After the Game (Page 42)

Yes, I just threw in the feel bad for me card. I wasn’t ashamed of it. I was a desperate man who was in love with a girl and couldn’t admit it because what he had seen of love sucked in the end.

“Okay. Yes, we’d like that. Bryony will think this is an adventure. She’s not used to going somewhere new. When do we need to come over?”

I let out a sigh of relief. She was coming, and dinner wouldn’t be so hard now. We would all have something else to focus on other than Boone not being there. And why.

“I can come get you,” I told her, turning my truck down her road.

“Okay, but we will need to move Bryony’s car seat to your truck.”

“I’ll do it as soon as I get there. Y’all just get ready.”

It was funny how the idea of eating dinner with Riley and Bryony at my house made things feel lighter. Happier.

It All Seemed Normal

CHAPTER 49

RILEY

Brady’s house was like I remembered. But this time I was walking in as a mother, and his . . . friend who was a girl. I had no idea what to call us, really. Asking him to make that clear while his life was in turmoil was inappropriate. So for now we were friends, I guessed.

Brady led us to the kitchen, where the smell of fried chicken permeated the air. Bryony was holding on to me tightly. She wasn’t used to new places. We had our routine, and we had just stepped out of it. As excited as she had been when I told her what we were doing, she was nervous now.

“Hey, Mom, we’re here,” Brady called out just before he walked into the kitchen. I followed behind him with Bryony on my hip.

His mother was wearing a pink-and-white polka-dot apron and holding a cast-iron skillet full of biscuits in her hand when she turned around to greet us.

“Hello.” She smiled brightly.

Brady walked over and kissed her cheek and whispered something in her ear. She patted his cheek and then turned to us. “Riley, she is precious,” she told me as she set the skillet on the table and made her way over.

“Hello, Bryony. I’m so glad you came to eat with us tonight. I’ve made cookies for later. Do you like chocolate chip cookies?”

Bryony eased her grip on me and turned to Coralee. She had said the magic words. Cookies. She nodded her head and her blond curls bounced, as did the pink bow I had in her hair.

“Oh, good. I need help eating all those cookies. If it’s okay with Mommy, I may send some home with you. Brady can’t eat them all.”

Coralee had just made a new friend.

“I eat them,” Bryony assured her.

That got a laugh out of Coralee, and I could see the tension Brady had been carrying on his shoulders ease. Hearing his mother’s laughter was helping him. They both needed this.

“I’ve got to put butter on the biscuits. They’re not hot anymore, just warm. You think you can help me?” she asked Bryony.

Bryony didn’t even think about consulting me. She held her arms out to her new friend, and Coralee took her.

“Your mommy will need to bring you over more often. I could use a helper like you.”

Bryony glanced back at me as if to make sure I’d heard that. I grinned at her and she smiled back. Her new teeth made that smile even cuter.

“Thank you,” Brady said in a whisper as he walked over to me. His hand settled on my hip. “She’s not smiled like that since Boone told her.”

Bryony had a way of making people smile. Babies really did lighten up a mood.

“Oh, we have new help,” Maggie said, walking in behind us.

Bryony looked up at the new person from her place on Coralee’s lap as they began buttering biscuits.

“Yes, this is Bryony. She’s going to have dinner with us, then help eat those cookies we made today,” Coralee said.

“Oh, good. We need another cookie eater.” Maggie smiled.

That endeared Maggie to Bryony immediately. Anyone who was on board with her eating cookies was a winner in her book.

“I’ll put ice in the glasses. What would you like to drink, Riley?” Maggie asked me.

“Ice water is fine. Thank you. Can I help with anything?”

Coralee looked up from the biscuits. “We have it all done. Bryony is finishing things up. Go ahead and make yourself comfortable. Brady can fix you something to drink, and what can we get Bryony?”

I set the diaper bag on my arm down and pulled out her sippy cup of milk. “We came prepared,” I told her, setting the sippy cup down beside my plate.

Coralee frowned. “We don’t have a high chair, but I did find Brady’s booster seat in the garage. I wiped it down and put it in the seat to your left. Will that work?”

“You still have my booster seat?” Brady asked, sounding amused.

“And your snuggle bear, and your blankie, and your favorite bippy,” she replied with a smirk.

“Bippy,” Maggie said with a laugh.

Brady rolled his eyes. “Please, God, don’t tell West about this.”

Maggie turned around and beamed at him. “Me? Never,” she drawled.

“What is a bippy exactly?” I asked, curious. I understood Coralee keeping everything. I would too. I planned on keeping every single memory I could of Bryony’s.

“A pacifier,” she told me. “He called it a pippy at first, then it became a bippy.”

“Mom, please,” he said, as if begging for her to stop.

She smiled up at him, then turned her attention back to Bryony. “Looks like we are all finished. Let’s wash our hands and get ready for dinner.”

Bryony held her buttery hands up. “And cookies,” she added.

“Yes, and cookies. But first you have to eat some chicken, black-eyed peas, and mashed potatoes.”

Bryony nodded ready to agree to anything at this point. Cookies were her ultimate goal.

Brady set my water down in front of me, then put his tea at the place on my right. Coralee settled Bryony down in the booster seat to my left, and Bryony looked over at me like this was the best thing ever. She hadn’t sat in a real chair before. Maybe I should get her a booster seat for the house. The excitement on her face at sitting at the table with us was obvious.

Maggie and Coralee set the food in the middle of the long wooden farm-style table. “Help yourself. Y’all let Riley get Bryony’s plate fixed first.”

I quickly put some of everything in small portions onto the plastic plate Coralee had set out for Bryony, then began to cut it up into small pieces while the others began to fix their plates.

“Do you like everything?” Brady asked.

I nodded, and he began to fix my plate too. It all seemed normal. Real. And something I could never have imagined in a million years.

We Didn’t Have to Figure It All Out Right Now

CHAPTER 50

BRADY

Dinner with Riley and Bryony was just a couple hours, but it seemed to help us heal. Odd how that happens. A reminder of someone else’s beauty after pain seemed to do that. Mom cried less. I was able to focus more that week on practice. Maggie didn’t leave school early anymore. But twice this week she had gotten home to find Riley and Bryony at my house entertaining my mom.

I knew why Riley was going over there, and if I hadn’t already known I loved her, that would have made me love her. I just wished I had more faith in love. And forever.

Riley would be here or wherever she planned on going next year, and I would be at college. Away. Missing her.

* * *

“So are you dating Riley Young?” Ivy caught me when I was walking out to my truck Friday. Today was the big game. The end. So they let school out at twelve for students to travel the two hours away to where the game was taking place.