“Hello,” I growl into the phone, pissed that someone is waking me up before the sun has even decided to rear its ugly head today. I squint at the clock, its red numbers showing me that it’s just after five in the morning. I’m supposed to be on vacation and I can’t even sleep in.
“Rough night, Cowboy? I thought this was a get in and get out trip? According to my calculations, you left three days ago. It would seem you’ve decided to spend some extra time there. What’s going on?”
“Jesus Christ, Sam it’s like five o’clock. What the hell do you want?”
“Well,” she pauses. I know she’s looking at her finger nails, probably thinking she needs another manicure or something. I don’t really care, I just want to sleep and forget yesterday ever happened. “When are you coming home?”
“Soon.” I’m too exhausted to play her game. I should’ve fired her a long time ago, but I didn’t and now I’m stuck.
“Liam,” she says my name so softly I know what’s coming. I’m in no mood to deal with her crap today.
“Not now, Sam.”
“I miss you. It’s been almost a week since we’ve seen each other. Let me come be there with you. You need me.”
I hang up on her. I can’t deal with her and I definitely don’t want her here pretending we are more than what we are. My biggest mistake was sleeping with her. No, that’s not true. My biggest mistake was leaving Josie in her dorm room that night and not dragging her with me. If I had we’d be married and parents. Maybe we’d have another baby by now.
Hell maybe we’d be divorced and nothing would be any different. She’d still hate me.
I climb out of bed slowly and make my way into the shower. After my encounter with Josie last night I came back here to leave my bike and walk to the nearest bar. Not being in Los Angeles cramps my style a bit. It’s not like I can call someone to come pick me up and I knew I’d be too wasted to drive back last night.
I stand under the hot spray, allowing it to pulsate down on the top of my head. I think I’ve been dreading this day most of all. Secretly I was hoping it would never arrive, that my days would just replay themselves over and over again, like a music track I’m trying to dub.
I shut off the water once it turns cold and don’t bother to dry off as I fall back onto the bed. I could strangle Sam for waking me up. I know she does it on purpose because she doesn’t want me to forget she’s there… in the background pushing for the title of girlfriend. She loves to accompany me on the red carpet. The thought that the press thinks we’re a couple is thrilling to her. Sam wants the full package; the money, the fame and her face on every magazine and she thinks I’m the ticket. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve told her.
I don’t want her.
I wake for the second time when the hotel phone rings. The front desk calls to tell me my suit is being brought up and that the rental car I ordered is waiting for me out front. I didn’t think showing up to my buddy’s funeral on my Ducati would be very appropriate.
I dress in my black pinstriped suit. Sam ordered three new dress shirts in basic colors, black, white and blue. I opt for white with a black tie, simple and sleek.
With one last look in the mirror I pocket my sunglasses. I may be known as Liam Page, but today I’m Liam Westbury and I’m going to mourn the passing of my friend.
The drive to the church is quick. I’m sitting in the parking lot contemplating my next step. I don’t want to take the attention away from Katelyn so I’m trying to just sneak in right before it starts, then I’ll be able to sneak out. I can pay my respects and say my peace at the cemetery before leaving town tomorrow.
When the last of the stragglers are in, I make my way toward the doors. Music plays from the inside, barely audible but it’s an instrumental of our high school fight song. You’d think Mason planned this himself.
I pull open the heavy door and stand there until it shuts quietly. I walk over to the guest book and sign my name so that when Katelyn looks back she’ll know I was here even if we didn’t talk.
“I didn’t think you’d show up.”
I turn to see Katelyn standing behind me. She’s wearing a knee length black dress with a black hat on. She doesn’t look a day over eighteen.
“I have no excuses Katelyn. I just came to pay respects.”
“I don’t care –”
“I’ll go. I’m not here to ruin your day. I’m very sorry for your loss.” I return the pen to the pedestal and nod at her. Her hand on my arm halts my escape. She wants to yell at me and I deserve it. I deserve everything she and Josie want to throw at me.
“I’m a pallbearer short,” she says, taking a deep breath. “I was hoping you’d show up, maybe a bit earlier than five minutes before the ceremony, but whatever. I’m not going to judge you, Liam. But I am going to ask you to walk Mason toward his final resting place and be by his side until he’s safe again.”
There are tears pooling in my eyes. I told myself I wouldn’t cry, but I can’t help it.
“I’d be honored.” I manage to get out before losing it all. She nods and tells me to follow her. We walk through a door and a collective gasp falls over the room. I recognize a few guys from high school, but the one that stands out is Nick. He being here is shocking. They were never friends in high school. Guess life changes a lot over ten years.
Katelyn tells everyone on the left side to shift down one. “He’d want to be on your left.” She places her hand on my face and leans in to kiss me on my cheek. Mason married a fine woman.
We receive our cue and heft Mason off the cart holding him up. When the vestibule doors open everyone turns. The hushed murmurs and finger pointing make me feel like I’m eating dinner in a crowded restaurant and they’ll all be asking for my autograph the minute my plate is taken away.
With Mason in the center, his flowers draped over his casket, the other pall bearers take their seats. I watch as Nick sits down next to Josie and pulls her hand into his. I’m seeing nothing but red, she won’t even look at me. But Noah waves at me and I wave back causing Nick’s face to turn an ugly shade of green.
When I look down a little girl is tugging at my suit, her hand slips into mine and she pulls me over to sit with her. She has to be one of Mason and Katelyn’s twins. The other one gets up and sits on my other side, holding my hand too. Katelyn looks at me and smiles. I don’t know if she made this happen, but I’ll be forever grateful.
This is my first funeral and hopefully my last. I never want to experience this ever again. As the pastor talks about Mason’s life, I realize how much I’ve missed. When I look over at Noah, he’s watching me and I wonder if he knows who I am. Did Josie ever tell him about me? Nick looks pissed and that sort of makes me laugh. I didn’t like him in high school and the fact that he’s holding my girl’s hand isn’t sitting all that well with me, but that’s my issue and something I’ll have to deal with.
I find it ironic that that he moved in on my girl when I wasn’t around. If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t care, but Ashford – it pisses me off.
“Is there anyone who would like to say a few things about Mason?”
I let go of the girls’ hands and stand up, straightening out my jacket. People are whispering as I make my way to the podium, but I don’t care. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right.
