Under the lights, p.11
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       Under the Lights, p.11

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  admitting they had no friends to go to a game with. The only two Willa had would be on the field. I hadn’t seen any of the girls actually speak to her except Maggie. As if she had read my mind from across the table as she and West took their seats, Maggie spoke up. “You can go with me. I always need someone to sit with while West plays.”

  I wanted to high-five my cousin for being so awesome. A month ago she didn’t even speak. At least not to anyone but West. To the rest of the world she was a mute. She’d come a long way.

  “After the game you can ride with me and West to the dance, too,” she added.

  I liked that idea. Especially if I was able to end things with Ivy. Still trying to figure out how to do that without hurting her. She didn’t deserve that.

  “Oh, okay. But I wasn’t planning on going to the dance.”

  Maggie didn’t press that. She just nodded.

  “You not have a date?” Nash asked, waggling his eyebrows like he was about to ask.

  “No, but I don’t do dances,” Willa replied.

  “I’m just glad you’re coming to the game,” I said, hoping to change the subject before it went in a direction I didn’t want.

  “What color is your dress, Maggie?” Ivy spoke up as her hold on my arm tightened.

  Maggie shifted her gaze to Ivy, then glanced back at me. Maggie wasn’t one for fashion talk. “Um, I don’t know yet.”

  Mom was going to take Maggie shopping for a dress this week. Maggie hadn’t pressed, and, to be honest, my mother was more excited than Maggie about getting her a dress. She’d have been fine wearing something she already had.

  “Seriously? I’ve had mine bought since August. It’s gorgeous with gold shimmer fabric that clings in all the right places.”

  I didn’t respond and wiggled my arm free of Ivy’s hold. When she tried to hold on to it, I got annoyed. “I gotta eat,” I told her, and then jerked it free. Sometimes it was hard to be nice to her. The hurt look in her eyes made me feel sick to my stomach though. Dammit.

  You Gonna Feed Her Next?

  CHAPTER 27

  WILLA

  Ivy verged on annoying. No. I was being nice. She annoyed me. Earplugs so I wouldn’t have to hear her high-pitched voice constantly demanding the entire table’s attention would be nice. I missed my picnic table outside, where I had been sitting alone with my brown-paper-bag lunch that Nonna packed me and my book. It was quieter out there.

  Gunner had come after me and asked me to come eat with him, so I said yes without thinking that through. I’d been passing their table on my way outside for days now, and I knew it was full of people like Ivy who I didn’t particularly care for.

  Poppy would have started mimicking her by this point while whispering in my ear. I’d be giggling and unable to control my laughs from escaping. My heart squeezed at the thought. I missed her.

  “The dance is fun. You should go,” Brady leaned down and whispered, then reached out to get a plate with cheese pizza and put it down in front of me. I only ate cheese pizza. There were three other choices being placed at the center of the table by what looked like overdressed mothers. I wasn’t sure what that was all about. I didn’t much care. What I did care about was that Brady had gotten me the correct one.

  “Was that a lucky guess?” I asked him.

  He flashed me a pleased grin. “No. I picked more than one pepperoni off your pizza back in the day Miss I-Only-Eat-Cheese-on-My-Pizza.”

  He remembered. The silly feeling in my stomach should have gone away, but it got sillier and I hated that I was smiling now. My gaze fell to his lips, and I remembered how they had tasted. How much I had enjoyed it. How much I shouldn’t have enjoyed it.

  “Didn’t think I’d remember that? I don’t forget much when it comes to you.” His voice was still low so that only I could hear him.

  “You gonna feed her next?” Gunner asked loudly, and we both jumped.

  I turned my gaze over to Gunner, who had a smile on his face as if he was joking, but it didn’t meet his eyes. He was glaring with that grin, and his glare was centered on the guy beside me. Tension grew thick, and I no longer looked forward to that piece of pizza on my plate.

  “Just being polite,” Brady replied with a tightness in his tone that meant he knew Gunner was angry.

  Gunner didn’t answer that. He rolled his eyes and reached for a plate, then looked down the table before nodding his head to someone. I didn’t understand him at all.

