After the Game (Page 25)

“We aren’t done talking,” Dad said from the bottom of the stairs.

“Want to f*****g bet?” I shot back at him and slammed the door of the bathroom behind me.

He’s a Handsome Thing, Ain’t He?

CHAPTER 29

RILEY

My doorbell rang an hour after Brady left. No one ever came to the door. I was hoping it wasn’t Brady and he had made it to school without getting into a fistfight with his father.

Bryony ran to the door, her face all lit up with excitement. She wasn’t used to company either, and this was going to be the highlight of her morning. Other than the fact that Brady had been sleeping on the sofa when she woke up.

I didn’t actually know the pretty brunette at my door, but I knew of her. She was Brady’s cousin. The girl who came to Lawton not talking and was now the reason West Ashby wasn’t a complete d******d.

“Hello,” I said, knowing already why she was here. Brady’s return home hadn’t gone well this morning. It was after eight and she should be at school.

“Hi, Riley?” she said, making sure she had the right person.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m sorry for coming over like this, but I’m Maggie, Brady’s cousin. And I know he slept here last night. That’s not my business, but the scene I witnessed this morning has me concerned for him.”

I stepped back and waved a hand for her to come inside. Bryony was by my side, peeking up at her from around my leg.

“Come on in,” I told her.

She walked in and smiled down at Bryony.

“I wike your haywah,” Bryony said shyly.

“Thank you. I like yours too. I always wanted blond curls. You have beautiful ones.”

Bryony beamed at her. She loved her blond curls too. She often sat in front of the mirror just to brush them.

“My mother said she called the house and let Mrs. Higgens know Brady was here last night.”

Maggie nodded. “Yes, but he’s never done that before, and he smelled like beer. Which I’m fairly certain he’s smelled like before.” She paused and handed me what looked like a cake she was holding. “Aunt Coralee sent this. She said she’d been meaning to bring one over herself.”

I took the cake from her. I couldn’t tell her anything. This was Brady’s to tell. Not mine. “Tell her thank you for me,” I replied.

“I’m not here to ask you to tell me what’s going on. I just need to know if he’s okay,” Maggie said.

I could answer that. “No, he’s not.”

Maggie frowned. “I was afraid of that. Things weren’t good between him and Uncle Boone. But I’ve never seen them that way. I just don’t know how to help.”

She couldn’t. No one could.

“Trust me when I tell you that you can’t help him. He’s got to do this alone. If he needs to open up, he will; otherwise just let him be.”

She nodded. “Okay. I get that. Better than most, I guess. But I did need someone. West became my someone. I think everyone needs someone.” She paused and looked directly at me. “I hope you’re his.”

I did too. “If I am, I won’t let him down.”

She smiled and looked back at the door. “I’m late for school. I guess I need to leave before my uncle is upset with me, too. Thanks for talking. It was nice to finally meet you,” she said, then turned her attention to Bryony. “It was nice to meet you, too.”

Bryony smiled brightly up at her. Then ducked behind my legs.

We said good-byes, and I closed the door behind Maggie. She was sweet, beautiful, and she obviously got the “not to be intrusive” thing. Brady was lucky to have her in his home with him. It would help when he was ready to open up.

“Can you go to Miller’s and get me a pound of sugar? I think I’m gonna make some of my cherry cobbler for Lyla,” Grandmamma said, smiling down at Bryony. Today Bryony was going to be my mother as a child again. We didn’t have these days every day, but today Grandmamma had called her Lyla three times already. Bryony always seemed confused but had stopped arguing with her about her name.

“Sure,” I told her. “Why don’t we go see if your talk shows are on yet. I think it’s time for Dr. Phil,” I told her.

“I need to feed Thomas first,” she argued.

“Let Bryo . . .” I paused and corrected myself. “Let Lyla do that. You know she loves to.”

Grandmamma thought about it a minute, then nodded. “That’s a good idea. She needs responsibility. Never hurt anyone.”

I winked at Bryony when we had to play pretend with Grandmamma. She blinked hard with both eyes because she couldn’t wink yet. Grinning, I turned on the television for Grandmamma and Bryony headed to the kitchen to pretend to feed a cat that didn’t exist.

“I want Wywa appasauce,” she said quietly when we got to the kitchen. On the days she was confused for Lyla, Grandmamma always gave her applesauce. It had been my mother’s favorite snack as a baby. Bryony had figured this out.

“Okay,” I replied, setting the cake down, then lifted her up into her high chair.

My mind was on Brady, though. He was facing school and friends with his soul shattered. Holding a secret like that had to feel like the weight of the world was on him. I couldn’t be strong for him, though. No one could. He had to find that in himself. At least he wasn’t alone.

“Do I like Dr. Phil?” Grandmamma called from the living room.

This was a bad day. Some days were better than others. Today she was confused about everything. I walked to the door and looked in on her. “Yes. He’s brilliant and will have all kinds of good tips for you.”

She nodded and covered her legs with the afghan we kept on the sofa. She had made it years ago. “He’s a handsome thing, ain’t he?” she commented. She said this every day when she watched him.

“Yes,” I agreed, grinning, then stepped back to the kitchen to pour Bryony some applesauce. I was sure I would be told to go get some more at Miller’s for Lyla later today.

“Go pawk?” Bryony asked.

“Yes, we will go later today, after your nap,” I assured her. It was getting colder every day, and I dreaded when we couldn’t go to the park anymore. Bryony needed a swing here at home, so she could go to the backyard and enjoy herself for shorter amounts of time. The biting cold that was to come would keep us from walking to the park. She would hate that.

This Was the Only Weapon I Had

CHAPTER 30

BRADY

Nash Lee was sitting in the desk next to mine when I walked into class. He wasn’t grinning like normal. Which meant I was about to get drilled about not being at workout this morning. West was the only one who didn’t mention it, and I had Maggie to thank for that. Everyone else was worried I was sick. That damn game was all they could think about.

“You good?” Nash asked as I sat down beside him. Same exact question I’d heard from Gunner, Asa, and Ryker. No, I was not f*****g good. I’d never be f*****g good again.

“Yeah,” I lied, not saying anything else. I never missed a practice or a workout. They all had at some point. So why couldn’t I miss one without the damn inquisition?

“Coach was worried.”

Coach had been waiting on me the moment I walked in the door this morning. I was aware he was worried. He, too, thought I was sick. He was ready to send me home to rest. A place where I didn’t want to be. A place full of lies and deceit.

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