After the Game (Page 23)

Football no longer seemed important. College no longer weighed on my mind. Just the fact that my family was living a lie and my father was about to completely destroy all I’d known. I would never forgive him. I couldn’t bleach my brain and unsee that. If I could, I would.

We had everything. He had everything, and he was throwing it away for what? Some woman who looked hot in a miniskirt?

Asa passed me and honked, but I couldn’t even wave back. I didn’t want to. That was my past life. The one where I wanted to make my dad proud. The one where I cared about my future. The one where my mother was loved and provided for. Everyone in this town was a part of that life.

Were they all living a lie? Was no one real? Was life here one big fat production?

I drove looking straight ahead, my head pounding from the powerful vomiting and the sight that wouldn’t go away replaying in my head. Stopping meant I’d have to go back there. I never wanted to go back there. I never wanted to see that man again.

He had ruined it all. For me. For my mom. For the football team. For this town.

Because Brady Higgens was broken. I wouldn’t work properly now. I just didn’t give a f**k. I’d done my best to be the kid everyone was proud of. I’d played by the rules and I’d been good.

What good had that done me? None whatsoever. My dad was a f*****g w***e.

The Fairy Tale from Our Childhood Is Gone

CHAPTER 27

RILEY

It was almost eleven when I put my phone down and climbed into bed. Brady hadn’t called, and he hadn’t come by at nine like he said. I could have texted him, but I had too much pride for that. He was the one who had asked to meet up with me tonight. I hadn’t asked him.

The idea that something could be wrong with him played in my head. I finally pushed it away. If he’d been hurt, I would know by now. The entire town would know. I forced my eyes closed and listened to Bryony’s even breathing. She was here, and that was all that I needed.

Trusting a guy, even one like Brady, was stupid. They were all the same. He had a better option come open tonight and took it. From him, I at least expected more. Like a text explaining or saying he wouldn’t be here. Which was so un-Brady-like for him not to do that I began to get concerned again.

My phone vibrated on my nightstand, and I stared at it. I had forgotten to put it on silent. That was Brady. No one else had my number and would be texting me so late. Did I ignore it? Or read it? He was two hours late. But knowing Brady, there had to be an excuse.

I picked up the phone.

You awake?

Seriously? That’s his text after not showing up like he said? I really should ignore it. I started to when I saw headlights pull into my drive then shut off. Did he really think I was coming outside at eleven?

I’m in bed. There. That would send him on his way.

I started to put the phone down when he replied.

I’m outside.

Rolling my eyes, I texted, I know. But I’m in bed.

I waited to see if he’d back out. He didn’t. He continued to sit there. If this were any other guy, I’d think that he was assuming I would come running. But it was Brady, who knew better and was more respectful. Thoughtful.

Love isn’t real. It sucks. I f*****g hate it.

I read his words and a frown wrinkled my brow. What? He wasn’t making sense. Why was he talking about love? And had I ever heard him say f*****g before?

You believe s**t and you trust people. But they let you down and f**k everything up. They’re selfish.

His newest text finally drew me out of bed. I put on a pair of flip-flops and headed down the hallway. My parents’ bedroom door opened and my mom peeked out at me.

“What are you doing?” she asked. Her glasses were still perched on her nose, which meant she was awake reading.

“Brady is outside, and from his texts he seems really upset about something. I’m going to check on him. He doesn’t sound like himself.”

Mom nodded. “Okay. I’ll listen out for Bryony.”

“Thank you.”

I didn’t get the be careful or be smart lecture most girls got. The one I used to get back when I started dating. My parents knew that I was well aware of what could happen. I had lived through it.

I opened the door as my phone vibrated in my hand again. I didn’t read this time. I just went to his truck.

When I opened the passenger-side door, the smell of beer surprised me. There were three empty bottles on the floorboard and one in the cup holder. What in the world was going on?

“What’s wrong?” I asked him, closing the door behind me.

“Everything,” he drawled. Four beers to most guys wasn’t much, but for Brady, who never drank, it was a lot. I could hear the effect in his voice. He was slurring—for the first time in his life, I’d wager.

“You’re drinking. And driving. It must be bad.”

He let out a hard laugh and laid his head back on the seat. “Bad,” he repeated, then laughed some more, but there was no real humor in it. There was bitterness there. And pain.

He reached for the beer and I took it away. “That’s enough, I think. Why don’t you tell me what happened.”

He closed his eyes tightly as if he was blocking out something bad. Something he didn’t want to remember. I sat there quietly, understanding that he needed time. This wasn’t easy. Whatever it was had really done a number on him.

“I wanted to use my dad’s truck tonight. So we could go around undetected. People wouldn’t be looking for me that way. Give us some privacy in this small town.” He stopped and laughed again. “Privacy. I don’t give a f**k about privacy. They can all f*****g know now! All of them! I’ll put it on a damn billboard and they can f**k themselves. The whole damn lot. It’s just football. Just m***********g football. Means nothing. It’s not what matters in life. What matters is having trust. A family that you trust.” He slammed his palm on the steering wheel.

So this was about family? His family? What, did his dad not let him use his truck? Surely that wasn’t what all this was about.

“Brady, what happened?” I repeated my question.

He sighed and winced. “I went to his office. He was working on a Sunday. Who the hell works on a Sunday? Apparently my dad does. But he wasn’t working.” The look on Brady’s face made me sick. My stomach knotted up. I hoped this wasn’t going where I feared it would.

“Brady, no,” I whispered, already seeing the pain so clear on his face to know this was going to end badly. Terribly.

“She was younger, blond, naked, and on his desk. His pants were down.” He stopped and inhaled sharply. Just saying those words had to be like a knife being shoved in his chest. He had parents like mine. The ones everyone trusted and believed were perfect.

I didn’t know what to say. If this had been me, was there anything that could have been said to ease my pain? No. The suffering would never end. It would ruin me. Moreso than Rhett had. Bryony had healed that, but could anything heal this?

“He didn’t see me. They were too busy.” He said the last word like a sour taste in his mouth. “And my mom was home cooking him his favorite dinner. The cake he loves so much was in the oven smelling up the house.”

My heart was breaking. For Brady and his mother. These secrets never stayed a secret. They always found a way of coming out. This was a small town, and Brady was the golden boy. His family was the rock-solid type that everyone respected. It would all come tumbling down.