After the game, p.2
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       After the Game, p.2
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         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  My brother, Vance, had stayed when we left and dealt with all of this. He’d hated them all. But his life had been here. With me gone, the gossip died, and he was able to continue. The talk about my return, however, ended up getting him suspended twice for fighting. He agreed he’d rather go to the private school near where we had been living that had accepted him. He had backed out when we decided to return to be with my grandmother, but my parents believed that it was best for him to finish his school away from Lawton. His IQ was ridiculously high, but so was his temper. I felt guilty for putting him in this situation. When he left last week, he had told me that this was what he wanted to do and not to feel guilty. I’d cried anyway.

  Bryony stuck her little chubby hands out toward the heat and turned to Brady to flash him her smile. She had no idea that he was an enemy. I didn’t want her to know about enemies or ugliness in the world.

  “What’s her name?” he asked.

  “Bryony,” I replied. I didn’t want to talk to him. He didn’t want me in his truck any more than I wanted to be in it. Had it been any other of Gunner Lawton’s friends that had driven by, I’d still be out in the storm, trying not to panic. Brady Higgens wasn’t like that, though. He saw a baby in need, and he couldn’t ignore it.

  “You’ve got pretty eyes, Bryony,” he told her.

  She tilted her head back and looked up at me. Her damp blond curls stuck to her forehead. I bent my head and kissed that spot. It was hard not to.

  “How old is she?”

  Again I didn’t want to chat with him, but he was giving us a ride. So if he wanted to pretend that he cared, I would try and participate. “Fifteen months.”

  “Wain!” she cheered as lightning struck outside.

  Brady chuckled. She was adorable. He was going to be smitten before we got to my grandmother’s.

  “You’re a big girl, then,” he said to her.

  She nodded her head vigorously. She liked being called big. Even though she also still liked for me to rock her to sleep at night and cuddle her like a baby.

  “Does your grandmother still live in the same house?” he asked as he turned down her street.

  “Yes.” He would know how to get there. We’d grown up together. Been at the same school, gone to the same parties, played at the same park.

  Finally he pulled into her driveway, and I wrapped my arms tightly around Bryony. I needed to get her inside before I got the stroller.

  “Let me run her inside, then I’ll get the stroller,” I told him.

  “I got the stroller. Y’all go on in.”

  I didn’t argue. Opening the truck door I hurried up the sidewalk to the safety of the house. Walking inside I called out for Mom, but she didn’t answer. I wanted to hand her Bryony so I could run back out and get the stroller. Instead I set her down. “Wait right here. Let me get your stroller.”

  She nodded, and I turned to walk back out when Brady ran up to the door holding her saturated stroller.

  “Thank you,” I said again.

  He nodded. “You’re welcome.”

  Bryony’s small hand tugged at my pants leg. “Momma is wet.”

  Brady’s eyes widened, and I realized what she had just said. Guess he knew now. She wasn’t my little sister after all.

  I gave him a tight smile and closed the door before he could say anything else.

  Especially for Riley

  CHAPTER 4

  BRADY

  Momma? She’d called Riley Momma. I had heard it, and the look in Riley’s eyes had confirmed it. Which meant what? Had she gotten pregnant that soon after leaving town?

  Or before? Could her lie about Rhett been her way of trying to pin her pregnancy on someone she thought she could get money out of? If so, that was sucky. She’d almost ruined Rhett’s future over her need to land someone as a father. It couldn’t have been Gunner’s because she hadn’t slept with him. We all knew it. Someone had gotten in her pants, so she’d had to lie. That much was obvious.

  Had she cared too much about Gunner to sleep with him? That was what I’d never understood. Why lie on his older brother? Why not lie on her boyfriend? Unless she thought Rhett was more believable than Gunner. I guessed I’d never understand why she did that. No point in trying to figure her out.

  Fact was, Riley had a kid now and the little girl was cute. She appeared to be a good mom, but then I’d barely seen them together. She could be a terrible mom for all I knew.

  The whole experience with Riley and Bryony stayed with me the rest of the evening. I didn’t tell anyone I’d given her a ride simply because I didn’t want to explain myself. I shouldn’t have to. I’d like to think any of my friends would have done the same. She’d had a baby and it was storming. But I wasn’t so sure. The hate they all had for her ran deep.

  Although I had seen an ugly side to Rhett recently. He clearly wasn’t above being an ass, especially to Gunner. I wondered if Gunner could believe Riley now that he knows the kind of person Rhett really is.

  The idea that it was possible Riley hadn’t been lying was there. But I just couldn’t bring myself to accept that Rhett was so twisted and sick he’d actually rape her and lie about it. He had his issues, but he wasn’t cruel. Not like that.