I wink at Josie before clearing my throat and speaking into the microphone.
“Ten years ago I made the decision to change my life. In the process I lost the only family I truly cared about: Mason, Katelyn and Josie. I was selfish, confused and wanted away from the stigma of being Beaumont’s golden boy. What I never banked on was losing Mason, my best friend since kindergarten. He was my partner in crime and my go-to on the field. Everything about my life and who I was growing up was because of Mason. When I heard that the world had lost him, a piece of me died. For the first time in a long time, I cried. I wept for every moment that I missed with him. I missed his engagement to Katelyn, his wedding and the birth of his beautiful girls who have opened their amazing hearts to me even though I don’t deserve it. I let him down and for that I’ll always be sorry.
“Mason, my friend, I’ll do what I can to watch over your family and make sure they never want for anything.”
Katelyn wraps her arms around me as soon as I make it back to the pew. The twins both grab a hold of my hand and squeeze tight.
“My name’s Peyton. Will you watch football with me on Sunday?”
I look down at the little girl that is clearly all Mason with her Beaumont High football jersey on. “Hi Peyton, I’m Liam and I’d love to watch football with you.”
Nick pulls me out of the church and into the parking lot. I knew he was pissed when I saw his face coming down the aisle, but it’s not like I knew Liam was going to show up here. Nick walks us behind the church and swings me around so that my back is against the wall.
“How long, Josephine?” God I hate it when people use my full name. It’s like I’m in trouble even though I’m an adult.
“He showed up last night.”
“You didn’t want to tell me?” I really thought Nick and I were better than this, that we had a stronger relationship.
“Nick, I’m not keeping anything from you. He showed up last night, we argued and he left. I didn’t know he was going to be here today and honestly I’m more focused on Katelyn. Today isn’t about Liam; it's about Katelyn and the girls.”
“How does he know Noah?”
I take a deep breath. “I don’t know,” I answer truthfully. I have my suspicions but I wasn’t going to ask Liam and I’m definitely not bringing this up with Noah.
Nick starts pacing, pulling at his blond hair. He talks to himself. It looks like he’s having a fight with an imaginary person.
“Tell Liam we want to meet with him later.”
“Why?” I ask curiously. Nick stops in front of me and grabs my arms, pinning me to the wall. I’ve never seen him like this before. This is a side of him that I don’t like.
“Because I’ll have my lawyer draw up adoption papers and he can sign his parental rights away.”
I can’t believe my ears. I know he wants to adopt Noah, but we’ve never discussed it. I don’t even know if this is something I want him to do. Noah’s mine, he doesn’t need to have Nick’s last name. Even if we are married, things can stay the same between them.
“Hey guys, Noah’s looking for you.” I look over to find Jenna standing just a few feet away. Nick moves away, letting go of my arms. I try not to wince when the blood starts flowing again. I smile at Jenna to let her know that everything is fine.
“Thanks, Jenna.” She smiles and walks away, leaving us to figure this shit out.
“Nick, just because Liam is here doesn’t mean anything.” I pull him into my arms. He relents and kisses me softly on the lips.
“I’m sorry, babe. I don’t know what came over me. Seeing him here and winking at Noah, I just… my blood started to boil. He may have created that boy, but this is my family. The sooner he’s gone the better.”
“I agree, but let’s not give him a reason to stay, okay?” Nick nods and leads me back to the crowd of people gathering. We find Noah and head to our car so we can follow the hearse and family car. The pall bearers need to be in line so they can be there too, standing guard, as my dad would say.
The funeral procession drives through the town, by the high school that has turned into a shrine for Mason. This week’s game was postponed. It’s the first time in Beaumont High history that the team won’t be taking the field. Mason touched so many people this loss will be felt for years to come.
When we pull into the cemetery, some people have already gathered. I try not to look around for Liam when I get out of the car, but my eyes wander. He’s spotted easily. He’s the guy with the single and some not-so-single women standing around.
“Give me a break,” Nick mutters as we get out of the car.
“It’s not like he can turn off who he is, Nick. You don’t see him signing autographs or anything. He’s standing with the other guys.”
“Are you defending him?”
I shake my head and grab Noah’s hand. We walk over to Mason's burial site and find a spot to stand.
“Your flowers look great, Josie.” A neighbor of Katelyn’s comes up to me. I don’t remember her name, but I should. I should know everyone in town. I thank her and she promises to stop by the shop.
“Mom, why are all those women talking to your old boyfriend?” I look at Noah and wonder how much he’s figured out. I want to ask him where he met Liam, but that will have to wait. I can’t help but look over at Liam. He looks at me and our eyes meet. I give him a soft smile and he shrugs.
“He’s a musician. I guess they want his autograph.”
“Well that’s dumb. If I was famous and my friend died I wouldn’t want to give out autographs.”
“I bet Liam is thinking the same thing, baby.”
As we drive to Katelyn’s to have Mason’s celebration of life I’m baffled that she wanted to have it at their home. Nick and I offered ours, but she was adamant, saying Mason would’ve wanted a party at his house.
I don’t feel like having a party. I feel like curling up in my oversized chair, wrapping myself in a blanket and watching old home movies. Nick has caught me doing that a few times since Mason left us, each time the look on his face the same. I knew he wasn’t happy I was watching. That he was probably questioning my devotion to him; those weren’t our memories but mine and Liam’s.
We are well into the “party” as Mason would’ve called it when Liam walks in. I’m trying not to judge, but he has a harem of girls following him. I can’t tell if he likes this or not. I used to know what every one of his facial features meant, but it’s been so long.
Peyton runs up to Liam and pulls on his suit jacket. He smiles and bends down so that he’s level with her. He pulls on one of her pigtails and she lets out the most amazing laugh.
“Are thems your girlfriends?”
I can’t help but laugh and lean closer so I can hear the answer. Half of me would like to know more about him, but the other half, the logical half, doesn’t want to care and can’t wait for him to leave.
Liam looks at those women and grimaces. “No, I don’t know them. Are they friends of yours?”
Peyton shakes her head. Liam leans in and whispers something to her causing her to laugh again.
“’Cuse me, do you know my daddy?”
