Under the lights, p.16
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       Under the Lights, p.16

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  did was enough. It was cruel. I get it now. It’s unfair but I get it. But don’t dare give me your sob story over some bullshit you wanted and didn’t get because of me. You were given what I never got. Our parents love.”

  “They aren’t our parents. We only share a mom.”

  Those words would change our relationship forever. I didn’t care that he was drunk. I didn’t care that he was bummed that the fortune he thought was all his wasn’t. The coldness in his tone took something from me. Something that I’d never get back.

  “Then he’s lucky. I’d hate to know he had a chance of turning out like you,” Willa said from the backseat.

  I glanced up at her in the rearview mirror. I had someone on my side. I didn’t deserve her, but I was thankful I had her.

  I Was Messed Up for Life

  CHAPTER 39

  WILLA

  When I jumped in the back of the truck, I hadn’t thought through what I would do when we got to Gunner’s house. If I went inside to the middle of this firestorm, then Nonna would be furious. I couldn’t upset her; she was all I had.

  Sending Gunner inside to face this alone seemed impossible too. As we passed the driveway to Nonna’s house and he didn’t pull in, I knew he was expecting me to go with him to face this mess.

  I guess maybe he’d let me live in the tree house if Nonna kicked me out. That was a joke, but still. I might need lodging soon.

  Gunner parked in front of his house and turned to Rhett. “Get out,” he ordered, but he didn’t move.

  We were doing a drop off. This was much better. I’d get in no trouble for this. Rhett muttered a few curse words, then opened the door to stumble out. “Where’s my car?” he asked, looking around.

  “At the school. You’re too drunk to drive. Get it in the morning.” Gunner then turned to look at me. “You want to get up here?”

  I unbuckled and climbed over the seat, then closed the door that Rhett had left open. “Are we going back to the dance?” I asked, confused.

  Gunner shook his head. “Naw, I can’t deal with that right now. You okay with going somewhere else?”

  I was okay with whatever. Gunner needed me, and I enjoyed being with him. I had him back. Being ignored by him the past few days had been hard.

  “Sure,” I replied, then felt a twinge of guilt over Asa. I had run off on him. I probably should go back, but something kept me here.

  “I wish I could just leave this town and not look back. No parents, no last name, no fucking anything. Just run. You know?”

  I understood why he wanted to now, but that wouldn’t be forever. He hadn’t had time to let it all sink in yet. Adjusting to all this was just the beginning for him.

  “You did good tonight, dealing with Rhett. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought you were the oldest.”

  Gunner grinned and glanced over at me. “Thanks. That was a first. Normally it’s Rhett getting my ass out of situations. Not me being the levelheaded one about things.”

  I didn’t remember much about Rhett other than he was a spoiled elitist back then. I hadn’t known how to describe him when I was a kid, but looking back, I got why I hadn’t cared for him much.

  “After the way he’s acted the past week, I wonder if Riley hadn’t been full of shit,” Gunner said, more to himself than to me. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. But I perked up at the mention of Riley’s name.

  “Did he and Riley date?” I asked, wondering why she had warned me against them and why she seemed to be hated around here.

  “No. Me and Riley dated. Until she blamed Rhett for raping her and getting her pregnant.”

  Oh. Wow. Not what I had expected to hear.

  “We hadn’t even had sex. She was scared of it, and we were younger. Then she starts saying Rhett raped her and she was pregnant. My parents, or rather Rhett’s parents, made it go away. And her. But still it hung in the air around here for a while. Almost cost Rhett his scholarship. She admitted she’d lied, then left town.”

  The girl I’d met didn’t seem the type to lie about something like that, but then I’d barely spent any time with her. Rhett, on the other hand, might just do that. “She came back, didn’t she?”

  Gunner shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. I don’t know. She gave you a ride, so I guess I’m lucky there. I wouldn’t have wanted you walking on that dark road for miles.”

