After the game, p.6
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       After the Game, p.6
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         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  “So you came here and threw a rock at my window because . . . ?”

  I was an idiot. I needed my head examined. I was desperate and pathetic.

  “I want to be friends.” There, I said it.

  He didn’t respond right away. Instead he studied me a moment, then glanced down at his feet before shifting them.

  “I believe you—I mean about the Rhett thing. And I meant what I said last night. But . . . we have the next few games and the championship hopefully in our reach. I can’t upset the team.”

  Meaning, he had thought about it and he couldn’t be my friend. He was a habitual good guy, but his future was on the line. I could be mad, but I got it. He’d worked for this as long as I had known him.

  “Oh, that makes sense. I get it. Sorry I bothered you.” I wanted to sprint for the sidewalk. Get as far away from here as possible. I didn’t think it could get any more embarrassing, but it just had.

  “Wait! Did you walk here?” His voice sounded concerned.

  I wish he’d just let me go. But he was, after all, Mr. Nice Guy. “Yeah,” I replied, barely glancing back over my shoulder and not stopping.

  “It’s not safe for you to be out like this. I’ll drive you back.”

  No, no, no. I needed alone time.

  “I’m good. Really. Besides, someone may see you.”

  He sighed loudly. “Don’t be like that, Riley. I meant what I said about being friends. It’s just better if we wait until the season is over. Then the team can get mad at me.”

  I really did understand his decision. I got it completely. But I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. “Just let me go, Brady.”

  I kept walking and only got a little farther before I heard him jogging up behind me. His conscience couldn’t handle this. There weren’t many guys like Brady Higgens on this earth.

  “Then I’m walking you back,” he said as he came up beside me. “Would be easier if I drove you, but if you insist on walking, then we will walk.”

  Stubborn. I stopped and turned to him. “Why can’t you just be like every other guy and go back inside and forget I came over here? Or better yet, make fun of me tomorrow to your friends?”

  “I’m not every other guy.”

  No, he wasn’t.

  I glanced back at his driveway. “Fine. I’ll let you give me a ride.”

  A small smile tugged at his lips. “Thanks.”

  This Town Had a Big Mouth

  CHAPTER 14

  BRADY

  Sleep never came last night, and I felt like shit. Our game was tomorrow, and I had to get my head clear and focused. Problem was, all I could do was remember Riley’s face and how hurt she’d been. It was eating me alive.

  She had been raped and called a liar, then run out of town. Now she was back because of her grandmother and facing an entire town that didn’t welcome her. My grand idea to be her friend had seemed like a good one until I talked to West and he reminded me how bad that could be for the team. West may understand, but Gunner wouldn’t. And a lot of people would side with Gunner. The team would be split, and we couldn’t win games like that.

  “You look terrible,” Maggie said as she walked into the kitchen. “Anything to do with the rock at the window last night?”

  When Riley had thrown the rock, Maggie had come to get me, figuring that it had been meant for me. I hadn’t told her about it when I got back from taking Riley home last night.

  “Yeah” was all I said.

  “Who’s the girl?” Maggie asked, handing me the box of cereal.

  “You don’t know her.”

  “Oh, so it was Riley Young.”

  This town had a big mouth. Jesus.

  “That can’t get out, Maggie,” I said, taking the cereal from her.

  “Who am I gonna tell? I’m not exactly a gossip.”

  She had a point. Although she was talking now, she still didn’t talk to many people. She kept a small circle of those she conversed with. Maggie didn’t trust easily. Can’t say I blame her.

  “I know. It’s just there is so much drama there. I need to get through the next few weeks without that.”

  She lifted a shoulder in acknowledgment and took a bite of her cereal. I could see she didn’t actually agree with me. She was thinking something else.

  “What?” I asked.

  “Nothing,” she replied.

  “Say it.”

  “Okay, fine. She trusted you, so you did something to gain her trust. I think that her coming here means she needs someone right now.”

  And I should be that someone. Maggie didn’t have to say it. I got what she meant.

  “It’s complicated.”

  “She’s got a baby, right? She’s seventeen and the father claims she’s a liar. Sounds like her life is a lot more complicated than yours.”

  Maggie set her bowl down in the sink and grabbed her book bag. “West just drove up. See you at school.”

  I finished my cereal, although now it tasted like sawdust. Damn, she was right.

  * * *

  The hallway was filled with people I knew and some I really didn’t. I watched them talk and laugh. Friends whispered, and guys called out my name in greeting. It was all very normal. Part of high school life. The last year I’d have this.

