Under the lights, p.4
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       Under the Lights, p.4

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  road to catch the bus. Would she even know I was riding with Gunner?

  I wanted to.

  Having someone my age to talk to was nice. I missed that.

  I was lonely. I had been for over six months.

  “Yeah, I would. Thanks.”

  He grinned. “I’ll be by around seven thirty.” He nodded outside to the now darkened sky. “Your nonna is probably cleaning up and getting ready to head home. I better go.”

  “Yeah,” I agreed.

  “Thanks for the food,” he said, then turned and headed outside.

  For the first time in a long time I smiled. A real smile. One that I actually felt without the heaviness on my chest that had become a part of me.

  I finished cleaning up all evidence of his being here, then went to my bedroom to pick out a book from our required reading list I had been given today. After school I had stopped in the library and grabbed the first three books I found on the list. I was a fast reader. I figured I could knock out this list of fifteen books in a few weeks, even if I was behind.

  Escaping into books had been my only relief in life since that night my world changed. I had read anything I could get my hands on while in the correctional facility. Before that I hadn’t been much of a reader. I had read Harry Potter and Twilight, but that had been about it for me.

  The Great Gatsby, A Passage to India, Under the Volcano, Lord of the Flies, and Lolita were all some of my favorites now. One thing I’d learned was good literature was good literature no matter what genre or year it was written. It was the only positive thing that came from my time spent in juvie.

  I sat down on my bed, crossed my legs under me, and picked up the copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. This was on our list to read for the year, and I figured since I had actually heard of this one, then I’d start with it. The other two I had picked up at the library I wasn’t so sure about. A Town Like Alice and 1984 would have to wait until I finished this one.

  Maybe I’m Not a Good Friend Then



  Ivy was saying something. I think I heard the words Friday night and maybe something about a party. My attention wasn’t on her. Instead it was completely directed at Gunner’s fancy-ass truck and the girl climbing out of the passenger’s side.

  After the way Willa ignored us both yesterday I didn’t expect to see her riding to school with Gunner. I wondered if Ms. Ames had set this up. Gunner stopped at the front of the truck and said something to Willa that made her laugh. My chest tightened with what felt like jealousy at the sight, and I felt my hands fist at my sides.

  Gunner was making her laugh. She was riding with Gunner, and now she was talking to him while she smiled. Last night something must have happened to bring the two of them together. They seemed like old friends instead of strangers. They were old friends, but so was I. Why wasn’t I involved in this little moment of fucking friendship?

  “Are you good with that?” Ivy asked, tugging on my arm.

  Was I good with what? Gunner and Willa hanging out. No, I wasn’t. Why? Well I didn’t want to think about that too deeply. However, I didn’t think that was what Ivy was referring to. So I replied to her question with “Huh?” and saw her face scrunch up in a frown and quickly added, “Oh, sure.” Which made her smile and hopefully shut up with the chattering.

  Kimmie and Serena both bombarded Gunner and blocked out Willa in one swift move as if they were operating as a whole and not two parts. I didn’t watch to see how Gunner handled it because I was too busy watching Willa roll her eyes, then move on toward the front doors. That made me smile. She wasn’t trying to lay any claim, nor did she want to. That was obvious, and I was so relieved I didn’t worry about the fact I’d agreed to something with Ivy that I hadn’t fully heard.

  “Are you coming?” Ivy asked.

  I didn’t much care for the possessive, bossy way she’d asked me. So I did the mature thing and started toward Willa. “Nah, I’ll see you later,” I called back to Ivy without a glance, then hurried to catch up with Willa before she got out of my sight.

  Ivy called my name, but I pretended not to hear her and broke into a jog. I was being a jerk. I knew it and I felt bad about it, but my getting to Willa had suddenly become more important than being nice. Which I wasn’t going to evaluate too much. Because right now I needed to make my way to Willa and Gunner. Ivy needed some patience.

  If Willa was talking to Gunner, then she must still be the Willa from our past. I wanted her to talk to me.

  “Willa.” I called out her name just before she walked into the school. She paused and looked back over her shoulder at me. A confused almost startled expression touched her brow. “Hey,” I said, unsure what to do now I had her attention.

  “Hey,” she replied just above a whisper. Was she nervous?

  “I saw you rode with Gunner.”

  She nodded but said nothing more.

  “We were all friends once. I do something wrong? You don’t seem to like me much.”

  Her eyes widened; then she shook her head. “No . . . but you’ve not spoken to me.”

  She hadn’t talked to me. I was letting her make the move to say something. Willa had always been the outgoing one between us. She hadn’t let us get away with much, and she was the one to pull me into talking when I didn’t want to. Had she changed that much?

  “Since when did I have to come after you to talk? The girl I remember used to hunt me down.”

  A hint of a smile almost lit her lips. Almost. “That was a long time ago.”

