After the game, p.20
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       After the Game, p.20
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         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  Yes, I just threw in the feel bad for me card. I wasn’t ashamed of it. I was a desperate man who was in love with a girl and couldn’t admit it because what he had seen of love sucked in the end.

  “Okay. Yes, we’d like that. Bryony will think this is an adventure. She’s not used to going somewhere new. When do we need to come over?”

  I let out a sigh of relief. She was coming, and dinner wouldn’t be so hard now. We would all have something else to focus on other than Boone not being there. And why.

  “I can come get you,” I told her, turning my truck down her road.

  “Okay, but we will need to move Bryony’s car seat to your truck.”

  “I’ll do it as soon as I get there. Y’all just get ready.”

  It was funny how the idea of eating dinner with Riley and Bryony at my house made things feel lighter. Happier.

  It All Seemed Normal



  Brady’s house was like I remembered. But this time I was walking in as a mother, and his . . . friend who was a girl. I had no idea what to call us, really. Asking him to make that clear while his life was in turmoil was inappropriate. So for now we were friends, I guessed.

  Brady led us to the kitchen, where the smell of fried chicken permeated the air. Bryony was holding on to me tightly. She wasn’t used to new places. We had our routine, and we had just stepped out of it. As excited as she had been when I told her what we were doing, she was nervous now.

  “Hey, Mom, we’re here,” Brady called out just before he walked into the kitchen. I followed behind him with Bryony on my hip.

  His mother was wearing a pink-and-white polka-dot apron and holding a cast-iron skillet full of biscuits in her hand when she turned around to greet us.

  “Hello.” She smiled brightly.

  Brady walked over and kissed her cheek and whispered something in her ear. She patted his cheek and then turned to us. “Riley, she is precious,” she told me as she set the skillet on the table and made her way over.

  “Hello, Bryony. I’m so glad you came to eat with us tonight. I’ve made cookies for later. Do you like chocolate chip cookies?”

  Bryony eased her grip on me and turned to Coralee. She had said the magic words. Cookies. She nodded her head and her blond curls bounced, as did the pink bow I had in her hair.

  “Oh, good. I need help eating all those cookies. If it’s okay with Mommy, I may send some home with you. Brady can’t eat them all.”

  Coralee had just made a new friend.

  “I eat them,” Bryony assured her.

  That got a laugh out of Coralee, and I could see the tension Brady had been carrying on his shoulders ease. Hearing his mother’s laughter was helping him. They both needed this.

  “I’ve got to put butter on the biscuits. They’re not hot anymore, just warm. You think you can help me?” she asked Bryony.

  Bryony didn’t even think about consulting me. She held her arms out to her new friend, and Coralee took her.

  “Your mommy will need to bring you over more often. I could use a helper like you.”

  Bryony glanced back at me as if to make sure I’d heard that. I grinned at her and she smiled back. Her new teeth made that smile even cuter.

  “Thank you,” Brady said in a whisper as he walked over to me. His hand settled on my hip. “She’s not smiled like that since Boone told her.”

  Bryony had a way of making people smile. Babies really did lighten up a mood.

  “Oh, we have new help,” Maggie said, walking in behind us.

  Bryony looked up at the new person from her place on Coralee’s lap as they began buttering biscuits.

  “Yes, this is Bryony. She’s going to have dinner with us, then help eat those cookies we made today,” Coralee said.

  “Oh, good. We need another cookie eater.” Maggie smiled.

  That endeared Maggie to Bryony immediately. Anyone who was on board with her eating cookies was a winner in her book.

  “I’ll put ice in the glasses. What would you like to drink, Riley?” Maggie asked me.

  “Ice water is fine. Thank you. Can I help with anything?”

  Coralee looked up from the biscuits. “We have it all done. Bryony is finishing things up. Go ahead and make yourself comfortable. Brady can fix you something to drink, and what can we get Bryony?”

  I set the diaper bag on my arm down and pulled out her sippy cup of milk. “We came prepared,” I told her, setting the sippy cup down beside my plate.

  Coralee frowned. “We don’t have a high chair, but I did find Brady’s booster seat in the garage. I wiped it down and put it in the seat to your left. Will that work?”

  “You still have my booster seat?” Brady asked, sounding amused.

  “And your snuggle bear, and your blankie, and your favorite bippy,” she replied with a smirk.

  “Bippy,” Maggie said with a laugh.

  Brady rolled his eyes. “Please, God, don’t tell West about this.”