  Shaking my head and wishing I could get all this out of it and think about something else, I headed for the attic stairs to escape to my bedroom, which was now up there.

  My old bedroom door was open, and my cousin Maggie was sitting on the bed with a book in her hand. I paused and stopped at the door.

  “Where’s West?”

  She glanced up. “He’s spending the afternoon with his mom.”

  He was good about that. Making sure his mother was okay and staying stable. After his father’s death, they had been through some rough patches.

  “That’s good,” I said, still standing there.

  Maggie folded the page and closed the book in her lap. “You need to talk about something, Brady?” She tilted her head and studied me like she already knew the answer to this.

  Maybe I did need to talk.

  I shrugged. “Not sure.”

  She sighed and held up her book. “Might as well talk. You’ve interrupted my reading.”

  I knew if anyone would keep their mouth shut, it was Maggie. She didn’t stir drama or participate in it. She also paid more attention to people than most, and I trusted her opinion.

  I walked into the room and sat across from her in the chair that was placed in the corner.

  “I gave Riley Young a ride home in the storm. She had a kid with her. A little girl not much older than a baby, really.” There. I had admitted it.

  Maggie stared at me a moment and said nothing. “Is that it? You gave a girl a ride and you feel the need to open up about it?”

  I thought Maggie had heard the story of Riley Young already. “Did you miss the part where I said Riley Young? As in the girl who accused Rhett of rape and almost lost him his scholarship?”

  “I know who Riley Young is. Y’all have bashed her enough. I’m aware of the story. But she had a small child with her, there was a storm, and she was out in it with the child. I would think anyone would offer her a ride. If you hadn’t, then you should feel bad. But you did, so I’m not getting what this whole conversation is about.”

  Sighing, I leaned back in the chair and stared out the window a moment. How could I explain this to Maggie? She didn’t jump on the team of hating anyone. She was patient and forgiving.

  “The little girl called Riley Momma,” I said, hoping to get more of a response from her.

  Maggie’s eyes widened. “Oh, so she has come back with a baby. Could it be Rhett’s?”

  Finally she was getting it. “That’s what has me thinking. She lied on Rhett to get money out of him when she found out she was pregnant. That is all that makes sense. And when Gunner finds out about this, his life is going to get even more complicated. He has enough on him as it is.”

  The frown on Maggie’s face looked firmly directed a
t me. As if I had done something wrong. “Or Riley could have been telling the truth. From the little I saw of Rhett Lawton, I don’t rank him high up there in moral standards. Why are you all so sure she lied?”

  The same exact thing that had been plaguing me came so easily out of her mouth. But then, she wasn’t talking about a guy who had been like an older brother to her. She didn’t know Rhett. Not like I did.

  “Rhett was a talented athlete. His family was the wealthiest in town. He was powerful, and the town made him feel that way. Is it so hard to believe he could take something that wasn’t his? If he was everything all of you claim, then why did Riley try and pin it, as you say, on Rhett? Wouldn’t she have known that it wasn’t going to end well if she did? If it had been me I would have been terrified to lie on Rhett Lawton. Just seems she took a very scary route to make things easier on herself.”

  Everything she said made sense. All of it. But I couldn’t just believe Riley or reach out to her. She was still the enemy. But what if she was innocent?

  I stood up. “It’s not that easy,” was all I could say.

  Maggie shrugged. “No, it’s not. Especially for Riley.”

  Have You Seen Thomas?

  CHAPTER 5

  RILEY

  No Lawton had shown up at my door to demand I leave town. That was a good sign. It was possible Brady was being the good guy that he liked to wear as his label and keeping his mouth shut. The last thing I wanted was a Lawton to show up and demand to see Bryony.

  I wish I’d never told anyone the truth. If I had just kept quiet about the father and left town quietly, then this wouldn’t be a problem. Bryony never needed to know who her father was. I dreaded the day she’d ask me about him, because I knew it was coming. When she started school and realized the other kids had two parents, she was going to want to know.

  Right now she had my dad, and her pops was good enough. She wasn’t lacking for attention and love. I was thankful for my parents and their support through all of this. Not once did they question my story. When everyone else had called me a liar, I had feared that they might too. But they hadn’t.

  Instead, they quit their jobs, found work far away from here, and moved us out of this town. All for me. I’d never forget that sacrifice. Because of them I had never felt alone through the process. Many girls weren’t as lucky. I had met several at the teen pregnancy support group I went to once a week. I’d fought the idea at first when my mother brought home the pamphlet. But one day I decided it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.

  Those meetings gave me the courage to become a mother. They helped me realize I wasn’t the only girl out there in this situation. They saved me in ways my parents couldn’t. One day I intended to start my own facility for teen moms.

  “Momma, samich.” Bryony was tugging on my jeans asking for her favorite snack. Two pieces of toast with ketchup in the middle, cut up into four small squares, with no crust.

