Page 28

And she’s wearing my goddamned Bumbershoot t-shirt.

I walk to my closet and find a plain white t-shirt. I hand it to her, hoping she doesn’t see how my heart is practically beating out of my chest. “Would you mind putting this one on instead?”

She looks up at me and guilt washes over her face. “I’m so sorry,” she says, removing the t-shirt and taking the one I offered her. “I should have asked.”

She walks over and places it back in the closet. Then I go over and re-fold it and put it in its proper spot.

“Is that …?” She nods to the t-shirt on the shelf.

“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

She was going to ask if it’s my lucky shirt. Then she was going to ask why. That right there is why I don’t do personal questions.

She scoots back on the bed. “I’m sorry. I just killed the mood, didn’t I? I just … sometimes I don’t know how to act around you. