Under the lights, p.21
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       Under the Lights, p.21
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         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  your name as much as mine.”

  I laughed then because he seriously thought that mattered. “They already think I’m a bastard. I’m not worried about giving them proof.”

  “Your mother thinks she can tell you all this and get away with it. I’ll fight you on this. I won’t go down easy.”

  “Don’t really care,” I replied, then walked out on his ranting. I was going to turn his office into a gym. I’d like having a good gym in the house. We should really already have had one of those.

  My mother was walking inside with her designer clothes and new hairstyle as I came back down the stairs. “Hello, son. How have things been since I’ve been gone?”

  “Fantastic, Mother,” I replied, just as haughty as her.

  “Ms. Ames left a message for me at the spa. Something about you not coming home. My flight was this morning so I didn’t bother calling back. I would be here soon enough.”

  I nodded as if that was completely understandable. “Of course. One doesn’t need to be bothered by a missing child. If you’ll excuse me.”

  She gave me a confused look, and I realized she was just that shallow. I wasn’t sure she had even been raped. It sounded more like a story to make her look better. She’d have slept with whoever she needed to in order to live this Lawton lifestyle.

  “Has Rhett left?” she called after me.

  “If there is a God,” I replied.

  Then I walked into the hallway leading to the kitchen. The smells of dinner were wafting from the door, and I was ready for real food. My fast-food lifestyle the past two days had been rough.

  “Ms. Ames, I’m home,” I said as I entered the kitchen. Her head snapped up, and a relieved smile touched her lips as if she was truly glad to see me.

  “Thank the good Lord. I’ve been worried sick about you.”

  “I heard you called to tell Mother, but she couldn’t be bothered calling back. She told me as much out in the entryway just now. She’s home too,” I explained, trying to sound as casual about the whole thing as possible.

  Ms. Ames’s immediate frown made me feel even more cared about. She didn’t want me to feel unwanted by my parents.

  “Is Willa home?” I asked.

  She continued to frown. “She is. But she’s homeschooling right now and can’t take visitors.”

  “Visitors? Or just me?” I pushed.

  Ms. Ames put the knife down that she’d been using to chop the vegetables. “Willa is much like you. Her mother isn’t a mother to her. She’s been hurt just like you have. Teenage girls go looking for love in places that end badly for them. She has a future ahead of her and getting stuck in Lawton as a single mom is not in those plans. I’ll protect her from that even if I have to send her off to an all-girls Catholic school to do it.”

  Whoa. Whoa. Wait up. No sending her off. “I know that. I’d never do anything to hurt her. I love her.” The words had come out so easily I had surprised myself.

  “Sex and love ain’t the same thing, Gunner Lawton,” she said to me, wagging her finger.

  I nodded. “I agree. Seeing as how I’ve never had sex with Willa. Friday night she was at the tree house with me because my mother had just told me not only am I my grandfather’s son but he raped her and my pretend father was a bastard kid too and wasn’t even a damn Lawton. I had a lot unloaded on me and needed someone I could trust to listen to me. That was why I asked Willa to sneak out and go to the tree house with me.”

  Ms. Ames’s face went slightly pale. “Mr. Lawton ain’t a Lawton? Good Lord. That’s not stuff a boy needs to hear.”

  It was obvious Brady had never told Ms. Ames what I’d asked him to. She was just now hearing all this for the first time.

  I disagreed. “I’ll be eighteen next month, and this will all be mine. He and my mother will be moving out and finding a place of their own. Things are changing. But more importantly . . . Willa. I need to see her.”

  Ms. Ames sat down in the chair closest to her. “Good Lord, good Lord,” she repeated, shaking her head.

  The good Lord wasn’t going to swoop down and change anything. The sex had been had and the babies had been made many years ago. It was all a done deal.

  “Can I see Willa?”

  Finally she lifted her gaze to mine. “Her mother was here. Upset her and she’s resting. Give her some time before you go looking for her. She needs to make up her own mind what’s good for her. I guess I can’t save her from everyone. Not if she don’t need saving.”

  I could accept that. As much as I wanted to run over there and make sure she was okay, I would give her some time. But not too much. Willa had saved me. She showed me how to love and took me from the self-destructive path I was on. Without her in my life, I’d be a wreck right now. In life you face obstacles, and you have to fight through them. If you’re lucky enough, you find someone to fight for you, too. I was lucky.

  Meet Me at the Tree House

  CHAPTER 52

  WILLA

  I had just walked out of the kitchen when something hit the floor. It wasn’t loud, but it still made a noise. Stopping, I turned and looked back. There was a letter by the door. Walking over to it, I set my plate of food down on the table, then bent to pick up the envelope. My name was written on the outside. It was Gunner’s handwriting.

  I didn’t open it but jerked open the door to see if it was him. But there was no sign of anyone. I was barefoot and in my pajama pants and tank top, but I didn’t care. I ran outside, still holding the letter and scanning for any sign of Gunner. Nonna had told me she would let me know the moment she heard something about him.

  “Gunner!” I called out his name, but there was no one.

  Frustrated, I opened the letter while standing out in the grass alone.

  Willa,

  Running isn’t as fun without you. It’s lonely. I missed home because home was where you were. When you told me you loved me, I already knew how I felt about you. I’m pretty sure I felt it when we were kids. I just didn’t understand it. The whole emotion was foreign to me.

  I’m home. Where I belong. With you.

  Meet me at the tree house.

  Gunner

  I didn’t put the letter back in the envelope, and I didn’t think about the Catholic school. All I could think about was getting to Gunner. Seeing him and knowing he was okay. So I ran. Sticks bit into the bottoms of my feet, but I didn’t seem to notice. I just had to get to that tree house.

  I tucked the letter in my pants and climbed the ladder to the top, anxious to see him. To tell him I was sorry. I shouldn’t have just given him a letter. He deserved more.

  His eyes were the first thing I saw when I stepped inside, and a small smile stretched across his face.

  “You look beautiful. I especially like the messy hair,” he said, taking in my outfit. Homeschooling didn’t require I brush my hair or put on decent clothing.

  “You’re back” was all I could say.

  He nodded. “I am.”

  “I’m sorry,” I blurted out.

  “I love you” was his response. “I have forever. I just didn’t understand it until you came back into my life and completed me again.”

  “Oh.” I wanted to say more, but I hadn’t been expecting him to say that. He caught me off guard.

  “Yeah, oh,” he agreed with a chuckle, then closed the space between us and pulled me against him.

  He held my face in his hands. “My life is fucked up, but I have one thing to promise you, and it’s that you’ll have my heart until the day I die. That might sound cliché and silly, but I mean it. I can’t be happy without you. You are my happy.”

  “You’re mine too.”

  He leaned in to kiss me, and I held on to his arms to keep from falling. A kiss from Gunner Lawton made me weak in the knees. And that was something I knew would never change.

  Six years ago . . .

  GUNNER

  It made my chest get sharp pains and my stomach feel funny when Willa cried. I’d do anyth
ing to make her stop. I hated her tears. I just wanted her happy. I didn’t know her momma, but I hated her. She was making Willa cry, and I didn’t know why.

  I put my arm around her small shoulders. I always felt so big compared to her little body. We were the same age, but she wasn’t a big girl. She was the shortest girl in our sixth-grade class. She was also the prettiest.

  “Don’t cry, Willa. Just tell me what’s wrong, and I’ll fix it.” I wasn’t sure I could fix anything, but I wanted to and I’d do my best to try.

  She shook her head and leaned into me. That felt good. She trusted me, and I liked that. “You can’t. No one can,” she sobbed.

  This had to be really bad. If her nonna couldn’t fix it, then what was it? Was her nonna sick? Was she fired and no one had told me?

  “I can try,” I said gently.

  She turned her face into my chest and cried harder. “No . . . you can’t. My momma is coming to get me,” she said between sobs. “I haveto move away.”