  Maggie turned around and beamed at him. “Me? Never,” she drawled.

  “What is a bippy exactly?” I asked, curious. I understood Coralee keeping everything. I would too. I planned on keeping every single memory I could of Bryony’s.

  “A pacifier,” she told me. “He called it a pippy at first, then it became a bippy.”

  “Mom, please,” he said, as if begging for her to stop.

  She smiled up at him, then turned her attention back to Bryony. “Looks like we are all finished. Let’s wash our hands and get ready for dinner.”

  Bryony held her buttery hands up. “And cookies,” she added.

  “Yes, and cookies. But first you have to eat some chicken, black-eyed peas, and mashed potatoes.”

  Bryony nodded ready to agree to anything at this point. Cookies were her ultimate goal.

  Brady set my water down in front of me, then put his tea at the place on my right. Coralee settled Bryony down in the booster seat to my left, and Bryony looked over at me like this was the best thing ever. She hadn’t sat in a real chair before. Maybe I should get her a booster seat for the house. The excitement on her face at sitting at the table with us was obvious.

  Maggie and Coralee set the food in the middle of the long wooden farm-style table. “Help yourself. Y’all let Riley get Bryony’s plate fixed first.”

  I quickly put some of everything in small portions onto the plastic plate Coralee had set out for Bryony, then began to cut it up into small pieces while the others began to fix their plates.

  “Do you like everything?” Brady asked.

  I nodded, and he began to fix my plate too. It all seemed normal. Real. And something I could never have imagined in a million years.

  We Didn’t Have to Figure It All Out Right Now



  Dinner with Riley and Bryony was just a couple hours, but it seemed to help us heal. Odd how that happens. A reminder of someone else’s beauty after pain seemed to do that. Mom cried less. I was able to focus more that week on practice. Maggie didn’t leave school early anymore. But twice this week she had gotten home to find Riley and Bryony at my house entertaining my mom.

  I knew why Riley was going over there, and if I hadn’t already known I loved her, that would have made me love her. I just wished I had more faith in love. And forever.

  Riley would be here or wherever she planned on going next year, and I would be at college. Away. Missing her.

  * * *

  “So are you dating Riley Young?” Ivy caught me when I was walking out to my truck Friday. Today was the big game. The end. So they let school out at twelve for students to travel the two hours away to where the game was taking place.

  “Yes,” I replied, knowing she had seen or already knew about the kiss. Not to mention the field party.

  “When did that start? Last thing I heard she had fucked someone and tried to pin the baby on Rhett. Gunner just decided to forgive that cause his brother got drunk and came to h

  Ivy was being catty because she was upset. I had broken things off with her, but that wasn’t enough. She had been expecting we would end up together. I knew she planned on following me to college. Not something I wanted or had asked of her. Ever.

  “None of that is your business,” I told her, jerking my truck door open and tossing my bag inside.

  “We were together for eighteen months, Brady. We had taken a break only three weeks and four days before you were seen kissing her. How do you think that makes me feel? It was just a break!”

  I had too much to deal with to add this drama to it. “It wasn’t a break. I told you we were over. It was done. We had grown apart and I needed to focus on my future. You wanted things I didn’t.”

  She let out a loud, angry laugh. “That is a break!”

  “A breakup,” I corrected, then climbed into my truck.

  “You pretend to be this nice guy. The good guy everyone wants to be around. Mr. Quarterback with the perfect life. But you are cruel! Selfish! And I am glad to be rid of you! I deserve more than this.”

  Her ranting was a time bomb that had been ticking. I was glad it was happening and we could move on.

  “Okay” was all I said, hoping I could close the door and leave.

  “Why Riley Young? She has a baby, for God’s sake!”

  Because she was my fit. And I loved her. I didn’t say that, though. I wasn’t telling anyone before I told Riley.

  “Good-bye, Ivy” was my response instead, then I closed my truck door and made sure not to hit her before pulling out of the parking spot and heading home to get ready for the last game of my high school career.

  * * *

  Riley’s red Mustang was in my drive when I pulled in. It made me smile to see it there. My conversation or assault from Ivy, whatever you wanted to call it, was over. I was home now. Riley was here. I was okay.

  I walked in the front door and heard Bryony’s laughter coming from the living room.

  I went toward the noise to find Bryony at the coffee table with homemade play dough—something my mother loved to do with me as a child. Riley was on the other side helping her roll it into small balls, and my mother was beside Bryony on her knees with a smile on her face again.