  All I could think was Riley didn’t get this. She was missing it all. My chest felt heavy as I made my way through the crowd of people. Each one I’d seen at some point in my past. I didn’t kid myself and believe that none of them had bad things in their lives. We all did.

  It was just that they all had someone. They had a place to go. They had people to talk to and escape from reality.

  Riley didn’t. But she’d trusted me, and I was a dick.

  There, I admitted it. I was a complete dick last night.

  Figuring out how to fix it, though, was the problem.

  “You look lost,” Gunner said as he and Willa walked up to me.

  I shrugged. I was, but that wasn’t something I could talk to him about. “Didn’t get much sleep.”

  Gunner nodded like he understood. He assumed it was the game. And part of it was. Just not the main part.

  “I’ve got to get to class early and go over my study guide for the test. Y’all can talk football,” Willa said and kissed Gunner’s cheek before leaving us there. Gunner watched her go like he would never see her again, and I figured that had all ended up the way it was supposed to.

  The two of them fit in a way we didn’t. Besides, I think it had been Gunner for her since we were kids.

  “All good in paradise?” I asked him.

  He finally glanced back at me. “Yeah. Life isn’t shit when she’s around.”

  Gunner had some serious family issues. Willa had been there with him through it all, more so than I could have been.

  “I’m glad she came back when she did,” I told him honestly.

  “Me too,” he agreed and turned his head to see her disappear around the corner. “Wish she’d never left.”

  I wondered if he and Willa would have become a thing earlier if she had stayed here. Maybe he would never have dated Riley, and she’d never have been raped by his brother. Life might have been drastically different for all of them.

  “I’m sure she does too,” I added.

  Gunner shrugged. “Don’t know. She made a life for herself there, and although there was a tragic end to it, I don’t think she regrets knowing her friend. Even if she had to lose her.”

  Willa’s story wasn’t easy either. She’d been through something I hadn’t experienced. Having a best friend commit suicide had to have been terrible. But she’d found happiness again.

  “West is coming to view the game clips tonight. You in for another round?” I asked him, changing the subject.

  “Is your mom making cookies again?”

  “Of course.”

  “Then I’ll be there.”

  I Can See You’re Both as Charming as I Remember

  CHAPTER 15

  RI
LEY

  With a grocery list in one hand and Bryony’s hand in the other, I walked into the store to pick up all the things we needed. Bryony had wanted to go to the park today, but it had rained most of the afternoon, so it was going to be muddy. I’d promised her animal cookies if she was a good girl at the grocery store.

  It was a compromise, not a bribe. Or at least I liked to tell myself that.

  “Riley Young.” I recognized the voice. The way my last name was said as if it were distasteful on her tongue made me tense. I hadn’t come into contact with Serena since I’d returned. I’d hoped I never would. Apparently my luck had just run out.

  I held Bryony close to my side as if they could hurt her, which was silly, but I did it anyway. Turning, I faced not only Serena but Kimmie as well. They looked like older versions of the girls I remembered. Still trying to outdo each other.

  “Hello, Serena. Kimmie,” I replied with a forced smile.

  “You’ve got a kid. What happened, you didn’t use protection?” Kimmie said with a snicker.

  I could take them attacking me. But they weren’t going to bring Bryony into this.

  “I can see you’re both as charming as I remember. If you’ll excuse me, I have groceries to buy,” I replied, wanting to set a good example for my daughter. She was young, but I was still sure she understood things like this. Or they at least made impressions on her.

  I walked past them and put Bryony in a buggy.

  “Don’t forget to grab some condoms. Hate for that to happen again,” Serena said with a sweet tone.

  I only had so much restraint.

  “You’re the one who needs to remember her condoms. You wouldn’t want to spread around the STDs you’ve got from years of screwing anyone who would look your way.”

  With that, I walked off. Maybe it wasn’t my finest hour as a mom, but damn, it felt good. They could stew on that and bitch about me for the next week.

  “Cookies?” Bryony asked me, and I could see the concerned frown on her face. She hadn’t understood what happened, but she was smart enough to know I was rattled.

  “Yes, baby girl, we are going to get you cookies,” I assured her.

  My emotions were too raw from last night’s confrontation with Brady. I was being a complete brat about it, but it couldn’t be helped. I had trusted him enough to say yes to his offer, then he’d taken it back. I understood his reasons, but it still hurt. That wasn’t getting any better.

