After the game, p.18
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       After the Game, p.18
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         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  “I’ve been meaning to call your mother and get together sometime for coffee. I’d love to catch up with her.”

  “She’d like that. The lemon cake you sent over was delicious. We all fought over the last piece. Bryony won, though.”

  At Bryony’s name I could see mother’s confusion.

  “Bryony is Riley’s daughter,” I told her.

  “Oh, yes. I hear she is just as beautiful as her mother. I look forward to meeting her. I’ll be sure to send another lemon cake over this week. You can tell her it’s just for her.”

  Riley beamed, and I could hug my mother again for that. If anything, my mom was the kindest most thoughtful woman I knew. Making Riley at ease about Bryony and even offering to do something like that made me love her more and hate the man she was married to.

  “She’d love that. Thank you,” Riley said, still smiling. I had seen the anxiety on her face when she walked up to me and now seeing the relief and happiness there made my heart ache less. Knowing Riley was okay and happy among the people who had once caused her pain helped me heal some. If that made any sense at all.

  “Well, I need to get going. Find your dad,” Mom said, glancing back at me with unanswered questions in her eyes.

  “Do you need a ride?” I asked her.

  She looked around as if she wasn’t sure before giving me a little shrug. “Maybe.”

  “I drove. So I need to take my car home anyway. You take your mom home and I’ll see you tomorrow?” Riley said that as if it were a question.

  “I’ll pick you up at your place in thirty minutes,” I told her.

  “Oh.” She glanced at my mother then back at me. “Okay. If that changes, just call. I understand.”

  I bent down and pressed a kiss to her lips right there in front of everyone. I knew they were all watching us. I knew there were questions. I wanted them answered. They could go home tonight and talk about Brady Higgens kissing Riley Young right there in front of God and everyone and hopefully forget the scene with my father. For my mom’s sake, at least.

  As for Riley, I wanted them to all know she was with me. We were together. And they could all get the fuck over it.

  “After a night like this one I want to be with you. I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

  She looked up at me wide eyes and nodded, but her attention shifted to something over my shoulder. There was a flash of fear in her eyes. “Okay.“

  I glanced back to see where her attention had been turned to and saw Gunner approaching us. I was ready for this. In a way I had asked for it by kissing her in public. Gunner was my friend, and I hated all the shit he had been dealt. However, his family and the rest of this town had equally hurt Riley. I wouldn’t allow him to embarrass or hurt her any more.

  I prepared myself as I positioned my body in front of hers. The time had come for this, and I wouldn’t let her down. It was my chance to prove to her just how much she meant to me. This wasn’t some high school fling. We were more than that.

  “Since you’re gonna make out with her in public, I figured I’d come over here and be friendly. So the whole damn field party knows this is good. I’m not hating on Riley or you,” Gunner said as he and Willa appeared at my side.

  Gunner looked at me but directed his words to Riley. “Glad you came, Riley Young.” It was his way of letting me know this was okay with him. Maybe he wasn’t giving Riley the apology she deserved, and I hoped one day he would. But for now I could accept this. I still stood partially in front of her because it made me feel safer. Like no one could get too close.

  Riley glanced toward Willa, then back to Gunner. “Thanks. Me too.”

  Gunner turned to my mom. “Gorgeous as always, Mrs. Higgens.”

  Mom smiled. “Thank you, Gunner. You played an amazing game. You boys never cease to surprise me.”

  Gunner glanced at me. “Yeah, well, Brady never ceases to surprise me.”

  I smirked, knowing the last call could have gone badly but I’d run over it with Coach and he’d told me if I could pull it off, then go for it. We’d make the headlines.

  “Go big or go home,” I told Gunner.

  He chuckled. “Yeah. Well, we went big, all right. Can’t wait to see what the paper says about it in the morning.”

  Me either.

  “See y’all at the field?” he asked.

  I really wanted Riley alone, but I figured we would stop by for the team’s sake. “Yeah. We will be there.”

  Gunner shook his head, smiling. “This year has been full of surprises. I’m almost scared to see what happens next.”

  I knew what he meant. It had all started with Maggie coming into our family and West losing his dad to cancer. The whole dynamic of things shifted, then West changed. For the better. Then Gunner’s family went to hell with secrets no one expected. Now I was dating Riley Young.

  I knew what was coming next. The smile left my face. Because what came next was my tragedy. The perfect Higgens home was about to fall apart around us.

  I glanced over at my mother. “You ready to go home?” I asked her.

  “Yes, but I don’t want to rush you.”

