After the Game (Page 27)

As much as I understood that, I also understood regret. Something Brady didn’t know about yet, but he would eventually. “Is hurting your dad more important than not letting West down? The team? Yourself?”

He ran his hands over his face and groaned. “No. They don’t deserve that.”

I agreed with him completely.

“Then you know what you have to do. There isn’t really a question. It’s how will you focus on the game and do it? You need to figure that out.”

He turned his head and looked at me. “Will you come? I’m going to need you after the game.”

I hadn’t been to a game in two years. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea. “The others, the town, they won’t like it.”

“I don’t care what they like. If you’re there, I can win. I can remember what is important. But I need you there.”

Facing this town and all the people in it wasn’t terrifying anymore. I wasn’t the same young girl they had run off. I was strong and I knew the truth. To me that was all that mattered. They could believe what they wanted.

“Will my being there hurt the game because of the others?”

He shook his head. “I’ll have West, and if we need to, the two of us can win that game.”

Then I’d go. “I’ll be there.”

He let out a sigh, and a smile that didn’t really meet his eyes curled on his lips. “Thanks. That’s going to help.”

I wanted to know how he’d handled his dad this morning, but if he wasn’t going to talk about it I wasn’t going to ask. He needed his space and I was there to give it to him. I would only enter the space he needed me to.

“I cursed at my dad today. More than once.”

No wonder Maggie had come over. I thought about telling him, but I didn’t. She could tell him if she wanted him to know. I wasn’t getting involved in the family dynamics.

“I’d say you could sit with Maggie, but she’ll sit with my parents. I don’t want to see my dad when I look at you.”

“I’ll sit far away from them,” I told him.

He nodded. “Thank you. For last night. For this. I know it’s asking a lot.”

I shrugged. “It isn’t. I’m not the same girl who left this town. I found my strength. They can’t hurt me now.”

His hand closed over mine. The touch made my entire arm tingle, and I let the warmth soothe me. Turning my attention back to Bryony, I watched as she played with a little boy whose nanny brought him every Monday and Wednesday afternoon at this time. She had spoken to me a few times, assuming I, too, was a nanny since I was so young. I didn’t correct her; I just let her talk. No reason to make her act weird around me and possibly not come around with the boy when Bryony was here. Small towns could be judgmental, and it fell on the innocent too many times.

“Looks like she has a friend,” Brady said.

“His name is Luke, and he’s three. She plays with him twice a week here. I wish she could go to preschool next year. She loves being around other kids. But if we are still in this town, that isn’t possible.”

His hand squeezed mine “We will make sure she gets that.”

We. As in him and me? When did we become a we?

I didn’t ask or bring it up, but I pondered it. The rest of the time we sat there in silence, speaking only about Bryony and other things that had nothing to do with football or his father. Eventually he laced his fingers through mine and we just enjoyed each other, I cool fall air, and the laughter of the kids. In that moment I wasn’t a single teenage mom and he wasn’t a guy whose dad was about to ruin his family. We were just us and life was okay. For the moment.

Welcome to the Club

CHAPTER 32

BRADY

I made it to practice that afternoon and avoided the questions. The truth was, I was there because of Riley. She had made me see that I had to do this and that I could. If she was willing to brave this town and come to a game alone, then I could show up and play ball. Problem was, I wanted everyone else to f**k off and get out of my face.

Coach watched me closely at the first, expecting me to play like s**t, I guess. But after I channeled my anger into the practice, I was more aggressive and played better. I was getting slapped on the back and s**t when it was over; no one seemed to care that I’d played harder and faster. Or even why. Because they didn’t care. It was all about winning.

West met me at my truck when I walked out of the field house. He might have been the only one on the field today to see the difference for what it really was. “Good practice. You want to go get some dinner?” In other words, not go home and blow off our families.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’ll let my mom know.”

He nodded. “My mom’s at her mother’s again in Louisiana.” She had been doing that since his father’s death. I knew it concerned him, but like with everything he didn’t talk about it much. I knew he had Maggie, and he talked to her, so I didn’t worry.

“Where did you go today?” he asked, climbing into the passenger side of my truck. He was leaving his car here, apparently.

“To the park to see Riley,” I replied honestly. I wasn’t hiding her. I had to hide my dad’s f****d-up secret, but I wasn’t hiding Riley like that.

“You like her a lot, then.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I do.”

“When it happens, it happens. Can’t help that.”

And I didn’t want to help it. I wanted to change the past and give her a life here. Let everyone see the truth and support her. I wanted Bryony to get to go to f*****g preschool and play with the other kids. That was what I wanted.

“Rhett took a lot away from her,” West said. He knew if I believed her, then she was telling the truth. He trusted me.

“He’s a c********r.”

West chuckled. “I guess he is. We were young then and caught up in his local fame. Believing him was easy.”

“Believing him was wrong,” I corrected.

He nodded. “Yeah, it was. The little girl seem okay?”

“Bryony. Her name is Bryony, and she’s a great kid. Happy and well adjusted. Riley is a wonderful mom.”

We didn’t say much more before we got to the Den for dinner. It was the one place we’d always have a table and get 20 percent off our meal because we were on the team. Plus their burgers were the best in town.

“You and your dad okay?” he asked right before we got out of the truck. Maggie had to have told him about the fight this morning. I could get pissed at her, but then I thought about how I told Riley all my s**t. I understood Maggie’s need to talk to someone and why it was West.

“No. We’re not” was the only answer he was getting. Then I stepped out of the truck and headed for the door. Not waiting on him or answering any more questions.

“Don’t be mad at Maggie,” he said, catching up to me.

“I’m not. I get it.”

He didn’t respond as we went inside and got a table immediately. Serena was there with Kimmie, and I wanted to leave at the sight of them, but I decided I’d ignore them and get my food.

“Hey, boys,” Serena called, waving over to us.

We both ignored her, and I shot West a look. He had messed around with Serena enough and hurt Maggie with it. He wasn’t about to look her way.

“Ever wonder where you’d be without Maggie?” I asked him.

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