Under the lights, p.13
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       Under the Lights, p.13

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  because I was with Gunner, I think it helped my reasons. If I hadn’t been, I was sure they’d have given me break detention or something.

  It wasn’t until we were walking to class that Gunner realized he had forgotten me yesterday. With all that had happened, I’d forgotten myself.

  “Shit,” he said, stopping in his tracks and slapping his forehead. I thought he’d forgotten homework or his football jersey.

  “What?” I asked.

  He looked at me with a frustrated frown. “How did you get home yesterday?”

  “Walked.”

  “Fuck,” he muttered. “I’m sorry, Willa. Rhett checked me out to meet with my dad, and that was so unexpected I forgot completely.”

  I shrugged, because compared to his last twenty-four hours the fact I had to walk home was really no big deal at all. Especially after all he’d been through, I didn’t want him feeling bad about me. If I could fix all his problems, I would. I tried not to think too deeply into that though.

  “It’s fine. Your day was tough, and it was good exercise for me.”

  He shook his head, still clearly annoyed with himself. “I won’t do it again. I swear.”

  “Really it’s not a big deal. I enjoyed the walk.” Which wasn’t exactly true, but there was no reason to make him feel worse about it.

  “Stop trying to make me feel better. Ain’t going to work,” he grumbled.

  I didn’t have a real response to that, so I said nothing.

  He walked me toward my classroom, but before we even got five doors close to it, he stopped and opened a door to a dark room, then reached for my arm and pulled me inside.

  “What,” I said, confused, as the door closed behind me.

  Gunner’s grip released my wrist; then his hand slid up to cup my face. The light from the hallway barely gave me enough illumination to see. But I saw Gunner’s face as he leaned into me. I knew what was coming, and my stomach did a flutter of excitement just before his lips landed on mine.

  Softly he brushed them back and forth over mine. The gentle touch brought a sigh from me that Gunner used as an opportunity to slip his tongue past my lips to tangle with mine. My hands found his upper arms, and I held on to him or drew him closer. I wasn’t really sure with the fireworks of electricity going off in my head.

  This I hadn’t expected, but I didn’t want it to end. The peppermint taste of his gum mingled with mine, and I leaned in closer to breathe him in. His hard chest pressed against me.

  Cold air met my now damp, swollen lips. And my eyes flew open to see Gunner stepping back away from me. His eyes were on me with a surprise that I understood because I felt it too. There had been a connection there that made me want to pull closer to him. Soak him in and never let go.

  I felt complete.

  I was an idiot.

  Because just as I thought all of this, Gunner opened the door and left me there. Alone in the dark.

  Running off after kissing wasn’t a good sign. It was exactly what I’d done to Brady. Was this my payback? The universe showing me how this feels? Because if this was how Brady felt, I owed him a much bigger apology. This feeling wasn’t one I wanted to repeat. Ever again. Kissing Brady had been nice. Kissing Gunner had rocked my world.

  • • •

  It was Brady who met me by my locker at the end of the day. “Gunner asked if I could give you a ride home. He had something he needed to do before practice.”

  His something to do was avoid me. That hurt. A lot.

  I nodded and swallowed the lump now forming in my throat. “Okay, thanks. I can walk if you need to get to practice.”

  He shook his head. “No. I’ve got plenty time.”

  I doubted he had plenty time, but I couldn’t argue because my stomach was in knots. I just wanted to get home. Back to my bedroom. Alone. Where I should have stayed instead of opening up and forming friendships again. Especially with Gunner Lawton.

  “You okay?” Brady asked, and I lifted my gaze to meet his. I couldn’t tell him what was wrong with me.

  “I’m good,” I said, forcing a smile.

  He didn’t look convinced. We walked outside toward his truck with some small talk, and just before we got to his truck, I turned and looked at him.

  “Brady,” I said, needing his attention.

  He glanced over at me. “Yeah?”

  “I’m sorry about running off after you kissed me. That was rude and I . . .” Pausing, I wasn’t sure what my excuse for it was, but I had to say something. “I just wasn’t expecting it, and because we’re friends it scared me.”

  A slow smile touched his lips. “That’s okay. Next time though I won’t let you run.”

  There wouldn’t be a next time. I knew that because my heart wasn’t in it with Brady. He was a childhood crush and a friend. Nothing more. I knew now what the real thing felt like, and what I’d felt for Brady wasn’t the real thing.

  Good Ole Stable Brady

  CHAPTER 32

  GUNNER

  I sat in my truck after practice for thirty minutes, staring at the clock. Ms. Ames had said I could come to her house again tonight, but I wasn’t sure I could face Willa. Not after that kiss. Jesus! That kiss was more than I’d expected. It was terrifying, and I had enough shit in my life right now. I wasn’t prepared for the impact of one simple kiss. My head and heart were not ready for Willa Ames. She scared the hell out of me.

