Read For the Save (Playing for Keeps #4) Online
Authors: Amber Garza
FOR THE SAVE
Cover: Kris @ C & K Creations
Copyright © 2015 Amber Garza
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
For information: ambergarza.wordpress.com
Other titles by Amber Garza
For the Win
For the Game
For the Rush
Cuts Run Deep
Head Above Water
Falling to Pieces
Tripping Me Up
Finding Me Again
Winning Me Over
Delaney’s Gift Series:
The Prowl Trilogy
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Author’s Note and Acknowledgments
To Rocky, for your loyal and enthusiastic support of my career
“Are you coming in?” The woman gave me a friendly smile. Too friendly. It made my skin crawl.
I pressed my tongue to the roof of my mouth preparing to say “no,” but when I glanced over my shoulder I saw Mom sitting in her car watching me. Irritation swam in my veins. My plan had been to wait until Mom drove off and then I was going to hightail it out of this stupid place. But I should’ve known Mom wouldn’t trust me enough to leave. She waved me inside with the brush of her hand out of the car window. It took all my willpower not to scream at her. Why was she so hell-bent on me attending this damn group anyway? It’s not like it was going to help. No amount of grief counseling would close up this gaping hole in my body.
I was broken.
If only she would come to terms with it and stop trying to fix me.
“Miss?” The woman tried again.
I bit my lip, releasing an exasperated sigh. “Yes, I’m coming in.”
“Welcome,” she replied in a sugary sweet tone.
“Thanks,” I muttered, slipping past her. A musty stench filled my senses, reminding me of my grandma’s house. I was in a small lobby, dark carpet under my feet. The sound of chatting faintly drifted from an open door to my right. Hesitating, I peeked out the front window. My stomach tightened when I saw Mom still sitting there.
Did she really think I was going to escape? Even as the thought entered, I realized that was precisely what I’d been hoping to do. She knew me too well. But seriously, didn’t she have anything better to do than babysit me all day? Sadly, it hit me that she didn’t. I was all she had now. Tears pricked at my eyes, but I blinked them back. This may have been grief counseling, but I’d be damned if I started crying in this place.
Not here. Not in front of strangers.
“Right this way, dear.” The woman came up behind me, holding out her arm.
She ushered me toward the open door. Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself for what was inside. My feet shuffled slowly, my pulse picking up speed. It bounced beneath my flesh. The woman next to me smelled like flowers and hairspray. When we stepped into the room, my insides coiled, and it took all my willpower to keep moving forward. I knew running out wasn’t an option. Most likely my mom was still sitting out in the parking lot. She was probably planning to sit out there the whole damn time to ensure I attended.
Metal folding chairs were arranged in a circle in the center of a large room. There was a table set off to the side with snacks and water. The room was a little chilly, and I fought off a shiver. At first I’d assumed the woman was the facilitator, but one look at the man sitting in the center of the circle told me I had been wrong. She must have been the person in charge of rounding up the escapees. I almost chuckled at the fact that granny was assigned to the bouncer job. Maybe she was tougher than she looked. Sighing, I plopped down into an empty folding chair. It moaned beneath me, and a couple of teenaged boys glanced in my direction. I glared at them until they turned away. Satisfied, I crossed my arms over my chest. I so wasn’t here to make friends.
In fact, I wouldn’t be here at all if my mom wasn’t forcing me to come. For the millionth time I wished the school had never sent the damn email about this group to my mom. One of the pastors at this church had decided to start a teen grief counseling group after the shooting at our school. When Mom first mentioned it, I told her that I wasn’t even on campus when the shooting happened. And, frankly, I wasn’t friends with Ryan, Preston or John. Preston had always been a freak. There were times I’d felt sorry for him, but whenever I even attempted to be friendly he got all dark and rude and creepy. I’d never met John. He was only a sophomore. However, I’d known Ryan for years. Not that we were close. If anything, I kind of hated the guy. Most people at our school hated him. However, everyone chose to forget what an ass he’d been once he died. Wasn’t that the way it went?
