After the Game (Page 24)
“And my biggest concern when I woke up this morning was a f*****g football game. I’ve never had a real problem. Never faced something that changed my life.” He turned his head and finally looked at me. “But you have. You lived through hell and came out okay. How did you survive?”
I wanted to hug him and tell him everything would be all right. But that was a lie you told children when they lost their pet. It wasn’t the truth. No one had ever told me that. But my heart hurt for him, and fighting the urge to comfort him was hard. It wasn’t what he needed, though. I knew that. My feelings for Brady had grown stronger with each day, and I never realized how seeing him in pain would affect me. Until now. I did what I had to do. I told him the truth. He’d been fed enough lies about life.
“You survive. You remember that life is hard. S**t happens and you have to get tough. The fairy tale from our childhood is gone. Living in it makes us weak. Your mom will need you, and you’ll have to be strong for both of you.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
I understood that feeling too. I’d had it often back then. When I thought my life was over and I’d never make it through.
“You can. You just have to find it deep inside. It’s there. The strength. We all have it, but it lies dormant until we need it. Then we have to look for it and use it.”
I Hope You Slept Well
My head was pounding when I opened my eyes. A pair of big blue eyes were staring back at me. Startled, I jumped, but she continued to stare. Her head tilted to the side. She looked a lot like her mother at that moment.
“Hey?” she whispered, still very close to my face.
I glanced down at my body and saw I was on a sofa in Riley’s grandmother’s house, covered in a yellow-and-blue afghan. Riley hadn’t allowed me to drive last night, and I was glad. Not because I agreed that I was drunk but because I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to see my dad.
The sick knot returned, and I wanted to go back to sleep, where yesterday never happened.
“Have you seen Thomas?” an older lady asked me as she walked into the living room. She wasn’t concerned that I was on her sofa.
“No,” Bryony answered her, then she looked back at me. “Thomas wif Jesus,” she said, still whispering.
I couldn’t even begin to understand that, so I just nodded.
“Good morning, Brady. I hope you slept well,” Mrs. Young said as she entered the room. I sat up on the sofa this time and wondered if she had known I was here. It had been late when we came inside last night.
“Uh, yes, ma’am. Thank you,” I replied.
“No reason to hurry. I just woke Riley up. She’ll be in here in a moment. I’m making some coffee. Do you want any?” It seemed as if Riley had told her I was here last night. She wasn’t at all surprised.
“No, thanks. Not a coffee drinker,” I replied.
“Good. Don’t become one. It’s the hardest habit to break. I drink way too much of it.”
“Have you seen Thomas?”
Riley’s mother turned to her own mother and patted her on the back. “Not this morning. Why don’t we go get your breakfast started. He’ll turn up sometime.”
Bryony ran after them. “I some hungwy,” she called out.
Riley’s mother stopped and bent down to pick her up. “I’ll bet you are,” she replied.
Then they all left the room, and I got up and began to straighten where I had been sleeping.
“You going home?” Riley asked.
I turned to see her in the cut-off sweats she’d been wearing last night and a tank top. Her hair was messy from sleep, but she seemed unconcerned about that. I liked that about her.
“Yeah. I got to shower and change before school. I’m already going to miss morning workout. Don’t care, but my father will.”
That was a confrontation I was dreading. Looking at him was going to infuriate me. I couldn’t just tell him what I knew. I had to decide how to tell my mom first. This was going to rock her world as much as he had mine. No, it would rock it more. Because he was her other half, the man she’d trusted for twenty years.
“Are you going to tell your mom?”
Eventually. “Not yet. I need to think this through. She is delicate.”
Riley gave me a sad smile. “Just because she cooks your meals and takes care of the home doesn’t make her weak. She’s raised you, brought a girl into her home who faced a tragedy I can’t begin to comprehend, and was a mother to her. She’s tough. Give her that credit.”
She was loving. But did that make her strong?
“I still need some time.”
Riley nodded. “Okay. I’m here if you need me.”
I wanted to hug her. Kissing wasn’t real big on my list right now. My father had ruined that image for me. But having Riley in my arms sounded good.
With her mother, grandmother, and daughter in the next room, I decided against it. “Thanks for last night.”
I headed for the door and glanced back just before I walked out to see her watching me go. She even woke up beautiful. She wasn’t trying to be fake. She was just her.
“I’ll call you,” I told her.
She just nodded.
Then I headed home.
* * *
My dad’s truck was still in the drive when I pulled in. He was normally gone to work by now. My not being at home when he woke up had delayed that. He’d be inside right now waiting on me. Ready to question me and correct me. B*****d. He had no right to correct anyone.
He could go to hell for all I cared.
Slamming my truck door, all the anger from yesterday boiled to the surface and although I needed to calm down before I walked in that door to face him, I couldn’t. I wanted to yell at him and let him see the hate in my eyes.
He opened the door before I got there, his face a mask of disappointment and fury. As if he had the right to feel either. I’d slept on a friend’s sofa, and I’d be late to school. Neither of those things would destroy anyone. He couldn’t say the same for what he’d done yesterday.
“Where have you been?” he barked at me.
“None of your f*****g business,” I replied as I tried to brush past him.
His hand grabbed my arm to stop me, and the strength in his grip wasn’t pleasant. “Who the hell do you think you are? I make the rules in this house. You don’t speak to me that way and you don’t stay out all night.”
I tried to jerk my arm free. Just being near him made me cringe. “Whatever,” I said, snarling at him.
“You smell like beer,” he replied with disbelief on his face. “Are you trying to throw away your future? You got this close and now you’re going to toss it? For what? A girl who lies and sleeps around?”
He hadn’t come looking for me because he had known where I was. Had Riley’s mother called him? Probably. The a*****e was throwing accusations at Riley, who had done nothing wrong. How dare he?
With a quick glance to make sure my mother wasn’t standing anywhere near us, I leaned into him. “At least I’m not married and f*****g a woman in my office,” I spat and jerked my arm free this time from his grip. His face paled some, and I knew he understood what I was saying.
I stalked past him and toward the stairs just as Maggie was coming down them. She had a questioning look in her eyes, but she said nothing. She was someone else who would be affected by this. Her parents were both dead, thanks to her father, and this family was her only security. Dad had blown her world to s**t too.