  Yeah, it was, but I was still as attracted to her now as I had been then. She was quieter now and not sure of herself. Almost timid. I didn’t imagine Willa turning out this way. Especially looking like she did.

  I shifted the one book in my hand to the other arm, then held out my right hand. “Hello, Willa Ames. I’m Brady Higgens. It’s nice to meet you.”

  This time she smiled and slipped her hand into mine as we shook. “You’re still crazy,” she replied.

  I shrugged. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  Pursing her lips, she looked adorable. “Hmmm . . . cocky much?”

  Actually, no I wasn’t. Gunner was cocky. West used to be cocky until he fell in love with Maggie. But me, I was the good guy. I had my life planned out ahead of me. I would be choosing a college soon from the all the offers I’d had for my talent on the football field. But I wasn’t cocky. I was determined and driven.

  “Just crazy,” I told her.

  “Friend rule. Good ones don’t leave you cornered by those two leeches,” Gunner said, interrupting us and drawing Willa’s attention from me to him.

  She smirked at him. “Maybe I’m not a good friend then.”

  Gunner smiled at her with a look I knew. He was interested. Dammit. Why did I care? I had my hands full with Ivy. Who was good to me. My main focus was football, and she supported that. Reconnecting with a girl from my childhood because she was gorgeous and there was a past emotional connection didn’t justify risking what I already had.

  “I’ll teach you. I have faith in you, Willa Ames. You’ll be my wingman before it’s all over,” Gunner said.

  I liked the wingman comment. That was keeping it real. Gunner didn’t do relationships. He just did sex.

  Willa chuckled, and the sound felt warm over my skin. “I’m sure I’ll be a pro soon.”

  I couldn’t decide if this was as platonic as they sounded or if they were flirting.

  “Brady,” Ivy called, and my guilt came back. Here I was getting all weird about Gunner and Willa while Ivy was trying to talk to me. What was wrong with me? This was not my typical behavior.

  “You’re being summoned,” Gunner said, looking amused. “We’ll catch up with you later. Come on, Wingman, let’s go get your books for first period.”

  Willa gave me a small, tight smile, then turned to walk away with Gunner. Down the hallway.

  “Who is that?” Ivy asked. “She new?”

wo things about Lawton: It was fucking small, and everyone knew everything about everyone. So that question didn’t even sound believable. Ivy knew exactly who Willa was by this point, and the girls in town were all talking about her. Now that she was seen talking to me and Gunner, people would do their research and remember just who Willa Ames was, and the three of us would start being on the tongues of gossips everywhere.

  The Reality of Being Broken



  I wasn’t a good friend. They just didn’t know how bad of one I was. Yet. Eventually it would get out. My past and the reason I was here in Lawton, living with my grandmother. But for now I could enjoy not being alone.

  Gunner had walked with me to my first-period class, chatting on about a party this Saturday night and acting as if I would be there too. No one had invited me to a party. I had no idea who Asa Griffith was, although the name was familiar. I’d heard it being mentioned yesterday more than one time. Even more than the football game on Friday night, and that was talked about a lot. Probably talk of his party.

  When Gunner had finally said his good-bye and gone to his own classroom, I was once again left to myself. No one approached me as I made my way to the desk the teacher had directed me to yesterday. My homework was complete and as perfect as I could make it.

  Someone took the chair beside me, and I glanced through my lashes to see a tall guy with dark hair, almost black. His shoulders were wide, making him seem more impressive and large. The tan color of his skin made me think of beaches and sunshine and not Lawton, Alabama. He turned to me, and I quickly moved my eyes back to the notebook on my desk.

  “You must be Willa Ames,” his deep voice said, drawing my attention back to him.

  “Yes,” I replied, wishing I knew who he was. I searched his face to see if I recognized him. Everyone had changed so much over the past six years I had a hard time remembering them all.

  “You don’t remember me, do you? But then I was about seven inches shorter and less muscle or no muscle the last time we saw each other.”

  I forced a smile. I felt awkward not remembering who he was, but then would he have recognized me if he didn’t have the knowledge that the new girl was Willa Ames? I wouldn’t beat myself up about it. Although I had gone to school with a lot or most of these kids, I’d not run in their social circles. My only friends had been Gunner and Brady. I didn’t get invited to birthday parties as a child, or any party for that matter. I was the Lawtons’ help’s granddaughter, who had been brought into this world by a “slutty” teenage mother.

  He grinned and dimples appeared. Not expected on a guy his size. “Asa . . . Griffith,” he said, adding his last name as an afterthought. This was the party guy whose name I had heard before. Digging in my memory, I tried to think of a boy’s face that might resemble the much more mature one in front of me now. Had he come to play with Gunner often as a child? I couldn’t remember all the friends Gunner had over.

  He chuckled this time. “Don’t guess I made an impression on you back in the day, but then you’d always been Gunner’s. We didn’t get to see you much when we came over after Nash called you hot once. Gunner got all pissy, and that was the last time we ever played with you.”

  That struck a memory.