One of the women throws her head back and laughs as if this particular question is the funniest she’s ever heard. “No, we don’t, but we’d like to.” She turns and looks at her friends and they all giggle. Don’t they realize where they are?
Peyton steps forward, her hands on her hips. Before she has a chance to say anything, Katelyn appears out of nowhere. “I’m sorry I don’t think we’ve met. How did you know Mason?”
“Oh, we don’t. We heard that Liam Page was going to be at this party and as luck would have it he was just getting out of his car when we pulled up.”
The look on Liam’s face is so uncomfortable that I feel sorry for him. He’s holding Peyton’s hand, not even looking at the women behind him.
“Unfortunately this isn’t your lucky day. Liam Page isn’t here and doesn’t live in Beaumont so you might want try catching him on tour or something.”
The three of them start laughing, one of them pointing. “That right there is Liam Page. I swear my life on it.”
Katelyn looks at Liam who is full of remorse. I’m simply amazed at her ability to stay calm and cool. Nick kisses me on my cheek and steps toward Liam.
“Westbury, want to toss the ball around?”
Liam looks at Nick and nods. When he spots me standing along the wall watching this entire exchange his expression is unreadable.
“Well, would you look at that, his name is Westbury. Out you go.” I step forward and help Katelyn usher the women out of the house.
“I’m so sorry, Katelyn.” I’ve never had to apologize for Liam before. I’m not sure why I’m doing it now.
Katelyn waves her hand as if it’s no big deal. “It was only a matter of time before someone blabbed that he was in town. Things may be strained, but not today. Mason would’ve wanted him here.”
I don’t know if she’s taking a jab at me or not. Maybe I should’ve called everyone last night and told them that he was back, but I didn’t know if he’d be here today. Hell, I didn’t even know if he knew about Mason. I suppose I could’ve told them, but I was more worried about saving my son from the impending heartache.
A ball flying past the window catches my attention. I walk outside and my heart stops because in one space is the man I once loved, the man I’m going to marry and the one that ties us all together and they’re playing football.
It seems of late I’m making mistakes with every turn. Stopping at the store was today’s mistake. I should’ve known better. I should’ve gone straight to Katelyn’s, but I didn’t want to show up empty handed.
And now I’m in this awkward situation in the backyard with Nick Ashford and my son. A son that doesn’t know I’m his dad. Hell, Josie won’t even confirm he’s mine but I can see it when I look at him, he’s the best of me and Josie regardless of how he ended up here or how our lives have taken different paths.
And who knew Nick would come to my rescue? He has to know I want to kick his ass for touching my girl, but by the way she looks at him she must be okay with it.
“What happened in there?”
I said I would come out and play ball, but never agreed to chat. I could ignore him, pretend we’re back in high school and this new kid is trying to fit in with the rest of us. We had our group and we were tight.
But I don’t do that. Not today.
“I figured I’d be able to run into the store, grab something from the bakery, pick up some flowers and get Katelyn her favorite wine from when we were in school.
“As soon as I got to the check-out I began to realize my mistake. No disguise. No fake eyeglasses or hat to pull down over my eyes. The young cashier took one look at me and she knew. Before it was even my turn, she had already texted someone and I knew I was doomed.”
“‘Sorry about your friend’ was all she said while she scanned my items a bit too slowly. When I pulled up in front there were these girls right behind me, following me in.” I throw the ball back to Nick who just shakes his head. “This is the last thing I wanted for Katelyn, especially today.”
“Does it happen a lot?”
I take off my jacket and unbutton my shirt so I don’t ruin it. Noah’s eyes stare at the tattoos on my arms and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to sit down with him and have a conversation. Tell him about me and maybe have a relationship with him.
“I don’t go out much when I’m home. It will happen on tour, but I’m not in one place long enough for it to really matter.”
I can feel people staring at me; it’s something I’m used to, but here it seems odd. When I look over at the patio Josie is standing there. All five foot nine of her, add a few inches with her heels. She’s kept herself looking good after high school, her legs look toned and her stomach still as flat as I remember. Nick clears his throat in the background and I can’t help but laugh. I’d be doing the same thing if someone was ogling my girlfriend, but he forgets that I had her first.
“Wanna go put on a little skirt and cheer for us, Josie?” her face falls and I know she didn’t enjoy my little joke. I try to laugh it off, but she’s not buying it. She looks at Nick who is furious with me and shakes her head. I watch as she walks back into the house, her ass looking as tight as ever. I shake my head to clear the memories that were about to start creeping in.
“Mr. Westbury, do you still play football?” I peel my eyes off the retreating backside of my ex to look at my son. I want to reach out and touch him, run my hands through his hair and ask him every conceivable question known to man, but I don’t. I need to talk to Josie so we can figure this shit out. If she thinks I’m going to forget that he exists, she has another thing coming.
“Nah, I don’t have much time. What about you, do you play?”
He nods furiously and points to Nick. “My dad, Nick, coaches my team.” I’ve been pretty relaxed with him dating Josie because I gave her up. I don’t have much say, but my son calling him dad? I can’t have that. I wasn’t told that I had a son. If I had I would’ve been here.
“Is that so?” I ask pushing down the anger that is boiling. I know I can’t fault the kid for calling Nick ‘dad,’ it’s my fault, but Josie shouldn’t allow it. She knows that I would’ve been here if I knew about him. We talked about kids all the time, we both wanted them, so it’s not like I would’ve bailed on her.
Even if I did the unthinkable and left her, it’s not like I didn’t love her. Leaving her broke my heart too.
Noah nods and seems very excited to tell me about Nick even if I don’t want to hear it. “I play quarterback. That was your position and your record still stands from when you were in high school. No one is even close to breaking it, at least that's what uncle Mason said.”
I crouch down and look at Noah and smile. I smile at the thought of Noah calling Mason his uncle. The football player in me is excited that he loves the game. I loved the game at his age and wanted to play all the time. The adult in me hopes that Josie has him in other activities because there is so much more to life than football.
“Do you have a three or a five step drop?” I ask, curious just how much Nick has taught him.
“I have both, would you like to see?” he asks eagerly. I hold out the football for him to take, watching as he grips the laces like he was born to be a quarterback.
