After the Game (Page 18)

“Have a seat and I’ll get you a plate,” Mom told her.

Maggie ignored that and walked over to pick up her own plate. “You’re still cooking. I can fix my own plate. Thank you, though.”

Mom smiled as if Maggie were the perfect daughter she never had. They were good for each other. Mom was the kind of mom who needed a daughter, and Maggie had lost her mother tragically. They weren’t as close as a mother and daughter could get, but I expected over time they would fill that hole in each other’s lives.

Maggie sat down across from me and yawned. Just a couple months ago this would have been a very silent table. It was nice that Maggie actually spoke now. “Fun game last night, huh?”

Her comment sounded innocent, but I knew what she meant. She was the only person who had an idea of where my head had been that first half. I looked up at her as I put a bite of pancake in my mouth. I wasn’t amused. But the smirk on her face said she was.

“It about gave me a heart attack,” Mom said with a chuckle. “Lord, I’ve never been so nervous over a game in all my life.”

“The games are going to just get harder. Winning the championship isn’t meant to be easy.” I realized I sounded annoyed and wished I hadn’t said that.

Maggie raised one eyebrow as if to say she knew better. Why couldn’t she just have stayed upstairs in bed? I was having a perfectly peaceful breakfast until she came in and brought this all up.

“Oh, I know. I realized last night I needed to calm down and prepare for this to just get worse.” Mom’s voice was still gentle and understanding.

“I’m sure it’s hard to keep your focus with all that pressure,” Maggie added, then grinned before eating a piece of bacon.

I was either going to stop eating and leave the table with an excuse or change the subject. But I wasn’t full and I wanted more pancakes, so I went with the subject change. “Want me to take Dad some breakfast before I head to Birmingham?” I asked.

Maggie snickered. I was about to throw my last pancake at her amused face.

She’s My Spot of Sunshine in Life



My parents hadn’t really questioned Brady picking me up to go to Birmingham for the day. I gave them the reason why Brady needed to go, but neither looked as if they believed it. I wondered myself if that was really the reason. I figured Nashville had just as good shopping as Birmingham. I could assume that he had found a pair in Birmingham. However, the idea that he was making up this excuse to spend the day with me made my heart do funny things. I liked it. Again I was feeling too much, and I really needed to be more cautious.

I didn’t let Dad talk too long to Brady when he arrived. He of course told him good game and said he wished he’d seen it. I had pushed him out the door and escaped before Dad could say too much else. I never knew what was going to come out of his mouth.

Brady’s truck wasn’t what I assumed a teenage guy’s truck to be like inside. For starters, it was clean. No trash on the floorboard, it didn’t stink like a locker room, and it wasn’t even dusty on the dash. He kept it really nice.

“Do you get your truck detailed often?” I asked as I looked around at the cleanliness for the first time. The last two times I was in this truck I was preoccupied and hadn’t really paid attention.

“My dad would take this truck away from me if I paid someone to clean it,” Brady said, sounding amused. “He’d also take it away from me if I didn’t keep it spotless.”

Interesting. He was the football star, but that didn’t give him special treatment from his parents. I would have thought otherwise. Especially in this town. I imagined he had people begging to clean his truck for free.

“Sounds like my dad. He expects me to do my part. Not that I wouldn’t anyway, but I know if I slack off he is there to remind me to get my a*s in gear.”

Brady chuckled. “Yeah. I know that feeling.”

We were quiet then for a few minutes. I didn’t feel the need to talk just to make conversation. There were plenty of things I could ask him. Like why were we really going to Birmingham? But for now I wasn’t doing that. I’d enjoy the ride and being out of the house with someone my age. It had been two years since I’d done anything like this.

It made me feel older than I was. Brady didn’t make me feel old, though. He wasn’t blaring music and talking about himself. That was how I remembered guys my age. But then I wasn’t used to the way they aged. My only experience was watching television shows and movies. This was much more pleasant than I had expected.

I didn’t want to enjoy it too much because the fact that this could all end abruptly was there. Hanging in the distance. When it came down to it, I didn’t expect Brady to choose me over Gunner. And that would be the outcome when Gunner found out. Our town was small, and for a couple weeks we could keep our friendship hidden, but it would come out. Brady was being optimistic. He believed it would all work out.

I’d lived through hell. I knew how it all ended. Hopefulness and optimism were things I’d grown out of.

“When is the last time you’ve been to Birmingham?” he asked.

Good question. I wasn’t sure. “Years, I guess. I can’t even remember.”

“Did you go to school when you moved away?”

I shook my head and stared out the window. “No. After leaving, I wasn’t brave enough to face more teenagers and their judgment about my pregnancy. I began homeschooling then.”

He didn’t respond right away, and I wished we hadn’t gotten on this topic. It was awkward for him, I guess. And not something I liked to talk about.

“Wasn’t that lonely?”

He had no idea. “Yeah, but then Bryony was born and she changed my world.”

That was the truth. Before her birth I had been depressed. My world was lost, and I didn’t think I’d ever smile again. Being fifteen and pregnant was terrifying. Even if you had the support of your parents.

“You’re a good mom. You make it look easy, even though I know it can’t be.”

Bryony made it easy. She was such a good baby. It was almost like she was born knowing I needed easy. The moment they laid her on my chest I started to cry. Not because I was scared or sad but because she was mine. Perfect, beautiful, and healthy. I’d brought a life into this world, and nothing I ever did after that would be as important.

“She’s my spot of sunshine in life,” I replied. She was worth every teenage moment lost. I wouldn’t trade her to get any of it back. I would never suggest being a teen mom to someone, because it wasn’t a life choice. But when there is no option and it’s placed upon you, you then learn to survive and make the best of it. Bryony was definitely the best.

“Are you going to just graduate from your online homeschooling courses? Or have you considered going back to school?”

I never considered it. Nor could I. “I have responsibilities that won’t change. My parents need my help with my grandmother, and then there is Bryony. I don’t want her in a day care. She needs me.”

“I wonder if any of the girls at school would think the same way you do. Somehow I doubt it,” he replied. “I respect that.”

I wasn’t really after his respect, but I didn’t say that. I did this for my family because I loved them. Not to get a pat on the back.

“So tell me about these boots and why you need them this badly,” I said, changing the subject off me.

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