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I stare at him. Sawyer’s as much of a closed book as I am. And I feel like I’m looking in a goddamned mirror right now. Who did he lose? I wonder. What I am sure of is that it has something to do with the tattoo he refuses to discuss.

“You want to talk about it?” I ask, awkwardly, knowing that’s what people say.

He snorts air out of his nose and gives me a knowing stare. “Do you?”

I step over to the door and open it, knowing neither of us wants to talk about our demons. “Come on, let’s get through this and then we’ll get shit-faced.”

Sawyer’s shoulders are slumped as he walks through the door. And it makes me feel like a prick that in this moment, I’m grateful for his pain, because I realize that by taking care of him and his memories, whatever they may be, I don’t have to deal so much with mine.

~ ~ ~

“To Faleena,” Murphy says, after the waitress finishes dolling out a dozen shots.

“To Faleena!” the rest of us shout before throwing them back.

Some of us headed over to a favorite team hangout after leaving the reception at Bobby’s apartment. He’s got both his family and Faleena’s there to help him and the kids. He didn’t need us hanging around longer than necessary.

I remember how I just wanted everyone to get the hell out. My team at Nebraska organized the reception. I know they were trying to be nice, but what they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know, is that I never wanted to see any of them again. Seeing them reminded me of Natalie and Keet. The only thing I wanted to do was leave everything and everyone behind.

So that’s exactly what I did. I walked right out of the reception and packed a bag. I was supposed to report to Tampa a week later anyway to join the single-A team that was already well into their season. I just arrived early, that’s all. And I did leave everything behind, everything but my clothes, some baseball stuff, and a few small pictures of my family that was no more. I didn’t even clean out the apartment, I had Nat’s parents take care of that.

I left behind myself as well. I left the old Brady Taylor in Lincoln, Nebraska. The one who fucked up and got his family killed. The new Brady wasn’t going to fuck up anything. The new Brady was a machine. A machine with no human emotion. I threw myself into baseball and never looked back. I only stayed in Tampa for two months before they moved me up to Tucson, and after a month there they moved me up to Vegas. I rose through the ranks quicker than anyone in Hawks history, and by the anniversary of their deaths, I was playing in my first MLB game.

“Sawyer’s been acting strangely today,” Murphy says. “Is he okay?”

“Wow, you must think he’s really screwed up to be asking about him over me.”

She touches my hand. “I know today must have been horrible for you. I also think that one of these days, you’ll tell me exactly why. But I’ve never seen Sawyer act that way. He just seems … lost.”

I shrug. “Maybe he’s not the perfect pretty boy everyone assumes he is.”

“He is kind of pretty,” Murphy teases.

I roll my eyes. “It’s always the fucking short stops. They are the pretty boys.”

“Yeah, but the pitchers and catchers – they have all the muscles.” She gives me a wink.

“Are you hitting on me, Murphy?”

She laughs. “You wish.” Then her face turns serious. “Hey, speaking of hitting on people, are you still seeing Rylee?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I don’t know. The two of you seemed pretty into each other. I was just wondering if that’s a good idea.”

“Why the hell wouldn’t it be a good idea?”

“I just don’t want you getting hurt, that’s all.”

“No chance, Murphy. Did you forget who you are talking to here? Why the concern? And why the change of heart after you practically threw us together at the restaurant?”

She shrugs. “Forget it. It’s nothing.”

I eye her skeptically. It’s never nothing with the future Mrs. Kessler. She’s deliberate in everything she does.

Caden leans over his fiancée. “Did I tell you they moved up the shithead’s trial?”

“Finally,” I say. “When is it?”

Caden smiles and raises a drink. “It wrapped up yesterday.”

“What? Really?” I look to Murphy. “You didn’t say anything when you came to Tampa a few weeks ago.”

She shakes her head. “I didn’t know until after I left. Until the prosecutor’s office called me last week to bring me in as a witness.”

“Well? What happened?”

Murphy smiles. “Guilty on all counts. It only took the jury an hour to deliberate.”

“How long did he get?”

