Under the lights, p.5
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       Under the Lights, p.5

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  I think it was a question. It sounded like one. So I simply nodded, then walked into the room. Wishing I had a distraction in this period to help me push away the pain.

  Like a Vacuum

  CHAPTER 11

  GUNNER

  When I walked into Spanish, Asa was grinning at me like a fucking idiot. I’d seen him with Willa, and he thought walking her to class was one-upping me.

  “I invited your girl to my party,” he said as I put my books down on the desk beside him.

  “Willa isn’t my girl.” I glared at him. I wasn’t playing games with him. I had Kimmie shit to deal with. She was full-force annoying now that Willa had ridden to school with me.

  “Good. I was hoping she was available” was his response, also meant to piss me off.

  “Stop being an ass.”

  He cocked one eyebrow. “I’m serious. Completely.”

  Well, hell. I wasn’t ready for that. Willa was back, and she was all grown up. I should have prepared for one of the guys other than Brady to go after her.

  “Back off,” I warned him. Why? I didn’t want to think about that.

  He smirked, then shook his head. “Nope.”

  Fucker.

  • • •

  I ignored Asa most of the period, except when Nash turned around and started talking about Friday night. We had a football game to focus on, which was more important than Saturday night and Asa’s birthday party at the field. We would all end up at the field on Friday night after the game, too. In a small town like Lawton, the field was how we spent our weekends. Away from the adults.

  Serena kept staring back at me and licking her lips slowly. I guess she was insinuating we hook up, and if we weren’t currently in the classroom, I’d let her at it. I needed the tension relief. All this Asa and Willa crap fucking with my head. My choice to take Serena to the homecoming dance was simply on her skill in the blow-job department.

  “I think I might sell tickets to the Kimmie and Serena fight. All the hair pulling and screaming will be hot. Think you can get them to set up a time and place so I can make some quick cash?” Nash asked, glancing back at Serena.

  “Doubt it. Kimmie will go at her whenever the mood strikes. Serena on the other hand would probably be more accommodating,” I replied with a grin.

  “Never got why you and West wasted time with Serena. She’s been there and done it all,” Asa said, unimpressed.

  “Heard she’s like a vacuum,” Nash informed him.

  They both looked at me for confirmation. I shrugged. “Her middle name should be Hoover.”

  Laughter erupted from both of them, and we were all glared at by Mr. Jones. We had interrupted his porn, I would guess. The old, fat Spanish teacher rarely did much teaching. He gave us worksheets and online programs during class. A couple of kids had caught him watching online porn on his MacBook while sitting up there. Shame we couldn’t do the same. This class would be a hell of a lot more fun.

  “So back to Willa,” Asa began, and I rolled my eyes. “Why’d she move back in with her grandmother? Thought her momma settled down and shit and sent for her back then.”

  I’d wondered the same thing. But the reason why was something Willa wasn’t willing to talk about. I’d tried to get her on the subject, and she’d closed up fast. She had secrets that obviously hurt. I got that and I respected it. I had my own damn secrets. Ones that had changed my life. She could keep hers because I sure as hell wasn’t sharing mine.

  “Not my business or yours.”

  Asa frowned. “So it’s a big deal? Like did she get kicked out or something?”

  He was going to push because he was a nosy-ass motherfucker. “I said it ain’t our business. Leave it.”

  Nash turned back around in his chair, and I slammed my book closed just before the bell rang, freeing me from Asa’s questioning. Truth was I wanted to know what her secret was. I wanted to know if she’d done something terrible. I couldn’t imagine it, but why else would she be back here?

  However, it wasn’t Asa’s business. He didn’t know Willa or her past. He hadn’t sat with her and held her when she cried because she thought her mother didn’t love her. Or the day she found out she was moving away from her nonna. That had been me. Not Brady. Me.

  It had been six years and puberty had hit, but we had a history, and I would protect her the best I could. Something lost and hurt in her eyes said she needed protecting. I had made sure to protect the little girl she had once been.

  “So you good with me walking her to her next class?” Asa asked me as we headed out the door. I started to come up with some excuse as to why he couldn’t when I saw Brady standing at the door to her classroom and her smiling up at him.

  “Never mind. I was beat to it,” Asa grumbled, then walked the other way.

  I, on the other hand, walked right up to the both of them. We were all friends after all.

  “What class do you have next?” I asked her, interrupting whatever Brady had been saying.

  They both turned their gazes on me. I could feel Brady’s frustration rolling off him in waves. I knew him oh too well. The good boy wasn’t thinking of Willa as a friend. He would be the perfect loyal boyfriend that she deserved. I knew it but I didn’t like it. I also wasn’t that nice of a guy. I wouldn’t allow it. Brady was my best friend, and Willa wasn’t about to take him away from me with her long legs, bubble butt, and plump lips. Hell no. I wouldn’t become the third wheel to the two of them.