  I was going to Brady’s. I’d send him to get Willa in the morning or some shit like that. I needed space from her. It was a dick move, but she had messed with my head. That didn’t fit into my world right now. I had family lies and dirty money and a mother who I never wanted to lay eyes on again.

  Willa had been through her own hell, and I wasn’t what she needed. Brady was what she needed. Good ole stable Brady. And I knew he wanted her. That plan sounded like a winner to me. Brady could be her strong shoulder to lean on, and I could go on about my life living through my own mess. No need to add hers to it.

  After convincing myself I would be fine if Brady went after Willa, I cranked the truck and headed to the Higgens’ house. Coralee would have cookies and milk. That sounded pretty damn good about now.

  Blaring the music as loud as it would go helped drown out my thoughts. Especially thoughts about Willa. She didn’t fit into my world right now. Probably never would. I needed the Kimmies and Serenas of this world. Not the Willas. They were too much. They wanted too much. They needed too much. All of which Brady was good at giving. I had never been that guy, and I never would be. Probably because of my breeding. Hell, I was my grandfather’s son. How fucked up was that?

  When I was a kid, I daydreamed about having Brady’s life. His family. I wanted that. It was a fantasy, of course, because that kind of life didn’t live within the Lawton world. We were all pretending. It was what we were trained early to do. Act as if things were perfect.

  Well fuck all that. It wasn’t perfect, and my life sucked. I wasn’t pretending like being a Lawton was a good thing. I wasn’t conforming to this bullshit life.

  Brady’s truck was in his drive, and so was West’s. He was here for Maggie. They were together all the time. It verged on annoying. No, it was completely annoying.

  I hadn’t brought an overnight bag, but I figured I could use Brady’s crap. Wear his clothes. I wasn’t going to that house, and Ms. Ames would have brought my things to her house, but I couldn’t go there, either. I should have called her so she wouldn’t worry, but the fear that Willa might answer kept me from it. Maybe later I’d call. If Willa answered, I’d just ask to speak to Ms. Ames. Act like nothing happened.

  We all knew I was the crown prince of pretending.

  • • •

  Brady’s mom, Coralee, answered the door. She was the mother I never had.

  “Well, Gunner, it’s good to see you. Come on in. I just took the others some snacks. Chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven.”

  Just what I wanted to hear.

  “Thanks, Mr
s. Higgens,” I said, and she patted my back in her maternal way as I walked past her, towering over her by at least seven inches.

  “They’re in the den about to watch last week’s game, again,” she added with an amused sigh.

  We often watched our games from the past week over and over to improve on things we messed up and perfect things that were working. That would help get my mind off things. I loved this house.

  “Okay,” I replied, then headed to the den, where I could hear Brady’s voice rising as it did when he got excited about a play.

  “I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying if we take it in closer and tighten it, then we could demolish the Trojans on Friday night” was Brady’s argument when I walked into the room.

  “And I’m saying it looks as tight as we can get it,” West replied, sounding annoyed.

  “Could y’all just eat the cookies and stop arguing over this?” Maggie piped up.

  “I’ll eat the cookies quietly,” I added to the conversation, and all three pairs of eyes swung to me.

  “Gunner, good, you’re here. Listen—watch this play and tell that hardhead it can be tightened up and we can pull in Nash for the snap.” Brady looked passionate and fired up. That was why he was going to an SEC college and making a career out of the game. He saw what everyone else didn’t.

  “Can I have cookies first? Your momma said they’re still warm.”

  Maggie laughed, and Brady rolled his eyes. “We have a game to win Friday night, and you are worried about cookies.”

  I nodded. “Yes, I am.”

  Maggie pointed to the table where Coralee had left a large tray of cookies, some small sandwiches, and a bowl of barbecue chips. I made my way over to it and got three cookies for good measure and poured myself a glass of milk out of the bottle she had sitting in ice. Coralee Higgens was like Martha Freaking Stewart.

  Brady sighed dramatically and dropped down onto the leather chair behind him. “I give up,” he groaned.

  “Does that mean we can watch an episode of Fuller House?” Maggie asked in a tone that wasn’t serious. She was teasing her cousin.

  “What the hell is Fuller House?” Brady asked as I walked over to sit in the other empty chair.

  “Full House all grown up,” Maggie explained.

  “Full House, that show from like the eighties or something?”

  Maggie nodded. “Yep.”

  That just got another irritated groan from Brady.

  “He’s focused on winning. It makes him moody,” West told Maggie as he held her hand in his. I’d call him a pussy, but the dude had lost his dad recently and Maggie had helped keep him together.

  “You seen Willa this afternoon?” Brady asked as he turned his attention to me.

