Under the lights, p.18
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       Under the Lights, p.18

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  “What happened? Why are you wanting to run away now?”

  He threw his head back and laughed loudly. “Now? Hell, Willa, I’ve wanted to run away most of my life. I’ve never been wanted. Not once. Then the one person on earth to ever tell me they love me won’t go with me. I guess I don’t understand love that well, because I thought that meant you loved me enough to go with me.”

  That was a low blow. Throwing my words back in my face. Words that I had meant and still did. But using them like this was wrong.

  “Because I love you doesn’t mean I’m willing to hurt my nonna. And because I love you I won’t let you hurt your future. You have college ahead of you. A lifetime to live somewhere else and be something other than a Lawton. But leaving now won’t fix anything.”

  He stopped pacing and turned to look at me. “She was raped. My mother didn’t have an affair with her father-in-law. He raped her, and then she tried to have an abortion. He threatened to ruin her name and toss her out if she killed me. So she had me to save herself. My real father then left it all to me in his will to basically say ‘fuck you’ to the rest of the family. He was sadistic and cruel, and I was his tool to punish them with. He hated my father because, like me, he was a bastard. My father isn’t his child. I’m his only blood.”

  Oh God. My stomach twisted, and I sat down on the wooden bench behind me. How sick could the Lawtons get? Could this get worse? Just when I thought it was bad enough, it got more deranged.

  “The mansion my grandmother lives in is mine. She’s never said a kind word to me in my life. Yet she lives on my money. I want to donate the whole damn estate to children’s cancer research and leave. Let this town forget there was a Lawton family that founded it. Because they are all crazy.”

  I understood being hurt by your family. I also understood not feeling loved by your family. However, I did have Nonna. He hadn’t even had that. My heart broke for him. If I could run away with him, I would. But that wasn’t going to fix anything. Running from your problems never worked. They wouldn’t disappear, and they’d follow you. I’d tried that, and it hadn’t been my cure. Facing it and dealing with it was how I learned to survive.

  “We only have six months left of senior year. Then we leave this place. You can go and not look back. Donate all you want. Make your life outside of Lawton. But don’t run. Face this and conquer it. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.”

  He sat on the bench across from me and dropped his head into his hands. “I hate that place. That house. I hate it.”

  “Nonna’s sofa is always open.”

  He didn’t say anything for a few moments, and we sat in silence. I let him get his emotions together. He was raw, and I wished I could go to his house and coldcock every person in there. But that would only get me back in a correctional center.

  “Next month I turn eighteen. It’ll all be mine then.”

  Wow. I hadn’t realized it was so soon that it became his. There was a lot of pressure riding on him now. It was just going to get worse.

  “I’m kicking them all out. Starting with the man I’ve called Father all my life. I considered letting Mom stay, but she wanted to abort me. Not sure I can forgive that. She doesn’t love or want me. Why should I love or want her? The little boy that once sought her affection is long gone.”

  “It’s a fair decision,” I agreed, but I wondered if it was really what would make him happy. Sometimes the revenge we seek doesn’t meet our expectations. It only hurts us.

  “Marry me—move in with me,” Gunner said in that insane tone again he’d used when he had asked me to run away.

  “Marry you? Gunner we are seventeen. We can’t marry.” He needed to go to bed. He was getting delirious.

  “I’m a multimillionaire. We can do whatever the fuck I want.”

  This wasn’t what he really wanted. Right now he wanted to act out and hurt his family because all they’d done was hurt him. I wasn’t going to help him with his plotting. I loved him. It was real. Not a toy or a game.

  Standing up, I knew I had to leave. He needed to go home and get some sleep, and I was about to act like a complete girl and cry. He was using my love as a tool like he was using his money. I didn’t want to be a weapon to hurt anyone. That wasn’t what love was about.

  “Loving someone doesn’t mean allowing them to use you for their benefit. It just means they have a place in your heart. A place that they earned. I’m going to leave now before you hurt me any more with words you don’t mean. Good night, Gunner.”

  He didn’t run after me. He let me go.

  I ran toward the house as the tears welled up in my eyes. Loving Gunner Lawton would never be easy. I wasn’t sure he could love me in return. Didn’t matter. I loved him. I just couldn’t bend to his demands. I didn’t owe him anything. He needed to learn that it wasn’t all about that.

  With my mind on Gunner’s words and tears blurring my vision, I didn’t see Nonna standing on the front porch until it was too late.

  Please Do, Father Dear

  CHAPTER 44

  GUNNER

  Rhett’s bedroom was next to mine. When we had been kids, we’d liked it. But this morning, when I had gotten practically no sleep, I hated it. Him slamming drawers and blaring music was to piss me off. He was acting like I’d done this. How did he figure this shit was my fault?

  When something hit the wall between our rooms, I threw my covers back and jumped out of bed. The asshole wanted me awake. Well he had me awake. Storming out of my room, I headed for his and didn’t bother to knock before opening his door and slamming something myself.

  “What the fuck is your problem?” I roared.

  Rhett was still in his pajama pants, and a basketball was in is hands. Apparently he’d been tossing that at the wall. Real mature, dickhead.