  Sounded like she had a sordid past much like my own. I hadn’t seen her since that night. From all the girls in this town I’d met so far, I thought Riley would be the one I would bond with the best.

  Poppy’s face immediately settled itself firmly in my head, and I squashed that thought. I had a best friend once, and I’d not been there when she needed me. I hadn’t saved her or Quinn. I didn’t need another friend like Poppy. I wasn’t good at that.

  “Where are we going?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.

  “To the lake,” he responded.

  The lake that I remembered was off limits to us as kids. It was far out on the opposite side of the Lawton property from Nonna’s. Nonna’s house sat at one back corner. The lake sat at the other. Apparently Gunner’s “father” had had a younger sister when they were kids who drowned back there after getting bit by a snake.

  “I’ve heard about the lake but never actually seen it,” I said, suddenly curious.

  Gunner shrugged. “Not that grand. But it does have a waterfall that my grandfather . . . or father . . . whoever the hell he is, put there in memory of my aunt Violet. Or I guess she was my sister. Fuck.” He ended with a mutter.

  “When did you first go back there?” I asked, hoping to get his mind from going in the direction it was currently headed.

  “When I was twelve. Nash, Brady, West, and me all decided to go camp down there. Didn’t end well when my parents found us. My mom cried and cried. I was surprised she cared so much. That was the first time in my life I actually felt like she loved me. Guess that’s why I still come here.”

  He pulled off the main drive that circled the Lawton residence, and we went down a grassy path that had been taken before. I was sure by him. The moon was almost full, and it made the water up ahead sparkle. I wondered about the girl who had drowned here and how old she’d been. Had she meant to sneak off to swim that day, or had someone brought her here? The little girl who never got to grow up and experience life always intrigued me. But Gunner never had these answers, and he was too afraid to ask. We had talked about it when we were younger and wondered what her story was.

  “It’s beautiful out here. Peaceful.” I didn’t know Gunner’s real father. He had passed away when Gunner was young, but if he’d memorialized his daughter this way, I thought he must have been a nice man. Not like his older son, who I’d never seen say a kind word.

  “It’s my place to escape. They don’t know I come here, and even if they do, they don’t care anymore. I guess me drowning would be helpful. They’d get to keep all that Lawton money and power to themselves. Not hand it over to the bastard son.”

  His words were so raw as he spoke them it made my heart hurt. Even now, the cocky full-of-himself teenage boy still felt unwanted. Unloved. I hated that for him. Gunner was special. He wasn’t all he flashed around. He was damaged, but deep down he was kind. He cared. He was just too scared to show anyone.

  “Brady and West would be devastated if you drowned. So would the other guys. They love you. Nonna would be a mess. She’s always loved you. . . . And I’d be devastated too.” I wanted him to remember it wasn’t just family that mattered. He had friends around him who cared. He wasn’t alone and unwanted.

  He turned his head so his eyes locked with mine.

  “You’d be devastated?” he asked. A very small upward turn on the corner of his lips made me smile. I was also blushing and that was silly, but I couldn’t help it.

  “Yes. Of course.”

  He glanced down at my hand, and then reached over with his and slipped it over mine. “I shouldn’t have run after the kis
s,” he said, still staring down at our hands. “It just . . . was more than I expected. And . . .” He lifted his eyes to meet mine. “It scared the hell out of me. Never felt that before.”

  The butterflies that Brady had once given me didn’t compare to the bats currently going off in my stomach as Gunner lifted his head and his gaze met mine again. Tonight I’d come to help him. Be his friend. I wasn’t ever going to do the girl thing and demand he respond to me or explain. He had bigger issues than a kiss right now.

  So the fact he was explaining, and the reason why he had run, meant something. It meant something big, and that terrified me. Because I was also taught already that I wasn’t lovable and love hurts. I didn’t want to love Gunner Lawson. Not in a way he could break me. I was too broken already.