“Sentencing is next week,” Caden says. “But the prosecutor is going to recommend the maximum, so he’ll be going away for at least three or four years. Stupid fucker should have pled no contest. At least they might have gone easier on him. But he denied everything and even tried to blame it all on Murphy’s old roommates. They all eventually turned against him and testified for the prosecution. It was a beautiful sight to see, man.”

I raise my glass. “To justice for our girl.”

The three of us toast and then Murphy tells me that women showed up in court wearing Murphy Strong t-shirts. Even after all these months.

It makes me think of Rylee and the wristband she wore that weekend.

Then I think of Rylee and the Ferris wheel. And what happened after the Ferris wheel, and then the zoo, and the fishing on the pier, and the paddle boarding in the bay, and the dinners we’ve shared, and all the fun we’ve had in the past few weeks since she said yes.

I look down into my drink realizing what this means.

It means I miss her.

Fuck.

~ ~ ~

“I have to talk to you,” Nat says, pulling me into her dorm room at Schramm Hall.

“Well, hello to you too,” I say, leaning down to kiss her on top of her head.

She walks over to her bed and sits down. She wrings her hands together and looks at the floor.

I sit next to her and grab one of her hands. I’ve never seen her like this. “What is it, Natalie?” I suspect it may have something to do with her father. He never wanted her to follow me to the University of Nebraska. It’s a long way from SoCal. And even if he does make good on his promise to open an office here, that will take some time – time where he can’t check up on his oldest daughter whenever he wants.

She looks up at me and a large tear catches on her eyelash before dripping down onto her cheek. I wipe it with my finger. “Whatever it is, we’ll get through it. Are you failing one of your classes?”

She belts out an agonizing laugh before turning away. “I wish.”

I get on my knees in front of her and force her to look at me. I cup her face in my hands. “Nat, you’re scaring me.”

She reaches behind her and picks up something off her desk. She hands me a small white stick. “I – I don’t know how this happened. I’m s-so sorry, b-babe.”

I take the pregnancy test into my hand. The one that clearly reads ‘pregnant.’ It’s not one of those tests with a line that has you guessing if it’s dark enough to be positive. This one shouts the result out to you loud and clear.

“Are you sure?” I ask. “Sometimes these things can be wrong. Maybe it’s defective. We’re always so careful.”

She reaches behind her again and gets a small brown bag. She turns it upside down and we watch as six other pregnancy tests tumble onto her comforter.

“I took seven of them. I had to drink a ton of water. They say to do it in the morning because your pee is more concentrated. But even after three bottles of water, they’re all still positive. I’m not just a little pregnant, Brady – I’m super pregnant.”

“How could we not have known? I mean, yeah, you’ve always been irregular, but don’t things happen like your boobs get bigger and stuff?”

She shrugs. “I guess, but maybe not.”

“Maybe they are all wrong,” I say. “Maybe you ate something yesterday that affected the tests. You know, like poppy seeds or something.”

“I made an appointment at the campus medical center. Will you go with me?”

“Of course I will, Nat. We’re in this together.”

More tears fall down her cheeks. “What if … What will we do?”

“We’ll get married. We’ll walk right down to city hall and tie the knot. We’re over eighteen. Nobody has to know until after. Your dad can’t stop you.” I touch her flat stomach. “Then we’ll have a baby and he’ll look so fucking cute in tiny baseball caps.”

For the first time since I walked through the door, she smiles. “What if it’s a girl?”

I laugh. “Girls can wear baseball caps, too.”

“Do you really think we could do it?” she asks. “We’re only freshmen. Where would we live, what would we do?”

“I think the university has married housing. And what do you mean, what would we do? We’d have a family. I’m going to the big leagues, Nat, and you are going right along with me. We’ve always known we would get married. What’s the difference if we do it now or later?”

She stares at me with puffy red eyes. “You’re not mad at me?”

I sit on the bed and pick her up into my lap. “I could never be mad at you, Rylee. I love you.”

I jolt awake and reach over to get the stress ball on my nightstand. Then I throw it into the mirror on the wall, shattering the glass into a hundred pieces.

Chapter Nineteen

As the wheels of the plane touch down, I’m still staring at the small picture in my hand. The one that has a crease worn into it from being in my wallet all these years.

It was just a dream, I tell myself as my finger traces the outline of Natalie’s face.

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