“Here it comes, Nick,” he yells and I’m taken back by the fact that he didn’t call him dad. I watch both routines and notice that he’s a natural, much better than I was at his age. I can only hope Josie lets him make the best decision for his life unlike my father. I’d hate for him to resent her and not have a relationship with his parents over a life altering decision.
When I think of my parents I wonder if they know Noah. Are they a part of his life? Have they been watching my boy grow up without me?
“Wow, you’re so much better than I was at your age.”
Noah smiles and when he does he looks just like Josie. “Thanks. My mom says I’m a natural and that it’s in my blood.”
“Yeah, I think your mom is right.”
Nick walks off, leaving Noah and I to talk. I ask him if he wants to sit down and maybe eat some lunch and he agrees. We stand next to each other and I watch what he puts on his plate. He piles it high with veggies, crackers, cheese and some pasta dish. I add everything that he does because those are all my favorite foods too.
There are chairs set up outside and, even though it’s a crisp day, the sun is providing just enough heat that we can sit out here and relax.
“So, what’s it like to be famous, Mr. Westbury.” I stiffen at 'mister'. In fact, I hate it. And I hate that he asked about being famous because I never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to make music. I wanted to try my hand at something different just to see if I could succeed.
“You can call me Liam,” I reply. “And being famous is okay. I work hard and sometimes I’m away from where I live for a long time.”
“My friend Johnny says rock stars have like twenty girlfriends and you came with three girls. Are they yours?” If I didn’t know better I’d think his mother put him up to this.
“No, I don’t have a girlfriend or a wife. I have a cat, but he doesn’t like me too much.”
Noah starts laughing, his legs swinging on the chair. I want to reach out and put my hand on his knees just like I used to do Josie. Although she’s so tall she could only do this from the tailgate on my truck.
“Your cat doesn’t like you? How come?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. He’s very mean though and I think about telling him to pack his kitty bags and move out.”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s in Los Angeles where I live. I have a housekeeper that will feed him while I’m gone.”
“Where does he sleep?”
Odd question coming from a boy. “He has one of those cat palace things. Maybe that’s why he hates me – because it’s a palace and not a race car or something like that.”
Listening to Noah laugh has quickly become like music to my ears. I want to record it and listen to it over and over while I write. Looking at him inspires me to write about him, capture him in song.
“So, what about you? Do you have a girlfriend, wife or a cat that hates you?”
“No, I don’t have any of those. My mom says that maybe after her and Nick get married we can get a dog.”
Married? I bite back a string of slurs that want to fly out of my mouth when he talks about Nick and Josie. I know I can’t say anything. I gave her up, but I won’t lie and say it doesn’t hurt to see her with someone else. I don’t know what I expected, maybe for her to be miserable and as lost as I am.
I never thought I’d see this day. I’ve had many dreams of the day Noah would meet Liam, but never like this. I resigned myself to thinking Noah would look up Liam when he turned eighteen. They could fight or bond or do whatever it is fathers and sons do when they first meet each other. The only thing I didn’t want was for Noah to hate Liam for not being around. I could’ve tried harder to tell him, but I didn’t. I was selfish and wanted to hear his voice. I wanted him to hear my voice and come home. I was angry and it took me a long time to get over that anger.
Now watching them outside, deep in conversation I want to wrap them up in a tight bubble so they can never be away from each other. I know that’s not fair to Liam – he has a life away from here that’s vastly different. He’s different, yet so much the same boy that I fell in love with all those years ago.
The boy I never stopped loving.
Looking at Noah and Liam side by side, there’s no denying they’re son and father.
Liam keeps eye contact with Noah each time they talk. I know Nick is pissed that Liam is here and honestly so am I, but what can I do? Noah knows who Liam is from living in Beaumont. He just doesn’t know who he is and I think I want to leave it that way, at least for now. Liam will be gone soon and we’ll all go back to normal.
“What are you thinking?” Katelyn rests her head inside the crook of my elbow. Her small, five-foot-two frame that doesn't quite reach my shoulder allows me to wrap my arm around her, pulling her closer.
“I’m not sure,” I say. “There are too many emotions flowing through me.”
“He looks just like him,” she says keeping her voice low and away from prying guests. “What are you going to do?”
I shake my head because I don’t know. I haven’t a clue what I should do. My brain is saying ignore it and Liam will go away again, but my heart is telling me to go out there and demand that he be part of Noah’s life. It’s the least he can do since he’s been absent for the past ten years.
“He’ll be gone soon. Maybe I’ll just let him call the shots.”
“Not too soon, sweetie. He’s watching football with Peyton on Sunday. A lot can happen in three days.” Katelyn kisses me on the cheek and leaves me to stare out the window at two of the three boys that own my heart.
The drive home from Katelyn’s was quiet. Nick held my hand and Noah fell asleep before we pulled away from the house. He spent the rest of the day talking to Liam about stats and perfect field position while Nick watched from the sidelines. I know there were a few snide remarks made to Nick, but he brushed them off.
“What are you thinking about?” Nick asks as he slides into bed. He props himself up on his elbow, clearly ready to discuss everything that has happened today. I just want to go to bed.
“You know Katelyn asked me the same thing earlier. She was more concerned about me when I should’ve been taking care of her.”
“She knows you love her.” He places his hand on my waist, bunching my silk pajamas into his fist. “Today was…”
“Difficult, sad, not expected, odd. I could go on and on, but nothing really sums up what today was. A clusterfuck, maybe?” I shift closer to Nick and he brings his arm around me, pulling me closer. His lips trail down my neck until he reaches my lips, kissing me softly.
“We should talk about Liam and Noah. I know I’m not Noah’s dad, but I want to be, you know this. I was wrong for the way I acted today, so very wrong for lashing out at you about Liam and I’m sorry.”
“I know you are.” I run my fingers through his hair. “I don’t think Liam will want to be a part of Noah’s life right now, but maybe later. Maybe we should just leave it alone; he’ll be gone soon.”
Nick pushes my hair behind my ear. He cups my chin and pulls me closer. “I love you, Josie,” he says before kissing me. His kiss is soft, not rushed, like he’s taking his time to memorize me. Almost as if he’s desperate.
I love him, I do. But seeing Liam with Noah I can’t help but wonder about what the future holds and how Nick and I can fit together.
