After the game, p.16
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       After the Game, p.16

         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines  
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  “I’m a growing boy. Bryony knows that. She was just making sure I ate enough.”

  I laughed at that. “Death by corn bread.”

  “It wasn’t bad. I enjoyed it. Was a nice break from my house. This was real. I used to think mine was real, but now that I know what a complete façade it is, I can appreciate the real thing.”

  “Have you thought about how to handle it? Are you going to confront your dad or tell your mom?”

  He sighed and ran a hand through his already messy dark hair. “Yeah, and I don’t know. I have to confront him, and I have to tell my mom. Both I need to do. But the idea of how much pain she’s going to be in kills me.”

  I wondered about Maggie. How all this would affect her. She had found happiness in their home. Now this was about to explode.

  “Are you going to wait until after the championship?”

  He shrugged, then shook his head. “No. I can’t. This is more important than football. My mother gets in bed with that asshole every night. Hell, he could be giving her a damn STD.”

  I hadn’t thought of that. But I doubted that would happen.

  “She’s married, so that’s unlikely. It seems to be an affair for both of them.”

  “She’s a whore. She could be having an affair with several men. And I hate to say this, but he could be doing the same. Who’s to say she’s the only one?”

  Good point. I didn’t argue that. My stomach twisted at the thought. Just when I thought I couldn’t get any sicker.

  We sat there awhile staring out at the stars with our thoughts.

  Gunner was okay with me and Brady. His girlfriend wanted to be my friend. This should all make me happy. But the way Brady was hurting, nothing could make me happy. His world was being ripped apart. There was nothing I could rejoice over at this point. Nothing that would fix that.

  “I’m worried about Maggie. She’s just now settling in and living life. She’s found security, and I’m about to blow that shit up in her face. With me, I’ve never had tragedy to face. Life has been easy. So fucking easy I am soft. For Maggie, she’s been through so much already. Now the only family she has left is about to explode in front of her. Her mother was my dad’s sister, so does that mean she has to go with my dad when he leaves? Because he will leave. My mom won’t have to go anywhere. I’ll make sure of that. But Maggie should get to stay with my mom. Fuck,” he muttered, dropping his head into his hands. “This is so hard. How do I figure out the right thing to do in all this? So many people’s lives are going to be affected. Not just mine. How do I protect them?”

  He was just seventeen. He shouldn’t be having to protect his mother and cousin from this. It was too much responsibility, and it was unfair. I reached over and linked my hand with his. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had. In life, sometimes there was nothing that could comfort you. Nothing to take the pain from your chest. But a simple reminder that you weren’t alone helped. If just a little.

  “Do you think he even considered us for a moment? Me, mom, and Maggie? Or did he just think about himself?”

  People were generally selfish. People who cheated on their spouses were the most selfish people I could think of. Yet it happened all the time. It seemed to be the norm now. Maybe we as humans were getting more selfish.

  “I think if he’d taken a moment to consider who all he was hurting, he would never have done it.”

  Brady nodded. “So he’s a selfish bastard.”

  “Yeah,” I agreed. Because the truth was the truth.

  “I can’t remember if football was my dream or my dad’s. All I can remember was having a football in my hands since I could walk. But did I choose that or was it forced upon me?”

  He was questioning everything now. I didn’t blame him. He hated his father because he was hurt. Wanting to rid yourself of everything to do with the person who’d hurt you was common. It made sense.

  “Do you love football? Does being on the field fulfill something inside you? Does throwing a pass and seeing it land in the receiver’s hands make you feel like you accomplished something?”

  He didn’t reply right away. I waited in the quiet for him to think about it. Finally he sighed. “Yeah.”

  That was his answer. “Then it’s your dream. No one can take your dream, Brady. They can share it with you or want to be a part of it, but at the end of the day it’s yours. You did it. You achieved it. It’s yours. No one else can lay claim to it.”

  He turned his head to look at me. His eyes were almost too pretty under the moonlight. I didn’t tell him that, though. I figured he’d take offense to be referred to as pretty in any way.

  “Can your parents see us?”

  I shook my head. “No. Why?”

  He leaned in and pressed his lips to mine while his hand cupped my jawline. It was gentle yet took my breath away. I let the cool night air engulf my now-heated body as I leaned into him. His taste was always minty. His lips always soft yet firm. In this moment I wondered where I’d be right now if Brady Higgens hadn’t walked back into my life. He was changing me. Teaching me. Opening my world back up.

  When he pulled back, it was just a breath of distance. “What would I do without you?” he asked.

  I had just been thinking the same thing.