  The ache my father’s departure had caused eased when my mom smiled like that. Her eyes weren’t bloodshot from tears today. It looked as if she hadn’t cried at all. She lifted her gaze to meet mine. “Look who came to play today,” she said, sounding as happy about it as she looked.

  I bent down beside Riley. “And y’all made play dough. I used to love doing this.”

  “And you loved eating it,” my mother added.

  Riley chuckled beside me, and I cut my eyes over at her. She was beautiful. Her hair was up on top of her head in a messy bun, and she wasn’t wearing any makeup. She had the same happy expression my mother did, and sitting here like this with her, spending time with my mom, made me want to kiss her until we both ran out of breath.

  “Hey,” I said instead.

  She blushed as if she knew what I was thinking. I hoped so. “Hey” was her simple response.

  “Bryony and I need to finish making the Christmas tree out of play dough. Riley, would you help Brady get his things together for me? He needs to be back at the school soon to get on the bus.”

  That was Mom’s way of giving us privacy but reminding us not to take too much privacy.

  Riley nodded. “Yes, of course.”

  We stood up and Bryony seemed too preoccupied to care about our departure. I waited until we hit the stairs to press a quick kiss to her lips. I couldn’t wait much longer.

  She kissed me back, then pushed me gently away. “Someone could see us.”

  I wasn’t real concerned, but she was, so I hurried us along to my room in the attic. There, no one would see us. And I could have my alone time with her.

  When we stepped inside, I closed the door before leading her up the stairs to the loft we had fixed up in the attic when Maggie had moved in. She had taken my room and I had finally gotten this room, like I’d wanted for years.

  “Thanks for coming here today, spending time with Mom,” I told her, putting both my hands on her hips and pulling her closer to me. “She really enjoys Bryony.”

  “Bryony enjoys coming over here,” she replied with a whisper just before I covered her lips with mine.

  Kissing Riley seemed to get better every time. She was always sweet and soft. I wanted to hold her like she was delicate, yet I couldn’t seem to get close enough to her. This was when I felt completely whole. Not broken or hurt. With her in my arms, my life was right.

  That was love. I knew that now, but it didn’t mean love wouldn’t end. Even knowing that, I never wanted to end this with Riley.

  Her hands slid up my arms, and I shivered from the touch. Wrapping my arms around her, I held her to me as close as she could fit. The feel of her breasts pressed against my chest sent desire coursing through me that I was afraid of acting on.

  Most girls that I had dated moved easily, but Riley had been hurt sexually, and I was afraid too much would terrify her. So I held back, and it took every ounce of willpower I had.

  She moved up so that her breasts brushed against me and a small moan escaped her. Mary mother of Jesus, I was a saint. I swore to God I’d better get rewarded for this one day. Picking her up and taking her over to my bed was all I could think about.

  My hands brushed her bare waist as her shirt lifted, and she shivered this time. So I let them travel higher and she lifted her arms to wrap around my neck, giving me complete access. Or at least it felt that way.

  When my thumbs brushed under the wire of her bra and she continued to kiss me and cling to me, I continued on until my palms covered the soft bare flesh that sent both our heart rates into a frenzy. Her breathing intensified and she began to pant as she held on to my shoulders as if she might fall.

  This was more than I couldn’t imagine with anyone else ever. Just her. I broke the kiss so I could catch my breath as my hands continued caressing the tender flesh that had hardened under my touch.

  “I love you,” I told her. The words were out before I could think it through. In this moment we were enclosed in our own little world. Safe from others and the shit life threw at us.

  She didn’t reply right away, but her eyes closed and she rested her forehead on my shoulder. I slipped my hands around to her back and held her against me. We stood like that while our breathing slowed and the heat from our bodies mingled to make us feel like one instead of two.

  This was where I wanted to be. Nowhere else had ever felt this right. No one else would make me feel like Riley Young did.

  Brave. Strong. And able to take on the world.

  “I love you too. But it scares me,” she finally said, breaking the silence around us.

  She didn’t scare easily. But I understood her fears. I had them too.

  We didn’t have to figure it all out right now. Or even tomorrow. We had time. And there had to be an answer to this. Because without Riley I wasn’t whole.

  I’ve Already Lived Through a Nightmare



  Instead of sitting far away from Brady’s family this week, I sat beside his mother, and Maggie and Willa joined us. We were all wearing Lawton Lions blue. Brady had actually given me his home jersey to wear tonight. It was huge on me, but Willa and Maggie had on Gunner’s and West’s, so I didn’t feel silly.

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