“Hey Josie!” Katelyn and I turn around to see Liam Westbury walking toward us. Katelyn is a traitor and leaves my side. She’s laughing as she walks away. My palms are sweating and my legs suddenly feel like jello.
This year I finally noticed him. He grew up so much over the summer that I really didn’t pay attention before when we were at Katelyn’s house. Then he went away to football camp for a month and came back totally hot.
I’ve been dying for him to take off his shirt just once so I can have a clear visual of his abs because my imagination just isn’t cutting it.
“Hey,” he says. He’s holding his football helmet in one hand. The other is tugging at the collar of his jersey, one that I want to rip off.
“Hey,” I say stupidly.
“How was the rest of your summer?”
“It was good. I read a lot.” I read a lot? Oh my god he’s going to think I’m a nerd. What the hell is wrong with me? The ground hassuddenly become very interesting as I stare at my shoe while it pushes a rock around.
My skin tingles when he lifts my chin, his sky blue eyes boring into mine and all I can think about is jumping into his arms and stuffing my tongue into his mouth. I’m only fifteen, but I’ve watched movies. I'm sure I can figure it out.
“Will you go to homecoming with me?”
“Homecoming?” My mind can barely comprehend what he’s asking. But I swear to god he said homecoming. As in get all dressed up and dance. That means he wants to dance with me, hold me against his body and sway to cheesy love songs. The same love songs I play at night when I’m writing Josephine Westbury in my notebook.
“Yeah. I have my driver’s license now so I can drive and I thought—”
“Yes!” He jumps and starts laughing. “Sorry,” I say covering my face with my hands.
He pulls my hands away but doesn’t let go of them. When he leans forward I feel as if I’m going to pass out. He smells like Old Spice, my new favorite smell.
“Please don’t cover your face. You’re far too gorgeous to hide.” He kisses me on the cheek before walking toward the field. “I’ll call you tonight.” He turns back and yells before he takes off running.
I wake up in a cold sweat with tears streaming down my face. Nick is snoring softly beside me, his arm pinning me to the bed. I maneuver out from underneath him and make my way to the bathroom.
With the light off, I sit on the edge of the tub and cry into a towel, muffling my sobs. I never thought I’d see the boy who stole my heart and failed to give it back.
I’m not sure I want it back.
When I leave Katelyn’s house I decide to stop at the store. This time I don’t care who sees me because if some tart in a tight little dress wants to follow me she can. Hell she can bring her friends as long as they bring alcohol. I grab a case of beer, chips and some candy and set it gently on the conveyor belt. There is an older woman working now so I think I’m in the clear. I highly doubt she listens to my music or even knows who I am for that matter.
I hold my breath, hoping she doesn’t ask for my driver’s license. I make very little eye contact with her and offer her a few strategically timed smiles as she swipes my items.
“Does your mama know you’re back in town?”
I study the cashier to see if I can place her. Her name tag says 'Shirley' and I rack my brain. I can’t remember her, but that doesn’t mean I can’t play along.
“No, ma’am,” I reply, trying to be as polite as possible. She eyes the tattoos on my arms, probably looking for the one that says MOM. Sadly, she won’t find one on my body.
“No, I don’t suppose she does. Seems since word broke out that you're in town, the girls around here are in a bit of a frenzy.”
“I don’t mean to rile anyone up. Just came to pay my respects.”
“Such a shame what happened to Mason. Sure hope Katelyn can take care of those babies.”
I nod and start wishing that she’ll hurry up. I don’t really want to chat. I want to drink away my sorrows and pay tribute to my friend.
“Katelyn will be just fine.” I’ll make sure of it.
“Yeah, I suppose with all your fancy music money you can step up and take care of her.”
I take a deep breath and roll my neck. I won’t lose my patience. When she finally tells me my total, I hand her a twenty and tell her to keep the change. Now she has a nice little tip from my fancy music money.
“Tell my mom I say hi when you see her.” I pick up my items and walk away and her mouth hangs open. Stupid town gossip. After today everyone will know I’m here and I can’t leave for another few days. I made a promise to Peyton and I intend to keep it.
The drive is familiar and when I pull into the field I let out a sigh of relief that no one is here. I climb the ladder, my beer and snacks in the plastic bag. I get to the top and hold onto the railing, looking out over the field. I never appreciated the view when I was spending every Friday night here. The view in the parking lot is what kept my attention. Josie and her long legs, always bare because we’d come right from the game. I’d change, but she always kept her cheerleading outfit on. She knew how much I liked it.
I sit in my same spot. My finger traces the heart with mine and Josie’s initials in it. I put that there after homecoming our sophomore year. I knew that night I wanted this girl in my life forever and wasn’t afraid to tell her.
Until I left her when I should’ve packed her bags for her and carried her to my truck.
I wonder if Josie would’ve liked Los Angeles.
I down my first, than second beer. If I had my truck I’d be shooting the empties into the back just so I could hear them shatter. So I can have some type of relief from this building pain.
When a truck pulls in and backs up, I know my time is over. I close my eyes and wait for the laughter to appear. Mason and I were so loud the girls were always telling us to shut up. I don’t see who got out of the truck, but can hear them climbing the ladder.
“What are you doing here?” I look over and see Katelyn walking toward me. I stand and offer her my hand until she sits down in what would’ve been Mason’s spot, on my left.
“I should be asking you the same thing. Why aren’t you home with those beautiful babies?”
“They are with Mason’s dad tonight. He wanted to have them and I can’t say no. He’s lost so much in the past year.”
I look at her questioningly. She smiles sadly. “Mrs. Powell died last year.”
And the knife just keeps twisting.
“I’m sorry,” I say simply because I have nothing else to say. There is no excuse for what I’ve done.
“Where ya been, Liam?”
Well now that’s the million dollar question because if you watch TV or read the magazines while waiting to check out at the local mart, everyone knows where I’ve been.
“You gotta be a little more specific than that,” I reply as I throw my first empty into the bed of the truck. Katelyn reaches into my bag, grabs a beer and pops the top.
“What happened to you? Because when you went off to Texas everything was fine and then you show up one night and everything isn’t?”
I throw my second empty into the truck. My third follows and I open my fourth and chug it down to throw it.
“I got to school and hated it. I hated practice, the team, everything about it. And one night I went to this on campus hang-out and there was an open mic night so I gave it a try and I liked it and I don’t know.”
