Fallen Fourth Down

Page 74

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The two houses kept going crazy.

They were having their own boxing match. Stepping around the last group, I covered the two steps to the patio. Nate had seen me. He was standing in a corner, tucked in the back with his brothers. He made no move to meet me. With lawn chairs between us, a couch, plus his friends, I couldn’t get any closer. I lifted my hands up in a questioning gesture. His chest lifted, fell back down, and a reluctant expression came over him. He said something to the guy closest to him. They moved and he was able to get out to me. As he did, I stepped back. We didn’t say a word as he led the way inside. We didn’t go to a room. He went to the front of the house. After the door shut behind us, a loud cry came from the back of the house.

I grinned. “You guys volunteer to go in the ring?”

Nate rolled his eyes, shaking his head. “No. It depends on the match. This one went to the best fighter in the house. When we fight each other, you’re picked if you lose at a different competition. All part of hazing.”

He sat on a chair, and I leaned against the railing. “You guys are still hazing?”

“Yep. It’s pretty much all year.”

“I see.” I didn’t ask how it had been for him. There were red marks on his neck. A couple bruises had appeared over his cheek, and his eye was swollen. I ran a hand over my hair and gestured to his. “They made you cut your hair?”

“Yeah.” He grimaced.

It was short, almost as short as mine. Nate kept his black hair longer than mine, enough so he could spike it when he wanted the badass look. From his reaction, I was guessing the haircut hadn’t been his choice.

“Look, I’m sorry I brought Marissa to the lunch,” he said abruptly. Kicking out his leg, he rested it on the railing a few feet from me. His chin lowered to his chest, and he looked straight ahead. The corners of mouth were strained. “I fucked up. Again. I was pissed at you about Park. I like him. He’s a big fucking deal with my fraternity, and this is important to me.”

“What’s important to you?”

“This.” He gestured around him. “All of this and you’re fucking with it.”


“Because.” His feet kicked off the railing and he jerked forward. His elbows slammed down onto his knees, but he still didn’t look at me. “You just are. I mean, would it kill you to be friends with Park? He’s not a bad guy.”

“To you.”

“What?” A wary look filtered over his features.

“He’s not a bad guy to you.”

“What does that mean?”

“He doesn’t give a shit about me. He gives a shit about what I can give him. I’m not stupid. He was good friends with a teammate last year. That teammate got injured and couldn’t play on the team anymore. Guess what happened?”

Nate shook his head. “No. No way. Park said he had nothing to do with it. He said it was preposterous that the guy even came to him.” He looked up, a cloud of denial and disbelief hanging over him. “Park’s got connections, but for him to expect him to do that? He’s not god. He can’t work miracles.”

“The scholarship was given to him by Park’s dad.”

As I said that, I waited. Nate’s eyes narrowed, but he started shaking his head. “No. No way. I mean, that’s an ass move.”


He stood slowly, his eyebrows bunched together, but he kept shaking his head. “I can’t believe that. I mean, why wouldn’t he help them? That just makes Park look like an ass. There’s more to it. There’s gotta be.”

Did it matter? I shook my head. “I’m not here to convince you the guy is an asshole. I’m here to tell you that I don’t have to be friends with him. I told you that to give you a clue that this guy doesn’t walk on gold-rimmed clouds. He’s just a guy and you’re here, pissed at me, your best friend, because I’m not friends with him. Since when do we hold each other to friendship contracts? You’ve never had to be friends with mine. Shit. Half the time you and Logan don’t get along. I’m not forcing my brother down your throat. That’s on you. If you don’t like him, you don’t like him.”

He was still fighting what I was saying. A small amount of irritation built in me. I didn’t need to plead my case. Nate was breaking the deal we made. I was pleading my side as a consideration to him, to our friendship, but this was beginning to piss me off. My eyes narrowed.

“Fuck it.” I stood from the railing. “I don’t have to be friends with your friends. That’s the bottom fucking line. If that’s an issue with you, we’re done as friends. I won’t be controlled and manipulated. It’s an insult every goddamn time your buddy tries to manipulate me. I’ve held back. I’ve held back a lot, but if he keeps it up, that’s it. My time of not fighting is over. It’ll be game on after that.”

Nate’s lips curved up in a snarl. “Why are you like this? Why can’t you just be friends—”

“Because I won’t be fucking used or controlled.” I got in his face, stepping close. “I had enough of that crap growing up with my parents. No more. After my dad screwed our family, I vowed to be done with these games. Park,” I tapped the side of Nate’s head, “got in there. This isn’t you. You kept screwing Parker when I wanted a freeze-out. I didn’t push, and that was for someone’s safety. That was agreed upon by all the guys, but you broke it. Even then I never gave you this fucking ultimatum.”

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