After the Game (Page 17)

I wasn’t going to think that way, nor would I get my hopes up. Brady couldn’t take away all the hate that was set in from what happened with Rhett. I often wondered, would this all have been better if I had just left town and not told anyone? I would never know the answer to that, and figured that was okay. I didn’t need to know. My life had turned out the way it was supposed to. I was a firm believer in fate. So far fate had given me Bryony and I couldn’t complain. She was perfect. My perfect.

“Good night, Dad,” I said before leaving this time.

“Good night, sweetheart.”

I went down the hall and slowly eased the bedroom door open so I wouldn’t wake my sleeping princess. She was curled up into a ball with most of the covers, and I loved watching her like this. She was safe and secure in the life I’d given her. She knew nothing about how she was conceived or the pain that had followed it. There was no need for her to know.

Bending down, I kissed the top of her head, and the sweet smell of baby shampoo met my nose. I loved smelling her. The house had smelled like this—baby—when I had brought her home from the hospital. That smell reminded me of sleepless nights but also of first smiles, first kisses, first words, and first steps. I loved everything about that smell. I often wondered if I could convince her to keep using the same shampoo into her teen years. I doubted it, but there was always hope.

My phone was sitting on the nightstand. Although it was on silent, the screen lit up the room. I never got texts or calls unless they were from my parents. The only person who had my number now was on a bus celebrating a victory.

I hurried around the bed and picked it up.

Brady’s name appeared, so I swiped my finger over the screen and read his words.

Thank you. I owe tonight to you.

That wasn’t true. He owed tonight to the fact that he was a star. I had nothing to do with it.

I seriously doubt that, but congratulations, I replied.

He would be leaving town this summer. Going off to live his dreams. And I would be here with my parents until I could get a place of my own in a town where I could start over and have a life.

If you hadn’t talked to me today, I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate, he replied.

Had my going over to his house really bothered him that much? I wanted to let the flutters in my stomach fly free and enjoy this, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t a girl in high school who could flirt and have fun. I was a mom and a daughter with responsibilities. I lived a life he didn’t understand and I didn’t expect him to fit into.

“Enjoy your win. I watched the news. You deserved it.”

I didn’t wait for him to reply. I turned my phone over and laid it down. Young girls’ fantasies were not for me.

Fun Game Last Night, Huh?

CHAPTER 20

BRADY

Saturdays after a game I should sleep in. However, sleep didn’t come easily last night, and the smell of bacon woke me up earlier than I’d have liked. I reached for my phone and checked to see if Riley ever responded to my last text. She didn’t.

Jerking on a pair of sweats, I headed downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast. My mom was piling up a stack of pancakes with her pink-and-white apron tied around her waist. I had bought it for her five years ago for Mother’s Day with money I’d made mowing grass. She wore it all the time.

“Morning,” I said as I headed over to the fridge to get the milk.

“You’re up early. I expected you to sleep until noon,” she teased.

I hadn’t slept until noon, well . . . ever. She knew better. “I smelled the bacon,” I told her. “A man can’t sleep when there is bacon.”

That got a laugh from her.

Mom had always been that mom. The one who made our lunches and cooked us breakfast. The mom who made cookies and let me have a den full of guys over. She believed in me and was proud of me. In return I wanted to continue to make her proud. I had been given a mom most guys weren’t lucky enough to have. At least not in my group of friends. I was lucky that way. Not a lot of moms were as perfect as mine. For example, Gunner’s mom. I wasn’t even sure she deserved that title. She hadn’t done much for him in life.

“You sore from last night?” Mom asked as she placed a plate of pancakes and bacon on the table for me.

I had a few sensitive spots but nothing worth mentioning. Those were from some ringers in the first half that I deserved. My head hadn’t been where it needed to be. “I’m good,” I assured her.

She smiled at me, then went back to the pancakes. “I saw the hits you took in the second quarter. You’re bound to have a few bad spots.”

I shrugged and reached for the syrup to coat my pancakes in. “Dad still in bed?” I asked, changing the subject.

“No, you know your dad. He got up early and headed to the office. Said he needed to get caught up on things, and he’d see us at dinner. I’m sure he’ll be ready to talk football by then.”

My dad always had to be doing something. He worked a lot, and being idle wasn’t even in his vocabulary. He was funny like that.

I started to make a joke about it when my phone screen lit up. I grabbed it and saw Riley’s name. I glanced back to make sure Mom wasn’t looking my way before opening the text. Not that she would disapprove. I knew she liked Riley. Mom was the least judgmental person I knew. But I didn’t want my parents to know yet. Not about my friendship with Riley. I was still holding that close. Just for me.

Sure, if you need someone to ride with you to Birmingham today, I will. Mom said she could watch Bryony. Why are we going?

I had just thrown that out there. A two-hour drive to Birmingham had been the only thing I could think of. It was far enough away from Lawton that we could safely enjoy ourselves without running into someone we knew. I hadn’t thought of a reason why I needed to go. I’d just said I did. Now I needed something. Any excuse so she didn’t know I was simply going there so we could hang out. Alone.

And why was I doing that?

She needed a friend, and I wanted to be her friend, but there was more to it than all that. Last night, when I was distracted, I wanted to believe it was because I was worried about her or something that innocent. But the truth was, I liked her.

I liked Riley Young. She was interesting. She was strong, She was a good person, and I respected her for all of that. I wanted to be around her. Away from the same group of people I was always around. Maybe that was why I had liked Willa. She was different. Not the same crowd doing the same things.

I liked her even though my being her friend was going to cause a stir eventually. The confrontation with Gunner was the one I dreaded the most. But honestly, it was time he faced the fact that his brother had lied. After all they had been through lately, I didn’t think it was going to be too big of a stretch for him to believe Riley’s story now. We weren’t kids who let others tell us what to think anymore.

I finally replied. I have some birthday money still in my savings account, and I wanted a pair of boots that are sold out here. Birmingham has better options.

I doubted that sounded believable since Nashville was only an hour away. But I went with it anyway.

“It smells wonderful in this house,” Maggie said, walking into the kitchen. Her hair was still messy from sleep, and she was wearing a pair of pajama pants and one of West’s shirts. He had made sure she had several of them. It was his way of being with her all the time. I used to make fun of that, but now I thought it made sense. Not that I’d tell him that. I liked the idea of Riley wearing my shirt. Which also meant my feelings for her were changing into something more than friendship.

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