  West had saddled himself with Maggie like it was the best damn thing in the world. He was nuts. Brady wasn’t about to do that. He had a football career to focus on, and I had frat parties and coeds in my future.

  Him getting serious with Willa would ruin all of that.

  As his best friend, I would protect his best interests, and I would protect Willa, too.

  Six Years Doesn’t Change That

  CHAPTER 12

  BRADY

  The first chance I got with Willa all day where Ivy wasn’t smothering me and Gunner interrupted us. I’d just gotten her to laugh, too. What was his deal? This was going to cause an issue if we didn’t talk it out. I would start on the football field later today. By pounding his ass with the ball every chance I got.

  “I have Spanish,” she said, pointing to the classroom Gunner had just exited. “Right there.”

  “You won’t learn shit in there. Jones watches porn on his MacBook most of the class,” Gunner informed her, making her laugh as her eyes widened.

  He wasn’t lying. The man really did. He’d been caught before, but somehow he was still teaching in the classroom. I didn’t think we should be telling Willa about it though. Kind of seemed disrespectful.

  “I’ve got a book in my purse I can read,” she told Gunner.

  “Well, that sounds real entertaining.” Gunner sounded mocking, and she just smirked at him as if she wasn’t surprised by that response.

  “Once you read all the Harry Potters with me, and we talked for hours about them.”

  Gunner nodded. “Yep, then I had sex and it was all over.”

  Again Willa’s eyes flared, and I elbowed Gunner to shut him up. Jesus! She didn’t want to talk about his sex life. He had to stop treating her like a dude. When we were kids, it was different. She wanted to do the things we did, but life changed.

  “Ignore his crude ass,” I finally said, stopping Gunner from any more inappropriate comments.

  “Willa can hear the word sex. She knows what it is,” Gunner drawled, his gaze still on Willa.

  Her face flushed, and I wanted to put Gunner on his ass for embarrassing her.

  “On that note, I think I’ll go to my next class. I have a novel to read, and from the way it sounds, I’m going to get an entire period to read it.” Willa smiled at both of us, making very little eye contact, then hurried to her next class.

  I glared at Gunner. “You embarrassed her,” I snapped.

  He just grinned, still watching her retreating form. “I know. It was hi
larious. What seventeen-year-old girl blushes over the word sex? Now if I’d said fuck, then I might have expected that reaction.”

  I should have gone on and left him, but I couldn’t just yet. I was confused by what his motives were with Willa. “She’s not a backseat whore. You realize that right?”

  He nodded, then finally looked at me. “Yeah. She’s our friend. Six years doesn’t change that.”

  She had been his best friend. If I hadn’t been so jealous of the fact he got to see her all the time when I wanted to see her all the time, I would have cared that she was the best friend and I was the runner up. When she had left, I had moved into that spot with Gunner, but it hadn’t felt right. I missed Willa. For years.

  I may have never stopped.

  “Why is she back?” I asked him. “There has to be a reason.”

  Gunner shrugged. “That’s her secret. If she wants to tell us, she will. Until then, it’s her secret to keep.”

  He sounded almost defensive of her. Like he was telling me to back off. I’d been talked to like this before where Willa was concerned. When we were kids, he never let me get too close. There was always a protective wall he held around her, and God forbid anyone get too close.

  “I’m worried about her. Her eyes are sad and guarded.”

  Gunner didn’t respond immediately. He looked as if his thoughts had gone far away from here. Almost distant. I waited to see if he’d respond, and when I had almost given up on him, he turned to me. “Not everyone’s life is like yours. There are some things people don’t want to share. It’s how they survive.”

  At that Gunner walked away. He didn’t want to hear what I had to say in response, and I was glad because I didn’t have anything. For starters, how the hell was my life different from his, except he had a shit ton of money? We both had married parents and good home lives. Neither of us had seen abuse or been neglected. Well, maybe emotionally Gunner had suffered neglect, but it wasn’t all bad. Ms. Ames was always there to mother him when he needed it.

  After Willa had left, we stayed closed at first. Then we began to drift. I wasn’t sure why, but Gunner pulled away from me for a time. Football and field parties eventually brought us closer again, but things had never really been the same since she left. We’d been closer then. He had been my best friend before then. I thought of West as my best friend now. I talked to West about things Gunner just didn’t seem interested in.

  Having Willa back reminded me of how things once were. She had been such a big part of our childhood. Being around her again brought it all back.

  Willa was dealing with real shit. She’d never had it easy. I knew she thought of herself as a burden to her mother. I had seen it in her eyes and the way she said things. The way she tried so hard to make her nonna proud of her. The day she’d told me she was moving to Arkansas to live with her mother I had wanted to be happy for her. But I’d been heartbroken instead.

