Under the lights, p.2
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       Under the Lights, p.2
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         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines

  The Tree House Looks the Same

  CHAPTER 4

  GUNNER

  “What made you decide to mess with crazy? Thought you’d had your fill of that already?” West Ashby asked me as we walked out of first period. It was the only class we had together. Other than being a great running back, he was also brilliant. Most of the classes he took were advanced classes. I couldn’t figure out why he did it. He’d go to college on a football scholarship. It wasn’t like he needed an academic one too.

  “Not sure what you’re talking about,” I replied.

  “Kimmie, man. She’s telling everyone y’all hooked up and are back together. From the way I remember, y’all were never together.”

  Kimmie? Seriously? I hadn’t even slept with her, and she was telling shit. Maybe I did owe Brady a thank-you for hauling my ass home last night. “She’s lying.”

  West chuckled. “Then you better straighten that out with her. Because she’s standing at your locker looking like a lovesick puppy.”

  I jerked my head up and looked over at my locker. Sure enough. There stood Kimmie, smirking at me.

  “Shit,” I grumbled.

  “You’re gonna have to get a restraining order on that one,” West replied in an amused tone.

  I needed to get to my locker, but I didn’t need to that badly. I headed down the hall for my second period.

  “Good luck,” West called out behind me. I wasn’t in the mood for his humor.

  I hadn’t gotten very far before a hand wrapped around my arm. “You aren’t even going to come see me? I was waiting on you!” Kimmie’s chipper voice grated on my nerves.

  “Let go of my arm,” I demanded through my clenched teeth.

  “But I wanted to talk to you. After last night I figured we had a lot to talk about,” she continued as if I hadn’t asked her to let me go.

  I glanced over her head and saw the sign for the girls’ restroom. Before this got any more embarrassing, I shoved her toward the door, then opened it and went inside, knowing she would have to follow me if she was going to keep ahold of my arm.

  She began to giggle. “Bad boy, going in the girls’ restroom.”

  I dropped my books on the edge of the sink, then reached over and detached Kimmie’s hold on me. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” I asked, stepping away from her once I was free. “I was drinking. We made out a little. Hell, I don’t remember most of it.” Okay so that was a lie. I was not drunk. Just being stupid.

  Kimmie looked as if I’d slapped her. “But I thought that you wanted to get back together. I thought you liked me.”

  I let out a frustrated sigh. “Kimmie. I don’t do girlfriends. Everyone in this school knows that. We were never together. We hooked up. That was it.”

  Her bottom lip began to quiver, and I wanted nothing more than to grab my books and get the hell out of here.

  “But—but—I thought—” she began to stammer.

  “You thought wrong. But I will make you a promise. I’ll never come near you again. Drunk or sober. So back off and leave me alone.”

  Kimmie let out a sob and covered her mouth, then ran for the door. I knew this time I’d just had to be straightforward. The last time she thought we were an item I had tried being nice and letting her off easy. But she’d started showing up at my house with food and stalking me. I had used Serena to show her that we were not a couple. I wasn’t in the mood to do something that drastic again.

  I reached for my books just as a door to one of the stalls opened. I had thought we were alone. Smirking, I waited to see who had overheard all this. Hopefully, it was someone with a big mouth so that the rumors that I was dating Kimmie would be squashed before lunch.

  One long, very tan, smooth leg stepped out. The girl was wearing some beat-up Chucks, which didn’t take away from that leg. . . . Damn that was a nice leg. I let my gaze travel up until shorts finally ended the endlessly long leg and the rest of her appeared.

  Who the hell was she?

  Blue eyes the color of the sky framed by thick black eyelashes stood out on her heart-shaped face. They were studying me closely, as if she wasn’t sure just what she thought of me. I quickly took in the rest of her face, full pink lips, and a perfect little nose. All in a halo of blond hair that was almost too pale to be real.

  “When did you become so cruel, Gunner Lawton?” The southern drawl in her voice was smoother than those I heard around here. It had more of a musical sound. One that you could listen to for days and never get tired of.

  Wait . . . she knew me. I stopped memorizing her mouth and lifted my gaze to meet hers. Who was she? I’d remember her. There was no way I had ever met her.

  “You don’t know who I am, do you?” she asked, and her mouth curled up into a crooked little grin. “Figures. It’s been a while. However, I knew who you were the moment I saw you. Your voice is deeper now . . . but your eyes are the same.”

  I had to shake out of this trance. She was just a girl. A seriously smoking-hot girl, but she wasn’t going to have this crazy effect on me. “Can’t say I remember you,” I finally responded.

  She let out a small laugh as she washed her hands and looked at me in the mirror. “It’s okay. Brady didn’t recognize me either,” she said, then dried her hands on a paper towel. She walked toward the door and tilted her head to the side as she stopped beside me. “The tree house looks the same” was all she said before she walked out the door.

  The tree house . . . Brady . . . Holy shit! That was Willa Ames.

