After the game, p.14
After the Game,
Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
“You’re acting like this is my fault. What the hell did I do?”
He’d let his family ruin Riley’s life. He was still doing it. That was what he fucking did. I inhaled deeply and tried to calm down. Confronting him about this right here while I was raw from my dad’s bullshit wasn’t the way to handle it.
“Just back off and give me space,” I told him as we reached my truck.
“Y’all good?” West asked, stepping out of his truck to look at both of us.
“No, he’s fucked-up about something. Can’t you see it?” Gunner replied.
“I think backing off and letting him be is the best idea right now,” West told him.
I jerked open my door and climbed in. I’d thank West later. Tonight I wanted away from Lawton. All of it.
* * *
Pulling up outside Riley’s house, I wondered if Gunner had followed me. I almost hoped he had. I was tired of secrets. There were too many in my life right now.
Riley shouldn’t have to be a secret, and the Lawtons owed her an apology and a chance to live free again in this town. The front door opened just as I climbed out of the truck, and Riley stepped out wearing a pair of tight jeans that showed off her amazing legs with a blue sweater that matched her eyes. Bryony wasn’t with her, though.
“Hey,” I said as I walked to meet her.
“You didn’t have to come to the door.”
“Yeah, I did. You deserve that.”
She blushed and her eyes lit up. “Bryony ate with my parents and she didn’t get her nap in today. Mom said to leave her here so she could go to bed early.”
So it was just us. As much as I’d been looking forward to spending time with Bryony tonight, it might be best that she wasn’t with us. My anger was still there under the surface, and if anyone confronted me about this, it was going to get ugly.
“Next time we’ll go earlier for her sake,” I promised.
I opened the truck door for Riley, and she climbed inside. Just as I closed it, Gunner’s truck rode past the house. He slowed and our gazes locked. This was it. He knew now, and I would deal with it. At least there would be one less secret in my life.
I turned and headed for my door. When I climbed inside I thought about not telling her what had just happened. But it was going to come out and there would be a confrontation tonight. Gunner was too hotheaded for there not to be.
“Gunner just drove by,” I told her, then started the truck.
“Do I need to get out?”
I turned to look at her. “No. My life isn’t Gunner’s to control.”
Her worried frown made me want to lean over and kiss it away.
“You have too much on you right now to deal with this, too.”
This was the least of my worries. My mother’s world being torn apart and destroyed made Gunner’s temper tantrum seem mute.
“He needs to get over it,” I told her. “Now is as good a time as any for him to deal and grow up.”
She let out a small laugh. “It won’t be that easy,” she told me.
“I don’t care about easy. I care about you.”
The way she seemed to ease and lean closer to me meant my being completely honest was the way to go. She liked that. I did too.
My phone lit up, and I glanced down at it to see Gunner’s name. I clicked ignore and headed for Rossi’s. It was an Italian place in town that cost more and the high school crowd didn’t visit often. I wasn’t in the mood to throw us out there in front of Serena and her bunch.
“You like Italian?” I asked her.
She nodded. “Yes, but Rossi’s costs too much.”
“It’s worth it.”
Sounds Like Willa
I had only eaten at Rossi’s with my parents on Sunday afternoons and twice when I was dating Gunner. It was one of the more expensive places to eat around here. I had a feeling that was why Brady had chosen it. To give us some privacy.
I saw his phone light up again, and he glanced at it and ignored it. Then he stuck it in his pocket and continued to look at the menu.
“Is it still Gunner?” I asked him, worried about how this was affecting him.
“No, that was West. Probably warning me about Gunner.”
“If you need to answer their calls, I’m fine with you stepping outside.”
He shook his head. “All I need to do is help them win a football game. Otherwise they can suck it.”
That was a very un-Brady-like thing for him to say. He was becoming less and less Brady-like. His father’s infidelity was slowly eating at him. I wanted him to win the championship, but I also wanted him to be okay mentally. This was too much for him to cover up.
I studied the menu and decided on the lasagna before closing it and taking a drink of my Coke. I didn’t want to harp on this, but he needed to get it off his chest. Holding all this in wasn’t good for him.
When he closed his menu and met my gaze, he winked, as if he didn’t have a care in the world and this were a normal date. Not one that could possibly blow up at any minute if Gunner Lawton followed us here and walked in that door.
“How was the park today? Bryony make any new friends?”
He wanted to talk about easy stuff. For now I would let him.