  That hadn’t been roses for her there, either. I could see that in the girl she had become. I hated her mother. I’d only seen her once, and even as a child I knew she was beautiful. But that didn’t make me hate her less. She had made Willa feel unwanted.

  “You waiting on me?” Ivy’s voice broke into my thoughts. She was something else I really needed to deal with. I knew it was obvious that I watched Willa. To everyone but Willa. But I didn’t want to hurt Ivy, either. Until Willa walked back into town, I had been perfectly happy doing whatever it was me and Ivy were doing. Which, to be honest, we were mostly just fucking. But still. She was a sweet girl.

  I couldn’t keep doing that though. Not with Willa being on my brain all the time. It wasn’t fair to Ivy. I had to work through what this was I felt for Willa, and if friendship was all we would ever have. Until then I needed my freedom to find out.

  Gunner wanted nothing more than friendship. He wasn’t mentally capable of being what Willa needed or deserved. He was the good-time guy, not the guy to lean on. Even if he was different with Willa.

  “I was just talking to Gunner. Heading to my next class,” I told her, not wanting to give her false hope.

  Her smile fell, but I’d been nice about the truth. “Oh” was her response.

  I should have felt bad about that. I just didn’t seem to have the energy to feel anything about her at all. Which didn’t say a lot about me as a person. I was letting myself down. Typically I was a better guy than this.

  Nothing but Disappointment

  CHAPTER 13

  WILLA

  The thickness of hilarity hangs over me, and I move slowly through the room. Poppy’s house is always my favorite escape. There is no sense of annoyance from my being here. I’m accepted and free of the pain that always haunts me. Even my stepfather’s disgusted glare that I’m met with every day when he returns from work seems funny right now as I think about it and him. The world is my playground, and I shall play in it. I giggle loudly, and Bo, Poppy’s boyfriend, looks up at me from his spot on the worn leather sofa and smiles. It’s crooked and sweet, like Bo. Poppy is lucky to have Bo. He is sincere, fun, kind—but best of all he never fails to supply the good stuff.

  Bo’s older brother sells pot, and he makes sure Bo gets the best when we all pitch in and buy some. We can count on him for nights like this. Sometimes days like this. Poppy’s parents are rarely home. They both work long hours at the restaurant they own in town, and Poppy has to always stay home and keep an eye on her younger sister. Which is funny too. Not sure why it’s funny, but I laugh again.

  The room is almost weightless as I float by and then stop to pick up the vodka Sprite that Poppy fixed me. Bo’s brother also bought us a bottle of vodka. I drink the sweet mixture, glad that Poppy put so much Sprite in it. I don’t like the taste of alcohol much, but it sure makes me feel happy. So happy.

  The yellow walls of the kitchen are too bright, so I turn off the lights and begin searching for the cheese balls I saw earlier in the pantry. I love cheese balls and all their fattening goodness. “Where’s the cheese balls?” I yell from the corner of the pantry.

  “I got ’em,” Poppy calls back, so I stumble out of the pantry, only falling on my ass once and laughing so hard I have to curl up in a ball on the split-brick floor. The cold brick feels good to my face, so I rub it around, letting my cheek be soothed.

  “Are you making out with the floor?” someone asks, and I open my eyes to see Cole Sanders standing over me with his glass of straight vodka and an e-cigarette he put the good juice into. He gets away with smoking pot all over the place with that thing. Lucky.

  “Maybe.” I grin, holding both my hands in the air. “Or maybe I can’t get up.”

  “Maybe I need to come down there and join you,” he says, not reaching for my hands, then winks.

  I’m high, but I’m not high enough to let Cole Sanders down here with me. He’s slept with so many girls he’s bound to have an STD by now. No way. I shake my head and sit up quickly. “Not happening,” I say just before struggling to stand up.

  He acts as if he were pouting. “Ah, Willa, that hurts.”

  Rolling my eyes, I reach for my drink. “Not as much as the herps you’d give me.”

  “SLAM!” Bo hollers, laughing hysterically at my comeback. I join him in his laughter and so does Cole.

  Life is funny. Everything is just hilarious. I love it here. I love pot and vodka and Bo’s brother.

  I love—

  Then Poppy’s screams fill the air, and fear consumes me.

  • • •

  I bolted up in bed and placed my hand on my heart, trying to catch my breath. The screaming was still there. In my head. It would always be there. I’d never forget it as long as I lived. Tears slid down my face, and I buried my head in my hands as the pain that came with this nightmare returned. I hated remembering, yet I had to. It was only fair that I did.

  Forgetting meant living, and was that even fair? No. Nothing was fair. It never would be again. Just like nothing would ever be normal. Especially me. I was broken in
ways that could never be fixed. My life would always have the shadow of pain, guilt, regret, and loss.

  Dropping my hands, I swung my legs over the bed and stood up. I had to see her. Remember her and allow the searing heartache to run its course. There would be no more sleep tonight. I was afraid to close my
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