“Did you tell Josie?”
“Nah, our meeting didn’t go so well the other night. I was pissed and antagonized her a bit.”
We sit in silence, drinking and throwing our bottles into the truck. Katelyn’s throws get harder and harder the more she drinks and I imagine she’s taking out some type of anger.
“For the first time in twelve years I don’t have Mason by my side.”
I know she’s sad and I could hold her and let her cry or I can share in her misery.
“I have a kid.”
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say because if looks could kill I’d be dead right now.
“Does Josie know?”
I can’t help but laugh. I shake my head. “I hope so, unless Noah isn’t hers. Then I’m screwed because that boy is definitely mine and definitely hers.”
“You’re such an ass,” she says pushing my shoulder. I fall back so she thinks she’s strong. “No other kids, huh? How many wives and girlfriends do you have?”
I toss my empty down to the truck and smile when it shatters. I’m going to have to go over and clean out her truck tomorrow.
“No other kids, no wives and no girlfriends.”
I look at her and give her the stink eye. “Ever. Never. Not since Josie.”
“I’ve seen those rags with your picture on them and you have some blond with you all the time.”
I lean against the tower and sip on my next beer. Katelyn is keeping up with me and we’ll be out soon. This sort of pisses me off. I should’ve bought two cases.
“That’s Sam, my manager. She wants to be my girlfriend and tells me that I owe her since she’s been with me since I started. I don’t know. Lately I’ve been thinking about firing her.”
Katelyn doesn’t say anything; she just stares out into the darkness. Every now and again I see her wipe her eyes. I want to help her but don’t know how. I could wrap my arms around her, pull her into a hug, but that might be awkward for her so I opt to rub her back.
“I’ll never forgive myself. I should’ve called or at least come back. I could’ve kept in touch but leaving here and leaving everything behind – I needed a clean break. I had to try and make a name for myself and when I did, people just kept pushing and pulling and the next thing I know I’m in my hotel room and I’m reading the paper. I kept saying to myself there is no fucking way he’s gone because I didn’t get to say good-bye.
“He’s gone and I never got a chance to tell him how fucking sorry I am for being a total dick and leaving. Mason didn’t do jack shit to me and I left him because I’m a fucking coward and couldn’t face the bullshit going on in my life. God, I’m so sorry you lost him.”
Katelyn leans back and buries her face in my chest. She starts to sob so I put my arms around her and let her cry. I wipe away the tears that have let loose and try to be strong for her. The more she cries, the more I do. Maybe crying is therapeutic, maybe your body needs it to expel the pent up energy. Maybe we just need to cry for Mason.
We stay like this, holding each other, until the sun starts to come up. Her face is red and streaked from smeared make-up. Lines are creased on her face from my jacket, but I don’t care. I continue to hold her until she’s ready to say good-bye.
For the first time, I’m closing the shop for no reason. My lack of sleep is evident by the dark bags under my eyes. Nick felt my forehead, always in doctor mode, before leaving for work and suggested I take a day for myself. I opted to give Jenna another day off as well. No one needs flowers today anyway and if they do, they’ll understand why I’m closed and come back tomorrow.
Noah is crunching away on his cereal, his eyes glued to his recent Sports Illustrated. Yesterday I watched him and Liam with reservation, but still allowed them to get to know each other. Today I’ve decided that was enough. I can’t have my son getting hurt when Liam skips town again. He isn’t planning on staying, whether he’s told me this or not. I just know it. I feel it in my heart. He has a life away from Beaumont, one that doesn’t include Noah and likely never will.
I pour myself a cup of coffee and sit down across from Noah. He doesn’t look up, completely enthralled in whatever article he’s reading. Guaranteed it’s about football. I tried to discourage him, suggest he play soccer but he wouldn’t hear of it. He’s been a natural and it scares me. I see so much of Liam in him and I don’t want to.
“Did you know Liam Westbury was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was in high school?”
I spit out my coffee, the hot liquid dribbling down my chin. How does he know this? Nick and I, as well as Mason and Katelyn, have never discussed Liam with Noah. I can’t even remember a time when Liam’s name has come up. We’ve always skirted around that name. I secretly chide the teachers at school always praising Liam for everything he’s done for Beaumont and football.
Liam wraps his arms around me from behind, nuzzling my neck. “What?” I ask as I set my books on the shelf in my locker. I catch a glimpse of our junior prom picture – Liam in his black tux and me in my red knee-length dress.
“Someone is going to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated.”
I turn and wrap my arms around him. I know he’s wanted this since last year when he came close to breaking the state record for passing yards and he’s close again this year. “I’m so proud of you.”
“I couldn’t have done it without my girl,” he says before kissing me full on the lips, a big no-no in the hallway.
“We should go celebrate.”
“What are you thinking?” he asks suggestively.
I shrug, pushing my fingers into his recently shaved head. His eyes close as I massage his scalp. He loves it when I do this.
“Are your parent’s home?” he asks and when I shake my head no. He pulls one of my hands into his and walks us out of the school.
“How do you know?” I ask barely able to get the words out without choking.
“I saw the cover at the museum on our field trip.”
“Is that where you met Liam the other day?” My curiosity piques. When Liam showed up at the shop I had no idea how he found out about Noah.
Noah nods. “I was upset over a thing they had for Mason and he was in the bathroom. We talked and I said he was the guy kissing you in the video. Was he your boyfriend?”
Do I answer or deflect? Or do I just come out and say he’s your dad and totally ditched us when I was pregnant even though I never told him. Yeah that won’t work.
“I don’t want you talking to Liam Westbury anymore.”
“Why not?” Noah deadpans.
“Because… because I said so that’s why.” I get up and move back into the kitchen and dump out my coffee. It no longer tastes very good and isn’t doing its job. I just want to crawl into bed and forget this conversation ever started.
Noah slams his magazine down on the table, spilling the rest of his cereal. He sits there, stewing, not moving an inch to clean up his mess.
“Are you going to clean that?” I ask before throwing him a dishtowel. Anger flashes in his eyes. I know I’ve upset him, but he’s just too young to understand the magnitude of this situation. Liam is going to hurt him.
“No,” he says without making eye contact.
He pushes his chair out and picks up his magazine. He turns and looks at me, a look I’ve never seen from my precious boy. His face is red, his breathing is labored.
