Until friday night, p.12
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       Until Friday Night, p.12

         Part #1 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  I would go, but he was leaving too. “I will. But so are you.”

  He looked at me like I had lost my mind. “What?”

  I looked back at Maggie sleeping curled up alone in the bed. “If I leave, so do you. She locks her door at night. How’d you get in?” I asked him.

  “I know how to get into my old room when it’s locked. Besides, once I saw your truck parked down the road, I knew where you were and how you got in here.”

  I trusted Brady, but I didn’t like that. “I leave, you leave,” I repeated.

  “Are you serious?” he asked.

  “Very.”

  Brady shook his head and opened the bedroom door. “I swear to God, West. You’re insane if you think I’d make a move on my cousin.”

  I didn’t think he would. I just didn’t like him being in her room while she was asleep. She hadn’t invited him in. It was an invasion of her privacy.

  When I’d finally gotten home and into my own bed, I’d gone to sleep hoping I’d wake up to a repeat of last weekend with my dad. I didn’t get it.

  Instead I was woken by the sounds of an ambulance outside the house, and my mother’s frantic voice. My heart slammed against my chest, and I moved fast. I ran from my room toward the front of the house where I heard Momma.

  “He’s down the hall!” she shouted at the paramedics who were already rushing through the door. “Hurry! He’s throwing up so much blood. Hurry! Please!” Momma was crying pitifully, and the paramedics moved fast. I backed up and let them pass, then went to my mother, who was holding on to the front door as if she were about to collapse. She had blood all over her clothing. And tears were running down her face. “We’re gonna lose him. Oh God, West, we’re gonna lose him.” She sobbed as her knees buckled.

  I hurried over to her and held her against my chest. “He needs us to be strong right now. We can break down later. But we need to show him that we can handle this. If he sees you cracking, it will be even harder on him.” As I urged her to do what I wasn’t sure I could do myself, I felt like Maggie was right there with me saying those words in my ear. Reminding me this wasn’t about me right now. That I was strong enough for this.

  Momma nodded and wiped at her face. “You’re right. He needs us to be strong,” she repeated. “Help me remember that.” She patted my arms I’d wrapped around her. “I need to change and go with them to the hospital.”

  “I’ll drive you. Go get changed, and we’ll follow. They aren’t going to let you in the back. They’ll need all the room to help Dad.”

  She nodded again, but I could tell she didn’t like the idea of his leaving this house without her.

  I held her as they brought out my father, unconscious and covered in blood. Seeing him like that brought on a new, deeper sorrow. One I hadn’t experienced yet.

  “We’re coming, honey. We’re right behind you. Be strong for us. We’ll be waiting on you,” Momma called after him.

  “Go on and get cleaned up,” I told her.

  She held on to my arms for a few more seconds as they put him in the back of the ambulance. Then she hurried down the hall to change.

  I jumped in the shower and cleaned off before throwing on some jeans and a T-shirt. Once we got to the hospital, I’d find a cleaning service to call about coming to clean up their room. I wanted it nice and ready when Dad came back home. I also didn’t want Momma cleaning it up.

  When I stepped out of my own room, Momma stepped out into the hall from hers. We looked at each other for a moment. “He needs us to be strong for him,” I reminded her. I wanted her to find her inner strength too. In case this was it. If we had to say good-bye to him soon, I wanted her to be ready to give him that without breaking down.

  I just hoped to God I could do it. Momma nodded once more and headed for the door. I followed behind her as I texted Maggie. I was going to need her now more than ever.

  I Need You Here

  CHAPTER 25

  MAGGIE

  They took him to the hospital in an ambulance. I need you.

  I kept reading West’s text over and over as Aunt Coralee, Uncle Boone, Brady, and I drove to the hospital.

  He hadn’t given me details. He just said he needed me. I had jumped out of bed and gotten dressed without thinking of how I was going to get to the hospital. When I hurried into the hallway to go to the bathroom so I could brush my teeth, Uncle Boone had been walking up the stairs with the morning paper. I’d handed him my phone so he could see the text message. He read it, then went to wake up Aunt Coralee and Brady.

  No one was talking. Brady kept bouncing his knee nervously as he stared out the window. He’d been the first one in the living room after his dad had woken them all up. The panic written across his face was what only a real friend would feel.

  I wasn’t sure I’d had that, not from any of my friends. I was thankful West did.

  “I need to tell the guys,” Brady finally said. “It’s time they knew. They’ll want to be there with him too.”

  Uncle Boone nodded. “I agree. After we get there and you’ve seen them, you can go find a quiet place and call. But not the whole team. Just the ones he’s close to. He needs his real friends around him right now.”

  I wasn’t sure West would want that, but if this was the end, then he needed it.

  “Did he text you?” Brady asked me.

