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Touchdown - The Bradford Series Book One

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Chapter One

Chapter one

Home Sweet Home

Riley


The room change was necessary. After all, I have to focus on school. I can't room with someone who thinks all night parties and drug use is a good way to spend every night of our first week of the semester. I'm only able to be here because I'm on a scholarship. My grades are extremely important. I can't screw it up. I need to keep my GPA up or I won't be staying in school.

There is no backup plan.

My life has been basic. It's just me and my dad since I was little. He owns a diner and works hard to support us but he couldn't afford to send me to college on what he makes. I've spent the last two years in community college to deal with the core classes. I worked and scraped to make it happen. And here I am at UCLA finally.

It was all on my shoulders to get the grades to get here. And now I have to work to stay here. He didn't go to college, my mom got pregnant with me her senior year of high school. Dad did everything he could to make a good life for her and me. In the end, it wasn't enough for her. We weren't enough for her. She left us and dad had to take care of me alone.

I haven't seen or heard from her in eighteen years

I've resigned myself to never really knowing why she left. I didn't dwell on it and I dealt with not having a woman to help me with makeup, boys, sex. I learned the hard way in some areas and have navigated others. Through it all my dad did just fine. Better than fine.

Dad and I have made a good life.

We're a good team. I've worked at the diner since I was able to wash dishes and when I'm home from school, I will keep helping him as much as I can, waiting tables, making schedules and even keeping the books in order, just as I've been doing. During the semester though, he's on his own. I'm worried about him being alone but he pushed me to come out to the coast. He wants what's best for me. I'm trying but it's not that easy.

I don't always know how to fit in

Today, I finally got notice that I could be moved. It's one of the larger, off campus dorms that holds up to four girls. It's in a new large building that houses apartment style dorms with four bedrooms and baths, it's own living room and kitchen in each unit. A huge difference from the single room I was in with the party animal. Fortunately, the school is willing to let my scholarship cover the cost. I just hope my roommates are better to live with than this last one.

I parked my old beat up Civic in the lot and looked up at the newer dorm building. A donation to the campus from some big alumni donor to the school. The Bradford Drake Foundation's name is across the top of the building. Slamming the door once, twice and a hip shot to boot finally latches the car door. Loading up my things, I head in and right to the elevator.

At least I don't have to drag all this up four flights of stairs. Two big guys who look like linebackers walk out of the elevator laughing and talking, almost walking right into me without a word. Figures, most guys around here don't even notice me most of the time. I'm not like most girls on campus. And I don't try to get attention, my focus is school.

Side stepping and spinning in a circle around the guys, I hurry to get into the elevator before the doors close on me. Climbing in the steel box, I push the button for the fourth floor and wait while my arms start to ache from carrying my heavy load. As soon as the door opens again, I'm lugging everything out with no help in sight.

On the plus side, it's very quiet here.

Grappling with the new key, I nudge the dorm door open with my foot and juggle my two large suitcases, a big foot locker on top of them and two boxes in each of my arms. I'm greeted immediately with loud music, the sound of a football game on the TV and a high pitched squeal.

"Oh my God! You should've yelled for help!" My hands are freed and I'm greeted with bright green eyes and long raven hair. Her round face, pale smooth skin and bright huge grin and dimples in each cheek greet me. "Hi! Welcome to our humble home. I'm Hunter, one of your new roomies."

Her bubbly personality is a big difference from the cranky party animal I just left behind. I can barely get in the door and I'm greeted by another girl. She looks to be just as perky as Hunter but polar opposites in coloring with shoulder length light blonde hair and big blue eyes.

"I'm Emery! Here let me help you with that." The blonde takes the foot locker from me and drags it across the floor. "You just missed our cousins, they could have helped with your stuff."

Setting it down she sits on top of it, quickly out of breath and laughs at herself. Hunter sets the boxes down and puts her hands on her hips, watching me come in. I guess it's my turn for introductions. Setting the two bags down I stand up, pressing my knuckles into my lower spine and stretch my back.

"Hi, um..., I'm Riley... I'm not sure where to put my stuff?" I look around in awe. This place is huge.

My eyes widen as I see to my left the full sized open kitchen with long butcher block table and eight high back chairs, then to the right is the big L shaped sectional that I could get lost in and huge flat screen TV with almost life sized football players running across the screen. Past that is a long hallway that I can only assume leads to the bedrooms.

Taking it all in I'm a bit overwhelmed. Stepping back towards the door, I start to gather up my things. "I think there's been a huge mistake. I don't think I'm in the right dorm."