  That Was Completely on Purpose

  CHAPTER 5

  WILLA

  They had turned out much like I expected. Gunner had always been cocky and sure of himself. He hadn’t been cruel as a kid, but I wasn’t surprised at what I had overheard. Beautiful Gunner Lawton ruled this town. He had money and the power of his family name, and he was breathtakingly gorgeous.

  But he didn’t give me butterflies back then. Not one. That was all apparently just for Brady. Figures I’d get butterflies over the good guy who would never accept me once he knew my past. The truth behind why I was back in Lawton. My nonna would make up some lie, and everyone would believe it. I’d have to go with it if I wanted to stay here.

  “Willa Ames.” Gunner called out my name, and I smiled. It hadn’t taken him long to figure it out.

  Glancing back over my shoulder, I saw him walking toward me with a grin on his face that said everything I knew he was thinking. “Go wipe that girl’s tears and be nice,” I replied, but I waited on him to catch up to me.

  He rolled his eyes. “You have no idea the crazy that I was dealing with in there.”

  Of course it wasn’t his fault. Never was. Gunner always had a reason why he wasn’t wrong. “So your penis accidentally fell into her vagina?” I asked in a mocking tone.

  He chuckled. “No, that was completely on purpose. Damn you look good. When did you move back?”

  He was over talking to the poor girl in the restroom. Maybe now she would be smarter in her next choice in a guy. Gunner wasn’t a choice. He was a fun time. “Nonna picked me up at the bus station yesterday.”

  “So you’re living with Ms. Ames again? When were you planning on coming to say hello?”

  I hadn’t been. Nonna didn’t want me at the big house. I knew that without her even saying it. So I shrugged. “It’s been six years.” That wasn’t a real answer, but it was all I had.

  Gunner cocked one eyebrow. “And?” was his response.

  “And I knew we would see each other at school. Wasn’t sure how you had turned out, or if our childhood friendship would carry into our teen years.”

  Gunner looked me up and down like he had in the restroom. “I’m a guy, Willa. We can be friends or something else. Just whatever you might be up for.”

  It was my turn to roll my eyes. That was the silliest come-on I’d ever heard. And I’d heard a lot of them.

  “I’m up for making it to my next class on time and staying out of trouble. It was good to se
e you again, Gunner. I’m sure we will run into each other again. Small town, small school and all,” I replied, then turned and left him standing there in that hallway. Encouraging anything between us was wrong and pointless.

  I didn’t make eye contact with anyone else as I made my way to room 143. I had to prove to Nonna I was worth it. I’d be the easiest teenage girl in the world to raise. I wasn’t giving her any problems. Besides, I’d done enough already to last a lifetime. No more regrets. I had my fair share.

  A tall guy with the clearest blue eyes I’d ever seen caught my attention before I heard Gunner’s voice call out “Nash,” and his gaze left me. “Yeah,” he replied.

  I didn’t wait around for an introduction. Gunner was trouble. He had no regrets. I did. I just hoped he never had regrets like mine, ones that were nearly unbearable to live with. We weren’t invincible. I’d learned that a little too late.

  • • •

  High school was the same everywhere, or at least inside the United States. No one got real original. You had the same groups, same silliness, and same stupidity. The only difference here was no one knew me. The kids I’d gone to school with as a child had forgotten me, and the two boys who did remember me weren’t telling everyone else who I was. In fact, Brady went as far as ignoring me in the one class we had together.

  That in itself had been disheartening. He had sat beside a pretty brunette girl and a guy who she must be dating. They were very touchy. Brady made jokes with them and acted like I wasn’t there until class was over and he nodded his head with a simple hello on his way out the door.

  For a moment I wondered if he had somehow heard what I had done. Not that it mattered. I wasn’t trying to get his attention. I had no time for butterflies and the like. My life would exist to make my nonna proud and to one day maybe get my brother to speak to me again. My mom could suck a lemon, and I never wanted to see my stepfather again.

  So that was my life. I had made my bed, and now I would have to lie in it. My nonna had said as much when she picked me up from the bus station.

  “How was school?” Nonna asked, walking out of the small kitchen in her house while wiping her hands on an apron tied around her waist.

  Replying It sucked balls probably wouldn’t go over real well. So I went with “Good.” For her benefit only.

  She didn’t look convinced. “Put your book bag in your room and come help me with peeling the potatoes for the dinner at the big house tonight.”

  Nonna usually did all the preparing of the food for the big house at the Lawtons’ house. My being here had brought her home for the afternoon. To check on me. It felt good to be cared about. That wasn’t something I was used to anymore.

  “Yes, ma’am.” I would do whatever I needed to stay here. I never wanted to go home, even if my mother allowed it.

