Fallen Fourth Down

Page 11

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Walking into the stadium during the day was daunting. This was my dream. I’d been planning to play professional ball since I could remember. Playing for a Division One school was the next step. I was on the doorstep to the professionals. I could taste it. As I left the stadium, a lot of the hallways were dark since the late hour. I got out the doors and headed for the parking lot.

When I stepped off the curb to my vehicle, I noticed there were only a few cars in the lot.


I stopped when I saw a girl leaning against the far wall of the stadium, and a wave of recognition came over me. Seeing me, she straightened from the wall. She had two friends with her, but they moved farther down. She glanced back to them, and they nodded their encouragement. When she drew closer, I took in the brown hair and dark eyes. The petite frame was the same, but she wasn’t the shy high school girl anymore. Dressed in a tight pink shirt and tight jeans like all the other girls at this school, I was surprised to see the confidence in her now.

I grinned. “Marissa.”

Her hands lifted to her side. She pressed the back of her hands against them for a second before a smile appeared. She let her arms drop down. Her head was tilted to the side, and as she drew closer, her cheeks grew pink. “Mason.” She said my name in a rush.

The confidence was there; I saw it appear for a moment. This was the shy girl from high school that I remembered. “Is this a coincidence or…” I studied her friends. They were turned towards each other with their heads bent forward. One was watching me over the other one’s shoulders. When she saw me watching them, she jerked back and whispered something to the other. The girl standing with her back to me stiffened. This wasn’t a coincidence, but I asked anyway, “Or were you waiting for me?”

“Um.” She lifted a hand to scratch her ear. It fell and linked with her other hand, and she lifted up on her tiptoes in a nervous movement. As she rocked back down to her heels, a high-pitched laugh came from her. “This is really embarrassing.”

She’d been waiting for me. I had known she was a student at Cain University. She emailed me after she was accepted. I hadn’t responded. In fact, I hadn’t responded to any of her emails in over a year. She never stopped sending them and because of that, I could understand her embarrassment. Logan told me that I was leading her on after bringing her to the cabin with us. I cut all communication after that, but I'm guessing it hadn’t been enough.

I wasn’t going to dance around the conversation this time. “Marissa,” I started.

She stopped fidgeting. Her gaze jerked to mine and she gulped. She heard the seriousness in my tone, and she held a hand up. “Wait. Mason, wait.”

I narrowed my eyes.

She ducked her head down. Her fingers slipped into her pockets, and her hands hung there. “I’ve been thinking a lot about our friendship over the years.”

I didn’t have a good feeling about this. “And I think that you started to assume I liked you. I didn’t.” Her eyes lifted, met mine, and looked away again. Her cheeks grew redder. “Okay, that was a lie. I did like you. I mean, I thought you were my knight in shining armor, the popular guy who became friends with me. I’m nothing. Then the girls started in.” She stopped and drew in a ragged breath. Her voice grew thick with emotion as she continued, “You have no idea the things they did.”

Regret stabbed at me. “They did the same to Sam.”

She still wasn’t looking at me. Her hand had been moving back and forth, but she stopped it. All motion froze for a moment. “Your girlfriend?”

“Yeah. She transferred to Public last semester and they tried to do some messed up things to her.”

“Like what?”

“Stealing her clothes was the nicest of their pranks, for one.” The image of Sam in that hospital bed, her face bruised up, and her body wrapped in bandages flashed in my mind again. It was seared there. I’d never get it out. “They put her in the hospital.”

“They did?” She lifted her head again. Her lip trembled. “They never did that to me.”

“Sam fought back.”

She flinched and looked away. “Oh.”

I grimaced. I had insulted her, but that hadn’t been my intention. “Look, I’m sorry. That wasn’t a shot at you. I was trying to tell you that you weren’t the only one who got hurt by Kate and her friends.”

A sad laugh came from her. “It wasn’t just Kate for me. It was half the school. All the girls hated me. All of them.”

“I’m sorry that I didn’t stop it.”

“I don’t know how you could have.”

“I could’ve tried. I did when they were hurting Sam, but I didn’t when they were hurting you. I should’ve stepped in. I’m sorry that I never did. I’m sorry that you had to transfer because of all that shit.”

She twisted around. Her friends were watching us. They moved closer when they saw Marissa looking at them. “I have to go.” She shook her head, and I could hear the sob in her throat. “I’m sorry, Mason. I have to go.”

She started for her friends, and they met her half way. Both of them put their arms around her shoulder, and they hurried from the parking lot. They headed down the sidewalk and into the main campus. I watched them for a moment and shrugged. Marissa wasn’t my problem anymore. I felt bad about what happened to her and I apologized to her. I meant the apology, and whether she took it or not, that was on her.

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