After the game, p.10
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       After the Game, p.10
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         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  CHAPTER 24

  BRADY

  West had woken me up at nine this morning. He was going for a run and wanted me to go with him. Maggie had turned him down, so I got up and went. It was good to work out the stiffness from Friday night. It also gave Mom time to fix breakfast.

  The route he was taking us on went right in front of Riley’s house. My plan had been to text her this morning and find some way to see her. I’d lain in bed for hours last night thinking about our day. Her laughter, her smile, the feel of her lips on mine. All of it. I wanted to see her again. Now.

  Looking toward the house, I wondered if she was awake and what she was doing. Did Bryony wake her up early? Did she fix breakfast at her house? Was her grandmother being difficult today? What did she normally do on Sundays? I had a million questions. I wanted to know everything about her. I just needed time and freedom to run up to her door right now and see her.

  “What’s going on there?” West asked, and it snapped my attention back to the road we were on and the fact that I wasn’t alone.

  “What do you mean?” was my response. Although I knew exactly what he meant.

  “With Riley,” he replied.

  West wouldn’t be on Maggie’s side about this. Sure, he’d offered to help find her grandmother, but he wasn’t about to become her friend.

  “They’re living here taking care of her grandmother,” I told him, although I knew he already knew that.

  “Not what I meant, and you know it.”

  I didn’t say anything to that. We were running, not talking. He needed to stop being nosy and focus on his own love life. Mine was off-limits.

  “You suck at hiding things. It’s going to come out,” he finally said when I didn’t say anything.

  “Nothing to hide,” I lied.

  He laughed. “Sure.”

  I picked up speed in hopes of getting home and safe from his questioning faster.

  “Gunner’s gonna find out. Then all hell will break loose. Might as well tell me now what you’re thinking. You’re my best friend. I’m not going to turn on you.”

  Out of everyone, I never really expected West to turn on me. He was closer to me than he was Gunner. There was also Maggie, who was going to take my side in this. And there was no way West wouldn’t be on Maggie’s side.

  “Right now there isn’t anything to find out. After we win the championship, then things may change.” That was all he was getting out of me.

  “You need to do a better job of hiding it, then. Because at this rate you’re gonna get found out and you’ll have Gunner to deal with. We need him to win.”

  He’d have his followers too. People who would side with him and turn on me. That would split the team, and we would be over. I had played this scenario in my head a million times, it seemed. I knew how it went and how it ended.

  “I’ve got this under control,” I assured him.

  “The way you were looking at her house, it didn’t seem like it.”

  Point made. I had to back off for now. I could talk to Riley on the phone and see her when we could get out of town on weekends. Just for the next two weeks. Then I’d be free.

  “Noted,” I replied. Luckily my house was in sight and this conversation could be over.

  We ran up to the sidewalk in silence and slowed as we got to the door. Just before my hand touched the knob to go inside, West said one more thing. “Even if Rhett didn’t do it, she was still only fifteen. He shouldn’t have been alone with her.”

  I paused. I knew Rhett had done it. But he was right. Even if he hadn’t, the situation was still bad. Rhett had no business with her, and everyone knew he was sleeping with other girls in our grade. Serena, to be exact. It wasn’t like he was above it.

  “Yeah. I know. But he did it” was all I said before going inside to the smell of biscuits and sausage.

  “Your house always smells like food. I love it here,” West said as we walked to the kitchen.

  “That’s because you only come at mealtimes.”

  “When it’s not a mealtime, it smells like cookies.”

  I laughed as we entered the kitchen to find Mom in her apron and Maggie putting butter in biscuits. She glanced up and made eye contact with West before smiling.

  “Smells good, Mom,” I told her, ignoring the lovebirds and going to the fridge to get the milk.

  “You two stink,” she replied. “Have a good run?”

  “Woke me up,” I said.

  West chuckled and sat down. I didn’t look his way, but I could feel Maggie studying the two of us. She was good with body language and would have this figured out soon enough.

  “Ivy came by yesterday. I forgot to tell you when you got home last night. She left you some cinnamon rolls. I put them in the fridge.”

  My mom knew my issues with Ivy, but she reminded me to be kind to her. The girl was hard to shake when you were kind, though.

  “She needs to stop that,” I said with an annoyed grunt.

  “I like the brownies,” Maggie replied, sounding amused.

  “Well, you can have them,” I told her.

  “You gonna share with me?” West asked.

  “Of course. I can’t eat them all.”

  I rolled my eyes at their attempt at humor and fixed my plate before my mom could. “Thanks for cooking,” I told her, then sat down to get full after burning all those calories.