  I nodded.

  “Did he give you any details?”

  I shook my head and handed him my phone.

  He read the text several times before handing back the phone to me.

  “Thank you,” he said. “For being there for him. I don’t understand whatever it is y’all have, but thank you.”

  He didn’t have to thank me. It was West. I’d do anything for him.

  My phone dinged, and we all tensed up. I wanted to hurry and get to him.

  He has a tumor pressing against a vein or something. They have him back there. That’s all I know. We’re on the fourth floor left wing waiting room.

  I quickly typed: We are on our way. Almost there.

  Then I handed the phone to Brady. He read the text to his parents. Then the phone dinged again, and he read the incoming text silently before handing it to me:

  Good. I need you here.

  I closed my eyes tightly and prayed. I wasn’t sure what to pray for because I knew West’s dad couldn’t be saved from this. But I prayed anyway.

  Once we arrived at the hospital, Uncle Boone let us out at the entrance before he went to park. I didn’t wait on anyone. I ran inside and headed for the elevators. If West got the news his dad had passed away, I wanted to be there beside him. I wanted him to have what I hadn’t. Someone who understood.

  When the elevator door opened, I hurried on and pressed the button. When the doors opened again on the fourth floor, there stood West. His eyes were bloodshot, and they locked on mine. He’d been waiting on me.

  “Hey,” he said in a hoarse whisper.

  I stepped out of the elevator and reached out my hand to take his. “Hey.”

  “They just let Mom go back,” he said, tightening his hold on my hand and pulling me closer to him. “Said he was stable, but there isn’t much they can do other than try to make him comfortable.”

  For months he’d feared going to sleep and waking up to find his dad gone. Today was a close call. I threaded my fingers through his. “Let’s go back to the waiting room. They’ll come get you soon.”

  “Yeah,” he agreed.

  The white walls were so sterile. Hospitals had always felt cold to me. I wouldn’t want to die here. I’d like to die somewhere I loved, somewhere that made me feel safe. Which, finally, made me realize what I would pray for. I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer that Jude Ashby didn’t have to die here. That he could die at home. A place he loved.

  “Who brought you?” West asked as I opened my eyes.

  “Uncle Boone, Aunt Coralee, and Brady. They’re right behind me. I just ran when we got out of the car. I didn’t want you to
be here . . . without me.”

  West’s hand squeezed mine, then he brushed his thumb against my thumb. “Thank you.”

  I remembered his text about needing me. He needed me for his own reasons. Ones I understood. But I needed him, too. Because in three short weeks he’d wedged his way into my heart.

  I’d realized this morning, after seeing that text and not being there with him, that nothing was as important as getting to this hospital. I had never been in love, so I had nothing to compare it to, but there was no question in my mind that West Ashby had become the most important person in my life. I was in love with him. I could be whatever it was he needed me to be. Even if that would always be just a friend.

  I’ll Be the Man You Raised Me to Be

  CHAPTER 26

  WEST

  I had expected Maggie to move her hand away from mine when her family showed up. But she hadn’t. Not even when her aunt and uncle had both looked directly at our joined hands. She had stayed close beside me, holding on to me while they’d all talked. Coralee had kissed the top of my head and told me she loved me.

  Boone had nodded and patted my shoulder. Then Brady had taken the seat on my other side, silently letting me know he was there for me. Having people here was a relief. Especially for Momma. I didn’t want her to think we were alone.

  I had Maggie, that was all I needed, but the Higgenses being here made it easier for Momma.

  “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Brady said as he stood up and walked down the hallway.

  “He’s going to tell the other guys. They ones you’re close to,” Maggie whispered, barely moving her lips. Her aunt and uncle were talking over by the coffee machine. They weren’t looking at us.

  “He tell you that?” I asked

  “Yes, he told all of us in the car. He’s worried about you.”

  It was time they knew. I should have told them sooner. But I’d had Maggie, and telling anyone else wasn’t something I cared about doing.

  “He’s going. I can feel it,” I said it out loud, needing to hear myself admit it.

  “You’ll hurt. It’s the worst pain. But you’re strong, and you’ll make it through. You’ll have his memory. That won’t ever leave you.” She stopped talking when her aunt turned around. I was sure she hadn’t heard Maggie’s quiet whisper.

  I held on to her words. She knew what this felt like. She was being honest with me. She wasn’t patting my arm and telling me that I’d be okay or that she was sorry for me. I’d be getting a lot of that soon.

  “This morning my momma—God, you should have seen her lose it. That was tough.” My mother sobbing as she held on to the door was an image that would never leave my mind. I’d always remember that horrible moment.

  Maggie turned her head and pressed her face to my arm. “But she has you. You have each other. Hold on to that,” she said with her mouth hidden from her family.

