Under the lights, p.12
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       Under the Lights, p.12

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  “Don’t call me a Lawton. His blood doesn’t run in my veins.” I spat the words out as if they tasted as bad as they made my stomach turn.

  “That’s where you’re wrong. Lawton blood runs just as strong in your veins as it does in your brother’s. Now. GO!”

  Rhett’s hand wrapped around my arm and jerked me toward the door. “Come on,” he demanded, and I went with him. Not because I was obeying him. I was just confused. What the fuck did she mean I was a Lawton?

  All. Of. It.

  CHAPTER 29

  WILLA

  I opened the fridge and pulled out the plate of food Nonna had left for me. Grilled fish with steamed broccoli and a baked potato placed on one of her yellow flower dishes all wrapped up. I’d gotten home close to five after my long walk. That kind of physical exercise made me hungry. I was ready to eat all of this and a piece of pie.

  The sound of a car pulling up outside stopped me from warming up my food. Setting it down on the counter, I went to the back door to see who was here. I had a feeling it was Gunner, but I wanted to see to be sure.

  I was right.

  Jerk.

  I walked back to my food and unwrapped it, then placed it in the microwave. Just as the food began turning slowly inside on the glass platter, a knock sounded on the door. I debated ignoring him. He was coming to apologize. I expected him to. But I didn’t have to forgive him.

  When the ding of the microwave alerting me the food was heated went off, I reached in and got it out, then went to set it on the table. Another knock sounded. He wasn’t giving up. I turned around and was going to give him an annoyed glare but paused when I saw the look in his eyes. He was upset. His eyes were bloodshot as if he’d been crying.

  That got my attention. My annoyance was quickly replaced with concern as I hurried over to the door to open it and check on him.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked, not waiting on him to give me a reason why he was upset.

  “Can I come in?” he asked, his voice hoarse from emotion.

  I stepped back and motioned him inside.

  “What’s wrong?” I repeated.

  He rubbed his face with both hands and inhaled deeply before looking at me.

  “I know who my dad is,” he said with such angst in his tone it almost didn’t sound like him.

  Oh. This wasn’t what I had been expecting. At least someone wasn’t dead. Although the answer to this might be just as bad. It sure looked like it was. Asking him who didn’t seem appropriate. So I waited quietly.

  He took a few moments to stare off down my hallway as if he was still in shock. I wondered if he was even going to be able to tell me. This was bad. Hugging him didn’t seem like the right thing to do either.

  After what seemed like an eternity he turned his gaze to me. “I’m a Lawton after all,” he said.

  So his dad was his dad. Was that such a terrible thing?

  “You aren’t happy about that?” I asked.

  He let out an empty laugh. “I’m a Lawton, but the man in that house is still not my father.”

  Now I was confused. Completely. Questioning him seemed like a bad idea, so I just waited again for him to decide how and what he was going to tell me.

  “This is so fucked up.” He sighed, running his hand through his hair with a look in his eyes that bordered on disbelief and anger.

  Who the heck was his father? The suspense wasn’t outweighing my concern for him, but I still wanted to know. He had me more than curious.

  “I hardly knew him. There’s pictures of me with him, and I could tell in the photos that he loved me. But I understand my father’s hate for him now. The way my grandmother talks about him as if he were the devil. They hated him as much as they despise me.”

  I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking. That was insensitive. Unable to not do anything, I closed the distance between us and slipped my hand over his in a silent show of support. He turned his hand over and squeezed mine as if I were his only hope on a sinking ship.

  “My grandfather wasn’t my grandfather. Jeremiah Gunner Lawton was my biological father.” He paused, then looked at me while his words rang in my head. “My mother slept with her father-in-law.”

  Oh God.

  “It’s all mine. He left it all to me legally. All. Of. It.”

  All of what? I wanted to ask, but I didn’t.

  “My father thought he could control my mother enough to hide the fact, but she stood there and threatened to announce it to the world and give me the means to go to court over it. The old man actually looked capable of murder. He threatened to send me off to a boarding school, and she laughed this crazed, manic laugh and informed him that if I chose to, I could have him removed from the house. Me. Remove that man from the house. Shit, Willa. What the hell? Am I even awake?”

  I was beginning to think maybe I wasn’t awake myself. I imagine he felt that way more so than me. “Is he still there?” I asked. I knew his hate for the man, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had sent him packing.

  Gunner looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “I can’t kick Rhett’s dad out of the house. I don’t want the world to know the truth. I’m not just a bastard. I’m my grandfather’s bastard. Jesus this is fucked.”

  He had a point. This was fucked. Very much so. I tightened the hold I had of his hand. It wasn’t much, but it was all the support I knew to give him. This time I stared off at nothing while the facts listed themselves in my head, and I was sure I wasn’t dreaming. Gunner remained quiet as well. There weren’t words for this really. My heart hurt for him. For the boy everyone thought had it all and the persona he’d lived his whole life. I wanted to hold him and fix it, and that emotion scared me. My feelings for Gunner ran much deeper than I had realized.

