After the Game (Page 15)

Bryony clapped and waved at the next car that drove by. They had a stuffed lion’s head on the hood. Not sure how they were making that stay. But it sure made Bryony happy. She’d probably enjoy the games. All the fans cheering and guys running on the field. I’d never be able to take her, though. That was a part of my life that was over.

I turned into my grandmamma’s drive just as Brady’s truck came to a rolling stop beside me. Bryony was waving at him as if he were her best friend. I had already been rude in front of my daughter once this week. I wasn’t going to do it again.

“Don’t you have a game to get to?” I asked him. His window was down, and he looked like he was about to speak to me.

“I have about forty-five minutes. Can you talk?”

My response should have been Nope. I can’t. Bye.

But Brady had a game, and he was here for some reason. To him, it had to be important. I looked over to see my dad’s car was also home. Fridays he often got off work early. The game probably had the entire town getting off work early. Leaving Bryony inside with my parents shouldn’t be an issue.

“Let me take her inside,” I replied.

I pushed the stroller to the front porch and bent down in front of her to unbuckle the safety harness. “Mommy is going to talk to our friend Brady, okay? I’ll be inside to fix you a snack in a few minutes.”

She nodded as if this all made sense. I often wondered if it did, if she understood the things she responded to.

Opening the door, I saw Dad on the sofa with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. “Hey, Dad,” I greeted him. “Brady Higgens is out here and wants to talk to me a minute. Can you keep an eye on Bryony for me? I won’t be long.”

Dad frowned. “Brady? Doesn’t that boy have a game to be at?”

My sentiments exactly. I nodded. “Yes, so this will be quick.”

“Sure, I’ll watch her. Tell him I said good luck. I’m rooting for them.”

I didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure what to say. My parents were too enthusiastic about Brady. I was afraid they were about to be let down. I put Bryony down so she could run to see her pops, then closed the door behind me. My father wasn’t the nosy sort, but whatever this was about, I didn’t want anyone overhearing us.

Brady had stepped out of his truck and was leaning against the passenger’s side, waiting on me. I walked back over to him. If he was going to apologize again, I just may have lost my temper. I didn’t want his apologies. I wanted to pretend I’d never gone over there.

“I don’t have a lot of time,” I told him as if he were going to keep me. We both knew he had a game to go win. “And if this is another apology, please don’t. Just let it go.”

He shifted his feet and seemed almost nervous. “I want to be friends. My original offer—or request—still stands.”



He sighed and ran his hands through his messy dark hair. “Because I want to be friends with you. I believe you. I feel like s**t about the way I treated you when you first came back into town and the fact that I turned on you two years ago. I was young. That’s the only excuse I have. But I know better now. My team doesn’t get to tell me who I choose to be friends with.”

He sounded so determined I wondered if he was trying to convince himself of all this. And why he felt the need to come see me before his game when this could wait.

“You’ve got a championship to win,” I reminded him. He’d been pretty set on that the other night.

“Yeah, I do. But that shouldn’t stop me from doing what is right.”

So I was what was right. That made me feel like a charity case. The kid at the lunch table with no friends. Something he had learned in Sunday school as a kid. Be kind to those in need. Well, I wasn’t in need. I was perfectly fine.

“I don’t need your guilt friendship. I’m better than that. But thanks anyway,” I said, then turned to head back inside. This conversation was over as far as I was concerned.

“Wait. Don’t. It’s not guilt,” he called out, but I knew the truth even if he didn’t. “The truth is I can’t stop thinking about you.”

I stopped. Well, that was definitely a turn I hadn’t expected.

“Excuse me?” I asked, looking back at him.

He stuck his hands in his jeans pockets. “I think I need you. A friendship that isn’t based on my performance on the field or getting into the best party. A real one. That means something.”

Now, this was going to be harder to argue or walk away from. I’d been vulnerable at his house the other night, and he was now doing the same with me. It had just taken him time to think it through.

“Why now? Why not when the season is over?”

I can honestly say that I was worried about the other guys and this stupid football game now. Not because I wanted them to win but because I wanted Brady to win. I wanted him to get that future he’d worked so hard for. Why did I want all that? God, I was getting feelings for him. All this crap around us, and I was starting to care about Brady Higgens’s happiness.

“Football can’t make all my decisions in life for me. If I let it, then I’m not fighting for my dream; I’m letting my dream own me. I should own it.”

I stood there in silence and let his words really sink in. He meant this. I respected him for it. But I still wanted to protect him.

“Then let your new friend make a decision for you. Wait. Give this season time to play out. Then we can try the friendship thing.”

He shook his head. “I don’t want to wait. I can’t.”

His determination was . . . cute. Admirable but cute.

“Then let’s be friends in secret for a few more weeks,” I suggested.

He frowned and looked like he was going to argue again.

“Just think about it. Go win tonight’s game and let the pros and cons play through your head this weekend. If you’re still dead set on blowing up the town, we will go to the Den and eat burgers Monday night. But if you see reason like I do, you’ll drive two towns over and meet me for pizza.”

A smile slowly spread across his face. “Can I have your number, then?”

As if a female could say no to that.

By Three Touchdowns



Getting my head completely in the game was hard, but seeing the fans who had driven out here in the stands, cheering with their banners held high and their cowbells ringing, reminded me of the importance of tonight. I wasn’t out here worried about a girl who I couldn’t stop thinking about. She was okay now. We were okay. And the idea of a future for us excited rather than scared me. I was ready to win this game now. This wasn’t just my future weighing the balance. It was all of ours. Even those of us who would hold this as our last memory of football. It would mean something.

By halftime we were down a touchdown. The Panthers were tough, and even with all the prep work, we were having to be on our very best game to keep up with them. West slung his helmet across the field house as he let out a string of words that I knew Coach would overlook. We hadn’t played a game this hard all season.

Gunner slammed his fist into the old, beat-up lockers that were reserved for the Panthers’ opposing team. He didn’t let a string of curses fly from his mouth, but he continued to beat the locker a few more times before resting his forehead on it. We had two quarters left to change this.

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