After the Game (Page 11)

“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



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.

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