After the game, p.17
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       After the Game, p.17
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         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  realizing we were drawing attention.

  Willa seemed to notice too. “Ignore them. They have nothing better to do. I have us some seats saved.”

  I fell in step beside her. “Are the seats close to Brady’s parents?” I asked.

  She frowned and looked toward the stands. “No. . . . Do they need to be?”

  “Not at all. Actually it’s better that they’re not.”

  Willa glanced at me. “Issues with his parents?”

  I wasn’t going to explain that to her. “No, but I don’t think Brady needs the distraction of me sitting near them. They don’t know about us, uh, being friends.”

  Willa nodded. “Friends. That’s what you’re calling it?”

  I wasn’t sure what else to call it, really. “I think.”

  She shrugged. “Friends is good. Gunner and I were friends too. Once.”

  “Hey, Willa,” Kimmie said as we passed her, then looked at me like I had three heads. “I don’t think Gunner will want you with her.”

  Willa stopped walking and turned to Kimmie. This wasn’t going to be the first confrontation we experienced tonight. I hoped Willa knew this. I didn’t want to ruin her night.

  “What I do and who I do it with isn’t your concern, Kimmie,” Willa responded in an icy tone.

  Then she started back up walking again without waiting on a response. Willa seemed all sweet and nice, but man, could she be intense.

  “Sorry about her.”

  “I’ve known Kimmie since preschool. I expected it from her.”

  Willa looked at me. “She know about you and Brady being . . . friends?”

  I shrugged. “I doubt it.”

  Willa grinned then. “I’d love to see her face when she hears it.”

  I didn’t know how to respond to that. We walked up the steps to the seats she had reserved, and I was happy to see we weren’t too high up. Brady could easily see me. It was just finding me in this crowd that would take some time.

  My stomach was in a nervous knot as the players warmed up on the field. Tonight would be the hardest one yet for Brady.

  Get Off My Field

  CHAPTER 42

  BRADY

  Seeing Riley in the stands wasn’t enough to keep my father’s presence on the sidelines from screwing with me. He had moved to stand with the coaches as if he had the right to. Did he think this would make me play better? That seeing him there was the support I needed?

  The pass was incomplete again, and we were out of chances. Defense would step in now and try to recover some momentum for us. I jerked my helmet off and walked over to the water. I was avoiding my father at all costs.

  “Brady!” Coach called my name. That was the one voice I couldn’t ignore.

  I turned to him.

  He was stalking toward me. “What the hell is wrong, son? You were off the first part of last week, but that was nothing like this week. You can’t complete shit.”

  I saw my father following him and realized he was going to say something too. I couldn’t do this. Not here. He needed to leave.

  “At this rate, we won’t be able to come back after halftime with a miracle. Where is your head?”

  I pointed toward the man coming toward us. “Why is he on the damn field?”

  Coach turned to see my father, then back at me with a frown. “Your dad?”

  “He doesn’t play football; he’s not a coach. Do you see anyone else’s dad down here? He needs to get the fuck up in the stands, where he belongs.”

  “Brady!” my father’s voice boomed with warning that I rarely heard from him.

  “Don’t you dare correct me, you cheating sack of shit. I don’t want you here! I don’t need you here. I can’t stand the fucking sight of you!” I was screaming now, and some of my teammates could hear me. I just didn’t care.

  He stilled at my tirade and stared at me in disbelief. Was it because I was yelling at him or because I’d called him a cheater? I wasn’t sure.

  “You need to leave the field, Boone. There are obviously family issues here, and y’all can get that shit settled off the field. But tonight I need the boy’s head in the game. You’re affecting it.”

  “We need to talk about this. You don’t know everything,” Dad said, his voice lowered.

  I took a step toward him and glared at him eye to eye. “I fucking saw you. I. Saw. You. With. Her. Get out of my face. Get off my field. And leave.”

  I waited until he blinked and looked away from me. He understood. Without a word he walked past me and toward the exit. I wanted to vomit. Again. Talking to my father like that was hard. Hating him so much was painful. We’d been close my entire life.

  This was like ripping off a part of my body and tossing it away. I turned to the stands to see Riley standing up. Her gaze was locked on me, and I could see the concern from here. She looked like she was about to bolt down here. The idea of that actually made me smile. Not a big one, but enough to remind me I wasn’t alone. She was there.

