After the game, p.7
After the Game, p.7Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
best of it. I respected that.
My bag was sitting on my bed like expected, all packed up for me. Mom wasn’t home from work yet, but she’d be at the game along with my dad. They would bring Maggie, and it would be the normal Friday night. Except today, my head was not just on the game the way it always is.
Frustrated, I grabbed my bag and headed back downstairs. I had to deal with this now. We were supposed to be at the field house to load the bus in one hour. Before I went there, I was going to see Riley. If I didn’t talk to her and ease my mind, I wasn’t sure I could pull tonight off. The Panthers were also undefeated. We had a job on our hands, and I had to be 100 percent.
“You leaving already?” Maggie asked as I passed her bedroom door.
I paused and looked in the room. She was on her bed sitting with her legs crossed and a book open in her lap. The girl read more than anyone I knew.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“West went home to take a nap before y’all have to meet to leave.”
“I need to go do something,” I said, not giving her any more detail.
“Well, good luck tonight.”
“Thanks. I need it.”
She tilted her head to one side and her dark brown hair fell over one shoulder. “Never heard you say that before.”
Because I never felt that before. I had always been focused and confident. Not now.
“I’ve got a lot on my mind is all.”
“Riley Young,” Maggie replied. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, and started to walk off.
“You’ve been off since she threw the rock at the window the other night. You made the wrong decision, and it’s haunting you.”
This wasn’t something I wanted to discuss. I just needed to fix it. “You didn’t say anything to West, did you?”
She shook her head. “Not my information to tell.”
I really liked that about my cousin. She wasn’t a gossip. She kept to herself mostly. No drama or girly stuff to contend with. A lot like Riley, I guess.
“I’m working out what the right thing is. Not just for me but for everyone involved.” I wasn’t making sense, but that was all I was willing to say.
“I don’t know her. But I like her.”
“Why?” I asked, curious.
“No girl has ever rattled you like this. Not even Willa. Certainly not Ivy. You need rattling.”
No, I needed to be levelheaded and ready to win this game. “I disagree.”
Maggie picked her book back up like she was done with this conversation. Which was something I liked about her. She didn’t go on and on about a topic I was done discussing.
“I’ve found that the things that rattle us the most are the ones worth making sacrifices for.” She said this without looking up at me.
Damn. That struck a chord.
“Did you make sacrifices for West?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
This time she looked up from her book. “I spoke, Brady. I braved the sound of my own voice.”
The reason why that was a sacrifice didn’t need explaining. I understood. With a nod of my head, I left her there with her book. She had gained life again when she’d spoken to West. A large part of her that had been missing was filled with new reasons to be happy.
I didn’t think I was missing anything. I had great parents, I had good friends, and I was going to play football at an SEC college next year. My life couldn’t get much better. Before I picked up Riley and Bryony in my truck the other day, I didn’t question any of this. I knew I was solid. I was ready for my future.
Now I wondered if I was just living the easy life. Not facing challenges or really making a mark on anyone. Maggie had been West’s rock through a hell I never wanted to imagine. Even as broken as she was, she’d stood by him and become his center. She had done something with her life that meant more than just her happiness. She’d found happiness helping someone else.
Was I happy? This life I had . . . Did it make me happy? Did playing football and being the star at Lawton High really make me happy?
No. It didn’t. I wasn’t fulfilled.
I was empty. Pointless. I was a vessel to win games at my high school. Girls liked me, and I had my pick if I wanted them. My truck wasn’t new, but it was nice and had been given to me without my having to work for it. There was nothing worth mentioning I had done for anyone.
Tossing my bag into the passenger seat of my truck I decided that was over. I wasn’t focusing on Brady Higgens anymore. Someone needed me. She needed friendship, and she had come to me. Fuck my friends getting mad. They all needed to wake up and realize that was two years ago and we’d all been wrong. I was worried about winning a championship and there was a single mom who I had once considered a friend reaching out. I wasn’t ignoring that. Not for a damn game.
You’ve Got a Championship to Win
There were painted car windows, blue flags with lions on them, and of course large signs in every yard except ours with LIONS #1. My house wasn’t worried about the game. We were the only ones in town without some Lions sign in their yard, and in the next town meeting they could possibly vote to run us out of town . . . again . . . because we’ve failed to be football obsessed.
Smiling at that thought, I shook my head. It wouldn’t happen, of course, but the way they all made over a football game you would think it was the presidential election. Bryony pointed at another car that passed us leaving town for the game. The painted windows and flags flying were fascinating to her. At least they were good for something.
