all agree that she has no grounds for those accusations.” I blushed and ducked my head. “And I think mom would agree with that too.”

  Something switched in him, and he was all smiles. The wall had fallen, if there’d been one. He reached over and squeezed my hand on the table. His voice was gruff. “It’s good to have you here, Sam.”

  I squeezed back. “I agree.” And I sent a silent thank you to Garrett. I wouldn’t have come if he hadn’t helped me. How he did, I had no idea, but I knew he did.

  “So, Sam.” All smiles, Amelia refilled her wine after Malinda had filled mine. “Where’s Mason and Logan? I wondered if they would come too.”

  David sat up straighter beside me as I gave her a polite smile. “They have a challenger’s game tonight.”

  “That’s right.” Mark perked up. “They always play Roussou, don’t they? I can’t believe they play them in their challenger game. Talk about violent.” He grimaced before he reached for the mashed potatoes and lifted a spoon full of them. “These are great, mom.”

  She beamed at him. “Thank you, honey. Who’s Roussou?”

  Amelia snorted. “Only their fiercest competitor in sports. If they could kill each other on the court, they would.”

  “Honey, do we play Roussou?”

  David’s smile was strained. He busied himself with the carrots. “They’re a level above us.”

  “Oh. They are?”

  “We’re a private school.” Adam was the epitome of a professional diplomat. Fake smile and fake charm. Malinda bought it
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