  “Do you think she’d send some of that caramel pound cake her mom makes?” West teased.

  I ignored him.

  “Wouldn’t hurt to ask,” Maggie added.

  “All right, you two, stop giving Brady a hard time,” Mom said with a smile in her voice. She patted me on the back.

  I doubted Riley would ever send me food, and I was good with that.

  Look for Thomas

  CHAPTER 25

  RILEY

  It was after lunch when my phone rang. I was just about to take Bryony to the park. Brady’s name lit up the screen and a smile crossed my face. Just seeing his name made me smile. I was getting too into him. This could end badly, and I could be hurt.

  “Hello,” I said, stepping outside away from my family’s ears.

  “Hey, what are you up to today?”

  “Well, Bryony and I had a picnic in the backyard and now we are getting ready for our outing to the park. I also need to pick Mom up some milk and eggs at the grocery store.”

  Talking about my daily routine with him was a little awkward. As casual as I tried to make all that sound, it felt as if I was describing something so foreign to him he wouldn’t get it.

  “Sounds like a full day. Not too cold for a picnic with the sun out, I guess,” he replied. It was the kind of response one made when they didn’t know what else to say. He understood nothing of having a kid to take care of.

  “What have you been up to?” I asked, trying to change the subject to something else.

  “West woke me up to run this morning, then we ate breakfast and watched the game video from Friday night.” He didn’t tell me what he was going to do next. Not that it was my business.

  “I haven’t been running in the morning in two years,” I replied, remembering when I had once been on the track team. I’d enjoyed it. Part of me missed it.

  “Maybe one morning next weekend you could go with me. That is, if your parents could watch Bryony.”

  He wasn’t thinking about the fact that we’d be seen. He forgot that often. “We might need to wait a couple weeks. When we aren’t hiding the friendship thing.”

  He was silent a moment. I always wondered what he was thinking when he did that.

  “Is that what we are?”

  What kind of question was that?

  “I’m not sure I follow you,” I replied.

  “Friends.”

  Oh. We’d kissed. Had that changed everything? Did kissing make it different? I was rusty with the dating thing. Guys confused me in general.

  “I’m not sure we can ever be more,” I said. Had he forgott
en the biggest barrier that stood between us?

  “Why?”

  Apparently he had forgotten. So I stated the obvious. “I’m a teenage mom and you leave in six months to live your dream at the college of your choice. Anything more would end anyway. Friends is the safest thing for us.” Or for me. Because when he left, I’d be the one struggling to make life work. He would never know any of that.

  “Can we say for now that we will work things out as they come? Because I’d like more of last night. And the day we spent together was the best time I’ve had in a long time.”

  My face flushed and my heart fluttered. Brady Higgens liked me. He wanted to see more of me, and he wanted more kissing. I agreed with all of that. The problem was he’d only gotten a taste of me. Just me. Not Bryony, and the two of us were a package deal. She’d always come first.

  “Maybe you should give it time before you decide that. You’ve never dated a teenage mom before, I’d be safe to assume.”

  He didn’t reply right away, so I gave him time to process. Brady’s life was one of fairy tales. Actual real-life issues didn’t register easily with him. I’d once been the same way. So I understood it.

  “Give me a chance to prove to you this could be different.”

  That was Brady living in his fairy-tale land. Being around him made me miss that. The not expecting anything bad to happen. But I had been weak then. I wasn’t now. Life had made me tough.

  “Let’s just take it a day at a time. No promises. No plans. Just live it.” If I didn’t do this, I would regret it. Possibly forever. Brady was different, and being with him made me happy. I wanted more of how he made me feel. The future was going to hurt, but for now, I would enjoy it.

  He sighed and I smiled. This wasn’t what he was used to. Getting what he wanted was easy. I wasn’t being easy. Maybe I’d toughen him up a bit.

  “I’ll take whatever you’re offering,” he replied. He sounded let down that I hadn’t promised him the moon. He was used to the moon. He was used to girls chasing him, like Ivy did. I’d seen that just watching from my quiet life, unattached to everyone. Until a few weeks ago, Ivy was always with Brady. I wasn’t exactly sure what had ended that, but he seemed ready to move on.

  “Bryony is ready for the park. I need to go,” I told him. It was a reminder to both of us that I had priorities.

  “Yeah, okay. Anyway, you think you could get out tonight?”

  Asking my parents to watch Bryony again was too much. I never did that. “I put her to bed at eight thirty. After she’s asleep I could ask my parents to listen out for her.”

