After the Game (Page 10)

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.

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