After the Game (Page 41)

He was worried about his mom. I loved my mom too. Finding her hurt and upset like that would kill me. If I were in his shoes, I might be able to hate what my dad had done. I wasn’t sure, and I hoped I never had to find out.

“How are you?” I asked him. He’d told me about his mother, but he hadn’t said how he was feeling.

“Broken. Different. He changed me. He changed us all.”

I slid over to sit beside him, and this time it was my hand that covered his. “Tonight at dinner we were talking about how things were changing for me here. Mom said with age we change. There is more to come. This isn’t a good change or an easy one, but it’s part of your life, and you control how it affects you. Your father can’t control you.”

He flipped his hand over, and his fingers threaded through mine. We sat there, me looking at him and him looking straight ahead out the window, lost in his thoughts. I wondered how Maggie was handling this, but it didn’t seem appropriate to ask that. Not now.

“I don’t want to go home. It hurts too much. But I can’t stay away because they need me there. With Boone gone, I’m the man now. That’s a responsibility I wasn’t ready for either.”

Something else I understood all too well. When Bryony was placed in my arms, I was an adult suddenly. Life turned and I was terrified.

“Those things that terrify us can make us stronger and become something beautiful. When I had Bryony, I was more scared than I’d ever been. She was a living, breathing human and I was in charge of her life. Keeping her alive, taking care of her. In a second my world turned on its axis, and I thought I’d never make it. I would fail. But I didn’t. And I wouldn’t give her up for the world. The person she made me is strong, brave, and I love who I have become.”

He squeezed my hand. “Thank you. I forget when I’m in that house that I’m not the only person on earth to go through something so difficult. I think it’s all on me. No one’s done it before. But you did something much harder. My mom is an adult and Maggie is seventeen. Taking care of them is nothing like being handed a baby to protect.” He paused and looked at me. “If this makes me half the person you are, I’ll be thankful. The hate I have may actually fade to disappointment. I want your strength.”

He was stronger than he realized. We all were. When faced with something like this, we found the strength inside us that we hadn’t needed to use before. It was being brave enough to use it that made the difference. Finding an easy escape or running from it didn’t make it go away. Facing it head on, knowing you could withstand it and overcome it, was what made you tough enough to live life.

We Can Survive This



The rest of my weekend I spent taking care of my mom and helping her any way I could during the day. Once I was sure she was asleep at night, I would go to Riley’s and we would sit in my truck for hours and talk. Sometimes we would just sit in silence. We didn’t need to talk. Just being there with her made it better. She reminded me I was strong enough for this. A fairy-tale life wasn’t real for anyone. We all faced something hard.

Monday I didn’t want to leave Mom and go to school, but she made me. She said my staying home wasn’t good for us. We had to learn to live life regularly again. Seeing her red eyes from crying sliced through me every time I looked at her. It also made the hate I felt for Boone grow.

No one at school knew what was happening. I didn’t want to talk about it. Soon enough the entire town would know. Luckily no one was talking about my fight on the field with Boone. They all were talking about the last play of the game and Riley Young being my date. And, of course, our kiss.

That helped keep my mind off things. But in class, when it was quiet, my thoughts went to my mom and I worried about her. It was just after lunch when Maggie found me in the hall.

“I can’t stop worrying about Aunt Coralee. I’m checking out and going to the house. I wanted you to know so that you could stop worrying too. You need to stay here for practice, but I don’t. I can miss some classes.”

Mom would argue with her that she shouldn’t have left school, but I didn’t tell her that because I wanted her to go. I didn’t want Mom alone.

“Yeah. That would be good,” I agreed.

Maggie nodded. “West is letting me take his truck. Give him a ride after practice. He may forget he’s without a vehicle.”

“I’ll take care of him. You go be with Mom.”

The look she gave me was a mirror of my own thoughts. We loved her. Watching this was hard for Maggie, too. She’d just found happiness and security, then this happened. I had to remember that Maggie was dealing with this just as much as I was. Possibly more. She’d been through a living hell much worse than this.

“Hey,” I said to her as she started to leave. She turned to look back at me. “If you need to talk. Or anything. I’m here. Always.”

She gave me a sad smile. “Thanks. We’re going to be okay, Brady. All three of us. We can survive this.”

She was right. We could.

* * *

Practice was grueling. The last play of the game may have been a success, but the fact that we’d had to pull off a miracle to win meant we hadn’t played the game like champions. Coach drilled that into our heads a million times in the two hours we were on the field today. There wasn’t a part of my body that didn’t ache.

Mom would have dinner ready, and going home to eat with her and Maggie was important right now. Problem was I really wanted to see Riley. She was what kept me sane in all this.

I picked up the phone and called Mom.

“Hello.” Her voice wasn’t the usual cheerful tone I was used to.

“Hey, Mom, how are you?”

She sighed. “Good. Maggie and I cleaned house today, made cookies, and are finishing up supper. Are you coming home or going to Riley’s?”

Maggie had been with her all day. It was my turn to take over and give her a break. I couldn’t expect Maggie to take care of my mother all the time, just because this was hard on me.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” I said, almost reluctantly.

Mom paused. “Why don’t you invite Riley and Bryony to dinner? I’d love to have them and get to visit with her daughter. Would be good to have a baby around here to lighten things up.”

The woman was a mind reader. She knew why I had called and what I was dealing with internally without my saying a word. “Thanks, Mom. That would be great. Let me call her.”

There was a soft laugh from her, and hearing her laugh even a little helped.

“I’ve made plenty tonight.”

As soon as I said my good-bye, I called Riley, hoping she hadn’t eaten yet and this was a way I’d get to see her.

“Hey,” she answered after the first ring.

“Have you eaten dinner?” I asked her immediately in case she was in the middle of it. I wasn’t above begging her to stop midbite and come with me.

“Uh, no, Mom was waiting on Dad.”

“Good, because Mom has invited you and Bryony for dinner. She said it would be good to have a baby around to lighten things up.” And I want to see you really damn bad. I didn’t add that last part.

“Oh,” she said, then paused. I was afraid she was thinking of ways to turn my offer down, so I dove right back in.

“I missed you today. I want to see you, but I need to go home to Mom, too. If you’d come, that would make this easier.”

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