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I laugh quietly. “The ride isn’t going to tip over. But I promise you if it did, I’d save you.”

She takes a hand off the bar momentarily to squeeze my hand.

The ride stops when we’re at the very top. She tenses even more. “What the fuck!” she yells.

This time I can’t help my boisterous laugh. “Why, Rylee, you do have a dirty mouth after all. I’ve wondered.”

“This isn’t a time for jokes, Brady. What if it doesn’t start back up? What if we get stuck up here?”

“They are probably just letting a special needs person on the ride – that can take longer.” I scoot to the edge to look over.

“Brady!” she squeals, her eyes still closed tightly as one of her arms tries to grab me. “Don’t rock us.”

I reposition myself next to her and put my hand on her thigh. “I wish you would open your eyes and see how beautiful it is. You can see the coastline from here. The way the lights line the shore is fascinating. I think I might even be able to see Pier 60.”

That does it. She opens her eyes into a squint. “Don’t look down. Don’t look down,” she mumbles to herself.

I rub my hand along the inner seam of her jeans.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m trying to help you relax. Is it working?”

She shrugs. “Maybe a little. And you lie – you can’t see the pier from here.”

“You can’t?” I squint my eyes like I’m looking to find it.

“No. But it is beautiful. And worth seeing.”

“I agree,” I tell her, enjoying a totally different view.

She turns to find me staring at her.

My hand has traveled higher and higher and is dangerously close to being publicly indecent. “You know, I think it’s tradition that if you get stuck on top of a Ferris wheel you have to kiss.”

“Oh, it’s a tradition huh?”

“Actually, it’s bad luck if you don’t. And you know how superstitious baseball players can be.”

She smiles. “Well, I’m not about to be your bad juju.”

I lean closer and twist my body a little before my lips find hers. Kissing her is something I’ve wanted to do all night. I thought I’d have to wait until we made it back to the hotel. Maybe I should tip the ride operator.

“Don’t rock the car,” she mumbles into my mouth.

We laugh into each other and then I deepen the kiss, hoping to make her forget her worries.

A minute later, the ride starts again and we reluctantly pull apart. “Tell me about your superstitions,” she says. “Anything to keep my mind off this.”

“Mine are pretty tame compared to some others I know. Did you know that Caden plays with Murphy’s engagement ring in his back pocket?”

“I think that’s romantic.”

“If you’re into that shit.”

“Tell me about yours,” she says.

“Mine are boring. I eat carrots.”

“Carrots?”

“Yeah, they are supposed to be good for eyesight, so I eat a small bag of those miniature carrots every day I pitch.”

“What else?”

“I never step on the foul line when I take or leave the field.”

“I’ve heard of that one before,” she says. “Anything else?”

I sigh. “I wear the same t-shirt under my uniform.”

“Every game?”

I nod.

“It must be atrocious.”

I nod again.

“What t-shirt is it?”

Why did I say anything? “Just some old thing I got when I was in high school.”

“Oh. Well, it must mean a lot to you.”

“It does.”

We reach the bottom and the guy is asking people if they want to stay on or get off. I look at Rylee in amusement as she does everything she can to get the guy’s attention. We step off the ride and I start dragging her back in the direction of the throwing games when a group of girls stops our progress.

“Are you Scott Eastwood?” one asks.

I look at Rylee who is doing her best to hold in a laugh.

“The actor? No.”

“But those boys took pictures with you. You must be famous,” another girl says.

“I play baseball,” I tell them.

“Baseball?” The girls look at each other. “Are you sure?”

“Am I sure I play baseball, or am I sure I’m not Scott Eastwood?” I joke.

“Can we get a picture with you just in case?” one of them asks.

“Just in case I’m Scott Eastwood?” I laugh and look at Rylee who happily takes one of the girls’ phones to snap a few pictures.

The girls giggle as they walk away.

I pull a laughing Rylee in the direction of the games until I see something and stop. Rylee bumps into my back and it’s now that I realize I’ve been holding her hand. I look down at them just as I pull mine away from hers.

I don’t hold hands.

I look at the game booth and then at Rylee.

“No way,” she says.