  I pressed a kiss to the top of her head. I didn’t care if they saw me. I wanted her to know she was important. That I cherished her. I would always cherish her and our friendship.

  Brady came back into the room and sat down next to me. “I called the guys. They’re on their way here. They want to be here with you and, whether you want to admit it or not, you need them too.”

  He was wrong. I didn’t need them. I had who I needed tucked close to my side. But I didn’t tell him that. I just nodded. He wouldn’t understand.

  Two hours later the guys were all filling up the waiting room. So was the entire football coaching staff. Ryker’s and Nash’s parents had both come. Asa’s dad and Gunner’s dad had also come.

  No matter who came in, Maggie stayed by my side with her hand in mine. I knew she wouldn’t let go. That bit of comfort helped.

  The guys didn’t ask me why I hadn’t told them. I figured Brady had made sure of that. They all came in and stood close, giving me their silent support.

  A couple of the parents said how sorry they were to hear about my dad. That if we needed anything, to please call them. They’d bring over meals and that kind of thing. I nodded and tensed up each time one of them mentioned how hard this must be on me.

  Momma finally appeared from her visit with Dad, and her eyes widened at the waiting room full of people. Then she searched for me. I stood up and took Maggie with me. She didn’t question it, just went with me, her hand still in mine.

  When I reached Momma, she gave me a teary smile that didn’t touch her eyes. “He’s okay right now, but he’s not awake yet. If you want to go back and sit with him a while, you can. It’s only two at a time, though, for a few more hours.”

  I had to go see my dad. Maggie’s hand eased from mine, and she looked up at me. I could see the encouragement there. She wanted me to go with my momma. In case this was it, we both needed to be at his side.

  “I’m here,” she said softly. “Go.”

  I nodded then followed my mother down the hall. She stopped outside my dad’s door, and I could see him hooked up to machines, looking too frail in that hospital bed. The last time he’d been in one of those, he’d been bigger. Not so sick. Things had changed so much over the past couple of months.

  “Talk to him. I think he can hear us. In case . . . in case this is it. Tell him everything you want him to know,” she said, the words catching in her throat as her eyes welled with tears.

  I went inside first and made my way over to the side of the bed. His breathing was weak and raspy like he was struggling for each breath. Last weekend he’d been laughing with us. I knew we’d never get a weekend like that again. It had been our last.

  “Hey, Dad,” I said as I stood there staring down at him. Memorizing this moment. I needed all my memories to keep with me. “I know you’re not a fan of this place, but you should see the crowd you have in the waiting room. They’re packing the joint,” I said, glancing over at my mother on the other side of the bed as she slipped her hand under my dad’s.

  “Maggie’s out there too. She was here almost as soon as we arrived. If they’d let more people back, I know she’d want to come see you.”

  I wasn’t convinced he could hear me even though Momma thought so. All we could do was hope he could. There was so much I wanted to say, but how was I supposed to say it?

  Maggie hadn’t gotten a chance to say anything to her mother. I wouldn’t not take my chance.

  “I love you. I’m proud to be your son.” I choked up as the words came out. “My whole life you’ve been our rock. You’ve been the strong shoulders we leaned on. A kid couldn’t have asked for a better father. I have the best d—” I stopped and swallowed hard as I watched his chest rise with each labored breath. “I have the best dad. But I want you to know, I can be the man now. I can take care of Momma, and I swear to you I will. She won’t ever be alone. I’ll make sure of that. I’ll make you proud of me. Don’t worry about us. We will miss you every day. Your memory will always be with us. But I won’t let you down. I’ll be the man you raised me to be.”

  Momma let out a sob that sent the tears pooling in my eyes down my face. I loved this man so much. Life without him wasn’t something I’d ever imagined. Facing it now seemed impossible. Even as I promised him I would be the rock Momma needed.

  I Won’t Have Regrets

  CHAPTER 27

  MAGGIE

  After West went back to see his dad, I took a seat beside Aunt Coralee. She patted my leg and told me she was proud of me for being there for West. She didn’t add that I had my own share of pain when it came to losing a parent, but the way she spoke, I could tell she was thinking it.

  Brady was over with Asa, Gunner, Ryker, and Nash, all talking quietly. As if they knew death was near and they weren’t sure how to handle it. When you hadn’t dealt with death, you didn’t understand. That had been me once. Before.

  Over the next hour, Raleigh arrived, along with other people I recognized from school. I wasn’t sure Raleigh being here was a good thing. She glanced over at me when she first arrived, and the hatred on her f
ace was obvious. Just like Serena, she was confused about what I actually was to West. They had both had him in ways I never would. But then, I knew a part of West that they never would. I understood the difference. They didn’t.

  Uncle Boone stood with the coaches as they talked and drank coffee.
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