My mother was sitting on Aunt Sarah’s couch drinking tea when Sawyer and I stepped into the living room.
“Mom?” My aunt and uncle had welcomed me back and assured me they were just glad I was safe. They didn’t know the details but understood I had a lot going on with my parents.
“Lana,” she smiled at me and then turned her smile to Sawyer. “Hello Sawyer.”
“Hello, Ms. McDaniel,” he replied politely.
“I didn’t know you were coming for a visit,” I said, trying to figure out what was going on.
“Paperwork came that you needed to sign and I figured we could go do that shopping for your dorm room,” she explained.
I hadn’t told Sawyer about Florida yet. I was afraid my mother was being optimistic and we might not actually be able to make it work. “Oh, um, okay,” I trailed off, trying to think of a way to get Sawyer out of here before Mom said anything else about college.
“Would it be okay if I came too? Lana did get to help pick out my dorm necessities so it’s only fair I get to help pick hers out,” Sawyer drawled in an amused voice as he walked over to sit down in my uncle’s recliner.
“Of course. That would be lovely! Wouldn’t that be lovely, Lana?” my mother asked a little too enthusiastically.
How was I going to get out of this one?
“Mom, we need to make sure everything is sqaured away and okay before we go buying dorm stuff. I mean, there is still a chance this might not work and I’ll need to stay home two years and go to a community college. What if the house doesn’t sell?”
Sawyer sat up from his relaxed position and leaned forward, “What? Why might this not work? I was under the impression it was a done deal.” He was directing his question to my mother like he knew what the heck he was talking about.
“Sawyer—” I began and was cut off by my mom.
“It is Sawyer,” she soothed. “Lana, the house is sold. I made enough money to pay for all four years of your education and buy myself a nice sized condo on the beach. That way when you run off and leave me for Florida I can still be close enough to my sister when I need some company.”
She said Florida. Would Sawyer think I was chasing him? Smothering him? Cringing, I forced myself to meet his gaze. He grinned and stood up and walked over to me.
Both his hands wrapped around my waist and he pulled me up against him and bent his head down to whisper in my ear, “Did you really think I would be this excited about college if I thought I’d be leaving my girl behind?”
“You knew,” I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Yes, I knew. And if you for one second try and back out of following me to Florida I will personally kidnap you and haul you there with me,” he teased, and then pressed a trail of kisses across my face until his mouth hovered over mine. “I’m not losing you again. You’re with me. I want you there beside me. Always.”
Sawyer bailed on me this morning, for a girl. I couldn’t help but smile. I was the one who normally bailed on workouts. It was a nice change for it to be him not showing up. I couldn’t imagine why he’d want to go shopping with Lana and her mom. That woman was whack. Not to mention it was shopping. Who goes shopping with their girl? Then again, Ash had never asked me to go shopping with her. If she asked, I’d go.
Running down the bleachers, I slowed my pace. This had been my hundredth trip up and down. It was time for weights. When I reached the bottom, I wiped my forehead with my towel and took a long swig from the water bottle I’d left on the bottom bleacher.
“Hello, Beau.” The deep familiar voice behind me wasn’t one I cared for. Putting my water down I slung my towel over my shoulder and turned around to face Harris Vincent, my uncle/biological father.
“Sawyer isn’t here,” I replied and headed down the last few steps and toward the field house.
“I’m not here to see Sawyer. I’m here to see you,” Harris called out and I stopped walking. Me? He wanted to talk to me? His dirty little secret? I turned back around.
“What?” was the only response he was getting out of me. I would stand here and listen to what he had to say for one reason and one reason only—Sawyer.
“I uh, I saw your practice last week. You looked good out there.”
My practice? What the hell was he talking about? I had practices in Tuscaloosa. Surely, he didn’t mean those.
“I came to watch. You’re gonna do good there.”
Taking a step toward him so he could hear me without me yelling, I asked, “You came to my practice at Bryant-Denny? Why would you do that?” The man hadn’t even come to the hospital when I’d broken my collarbone in little league. He wasn’t exactly active in my life.