  I did not want to talk about Willa. I shrugged. “Nope. Haven’t seen her since we got to school.”

  Brady frowned. “She seemed upset after school. I was wondering if she’d said anything to you. She promised me she was fine, but she wasn’t. I wonder if the crap she’s dealing with from her home is bothering her.”

  Guilt. It ate through me like a painful stab in the chest. She was upset over the kiss and my leaving her. I did that. Not what she’d dealt with at home but what I’d done to her. I was a jerk. She knew that now.

  I wanted to be all she needed, but I couldn’t be. I was too broken myself. I didn’t trust myself with something as precious as Willa’s heart. I’d been a screw-up my entire life. Acting out for attention and getting the wrong kind. Willa needed more than me. I wanted her to have the best. I wasn’t even a tenth of what she deserved.

  “She seemed fine to me today” was all I said. “Let’s see that play, and I’ll give you my opinion,” I said, changing the subject off me and Willa. I didn’t need Brady thinking anything happened. He’d just make me feel worse. Besides, she needed him, and he didn’t need to be thinking about her kissing me.

  Brady jumped up and grabbed the remote. “Watch the left side,” he said enthusiastically.

  “Here we go again,” West grumbled.

  I Don’t Hate You

  CHAPTER 33

  WILLA

  The phone rang, and I almost didn’t answer it. The last call had been from Gunner, who hadn’t said anything to me but had asked to speak to Nonna. Apparently he was staying the night at Brady’s. I didn’t have to wonder why. It was obvious he was avoiding me. I’d be getting up early in the morning and going to the bus stop. I knew without asking that Gunner wouldn’t be coming to pick me up. The kiss had sent him running. Fine. Whatever. It would never happen again.

  Kissing Gunner had shown me what I had been trying to ignore. He was the boy who had my heart now. Not Brady. But I couldn’t force him to want me. I would let him react however he needed. I understood hiding from life. I’d done it myself.

  “Get the phone,” Nonna called from her bedroom. I had no choice now. I was going to have to answer the stupid thing.

  Taking a deep breath and reminding myself if it was Gunner I couldn’t curse him out because he was dealing with a lot right now, I reached for the phone.

  “Hello.”

  There was a pause, and I almost said hello again; then he spoke.

  “Will.” My brother’s voice startled me, and I froze. He hadn’t spoken to me in over six months. Even when I had called and written, he’d ignored me.

  “Hey, Chance.” The happiness from hearing his voice felt foreign. I wasn’t used to that much joy anymore. It had been too long.

  “Hey.” He sounded nervous, but there was happiness in his tone too. “How is Nonna’s?”

  He barely knew Nonna. She hadn’t been around him much of his life. Our mother didn’t bring us to visit. Nonna had to save up to come visit us when we did see her. “She’s good. Still baking pies and working at the big house.”

  “Cool. Um, so are you liking it there?”

  I wasn’t sure anymore. If he had asked me yesterday, I’d have probably been able to say yes. But after today, and hearing his voice, I was now missing him and my life there badly. Maybe not my mom but the life I’d once had.

  “Yeah, it’s good. I miss you though.”

  He was quiet a moment before saying, “I miss you too.”

  My chest ached for two reasons. One, because I did miss him terribly, and two, because he was talking to me again. I had feared I’d lost him. He only knew what he’d been told about that night. No one really wanted to hear the truth. Even though the truth wasn’t much better. In the end Quinn had drowned. That was the outcome of our mistakes. Mistakes we could never take back.

  The image of Quinn’s small, lifeless body floating upside down in the deep end of the pool still gave me nightmares. I hated to remember. The reality of it chilled me to the bone.

  “How’s school?” I forced myself to say as my throat tightened and my horror returned.

  “It’s okay. Mom’s pregnant. She’s having a girl.”

  Those words came out all rushed and nervous. Like he was almost yelling them before he lost his courage.

  Our mother was having another baby. A girl. To replace me. Chance might not understand that, but I did. I was her mistake. The obstacle that stood in the way of the life she had dreamed of. I was never the child she wanted. She left me with her mother the majority of my life. I was a disappointment, much like she had been to Nonna. So she was having a redo.

  “Tell her I said congratulations,” I told him. “I’m sure your dad is excited.”

  “Yeah,” he replied, not sounding so sure. I wondered if they were fighting a lot in front of him.

  “Are you excited about the baby?” I asked.

  “I guess. Don’t they just cry a lot?”

  Smiling, I remembered the little time I got to spend with him when he was a baby. I was amazed by him, but we never lived together until he was eight years old. I loved him though.

  “You’ll love her. I remember how fascinated I was with you and how your crying didn’t bother me so much because when you wer
e happy and laughing, you were the cutest baby I’d ever seen.”

 
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