"You are. Riley Hudson, I got an email this morning." Hunter takes the suitcase from my hand and links her arm through mine, bringing me inside and over to the living room. "Our family owns this building. We pay for some of the scholarships for students to live here. You must have scored one. Yea you! Come on, I'll show you around."

She walked me through the 2000 square foot dorm talking nonstop about it. From the night time locks on the building to the heated towel rods and jacuzzi jet tubs. I must be in the wrong place. I can't believe that they would knowingly put me in a dorm like this one. I'm not complaining but I don't want to get yanked out either. Hunter seems like it's all good, just waving off my concerns and keeps going with the tour.

There's plenty of room for all of us to not get into each other's way. I planned on spending the bulk of my time in the library but I think I'll be able to be in my room and not disturb them. Each bedroom is fully furnished with a bed, dresser and walk-in closet. Each one has its own bathroom with sunken tubs and showers. Plenty of privacy and the walls are soundproof.

"Drake Construction built it." Hunter goes on. "Quality in everything they do. I'm an advertising major. I plan on leading the Drake Construction Advertising department after I graduate."

There's got to be a mistake. This place is twice the size of my house back home. Nicer, way nicer, too. Everything looks so shiny and new. Soft neutral Berber carpet throughout, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and honey oaks cabinets. Freshly painted tan walls with white six panel doors and trim. I've even got a deep jetted tub in the bath and tall bookcases on either side of the big bay window with a window seat in my room.

Once we've got my things into my room, we sit down at the kitchen table and eat lunch while we get to know each other a little bit. Colby, is our other roommate who is at class but will be back later is another cousin of theirs. It sounds like they've got a huge family.

"Our Grandma calls everyone family. Our dad's friends are uncles or aunts, everyone's a cousin. I've lost track of who we're actually blood related to now. It doesn't really matter." Hunter waves it off as she shoves a piece of Milano into her mouth. "Brothers, sisters, cousins, we're all family. What about you? Any siblings?"

"No. It's just me and my dad." Suddenly it seems like my life is so lonely, boring. It wasn't, not really. I was always happy and loved. That's all that matters. The two girls exchange a look between them, a hint of sympathy for me that I don't really want or need. "It's always just been us, we're a team." I explained myself further.

"Party! Friday night, ladies!" The front door slams and a little brunette strolls in dumping her bag in the doorway of the kitchen on her way. "Ooh yum!" Grabbing a cookie, our new comer plops down in the seat across from me. "Sawyer sent me a text, the team is having the welcome back party and we got an invite!"

Looking around the table, I see this is right in with these girls milieu. Well, they can just go and have a grand time. I'll be right here studying for next week's classes. Hunter must sense my decision as she slaps her hand down on mine, getting my attention and grins brightly at the other two.

"Perfect! We can introduce you around to everyone." She nods to me as I shake my head no. "Yes, it's tradition for the football team to throw the biggest and best back to school party. I'm sure they'll be fine with us bringing you along."

I can't seem to find my voice.

Quietly, I begin to decline the offer. "I don't really think..."

"I've got the perfect outfit for you too. You're a size six, right?" Suddenly, Emery jumps up and races out of the room.

"I can do your makeup. Unless you have a phobia like Hunter. She won't let any of us touch her face. I'm Colby by the way." Colby touches my cheek like it's a canvas. Turning my face to look at one side then the other. "You have really nice skin."

"Thank you, I think." Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I only get swept away from the table and down the hall as the girl's excitement seems to negate any of my objections as they pull dresses out and shoes to determine the best outfit for me.

I'm going to a party with a bunch of strangers. How did this happen?

Aiden

Coming out of the showers, dressed in my black boxer briefs and a towel slung over my shoulder, I fists bump Sawyer as I pass him then Landon. My black hair is still wet, dripping down my chest as I rub the towel over my head. It was a good practice. We've got a great team this year. Our final year before we get to see if we'll go to the big leagues, before Uncle Matt takes us on and we go pro.

I cannot wait

Our first game of the season is tomorrow night. Our party is Friday. We postponed it on purpose. I know the whole family will be on hand tomorrow to watch us. They never miss the first game of the season. Grandma and Jim, Viv and Alan, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings all come out to support the latest generation of football players in the family. It's tradition.

"Colby says they're gonna bring the new roommate with them." Sawyer smirks up from his phone as his thumbs move at lightning speed texting her back. "Says she's shy."

"I can do shy." I grin at the idea as I turn to my locker. Pulling out clothes and getting dressed, I think about everything I've got to do before Friday.

Clean up the house, pick up the kegs, and I can't forget to give the new kids the rules of the house parties. We're pretty specific about them. The rules have been passed down by Uncle Breyden. Then there's the grocery run. The shopping list rolls through my head. Hearing about this new shy girl has added an item. A large box of condoms just moved to the top of the list.