  “What? Can’t I move around in my own room now? Or are there rules I don’t know about to keep the king of the castle happy?”

  “GOD! Would you listen to yourself? You sound like a ten-year-old with a jealousy issue. I did nothing to you, Rhett. Our mother and your grandfather slept together. I wasn’t alive, but that created me. No way was that my fucking fault. So get a grip and stop acting like a cocksucker.”

  Rhett glared at me. I wasn’t sure he’d ever looked at me with so much venom before. Not even when we were younger and actually fought about things. There was pure hatred in his eyes. Even knowing this wasn’t anything I could control, he blamed me.

  “Then don’t accept it. Give it to Dad where it belongs. He’s the oldest son. Not you. The inheritance should be his. The OLDEST son’s.” My chest hurt. Once he’d been someone I could rely on to keep me safe. To be on my side. That was all gone now. The greed had taken over.

  So that was it. He was the oldest, and he’d been expecting it all. He never planned on us splitting it. Rhett was planning on the entire Lawton inheritance. Probably had been all his life.

  “You were expecting all of it, weren’t you?”

  He laughed. “Of course. Dad had been promising it to me since I was little. He told me I was the real heir. His heir and that I deserved it. He loved me. He wanted me to have it all. This . . . bullshit about the bastard son getting it isn’t fair. I’ll take you to court. That will won’t stand.”

  How had I missed this? Rhett’s selfishness. I was so blinded by how much I looked up to him. But truth was, he was just like his father. He wanted everything, and he didn’t care who got hurt along the way. I looked at him. Really looked at him for the first time. I didn’t see the older brother who I trusted. I saw a younger version of the man who I had once called Father. When had this happened? When had he turned?

  “When did you become like him?”

  Rhett looked as if he didn’t understand my question. He was so focused on the Lawton fortune he couldn’t see anything else. It was as if I was losing him. Like the brother I had known was no more.

  “Who? Dad? I’ve always been like Dad. Which is why I deserve what is his. What is ri
ghtfully his.”

  He was proud of it. Proud to be like that man. That made no sense to me. Why would anyone want that?

  “You weren’t like this before,” I argued, trying to see if any part of the brother I grew up loving was still there.

  He rolled his eyes and tossed the ball against the wall and let it fall. “Whatever, Gunner. Just be the bastard that you are and make us take this shit to court. We will. We aren’t letting the bastard son win. It’s not right. That’s not how it’s done. You know that. You know what’s right.”

  He was spouting off things he’d heard his father say. Things he believed. They hadn’t told him the truth. His father was protecting that secret, but I knew it now. Mother had made sure to give me what I needed to win. I didn’t want the money to beat them.

  I wanted it to make something of it. The way the Lawtons had sat on it for years, using it as a trophy to make them lofty and important disgusted me. Especially living in the home, being treated as if I weren’t worth shit. This money was mine now, and I was changing things. Country clubs and cotillions were no longer.

  Not anymore.

  “Are you listening to me?” Rhett taunted. “We will take you and clean you out. That’s our plan. Don’t fuck with us.”

  I didn’t know who he thought “us” was, but our mother didn’t want them to win. I had the power completely, and I wasn’t worried.

  “There won’t be a court battle,” I said simply.

  He laughed and grinned like an idiot. “Hell yeah, there will. Dad will take you down.”

  If I was a bigger man, I’d walk away and let him think whatever he wanted. But I wasn’t. I was a seventeen-year-old who had been talked down to and kicked around by this family my whole life. So sticking it to my brother felt like the right thing to do, as much as it hurt to do it.

  “Seeing as how your father was a bastard and has no Lawton blood running through his veins, that might be a bit of a hurdle. But good luck with that and all.”

  I didn’t wait for him to respond. I turned and walked away, only one—okay, maybe both—of my hands flipping him off on my exit.

  As I walked past the door to the office I was never allowed to enter as a child or even now, I stopped and, without knocking, threw the door open. The man I hated more than anyone else on earth glared at me with a furious expression.

  “Do not walk into my office unannounced or uninvited,” he roared.

  This time I rolled my eyes and walked over to sit on the edge of his desk. “Seeing as this here is all mine and you aren’t even a Lawton, I figure I’ll do whatever the hell I want.”

  If eyes could bulge out of your head until they appeared to be on the verge of popping out, his just did. And I laughed. Because that was truly the funniest shit I’d ever seen.

  “I’ll call the police,” he warned.

  I reached for his phone and held it out to him. “Please do, Father dear. Please fucking do.”

  I Had My Own Past to Overcome

  CHAPTER 45

  WILLA

  I could hear Nonna on the phone as she talked to her friend in Nashville, Tennessee. Every word. Part of me knew I should just start packing my bags now, but the small amount of hope I clung to kept me from doing so. This phone call meant I was leaving. The walls weren’t thick, and I knew what was being said.

  Nonna was trying to get me into an all-girl Catholic school where her friend worked. From the sound of things, I’d be living with her friend and cleaning her house to pay for my room and board. It wasn’t as bad as a correctional center, but it was somewhere else I’d be alone.

