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EXTENDED EPILOGUE  

Abel 

15 years later 

 

“Are you nervous?” My mom asks, giving my shoulder a squeeze before she sits in the chair next to mine. 

 

“I’m good.” I smile, trying to reassure her. It’s pointless, she's been on edge all day and nothing I say will get her to relax.  

“Babe.” My dad says, getting her attention from his own seat on the opposite side of me. They lock eyes and, as always seems to happen with those two, they hold an entire conversation with just one look. Mom finally seems to melt into her seat, relaxing slightly.  

The thing is, I actually am nervous as fuck, even if I don’t want my parents to know just how much. 

Looking around the back yard full of my family and friends, I have to pinch myself to be sure this is real. I’m really sitting here waiting for the call. The call to see which NFL team I’ll be playing for. 

I'm about to be drafted and my whole family is here to see it. 

Growing up, I’d wanted to be my dad. I was determined to follow in his footsteps and be a pro fighter. He’d been one of the best MMA fighters before I was born. After he was injured and unable to fight, he opened his own gym, Flex, and went on to train the best of the best fighters around today.  

Me and my two younger brothers wanted to be just like dad, until one day, I’d picked up a football with my uncle and cousins, and that was it. I was hooked on the game. Through high school and college, I'd known I would do whatever it takes to get to where I am today.

 

Waiting for this draft call.  

My dad didn’t care if I fought like him, played ball, or picked up trash for a living. He only cared that I did something I loved with my life.  

That’s not to say his brother, my uncle Keir, didn’t get a kick out of ribbing my dad over the fact that I'd likely end up playing pro-ball just like he had. My older cousin, Chase was drafted by his dad’s old club, the Sharks, last year and I can’t fucking wait to be playing in the same league as him. Even if the chances are, we’ll be on opposing teams.  

The back yard of my parent’s house is buzzing with excitement. My uncle Keir and aunt Poppy are here with their kids, Chase, Travis and Clara. Chase lives in LA these days but spends a lot of time back here in Savannah in the off season. Travis and Clara are both in college so it’s not often they’re all together like this. Poppy’s brother, Duke and his wife, Elliott are also here. Their twin daughters, Brooke and Bailey are both working overseas but their two boys, Jude and Zeke are here. Jude is just a day younger than me, and he, Chase and I went to school together. We might be family, but they’re also my best friends.  

Add in my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins from my mom’s side of the family and it’s bordering on chaos here.  

 The chatter is loud, but I still hear it when my mom sniffles. 

 

She’s crying. Again. 

“Should be me asking you if you’re ok.” Dad laughs, leaning over me to pass her another tissue.  

“When did you get so grown?” She whispers, leaning in to my side, “Feels like I blinked and you grew up.” She says, dabbing at her eyes. “I remember the very first time I saw you,” she chuckles “you were screaming the gym down, red faced and bawling your eyes out. Full on temper-tantrum. Your poor dad didn’t have a clue how to get you to stop.”  

“He still knows how to throw those.” my dad mutters, making us laugh.  

“Now look at you,” my mom continues, ignoring him, “so handsome and grown up.”  

“Still your gorgeous boy?” I joke, using the nickname she’s always used for me.  

“Always.” She beams at me. Lifting my arm up and over her shoulders, I wrap her up in a hug and drop a kiss to her hair.  

I love this woman. The only mother I’ve ever known. She’s been a part of my life since I was just a few months old. “Love you, Mama.” I say against her hair. 

“Love you too, son.”  

There’s never been a single second where I’ve doubted her love for me. She’s loved me and my brothers equally. Both my parents have loved us all unconditionally, supporting whatever dreams we’ve had. At the same time, they’ve never hidden the fact that I have a different birth mother.

 

I’d grown up knowing about Willow, the woman that carried me and died giving birth to me. Even though it must have been awkward as fuck for my dad to explain why he couldn’t answer any of the questions I’d had about her, he’d never shied away from it. He’d never tried to hide the mistakes he made when he was younger, before he met mom. He’s always been an open book with his kids.  

“Hey, Abe!” I hear my younger brother Theo calling from across the yard where he’s sitting with a few of our cousins. Judging by the smirk on his face, he’s about to make some smartass comment. “Where’s Nat today?” He asks before busting out laughing.  

That little fucker.  

He knows my mom hates Nat. She damn near threw a party the last time we broke up. I’d dated Natalie for a while in high school until we went to different states for college. I ran into her last summer and we had hooked up again a couple of times. When she realised I was about to go pro, she had suddenly started pushing for a more committed relationship. Things hadn’t gone well when I'd told her that wasn’t going to happen and the fall out had not been pretty. 

“What?!” My mom shrieks “Please tell me you’re not back with her Abel. For the love of all that is...” Her voice is hitting that uncomfortably high pitch. The one she only manages right before she loses her mind with one of us.  

“Breeze.” My dad warns.  

“Don’t you Breeze me, TJ. You know what she did to my son!” She all but yells. I’m going to kick Theo’s ass for this. 

“We’re not back together mom.” I try to tell her but she’s too busy ranting to my dad about gold diggers and stupid boys that think with the wrong head to listen. My mom is right to hate Natalie, she is not the nicest person, but I'm not lying when I say we’re not together anymore. I’m just not telling her that I’ve hooked up with her a few times recently. There’s too much water under that bridge for me to ever consider a future with her. Not that I’m looking to settle down anytime soon, not when I have no idea where I'll even be living this time next week.  

That doesn’t mean one-nighters are my thing either. It would be pointless trying to explain to my mom that she was just a way to scratch an itch.  

My mom is still ranting when I stand up and walk away to go find my brother so I can punch him in the junk for starting this shit.  

Thirty minutes later, the guys have picked up a ball and started a game. It’s the perfect distraction. Especially when I get to take Theo down to the dirt, repeatedly.  

 It’s such a great distraction, I miss it when my mom calls my name. It takes my dad’s shrill whistle cutting through all the noise to get my attention. When I look at him, I see he’s holding my phone up as it rings. It’s early, probably too early to be a draft call. As much as I’d hoped to go in one of the early rounds, it’s been tough this year. Plenty of talented players all fighting to get a spot.  

Dropping the ball I was about to throw, I quickly grab the phone from his outstretched hands.  

Looking at the screen I see it's not a number I have in my phonebook.  

I barely have time to wipe my clammy hands before I’m sliding a finger over the screen to answer it. My heart is about to beat out of my chest and all I can hear is the blood rushing through my ears.  

This could be it. The call that could change my life.  

I don’t lift my head as the gruff voice on the other line introduces himself.  

I don’t look at the faces of my family that have all gone silent around me. I can feel the buzz of excitement from them all, but I keep my eyes on the ground in front of me.  

I feel my dad’s hand wrap around the back of my bowed head as he dips his head to listen to the call next to me. I hear his quiet laugh when he realises who it is on the phone. Giving me light slap on the back, he goes back to stand with my mom who is likely crying once again.  

I somehow make it through the call, although I don’t think I’ll ever remember what was said. When I end the call and drop the phone from my ear. The first person I see is Chase. He must be able to tell by the shit eating grin that’s taken over my face because he busts out laughing. 

LA Sharks.  

The same team my uncle played for.  

The same team Chase is the starting quarterback for.  

“I don’t think LA knows what’s about to hit it.” I hear my dad mutter right as my mom groans and the rest of my family starts cheering.  

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