  Seconds later I understood. Gunner had hailed him a female to entertain him with the nod of his head. A blonde with really long hair and boobs much larger than the average high school girl’s sashayed up to him, and he pulled his seat back so she could sit on his lap. Disgusting.

  “That should cause a riot with Kimmie,” Brady muttered, and I turned my attention from Gunner and the girl to him.

  “When he wants to cause a scene, he pits Serena and Kimmie against each other. It’s his immature way of inflating his ego.” Brady was whispering this so Gunner couldn’t hear him. The Gunner I knew from the tree house wasn’t this guy acting like a jock right now.

  “Oh,” I replied, unwilling to bad-mouth him. He was still my friend, and I obviously trusted him enough to hold my biggest secret.

  Serena giggled loudly, and I heard Gunner’s deep voice rumble as he said something to her in a low whisper. Jealousy slowly crept over me, and I hated it. I had nothing to be jealous of. Gunner was my friend. Keeping quiet and smiling at Brady or Maggie as they spoke to me was the best I could do. My emotions felt raw, and that was silly.

  Lunch getting over couldn’t be fast enough.

  Ivy began to demand Brady’s attention, and I focused on my pizza and wished again to be outside with my book at the picnic table. Once I finished my food, I would make an excuse to use the restroom, then bolt. I’d stay in there until the bell rang. I liked being alone. It gave me time to remember where I had been and where I needed to go. Being with Gunner and Brady made me forget at times, and I couldn’t forget. It wasn’t fair for me to forget.

  • • •

  Brady met me outside of our last period and asked me to sit with him, West, and Maggie. So I did. None of them mentioned my escape from lunch. Which was a relief. It made the last class speed by and kept my confusing thoughts off of Gunner for the time being. I had bigger issues.

  I wanted to mention the fact I preferred sitting alone to Gunner when he gave me a ride home today. He’d been driving me home before his football practice this past week, but today they were having a break to rest after their big game this past weekend. So he wouldn’t be rushing me home then leaving. I would have time to talk to him about it.

  Maggie gave me her cell number before I left the classroom, and I explained I couldn’t text because I didn’t have a cell, but I could call her from my nonna’s landline. Instead of looking at me like I had lost my mind, she smiled as if that made complete sense, and then we parted ways.

  It wasn’t until I was in the parking lot walking toward Gunner’s truck that I realized it was gone. Glancing around, I looked to see if he’d moved it, but he wasn’t here. He must have forgotten me. It was only six miles from here to his house. I could walk that.

  Pulling my book bag up higher on my left shoulder, I headed out toward the main road. It was odd that Gunner had forgotten me. Almost as if he were angry with me. I had a gut feeling he was. The tension at the table during lunch had gotten thick, and I didn’t know why. Sure, I was jealous of Serena, as much as I loathed to admit that. But I didn’t say anything to him. He had no reason to be mad at me.

  In the past eight months I’d dealt with far more important stuff than this. A guy leaving me to walk home wasn’t a big deal. I would survive.

  Hello, Son

  CHAPTER 28

  GUNNER

  My brother’s dark hair and hazel eyes were signature Lawton. He looked like our father. I, on the other hand, did not. Nothing like him. Which made sense, seeing as I didn’t have any of his bl
ood running through my veins. Rhett was sitting in the chair to my left. We were both in high-back brown-leather chairs that sat across from Father’s desk.

  Rhett had shown up at the school during last period, surprising me with his visit home. But he said we were meeting with Father at three and he had come to check me out so that neither of us were late. This had thrown me off. We’d never been summoned to the man’s office like this. At least not together. This was weird.

  “Did he know you were coming home?” I asked Rhett, who didn’t seem concerned about this meeting.

  He nodded. “Yes. He requested I return for this. I told him these were the only few days I had available.”

  Had he not questioned him about why we were meeting? “So you just came home because he said to?”

  Rhett shifted in his seat, and this time he did seem a little nervous. “Yeah” was his simple response.