  “Can you do this?” Coach asked me, bringing me back to the problem at hand.

  “I don’t know,” I told him honestly.

  He sighed and ran his hand over his almost-bald head. “I can’t play Hunter yet. He’s not ready for this.”

  They all needed me. This was on my shoulders. It wasn’t my dad’s dream. It was mine. No one could take my dream or claim it as their own. Riley had taught me that. She was right. I took a deep breath and looked back up at her one more time. I gave her a small nod to let her know I was okay. Then I looked for my mom. My father hadn’t gone back to sit by her. She was watching me too. I gave her the same nod, then turned back to my coach.

  “I’m ready.”

  He studied me a moment. “Thank God.”

  West was waiting for me. He hadn’t come over to us, but I knew he’d been watching carefully.

  “Something is seriously fucked-up. You gonna be okay?” he said as I stood beside him.

  I shrugged. “I can play now. But no, I doubt I’ll be okay for a long time.”

  “This has to do with your dad?”

  I just nodded.

  “Fuck,” he muttered.

  “Yeah, fuck,” I agreed.

  Our defense stopped them from scoring and Gunner’s eyes made contact with me. “You good?”

  “Enough to win this game,” I told him. Then the three of us jogged out to the field with the others on the offensive line. It was time to score. I had to even the scoreboard before halftime, and I had four minutes and thirty-six seconds to do it in.

  “We’re running this play,” I told West, and he nodded. That meant he was up.

  With a quick handoff, I gave West the ball, and he took it and made the first down. Just what I needed. One more of those and I’d pass to Gunner. He could run it in.

  And that’s exactly what happened.

  The crowd cheered just as the last ten seconds ticked away the first half of the game. We had managed to tie it up before halftime.

  I glanced up to see Riley’s eyes on me. Just looking at her helped. Knowing she was there. I wanted to look at my mom and check on her, but if my father had taken the seat beside her, it would rattle me. I didn’t want to see him. I had to get my head clear and ready for the last half.

  “What the hell did your dad do to piss you off?” Gunner asked as we walked into the field house.

  “Shut up. Jesus, Gunner,” West barked at him in disgust.

  I wasn’t telling them now. My mother didn’t even know yet, but she would. My father would come clean. Then my family would explode. Nothing was ever going to be the same.

  “Let’s focus on winning this game first,” I told him, then walked ahead of both of them and into the field house, with the familiar smell of sweat, deodorant, and the desire to win.

  Back Off, Serena

  CHAPTER 43

  RILEY

  One point. The difference between kicking a field goal or going for two. West had taken the ball and gone for two. In that
five seconds, I didn’t breathe. I was pretty sure Willa didn’t either. The entire Lawton side was on their feet in silence. Not sure what to expect. It was a gamble. Had they just kicked a field goal, it would have tied the game and gone into overtime. But the moment Brady handed West the ball, an audible gasp went through the stands and everyone was on their feet.

  Because if West failed, they lost the game. By one point.

  West made it through the other team’s defensive line and the crowd erupted. I actually sank down and let my heart rate slow. That had been a massive gamble that I couldn’t believe they took. But Brady had returned to the field after halftime playing differently. Less methodical and more aggressive. He took several chances. A few didn’t work, but this one did.

  The team all piled on top of one another as fireworks went off behind us. They were prepared to win this game. They’d even had fireworks set up. I wondered what they would have done had we lost.

  “That was insane,” Willa said, sitting down beside me.

  I just nodded.

  She shook her head in disbelief. “They’ve never been that risky before.”

  She meant Brady had never been that risky before, but she wasn’t going to say it. I understood. She didn’t know what was going on tonight. No one did. But they’d all seen Brady pointing and yelling at his father. Then his dad had walked off the field. I’d heard people whispering about it most of the game.

  Willa never asked me or mentioned it, though. I was thankful for that. She seemed to know something was wrong but it was a secret.

  “The boys will be a bit in the field house. We can wait until the crowd clears some before we walk down there.”

  I wasn’t completely sure I was supposed to wait on Brady. He had his family to deal with now. I knew his mom would have questions.