  I bent down and pulled her close to me in a tight hug. “I love you,” I told her.

  “Okay,” was her reply, followed by a wet kiss to my cheek.

  I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I didn’t want to. The pain that Rhett put my family and me through was all worth it for this. My daughter. I’d live through it all again if I could have this.

  “Where is Thomas?” Grandmamma asked, walking into the living room with a confused frown on her face. Thomas was the cat she had when I was a little girl, and he had passed away from cancer when I was nine.

  “Around here somewhere,” I replied. There was no use telling her he was dead. It would upset her, and she’d just start asking for him again in thirty minutes.

  “I’m going to fix Bryony a snack. Come to the kitchen with us and I’ll slice you up a pear with some cottage cheese.”

  She paused, still searching the room with her eyes for Thomas. “Do I like that?” she asked me.

  Pears and cottage cheese had been her favorite snack for as long as I could remember. “You love it.”

  She nodded then sighed with a sag to her shoulders. She would start looking for Thomas again soon. But for now it seemed like she might be letting it go.

  “Okay,” she replied, and I took Bryony’s hand and led them both toward the kitchen.

  Mom was taking a nap. When Bryony and I got home from the park, she often went directly to bed for an hour. She needed it with her work schedule. Dad would get home from work at six, and she liked to be cooking dinner by the time he walked in the house.

  “Let’s turn on the television and see if one of your afternoon shows is on,” I told Grandmamma. Mom had left Grandmamma’s television in the kitchen. She said we needed to keep things as they were to avoid confusion. Mom had always been against having TVs in the house, but she kept this one around for Grandmamma.

  “Okay,” she agreed, still frowning.

  Coming back here had been scary. My only other option had been to raise Bryony alone. I wasn’t ready for that. Not yet. I was still homeschooling on the Internet to get through high school. I wanted to give Bryony a good life. One where I had a real job and could support us.

  My parents had worried about me coming back too, but I understood their need to be with Grandmamma. After the call she had been found at three in the morning banging on the door of the grocery in town demanding bananas, we all knew there was no other option. None of us wanted to put her in a home.

  Hiding indoors with Bryony wasn’t fair to her either. She loved the park and playing outside. I had made the decision to face this town head on and whatever they said didn’t matter. Small-minded people in a small town. This didn’t affect my future.

  However, saying that and believing it are two different things. It wasn’t easy to see people from my past and be treated as if I were the plague. Those who were once friends now acted like I wasn’t there or scowled at me.

  All because I asked my boyfriend’s older brother for a ride home from a field party after I had fought with Gunner. I had trusted Rhett. That was my only mistake. I had done nothing else wrong.

  Holding on to my virginity had been a choice for me. I didn’t want to just have sex with a guy who I wasn’t in love with. When I had sex I wanted to know it was the right time. With the right person. Gunner had never been the right person. And I was only fifteen. Other girls were having sex, and I constantly heard how silly I was for waiting and how Gunner was going to cheat on me. But I hadn’t cared.

  I was waiting.

  Until Rhett took that choice away from me that night he took my virginity. I still deal with nightmares about it. But Bryony’s birth had changed me a lot. Made me stronger and healed me in a way nothing else could.

  I’d decided I was a virgin still. Maybe not physically, but in my heart. I hadn’t chosen to give myself to a guy yet. That choice was still mine to hold on to. I wouldn’t allow Rhett to have taken that from me.

  “My samich,” Bryony said happily and clapped as I set the ketchup-and-toast sandwich in front of her.

  “Do I like that?” Grandmamma asked me.

  Smiling, I shook my head. I wasn’t sure anyone other than a one-year-old could actually like that.

  “You like pears and cottage cheese,” I reminded her.

  She nodded again, then looked behind her. “Have you seen Thomas?”

  The Number You Are Trying to Reach Is No Longer in Service

  CHAPTER 6

  BRADY

  This Friday was the first game in the playoffs. We were all nervous, but the excitement was building. We had a real chance at the championship this year. To go out our senior year as champions would be epic. I had already decided on going to Texas A&M next year. Everyone thought I was going to Alabama, but when the pros and cons were all put in front of me, my future looked better at A&M.

  That announcement hadn’t happened yet, though. I was waiting until we held the championship in our hands before I said a word. Next year was just that . . . next year. I was focused on the here and now. Getting my head
distracted by what could happen next year didn’t help us win games.

  Turning the aisle at the grocery store with the gallon of milk Mom had sent me to get, I came face-to-face with Lyla Young. Riley’s mother.

  “Well, hello, Brady. You’ve grown two feet since I saw you last. Hard to believe you’re all seniors this year.”

  The Youngs had always been good parents. Like my own. They held
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