Fallen Fourth Down

Page 75

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“No, Mason.” Nate backed up. He kept shaking his head. The cloud of denial was a fully enclosed wall. It slammed down between us, and when he took another step back, I knew I couldn’t break through it. He was gone. Park Sebasstian had taken my best friend from me. “This is insane. I’m just asking you to be friendly with him. That’s all.”

My jaw clenched, and I felt as if a nerve had been hit one too many times. “If that’s all you think it is, he’s brainwashed you a lot more than I realized.” It was pointless trying to talk to him. I needed to move onto the second matter at hand. “What’s up with you and Marissa?”


“Marissa. What are you doing with her?”

“Nothing. Why?” He had a hand on the side of his face, as if he was still pondering something, but it fell back down to his side. His head straightened and he focused on me more clearly. “Don’t tell me you’re interested in her.”

“No, but she’s causing problems for me and Sam. I don’t want to deal with her again. Keep her away from me.”

A spark of anger lit up his face, and his mouth tightened. “So you’re giving me orders? I thought that’s what you said Park was doing. He can’t, but you can?”

My eyes were almost slits. The ball of anger spread, moving up from my stomach. It was in my chest, but it was still rising. “I know you’re friendly with her. You took her as a date to that dinner. I don’t know what her agenda is with me, but I know she’s got one. If you see her,” I emphasized that word, “tell her to stay away from me. It’s never going to happen. The sooner she accepts that, the sooner she can move on and maybe fuck you.”

My own anger mirrored his features. His eyes snapped to attention and his shoulders shifted back, readying for a fight. Nate moved closer to me this time. “Excuse me?” He lowered his voice.

So did I. “You heard me.”

I was waiting. The crowd was cheering from the backyard, but we were about to have our own fight in the front. There was no announcer, no microphone, no audience for us. Nate had gone into that world where he needed those things. Attention. Power. Control. That’s what he wanted. I didn’t need any of it. His eyes shifted to the left and I knew he was going to throw a punch.

His arm lifted. So did mine. I blocked his right arm with my left, then reared back with my own right and let it go. My fist slammed into his face. It happened, as if in slow motion. We were standing so close together. Neither of us stepped back, but as I made contact with his face, I could see his skin rippling from the force of my hit.

He dropped. His body went to the ground, and at that same moment, another burst of cheers went up from behind the house. I knelt, checked to make sure he was breathing. He was. I’d only knocked him out. I turned, stepped over him, and left.

Now I knew. That friendship was over.

Fucking hell.


It was morning.

Every tendon in my body was stretched tight. I had perpetual butterflies in my stomach. It felt like they were on speed, whipping back and forth. When the first gun sounded, it was our alert to head for the starting lines. As I did, my legs were almost numb. I couldn’t feel them, just the nerves inside me. I looked to the sidelines.

David, Malinda, Mark, Logan, and Heather all waved back at me. Mason had a game that afternoon. He couldn’t make it, but he had called last night and this morning. There’d been ten text messages from him the last time I checked my phone. All were filled with good lucks and reassurance that everything would work out no matter what. It was easy for him to say; he was already at Cain University.

I was being irrational. He was there. I wasn’t. I needed to get there. It was on me. This was my job.

People were yelling out good luck to me. I heard my name being cheered, but it all faded. My eyes were trained on the referee holding his hand in the air. I waited. Everyone waited, and the more I focused on him, the more my nerves faded away.

The horn sounded, and he dropped his arm in a dramatic motion.

We were off.

The front of the group started off. I had been placed in the middle. It never took long for the groups to scatter. I waited again. Because of the press from the other runners, I couldn’t start out at my normal pace. I was itching to go, though. It was taking everything in me to keep from veering to the edge of the crowd and putting distance between me and them, but some girls spread out, and it took only a few more paces before I was able to stretch my legs.

I could see the front runners. They were going hard, but this meet meant everything to some of us. It meant my future.

“Don’t hold back, Strattan.” My coach had pulled me aside when everyone left the bus earlier.

I’d been confused. “What are you talking about?”

Eric Hayes got off the bus, followed by two more guys. They all glanced at us as they went, but Coach waited until they were out of hearing distance. He lowered his voice, “I know you, Strattan. You hold back automatically. Don’t. Not here. You go as hard as you can. Most girls might lose their momentum in the second half, some don’t. Some go faster the last half, but you go strong the whole time. I know you run on your own still.”

“Only sometimes.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve known. This is your run. Run today as if you’ll never run again. You got it? You can take state. You could even go to nationals. Run your ass off. That’s all I’m telling you.” He pointed to my head. “Turn that off and just go.”

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