“I like Liam,” he yells.
I’m taken aback by his outburst. If this is how he’s going to be after two encounters there is no way I can let Liam into his life.
“Liam doesn’t live here, Noah, and once he’s gone you won’t see him again. Let it go.”
“Why do you hate him?”
I don’t, that’s the problem and I wish I did, but he’s a disruption and he’s already ruining things in my house and I don’t want that. I can’t have that.
“I don’t hate him,” I mumble. I press my fingertips to my temple to hopefully ward off the impending headache.
“You used to kiss him, a lot. I’ve seen the DVD’s. How can you kiss someone so much and not like him?” Noah stands in front of me, his arms clutching his magazine. His eyes are trained on me and all I see is Liam.
“That was a long time ago, Noah. People change. I’ve changed and so has Liam. We aren’t friends anymore and I don’t want you talking to him. I’m the adult here and I make the rules. Liam Westbury is off limits.”
“You’re not being fair. I like him and he’s good at football just like me. He can help me get better and he said he would come to my game today!” My heart breaks at the sight of his tears, but I’d take this one day of tears over the months of tears he’ll cry when Liam leaves him. I reach out for Noah, but he moves away and runs off to his room. I’m going to have to find a way to get a hold of Liam and tell him he can’t come to the game. That he needs to just ignore Noah for all of our sakes. It will be easier that way.
At least that is what I tell myself.
When the doorbell rings I rush to let in Katelyn. She takes one look at me and shakes her head, pulling me into her arms.
“What am I going to do?” I ask Katelyn. I lead her into the kitchen, sitting down. She’s across from me, holding my hand when I should be holding hers. I should be her rock right now. She’s just lost her husband and here I am complaining to her.
“I’m not sure I can answer that for you,” she says, her eyes full of pity. I really need to stop thinking about myself and start thinking about her.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be dumping this on you. You have enough to deal with.” I remove my hand and start cleaning up our mess. I invited her over for breakfast, not problem solving.
“I’m your friend, Josie. You can dump anything on me.”
I shake my head and leave her sitting at the table. She comes and stands next to me while the sink fills with hot sudsy water.
“I remember everything so clearly. It’s like all my memories are this vivid coloring book turned into a nightmare. I dreamt about him last night and I haven’t done that since Noah was about two. I stopped reading the magazines and looking for the music videos because I needed a clean break and now he’s here for the next few days and there’s nothing I can do to keep him from coming to Noah’s game tonight.”
“Have you thought about sitting down with him and talking to him about Noah?” she asks as I start washing the dishes. I soak my hands in the water and relish the feel of the burn from the hot water.
“I don’t think I can.” I sigh and lean my head against hers. “Nick wants Liam to sign some adoption papers or something like that, but I don’t know. Nick and I haven’t discussed this and I fear it’s a knee-jerk reaction to Liam showing up in town.”
Katelyn takes my hands in hers and pulls them out of the water. We're dripping water and soap bubbles travel down the front of our clothes and onto the floor. She holds them tight, her eyes brimming with tears.
“I lost my husband last week and wasn’t able to say good-bye. You are being given a second chance and whether you make that chance just about Noah or to find some closure for yourself you owe it to the three of you to find a happy medium. If Noah was to ever find out that Liam is his dad and you didn’t tell him while he has this one chance to know him, he’ll never forgive you, Josie, and you’ll never forgive yourself.”
“Liam is going to hurt him,” I say through tears.
“Liam might surprise you if you give him a chance.”
We end up spending the rest of the afternoon at her house avoiding the topic of Liam. Katelyn decided she wanted to tackle the man room in the basement and we’re marking things that she thinks Mason’s friends will like. When I come to Liam’s name on the list I have to fight the tears – it’s like she’s forgiven him for everything without a second thought – because Liam is getting Mason’s Most Valuable Player trophy that he earned in college.
He gave me the time and place and asked me to come watch him. Said I could give him some pointers on his five-step drop at halftime. I want to do this, I do, but I don’t know. Josie made it crystal clear she wants me to have nothing to do with him and I don’t see her knocking on my door asking me to claim him.
But I want to watch him play. I want to remember what it was like to love the game and maybe I'll learn to love it again now that I have a reason to watch – if I’m even allowed to have this reason. Josie holds all the cards where Noah is concerned.
The last time I sat down for a game was Mason’s last one as a senior. I never had a chance to tell him, but I never missed a game, watching him on television every Saturday. A few times I thought about showing up to one, but I wasn’t ready to face anyone. Apparently, I’m still not since I can’t have a decent conversation or be in the same room with Josie without pissing her off.
But she’s so feisty when she’s upset. I miss that. I miss seeing the fire in her eyes when she’s determined to prove me wrong. I miss the passion in her body when she’s trying to show me what it’s like to be loved by her. I’d give anything to feel that with her again, even if it’s just for one fleeting, solitary moment. Just one quick taste of my girl again and I’d be complete.
I’m a liar.
I’ve been lying to myself since the day I left Beaumont. I walked away from the one great thing in my life because I was selfish enough to think I didn’t need her and that she’d be better off without me.
And if I could, I’d go back and change it all.
“Liam?” I look at my phone, confused by the number showing on the display.
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“This is Betty Addison, your grandmother.”
I pull the phone away again and look at the screen. Maybe I didn’t hear her properly, but I swear she said grandmother. I only know my father’s side of the family. My mother never talked about her parents.
“Um… okay,” I say not sure what else to add.
“I’m in town this week and I thought we could have lunch. There’s a nice little café by your campus.”
What do I have to lose and it’s free lunch. “Sure,” I say. We set the date and time to meet. We talk a bit more and she asked that I hear her out before making any judgment calls as to why she’s been absent for the last eighteen years of my life.
I’m nervous as I wait for her, my leg bounces. The same annoying habit I’ve picked up from Josie. When the chair in front of me pulls out and she sits down I see an older version of my mother. Or what I envision my mom will look like.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” she says while studying my face.
Conversation is awkward at first as we get to know each other but half an hour in it's like I've known her my entire life. We sit and talk for hours. My grandma tells me she’s an actress, but hasn’t acted in years. When I ask about my mom and why they don’t talk, she shows me a picture of Bianca. She’s dressed as a starlet, holding a trophy. Betty says it’s her Rising Star Award, she won it at sixteen.
