After the game, p.5
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       After the Game, p.5
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         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  morning’s excitement?” Brady’s voice interrupted my thoughts.

  I blinked several times to get out of the trance I had been in, then turned my head back to look up at him. “She’s good,” I replied, not realizing Brady had walked up to the bench I was sitting on.

  He glanced over at the slide where Bryony was playing. “I think she enjoyed the outing this morning, at least.”

  She had. Bryony had seen it as one big adventure. “It was a game of hide-and-seek for her,” I agreed.

  He shifted his feet, and the awkward silence that fell made me once again question what he was doing here. Had he come looking for me? It was after school, but I assumed he would have practice.

  “So are you coming to the game Friday night?” he asked.

  Was he an idiot? “Um, no,” I said. “You do remember who I am, right?”

  He sighed and tucked his hands in his pockets. “It’s been two years. Things have changed at the Lawton house.”

  I’d heard about those changes. At least what the rest of the town knew. I was sure Brady probably knew a lot more. The little I had heard talk about, Gunner was living in that big house alone. The owner. He’d inherited it all, and his dad had left town. I wasn’t sure where his mother was.

  “Trust me, two years means nothing in this town,” I told him.

  He didn’t respond right away, and I figured he knew I was right. It was how small towns worked. There was always a villain everyone was against. I was that person. The teenage girl who’d had a child at fifteen, hated because she’d simply told the truth.

  “Maybe if you got out more and tried,” he suggested.

  I just laughed. “Tried what exactly?” I had been hated by these people. They still turned their heads when I walked by them and acted as if they didn’t know me. Then there were the ones who looked at me with disgust or, even worse, pity. I didn’t want their self-righteous pity.

  He didn’t have an answer for that. In the end he nodded. “Guess you’re right.” Then he waved at Bryony, who had noticed him, before saying, “See you around.” I watched him leave, and a part of me wished his suggestion were possible. Which was stupid, I knew. I had decided long ago I didn’t care what this town thought of me.

  However, I missed having a friend my age. Brady had reminded me of that. His coming around was nice. But forgetting how he had turned on me was difficult. It made things complicated. Just because his charming smile and disregard for what people thought was endearing didn’t mean I could start trusting him.

  Two years ago . . .

  Spend-the-night parties at Ivy’s always ended this way. Kimmie would call boys, they’d come over, Serena and Kimmie would sneak out, and Ivy would go crying to her parents. Why I continued to come to these things, I didn’t know. Gunner had laughed at me when I told him I was going to this one tonight. His prediction that I wouldn’t stay may have been spot-on.

  Ivy came back to her room sniffling while Naomi and Hillary looked nervously at each other. We were never sure what to expect with Ivy’s theatrics.

  “Mom said y’all can stay. She’s calling their parents, though. They’ll never get invited here again.”

  We all sat silently, but we knew that wasn’t the truth. Ivy wanted to be friends with Serena. She craved the popularity that came with being attached to Serena. I, for one, didn’t think it was so grand to be popular just because you had a certain reputation among guys. But Ivy apparently didn’t get that.

  “I’m sorry, Ivy,” Hillary said, walking over to her to hug her. She was acting like her dog had just died. Seriously? We had these parties about once a month, and every time we did, those two ran off with boys. Why were we acting like this was a surprise?

  “They did this the last three times you’ve had one of these this year. Why don’t you just stop inviting them?” I said, rolling my eyes and lying back on the sleeping bag I’d brought with me. I was debating walking home and waking up my parents with ringing the doorbell. If they were going to baby Ivy all night over this, I would. We were going into the tenth grade in a week. It was time everyone acted like it.

  “Don’t be mean, Riley,” Hillary scolded me. “Ivy tries to include everyone.”

  That was such a hilarious lie I almost laughed out loud. Ivy most certainly didn’t deserve the Mother Teresa award. The only reason that Naomi had been invited this time was that she had started dating West Ashby last week. Ivy only invited people she thought were important. I had been friends with Ivy since preschool, and I knew Ivy didn’t include “everyone.”

  I considered pointing out that the only reason Hillary was here was because she’d had a summer romance with Brady Higgens and Ivy had her eye on Brady. Ivy was keeping her enemies close. Poor Hillary didn’t realize that, though, and I wasn’t going to be the one to tell her.

  “Did you see who they left with? Rhett Lawton was driving. He’s a senior!” Ivy said in horror. Rhett was my boyfriend’s older brother. Serena wanted him bad. Everyone knew it.

  “Connor and Joel were with him,” Naomi piped up.

  Ivy nodded dramatically. “What are they thinking! Those boys only want sex.”

  “It’s Serena’s favorite pastime,” Hillary said with disgust, although rumor had it she’d slept with Connor two weeks before she’d started dating Brady. I bit my lip to keep from smirking.