  “The field party will be crazy tonight. Your first one back should be one to remember, at least.”

  I hadn’t thought about that. The field party was always after the game.

  Going to the field party didn’t seem like something Brady was going to be up for tonight. But then I wasn’t sure what had actually been said on that field, so maybe he wanted to go blow off steam.

  “Not sure if I’m supposed to be going. Brady hasn’t mentioned it.”

  Willa smirked. “He watched you most of the game. I don’t think he’s planning on going to the field party without you.”

  She didn’t understand, and I couldn’t explain it. So I just smiled.

  “We can head down that way if you want. The crowd around the door is getting thick. I didn’t think about everyone wanting to congratulate them.”

  I stood up. “Okay.”

  Brady’s mom was waiting, but his father wasn’t around. I was glad he’d at least left. Brady wouldn’t want to see him when he got out.

  “I’d better call my nonna and give her an update on where I am and what we are doing. She probably watched the game on television and already knows we won.”

  Willa’s nonna was Ms. Ames. She had been the cook at the Lawton house for as long as I could remember. She made the best chocolate chip cookies. I would always sit and have some with a glass of milk and talk to her in the kitchen when I was dating Gunner.

  I watched the door and guys began coming out, but none of them I knew. Younger players who didn’t get much playing time came out and hugged family members or kissed girlfriends.

  “Why are you here?” Serena’s voice was laced with hate.

  I didn’t look her way. “Waiting on someone.”

  “You’re sitting with Gunner’s girlfriend. You’re probably the reason they struggled out there tonight. Just because Willa is too dumb to know who you are, Gunner knows. You need to leave. No one wants you here, slut.”

  I found it ironic that Serena would call anyone a slut. Even more so that it was me, a girl who had sex once in her life, and that had been against my wishes. My screaming and clawing and crying for him to stop had made that clear enough.

  But this was what I should have expected. This was what they all thought of me, and walking into it was asking for this. I had to be tough and take it or continue to hide. I was done hiding. I was ready to be tough.

  “I’m sorry, I forgot to call you and ask you permission to come tonight. Must have slipped my mind,” I replied to her, and again I didn’t look her way.

  “Back off, Serena,” Willa said, stepping between us.

  Serena laughed. “You do know who this is you’re all buddy-buddy with? Right? Gunner hates her. She ruined his family.”

  Willa rolled her eyes. “She didn’t ruin his family. Jeez, get your story straight. And yes, I know who she is and what she was falsely accused of. No one asked you to come over here. Go talk to someone who likes you.”

  Willa turned to me. “Ignore her. I always do.”

  I really liked Willa Ames.

  “Gunner isn’t going to be happy about this,” Serena threw out one more time, then spun to strut away as if she were important.

  “She never got better, I see,” I said to her retreating back.

  “Nope,” Willa agreed. “Seems to get worse.”

  “Thanks,” I told her. I didn’t have friends a few weeks ago, and now I felt as if I had two.

  “Anytime. I’ve had my own problems with Serena.”

  I started to say something else when Brady walked out of the locker room. I didn’t go to him. I stayed back and waited on him to see his mother first. She would be worried and need answers. I had no idea what his answers would be.

  She walked right up to him and hugged him. I watched as he held her a little tighter than expected and whispered something in her ear. Then his eyes met mine and he motioned for me to come to him with his finger as he held his mom.

  “I think you’re about to catch up with his mom,” Willa said with a smile.

  “Yeah, I think so too,” I agreed.

  “I’ll see you later.”

  “Okay,” I replied.

  Then I headed over to Brady. And his mother.

  I’m Walking My Girl to Her Car

  CHAPTER 44

  BRADY

  After hugging Mom and telling her I loved her, I pulled back and watched as Riley made her way to me through the crowd. She’d been my lifeline tonight. The one place I could look that was safe. I wanted her to understand that.

  “Mom, you remember Riley,” I said as Riley came up beside me.

  My mother’s eyes lit up in surprise as she turned to Riley. “Yes, I do. Hello, Riley. You’re just as beautiful as I remember.”

  Having Riley at my side not only gave me comfort, but it also kept Mom from asking questions about my father’s disappearance and what happened on the field.

  “Hello, Mrs. Higgens. It’s good to see you.”

 
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