After the game, p.9
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       After the Game, p.9

         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  “Did you go to school when you moved away?”

  I shook my head and stared out the window. “No. After leaving, I wasn’t brave enough to face more teenagers and their judgment about my pregnancy. I began homeschooling then.”

  He didn’t respond right away, and I wished we hadn’t gotten on this topic. It was awkward for him, I guess. And not something I liked to talk about.

  “Wasn’t that lonely?”

  He had no idea. “Yeah, but then Bryony was born and she changed my world.”

  That was the truth. Before her birth I had been depressed. My world was lost, and I didn’t think I’d ever smile again. Being fifteen and pregnant was terrifying. Even if you had the support of your parents.

  “You’re a good mom. You make it look easy, even though I know it can’t be.”

  Bryony made it easy. She was such a good baby. It was almost like she was born knowing I needed easy. The moment they laid her on my chest I started to cry. Not because I was scared or sad but because she was mine. Perfect, beautiful, and healthy. I’d brought a life into this world, and nothing I ever did after that would be as important.

  “She’s my spot of sunshine in life,” I replied. She was worth every teenage moment lost. I wouldn’t trade her to get any of it back. I would never suggest being a teen mom to someone, because it wasn’t a life choice. But when there is no option and it’s placed upon you, you then learn to survive and make the best of it. Bryony was definitely the best.

  “Are you going to just graduate from your online homeschooling courses? Or have you considered going back to school?”

  I never considered it. Nor could I. “I have responsibilities that won’t change. My parents need my help with my grandmother, and then there is Bryony. I don’t want her in a day care. She needs me.”

  “I wonder if any of the girls at school would think the same way you do. Somehow I doubt it,” he replied. “I respect that.”

  I wasn’t really after his respect, but I didn’t say that. I did this for my family because I loved them. Not to get a pat on the back.

  “So tell me about these boots and why you need them this badly,” I said, changing the subject off me.

  Finally turning my attention from the road to my right, I looked over at him. He had a small grin on his face. “They’re just some I want.”

  “Okay . . . well, you can’t order them online or go to Nashville to find them?”

  His grin got a little bigger. “I could. But then I wouldn’t have a reason to get you far enough away from Lawton so we could enjoy ourselves for the day.”

  “Are you saying this trip is so we can hang out?” I asked, my heart doing that silly little squeeze and flutter.

  He glanced over at me. “Yeah. I guess it is.”

  I didn’t ask any more. That was enough. Enough to make me forget this was going to end too. Most good things did.

  She’s with Me



  Our conversation became easy, and the two hours didn’t seem that long at all. When Riley laughed, I wanted to soak it in. The sound of it was . . . nice. No, it was more than nice. I craved it. I found myself trying to coax a laugh from her. Anything to hear her and watch her face light up.

  I received a few texts, and each one I ignored. Gunner’s, West’s, and Asa’s had been expected. The one from Ivy hadn’t, but I ignore hers normally anyway. Today I wasn’t living in that world. I was living in the world I chose to live in.

  “I’ve never had barbecue this good,” Riley said as she wiped her mouth with a napkin. I couldn’t think of one girl I’d ever dated that would have chosen a barbecue place to eat and then ordered ribs covered in sauce. Most of them ate things that weren’t messy. But Riley was enjoying her food. Getting sauce all over her hands and face didn’t bother her at all.

  Seeing her laugh at the mess she was making was cute. I wanted to sit here all day and experience this. I picked up another hot wing and cleaned the bone. Normally I was a cleaner eater because my date was. But with Riley I felt like I could eat as if she were one of the guys. Although she looked nothing like one of the guys.

  If girls realized how attractive it was to be so free and happy about something as simple as some ribs, they’d lighten up a bit. The guys two tables over from us kept checking Riley out, and although it was annoying that they didn’t seem to mind that she was with me, I couldn’t actually blame them.

  I was having a hard time taking my eyes off her too.

  “I’m going to have to go wash my face in the bathroom after this,” she said with a smile. “Bryony loves ribs. I wish she were here for these.”

  I’d offer to take some back with us, but they’d be bad by the time we finished our day and drove the two hours back.

  “I could grill some for her sometime. Y’all could come over for dinner.”

  Riley paused for a moment and a mix of emotions flashed in her eyes. She put a rib down and let out a small sigh. “Yeah, maybe.”

  What was that about? She seemed almost upset by my offer, or disappointed.

  “Did I say something wrong?”