  “Rhett left. He yelled and called Mom a whore, then left. She’s locked away in her room crying now, and the asshole who is apparently my . . . brother, not my father . . . shit.” He paused and shook his head at the thought. “He left the house too. The whole damn house has exploded.”

  The front door opened, and we both jerked our attention at the sound. Nonna was home. She was the only one who walked across the grounds and came in the front door. Especially unannounced.

  I slid my hand from his, and he tucked both his in his pockets just before she walked into the kitchen. She looked at Gunner with compassion in her eyes. “Go on and y’all have a seat. I’ll feed you your dinner here,” she said, holding up a plate of food she’d brought back with her. “I reckoned you’d be here.” She then finished, turning her gaze to me. She wasn’t angry, but there was a gentle warning there. She’d overheard them at the big house. I wondered if she had known the truth. She’d been with them for so long, could secrets like that be hidden from her? I doubted it.

  “Y’all go on and eat. I got some chocolate dream pie in the fridge. If’n you want to stay on the sofa tonight, it’s yours,” she said to Gunner, then went about the kitchen fixing glasses of sweet tea.

  “Did you know?” Gunner asked her as we both sat down at the table.

  She paused and didn’t look back at us. Her attention stayed on the glasses in front of her. “Had my suspicions,” she finally replied.

  That was enough for him. He didn’t ask more. We ate in silence, and when bedtime came, he slept on the sofa.

  I Didn’t Want His Life. Not Any of It.

  CHAPTER 30

  BRADY

  Neither Willa nor Gunner were at school. It took me until third period to confirm this and then get concerned. Something was wrong. I tossed my books into my locker and headed for the back hall, where band and carpentry classes were held. No one would be there until after lunch today, and it had an exit door. The only one I could get out of and not get caught.

  I texted Gunner once I realized he wasn’t here, but he’d yet to respond to me. If he had just been absent, I wouldn’t be worried. But him and Willa missing was something else altogether. It had to be a Lawton thing. Had they been caught together? Shit.
Were his parents making Willa leave? Or was it something worse? Was Willa consoling him over more crap from his father?

  Regardless, I had to get there and check on them. Willa wasn’t the kind of girl to skip school because she was hooking up. Something was definitely wrong with one or both of them. They might need me.

  I ran to my truck, cranked it up, and headed for the Lawton property as fast as I could get away without attracting attention. Last thing I needed was for the cops to get me the week of homecoming. Not that they’d keep me from playing. Even the local police wanted a win.

  If Coach found out me and Gunner were missing a day though, he would be pissed. I was going to have to get back before practice and so was Gunner. Whatever was happening couldn’t be that severe. My temper started to rise as I imagined him and Willa messing around and getting caught.

  He knew she was here because she had nowhere else to be. We didn’t know why, but her mother was a bitch, so that was enough of an excuse for me. Willa hadn’t opened up to me much, or really at all. Had she told Gunner things? The idea that he knew more about her past than me didn’t sit well. Why would Willa trust Gunner over me? I was the trustworthy good guy. The one girls gravitated to when they needed a shoulder to cry on. Not Gunner. Never Gunner.

  Turning into the Lawton drive that was lined on either side by oak trees, I grew more and more anxious. Surely there was a reasonable excuse, and we’d all be back in school before next period. Or at the latest, lunch.

  Gunner’s truck was parked in Ms. Ames’s drive, so I pulled in beside him and cut the engine. They were together. But Ms. Ames was apparently allowing it, so it couldn’t be too bad. I threw my truck door open and hurried up the walk toward the back door.

  Several knocks later and no response. There wasn’t even movement in the house. What the fuck? I reached for the knob to turn it, and, as suspected, it opened. There was no need to lock the doors here. To get on the property you had to know the code for the gate. It wasn’t easy to get into the place.

  “Willa?” I called out, stepping into the kitchen. It was silent.

  “Gunner?” I tried, and waited. Nothing. The place was empty.

  I walked through the house, checking for any sign of life, but it wasn’t there. The sofa had a folded blanket at the end of it with a pillow as if someone had slept there. That wouldn’t have been Gunner. Surely.

  I exited out the front door and started down the steps and into the yard, searching for some sign of them when my eyes landed on the tree house. I hadn’t been there in years. None of us had. It was our secret hiding place that wasn’t so secret, seeing as Gunner’s parents had had it built for Rhett when he was younger. But we liked the privacy we thought we had there.

  I began walking that way without thinking about it. Something in me knew they were in there. Why they were in there I wasn’t sure, but I knew they were. It was where we had always found each other when we were younger.

  When I stopped at the bottom of the tree, I heard Willa’s voice first. Taking the steps one at a time, I climbed up to join them.

  Gunner’s eyes were the first to make contact with me. “Hey” was all he said. Something in his eyes was empty. More so than normal. That worried me.

  “You okay?” I asked, walking inside without having to bend over. I’d forgotten how elaborate this tree house was.

  He shrugged, then his gaze swung to Willa’s. “Am I ever?” was his response.

  I turned to look at Willa, and she was studying her hands that she was fidgeting with in her lap. This was going to take a while. I sat down on the wooden bench that lined the wall across from them.