Of course telling her about my absence that day only made her more upset. I was supposed to be there, but I’d skipped and was smoking cigarettes in the park when Preston entered the cafeteria wielding a gun. No matter how many times I told Mom she should have been happy I’d missed out on the gruesome scene, she was still angry with me. And it made her more determined to get me help. It seemed to be the only thing fueling her lately – getting me help. She said it all the time, like it was her mission in life.
And I suppose it was.
She explained that she’d been going to counseling and it had been helping her.
If it was helping her than why did I still hear her crying at night when she thought no one was listening? And why was she riding me so hard? I wasn’t an idiot. I knew she was all up in my business because it kept her mind off of her pain. Helping me wasn’t about me at all.
It was about her.
I grabbed a lock of my hair and coiled it around my finger. Staring down at it, I inspected it like it was the most fascinating thing in the world. And it kind of was. It was certainly colorful. Hair dye had become my best friend lately. Each week I’d been experimenting with new colors. The best ones were the ones that shocked the hell out of Mom. Right now it was sort of a pinkish, purplish shade.
In my former life it was blond. I used to wear it in large curls that cascaded down my back. But that was before. That was a girl I wouldn’t even recognize now. That girl would never dye her hair funky colors or pierce her nose. She wouldn’t wear jeans with holes in them or paint her nails black. No, that girl liked pastel pink and wore designer clothes.
But that girl was gone.
Along with everything else that mattered in my life.
As the facilitator introduced himself in a nasally voice, I tuned him out. I didn’t care what his name was, and I didn’t care what he had to say. Mom may have forced me to come, but no one could force me to participate. I’d sit here and do my time, and then I’d get the hell out. He introduced the woman who had ushered me inside and she began speaking. I listened only long enough to hear that she was our guest speaker.
No shit she’d lost someone. She was freaking a hundred years old. Most likely she was the only one of her circle left. Rolling my eyes, I blew out a breath and scoured the room. The rest of the teenagers appeared as bored as I was. I wondered what their story was. Were their parents forcing them to be here too? I was curious how many of them were actually here because of the shooting. They didn’t look like a bunch of jocks or cheerleaders, so they probably weren’t Ryan’s friends.
Well, except for the guy on the end. The one sitting closest to the speaker. I recognized him immediately. Sawyer Ridley, or as he was affectionately called, Riddles. Although he didn’t appear to be telling any jokes right now. In fact, he was sitting forward, listening to granny with rapt attention. His expression was almost desperate, and my chest tightened. Clearly he was here about the shooting, and from the looks of it, I didn’t think he was coerced into coming.
I’d had a few classes with Sawyer over the years. He was always spouting off some sarcastic remark, always smiling. Actually, he wasn’t that bad of a guy. We’d talked a few times, and he’d been friendly enough. Slouching down in my seat, I allowed my hair to fall over my face like a curtain. The last thing I wanted was for Sawyer to notice me. Not that he’d care, but I didn’t feel like making chit-chat with anyone.
After granny finished gabbing, the facilitator opened up the floor to us. I purposely kept my eyes trained on my Chuck Taylors, never making eye contact. No way was I talking in front of these people. A girl shared about losing her grandpa and how hard that was for her. I felt my heart softening a little as I listened. So I shifted in my chair and tried to focus on something else. There was nothing interesting in the room, so I studied my breathing, honing in on every inhale and exhale. Eventually my heart rate slowed, and the emotion in the back of my throat retreated.
But then Sawyer raised his hand. My head snapped in his direction, curiosity getting the better of me.