“I went to see both my sons’ practices last week.”
I froze. He’d called me his son. I started shaking my head, “No, no, you don’t get to do that. I’m. Not. Your. Son.”
I had to get away from this man. He was Sawyer’s father; I did not want to hurt him. But DAMN if he was gonna call me his son.
“You are my son. I don’t deserve you but you are mine. You can deny me. You can hate me and you have every right.”
“Damn right I do,” I roared.
“It doesn’t change the fact, I’m proud of the man you’ve become. The man you’ve become without any help from me.”
I was taking loud hard gasps of air. What was he doing? Why was he doing this?
“Proud of me? Why? Because I can play some football? Because I’m playing at your alma mater? Because that’s just bullshit.”
Harris shook his head, “No, not because you’re playing on the same football field I once played on. Although, that does make me feel a touch of pride. I can’t help it. But that is only a brief moment in your life. The man you turned out to be is what makes me proud. You made bad choices and you got on the wrong path but you were also strong enough to get off that path and find one that would take you somewhere in life. The world wanted to call you a loser but you were so much stronger than they realized. You fought back. You grabbed the life you wanted and you fought for it. Even when the rest of the world didn’t think you’d make anything of yourself. You proved them wrong. That, son, is why I’m proud of you.”
I wanted to yell from the top of my lungs at the unfairness of this moment. I’d needed this man when I was young and scared. But now? I didn’t need him now.
“A wise man once told me that you don’t have to forgive me. You don’t have to like me. But you need to know I love you. That I’m proud of you. All I needed to do was tell you. How you handle it or take it isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that you know.” He gave me a short nod and the worry lines and defeated expression as he turned around to walk away made something inside my chest burn. I didn’t understand this but I didn’t have to. Not right now.
“Harris,” I called out to his retreating form. He stopped and turned back to look at me.
I swallowed nervously unsure how to say this exactly. Because his words didn’t make this better. It didn’t fix the past. “I don’t know what to make of this just yet. I may never know what to make of this.” I paused as a memory came to me of Harris standing at the fence during one of my high school football games as he thoroughly told-off my coach after I’d been pulled from a game. I’d missed practice the day before because my mama had gotten sick with the flu and I’d needed to take her to the Urgent Care center in Mobile. It was the closest free health care place around.
I’d been put in the game once the coach walked back to the sidelines. Every time I glanced back at the fence during that game, Harris had been standing there with his arms crossed in front of his chest as if he was standing guard over something or someone.
“That game, in high school when I’d missed practice the day before. I was benched. Then, after coach got back from a very heated discussion with you, he put me in the game,” I stopped and studied his face and saw the answer in his expression. “You forced him to put me in, didn’t you?”
Harris gave me a sad smile, “Wasn’t your fault you had to take your mother to see a doctor. It was an unfair decision on Coach Madison’s part and I reminded him exactly how unwise of a decision it would be to leave his best wide-receiver on the bench.”
This didn’t correct all the wrong. But it did tell me that at times, even if I didn’t realize it, he had looked out for me. I’d just not known. Other instances in my life when things looked bad and then all was suddenly okay with no explanation. Had it always been him?
“Coach wasn’t a big fan of mine,” I replied.
Harris raised one eyebrow, “Well, you weren’t exactly the most dependable guy on the team.”
I let out a short laugh. “I played just as good hungover as I did sober.”
The smile on his face wasn’t something I was accustomed to seeing directed my way.
“You probably did,” he agreed.
We stood there staring at each other as if we were afraid everything would go back to usual the moment he walked away.
“Look, son,” he cleared his throat, “or Beau if that’s what you’d prefer I call you. If you want to go get something to eat sometime, or get a drink, or whatever… just call. I’ll be there.”
He turned and started walking away when I didn’t respond. Before he got too far away I called out, “You can call me son, if that’s what you want.”