  I left my book bag on my bed and slipped off my Converse before going back to the kitchen in my socked feet. Six nights a week Nonna made dinner for the Lawtons. Saturday night was normally a big night when she had to cook for the guests Mrs. Lawton would entertain. Many times it was a party, and Nonna had to hire in help. Sundays the Lawtons went to dinner at the country club in Franklin, Tennessee, that was an hour drive away. Although Gunner used to not go and would stay with us after he had made his appearance at the Baptist church with his parents.

  I was sure that had all changed. Gunner probably spent his Sundays with friends, going to the field parties we used to anticipate being involved in one day. In a small town like Lawton, there wasn’t much to do on the weekends, so the field parties were the one place all the teens could go to have a good time. It was a tradition among the popular at Lawton High. After what I saw today, there was no question in my mind that Gunner and Brady were pack leaders in that elite group.

  “Grab a peeler. I’ll use the knife. Don’t need you cutting a finger off,” Nonna said when I walked into the kitchen. There was a large tub of washed white potatoes to be peeled.

  I did as I was told and began peeling a potato over the hand towel she had laid out for me.

  “How was your classes?”

  My mother had never once asked me about my classes. She didn’t ask me much of anything. I had forgotten how much I missed knowing someone cared. Leaving Nonna had been the hardest thing I’d ever done.

  “The truth? Boring.”

  Nonna made a tsking sound. “Need school to make it in life.”

  I understood that, but the classes were going over things I already knew. I had been in advanced classes before being sent to the correctional center. “I know. I’ll make good grades,” I assured her.

  She dropped a peeled potato in the bowl of water and reached for another. “Did you see Gunner or Brady?”

  As if I wouldn’t see them in that small high school. “Yes, ma’am. I have classes with both of them.”

  “Did you speak to them?”

  “Yes, ma’am. Not much though.” I knew she was worried about my being involved with either of them. She didn’t trust me, and why should she? I had done nothing to earn anyone’s trust.

  “You’ll make friends soon enough. Just pick good ones, though. You are who you spend time with. Guess you learned that lesson the hard way already.”

  Yes, I had. A lesson I wish I’d never had to learn. I had spent hours, days, and weeks wishing I hadn’t been there that night. That I had been smart. That I hadn’t seen what I’d seen.

  “Your momma ain’t perfect—Lord knows that. But she tried to bring you into her home and be the mother she had failed at being the first part of your life. You can’t go blaming her or anyone else for what you did. You made them mistakes and now you got to pick up and figure out life again.”

  I didn’t need to be told that I made my own mistakes. I lived with that daily. However, Nonna thought my mother tried to be a mom to me. She hadn’t. Not really. I often wondered why she’d sent for me six years ago. I had never been able to make her happy. Now the one woman who had loved me thought I was a loser of the worst sort.

  If I did anything else in this life, it would be making my nonna proud of me again. I didn’t care if I ever saw my mother again though. When I had needed her most, she hadn’t listened to me. She hadn’t believed me. No one had.

  Call It Whatever You Want

  CHAPTER 6

  BRADY

  Maggie’s bedroom door was open when I walked up the stairs. I knew her boyfriend, who was also one of my best friends, had gone with his mother to a counseling session after workouts today. Since his father’s death a couple months ago, his mother had been in and out of town, going back to her parents’ house. They weren’t the same after losing his dad. His mom wasn’t handling it well at all.

  Maggie’s dark hair hung over her shoulder, blocking her face as she looked down at the book she was reading in her hands. I cleared my throat, announcing my presence. She jerked her head up, and her expressive eyes went wide. Then she smiled. “Oh, hey, Brady.”

  My cousin didn’t speak at all when she’d first moved in with us. I had West to thank for her actually saying my name, or anything for that matter. When she had held his hand and been his strength while he watched his father die of cancer, he had given her a reason to speak again.

  “What are you reading?” I asked, walking into her room, which had once been my room.

  “Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys.”

  I had no idea what that was. Figures Maggie wasn’t reading something I had heard of. She wasn’t a Twilight-reading kind of girl. I nodded like I knew what the hell she was talking about.

  She smirked. “A young girl with a dead father and bitchy stepmother. But she’s not Cinderella.”

  “Ah, okay.”

  She laughed at my response. “Are you bored? Why the visit?”

  I rarely stopped by her room. But then she was rarely alone. West was either here, or she was there. Figured I’d get to the point. She wasn’t one for chitchat. “Do you have any classes with the new girl?”

 
; She raised her eyebrows. “Willa Ames? Yes, we both have a class with her, together.” Oh yeah . . . I’d forgotten she and West were even in the room. I’d been so busy watching Willa and not getting caught that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I had wanted Willa to speak to me, but she hadn’t spoken to anyone.

  “I mean any other classes with her?” I corrected my minor mistake.

  Maggie set her book down and turned to fully look at me. “West told me she was really close to you and Gunner when y’all were kids. And you couldn’t stop watching her in class. Do you like her? Is that what this is about? Because I’m fairly certain if you want her, you can turn on your charm and get her.”

  She didn’t know Willa very well, but then neither did I. Not anymore.
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