  I was a boy and boys weren’t supposed to cry, but hearing those words, I felt like crying too. Willa couldn’t leave me. She was my best friend. We did everything together. She was the first person I thought of when I woke up every day.

  “You can’t leave,” I said with more force than intended.

  She pulled back and wiped at her wet face. “I have to. Nonna said my momma wants me and it’s time we were a family.”

  No. No. Nonononono. I shook my head. “You’ve got a family here. With your nonna and me.”

  She nodded her head in agreement and continued wiping at her face. “I know. I told her that, and Nonna hugged me and told me she loved me but that my momma needed me now and Chance needs me.”

  Chance was her little brother she never got to see. I felt guilty for not wanting her to get to live with him. I had my brother in my house, and it was great. She missed Chance, and when she talked with him on the phone, she always cried when they hung up. I would spend hours telling her jokes to make her smile again.

  “Chance can move here,” I said, thinking that sounded like a good plan.

  Willa sniffled, but her sobs were slowly calming down. “He can’t. His dad and my mom got married. They want to bring me there to be part of their family.”

  “In Arkansas?”

  She nodded.

  “That’s so far away,” I said, letting my own sorrow start to take over.

  She began sobbing again, and I realized I was making it worse, not better. I didn’t want to lose Willa, but if there was no choice and she had to go, I didn’t want her to be sad, either. I could cry alone in my room after she was gone. But I wanted to know she was smiling and happy.

  “You’ll still get to visit your nonna and me. It won’t be forever. And when you’re older, you can come stay the whole summer here. I bet they’d let you do that if you just ask them.”

  Willa stopped sobbing and looked at me with hopeful eyes. “Do you think so?” she asked.

  I nodded. “Sure! Your nonna will be missing you, and you’ll get to come whenever you want. It’s not forever.”

  She gave a smile then. It was still a sad one, but it was better than tears.

  “We’ll always be here for each other. You can come back and watch me play football at the high school on the big field under the lights.” That was my dream, and Willa knew it. To play under the lights at the big stadium with Brady, West, Asa, Ryker, and Nash. We would win State, and Willa would be there cheering me on. We had snuck off a few times and walked to the high school just to stand there under the lights. All of us. We made our plans and built our dreams. In all those dreams, Willa was there.

  “I wouldn’t miss it. I’ll be back. I won’t even be gone long before I visit. We will be fine.”

  I wasn’t sure my heart agreed. It was hurting while I was smiling. Willa was my favorite part about life. She made things better by just smiling. Her laugh could completely fix my bad mood. When no one else was around to understand, Willa did. The day I caught her playing in my tree house had been the luckiest day of my life. What would I do without her?

  Acknowledgments

  A big thank-you to my editor, Jennifer Ung. This was our first book together, and she was cheering me on when there were times I wasn’t sure I could write a book I loved as much as Until Friday Night. With her encouragement, I did. I owe her for that. Also, I want to mention Mara Anastas, Jodie Hockensmith, Carolyn Swerdloff, and the rest of the Simon Pulse team for all their hard work in getting my books out there.

  My agent, Jane Dystel. She’s there for me when I’m having a hard time working on a story, when I need to vent, and even if I just need a recommendation on a good place to eat in New York City. I’m thankful to have her on my side.

  When I started writing, I never imagined having a group of readers come together for the sole purpose of supporting me. Abbi’s Army, led by Danielle Lagasse and Vicci Kaighan, humbles me and gives me a place of refuge. When I need my spirits lifted, these ladies are there. I love every one of you.

  Last but certainly not least: my family. Without their support, I wouldn’t be here. My three kids are so understanding, although once I walk out of that writing cave, they expect my full attention, and they get it. My parents, who have supported me all along. Even when I decided to write steamier stuff. My friends, who don’t hate me because my writing is taking over. They are my ultimate support group, and I love them dearly. And, JBS, you’ve made my writing stronger and given me fresh, new ideas.

  My readers. I never expected to have so many of you. Thank you for reading my books. For loving them and telling others about them. Without you, I wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple.

 
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