  Because Rhett was the chosen one, he normally bucked our father at every turn. Coming home like this didn’t seem like something he would willingly do. Unless there was something in it for him.

  “He’s late,” I grumbled, hating the wait. I didn’t like to talk to the man, much less sit in his office. A place I was never invited into. The walls were covered in bookshelves, and a painting that probably cost a million dollars hung on the wall over his desk. There were no family photos. Just one picture sat on his desk of him and Rhett last year at a charity event that he’d taken Rhett to but not me. Never me.

  “You got something better to do?” Rhett smirked. That expression resembled our father so much that it annoyed me. I didn’t want to dislike my brother because he looked like a man I hated.

  The door opened behind us, and Rhett glanced back and appeared pleased that the sorry son of a bitch had walked into the room. I was just happy this would start so it could end. Being in here was uncomfortable.

  “Hey, Dad,” Rhett said so casually. They had a relationship that I didn’t have a part in. Never wanted to either.

  “Hello, son,” he replied. That was also something that had once bothered me. Him referring to Rhett as son and me as Gunner or boy. Things like that had molded me as a child. Changed me.

  Taught me not to trust or love. I had the old man to thank for that one.

  “I’m glad you could be here on time, Gunner,” he then said in the condescending tone he reserved for me and those he disliked. Fucker.

  I glared at him with the most bored and uninterested expression I could muster but didn’t respond to his comment.

  “He was happy to come when I showed up to check him out.” Rhett was trying to make this less tense, but it was pointless. Rhett had always tried to help me with our father. He didn’t understand why I was the unloved son and he was the golden child. Even if he did, I didn’t doubt his love for me though. Rhett had always been there for me as a kid.

  With me and that man in a room together, tension was inevitable. I often wondered if he had figured out that I knew the truth. Overnight I had gone from the little boy trying to please him to dodging him at every turn.

  “Of course he was,” our father responded as if that was a bad thing and only proved my worthlessness. Truth was I’d much rather have stayed at school. Hell, I’d have rather someone poked my eyeballs with needles. That would have been more enjoyable than visiting with Satan.

  “I have important matters to attend to this afternoon so let me get to the point,” he began, looking directly at me as if daring me to speak or argue. As if I gave a shit what he had to say.

  “Rhett is the Lawton heir. He has requested to receive the rest of his trust fund now in order to travel this summer in Europe with friends. I believe this is a reasonable request. He needs to enjoy the last few years of his youth before the pressure of this empire falls to him. I set up the trust funds for you both so that they would give you both an edge once you graduated college. I don’t want to touch the investment now so I am going to give him part of his inheritance. Originally your mother had demanded it be equal between the two of you. I was young and agreed. However, things have changed, and with Rhett being the heir to what his great-grandfather built it is only fair that other than the trust fund set aside in your name, Gunner, you will not receive part of the Lawton wealth originally decided upon. I have changed the accounts, and that money is now safely divided between Rhett’s investments and the money market account he currently draws from to live on.”

  As he spoke, my blood grew hotter, and the vein in my forehead that got pronounced when I was angry pulsed. I could feel it. Another thing that wasn’t a Lawton trait. The emotions churning in me were still raw, but I’d managed to harden over the past few years. I wouldn’t cry or beg for this man’s love. Truth was I didn’t want his damn money. Any of it. I’d leave this town and prove to him I could be more than some damn small southern town millionaire. I wasn’t a Lawton. I was someone else, and I wanted to know who the fuck that was.

  Acting as if I didn’t know the truth had been to do what? Save me embarrassment? Protect my mother? She sure as hell hadn’t tried to protect me over the years. Where was she now? At the country club sleeping with the tennis instructor? Unable to sit any longer, I stood and leveled my glare on the man I’d pretended was my father for years.

  “I don’t care. Rhett can have all that is yours. Even the trust fund you’re allowing me to keep. This Lawton bullshit isn’t mine. I don’t want your name. I don’t want your legacy. This family is a motherfucking joke. But I do want one thing—I want to know who my father is. I know you know. I know my mother knows. Either y’all tell me whose blood runs in my veins, or I tell this town that worships the family name that I’m a bastard from one of Mother’s affairs.”