We stand there and watch a guy pitch baseballs to a life-sized cutout of a catcher with a hole where his glove is. I can’t take my eyes off it. I want to walk up there and pick up every ball. I want to hold one in my hand and feel the intricate stitching with my fingertips. I want to feel the glory of releasing the perfect pitch knowing it will be a strike even before the batter does.

“Fuck,” I say, turning my back on the game.

A woman walking by with a young boy gives me a dirty look.

“Sorry, ma’am. Wait – here.” I hold out all the stuff in my hands. “Does your boy want these?”

Rylee quickly plucks the hawk from among the other prizes we accumulated. “Not this one,” she says.

I didn’t think I could smile after what just happened, but damned if I don’t.

I hand the boy the rubber snake and the packaged whistle and then I give his mom two tickets. “For the Ferris wheel,” I say. “With my apologies.”

“Thank you,” she says as they walk away.

I eye the small dime-store stuffed animal Rylee is holding and question her with my brow.

“What? I wanted something to remember tonight. It’s been fun.” She looks hesitantly over at the Ferris wheel. “Well, mostly.”

I laugh and grab her hand, pulling her away from the baseball toss and towards the parking lot. “Come back to the hotel with me,” I say. “I’ll give you something to remember tonight.”

She looks up at me and swallows. “I thought you’d never ask.”

Chapter Eighteen

There are two things I never do: watch the MLB draft, and go to funerals.

Not since that day – the day both happened at once.

I never got to hear my name being called live in the draft. I never got the phone call college players dream about getting. I never got to hold up a Hawks jersey in front of the cameras that would have been camped out at my apartment. I didn’t do any of that – my agent handled it all in my absence. The names I did get to hear called, however, were Natalie and Keeton Taylor as they were lowered into the ground the same time I was making history. Because damn it if Nat wasn’t right – I did go in the first round.

But today, I made the only exception I’ve made in five and a half years. I flew in last night to help bury a friend’s wife.

I look over at Bobby Goodrich in the front pew of the church. He and his two young sons are clinging to each other. I’m gutted for him. For them. Because I know what they are going through. But at least they have each other. I know they don’t see it that way and I’m not about to tell them things could be worse. But they can be. They have been. I’m living proof.

I often wonder what would have happened if one of them had survived. Would Nat and I have tried for another child? Would Keeton and I have been best friends?

Murphy grabs my hand. I’m sandwiched between her and Sawyer, with Caden on her other side. I’m not sure what I look like on the outside, but I’m dying on the inside. Having to re-live that day is not something I ever wanted to do. But Murphy convinced me to come. She said I can’t avoid funerals my whole life and that I’d hate myself if I weren’t there for my friend.

When the service is over, Caden and the other pallbearers walk up to the front to do their job. I never thought I’d be grateful to have this injury, but here I sit, thanking God that I don’t have to carry her body out of the church. No way could I have done it, but it would have meant turning down a friend.

I turn to Sawyer and lift my left arm. “I have an excuse. Why aren’t you up there?”

“This whole thing is fucked up,” he says. “I can’t be here.”

I’m not even sure he heard my question. He’s staring at Bobby’s two sons. One is ten and the other is only four. I watch Sawyer stare at the older one like he’s living a nightmare. He’s shaking. He starts to hyperventilate and I shove his head between his legs.

“Dude, breathe. Are you okay?”

“I’m gonna be sick.”

I pull on his arm, dragging him out the other side of the pew as we find the bathroom at the front of the church. I give him some space and guard the door. But I can hear him hurling into the toilet. What the fuck?

When I hear the faucet come on, I go back in. “Are you sick?”

He shakes his head at me in the mirror as he rinses his mouth out with water.

Maybe he just hates funerals as much as I do.

I pat him on the back. “You okay, man?”

“Do we have to go to the cemetery?” he asks.

I shrug. “It’s customary. But if you can’t handle it, don’t go. I had the same thought myself. I don’t think anyone will hold it against you.”

He leans back against the wall of one of the stalls and runs his hands through his hair. “I should go. I want to be there to support Bobby. But – fuck, I didn’t know it would be like this.”

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