  Maybe I was meant to be alone. Life had taken any relationships that I cherished and ripped them away from me. I was getting tough. There weren’t even any tears this time.

  There would be no telling Gunner bye. She’d already demanded I not speak to him or contact him. Doing so would get me sent away even faster. Nonna believed we’d been doing something wrong, and I couldn’t tell her the truth. That was Gunner’s secret to tell.

  I would protect him and his secret however I could. This wouldn’t kill me. I had survived much worse.

  I stood up, walked over to my closet, and began taking the clothes down one at a time and folding them. Items I thought I wouldn’t need I left here. I had nowhere else to leave them. Nonna was disappointed in me, but she wasn’t banishing me forever. She was keeping me from making my mother’s mistakes. She hadn’t said that, but I understood it just the same.

  My nonna loved me. She was in there trying to find a safe place away from all teenage boys so I wouldn’t end up pregnant. That’s why she was sending me to a Catholic school. This wasn’t out of hate or annoyance. It was all out of love. It made it easier to accept.

  When I heard her say good-bye, I stopped folding clothes and watched the door for it to open. This was it. I would be leaving and facing another new set of people. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t cry.

  The door opened slowly, and Nonna’s gaze found mine. She looked at the clothes on my bed, then back up at me. There was a sadness in her eyes, and there was worry. She was truly worried for me. I loved her for that even more. Whatever she chose to do, I would do. I wasn’t fighting it.

  “You’re packing,” she said simply as she stepped farther into the room.

  I nodded. “Figured I’d be productive.”

  She frowned. “I don’t want to send you off, Willa. I love having you here with me. You’re home here, and it makes life brighter. But I can’t let you down like I did your mom.”

  Just as I’d guessed, it was about my mom. “I know” was all I could say.

  “You’ve got so much potential. Potential that your mother didn’t have. You’ve got a big heart, and you know how to overcome obstacles.”

  The tears that I said I wouldn’t cry stung my eyes.

  “I love that boy. Gunner is a good boy. He’s been neglected, and he’s damaged because of it. But deep down he’s got a heart ain’t neither of his parents have. He’s special, too. But he is damaged, Willa. The boy ain’t ever been loved in that home. He don’t know what that feels like. Close as he got was me, and I’m just the hired help. Not being loved by the people who are supposed to take care of you messes you up. I can’t trust him not to ruin your life. He won’t mean to, but he will. He can’t be that guy for you.”

  She didn’t know the Gunner I knew, but she had been around him more than I had. She had watched him grow, and she’d seen all his troubles. Maybe she was right. He hadn’t told me he loved me, and he’d used my love against me to get his way. Was that the only way he knew how to accept love? Could I let him take a piece of my heart and not know how to protect it? I didn’t have much left. Poppy and Quinn had already taken a large chunk.

  “There’s a girls Catholic school about two hours from here on the north side of Nashville. My friend Bernadette is the headmaster there. I’ve known her since she was a girl. We can’t afford to pay the tuition, but you could get in on scholarship if you worked hours in the office every week before school and after school. Bernadette will let you stay in her guest bedroom and feed you if you’ll do daily chores and then deep-clean on the weekend. It won’t be easy, but it’ll keep you busy and out of trouble.”

  I had already heard most of this when she’d been talking on the phone. This sounded very lonely, and my heart ached to think of leaving here again. I would miss Nonna, and Gunner and Brady. Coming back here had been my hope for healing, if that was even possible. I’d barely been here, and I was already being shipped out. When my mother had kicked me out, I’d begged her to let me stay. I had been scared. She’d ignored me. I couldn’t beg again. That hurt too much.

  “Okay” was all I said. Why say more?

  Nonna frowned and walked over to me. When she put her hand on my shoulder, I tried not to flinch. Because even though I knew this was out of love, it still was too similar to what had just happened with my mother.

  “But that idea makes me sad. I like h
aving you here. I can’t get a good feeling about sending you away, even though I know Bernadette would take care of you. So here’s my other offer. Stay here with me and homeschool. I’ve got the Internet, and I’ll get you a computer. Don’t socialize with those boys and study hard. Could be that you graduate early. Get that diploma, and then we will focus on college. You’ve got a big world out there, Willa, and I don’t want you to miss it with one mistake.”

  I could hear what she was saying, but I was afraid to believe her. Was this real? She was giving me an option to stay here. Even if it was basically house arrest. I wouldn’t have to go to some strange place and readjust again. I could stay in my room and work here. Prove to Nonna I was as smart as she thought I was.

  This meant no more Gunner, but after last night I wasn’t sure there would be anyway. Loving Gunner wouldn’t save him. It hadn’t changed him. He was self-destructive and angry. And loving him didn’t mean I could sacrifice any more of my life for him. I had my own past to overcome.

  “I want to stay here,” I said. “I’ll work very hard and make you proud.”

  She smiled and pulled me into her arms. A place I had always found peace as a child. “You already do, Willa. You already do.”

  She Wasn’t Anything Like Willa.

  CHAPTER 46

  BRADY

 
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