  “I’ll see y’all later,” I told Gunner and Willa.

  Riley said her good-byes to Willa and they whispered about something that made Riley laugh.

  “Come on, we will walk you to your car,” I told her.

  I wasn’t letting her face this crowd without me. She was now the center of attention, and I knew she could feel the eyes on her. I had kissed her and Gunner had acted like they were friends. This town was stirring in it.

  “You don’t have to do that. I can get there okay by myself,” Riley said.

  She apparently didn’t know that the scene we had just given everyone had made her an open target. People would want answers. And they wouldn’t come to me to get them. They’d go after Riley. I was going to keep her safe from that.

  “I’m walking my girl to her car” was all I said in return.

  This Was the Field Party, But After a Game It Was Brady’s Show

  CHAPTER 45

  RILEY

  It was exactly twenty-eight minutes later when Brady pulled up in my drive.

  Mom had been waiting on me when I walked inside, and I’d told her about the game although she had watched it. I left out the bit about Brady and his dad. When I told her Brady was coming to get me to take me to the field party, she beamed like I’d just won an award.

  I had been worried about leaving them to watch over Bryony longer, although she was asleep and rarely ever woke up at night. Still, she was my responsibility. I didn’t like to leave her with my parents too much. Our life had been so different before Brady Higgens had walked back into it. I wasn’t used to having anywhere to go.

  “I’m so glad things went well. You’ll have fun at the field. I remember you always talking about going when you were younger. That got snatched from you,” she’d said.

  I was coming home from the field party when Rhett had pulled down a dirt road and raped me. That wasn’t a fond memory, although the result was my daughter. The moment I held her in my hands, the emotions regarding that night faded. They no longer seemed important. She was all that was important.

  Mom was now in her bed, and I locked the door behind me as I stepped outside to meet Brady halfway on the sidewalk. He’d been coming to the door to get me. I liked that about him.

  “Everything okay?” I asked him, knowing his mother would have wanted answers once they were alone.

  He looked pained. Like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “No, not really. Doubt it will ever be okay again. She asked and I told her to talk to her husband about it.”

  “You called him her husband?” I asked

  He nodded. “I can’t call him anything else. I even hate calling him that.”

  “Was he at home?”

  He shook his head. “No. And when she called him, he didn’t answer. My guess is he ran off to tell his girlfriend they were about to be exposed
. Fucker left my mother there alone. He didn’t even tell her he was leaving. She knows something is very wrong. I can see it in her eyes.”

  “Should you go home and stay with her? What if he comes home tonight and tells her?”

  Brady paused at the passenger side door. “I thought about it. But if he’s going to tell her, I don’t think she would want me there. That would upset her more for me to hear. I’m not planning on staying out too late, though.”

  I didn’t blame him. His mom was going to need him soon.

  He opened the door and I climbed inside.

  I watched him walk around the front of the truck, and instead of tonight’s victory being a reason to celebrate, it was the furthest thing from his mind. His father had taken that from him too.

  We drove in silence toward the field. His hand held mine firmly as if he needed the reassurance that I was there. That he wasn’t alone. I thought about his mom and wondered if she was facing his father now or if she had any idea as to what was to come.

  When he pulled into the darkness of the trees and toward the light of the bonfire, I remembered a night like this one in August when I had come here. I hadn’t planned on getting out. I’d just wanted to see it. See the people here that I had left behind. The only person I saw was Brady, and he glared at me. That one look had told me how unwelcome I was. He hadn’t had to say anything.

  Now here I sat with my hand in his, in his truck, about to walk into this scene while his world fell apart around him. Life was funny like that. The twists and turns it made were never expected. You couldn’t predict this. That made life interesting, worth going on and seeing how it would change.

  Brady didn’t know that yet. He would find out one day. When this was a memory. The pain would heal. Telling him that didn’t help the present, though. So I kept my mouth shut and looked at him as he stared straight ahead. As if getting out of the truck was too much right now.

  “They think my life is perfect,” he said, watching the people laughing and partying in the distance. “I always had the easy life. All of them have probably faced something. Not me. Not until now.”

  I didn’t have a response for that. I didn’t think he needed one. He was lost in his thoughts. I let him collect himself and get mentally ready to act like the Brady Higgens they were all expecting.

  This was the field party, but after a game it was Brady’s show. They all wanted to be near him. He knew that, and tonight that wasn’t going to be easy.

  “You ready?” he asked, squeezing my hand.

  “If you are,” I told him.

  A sad smile touched his face. “Then let’s go.”