“There was a little girl around her age there with her grandmother. They played some before we had to leave. As it gets colder it’s going to be harder to go to the park. I wish we had a swing in the backyard, where I could at least take her out when it is the sunniest and let her play some. She’ll miss having other friends, but I can play with her. I thought about building her a fort or something like that.”
Brady nodded. “She’d like a place out back to play. That’s a good idea. Hopefully you can put her in preschool next year. It’d be great for her to play with the other kids.”
He actually cared about this, and that made me want to tear up and cry. Bryony hadn’t had anyone other than me and my parents in her life. Having someone else that cared meant more than he would ever know. Even if it was temporary.
“The game is home Friday right?” I asked him.
He nodded. “Yeah. You still good with going?”
I took a drink, then decided to tell him about Willa Ames.
“A month or so ago I picked a girl up on the side of the road walking home from a field party,” I began.
“Willa,” he added. He already knew.
“How did you know?” I asked him.
“Gunner told me about that night.”
Figures. “Well, anyway, I saw her today at the pharmacy. She spoke to Bryony and she seemed to know that she was my daughter. Most people assume she’s my sister. She was kind and basically asked me to come to a game and sit with her sometime. I know when I gave her a ride she was messing around with Gunner, so I wasn’t sure what to think of all that.”
He leaned back in his seat and smiled. “Sounds like Willa. And as a matter of fact she and Gunner are an item. She’s changed him a good bit now, but even as kids those two fit. They were a matching set. Still are, it seems. She just started back to school two weeks ago. She had a short homeschooling time after some shit went down with the Lawtons. Ms. Ames was trying to protect her. But she’s back now.”
“That nice girl is dating Gunner?” I asked, a little surprised.
He nodded. “Yep. They had a rough patch and some issues to work through. Gunner’s family is blown to hell. Not sure what all you know about that, but he’s had a bad time of it. She’s been there for him through it all.”
Gunner dating Willa seemed like an odd fit to me. Gunner was selfish and self-absorbed. Willa had been so kind and gentle. Nothing about them matched up.
“What happened with his family?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know all this.
Brady started to tell me when the waiter appeared and we ordered our food. He left some bread on the table just as Brady’s gaze fell on something over my shoulder and anger burned so bright I turne
It was a blond woman on the arm of a handsome man in a suit. The woman was wearing a clingy black dress that hit midthigh and silver heels that drew attention to her legs. The man whispered in her ear, and she laughed.
“That’s her.” Brady’s voice sounded like hard, cold ice. I shivered.
“Who?” I asked turning back to him. His eyes blazed and his fists were clenched on the table as if he were ready to swing a punch at any time.
“The woman who was fucking my dad.”
Oh. Oh no.
I turned back to look at her and saw there was a diamond on her left hand and the man sitting across from her also wore a wedding ring. It seemed that not only was one family going to be destroyed, but two were.
“I can’t stay here,” he said, his tone still so void of anything resembling Brady that I could barely recognize it.
“Of course,” I replied, getting my purse and standing up.
“I’ll tell the waiter. Meet me at the door,” he said, and I obeyed, looking to see the woman one more time on my way out.
She was smiling at the man across from her as if she were in love. No one would guess otherwise. Was life really this jaded and sick? Did people fall in love and get married, then so easily throw it away for sex? Was one sex partner just not enough?
The woman turned to look my way, but her gaze traveled right past me, and I saw then: the emptiness in her eyes. The place where you should see one’s soul. She had none. That made sense. She was out for herself. Nothing more. The man across from her had no idea, and I felt a twinge of sadness for this person I’d never meet.
Right when I got to the door, Brady was behind me. He had moved quickly. Like we were running from hell. His hand rested on my lower back as he opened the door for me to exit.
“I’m sorry about this,” he said, his voice warming a touch.
“Don’t be. I understand.”
“Pizza okay with you?” he asked.
I was hungry, but I doubted he was.
“Can we get one to go and then sit somewhere alone and eat it? I think right now that’s what you need.”
He nodded. “Yeah. It is.”
That’s the Best Pizza I’ve Ever Had
I hadn’t wanted to talk much in the truck, and Riley seemed to get that. She didn’t push me or ask questions. After going inside to grab the pizza, I drove us to the field. No one would be there on a Tuesday night. It was away from everything, and it was somewhere we could go undetected.
“Haven’t been to this field in a long time,” she said when I parked out in the clearing.
That wasn’t exactly the truth. “Remember, I saw you back in August. You came here.”