  I closed my eyes and wondered if we would actually sleep tonight or discuss the wild ways of Serena and Kimmie. My bed really sounded good about now, and I missed it. The older we got, the more I felt myself wanting to pull away from them. We weren’t little girls anymore. Those days were gone. There was sex, boys, and drama in our lives that I wasn’t a big fan of. Yet here I stayed in the middle of it all. Listening.

  I Want to Be Rhett When I Grow Up

  CHAPTER 12

  BRADY

  West was standing out by his truck when I pulled into the driveway. He was either waiting on Maggie or he was waiting on me. The frown between his eyebrows said it was me. He never frowned at Maggie.

  “What’s up?” I called out as I walked around the front of my truck.

  “I was going to ask you the same thing,” he replied. “Didn’t want to bring it up at practice, but this Riley thing. I get why you were helping today, but I also know your truck was seen at her grandmother’s last night. That hasn’t reached Gunner’s ears yet, but when it does, you ready to explain that?”

  It had been two years, but this grudge was still holding strong. The more time I spent around Riley, the more I believed she’d been treated unfairly. That this town should have listened to her, not ridiculed her.

  “Not sure I believe Rhett was innocent. Not anymore. Not after the way we saw him act just last month.”

  West nodded slowly, but his frown stayed in place. “Maybe. But we have a championship to win. If Gunner still believes his brother and you’re hanging around Riley, then we are going to have a problem. Don’t know what I believe anymore, but I do know that this isn’t the time to make any bold statements.”

  I understood what he was saying. It wasn’t as if Riley was going to warm up to me any time soon anyway. I’d tried to be her friend, but she wasn’t interested. We had the biggest game in our high school career, the state championship, coming up in a few weeks, and we had to actually get there by winning the last two games that would place us at that game. If we lost, our season ended. We had to win the play-offs to get to the championship game.

  “You’re right,” I replied. “I won’t be seen with her anymore. This morning was a fluke. That’s all.”

  The front door opened and Maggie stepped out. She was dressed like they were going somewhere: in a yellow sundress, with her hair curled. “Looks like you got a date.”

  West turned and his face went from serious to love-struck. If Maggie weren’t my cousin, I would laugh at him. But Maggie had lived through hell, and she’d found happiness with West. The most unlikely guy in the world to end up saving her.

  “Yeah
, I do,” he agreed, then walked toward her. He’d forgotten me and our conversation. For now.

  I waved at Maggie and told them to have a good time before heading inside. The smell of Mom’s meat loaf engulfed me as I walked into the house. I knew she’d have creamed potatoes, turnip greens, and corn bread to go with it. Dropping my bag by the front door, I headed for the kitchen.

  “He’s home. Let’s eat,” my dad said, turning to look at me with a large mason jar full of sweet tea in his hand.

  Mom chuckled and shook her head. “The man has no patience. I’ve been slapping his hand away from the meat loaf since he walked in the door. First night home for dinner in a week, and he acts like this.”

  Dad had been working on a project at work that was keeping him late every evening.

  “Smells great. I’m starved. Where’s Maggie headed?” I asked, knowing my mother would have the details of their date.

  “West is taking her to some fancy place in Franklin. He got a reservation for it and everything. She spent an hour trying to decide what to wear. I just love watching her like this. Hard to believe four months ago when she moved here she wouldn’t even speak.”

  She had come a long way in a short time. I agreed with Mom there. It was all thanks to West, but then again she’d been West’s rock through his father’s death too. Really, they’d saved each other.

  “Let’s talk football,” Dad said, not wanting to be reminded of why Maggie was here and why she had come to us not speaking. Maggie’s mother was his sister, and her brutal death still haunted him. Mom said he had nightmares about it.

  “We look good. Friday night won’t be easy, but we should win. As long as everyone keeps their head in the game this week. I thought I’d have the guys over tonight to watch some clips of the Panthers play this year. So we would know what to look for.”

  “Good idea. West has to have Maggie back by nine. He’ll miss most of it,” Dad said, sitting down with his plate piled high with food.

  “I’ll make some cookies,” Mom said, then handed me a plate.

  “We can do it tonight and tomorrow night for those who can’t come tonight. I mentioned it after practice. The guys who are available tonight will be here around seven thirty.”

  Dad nodded his head as if he approved of the idea. “What does Coach say? He think y’all are ready?”

  “You know Coach. He never thinks we’re ready. Part of what makes us work. We never get comfortable.”

  For the rest of dinner we discussed Friday night. It was what we always talked about this time of year. Once the championship was over, we would talk about next year. College football. My future.

  Three years ago . . .

  “You know your brother is banging Serena. Isn’t that, like, illegal?” West asked Gunner.

  I had heard that Serena was sneaking around with Rhett too. But I hadn’t wanted to bring it up. Leave it to West to throw that out there.

  “Naw, he’s still seventeen. She doesn’t become illegal until his birthday in April.”

  West laughed. “So he’s gonna bang the freshman while he still can. I want to be Rhett when I grow up.”

  Gunner smirked. “Join the club.”

