After the Game (Page 13)

The two of them fit in a way we didn’t. Besides, I think it had been Gunner for her since we were kids.

“All good in paradise?” I asked him.

He finally glanced back at me. “Yeah. Life isn’t s**t when she’s around.”

Gunner had some serious family issues. Willa had been there with him through it all, more so than I could have been.

“I’m glad she came back when she did,” I told him honestly.

“Me too,” he agreed and turned his head to see her disappear around the corner. “Wish she’d never left.”

I wondered if he and Willa would have become a thing earlier if she had stayed here. Maybe he would never have dated Riley, and she’d never have been raped by his brother. Life might have been drastically different for all of them.

“I’m sure she does too,” I added.

Gunner shrugged. “Don’t know. She made a life for herself there, and although there was a tragic end to it, I don’t think she regrets knowing her friend. Even if she had to lose her.”

Willa’s story wasn’t easy either. She’d been through something I hadn’t experienced. Having a best friend commit suicide had to have been terrible. But she’d found happiness again.

“West is coming to view the game clips tonight. You in for another round?” I asked him, changing the subject.

“Is your mom making cookies again?”

“Of course.”

“Then I’ll be there.”

I Can See You’re Both as Charming as I Remember

CHAPTER 15

RILEY

With a grocery list in one hand and Bryony’s hand in the other, I walked into the store to pick up all the things we needed. Bryony had wanted to go to the park today, but it had rained most of the afternoon, so it was going to be muddy. I’d promised her animal cookies if she was a good girl at the grocery store.

It was a compromise, not a bribe. Or at least I liked to tell myself that.

“Riley Young.” I recognized the voice. The way my last name was said as if it were distasteful on her tongue made me tense. I hadn’t come into contact with Serena since I’d returned. I’d hoped I never would. Apparently my luck had just run out.

I held Bryony close to my side as if they could hurt her, which was silly, but I did it anyway. Turning, I faced not only Serena but Kimmie as well. They looked like older versions of the girls I remembered. Still trying to outdo each other.

“Hello, Serena. Kimmie,” I replied with a forced smile.

“You’ve got a kid. What happened, you didn’t use protection?” Kimmie said with a snicker.

I could take them attacking me. But they weren’t going to bring Bryony into this.

“I can see you’re both as charming as I remember. If you’ll excuse me, I have groceries to buy,” I replied, wanting to set a good example for my daughter. She was young, but I was still sure she understood things like this. Or they at least made impressions on her.

I walked past them and put Bryony in a buggy.

“Don’t forget to grab some condoms. Hate for that to happen again,” Serena said with a sweet tone.

I only had so much restraint.

“You’re the one who needs to remember her condoms. You wouldn’t want to spread around the STDs you’ve got from years of screwing anyone who would look your way.”

With that, I walked off. Maybe it wasn’t my finest hour as a mom, but damn, it felt good. They could stew on that and b***h about me for the next week.

“Cookies?” Bryony asked me, and I could see the concerned frown on her face. She hadn’t understood what happened, but she was smart enough to know I was rattled.

“Yes, baby girl, we are going to get you cookies,” I assured her.

My emotions were too raw from last night’s confrontation with Brady. I was being a complete brat about it, but it couldn’t be helped. I had trusted him enough to say yes to his offer, then he’d taken it back. I understood his reasons, but it still hurt. That wasn’t getting any better.

My life here was for a short time anyway. I would graduate soon, and then I was going to find a job and save up to get me and Bryony a place of our own. I didn’t have time for boys and friends. I had a life to build. My teen years were over. They had been since the night I asked Rhett to give me a ride home. Before that night I’d been smarter. I had trusted Brady, who had once been a good friend. Someone I could rely on.

Two years ago . . .

Gunner was drinking again. Being invited to these field parties early had been our ultimate goal since we were in elementary school. Thanks to Gunner’s older brother and the fact that Gunner was expected to be a future star on the football team, we, along with Brady and West, got to go this summer.

At first, Gunner hadn’t drunk with the others. Brady never drank, but West had started sampling the beer. Then Gunner. Now it was a full-on drunk fest. Brady was the only one who remained sober. He was also the one everyone else wanted to talk to. He had started drawing attention from the high school coach two years ago, when he was just in eighth grade. His accuracy with the ball made him important around here.

I sat on an old tractor tire near the fire, where Gunner had been earlier. He’d left me for more to drink and was now laughing with some juniors loudly and annoyingly. I’d liked getting to come to the parties at first, but I wasn’t so sure I liked it now. Getting home tonight would be tricky. I couldn’t call my mom to come get me because Gunner was hammered. She’d see that.

I searched the crowd for Rhett, who normally gave Gunner and me a ride home. He drank some, but rarely did he get completely sloshed. I watched him and decided how safe riding with him would be. I’d gotten a ride with Brady’s mom more than once. Problem with that was, Brady stayed until late, and I wasn’t in the mood to stay late.

Serena was trying hard to get Rhett’s attention when I found him across the field by his truck. He seemed more interested in one of the older girls there. Although Serena was here because of Rhett, I was sure. Definitely wouldn’t be asking him to take me home tonight. I guessed I’d have to suffer through until Brady left. He had a crowd around him, but I stood up and made my way over to him anyway. Gunner was going to be passed out soon, and I needed a ride home.

“Hey, gorgeous,” someone called out with an obvious slur in his voice. I glanced over to see Ivan, one of Rhett’s friends, walking toward me. The red plastic cup in his hand held more than just beer, I’d bet. Ivan had been kicked off the team last year for partying too hard. He rarely showed up for class and was going to flunk out. No one seemed to care about any of this, though. He still hung with the same crowd, and they loved him.

I turned my attention back to Brady’s group and hoped Ivan would trip over his drunk feet. “Your boy’s not able to handle his beer yet. He leave you all alone? That’s a shame. Come over here and we can talk.”

Not in this lifetime.

“No thanks,” I replied, still not looking at him.

He laughed like that was hilarious. Before he could think of something else to say, I was close enough to Brady that he saw me headed his way. He stopped talking and stepped over toward me.

“You good?” he asked, doing a quick check for Gunner, I assumed.

“Yeah. Just need a ride. Is your mom coming?” I asked.

He nodded, but there was a frown on his face. “Gunner drunk again?”

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