  My life here was for a short time anyway. I would graduate soon, and then I was going to find a job and save up to get me and Bryony a place of our own. I didn’t have time for boys and friends. I had a life to build. My teen years were over. They had been since the night I asked Rhett to give me a ride home. Before that night I’d been smarter. I had trusted Brady, who had once been a good friend. Someone I could rely on.

  Two years ago . . .

  Gunner was drinking again. Being invited to these field parties early had been our ultimate goal since we were in elementary school. Thanks to Gunner’s older brother and the fact that Gunner was expected to be a future star on the football team, we, along with Brady and West, got to go this summer.

  At first, Gunner hadn’t drunk with the others. Brady never drank, but West had started sampling the beer. Then Gunner. Now it was a full-on drunk fest. Brady was the only one who remained sober. He was also the one everyone else wanted to talk to. He had started drawing attention from the high school coach two years ago, when he was just in eighth grade. His accuracy with the ball made him important around here.

  I sat on an old tractor tire near the fire, where Gunner had been earlier. He’d left me for more to drink and was now laughing with some juniors loudly and annoyingly. I’d liked getting to come to the parties at first, but I wasn’t so sure I liked it now. Getting home tonight would be tricky. I couldn’t call my mom to come get me because Gunner was hammered. She’d see that.

  I searched the crowd for Rhett, who normally gave Gunner and me a ride home. He drank some, but rarely did he get completely sloshed. I watched him and decided how safe riding with him would be. I’d gotten a ride with Brady’s mom more than once. Problem with that was, Brady stayed until late, and I wasn’t in the mood to stay late.

  Serena was trying hard to get Rhett’s attention when I found him across the field by his truck. He seemed more interested in one of the older girls there. Although Serena was here because of Rhett, I was sure. Definitely wouldn’t be asking him to take me home tonight. I guessed I’d have to suffer through until Brady left. He had a crowd around him, but I stood up and made my way over to him anyway. Gunner was going to be passed out soon, and I needed a ride home.

  “Hey, gorgeous,” someone called out with an obvious slur in his voice. I glanced over to see Ivan, one of Rhett’s friends, walking toward me. The red plastic cup in his hand held more than just beer, I’d bet. Ivan had been kicked off the team last year for partying too hard. He rarely showed up for class and was going to flunk out. No one seemed to care about any of this, though. He still hung with the same crowd, and they loved him.

  I turned my attention back to Brady’s group and hoped Ivan would trip over his drunk feet. “Your boy’s not able to handle his beer yet. He leave you all alone? That’s a shame. Come over here and we can talk.”

  Not in this lifetime.

  “No thanks,” I replied, still not looking at him.

  He laughed like that was hilarious. Before he could think of something else to say, I was close enough to Brady that he saw me headed his way. He stopped talking and stepped over toward me.

  “You good?” he asked, doing a quick check for Gunner, I assumed.

  “Yeah. Just need a ride. Is your mom coming?” I asked.

  He nodded, but there was a frown on his face. “Gunner drunk again?”

  “Yep.”

  He shook his head. “I’ve got to straighten him out. I’ll call Mom. We can leave in a few.”

  “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

  You Need Rattling

  CHAPTER 16

  BRADY

  Ivy had decorated my locker and left brownies with icing on them inside. She was still acting like we were an item on game days. I didn’t want to say something to hurt her feelings, but she had to stop this. We didn’t talk the rest of the week. Her mom’s brownies were good and all, but they weren’t going to fix us. We’d never been right to begin with.

  I ate two brownies and drank a large glass of milk before going upstairs to get my bag. Mom would have washed my uniform and packed things up for me to take to the bus. Tonight was important. Vitally. If we didn’t win this game, we were out.

  The studying of game tapes and all the extra practice had made me feel ready. I thought the team was prepared. It wasn’t them that was weighing on my mind. Instead it was me. The center of the team. The quarterback. Who needed his head adjusted. I hadn’t been able to shake loose Riley’s visit the other night. It bothered me that she was hurt. That I had been the one to hurt her.

  This wasn’t new. I was the nice guy. Not because I was labeled with it but because it was simply who I was. Sometimes I seriously hated it.

  However, this Riley thing was different. I was worried about her more so than I’d ever worried about Ivy and her feelings. Ivy and I had been on again off again for almost two years, but I’d never felt as strongly for her as I did about Riley. The only reason that I could think of for this was the little girl. Riley had been handed a raw deal and made the
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