The next vehicle that passed wasn’t a painted car. It was Brady Higgens’s truck. My chest tightened at the sight, and I began walking faster. Getting home wasn’t going to make the reminder of the other night go away, but I could at least get busy with making Bryony a snack and cleaning my closet or something. Anything not to remember the fool I’d made of myself.
Bryony clapped and waved at the next car that drove by. They had a stuffed lion’s head on the hood. Not sure how they were making that stay. But it sure made Bryony happy. She’d probably enjoy the games. All the fans cheering and guys running on the field. I’d never be able to take her, though. That was a part of my life that was over.
I turned into my grandmamma’s drive just as Brady’s truck came to a rolling stop beside me. Bryony was waving at him as if he were her best friend. I had already been rude in front of my daughter once this week. I wasn’t going to do it again.
“Don’t you have a game to get to?” I asked him. His window was down, and he looked like he was about to speak to me.
“I have about forty-five minutes. Can you talk?”
My response should have been Nope. I can’t. Bye.
But Brady had a game, and he was here for some reason. To him, it had to be important. I looked over to see my dad’s car was also home. Fridays he often got off work early. The game probably had the entire town getting off work early. Leaving Bryony inside with my parents shouldn’t be an issue.
“Let me take her inside,” I replied.
I pushed the stroller to the front porch and bent down in front of her to unbuckle the safety harness. “Mommy is going to talk to our friend Brady, okay? I’ll be inside to fix you a snack in a few minutes.”
She nodded as if this all made sense. I often wondered if it did, if she understood the things she responded to.
Opening the door, I saw Dad on the sofa with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. “Hey, Dad,” I greeted him. “Brady Higgens is out here and wants to talk to me a minute. Can you keep an eye on Bryony for me? I won’t be long.”
Dad frowned. “Brady? Doesn’t that boy have a game to be at?”
My sentiments exactly. I nodded. “Yes, so this will be quick.”
“Sure, I’ll watch her. Tell him I said good luck. I’m rooting for them.”
I didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure what t
Brady had stepped out of his truck and was leaning against the passenger’s side, waiting on me. I walked back over to him. If he was going to apologize again, I just may have lost my temper. I didn’t want his apologies. I wanted to pretend I’d never gone over there.
“I don’t have a lot of time,” I told him as if he were going to keep me. We both knew he had a game to go win. “And if this is another apology, please don’t. Just let it go.”
He shifted his feet and seemed almost nervous. “I want to be friends. My original offer—or request—still stands.”
He sighed and ran his hands through his messy dark hair. “Because I want to be friends with you. I believe you. I feel like shit about the way I treated you when you first came back into town and the fact that I turned on you two years ago. I was young. That’s the only excuse I have. But I know better now. My team doesn’t get to tell me who I choose to be friends with.”
He sounded so determined I wondered if he was trying to convince himself of all this. And why he felt the need to come see me before his game when this could wait.
“You’ve got a championship to win,” I reminded him. He’d been pretty set on that the other night.
“Yeah, I do. But that shouldn’t stop me from doing what is right.”
So I was what was right. That made me feel like a charity case. The kid at the lunch table with no friends. Something he had learned in Sunday school as a kid. Be kind to those in need. Well, I wasn’t in need. I was perfectly fine.
“I don’t need your guilt friendship. I’m better than that. But thanks anyway,” I said, then turned to head back inside. This conversation was over as far as I was concerned.
“Wait. Don’t. It’s not guilt,” he called out, but I knew the truth even if he didn’t. “The truth is I can’t stop thinking about you.”
I stopped. Well, that was definitely a turn I hadn’t expected.
“Excuse me?” I asked, looking back at him.
He stuck his hands in his jeans pockets. “I think I need you. A friendship that isn’t based on my performance on the field or getting into the best party. A real one. That means something.”
Now, this was going to be harder to argue or walk away from. I’d been vulnerable at his house the other night, and he was now doing the same with me. It had just taken him time to think it through.
“Why now? Why not when the season is over?”
I can honestly say that I was worried about the other guys and this stupid football game now. Not because I wanted them to win but because I wanted Brady to win. I wanted him to get that future he’d worked so hard for. Why did I want all that? God, I was getting feelings for him. All this crap around us, and I was starting to care about Brady Higgens’s happiness.
“Football can’t make all my decisions in life for me. If I let it, then I’m not fighting for my dream; I’m letting my dream own me. I should own it.”
I stood there in silence and let his words really sink in. He meant this. I respected him for it. But I still wanted to protect him.