“She never told me.”
“When she met your father she gave up her dreams for his. I fought hard to make her see what she was doing, but your father was determined to have a trophy wife on his arm and your mother would do anything to please him.”
I sit and listen to my grandma tell me about a mom that I don’t even know. The last thing Betty says to me that day is something I will never forget. “Follow only your dreams, Liam.”
One phone call and a few hours changed my life and it’s questionable whether that change was for the best.
I could be living happily with Noah now, raising him and coaching his football team. Josie would be my wife. I was going to marry that girl and she knew it. Hell, our parents knew it and mine hated it. They didn’t like that Josie’s parents didn’t have the social status they did and didn’t belong to the stuffy country club, but I didn’t care. That girl rocked my world.
And I’m willing to bet she still does.
I decide to clean Katelyn’s truck. I don’t want her messing with the broken beer bottles and I certainly don’t want the twins climbing in the back and cutting themselves. This is the least I can do for her after she’s opened her heart and home to me.
Last night, holding her, for the first time I felt like I could belong somewhere. I could be me without having to put on a show. Like Liam Westbury could exist again, but maybe this time I could combine him with Liam Page.
Just as I finish sweeping up the glass and disposing of it, the alarm on my phone goes off. I know it’s telling me that Noah’s game is about to start and I need to make a decision. Do I go and risk Josie getting pissed? Or do I go and show my boy that while I may not be around, I do intend to keep my word?
I make the only decision possible.
My bike rumbles as I hit the starter wishing I had kept the rental or at least had my truck. I wonder if my parents kept my truck. I could go ask, but that means visiting and I’m not so sure I’m ready to face them yet. I wasn’t in Los Angeles three days before my dad had my truck taken away. I’m sure Sterling and Bianca Westbury won’t be so glad to see their straight-laced son show up on a motorcycle with his tattoos showing. But then again maybe a trip to the country club is in order.
The drive through town is becoming familiar. I used to dream of these streets at night until my dreams just became hazy and convoluted. After a while you just forget. You forget that old lady Williams never takes down her Christmas decorations even though the town begs her to do it. You forget that the whole town shuts down for Friday night football. People don’t forget you though and what you’ve done, both on the field and off.
When I pull up to the school, the bleachers are packed. The sound of my bike gets their attention, something I wanted to avoid. I take off my helmet and slide on my ball cap and fake eyeglasses. I’m sure the disguise isn’t needed, but if I don’t look like Liam Page maybe they’ll leave me alone.
Katelyn waves to me from the stands, her face looks sad. Josie is sitting next to her, but she doesn’t look and I’m okay with that. I haven’t earned a wave or a smile from her… yet.
I avoid the bleachers, opting to stand against the old oak tree that has been on this field long before I was old enough to play here. I hear Nick on the side, calling out plays and can see Noah when he takes center. I stand a bit taller when I see his number. He’s wearing the same number I wore: eight. I swallow hard and clear my throat. I don’t want to show any emotion and I’m sure it’s just coincidence. But what if it’s not?
Peyton comes over halfway through the game and hangs with me. She holds a football under her arm and is wearing cleats. I remind myself to ask Katelyn if she plays football. I can totally see Mason allowing his daughter to play. I’d ask her, but I don’t want to give her any ideas. I laugh when she calls out plays or yells at the refs to 'flow a flag'. As I watch her, I see so much of Mason in her and wonder how Katelyn is going to manage. I start to wonder about their financial situation and if there is any way I can help. I know Katelyn won’t take a hand-out, but I’ll figure something out. I don’t want to see them struggle and I have the means to help them.
The final whistle blows and Noah is jumping up and down. I can’t help but smile and feel a little bit proud even though I didn’t do any of it. Watching him out there lead his team at this young age, he’s showing so much promise. I can only hope he’ll be better than I was and actually follow through with college and his promises.
I feel an ache in my heart when he comes running over to me, his helmet in his hand and his hair matted down with sweat. He looks like I did after a game.
“You came?” he says it as if he didn’t expect me to.
“I said I would. Sorry I was late I had some things to do first.”
“No, that’s okay. I’m just glad you got to see me play before you left town.”
I was supposed to leave this morning, but promised Peyton football. Sunday is still a few days away and I haven’t checked in with Sam. She’s expecting me tomorrow.
“I’ll be here until the end of the week. Miss Peyton and I have a date on Sunday in front of her TV.”
“To watch football?”
“Cool, maybe I can come too?”
I look at Peyton who eyes Noah. “That would be up to Peyton. Maybe you guys should talk about it.”
Noah looks at Peyton and smiles. She rolls her eyes. I start laughing. I see romance in their future. Noah watches as Peyton runs over to Katelyn. “So how did I do?” he asks when he turns back to me.
“You did well. You released too early on a few plays, but that is just a matter of you and your receiver getting your timing down. You guys just need to practice your routes and you’ll be fine.”
“Wow. This is so cool getting tips from you.”
“Noah what did I say?” Noah freezes when Josie speaks. I look at her; her face is stern and determined. She’s not walking toward us, she’s stomping.
“Liam was just giving me advice.”
Josie barely makes eye contact with me and I realize this is going to get ugly. Her expression tells me everything I need to know; she’s not going to let me see Noah.
“Go to the car, Noah. Now!” Josie points much like those mothers we used to make fun of when we were younger.
I don’t move a muscle. I wait until Noah is far enough away before I move toward her.
“Don’t come any closer, Liam. I mean it. I don’t know what game you’re playing, but it stops now and I want you gone. You need to leave and just forget about Noah.”
“What the hell are you talking about? He asked me to come and I said I would. I would’ve been here the whole time if I knew, but I didn’t. So don’t come at me with this bullshit game, Josie. You kept him from me and, yeah I get that you couldn’t get a hold of me on my cell, but there were other ways.
“Get off your high horse, Josephine, because if you fall it won’t be pretty.” I stuff my hands into my pocket and walk away. I didn’t want to blow up at her, but she egged me on.
“I tried!” I stop and turn around.
“Is that so?”
“Yeah it is.” She stands with hands on her hips and I know she’s full of shit.
“I’m sure you did.”