  “So, I take it this has something to do with you, since Willa looks unsure and nervous,” I said, glancing at Gunner. “It wasn’t at all suspicious that you both weren’t at school. And it’s homecoming week at that.”

  Willa finally glanced up and looked at Gunner with compassion. Okay, so something was really bad here. “Gunner, what is wrong?” I asked.

  Gunner met Willa’s gaze for a moment, then turned to me. “Family shit. My father wants to give Rhett everything. My mother is furious. Lots of yelling and fighting. Rhett left and hasn’t returned my calls.”

  Well hell. That sucked. Life for Gunner had mostly always sucked at home. He had never had it good there. That was something I never envied of Gunner. I hadn’t asked about his home life in years. Somewhere along the way our friendship had changed. We talked football and girls but nothing deeper. Willa coming back had given him something he and I had lost. A real friendship. The jealous bite that caused made me feel guilty. He had needed someone, and she’d been there. I hadn’t.

  This was typical of his sorry excuse for a dad, but I hated he was dealing with it. “You stay at Ms. Ames’s last night?” I asked, remembering the blanket and pillow on the sofa.

  He nodded. “Yeah. Couldn’t go home.”

  Willa remained quiet as she sat there. I was torn about her being who he had run to. Being jealous of Gunner telling her instead of me. But was it because I wanted Willa or she was stepping in on my friendship? I wasn’t really sure.

  When she’d come into our lives as kids, I hadn’t liked her right away. Gunner had liked her too much, and I didn’t want her taking my friend away. Over time we’d all become close, and I’d wanted Willa around just as much as Gunner. But we weren’t kids anymore.

  “You coming to practice today?” I asked him.

  He nodded. “I need to hit someone. We were both going to check in right before lunch. I just needed some time this morning.”

  I could understand that. Gunner’s relationship with his parents had never made sense to me. My mom and dad were always there when I needed them and even when I didn’t. Mom made cookies and let me have the guys over to watch the game videos. Dad was always there cheering me on and believing in me. I was who I was because of my parents. That’s why I always understood Gunner’s stupid decisions. He was who he was because of his.

  I was lucky in ways Gunner would never experience. Money wasn’t everything in the world. Being friends with Gunner had taught me that. I didn’t want his life. Not any of it. No amount of money and power made that life desirable.

  “You know you’re welcome at my house any time you want. I’ve got two beds up in that attic room of mine. One is yours if you need it. Just say the word. Mom would love to stuff you with cookies.”

  A smile tugged at Gunner’s lips. “Thanks. I’ll remember that.” For the first time in years I felt that old friendship ease back into place. The one where we knew we had each other if we didn’t have anyone else. And it always made it all right.

  I stood up, walked over, and slapped him on the back. “If you need to talk, I’m here.”

  Gunner nodded.

  I glanced over at Willa, who was watching us both. “You need a ride to school? Or you going to stay with Gunner until he comes?” I wanted her to ride with me so we could talk. About Gunner and the possibility of me taking her to homecoming. I wasn’t sure where she stood with Gunner. I didn’t think he was ready for serious or ever would be. If this was just a friendship with them like we all once had, I wanted to explore more with her. I was going to break it off with Ivy today. She’d texted me fifteen times last night and called ten. She was out of hand, and I needed to end things.

  She looked at Gunner for an answer. I didn’t want that to sting, but it did. Guess I was jealous of her giving him attention after all.

  “She’ll come with me,” Gunner piped up.

  It wasn’t like I could push it. Gunner was having a hard time, and he wanted Willa to make him feel better. I just didn’t like the idea of him hurting Willa for selfish reasons. Using her for someone to listen to and lean on but not giving anything back in return. She’d been hurt. It was obvious, and Gunner had too much emotional turmoil to help someone else with theirs.

  “I’ll see y’all at lunch then” was all I could say before I turned and headed back down the ladder. If she wanted him, I c
ouldn’t stop it, but I was afraid he wasn’t going to want her the same way.

  Next Time Though I Won’t Let You Run

  CHAPTER 31

  WILLA

  I understood football and the need to win, but I didn’t think Gunner really had to go to practice today. However, I wasn’t going to tell him that. Not with the mood swings he was dealing with. The best I could do was listen to his rants. No advice or consoling. My just being there was all he seemed to need last night and today. So even when Brady had come to check on things, I’d stayed silent.

  This wasn’t my nightmare. It was Gunner’s. All I was offering was my ear. And that was all he had asked for. Brady, on the other hand, he didn’t trust, or he didn’t want him to know. Because he’d gone beyond evading the truth; he’d just lied to him. I wasn’t sure how I had been the one he trusted with this truth. Maybe because I’d told him mine. But for whatever reason, I was going to be worthy of his trust.

  Brady hadn’t been surprised by the less-than-half truth he’d been told. Which only confirmed the ass Gunner’s so-called father was. Brady had seen more than I had over the years. I would think Gunner would want to share with him more than me. That hadn’t been the case though.

  We didn’t make it to school by lunch, but we did make it in time for the class right after it. The office seemed okay with our excuse, and
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