After the Game (Page 22)

“Maybe you should give it time before you decide that. You’ve never dated a teenage mom before, I’d be safe to assume.”

He didn’t reply right away, so I gave him time to process. Brady’s life was one of fairy tales. Actual real-life issues didn’t register easily with him. I’d once been the same way. So I understood it.

“Give me a chance to prove to you this could be different.”

That was Brady living in his fairy-tale land. Being around him made me miss that. The not expecting anything bad to happen. But I had been weak then. I wasn’t now. Life had made me tough.

“Let’s just take it a day at a time. No promises. No plans. Just live it.” If I didn’t do this, I would regret it. Possibly forever. Brady was different, and being with him made me happy. I wanted more of how he made me feel. The future was going to hurt, but for now, I would enjoy it.

He sighed and I smiled. This wasn’t what he was used to. Getting what he wanted was easy. I wasn’t being easy. Maybe I’d toughen him up a bit.

“I’ll take whatever you’re offering,” he replied. He sounded let down that I hadn’t promised him the moon. He was used to the moon. He was used to girls chasing him, like Ivy did. I’d seen that just watching from my quiet life, unattached to everyone. Until a few weeks ago, Ivy was always with Brady. I wasn’t exactly sure what had ended that, but he seemed ready to move on.

“Bryony is ready for the park. I need to go,” I told him. It was a reminder to both of us that I had priorities.

“Yeah, okay. Anyway, you think you could get out tonight?”

Asking my parents to watch Bryony again was too much. I never did that. “I put her to bed at eight thirty. After she’s asleep I could ask my parents to listen out for her.”

“I’ll be there at nine,” he replied.

After we hung up I didn’t think too much about it. Because I would only remind myself how much of an impossibility a future with us was. He was a right-now friend. Or he was supposed to be. The kiss had definitely changed things.

“Park!” Bryony demanded, pulling on my shorts leg.

“Yes, it’s time for the park,” I agreed.

She clapped and hurried down the hall toward the front door.

“We are headed to the park,” I called out to my parents, who were in the kitchen.

“All right, y’all have fun,” Mom replied.

“Have you seen Thomas?” Grandmamma asked, walking into the living room behind me.

“No, not today,” I replied. Or ever, I thought to myself.

She frowned. “He’s taken my slippers. He likes my slippers.”

“Which ones?” I asked, thinking maybe I could find them.

“The pink fuzzy bunny ones. He took those.”

Grandmamma didn’t own a pair of pink bunny slippers. At least not in this decade. Or the past six. This was another item she remembered from her childhood. She had asked about them before, and Mom had been here to explain. I didn’t argue, though. “I’ll keep my eyes open for them.”

“And Thomas. Look for Thomas. He needs to eat.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied. “I’ll do that.”

I Would Never Be That Guy Again

CHAPTER 26

BRADY

I was going to take Dad’s truck tonight. It was the best way not to feel as if we had to sneak around. No one would be looking for me in Dad’s truck. My truck, however, would draw attention. Mom said Dad had gone into the office today to do some work, so I headed that way after my conversation with Riley. She needed proof I was serious, and I understood that she wasn’t like the other girls I knew. She was a mom. It was her differences that drew me to her. She didn’t bore me. She was real.

Getting her to trust me, however, was something else I needed to prepare for. It wasn’t going to be easy. She was very closed off and careful. I hadn’t been able to think about anything but her after our day yesterday, but she seemed unaffected. Completely. That wasn’t something I knew how to handle.

I pulled up outside Dad’s office building and grabbed my phone off the passenger seat and tucked it in my pocket before getting out of the truck. Explaining that I needed to borrow his truck and why was going to be awkward. I wasn’t sure if he was okay with Riley, if he believed Rhett like everyone else in town or if he thought she might have told the truth. I also knew he didn’t want me distracted from football.

If he saw Riley as a distraction, then we may have an argument. Either way he was going to have to come to terms with this and be okay. I never asked him for his opinion on things like this, and I wasn’t about to start. I loved him, but this was my life. My choices.

The front door was unlocked, and I headed inside and toward the back of the building, where I knew his office was. No other cars were outside, so when I heard voices I slowed down. He could be in a meeting, and I didn’t want to interrupt him. I could wait until it was over.

The female sound that drifted down the hall caused me to freeze. Not just my body but my breathing. I think even my heart stopped. The next sound that followed was an obvious moan and then my dad’s deep voice making a sound that he should not be making in his office.

I had to be mistaken. That wasn’t my dad. He wouldn’t do that.

Forcing my feet to walk forward I went toward the sound, toward the office I knew was Dad’s, and with each step their sounds became louder and more intense. My stomach turned, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw up before I even got there. Every word and sound he made just proved me wrong. It was him. Who else could it be?

There was a mirror behind my dad’s desk that my mother had hung when she decorated his office. This very same mirror now showed my father clearly undressed. A woman with long blond hair sat on his desk, and he was between her legs. Moving. The red heels on her feet sickened me, and the cry of his name from her lips made me so ill I had to turn and run. I was going to be sick.

This wasn’t happening. Not my dad. He had my mom. Why would he do that to her? With a woman half his age? I hadn’t seen her face clearly over his shoulder, but she was definitely younger.

Never had my heart shattered like it had just now. Not once in my life had I really felt pain like this. I thought I’d understood what it was like to be hurt. But I realized as I exited that building and the cool air hit my face that this was what real pain felt like. It tore you open. Burned you. Destroyed everything you were and left you bent over in a parking lot, heaving until there was nothing left in your stomach.

I stayed like that, bent over, until I was sure that was all I had in me. Standing back up, my body felt weak, empty, lost. I’d left my house thirty minutes ago completely at ease. And in one moment it had all changed. I would never be that guy again.

As I looked at my dad’s truck, hate, anger, and disbelief all slammed into my chest. I wanted to go inside and tell him what a worthless piece of s**t he was. That I hoped he rotted in hell for this. I wanted to throw rocks at his truck windows and take a key down the side of the paint. I wanted him as destroyed as I was.

Picturing my mother’s face stopped me, and I sank down into my seat and laid my head on the steering wheel. This would kill her. She adored that man. She did everything for him. If she found out, she’d be so crushed, and I wasn’t sure she could make it. I loved her, but she wasn’t that strong.

Starting my truck, I headed for home then stopped. I couldn’t face her. Not now. I couldn’t face anyone. I needed to be alone. So I turned my truck north and drove. It was all I could do: drive away from the false sense of security I had lived in here.

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