“Then let your new friend make a decision for you. Wait. Give this season time to play out. Then we can try the friendship thing.”
He shook his head. “I don’t want to wait. I can’t.”
His determination was . . . cute. Admirable but cute.
“Then let’s be friends in secret for a few more weeks,” I suggested.
He frowned and looked like he was going to argue again.
“Just think about it. Go win tonight’s game and let the pros and cons play through your head this weekend. If you’re still dead set on blowing up the town, we will go to the Den and eat burgers Monday night. But if you see reason like I do, you’ll drive two towns over and meet me for pizza.”
A smile slowly spread across his face. “Can I have your number, then?”
As if a female could say no to that.
By Three Touchdowns
Getting my head completely in the game was hard, but seeing the fans who had driven out here in the stands, cheering with their banners held high and their cowbells ringing, reminded me of the importance of tonight. I wasn’t out here worried about a girl who I couldn’t stop thinking about. She was okay now. We were okay. And the idea of a future for us excited rather than scared me. I was ready to win this game now. This wasn’t just my future weighing the balance. It was all of ours. Even those of us who would hold this as our last memory of football. It would mean something.
By halftime we were down a touchdown. The Panthers were tough, and even with all the prep work, we were having to be on our very best game to keep up with them. West slung his helmet across the field house as he let out a string of words that I knew Coach would overlook. We hadn’t played a game this hard all season.
Gunner slammed his fist into the old, beat-up lockers that were reserved for the Panthers’ opposing team. He didn’t let a string of curses fly from his mouth, but he continued to beat the locker a few more times before resting his forehead on it. We had two quarters left to change this.
Coach would talk to us and remind us who we were and what we’d come here for. He was good at halftime talks. I could count on him to get the team’s heads back up and ready to go fight.
There would be roars and fists in the air as we charged back onto the field. This wasn’t the first halftime we had been behind. It was just the first time we had been shaken. The way we had played tonight should have had us a touchdown or more ahead. Not behind.
“Where is your head tonight?” Gunner asked me as he lifted himself up from the locker he’d been leaning on.
Was he blaming me for this? “Not sure what you mean by that,” I replied, anger slowly building inside me. The accusation on his face was enough to tell me he was pointing at me instead of all of us. “This is a team. Where is your head?” I shot back.
“Fuck that. You’ve got the ball. You run the team. And I’ve been playing ball with you since we were kids. Your head isn’t with us out there. So where the fucking hell is it? Because we need it on that field.” He was yelling now.
“Back off, Gunner,” West said, stepping up between us. Nash and Asa had also moved closer to us. As if a fight was about to start and they all needed to be there to break it up.
“No! He is going to lose us this game. His head isn’t there, and we need it!” Gunner yelled. “Hunter is a damn sophomore and not ready for this. We can’t hand the game over to him. We need Brady to get it together before we walk back onto that field.”
I wanted to get in his face and tell him just where he could shove his accusation. The idea of slamming my fist into his face was also appealing. However, he was right. My head wasn’t completely there. Gunner was the only one with balls enough to point it out.
“Go drink some water and calm down,” Asa told Gunner. They all thought we were about to tie up. Any other time, I just might do it. But tonight Gunner was right. This was my fault. Admitting it hurt, but it was true.
“What’s going on out there, boys?” Coach asked as he entered the field house. The local media had stopped him for an interview on his way to us, so he’d missed the confrontation.
Everyone but Gunner turned to look at Coach while Gunner’s eyes stayed glued to me. He was waiting on his answer. He wasn’t getting one because the truth would cause more than just me messing up. Hell would break loose.
“I’m off tonight,” I replied to Coach’s question while keeping eye contact with Gunner. “This is all on me.”
That was the first moment I’d had to do this in a locker room in all the years I’d been playing. It had never been me. It had always been someone else
“Then let’s fix this. You’re the best senior quarterback in Alabama, Brady. Or did you forget that?” Coach replied.
I hadn’t forgotten. I may not agree, but I hadn’t forgotten the title had been given to me in the latest stats. If I lost this, Riley would blame herself. This wasn’t her fault. It was mine. This wasn’t just for me; it was for this entire team and our town.
“I’m ready,” I told him.
Coach nodded and started in on his plan for the next half. Now we had seen the Panthers’ play and their strategy, we had to adjust ours. I soaked it in and managed to put Riley Young out of my mind. Tonight I had
After the Game by Abbi Glines / Romance & Love / Young Adult have rating 5.2 out of 5 / Based on47 votes