  “When shit went down tonight with Rhett, I felt so fucking alone. Then there you were. The first one to me. The first one ready to help. And in that moment I knew. That kiss had shaken me because you were it. The it I didn’t want. The it I’d been so sure would never come my way because I didn’t intend to look for it.” He paused, then smiled and shook his head. “My brother was yelling drunken shit and I was supposed to be shutting him up, but in that moment all I could think was ‘I get it. Why people fall in love. I so fucking get it.’ ”

  Tears stung my eyes, and I was thankful for the limited lighting out here. I didn’t want his words to affect me like this, but that wasn’t my choice. They were burrowing inside me and latching on. Making me want things I didn’t deserve nor could I have.

  “I’ll always be here for you,” I told him, unable to say the other things I was thinking.

  “I want more than that. I want you. I want to be able to kiss you anytime I want. I want to hold your hand in the halls. Hell, I want to be made fun of by the guys for wanting to be near you all the time.” He laughed at his words, and my heart squeezed so tight I had a hard time catching my breath.

  This was moving at a pace I hadn’t expected. Although I wanted it too, I had to be fair. He had to know my past. All of it. And understand that I was messed up for life. Yet want all these things with me anyway.

  My Plans for the Future Had Just Taken a Massive Turn

  CHAPTER 40

  GUNNER

  “I didn’t tell you everything. The whole story. About why Poppy took her life.” Willa said those words as if they were being torn from her body and she wanted to grab them and pull them back.

  I had just told her I was in love with her without actually saying the words, and she was wanting to tell me why her friend killed herself. I didn’t understand this, so I remained quiet and waited. It was something she needed to say, and I would do whatever she needed me to do.

  “We were drunk . . . and high. But we were at Poppy’s house and that was safe. We thought. Staying home while her parents worked at their restaurant, we had friends over and partied there. No one drove. It was safe. We weren’t out causing trouble. I liked it. The escape it gave me. I wanted to forget that my mother tolerated me, but she and her husband both would have preferred not to have me around. I was the extra child. The one they didn’t want. But she was stuck with. So the weed and the vodka were my happy place. I didn’t care about anything when I was doing either or both.” She paused and twisted her hands tightly in her lap before staring outside as if she were there again. At the house. Seeing it all happen in front of her.

  “Everyone makes mistakes,” I assured her, because, seriously, if she was beating herself up over getting drunk and high, that was a touch overboard.

  She nodded. “They do. But some don’t walk away from it. We didn’t. Not Poppy, not me, and not Quinn.”

  Who? “Was Quinn another friend?”

  “Quinn was three years old. She was Poppy’s little sister. I loved her smile and her laugh. She was always happy, and she loved me. That night . . . she’d been upstairs in her bed asleep. I hadn’t known. Poppy didn’t mention it, and normally she would say we had Quinn to watch. We didn’t drink or smoke when we had Quinn there. But that night . . . Poppy had thought it would be safe. Quinn was in bed, so she didn’t tell me. I had no idea. No one did. Until . . .” She paused again, and a sick knot formed in my stomach. I wasn’t being a pussy, but, dammit, if this story was going where I thought it was, Willa had a lot more that darkened her eyes than I had first assumed.

  “I was lying on the floor after looking for cheese balls in the pantry. I had the munchies. I’d been too drunk to stand up. Then the scream . . . it was so full of pain, terror, and agony, I’ll never forget it. Poppy was screaming, and I scrambled up and ran outside toward her voice. I knew something was wrong, but I hadn’t been prepared to see Quinn floating in the pool, facedown and lifeless. I’ll—” She stopped and swallowed as a silent tear ran down her face. “I’ll never forgive myself. I’ll never forget. And Quinn will never have a chance at life. Neither will Poppy. Four days later Poppy took her life. She couldn’t live with knowing Quinn was dead because we hadn’t been watching her. She blamed herself completely. I should have asked. I should have checked, but I didn’t. It wasn’t all her fault. When the paramedics came, so did the police. We were all arrested for intoxication, drug use, and possession, and then there was Quinn’s death. It was never proven to be murder because it wasn’t. But we had been left to babysit, and she’d drowned due to our drug and alcohol use. I spent the next six months after Poppy and Quinn’s funeral in a correctional center for girls. When I got out, my bags were packed and at the front door of my mother’s house. I had no one to call but Nonna. She bought me a bus ticket and brought me back here.”