  We walked toward the party with our hands once again linked. If the kiss wasn’t seen by enough people after the game, this would be noticed by the entire crowd here.

  “There are West and Gunner. Maggie’s there too. You’ll like her,” he told me. I already did. From what I knew of her.

  People shouted out his name, and he waved at them as we went straight to his closest friends. A truck was backed up and the tailgate down. Asa sat on it with a redhead, who looked familiar but I wasn’t sure about her name, standing between his legs. West was on a tire beside Maggie, and Gunner was sitting with Willa on a log.

  “Finally got here. What’d you do, stop to make out first?” Asa asked with a smirk.

  “Shut up,” Brady replied.

  “Can’t believe we pulled that shit off tonight,” West said, holding up a red plastic cup toward me. “Thanks for having the balls to do it. We’ll be the talk of high school football all week.”

  “I wasn’t the one to run it past the defensive line. That was all you,” Brady told him, sitting down on the other end of the tailgate and pulling me with him. I sat down beside him, but he kept our locked hands on his thigh.

  “Shit about gave me heart failure,” Asa remarked and took a drink of what I assumed was a beer.

  “You thirsty?” Willa asked me. “I’m going to go get another water.”

  I was, but the way Brady was holding on to me I wasn’t sure I needed to leave him. “I’m good for now. Thank you, though,” I told her.

  She glanced at Maggie. “What about you?”

  Maggie stood up and followed Willa toward the large coolers over by the main fire.

  “You could have gone too if you wanted one,” Brady whispered.

  I shook my head. I wasn’t leaving him. Not tonight.

  “I’m okay.”

  He nodded and gently gave my hand a squeeze. I squeezed back.

  I’m Moving Out

  CHAPTER 46

  BRADY

  I would never have made it through that without Riley. Pulling up outside her house, I wanted to go inside with her. Stay with her. Going home and facing reality scared me. My mother could know now. What would that look like?

  “Call me if you need me,” Riley said when I put the truck in park. “I’ll keep my phone by my ear.”

  I sighed. “I wish I didn’t have to face this. But if she knows, she’s going to be broken. I can’t not go home. And if she doesn’t know, he’s going to have to tell her. I’ve told him I know. I can’t let this drag out. What if she were to find out another way or, God forbid, walk in like I did and catch them?”

  She didn’t say anything because she knew I was right. There was nothing to add to that.

  “Thanks for being there tonight. At the game and the field.”

  She gave me a sad smile. “I wish it had been easier for you. Both of them.”

  I leaned over and pressed a kiss to her lips. Tasting her and being close like this always eased the ache. She filled a piece of me that my father had ripped away. I needed her.

  When she had needed someone, no one had been there. That killed me every time I thought of it. She was so giving and kind. She didn’t hold grudges or bitterness from what we’d all put her through.

  Reluctantly I ended the kiss. I couldn’t stay with her all night, as much as I wanted. I had to go home and deal.

  “I’ll walk you to the door,” I told her, and she shook her head.

  “No. Go home. You can watch me safely get inside. No reason to walk with me. You have to get home and check on your mom.”

  Normally I would argue, but tonight she was right. I’d stayed out longer than I should have. I should be at home.

  “Good night,” I told her, and the words I love you almost fell from my tongue. I stopped them before they came out, but they had been there. So easily. So quickly.

  Shit.

  “Good night,” she replied, and I watched silently as she climbed out of my truck and went inside.

  Shit. I didn’t need to love her. Not now.

  On the drive home, the words I love you played over and over in my head, keeping me distracted until I pulled in behind my father’s truck. He was here. Lights were on downstairs.

  I had left Maggie at the field with West, so it would just be us. With the truth.

  Taking a deep breath, I steadied myself and headed inside. Each step I took was heavy, full of dread. The dread grew to fury, and by the time I opened the door I wanted nothing more than to see my father walk out of our lives and never come back.

  I heard their voices, and although there wasn’t screaming or crying there was a heaviness to the tone. I followed the sound and found them in the kitchen sitting across from each other at the wooden farm table.

  My mother’s eyes were bloodshot from tears that were now dried. She looked stronger than I had expected. Did she know the truth?

  “Does she know?” I asked him point-blank, not giving him room to lie.

  He could barely look at me. “Yes.”

  I walked over to her and slid an arm around her shoulders. She reached up and patted my hand. “We need to talk with you,” she said, “about how we are going to proceed from here.”

  This was it. The moment where this family changed. Forever. The sick knot in my stomach returned, and I realized that as angry as I was, this
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