Fallen Fourth Down

Page 71

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There were no cars in the parking lot and no one was in the locker room, so I collected my bag and keys. Hayes had done the same. He was heading out the door as I came out. Seeing me, he held it open and fell in line with me.

“Uh.” He cleared his throat.

I lifted an eyebrow, and as we got to my car first, I turned and waited.

He was so stiff. “Thank you. I know I’m an asshole. It’s just pretty fucking humbling when a girl comes on the team and kicks my ass. You’re good, Stratten. You’re really good. Thank you for running with me.”

“Are you being sentimental?”

The wind had picked up, brushing over us both. Both of us reeked and were covered in sweat; my hair never moved an inch. It stayed in its high ponytail.

He shrugged, looking away. “I hated you for half the season, but now that we’re almost done, I can say that I am glad you were on the team. You made us better. The entire team wouldn’t have gone to state if you hadn’t pushed us.”

“I did?”

“You did. Trust me, just by being you and making us eat your dust. You helped us. You helped me.”

“Rest, Hayes. You’re delirious from the running today.” The side of my lip curved up in a grin. “You’ll get a scholarship. Just pretend you’re running against me.”

“That might help actually.”

“You’re back to being an ass. The world feels right again.” Opening my door, I got inside and leaned out the window, “See you tomorrow, Hayes. We had a nice moment.”

He groaned, heading towards his truck.

I started the engine, and as I passed by him, I shouted, “Let’s not do that again.” I pulled out of the lot and headed home. When I got there, I saw Mark’s and Cass’ cars in the driveway. The euphoria from a great run had started to dwindle, and I knew what I’d be walking into if I went inside. I didn’t want to go in there. Garrett had been calling every night. To be fair to my biological father so he couldn’t be accused of keeping me away, David relayed the messages to me, but I knew I wasn’t getting all of them. The pressure to see him was building up, but I didn’t want to be worn down. When I asked Mason for his advice, he told me to say, ‘fuck you and the horse you rode in on.’ The last couple times, as David was apologizing for another message from Garrett, I finally snapped and relayed Mason’s words. A big grin came over my dad, and he gave the message back. It hadn’t worked. Garrett kept calling. It was by accident that I found out that David hadn’t been telling me how much Garrett had been calling. They had to put the phone on silent in the evenings. That tidbit slipped out when Malinda was explaining to Mark why Cass should only call him on the landline. It hadn’t made sense to me, but Mark knew instantly. He laughed and said, “Good one, Mom. I know that phone’s silenced in the evening because of Sam’s other dad. No, thank you. Cass will keep calling my cell phone.”

He left, and I heard Malinda mutter from the stairs, “Not if I stop paying for that phone. It’ll take you a year to figure out that it doesn’t work anymore.” She grunted. “Food for thought.”

I went to the front of the house and sat on the porch swing. I didn’t want to hear another message. I wasn’t ready. I was still there when Helen came stomping from her house, across the street, and up our sidewalk. She was wearing a beautiful gown. It was light blue and matched her eyes perfectly. Like always, her hair was pinned up in a sleek bun. She had a hand resting on her neck, holding down the pearls so they wouldn’t bounce. She wasn’t looking up. She was watching where she walked and paused, one hand holding up her dress, so she wouldn't trip or tear it, as she stepped onto our stoop. As she let it drop, she lifted her head and saw me.

Her eyes widened and her head reared back an inch. “Oh, Samantha. I didn’t see you there.”

I lifted a hand in a careless wave. “Yep. Saw that. Sitting here.” I let my hand drop back down with a thud.

Her eyes narrowed. “What’s wrong with you?” she rushed out, like it was an afterthought, not really caring about the answer. She craned her head so she could look inside the house again, through the door’s windows. I knew who she was looking for.

“Logan’s not here.”

She looked back at me. Her gaze swept me up and down. “Are you sure? You look like you were running. We both know that could take hours with you.”

I said, dully, “He’s on a date with Kris.”


I gave her a second look. “His girlfriend.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “Logan has a girlfriend?”

“Good god,” I muttered.

“What’s she like?” Helen left the door and moved towards me. Her hand went back to holding onto her precious pearls.

I shrugged. “Peppy. Little. A cute, pixy-like girl.”

She paled. The corners of her lips curved down. “She sounds dreadful. Wait. Was she over the other morning?”

I nodded.

“Gracious, I had no idea he had taken her as a girlfriend.”

I gave her a sweet smile. “I think he loves her.” I wanted to watch her squirm.

“He does?” She tried to hold back a shudder.

I nodded. “He asked me about home pregnancy tests last week too.”

She froze, then drew to her fullest height, and rolled her eyes. “Har, har, Samantha. You’re so funny. You’ve been spending too much time with Logan, you know. That’s something he would’ve said.” Her lips pressed together, and she let out a sigh. “What’s your problem? You look like I used to during my first marriage.”

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