Under the lights, p.10
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       Under the Lights, p.10

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  muffin and remained silent. I hadn’t expected her to talk much this morning. Not after all we’d shared. I would let her have her peace and be patient. I wasn’t going to allow her to pull away from me though. I needed Willa. And even if she didn’t want to admit it, she needed me.

  “I washed these blueberries for this muffin last night,” Willa said as she finished off the muffin and brushed the crumbs from her hands.

  “Then Ms. Ames should have left you a few in the kitchen this morning.”

  Willa nodded. “I completely agree. But Nonna won’t bring home any food to eat that your parents paid for. Says it’s stealing and the like.”

  That was ridiculous. Ms. Ames brought me meals from her kitchen when my parents ran off on Sundays and when she magically knew I needed a special treat. Our food was hers. “Hate she feels that way. I don’t see it that way.”

  Willa shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I got the hookup with you, so it’s all okay in the end.” She was teasing. Her voice wasn’t as heavy as the last time we spoke. There was almost a lilt in her tone that I remembered from years ago. As if that girl wasn’t completely gone after all.

  “True. Guess you better keep me around. I hear tell that the big house is getting strawberry hot cakes tomorrow.”

  Willa sighed. “Guess I know what I’ll be washing tonight.”

  Again her tone was light, and I liked it.

  “Just make sure you get them real clean. Hate to eat hot cakes with dirty strawberries.”

  Willa cut her eyes at me. “Don’t push it. I may spit on the whole lot and not eat a one.”

  This time I laughed. Loudly. And her grin grew into a full-on beam. God that was nice. Real nice.

  “I’ll behave,” I finally replied after my laughter eased. “You talk to Brady any this weekend?” I knew his truck had been up here briefly yesterday. This morning Ms. Ames had mentioned him stopping by and how that might be a bad idea. I should let him know Willa had healing to do right now.

  I agreed with her. If Brady was coming around to be anything other than friendly, then he needed to move it right on along. The idea of that made me bitter, and I tried to bite it back. It was hard though. I had to remind myself Brady was my friend, the best one I’d had most of my life. Sure we’d changed over the years, but he was still important to me. We’d gone through a lot together, and that counted for something. I didn’t want Willa to be what came between us, but then again I wasn’t about to let him have her either.

  “He came to see if I was okay with things yesterday.”

  Her answer wasn’t as detailed as I wanted it to be.

  “So he apologized?” I asked, pushing for more.

  She shrugged. “Mmm” was her mumbled response. We had told each other shit we hadn’t told anyone else. We should be past this erecting-walls stage now.

  “What kind of answer is that? Yes, no, shut the hell up I’m not telling you?”

  A small laugh escaped her, and I was glad she found it funny.

  “Yes and no. I was the one who ran, and I owed him an apology for acting the way I did.” I wanted more than that. We were closer than this, and she knew it. My hands tightened on the steering wheel, and the idea that this was upsetting me so much shocked the hell out of me.

  Besides, I disagreed. Brady had an easy life. The charmed sort. His parents loved each other, and his home life was secure. He hadn’t dealt with family secrets or deaths. His aunt had been killed, but he’d hardly known her. Maggie coming to live with him had been the biggest drama he’d ever faced.

  “But he did apologize?” I asked.

  She nodded. “Yes, he just didn’t need to.”

  I wouldn’t argue on our ride to school. That thought I’d keep to myself. Brady, however, was going to get questioned when I had him alone.

  “You’re not dressed in nineties clothing,” I pointed out, and she frowned like I had lost my mind.

  “What?”

  “It’s homecoming week. Friday night is the homecoming game, and this entire week is themed. Nineties Day today, Western Day tomorrow, Pajama Day Wednesday, I forgot what Thursday is, and Friday is always School Colors Day.”

  She looked at my jersey and jeans. “You’re not in nineties attire either.”

  “I’m on the team. I’m supposed to wear the jersey all week.”

