After the Game (Page 26)

My father hadn’t been there when I’d come out of the bathroom this morning. I’d almost expected him to be, but he had left for work. My mom had looked beyond worried, but I couldn’t explain any of this to her. I wasn’t sure how I ever would.

“You just never miss.” Nash stated the obvious.

“I did today” was the only response he was getting. Jesus, couldn’t they all back off? I didn’t drill them when they missed. I respected their privacy.

Where was my respect, dammit?!

“Rifle said he saw your truck at Riley Young’s. He was whispering it to Hunter, and I shut it down. That s**t ain’t true, but they’re spreading crap and I wanted you to know. I can handle it if you want.”

Rifle Hannon was a sophomore and didn’t even know the real details about two years ago. He’d been in middle school, for crying out loud. He might be a good tight end, but he needed to keep his mouth f*****g shut about me if he wanted playing time.

“I was there. But it’s no one’s f*****g business,” I said, looking straight ahead. Nash was my friend, but I was past caring what everyone thought of me. Of my choices. They sure acted as they pleased. Got drunk at the field party, f****d around with girls at school, took nothing seriously but football. I was tired of being the good one. I wasn’t trying to make my dad proud anymore. I did not give one f**k.

“Gunner won’t take that well,” Nash said, as if I needed reminding.

I turned to him then and made sure he saw the look on my face. The one telling him just how many fucks I did not give. “I don’t need Gunner’s permission for s**t.”

Nash’s eyes went wide and he nodded. I was surprising them all. And I didn’t care. My team’s feelings were no longer important to me. Friday night wasn’t important to me. After the game wasn’t important to me. My family was a joke. My mom, who deserved a man to love her and be good to her, was the only real thing in my life. That and my friendship with Riley. The others could kiss my a*s.

When the class started, Nash thankfully fell silent and I tried to focus on what was being said and not ways to handle my father’s sins. By the time it ended, I wasn’t sure what the assignment was or anything we learned. My head wasn’t there. It was at my dad’s office, where he’d ruined my life.

I attempted to make it through the next class, and when it was a replica of the first one I gave up and walked out the front door to my truck. I headed for the park. At some point Riley and Bryony would be there, and I’d be waiting. It was the only place I could go.

Gunner would hear about Riley before the day was over. I didn’t care. He could get angry all he wanted. Fact was, his brother was a douche bag and needed to be called out for what he’d done. I wasn’t protecting that a*****e anymore. If Gunner wanted to, then fine. His brother had f****d him over too. And I understood that s**t about family coming first, but if I could hate my father for his sins, then Gunner could hate his brother and recognize the fact that he’d lied.

My phone lit up and I glanced down to see West’s name on the screen. Picking it up, I read, You need me?

I’d say he wouldn’t understand. I could throw the phone down and say f**k it and ignore him. But he’d lost his dad recently and that hadn’t been easy. He understood pain. He’d lived through it before me. I got why he kept it to himself now. Not having to talk about it was easier.

No. But thanks, I replied, then drove out of the parking lot. I wasn’t hungry and doubted I would be again.

Here if you need me was his response.

I appreciated that. But I wouldn’t need him. I needed my dad to be the man he pretended to be. I needed my dad not to have f****d that blond woman. That’s what I f*****g needed.

The park was only four miles from the school. I parked and waited in my truck. It was only noon, and I knew it was after lunch and Bryony’s nap that they came here. But I had nowhere else to go. I laid my head back and closed my eyes. Silence was good. Here I had no questions and I wasn’t expected to perform.

Friday night I wasn’t sure I could play. My heart wasn’t in it and I no longer cared. The idea of how angry my dad would be made me want to skip it. Just leave town and hide. Make him feel some pain. Some disappointment. It was nothing compared to what I was dealing with.

Problem with that was I would let others down. West, who never missed a game, even while his dad was dying. My mom, who was my biggest fan. My coach, who had worked with me since junior high and believed in me. This town. Although it wasn’t perfect, they weren’t all to blame. That was all on my father.

I’d play the game. But winning it was another matter altogether. I didn’t think I had it in me. My drive for success was gone. I feared it always would be. My dad had made my life about him. I wanted to let him down. I wanted to destroy him like he’d destroyed me. This was the only weapon I had.

But could I hurt others to use it?

For the Moment

CHAPTER 31

RILEY

Brady’s truck was the first thing I noticed when Bryony and I strolled up to the park entrance. He was supposed to be in school. This wasn’t a good sign. Bryony pointed at his truck, remembering it, then waved as if he could see her.

I wasn’t sure if I should walk over to him or just go into the park. We were a secret, I thought. But at this point maybe we weren’t anymore. Or maybe he didn’t care. If he didn’t care, that meant he was giving up on the game. The championship. I got where his head was. I understood it, but he’d regret that later. I had regrets and I wished I didn’t. I wished someone had helped me see things differently.

I went ahead and took Bryony into the park. Brady could come talk to me if that was his choice. We needed to talk. Especially if he was giving up on his dream. But talking here wasn’t the best idea. Putting Bryony in his truck and riding around wasn’t happening either.

I bent down and let Bryony out of the stroller, and she squealed with delight and headed for the small slide she loved so much. I took my normal seat on the bench closest to the slide and watched her, although my thoughts were with that truck parked outside the gate.

Footsteps let me know he was headed my way, so I turned to see him. He looked lost. Defeated. Confused. And I wanted to just hug him. A guy like Brady with the life of dreams he had lived so far wasn’t emotionally prepared for this turn of events. It was unfair, but then so was life. Finding that out sooner rather than later would help him. It may not feel like it at the moment, but one day he’d understand.

“School too much?” I asked as he stopped beside me then sat down.

“Yeah” was his response.

I didn’t say more. He had come here looking for me. That was obvious. If he wanted to sit in silence, we could do that, too. Whatever worked. He knew what he needed.

“I can’t focus enough to play Friday night.”

I had been afraid of this.

“But all I can think is, West played when his dad was dying of cancer. He played when his heart was breaking. How can I not do the same? For him if no one else?”

“I think you just answered yourself. West is your best friend. You respect him. He didn’t let the team down when his world was falling apart.” I didn’t add and neither will you because he had to make that decision.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. He was thinking. I let him.

When he finally spoke, he leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees. “I want to hurt my dad. This would hurt him.”

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