  I didn’t say anything because I in no way wanted to be Rhett Lawton. I thought he was cool and I admired his skill on the field, but he was always partying. Dad said I wouldn’t make it far in life if I lived like that. I had a future in the NFL to pursue. Rhett was the heir to the Lawton millions. I doubted he planned on any career, really. Other than taking over for his dad one day.

  “Y’all want to go outside and throw the ball?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.

  West shrugged and reached for his soda and a bag of chips. “I guess.”

  “All you do is think football,” Gunner replied, still lounging on the sofa.

  It was my future. Of course that was all I thought about.

  I’m Not Every Other Guy

  CHAPTER 13

  RILEY

  This was probably stupid. Maybe even the stupidest idea I had ever come up with. I debated going through with it the entire two-mile walk it took me to get from my grandmamma’s house to Brady’s house. It was late and very dark.

  If I believed that Damon Salvatore was real, I wouldn’t be out here. Oh, who was I kidding? Yes, I would. Hot vampires aside, it was dark and spooky at eleven in this town. Everyone was in their house and most in bed. Lights were sparse.

  The last noise that had made me squeal and jump had been a cat. I was giving myself a pep talk about being silly right up until I turned onto Brady’s driveway and paused. Now what? I was here. I knew which window was Brady’s. I just had to toss a rock up there and get his attention.

  What if he was asleep? Doubtful.

  What if he had changed his mind about the being-friends thing? Possible.

  Why the heck was I here again? Because I was lonely. Because Brady had tried to be my friend. And if I was honest with myself, I wanted that.

  That was just sad. I glanced back at the sidewalk and thought about turning around and going home. He’d never know I was here, and I would have gotten in a good four miles of cardio before bed. No harm done.

  Then tomorrow morning I would wake up and do the same thing I did every day. No one to talk to. No one who believed me but my family.

  That reminder had me walking the few last steps into his yard. The small, smooth stone in my hand I had picked up along the way was warm now from my tight clutch. I stared down at it and wondered if this was a bad idea for the hundredth time. Once I had been a chance taker. I had liked adventure.

  That girl was gone, though. Life had changed me, but now I wanted a bit of her back.

  The stone flew from my hands and with a ping hit his window. I had only picked up one stone. I figured if he didn’t get up after one I was taking that as fate and leaving.

  A light came on in the dark room and butterflies became bats in my stomach. I had done it. I had to go through with it now. The curtains moved, and the long, dark hair was the first thing I saw. That was not Brady.

  I moved fast into the shadows. I couldn’t run for the road. Whoever it was would see me in the streetlight. So I ducked behind the hedges in front of their house and held my breath like they could hear me breathing. Which I know was silly because they were on the second floor.

  The sound of the window opening made me cringe, and I didn’t move a muscle. That had been a girl. If Brady had a girl in his room, then he sure wouldn’t let her come to the window. He’d hide her. So who was it?

  The cousin. Holy crap, I’d forgotten about the cousin. Mom had told me about his cousin moving in with them. Apparently she’d gotten his room. Why hadn’t I thought about that possibility? If you’re gonna throw rocks at a window just before midnight, you need to make sure you’ve got the right window. I was terrible at this.

  The sound of the window closing calmed me some, and I let out the breath I’d been holding. I would need to stay here awhile until I was sure she’d walked away from the window before I made a run for the street. I tried not to think about the critters that could be behind this hedge with me. Staying put was the only safe thing to do here.

  This was fate’s way of telling me that trying to be Brady’s friend was a bad idea. I got that now. I appreciate fate stepping in and stopping me from sure disaster. Now if only fate could make sure no animal bit me back here, that would be really awesome.

  The front door opened, and I stopped breathing again. This was not good. I should have run when I had the chance. What if it was Brady’s dad and he had a gun? I could end up shot. Even if a squirrel decided to bite me, I wasn’t moving now. I preferred a squirrel attack to a gunshot. I think.

  When I wanted a change and some adventure, this was not what I had in mind. I needed to get out of this alive. I had a kid to raise.

  “Hello?” Brady called out, and I let out a small breath. It was Brady, not his dad, and I was sure Brady didn’t have a gun. I was going to live.
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  “Anyone out here?” he asked.

  I could ignore him and let him continue his search, or I could come out of the hedges and announce myself. My goal had been to get Brady down here. That was what had happened. Hiding from him seemed silly now.

  Instead of chancing the animal attack, I stood up and stepped out of hiding. This was embarrassing, now that I thought about it: coming here at night and throwing a rock at his window. My face was warm, and I was glad the darkness would mask my embarrassment.

  “It’s me,” I said, and he spun around.

  “Riley?”

  “Yeah.”

  “What are you doing? Are you okay?”

  No, apparently I was warped in the head. This whole idea seemed terrible. I should have stayed at home in bed and not let my need for friends send me out on this wild chase.

  “You, uh, changed bedrooms.” I couldn’t think of anything smarter to say.

  He nodded.

  “I didn’t know—”

 
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