  “Y’all have changed with puberty” was the only comment I had to that.

  His dimples deepened, clearly flirting at this point. “And so have you.”

  I wasn’t going to try and decipher what he meant by that. I just smiled and turned back to the notebook in front of me.

  “You coming to my birthday party Saturday night? I’ll be the big one eight.”

  Was this an invite? I glanced back over at him. “I wasn’t aware I was invited.”

  He continued to grin. “I’m officially inviting you. I just figured Gunner or Brady already had.”

  Should I agree to this? The last time I partied . . . I didn’t want to think about that right now. It was different. Everything about that night had been different. This was a birthday party with football players. I could do this and not feel guilty. Couldn’t I?

  “That frown concerns me. I’m not a bad guy. Promise,” Asa added as I realized he was watching me and I hadn’t responded to his invitation. Which was rude.

  “I’m sorry. I was just thinking about my schedule. But yes, I’d like to come. Thank you for inviting me.” I sounded entirely too formal. Trying not to wince at my own ridiculous response, I once again stared down at my notebook.

  “I think I make you nervous, Willa Ames. I like that.” He sounded amused, and I didn’t look back at him.

  “Will Gunner be walking you to your next class like he did this one, or can I have that honor?” He was mimicking my formal tone, and I bit back a smile. I think I liked Asa Griffith.

  “I’d like that,” I replied, letting the smile touch my lips. It felt good to want to smile again. I was doing it more and more since my arrival in Lawton. A few months ago I thought I’d never smile again.

  But with that thought the reality of what I’d seen, what I’d done, and all I’d lost came back to me. The darkness I carried like bricks on my back weighed me down, and I once again lost my smile.

  The teacher began to talk, and I gave him my attention, even if the past was haunting my thoughts and reminding me why I’d never truly be normal again.

  • • •

  Asa attempted to talk to me several times during class, and I managed a smile, if not a response, each time. My chest was heavy, but I wanted to feel normal again, if only for a moment. Was that selfish of me? Should I get to feel normal?

  When the bell rang—ending my wasted class, since my mind hadn’t registered one thing that the teacher had said—I picked up my books and stood up.

  “What class do you have next?” Asa asked as he got up to walk with me toward the door. I guess he was serious about walking me there.

  “Lit,” I replied.

  “I’m two doors down in Spanish. Also, saw you get out of Gunner’s truck today. Had any trouble with Kimmie yet?”

  I wasn’t sure what that meant. Kimmie was the girl from the restroom yesterday and one of the girls who had bombarded Gunner when we’d arrived. I knew that much, but as for me having any issues with her, I hadn’t dealt with that. She didn’t pay much attention to me.

  “No,” I replied.

  He nodded. “You will. She’s not going to be able to handle you at all.”

  If he meant she would be jealous of me, then she was just silly. Gunner wasn’t serious about her or anyone for that matter. Girls who were blind to teenage boys who clearly didn’t care about them were sad. They thought the television romance was real. It wasn’t. This was not One Tree Hill. It was real life.

  “He referred to me as his wingman this morning. She doesn’t need to worry about me. She needs to worry about all the girls who are stupid enough to think they have a chance at an actual relationship with him. Like her.”

  Asa laughed loudly. “Damn I like you.”

  “Thanks.” I was going to say more when my eyes met Gunner’s as he made his way toward me.

  “And here he comes,” Asa said, once again sounding amused.

  Gunner’s eyes went from me to Asa as if he were annoyed. I wasn’t sure why he would be, and if he acted annoyed, I was going to set him straight. But that wasn’t going to happen right now because Kimmie stepped in front of him, blocking his path. Which made Asa laugh again.

  “One day he’ll figure out that a quickie from Kimmie means weeks of her up his ass.”

  “Has he done this with her before?” I asked, watching him move her out of his way with both his hands on her shoulders. His scowl was surprising. I’d never seen him pissed like that before.

  “Been happening since ninth grade. She’s an easy lay, but then she clings. We’ve all learned our lesson, but Gunner can’t seem to shake her.”

  I wonder what it was about her that kept drawing him back in.

  “Kind of l
ike Ivy and Brady. Except Brady doesn’t seem to mind Ivy’s clingy ways. He lets it happen because she’s hot. I think in Ivy’s head they’re an item. Brady however doesn’t see it as an exclusive thing. But then none of the guys have tried to bang her either.”

  I had been away from high school drama, dealing with real world stuff, for so long now I found it pointless. Once I’d been that girl wrapped up in a guy, thinking he loved me. Not knowing what was really happening when I wasn’t around. Never once guessing the truth until it was right there in front of me. What I thought was a broken heart then didn’t even touch the reality of being broken.

  “Here’s your class,” Asa said, stopping my thoughts from going dark once again.

  “Thank you.”

  He shrugged and on his tall frame it looked out of place. Like that of a little boy, not a massive football player. “I’ll see you at lunch?”
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