That in itself had been disheartening. He had sat beside a pretty brunette girl and a guy who she must be dating. They were very touchy. Brady made jokes with them and acted like I wasn’t there until class was over and he nodded his head with a simple hello on his way out the door.

For a moment I wondered if he had somehow heard what I had done. Not that it mattered. I wasn’t trying to get his attention. I had no time for butterflies and the like. My life would exist to make my nonna proud and to one day maybe get my brother to speak to me again. My mom could suck a lemon, and I never wanted to see my stepfather again.

So that was my life. I had made my bed, and now I would have to lie in it. My nonna had said as much when she picked me up from the bus station.

“How was school?” Nonna asked, walking out of the small kitchen in her house while wiping her hands on an apron tied around her waist.

Replying It sucked balls probably wouldn’t go over real well. So I went with “Good.” For her benefit only.

She didn’t look convinced. “Put your book bag in your room and come help me with peeling the potatoes for the dinner at the big house tonight.”

Nonna usually did all the preparing of the food for the big house at the Lawtons’ house. My being here had brought her home for the afternoon. To check on me. It felt good to be cared about. That wasn’t something I was used to anymore.

“Yes, ma’am.” I would do whatever I needed to stay here. I never wanted to go home, even if my mother allowed it.

I left my book bag on my bed and slipped off my Converse before going back to the kitchen in my socked feet. Six nights a week Nonna made dinner for the Lawtons. Saturday night was normally a big night when she had to cook for the guests Mrs. Lawton would entertain. Many times it was a party, and Nonna had to hire in help. Sundays the Lawtons went to dinner at the country club in Franklin, Tennessee, that was an hour drive away. Although Gunner used to not go and would stay with us after he had made his appearance at the Baptist church with his parents.

I was sure that had all changed. Gunner probably spent his Sundays with friends, going to the field parties we used to anticipate being involved in one day. In a small town like Lawton, there wasn’t much to do on the weekends, so the field parties were the one place all the teens could go to have a good time. It was a tradition among the popular at Lawton High. After what I saw today, there was no question in my mind that Gunner and Brady were pack leaders in that elite group.

“Grab a peeler. I’ll use the knife. Don’t need you cutting a finger off,” Nonna said when I walked into the kitchen. There was a large tub of washed white potatoes to be peeled.

I did as I was told and began peeling a potato over the hand towel she had laid out for me.

“How was your classes?”

My mother had never once asked me about my classes. She didn’t ask me much of anything. I had forgotten how much I missed knowing someone cared. Leaving Nonna had been the hardest thing I’d ever done.

“The truth? Boring.”

Nonna made a tsking sound. “Need school to make it in life.”

I understood that, but the classes were going over things I already knew. I had been in advanced classes before being sent to the correctional center. “I know. I’ll make good grades,” I assured her.

She dropped a peeled potato in the bowl of water and reached for another. “Did you see Gunner or Brady?”

As if I wouldn’t see them in that small high school. “Yes, ma’am. I have classes with both of them.”

“Did you speak to them?”

“Yes, ma’am. Not much though.” I knew she was worried about my being involved with either of them. She didn’t trust me, and why should she? I had done nothing to earn anyone’s trust.

“You’ll make friends soon enough. Just pick good ones, though. You are who you spend time with. Guess you learned that lesson the hard way already.”

Yes, I had. A lesson I wish I’d never had to learn. I had spent hours, days, and weeks wishing I hadn’t been there that night. That I had been smart. That I hadn’t seen what I’d seen.

“Your momma ain’t perfect—Lord knows that. But she tried to bring you into her home and be the mother she had failed at being the first part of your life. You can’t go blaming her or anyone else for what you did. You made them mistakes and now you got to pick up and figure out life again.”

I didn’t need to be told that I made my own mistakes. I lived with that daily. However, Nonna thought my mother tried to be a mom to me. She hadn’t. Not really. I often wondered why she’d sent for me six years ago. I had never been able to make her happy. Now the one woman who had loved me thought I was a loser of the worst sort.

If I did anything else in this life, it would be making my nonna proud of me again. I didn’t care if I ever saw my mother again though. When I had needed her most, she hadn’t listened to me. She hadn’t believed me. No one had.

Call It Whatever You Want

CHAPTER 6

BRADY

Maggie’s bedroom door was open when I walked up the stairs. I knew her boyfriend, who was also one of my best friends, had gone with his mother to a counseling session after workouts today. Since his father’s death a couple months ago, his mother had been in and out of town, going back to her parents’ house. They weren’t the same after losing his dad. His mom wasn’t handling it well at all.

Maggie’s dark hair hung over her shoulder, blocking her face as she looked down at the book she was reading in her hands. I cleared my throat, announcing my presence. She jerked her head up, and her expressive eyes went wide. Then she smiled. “Oh, hey, Brady.”

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