  Fuck.

  Double Fuck.

  How did I respond to that? Jesus, she’d been through hell over one night of partying. I’d partied many times with no repercussions other than a bad hangover. Her whole world had been tossed.

  “I’ll never be able to forgive myself. For Quinn or Poppy. I don’t expect anyone else to.”

  “Willa, nothing was your fault. We’re teenagers. We are allowed to make mistakes—it’s part of growing up. What happened to you isn’t fair. You didn’t know the little girl was there. How is her death your fault? It isn’t. Neither is Poppy’s. Poppy was at fault. She should have kept her head clear and watched over her sister. She couldn’t live with the fact she let her sister down. But not one part of this was your fault. You were a casualty.”

  I believed every word I said, but Willa didn’t. It was in her eyes as she turned to look at me finally. She’d kept her focus on the lake while she spoke. “I should have asked. They left Quinn home often. I should have asked.”

  “Quinn wasn’t your responsibility.”

  She didn’t say anything as she lifted a hand to catch a new tear that had broken loose. “April the fifteenth was the night Quinn drowned. On March fifteenth she’d turned three years old. We had celebrated with a Sofia the First birthday party. Purple princess stuff everywhere.”

  I didn’t have a clue who Sofia the First was, but she needed to talk about this. I had a feeling she hadn’t talked about it one time since it happened. All I could do for her was listen.

  “She had dark brown curls like Sofia the First, and I always called her Princess Sofia to make her giggle. I’d pretend I got confused and thought she was the real Sofia the First. She’d say, ‘I’m Quinn, silly. Remember me?’ and I’d act surprised. That only made her laugh harder. They were my home. Quinn and Poppy. They wanted me there. I was accepted there . . . I miss them.”

  If I could have one wish in this world, it would be to go back in time and fix this for her. To right this so she didn’t have to feel guilt over it her entire life. I didn’t care about my family shit. So I was a rich kid whose momma got knocked up by the man who was supposed to be my grandfather. Not a big deal when you’re dealing with death. Willa had so much more darkness to overcome, and I would be there for her no matter what. She could try and push me away, but I wasn’t going.

  I was in love with Willa Ames. The girl she
had once been and the woman she was becoming. Her heart was so damn big and accepting. Just being near her made things seem better.

  My plans for the future had just taken a massive turn.

  You’re Special, Willa Ames

  CHAPTER 41

  WILLA

  I had to stop myself from saying more. It was like the flood gates had opened, and I couldn’t stop the words from pouring out of my mouth. All the stuff I’d kept to myself. The memories only I had now. I needed to say them. I needed someone else to know about Quinn’s smile and her giggle. It was like I in some way could give her life again. Just remembering.

  “Were you there when Quinn was born?” His question surprised me. I hadn’t been expecting him to speak at all. I was reminiscing about a dead little girl he didn’t know. But he seemed to truly care.

  “Yes. My mom let me go to the hospital with Poppy’s dad and her. We sat in the waiting room for hours reading books, eating snacks, and looking through the large window at all the other babies that came in to the nursery. It was a fun day. When Quinn was brought into the nursery in their dad’s arms, he had the biggest smile. Poppy hugged me, and we laughed and clapped at the little baby with dark curls already on her head. We were sure there had never been another baby that adorable.”

  “So she was like your sister too.” He wasn’t asking a question. It was a statement. And he was right. She’d been my little sister just like Poppy’s. I had never missed a birthday or Halloween taking her trick-or-treating. All my good memories had Quinn and Poppy in them. It was funny how my most painful did as well.

  “They both were. My sisters. Losing them took part of me. The best part.”

 
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