"No can do, son! Remember last semester with the redhead? Lisa? Lindy? You promised Hunter you wouldn't hit on or bang another one of her roommates. Deal's a deal." Sawyer points out a promise I made after a really bad mistake. In my defense, we had lost the game and I was pretty drunk. I should have known better. The girl was a bit crazy too but I decided to go for it anyway. Pissed off Uncle Blake big time.

That was a horrible phone call to get.

"Yeah, that wasn't my finest moment. But I was very drunk and that chick was fucking nuts." I remind him, getting a grunt in agreement. "Did Colby say what she looks like at least?"

"Nope. I asked for a picture." He wiggles his eyebrows as if he could land her.

We head out ignoring the calls we get from some girls in the distance and get into Sawyer's convertible. Before we can get out of the lot, my phone rings. Looking down I show him the read out 'Blake'.

"Hey Uncle Blake! How's it going?" I answer greeting my favorite uncle.

He's the best. I've looked up to him all my life and have done everything I can to make him proud. I try to not let anyone in my family down but Blake has always been my idol. Watching him as a kid play ball, I memorized his plays, studied his tapes and followed in his footsteps. I want to be just like him.

"Hey kiddo! Ready for tomorrow night?" He asks as Sawyer stops the car until I'm done. I can never hear a damn thing riding with the top down.

"Yeah. Is everyone still coming?" I've set tickets aside for the family, a whole suite actually since there's so many of them. The younger cousins like to sit in the student section but the others like to have some privacy. It gets distracting for the players and the crowd when the Bradford's attend a game here.

"Yep, even Cam is flying in for it." Blake informs us about Breyden's buddy from college coming too.

"I was requested to call you by Hunter." Shit! Here it comes. "She's got a new roommate and you know the rule, right? We established this last year when you messed up."

Sawyer and Landon chuckle softly at the second reminder of that incident. Of course, Hunter called her dad to make sure I don't hit on her roommate. Now I'll also get the reminder that I have a girlfriend in New York to think about and it's not a good idea to mess around with girls here, while I'm still supposed to be seeing Leighton. I know all this already.

"I know, Uncle Blake. I won't touch her. You have my word." I roll my eyes and rub my forehead. It's not like there won't be plenty of other girls who aren't friends with my cousins to touch.

"Aiden, Leighton has been back in New York a week now." Crap! I haven't talked to her since she's gotten back to school. I should have called her last weekend but I've been busy between classes and trying to find that little gypsy girl, my mind has been elsewhere.

Hey, maybe she'll be at the party

"Aiden!" Blake gets my attention and Landon smacks my shoulder.

"I'll call her tonight when we get back to the house." I assure him figuring that's what he's getting at.

"I know you, Aiden. You're too busy playing the field. I've been there, remember?" He knows me too well.

"No..." Deny, deny, deny.

"You might think about breaking it off with her if you don't want to continue this long distance thing. Having a girlfriend and sneaking around on her isn't a good idea." Blake is always honest and to the point with us. Just one of the reasons I respect him.

"I'll think about it. It's not like I don't care about her. I don't want to hurt her." Confiding in him is the easiest thing for me. He understands me and doesn't make me feel like I don't know what I want.

"I know that but think how she'd feel if she finds out what you've done. You can't drag this out, kid. You either commit or let her go. You and I both know that's fair." Yeah, he makes a good point. One I considered over the summer when Leighton and I just couldn't seem to connect and when we did, we argued the whole time. Maybe it's time to pull the plug. "Just think about it, Aiden. I'll see you boys tomorrow. Good luck."

"Thanks." I disconnect and look at a smug Sawyer. "Shut up." Muttering to him, he chuckles and drives off.

Heading straight up to my room, I lay back on my bed with Leighton's picture staring at me. It was taken over the summer at the family's Fourth of July picnic. We had a fight that night over stupid shit. Again. That's all our fights are over because we don't talk about anything important anymore.

I wanted to go to the beach with the family, she wanted me to go with her to the country club where my grandparents are members of. She wants to walk the red carpet and rub shoulders with the elite of California. She wants to meet celebrities and sports stars not be with my family as we planned.

We just don't have the same interest. My family is my world. I don't want to walk red carpets or go clubbing every night. It's not my scene when my family is together. We're close. Party time happens only at school or special occasions. I don't make a habit of being seen in the tabloids.

I don't need that kind of attention.

Her friends in New York are different. Clubbing and red carpets are the thing to do, according to her. My friends are a part of my family, her family is more distant, cold. She used to like hanging out with everyone. She used to like doing the same things we did. Now it's like she just wants something else. Like she wants me to be someone else.