  “I’ll be there at nine,” he replied.

  After we hung up I didn’t think too much about it. Because I would only remind myself how much of an impossibility a future with us was. He was a right-now friend. Or he was supposed to be. The kiss had definitely changed things.

  “Park!” Bryony demanded, pulling on my shorts leg.

  “Yes, it’s time for the park,” I agreed.

  She clapped and hurried down the hall toward the front door.

  “We are headed to the park,” I called out to my parents, who were in the kitchen.

  “All right, y’all have fun,” Mom replied.

  “Have you seen Thomas?” Grandmamma asked, walking into the living room behind me.

  “No, not today,” I replied. Or ever, I thought to myself.

  She frowned. “He’s taken my slippers. He likes my slippers.”

  “Which ones?” I asked, thinking maybe I could find them.

  “The pink fuzzy bunny ones. He took those.”

  Grandmamma didn’t own a pair of pink bunny slippers. At least not in this decade. Or the past six. This was another item she remembered from her childhood. She had asked about them before, and Mom had been here to explain. I didn’t argue, though. “I’ll keep my eyes open for them.”

  “And Thomas. Look for Thomas. He needs to eat.”

  “Yes, ma’am,” I replied. “I’ll do that.”

  I Would Never Be That Guy Again

  CHAPTER 26

  BRADY

  I was going to take Dad’s truck tonight. It was the best way not to feel as if we had to sneak around. No one would be looking for me in Dad’s truck. My truck, however, would draw attention. Mom said Dad had gone into the office today to do some work, so I headed that way after my conversation with Riley. She needed proof I was serious, and I understood that she wasn’t like the other girls I knew. She was a mom. It was her differences that drew me to her. She didn’t bore me. She was real.

  Getting her to trust me, however, was something else I needed to prepare for. It wasn’t going to be easy. She was very closed off and careful. I hadn’t been able to think about anything but her after our day yesterday, but she seemed unaffected. Completely. That wasn’t something I knew how to handle.

  I pulled up outside Dad’s office building and grabbed my phone off the passenger seat and tucked it in my pocket before getting out of the truck. Explaining that I needed to borrow his truck and why was going to be awkward. I wasn’t sure if he was okay with Riley, if he believed Rhett like everyone else in town or if he thought she might have told the truth. I also knew he didn’t want me distracted from football.

  If he saw Riley as a distraction, then we may have an argument. Either way he was going to have to come to terms with this and be okay. I never asked him for his opinion on things like this, and I wasn’t about to start. I loved him, but this was my life. My choices.

  The front door was unlocked, and I headed inside and toward the back of the building, where I knew his office was. No other cars were outside, so when I heard voices I slowed down. He could be in a meeting, and I didn’t want to interrupt him. I could wait until it was over.

  The female sound that drifted down the hall caused me to freeze. Not just my body but my breathing. I think even my heart stopped. The next sound that followed was an obvious moan and then my dad’s deep voice making a sound that he should not be making in his office.

  I had to be mistaken. That wasn’t my dad. He wouldn’t do that.

  Forcing my feet to walk forward I went toward the sound, toward the office I knew was Dad’s, and with each step their sounds became louder and more intense. My stomach turned, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw up before I even got there. Every word and sound he made just proved me wrong. It was him. Who else could it be?

  There was a mirror behind my dad’s desk that my mother had hung when she decorated his office. This very same mirror now showed my father clearly undressed. A woman with long blond hair sat on his desk, and he was between her legs. Moving. The red heels on her feet sickened me, and the cry of his name from her lips made me so ill I had to turn and run. I was going to be sick.

  This wasn’t happening. Not my dad. He had my mom. Why would he do that to her? With a woman half his age? I hadn’t seen her face clearly over his shoulder, but she was definitely younger.

  Never had my heart shattered like it had just now. Not once in my life had I really felt pain like this. I thought I’d understood what it was like to be hurt. But I realized as I exited that building and the cool air hit my face that this was what real pain felt like. It tore you open. Burned you. Destroyed everything you were and left you bent over in a parking lot, heaving until there was nothing left in your stomach.

  I stayed like that, bent over, until I was sure that was all I had in me. Standing back up, my body felt weak, empty, lost. I’d left my house thirty minutes ago completely at ease. And in one moment it had all changed. I would never be that guy again.

  As I looked at my dad’s truck, hate, anger, and disbelief all slammed into my chest. I wanted to go inside and tell him what a worthless piece of shit he was. That I hoped he rotted in hell for this. I wanted to throw rocks at his truck windows and take a key down the side of the
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