  “Fate stepped in and we won’t ever have to know the answer to that question.”

  He grinned and pressed one more kiss to my lips. “I need to send fate a thank-you card. Or a fruit basket,” he teased against my cheek as he brushed a kiss there.

  Smiling, I wondered why it couldn’t be this easy. This simple all the time. Just us. No pain or turmoil. No disaster waiting just ahead. But then it wouldn’t be life, would it?

  I Was Convinced She May Actually Be Perfect



  The call I had with my mom last night when I told her I would be sleeping over at Riley’s didn’t go well. She knew something was wrong. My dad and I had always been close. This rift between us was confusing her, and the more I kept the reasons why inside, the angrier I got. My hate for the man I’d once loved was intensifying.

  I didn’t sleep well, and when Mrs. Young walked into the living room this morning I was already awake with my history assignment in my lap, working on it.

  “You’re up early,” she said. “I thought with the late night y’all had outside you’d still be sleeping.”

  “No, ma’am. I needed to get my homework done. I hope we didn’t disturb you last night.”

  “Not at all. It does my heart good to see Riley have someone her age around. She’s been without that for so long. Hearing her talk and laugh helps me sleep at night.”

  The more I heard Riley’s parents talk about her, the more I was convinced she may actually be perfect. The girl had to have faults. I just couldn’t figure out what they were yet.

  “I’ve got biscuits I made up last night in the freezer I’m about to pop in the oven. Bryony loves honey and biscuits, so I make them once a week as a treat. I can get you some coffee while they’re baking.”

  “Not a coffee drinker, but thank you,” I told her.

  “That’s right. I keep forgetting. What about some milk?”

  I set my book down. Didn’t feel right having her wait on me. “I’ll get it. You just point me to the glasses.”

  Riley walked into the room just as I stood up. Again her hair was messy from sleep and she looked beautiful.

  “You’re an early riser today,” she said with a sleepy smile.

  “So are you,” her mother replied.

  She shrugged and touched her hip. “My bed buddy kicked me a little too hard in her sleep.”

  Her mother chuckled and walked into the kitchen. “Come on in. I’m getting the biscuits going before I leave. Grandmamma is still asleep, but I will get her oats cooking too. She will be up any minute saying she’s hungry.”

  Riley yawned and covered it with her hand while she nodded.

  “Got it.”

  Her mot
her smiled. “You need coffee.”

  Riley nodded some more. “Yes, I do.”

  “I’ll get the coffee going. You get Brady some milk.”

  Riley walked over to the cabinet and went to work getting me a glass and pouring me some milk. I decided these women were like my mother and set on serving me. So I let it go.

  “Thanks,” I told her as she handed it to me.

  “You’re welcome. Have a seat at the bar. I’ll join you in a moment. Soon as I have caffeine.”

  She made herself busy, and I watched her, forgetting her mother was even in the room. Today she wouldn’t get dressed and go to school. No senior-year memories for her. She’d take care of her grandmother and daughter, then do all her schoolwork on a computer. I wanted her to have more than that.

  Yet she seemed happy with this.

  “Hey, Mommy.” Bryony’s voice broke into my thoughts and Riley spun around to see her daughter standing there with blond curls sticking up all over the place and a pair of purple pajamas with what looked like a pink pig in a red dress and yellow rain boots all over them.

  “Good morning, sunshine. Biscuits are in the oven,” she said, bending down to scoop her daughter up and hug her tightly.

  She didn’t seem sad or like she was missing out on anything. She seemed complete. Happy. No hate or bitterness. She’d been through hell and she’d come out okay. Settled and balanced. That gave me hope. Not only for me but my mom and Maggie.

  Riley had been strong. I wanted her strength.

  “I want uney,” she said, slapping her small hands on each side of Riley’s face.

  Riley laughed. “I know you want honey.”

  “Give me kisses, little princess. I have to go to work. Your biscuits will be ready soon,” Riley’s mother said to Bryony.

  Bryony kissed her cheek and patted the other.

  “Have a good day, girls. You too, Brady,” she called out, then left the kitchen.

  Riley put Bryony in her high chair and placed some raisins on the tray. “I need some coffee. You eat these while we wait on the biscuits,” she told her.

  Bryony smiled over at me and handed me a raisin in her little hand.

  “Thank you,” I replied, taking it from her. “I like your pajamas.”

  She looked down at her clothes. “Peppa,” she informed me.

  I wasn’t sure if Peppa was how she said pig or something else, so I just nodded like I understood.

  “I wuv muddy pubbles,” she added and grinned at me before smashing some raisins in her mouth.