We just seemed to stopped wanting the same things

But I promised I'd make the call. I gave Blake my word. Resting my phone to my forehead and squeezing the metal tight in my hand, I try to get what I want to say right in my head.

We've had a great run but it's not fair to her that we continue this way. No, that won't work. I don't want to hold her back. Shit, I'm not sure I am. I think it's best if we take a break. That's not it either.

"Come on, Aiden, man up." I tell myself and before I can talk myself out of the call once again, I connect the call.

"Aiden? I didn't expect to hear from you. Is everything okay?" Leighton sounds distracted, busy. I can hear voices in the background. Male and female voices. Why do I feel like I've interrupted her?

"Uh no, everything's fine, good. I just..." I don't want to do this. "I just wanted to hear your voice, baby."

Chickenshit!

"You're so sweet. I want to talk to you too but I'm at work right now." Looking over at the clock, I frown. It's ten at night New York time, and she's still at work? "I've got a huge project due first thing in the morning, babe. Can I just call you tomorrow night?"

There's laughter in the background and music then silence. What the fuck?

"My family is coming in tomorrow for our first game of the season. You know that." I told her this, I even gave her the schedule in case she wanted to fly out. I'm sure Cam has too since he plans on being here. "I need to talk to you, Leighton. We need to talk about us."

"Okay, baby. And we can but not right now. I'm really swamped with work and I've already been loaded down with my classes. You wouldn't believe the load I've got already." She tries to brush me off and won't let me get a word in. "No, I'll have one of those." She says to someone else with her.

I have to try this again. "Leighton, I need to tell you..." Music blasts in my ear and she giggles. "Where are you?"

"At the office. I told you, I'm working." She sounds irritated at me for questioning her.

I have to just say it. "This is important Leighton, I need to tell you.."

"And you can, baby. Just not right now. I'll talk to you tomorrow before I go to the club." She isn't even listening to me. "You can tell me all about your little problem then. Love you."

"Leighton..." The call disconnects and I look down at the dark screen on my phone. "Unbelievable."

******

I tried calling her again this morning but her phone went straight to voicemail. I even tried Cam, who was flying in, to see if he could tell her to call me but he had already left the airport. I tried to get it out of the way but Leighton, she's not listening, per usual.

What am I supposed to do?

Heading out for practice, I can't think about it anymore today. I'm busy and I've got to get my head in the game. Today is about football and family. They're one in the same, in this family. I have to have my A game tonight. It sets the mood for the rest of the season.

Family filters in and out of our house, the girls dorm and the suite we got them throughout the day and into the evening. Checking in to make sure everything is good for the year, they make sure everything works, is clean and thanks to Grandma, Emma and Laney, all the freezers are full of home cooked delicious meals. We're fortunate that the ladies in this family are fantastic cooks.

The day of a big game means we're too busy to get lectured on if we haven't vacuumed or if we forgot to put the toilet seat down. It means we're up early for the gym, we go to practice and have an early light dinner before we go to the stadium for pregame warm ups. It means my family is here to support us.

The announcer does the welcome speech, the cheerleaders take the field. Cheers and special effects go off as the announcer gives the team line ups as we take the field. Then out of courtesy, they acknowledge the Bradford Drake scholarship fund, the stadium remodel and the new off campus housing we've donated.

I can just see my cousins in the student section and above them I see the family in the suite right above the fifty yard line. Hunter and Emery are jumping around cheering while Colby has her back turned talking to the rest of the cousins.

The whistle blows and the ball is kicked. Standing on the sideline with my team we get ready for offense to take the field. I hear my name being chanted behind me but I'm in the zone. The only thing that's on my mind is the game. Sounds disappear, the crowd falls into the background and we take a jog out to the visitors thirty yard line. We've got the ball.

"Let's go boys!" We do a quick huddle as I check over to verify the play. "Six and ten! Six and ten!" My favorite play because of Sawyer, we always score. "Hike!"

The ball hits my hand and stepping back I scan the field. Sure enough I spot Sawyer, twenty yards out, twenty five, thirty. Pulling back I let her go, flying hard, high like a bullet through the fall night sky. My body is jerked down and I roll with it before I jump back to my feet and watch as Landon blocks a tackle and Sawyer is racing for the end zone.

Fifteen ... ten... five... touchdown!

The crowd erupts, cheering, screaming and pounding their feet on the stadium bleachers. This place is electric with energy tonight. We continue on with the same intensity through the rest of the game. By the time the buzzer rings at the end of the fourth quarter it's 30-17. We've won our first game.

It's damn good to be home.

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