Fiddling with the bottom of his shirt, he cleared his throat. I’d never seen this side of Sawyer. He was always self-assured and confident, cocky even. I watched him through my wall of purple hair. “Um…I lost a good friend of mine.” He paused, glancing around the room. When his eyes met mine, I quickly averted my gaze. “It’s um…been weird….I was there when he was…you know….shot….and I can’t stop thinking about it.” The rawness of his tone caused my head to bob back up. His expression was so open it made me feel sick. I wished I could be that real. That vulnerable. But there was no way. Curling my fingers into my palms, the fingernails pierced my tender flesh. I closed my eyes to ward off the rush of pain that threatened to wash over me. “Anyway, I’m just trying to deal with it, you know.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. Bringing my hands up to my ears, I blocked out the rest of Sawyer’s words. None of it made sense anyway. How was talking about this with complete strangers going to make it better? Was Ryan going to magically appear because Sawyer shared his sob story with us? Were the nightmares and memories going to simply vanish now? No amount of talking about our loss was going to fix anything. The lost would still be gone. Our hearts would still be shattered.
It was all a bunch of crap.
Luckily, no one else offered to speak after Sawyer, so the facilitator wrapped it up and then everyone made a beeline for the snacks. Apparently talking about death made this group ravenous. Luckily, I had no appetite at all. Pushing back my chair, I headed toward the door. I told Mom I’d text her when we finished, but I figured she was still waiting in the parking lot so I didn’t bother taking out my phone.
“Addie?” Sawyer’s voice stopped me.
“It’s Addison,” I snapped a little more harshly than I should. But I didn’t apologize. No one called me Addie anymore. That was the name of the other girl. The blond one. The happy one.
“Sorry.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You here about your brother?”
I inhaled sharply. Of course he knew about Ben. In fact, I think they’d known each other. Ben was two years older than me, but he’d played football. And he was good at it too. Not as if that was surprising. He was good at most things.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, knowing there was no use in denying it.
“I never really talked to you about it afterward. Never got to tell you how sorry I was about what happened to him.”
Annoyance surfaced. “It’s fine. I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Oh, yeah.” He nodded like he understood. Only I knew he didn’t. He was the one blabbing about his feelings in the meeting. “Of course. I’m sorry.”
Wow. Apologies seemed to roll right off his tongue. He was seriously irritating me. “I gotta go. My mom’s waiting.”
“Okay.” He smiled, his blue eyes sparkling. There was no denying that Sawyer was good-looking, with his dark hair, light eyes, tanned skin and muscular physique. In fact, he looked like he could model cologne or something. But his charm wasn’t working on me today. “I guess I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah.” I shrugged off his words. Sure, I knew I’d see him around school, but I didn’t plan to talk to him. We didn’t hang in the same circle. And if I had my way, I’d never come to this stupid meeting again.
With my head down, I hurried out to the parking lot. As I suspected, Mom’s car was parked near the entrance. Her head bobbed up when I approached. Opening the passenger door, I spotted a magazine lying open in her lap. So this had been her plan all along.
“How’d it go?” She asked, closing the magazine.
“It sucked,” I answered honestly.
“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.” She flung the magazine into the backseat and faced forward, starting the car.
I shook my head. “Whatever. I went. We can check that off the list.”
“There is no list,” Mom said with exasperation as she swung around to look behind her. “I’m just trying to help you.”
“Yes, I know. You’ve said that like a million times.” Leaning my head against the window, I savored the cool feeling of the window against my cheek.
“I’m sure it’ll get better.” Mom eased the car out of the parking space.
“I’m not going back,” I said firmly.
“Yes, you are. Next week.”
“Mom,” I whined.
“I’ve already made up my mind.”
And like that, I knew it was a losing battle. I could argue, kick and scream. It wouldn’t make a difference. She wasn’t budging. And, honestly, I didn’t have the energy to fight her right now. As she turned the car heading toward the exit, I spotted Sawyer walking out of the church, his keys in hand. When he saw me, he lifted his arm in a wave.
Groaning, I sank lower in my seat.
“Who is that?” Mom asked.
Of course she had to notice him
. “Is he a friend of yours?”
“No, Mom. He’s not my friend.” Facing forward, I put all thoughts of Sawyer and that stupid group out of my mind.