  She was looking down at her ribs then lifted her eyes to mine. “I don’t live in a fantasy world, Brady. I’ve had too much reality for that. Truth is, when your friends find out that you’re spending time with me, it will stop. Because you’ll have to choose. They’ll make you. And I don’t expect you to choose me.”

  What the hell did that mean? I wasn’t going to have to choose anyone. I was my own man, dammit, and if I wanted to pick my friends, I could. I didn’t need anyone’s permission.

  “I’m not like that. I’d have hoped you knew that already. No one makes me do anything.”

  She shrugged and cleaned her hands off on a napkin. “It’s not a bad thing. It just is what it is. Here we have no judgment, and I enjoy being with you. I like this. Having a friend. But I’m not delusional. I know everyone in Lawton hates me and thinks I’m a liar. Well, everyone but you.”

  I had never been openly hated. I wondered what that felt like. How painful and unfair it must be. My anger rose up at all of them. Everyone who had talked bad about her. Everyone who had judged her or been cruel to her. Then I admitted to myself the hardest part: I was one of those everyones. Maybe not now, but I had been once. I wasn’t any better.

  “I’m sorry,” I said honestly.

  She smiled. “For being my friend?”

  “No. For turning on you when I did.”

  The smile on her face faded. “We were young. You thought what everyone else did. Besides, I ran out of town. It made me look even more guilty. If I had stayed, life for my family would have just gotten worse, but the fact is we left. People feel sorry for my parents because of me. But these people’ll always hate me. The good thing is I won’t always be there. I’ll get out and make my own way in life soon enough. In a town where no one knows me and I can start fresh. Me and Bryony.”

  The image of Riley taking Bryony to some town far away and building a life, getting a job, paying bills, raising her daughter, all while I was off throwing a football and chasing my dream, seemed unfair. So much of her life seemed unfair. She’d missed high school and she’d miss college.

  “What was your dream, when you were younger?” I asked her. I didn’t want to say before Bryony, because that sounded cold. Although that was what I wanted to know.

  “You mean before I became a mom?” She was smiling as if she read my mind. “I wanted to be a vet.”

  “So you love animals,” I said, feeling my heart ache for the girl who wouldn’t be able to chase her dream the way I would.

  “Yes. I do. I can’t take care of one now because I can’t afford it. But when Bryony and I have our own place, we will have dogs and cats. Maybe even goats if I get enough land.”

  “Could you still go to college to be a vet?”

  She shook her head. “No, I need a job that makes enough to support me and Bryony. I have plans. I want to make a differe
nce in girls’ lives like me one day. The teen mom support group I went to got me through tough times. My dream is to do that for young girls. Show them there is happiness in their future. Life isn’t over.”

  She didn’t say it with bitterness or anger. Instead she took a drink of her sweet tea and stood up. “I need to go wash myself off,” she explained before walking to the back of the restaurant to the restrooms.

  Why did I want her to have that dream so badly? She seemed happy enough, and I had never wanted to fix anyone’s problems as much as I wanted to fix hers. She made me want to protect her and stand by her. Even though she may have been one of the toughest people I’d ever met. If she knew what I was thinking, she’d tell me to stop. She had everything under control.

  Maybe that was why I wanted to help her so much. Because she didn’t want help. She wanted to make her own way. And I knew she could.

  “Hey, y’all just friends or is she with you?” one of the guys asked from the other table.

  I turned to look at him, and his obvious interest pissed me off. Sure, I understood it, but I was jealous. Me. Jealous. Not the kind I felt with Gunner and Willa, but the kind that made me want to stake my claim and threaten him.

  “She’s with me,” I replied in a cold tone.

  The guy looked let down. “Damn” was his response.

  I Didn’t Know Friends Kissed Like That



  It was after six when Brady pulled into my driveway. I had kept in contact with my mom all day, and Bryony had been fine. As much as I missed her, this little getaway had been needed. I was thankful Brady had thought of it.

  I turned to tell him thank you and how much I enjoyed our day when he pulled to a stop, but his gaze was already locked on me. The look in his eyes was different, and I recognized it. Or at least my body did. My heart had picked up its pace, and I felt flushed from anticipation.

  Before I could get too nervous or think this through, he leaned over and his right hand cupped my cheek just as he leaned his head down until his lips touched mine. It wasn’t controlling or possessive. It wasn’t like a hungry teenage boy trying to attack me. It was sweet. Like he wanted to savor this.

  I moved my body closer to his and opened my mouth beneath his, hoping that wasn’t too much too soon. Although this was not how I expected this day to end. Not that deep down I hadn’t wanted it. Because I had. I knew that. It was just actually having it happen was different. It was exciting and terrifying. Reality had been much different in my head. I had even been debating giving him a hug earlier, not realizing he was planning on this.

