The crowd rushed onto the field as the final seconds of the clock ticked away. We’d won the state championship, 27-6. Families swarmed my teammates, congratulating and hugging them. I didn’t wait on my momma to show up. She was working tonight. I pulled off my helmet as Sawyer and Ethan poured the rest of the Gatorade over Coach’s head. He threw out his hands and laughed loudly. Sawyer was happy. The grin on his face made me smile. This was his element. Winning always had been. It was part of who he was. His mother came up behind him and tightly hugged him around his waist. Aunt Samantha had never been a fan of mine and now that she knew the truth about my DNA I was pretty sure she disliked me even more. I couldn’t really blame her for that.
Samantha Vincent was everything my momma wasn’t. Polished, polite, educated and loving. Not once, growing up, could I think of a game when Aunt Samantha hadn’t been up in the stands cheering her son on. As a kid, I’d pretend she was my momma too and that all her cheering was for me as well. The older I got, the harder that was to pretend. Especially when her face pinched up in a frown every time she looked my way.
Sawyer’s eyes met mine and his smile faded. He was doing better with me and Ash but the betrayal was still there. I knew it would be a long time before it was forgotten. If ever. I nodded my head and said “Good game” knowing he could easily read my lips. He replied, “You too.” That was enough for now.
Harris Vincent stepped in front of Sawyer, blocking my view. I watched as the man who had been always been my uninterested uncle patted the son he loved and acknowledged on the back. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I didn’t have to. The beaming smile on Samantha’s face told me that he was praising Sawyer’s win. He leaned forward and pulled him into a hug. A sudden tightness in my chest surprised me. I couldn’t let that in. This was something I had to forget and move on from. My dad was gone. I didn’t have one now. That man’s sperm may have been a factor in my creation but he was not my father. I didn’t need a hug from him and I sure as hell didn’t need his approval.
Sawyer’s eyes met mine over his father’s shoulder. I could see the concern in them. I knew what he was thinking. The little shit was worried about me. I didn’t want him to worry about me. I was fine. I didn’t need anything from Harris Vincent. I’d made it eighteen years without him. He was as good as dead to me.
“You won!” Ashton’s squeal broke into my thoughts and I turned to see her push her way through the crowd until she was free to throw herself into my arms.
“Hey, you,” I replied, holding her tightly. I needed this. I didn’t want to think about why I needed a hug so bad right now, but I did. Ashton was the perfect person to deliver it.
“You were amazing. I am going to be hoarse tomorrow from screaming so loudly. That last catch you made on the twenty was beautiful,” she told me as she placed kisses all over my face.
“I’m all sweaty, baby,” I told her as I laughed at her excitement.
“I don’t care. You just won State. It’s cause for celebration.”
I buried my head in the curve of her neck and inhaled her sweet, sexy smell. Much better than a field of sweaty guys. “I can think of a few ways I’d like to celebrate,” I said against her neck.
“That sounds promising,” she giggled and ran her hands through my hair.
“Oh, it’s real promising,” I assured her.
Ashton pulled back so she could look up at me. “My parents want to know if they could take us out to eat tonight.”
The anxious tone of her voice told me she was actually worried I’d say no. The fact her parents were even considering accepting me as good enough to date their daughter made me willing to do anything they asked, short of staying away from Ashton.
“Sounds good to me,” I said, pressing a kiss to her nose. “Where are they taking us?”
“Hank’s, of course. I want a burger.”
I pulled her to me for a kiss and enjoyed the soft feel of her lips against mine. She didn’t shy away or worry about who may be watching. Instead, she wrapped her arms around my neck and deepened the kiss. I may not have parents that love me but I have Ashton. Nothing else really matters. She is all I need.
I hadn’t been in bed long when my phone started ringing. I picked it up to see Lana’s name appear on the screen. I hadn’t talked to her in about a week. Curious as to why she was calling so late I pressed ‘OK’ and put the phone to my ear.
“Hey, I hope it’s not too late,” she replied.
“Nope. Not at all. What’s up?” I asked, knowing she wasn’t calling me at midnight because she wanted to chat.
“Um, well, I was wondering if maybe you think this summer I could come visit you.”
The idea of having Aunt Caroline in my house even for a week this summer made me cringe. But I did miss Lana. I couldn’t not see her because her mom drove me nuts.
“Sure. What week are you thinking of coming?” I asked, hoping it was only a week.
Lana paused a moment. “I was kind of wondering if maybe I could come down after graduation and stay the summer with you. Before we go off to college—maybe have one last summer to hang out?”
Wait . . . the whole summer? There was no way I could put up with Aunt Caroline all summer. My dad may even move out if that happened. But surely Aunt Caroline wouldn’t have Lana calling me to see if they could stay the summer. She’d just call my mom. So did that mean . . .
“Do you mean just—you—come visit for the summer? Not your mom?”
Lana let out a small laugh on the other end of the line. “Yes, I mean just me. Mom has things to do this summer. I need some distance from her before I go crazy. She and Dad are still at each other’s throats.”
“Then, YES! I would love for you to come spend the summer . . .” I paused, realizing that Lana wasn’t a fan of Beau and that he would be with me all summer. Was this a good idea? I didn’t want her to make him feel unwanted. He had enough of that with his stupid father and his aunt.
“I think this is a great idea. I’d love to see you but you understand that I’m with Beau now . . .?” I trailed off, waiting on her to respond.
“Oh, yes, I know. I’m glad y’all worked this all out. How are things going with those two these days? Is Sawyer handling the fact you and Beau are together better now?”
Not exactly. Maybe. I didn’t want to give her cause to dislike Beau more so I decided on a small white lie.
“Yes, we are all moving on. Sawyer and Beau are even bonding again. Soon it will all be water under the bridge.”
“That’s wonderful. I’m so glad it’s all worked out so well for you.” The sincerity in her voice made me feel guilty. I loved Lana but her sweet, innocent, trusting heart made me feel like an awful person sometimes.
“Yep, life is good.” That wasn’t a lie. Life was good. I had Beau.
“So, do you think you might talk to your mom about calling my mom and convincing her this summer thing is a good idea?”
She really must need to get away if she was already planning her escape. The least I could do was get Mom to help her out. Besides, it would be fun. I could fix her up with Kyle, or Ethan or Justin. Ethan was the sweetest out of those three. He was probably a better fit.
“I’ll talk to her in the morning. I’m sure she’ll love the idea.”
“Thank you so much,” Lana replied. I could hear the excitement in her voice. Yeah, I’d be excited too if I was going to escape Aunt Caroline a few months sooner than planned.
“No problem. It’ll be fun,” I assured her.
We said our goodbyes and hung up. I rolled over on my back and stared at the ceiling fan. Tonight had been amazing. Both my parents had been nice to Beau and congratulated him. We’d had a good dinner. Then Dad had even let Beau drive me home. He’d gone very slow and I’d taken full advantage of him while he was driving. A smile tugged at my lips when I thought about how sexy he looked trying to drive and remain calm while I teased him.
Then an image of Sawyer flashed in my head. I hadn’t spoken to him after the game. His parents had been with him and I wasn’t ready to face them just yet. He’d also had a few cheerleaders hanging on his arms. I didn’t care but I figured it was best I kept my distance. Maybe he’d move on with one of them. I wanted to find a way for us to be friends again. I missed him. He was important to me. We didn’t belong together but we had been friends way before we’d entered into a relationship. Reaching for my phone I decided I’d leave him a text before I chickened out. Small steps to help bridge the gaping hole between him and Beau and me.
Me: You played an excellent game tonight. I’m so proud of you.
I pressed send and waited. Just when I thought he wasn’t going to respond my phone dinged.