  Willa rolled her eyes. This was silly. I was not participating in any of it. I’d have been surprised if she was. If I didn’t get to wear my jersey every day, I wouldn’t participate in that either. Who the hell knew what nineties was supposed to look like. We were barely born in the nineties.

  “All we did for homecoming at my old school was a dance after the game and a big pep rally on Friday.”

  “We have those too. Except our pep rally is accompanied by a parade in the middle of town.”

  She laughed. “I had forgotten about the homecoming parade. Do y’all still throw candy? I used to love for Nonna to take me for the candy.”

  “Cheerleaders and band members do.”

  “Do we get out of school for this?”

  “Yep.”

  “Sweet.”

  I’d asked Serena to homecoming two weeks ago because I knew she’d be a sure thing. After our win all I’d care about was getting some. Now I was regretting that. I wanted to experience it with Willa. I could always cancel on Serena, but then she’d make Willa’s life hell. Something I wasn’t selfish enough to do.

  I’m Not Feeling the School Spirit

  CHAPTER 25

  WILLA

  US Government was a good class to start the day with. It always felt like someone was telling me a story. No complicated math problems to figure out or Human Biology, which was the hardest elective they had available here, to concentrate on. Just a good story. If they would only let us drink coffee and eat muffins in class, then it would be the perfect beginning to the day. Unfortunately, Mr. Hawks was a stickler for no food or drinks in class. He also liked to see our hands moving and taking notes.

  I didn’t need notes. I was good with memory. I could listen to the story and remember all the details. Explaining that to him didn’t seem like a wise idea, so I just took notes and wished I had coffee and muffins. I also wished that I wasn’t thinking about who Gunner was taking to the homecoming dance. I was sure he wouldn’t go alone. Brady would be taking Ivy. I didn’t have to ask to know that answer. I wasn’t available to date and do things like dances anyway. I had too much to prove and too much to find a way to live with.

  Caring who Gunner took wasn’t healthy, and I really shouldn’t have. But while Mr. Hawks discussed foreign policy and national defense, I was thinking about a silly high school homecoming dance that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. It was just a dance. Not one I needed to attend. I hadn’t gone to my junior one either. Instead I’d been . . . drunk at a party.

  Shaking my head to clear that memory, I focused again on Mr. Hawks and writing down what he had just said. This was all I needed to think about. Make Nonna proud and graduate high school. Then I was going to focus on proving to my mother I wasn’t a loser with no hope, while helping kids not make the mistakes I did. If I could save one life from drugs and the horror they brought, then I would. Every life I saved, I’d be doing it for Poppy . . . and Quinn.

  The darkness settled in my chest again, and I felt the sick ache in my stomach as I thought of them. Quinn’s smiling face with her missing tooth. She’d just lost that front one and couldn’t whistle anymore. We had laughed and laughed at her attempts. Quinn had been such a happy three-year-old girl. She had been closer to me than my own little brother, who stayed busy with after-school sports and our mother and his father. They had a family unit I was never really allowed into.

  Poppy and Quinn had been my family. I swallowed against the lump forming in my throat. I couldn’t break down in class. Listening closely, I wrote down every word out of Mr. Hawks’s mouth. Making it a game to see if I could get it all down. That focus was the only thing t
hat would get me through this class without crying.

  “You okay?” Asa whispered, leaning over closer to me.

  He had gotten into class after the bell rang, so we hadn’t spoken, since Mr. Hawks had already started his lecture.

  I’d completely forgotten him sitting there. I also hadn’t ever gotten close enough to him at his party Saturday night to wish him a happy birthday. I would need to apologize for that. Sucking up my emotions, I managed a smile and nodded.

  He didn’t look convinced, and I was sure I wasn’t completely masking my inner pain. Although I was trying my best. Mr. Hawks began writing our assignment on the video screen that now replaced the white board. This way he never had to get up out of his desk. He could sit down and type everything out. Note the sarcasm in my voice. His love for honey buns in the morning meant he needed to do a little more standing up.