  There it was. Everything I’d ever wanted to say to him. I hadn’t thought it out, exactly. I was more than positive Rhett didn’t know any of this, and the fact he was okay with our father giving him everything made me question Rhett and where we stood. This wasn’t my older brother who had always thought of me and fought for me. He was acting like our father in some way, and it hurt.

  The man who had pretended to be my father my entire life stood up and held my glare with one of his own. “Who told you that? Did your mother?” His voice rose with each word.

  I laughed. Not the amused kind of laugh, but the hard, bitter cackle of a man who had so much hate he wanted to taunt his opponent.

  “You did. When I was twelve years old. Lowering your voice when yelling at my mother was never your strong suit.”

  “You’ll not repeat a word,” he threatened.

  The manic laugh erupted again. “Really? And how will you stop me? Kick me out? That would be a great idea. I’ll go pack my bags and start contacting all the news stations from here to Nashville with my story. They’ll love this juicy Lawton gossip. The world will know you can’t get a stiff dick anymore.”

  I enjoyed watching his face turn bright red. If he dropped dead of a heart attack right this moment, I would cherish it. Watching him die. I hated him that much.

  “Jesus, Gunner, what is wrong with you?” Rhett finally found his voice and spoke up.

  I didn’t take my eyes off his father. Just in case he did die, I’d like to witness it. “You wanted it all, brother. You got it. It was never mine to begin with.”

  “This is crazy talk. I didn’t ask for all this. He just decided to do it.”

  I had to look at him this time. See the lie in his eyes. “But you sat there quietly while he gave it all to you, didn’t you? That’s fine. I don’t want to be you. I want to succeed on my own, not with the world given to me.”

  That was the truth. I had a lot to prove. To my mother, to this man in front of me, and to this town that believed me to be the spoiled heir to a fortune.

  “Silence,” Rhett’s father roared.

  While Rhett did as he was commanded, I turned back to him and smirked. “Or what? Think you can whup my ass? I’d like to see you try.”

  “You’re as sorry an excuse for
a human as your father was. Ungrateful, lazy mooch expecting the world to do as you wish. I kept you as my own and gave you a life he couldn’t have given you. And just like him and your mother you took advantage of my generosity. If it wasn’t for Rhett, I’d say your mother was the biggest mistake of my life.”

  “Dad! What the hell is wrong with you two?” Rhett sounded appalled.

  “Keep talking, old man. Nothing you say matters to me. Tell me who my father is, and I’ll leave quietly. Fight me on this, and I’ll tell the whole motherfucking world the dirty Lawton secret. That I’m the bastard son.”

  The door swung open behind us, and my mother’s voice sliced through the room. “No!”

  Rhett spun around to look at her, his eyes still wide with confusion and shock. I kept my disgusted gaze on the man in front of me. He, too, was looking at my mother, but the threat in his eyes was clear. He expected her to shut me up. Good luck with that, asshole.

  “Mom, thank God, they’ve lost their shit in here,” Rhett said as if she were the salvation, not the cause of all of this. I should have known who my real father was. She hid me from him, and I hated her for that. She allowed me to be neglected by a man and verbally abused my entire life while all along there was a man out there who shared my DNA. I wanted to know him. I needed to know that something in him was good.

  “Boys, leave,” she said, her voice hard and cold. “Now.”

  Rhett did as she commanded, but I turned to face her. I wasn’t going anywhere. “I think I’ll stay,” I replied, taunting her. She’d made this monster. Now she could fix it or at least give me my goddamn answers.

  “Gunner,” she sighed dramatically. “I need to speak with your father alone.”

  “He’s not my father. Don’t EVER call him that again.”

  She paused, and I expected her to argue with me, but she kept her angry glare focused on him. “No, he isn’t. But you’re a Lawton, and he knows it. You are heir to as much of the Lawton inheritance as Rhett, and he knows it. Now leave, and I’ll remind him just how wrong he is.”

 
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