After the Game (Page 12)

“Hello?” Brady called out, and I let out a small breath. It was Brady, not his dad, and I was sure Brady didn’t have a gun. I was going to live.

“Anyone out here?” he asked.

I could ignore him and let him continue his search, or I could come out of the hedges and announce myself. My goal had been to get Brady down here. That was what had happened. Hiding from him seemed silly now.

Instead of chancing the animal attack, I stood up and stepped out of hiding. This was embarrassing, now that I thought about it: coming here at night and throwing a rock at his window. My face was warm, and I was glad the darkness would mask my embarrassment.

“It’s me,” I said, and he spun around.

“Riley?”

“Yeah.”

“What are you doing? Are you okay?”

No, apparently I was warped in the head. This whole idea seemed terrible. I should have stayed at home in bed and not let my need for friends send me out on this wild chase.

“You, uh, changed bedrooms.” I couldn’t think of anything smarter to say.

He nodded.

“I didn’t know—”

“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 s**t. 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.

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