  “I didn’t see you Saturday night,” Asa said after Mr. Hawks was seated with a fresh cup of coffee and a honey bun.

  “I’m sorry. You had so many people around you—then I left early. I’m not a real late-night person. I like sleep.” That was the best lie I had.

  He chuckled. “You’re an interesting one.”

  I had no response for that.

  “Did you get all those notes? I saw you writing like your life depended on it.”

  I nodded, then shrugged. “Well most of them. I tried.”

  He cocked an eyebrow and leaned toward me. “Can I borrow them? I was too busy watching you to get them all. Or any.”

  I started to nod when Mr. Hawks cleared his throat loudly, and we both turned our attention to the front of the class. He was glaring at us over his glasses with a bit of honey-bun sugar on his top lip. “Do I need to assign more work? Was that not enough?”

  “No, sir, I think this will be just enough,” Asa drawled, sounding a little amused. I focused on my work in front of me and didn’t look back his way again.

  Asa laughed, but I didn’t even smile.

  • • •

  When the bell rang, a guy sitting behind Asa started talking about the homecoming game, and I quickly snuck out. Surprisingly, there were a lot of oddly dressed kids in the halls completely on board with the nineties dress up. I thought a seventies day made more sense. They dressed cooler back then. This nineties thing just looked like a bad episode of Friends. It was my mother’s favorite TV show of all time, so even thinking about the show brought up a slew of bad memories.

  Brady was at the door when I stepped into the hall. His attention was on me, so he’d come simply to talk to me. I felt awkward around him, and I hated that. The kiss had changed everything, and I wished so badly he hadn’t done it. It was easier with him before. I felt like I was hiding something from the world, and I didn’t have the energy to have to hide anything more. I was hiding enough.

  “Hey,” he said, looking a little nervous. Great, he felt weird too. Even after our brief but uncomfortable talk yesterday.

  “Hello,” I replied, trying to think of something normal to say. A girl wearing a pair of overalls walked by with one strap undone and a crop top on underneath. That was a terrible look from the nineties, but she was spot on. Rachel from Friends had sported overalls more than once. Yuck.

  “You not dressing up in nineties either? Y’all got the easy out with the jersey thing.”

  Brady was the quarterback. The school seemed to worship him, especially on game day. I didn’t get that. Didn’t it take a whole team to win a game?

  He smirked and glanced around before looking back at me. “Yeah. You didn’t dress up either. No school spirit.”

  “I’m not feeling the school spirit. Especially if that means dressing up in ridiculous costumes daily. I’ll pass.”

  Brady’s grin grew, then he leaned closer to me and whispered, “I don’t blame you.”

  “You’re the quarterback of this oh-so-special team. You should care,” I shot back.

  He didn’t appear insulted. “I just care about winning. The silly shit I ignore.”

  That wasn’t very Brady-like. Mr. Football Star. Just as I was thinking that, some random guy walked by and slapped him on the back. “Big week,” he said, smiling at Brady like he could do it all. Throw the ball, catch the ball, and run it in for a touchdown. Terribly cliché.

  I Don’t Do Dances

  CHAPTER 26

  BRADY

  Willa had loosened up a bit toward me in the hall earlier. I was now unable to wipe the grin off my face. Maybe I hadn’t messed things up. I wanted a chance at this. At us. It was obvious she was trying to not feel uncomfortable around me after our kiss, and I was glad. Because I wanted more kissing. I wanted more Willa. I was currently ignoring the teacher’s lecture while thinking of ways to get out of the homecoming dance with Ivy so I could take Willa. I was safe from Gunner taking her because he had already lined up Serena. I knew he wasn’t willing to give up both a blow job and sex the night of homecoming to take Willa.