She ducked her head and stared at her hands. “Yes, but after seeing your welcoming face I left quickly. Never made it to the actual party. Which was a good thing. I’m not sure what I had been thinking.”
I reached over and covered her hand with mine. “I’m sorry about that. I was a dick.”
She shrugged. “You were reacting the way any of the guys would. You are Gunner’s friend. I had no business trying to come here.”
I hated that she felt that way.
“I was a dick,” I repeated.
A laugh escaped her, and she nodded. “Yes, you were.”
“Glad we can agree on that,” I said. Then reached in the back to grab a blanket I kept there in case of emergencies. Or other things.
“Here, take this. It’s cold tonight. I’ll get the pizza and Coke.”
“You have a blanket in the truck?” she asked, sounding amused.
I smirked. “Don’t read too much into it.”
Then she really laughed. “Okay. I’ll keep that in mind.”
We headed to the moonlit grass, and she chose a log by one of the bonfire sites. We wouldn’t be lighting it tonight. But it was where the best seating was.
She wrapped the blanket around her and sat down. “I’ll share if you need it,” she said.
I might take her up on that after pizza. The idea of getting under a blanket with her out here alone was nice. More than nice. Helped erase my fucked-up family issues from my head.
I opened up a Coke and handed it to her, then sat the box down and put a piece of pizza on a paper plate they’d given me with the order. “Here you go.”
She took it. “This is nicer anyway. No waiters to interrupt us. The smell of fall and greasy pizza to go with it. My kind of dinner.”
Being alone with her was my kind of dinner. “Glad you think so. Hell of a lot cheaper,” I said, getting the laugh out of her I was trying for.
We ate in silence for a few minutes, and I liked watching her chew. It was cute. When she finished her first slice, I started to put mine down and get her more, but she beat me to it.
“So, if Willa and Gunner are a thing, she knows about me. Why was she so nice?”
“Because she’s Willa. She also has a very low opinion of Rhett, and she’s smarter than the rest of us. She met you and picked up right away that you weren’t what we all assumed.”
Riley smiled and took a bite.
“You ready to hear about the Lawton drama?” I asked her, needing to get my mind off that woman at the restaurant.
“Rhett came back asking for his inheritance or part of it a little over a month ago. His dad was going to give it to him because Rhett was the heir to the Lawton fortune. But come to find out Gunner’s mother spoke up and Rhett isn’t the heir. Neither is their father. Gunner is. Gunner’s father isn’t Rhett’s father. It’s . . . his grandfather. When his grandfather passed, he left it all to Gunner, although he was young then. His father was just to maintain it until Gunner was of age. His mother blew all that out of the water, though. Now Gunner controls it all.”
The pizza was forgotten in her lap. “What?” she asked, sounding as amazed as I had. “You mean Gunner’s grandfather is his father, so his mother—”
“His mother slept with her father-in-law. Yes.”
I nodded. “Yeah. Rhett was raised to think it was all his and took off when he heard the truth. Gunner has had a hard time dealing with all of it. His dad packed his bags and filed for divorce. Gunner’s mom is in France now, staying with a friend because she needs distance. So Gunner lives at home alone except for Ms. Ames being there to feed him and take care of the house.”
Riley shook her head in disbelief. “I had heard a little. Mostly that he had inherited everything and his dad had left town. Not much else. Why doesn’t the whole town know all this?”
I shrugged because I was surprised by that as well. “Gunner has kept it quiet. His parents aren’t talking, and neither is Rhett.”
“Jesus, that’s got to be hard on him,” she said, sounding truly worried about Gunner. A guy who had helped make her life a living hell. She didn’t hold grudges and had the ability to hurt for others. Even the ones who had hurt her. If I weren’t already completely taken with her, that one simple fact would have been all it took to send me over the edge.
“It’s not been easy, but he’s had Willa. She’s helped him survive.”
“I like her even more now.”
That was what had drawn me to Riley. I realized it in this moment. Her heart. She had a really big heart. She was honest and kind. She wasn’t bitter and vindictive when many people would be. The day I’d given her a ride in the storm and I’d seen her with Bryony, her only worry had been for her daughter. You can’t hide goodness. Hers was there, shining bright. It got to me. She got to me.
“You would be good friends if given the chance.”
“Maybe I’ll sit with her at the game. If she’s not worried about
After the Game by Abbi Glines / Romance & Love / Young Adult have rating 5.2 out of 5 / Based on47 votes