After the Game (Page 35)


“She also says ‘George’ a lot. George is Peppa’s little brother.”

I wasn’t up to date on kids’ television. “I guess Dora the Explorer and Bear in the Big Blue House have retired, then.” Those were the shows I remembered being popular when I was a kid.

“Oh no, Dora is still going strong. Bear has left us, though.”

The oven dinged and Riley went over and took the biscuits out. “Breakfast is ready.”

I enjoyed watching her and Bryony together. Even when Riley’s grandmother came in the room asking about Thomas, the welcoming, happy feeling of this place was one I didn’t want to leave. Or was it that I just didn’t want to leave Riley? Could it be that wherever she was would feel like home?


Go, Lions!



A Lawton Lions football game. Not something I ever planned on attending when I moved back here. All day I had been nervous. It wasn’t like I could back out, either. This was for Brady, not me.

If it were for me, I’d be staying here with Bryony watching it on television. Both my parents were so happy I was going, though, it was almost embarrassing. Mom actually offered to take me shopping for something to wear. I assumed jeans and a sweatshirt were just fine. I declined her offer. You would think I was going to prom.

Last night Brady had gone home to sleep. He’d texted me after dinner at his house and said his dad hadn’t come home for it. Which made him even angrier, although it had been a meal he could enjoy with his mom and Maggie.

Maggie had also asked him questions after dinner about what was wrong with him. He’d avoided them and locked himself upstairs after helping his mother clean the kitchen. Tonight wasn’t going to be easy on him.


Bryony was sitting in my mother’s lap watching the six-o’clock news when I walked into the living room.

“You look pretty,” Mom said with a pleased smile.

I had changed shirts three times and decided on a thermal dark blue shirt with my brown leather jacket. I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight, but my leather jacket gave me some sort of odd comfort. Like a shield or something.

“Mommy cuwls,” Bryony said, pointing at my hair.

I had rolled my hair a little with the curling iron. I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard, but I liked it when my hair had some curls in it. I touched them, wrapping a strand around my finger.

“Yes, Mommy has curls tonight. Just like Bryony,” I told her, then walked over to kiss her sweet head.


“Thanks for watching her again tonight,” I told my mom.

“We are happy to. She’s not a problem. Besides, seeing you get out like this does me good.”

I had great parents. When life turned on me, they were there holding me up. They were my support system, and without them I wasn’t sure where I’d be.

“I love you,” I told her.

“And I love you. No matter how old you get, you’re always going to be my little girl. You’ll see that one day when this one is a teenager.”

I didn’t want to think about my baby being all grown-up. I loved having her small hand tucked in mine and her body curled up against me at night. I hadn’t thought about how my mother must feel. I did now, though.

“I just hope I’m half as good a mother as you are.”


My mom chuckled. “Oh honey, you are already more than that. I couldn’t be prouder of you.”

Bryony held her little arms up to me. “I wuv you,” she said, wanting to join the affection.

I took her from Mom and held her against me. “I love you too.”

She squeezed me tightly with her little arms, then I gave her back to my mother. “You two have fun. I’ll see you later.”

“Go, Lions,” Mom cheered.

I just hoped the Lions could pull this off. Brady was carrying the weight of a secret none of them understood. They were all counting on him to pull them through. The fear that he might fail them wasn’t even in their thoughts. They all trusted he’d be their star quarterback.


I wasn’t worried about the game. I wasn’t worried about the championship. I was worried about Brady. This could be asking too much of him.

* * *

Parking and walking into the game alone wasn’t as intimidating as I had feared it would be. I’d gotten over a lot since the last time I’d walked on this ground. Brady had changed me, helped me. And I hoped I had done the same for him.

I saw people I recognized, and they saw me. Many took a double take like they couldn’t believe I had the nerve to be here. I saw more than one jaw drop as I paid my ticket and walked inside the gates.

I wasn’t sure how I would find Willa, but I figured I would look for her and then just take a seat if I couldn’t see her. I didn’t have to sit by her to make it through this game. I just needed to be where Brady could see me. And away from his parents.

“I’m surprised you’re here, but then I had faith you’d show.” To my left, Willa was walking up to me. She was wearing a Lawton Lions sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. Her blond hair was in a ponytail, and it swayed side to side with each step.


She had been looking for me. That was nice of her.

“I’m definitely here,” I agreed, taking a quick glance around and realizing we were drawing attention.

Willa seemed to notice too. “Ignore them. They have nothing better to do. I have us some seats saved.”

I fell in step beside her. “Are the seats close to Brady’s parents?” I asked.

She frowned and looked toward the stands. “No. . . . Do they need to be?”

“Not at all. Actually it’s better that they’re not.”

Willa glanced at me. “Issues with his parents?”


I wasn’t going to explain that to her. “No, but I don’t think Brady needs the distraction of me sitting near them. They don’t know about us, uh, being friends.”

Willa nodded. “Friends. That’s what you’re calling it?”

I wasn’t sure what else to call it, really. “I think.”

She shrugged. “Friends is good. Gunner and I were friends too. Once.”

“Hey, Willa,” Kimmie said as we passed her, then looked at me like I had three heads. “I don’t think Gunner will want you with her.”

Willa stopped walking and turned to Kimmie. This wasn’t going to be the first confrontation we experienced tonight. I hoped Willa knew this. I didn’t want to ruin her night.


“What I do and who I do it with isn’t your concern, Kimmie,” Willa responded in an icy tone.

Then she started back up walking again without waiting on a response. Willa seemed all sweet and nice, but man, could she be intense.

“Sorry about her.”

“I’ve known Kimmie since preschool. I expected it from her.”

Willa looked at me. “She know about you and Brady being . . . friends?”

I shrugged. “I doubt it.”

Willa grinned then. “I’d love to see her face when she hears it.”


I didn’t know how to respond to that. We walked up the steps to the seats she had reserved, and I was happy to see we weren’t too high up. Brady could easily see me. It was just finding me in this crowd that would take some time.

My stomach was in a nervous knot as the players warmed up on the field. Tonight would be the hardest one yet for Brady.

Get Off My Field