  His tongue touched mine, and I let out a sound that I hoped sounded as pleased as I was. A real kiss. The kind that meant something was new to me. What I had done before when I was younger had been learning and experimenting. Nothing more. It sure hadn’t made my heart flutter and my body tingle.

  I wanted to remember this in case our end came sooner than expected. Although Brady wasn’t my first kiss, he would always be my first meaningful kiss. The first one to affect me.

  Slowly he eased back, ending the connection.

  “I’ve wanted to do that all day,” he whispered.

  I hadn’t realized it, but I was blushing from his admission and thankful for the darkness.

  “I didn’t know friends kissed like that,” I replied.

  He pressed a small kiss to the corner of my lips. “They don’t” was his response.

  “Oh” was all I could say. Brady was telling me this was more. It wasn’t just me feeling things beyond friendship. He was feeling them too.

  “Can I call you tomorrow?” he asked, sounding unsure.

  I wondered if Brady Higgens had ever been unsure about anything. “Yes.”

  He moved away and climbed down out of his truck. I watched him as he walked around the front of his truck and came to open my door. He held out his hand to help me down, and I took it. Not because I needed it but because I wasn’t sure how well my legs were going to work now.

  “Thanks for today,” I said, wanting to say more but so flustered I couldn’t seem to find the words.

  “It was the best day I’ve had in a long time,” he replied.

  I knew he wouldn’t kiss me out here. For the world to see. Even now, him walking me to my door was dangerous. If anyone drove by and saw him, he’d have to lie or tell the truth. I wanted him to lie. I wasn’t ready for this to end. Not yet.

  “We will find some time tomorrow, then,” he said just as we reached the door.

  I knew I couldn’t leave Bryony all day again, and I didn’t want to. “Yeah, I can get away for a little while. Maybe while Bryony naps.”

  “Soon we can take her to the park together.”

  I liked that he said that, but believing him was hard, so I just nodded.

  “Good night,” he said reaching down to squeeze my hand before turning and leaving me there.

  I opened the front door and stepped inside, even though I wanted to watch him until he drove away. I wouldn’t allow myself that.

  “That looked like your day went well,” my mother said with her eyebrows up as I walked into the living room. She’d been spying on me. I hadn’t expected her to do that.

  “I don’t know what you mean,” I replied, blowing that off.

  She rolled her eyes. “It may be dark outside, but under the streetlamp the inside of his truck was perfectly clear from here. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t spying. I just heard his truck and decided to check to see who was here. Then I saw something I wasn’t expecting.”

  Me either.

  “Don’t read too much into it,” I replied.

  “Momma!” Bryony called out, running excitedly into the room with her bath towel wrapped around her.

  “Hey, baby girl,” I said, equally as thrilled to see her.

  “Baff!” she stated the obvious.

  “Then I’ll go bathe you,” I replied.

  “Pay boat.” She loved her little pink boat that floated in the bathwater. Playing boat was her favorite part of her bath.

  “Okay, sounds like a plan.”

  “Ookies,” she said, pointing to the kitchen.

  She nodded enthusiastically.

  “He likes you. Trust him,” Mother called out as I followed my daughter down the hall.

  “I’m trying” was my only response. “But I know how this ends.”

  “You don’t know him. That boy is different. He always has been.”

  I remembered him turning on me two years ago. He wasn’t different then. “He’s nicer, but in the end he isn’t all that different.”

  I could hear my mother’s sigh, and I kept following Bryony to the bathroom. Spending time with my daughter and reminding myself what was important in life was what I needed after that kiss. I wasn’t a normal girl, and sitting around and dwelling on it was pointless.

  “One day you’re going to have to trust again,” Mom replied, following us to the bathroom. She wasn’t ready to let this go.

  One day I was. Today wasn’t that day.

  “Did you save me some cookies?” I asked her.

  “Of course. Bryony made you pink ones.”

  I had heard her, but I wanted a subject change. That had worked.

  “What all did you do today?” I asked Bryony.

  “Ookies,” she told me again.

  Cooking anything was the highlight of her day, other than going to the park. Especially cooking things she liked to eat.

  “Did you play outside?”

  She nodded. “Me duddy.” She beamed up at me as if being dirty was an accomplishment.

  “Then you had a perfect day,” I reminded her.

  She dropped her towel and ran to the bathwater that my mother had run for her. It was full of her toys and bubbles.

  This was my enough.

  I’ve Got This Under Control

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