  My only obstacle was Ivy, and I didn’t want to be cruel. I just wanted to be free of her. I had just let her be for so long I hadn’t thought about what would happen if a Willa walked into my life. Hurting Ivy wasn’t appealing, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t think of any other way. My mind went through several scenarios. It kept going back to me paying off Nash, who still hadn’t asked anyone, to ask her to the dance. She’d tell him no, but then he’d tell her I was flirting with Willa, and to get me back she’d more than likely go with him. Making it her choice not mine, and she wouldn’t be hurt.

  That was just a lot of manipulating, and I wasn’t completely okay with that, either. Dammit. Why had I asked Ivy? Though, honestly, I knew why. It had just been easy.

  The bell finally rang, and that meant it was lunchtime. I was starving, but I was always starving. It was homecoming week, so the football players would get special meals brought in by the cheerleaders and booster club members. Today was pizza, and I was more than ready for it. Most of the cheer moms would bring in baked goods. I was hoping for some of those brownies with fudge icing that Ivy’s mom always made. I mentioned them to her last week when she asked me my favorite dessert item for homecoming week. I’d been sure to request them.

  Guilt gnawed at me again over the Ivy thing. I changed my train of thought and sought out Willa in the crowd. My gaze fell on her and Gunner walking to the cafeteria together. I won’t lie. A small bite of jealousy snapped at me. Gunner was laughing at something she was saying. The more I saw them together the harder it was for me to be around Gunner. I stayed irritated at him. He was leading her on. He wasn’t a one-woman guy. Never had been. Willa was different. And so was my friendship with Gunner. It was slowly falling apart. Over her. And although that wasn’t what I wanted, it was happening.

  Willa was worth it. Watching her made me feel better. I liked the way she wore her Chuck Taylors with her skirts. It was cute. Almost as if she woke up deciding to dress girly, then saying screw it and throwing on her shoes before leaving.

  “Mom brought your brownies,” Ivy said as her arm slipped under mine and she wrapped herself around it. As if she was holding on to me for fear of falling. I felt a sick knot in my stomach because I wanted to be free of her, but I wasn’t sure how to do it.

  “Thanks,” I replied, and I meant it. Knowing Ivy, she’d have me brownies every day this week. Once again proving what a dick I was for trying to get free from taking her to the homecoming dance.

  “I also made sure that they got you cheesy bread with that sauce you like. I know you love it with your pizza.”

  Again there she was making me feel terrible. If she could just be the annoying clingy girl, it would be easier. But then she does nice stuff like this, and I feel bad.

  “Great. Thank you,” I said again.

  We walked into the cafeteria with her still holding on to my arm in her very blatant sign that I was taken. Or so she wanted me to be. Not that the girls around here really cared. They would flirt with me just to piss her off. Ivy wante
d a meaningful relationship. And I just didn’t feel the same way about Ivy.

  Turning my attention back to Gunner and Willa, I saw her sit down at our table with him. Interesting. Everyone on the football team got to invite one person to the table homecoming week to eat with them, and Gunner had chosen Willa. I had to choose Ivy. She’d made sure I had cheesy bread and brownies, dammit. Best I could do was go sit beside her. Which I hurried over there to do before someone else could. Ivy would have to deal with it.

  “I swear to God! Not lost a homecoming since our freshman year and not about to start,” Gunner was bragging to Willa. She glanced up at me as I sat down on the other side of her. Gunner was at the end of the table, and Willa was sitting to his right, on the side facing the door. I guess she wanted to keep her escape in sight if she needed to get away from all of us.

  “Smack talk. I like it,” I said.

  Willa smiled at me. “This will be my first game. I hope y’all are right about all this football-god stuff. I hate to cheer for losers.” The teasing tone of her voice made me break into a grin. That and the fact she was coming to our game. I hadn’t expected that. My pleased smile began to fade as I considered who she might be coming with. I thought it was just Gunner I had to worry about. Was there someone else, too?

  “Who are you coming with?” I asked, wondering if she had a date for homecoming and I missed it.

  She shrugged. “Myself.” Most girls I knew wouldn’t be so cool with
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