  “The translation to that is Peppa Pig is who is on her pajamas and Peppa says I love muddy puddles often.”

  “Geowge,” Bryony blurted out.

  “She also says ‘George’ a lot. George is Peppa’s little brother.”

  I wasn’t up to date on kids’ television. “I guess Dora the Explorer and Bear in the Big Blue House have retired, then.” Those were the shows I remembered being popular when I was a kid.

  “Oh no, Dora is still going strong. Bear has left us, though.”

  The oven dinged and Riley went over and took the biscuits out. “Breakfast is ready.”

  I enjoyed watching her and Bryony together. Even when Riley’s grandmother came in the room asking about Thomas, the welcoming, happy feeling of this place was one I didn’t want to leave. Or was it that I just didn’t want to leave Riley? Could it be that wherever she was would feel like home?

  Go, Lions!



  A Lawton Lions football game. Not something I ever planned on attending when I moved back here. All day I had been nervous. It wasn’t like I could back out, either. This was for Brady, not me.

  If it were for me, I’d be staying here with Bryony watching it on television. Both my parents were so happy I was going, though, it was almost embarrassing. Mom actually offered to take me shopping for something to wear. I assumed jeans and a sweatshirt were just fine. I declined her offer. You would think I was going to prom.

  Last night Brady had gone home to sleep. He’d texted me after dinner at his house and said his dad hadn’t come home for it. Which made him even angrier, although it had been a meal he could enjoy with his mom and Maggie.

  Maggie had also asked him questions after dinner about what was wrong with him. He’d avoided them and locked himself upstairs after helping his mother clean the kitchen. Tonight wasn’t going to be easy on him.

  Bryony was sitting in my mother’s lap watching the six-o’clock news when I walked into the living room.

  “You look pretty,” Mom said with a pleased smile.

  I had changed shirts three times and decided on a thermal dark blue shirt with my brown leather jacket. I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight, but my leather jacket gave me some sort of odd comfort. Like a shield or something.

  “Mommy cuwls,” Bryony said, pointing at my hair.

  I had rolled my hair a little with the curling iron. I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard, but I liked it when my hair had some curls in it. I touched them, wrapping a strand around my finger.

  “Yes, Mommy has curls tonight. Just like Bryony,” I told her, then walked over to kiss her sweet head.

  “Thanks for watching her again tonight,” I told my mom.

  “We are happy to. She’s not a problem. Besides, seeing you get out like this does me good.”

  I had great parents. When life turned on me, they were there holding me up. They were my support system, and without them I wasn’t sure where I’d be.

  “I love you,” I told her.

  “And I love you. No matter how old you get, you’re always going to be my little girl. You’ll see that one day when this one is a teenager.”

  I didn’t want to think about my baby being all grown-up. I loved having her small hand tucked in mine and her body curled up against me at night. I hadn’t thought about how my mother must feel. I did now, though.

  “I just hope I’m half as good a mother as you are.”

  My mom chuckled. “Oh honey, you are already more than that. I couldn’t be prouder of you.”

  Bryony held her little arms up to me. “I wuv you,” she said, wanting to join the affection.

  I took her from Mom and held her against me. “I love you too.”

  She squeezed me tightly with her little arms, then I gave her back to my mother. “You two have fun. I’ll see you later.”

  “Go, Lions,” Mom cheered.

  I just hoped the Lions could pull this off. Brady was carrying the weight of a secret none of them understood. They were all counting on him to pull them through. The fear that he might fail them wasn’t even in their thoughts. They all trusted he’d be their star quarterback.

  I wasn’t worried about the game. I wasn’t worried about the championship. I was worried about Brady. This could be asking too much of him.

  * * *

  Parking and walking into the game alone wasn’t as intimidating as I had feared it would be. I’d gotten over a lot since the last time I’d walked on this ground. Brady had changed me, helped me. And I hoped I had done the same for him.

  I saw people I recognized, and they saw me. Many took a double take like they couldn’t believe I had the nerve to be here. I saw more than one jaw drop as I paid my ticket and walked inside the gates.

  I wasn’t sure how I would find Willa, but I figured I would look for her and then just take a seat if I couldn’t see her. I didn’t have to sit by her to make it through this game. I just needed to be where Brady could see me. And away from his parents.

  “I’m surprised you’re here, but then I had faith you’d show.” To my left, Willa was walking up to me. She was wearing a Lawton Lions sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. Her blond hair was in a ponytail, and it swayed side to side with each step.

  She had been looking for me. That was nice of her.

  “I’m definitely here,” I agreed, taking a quick glance around and
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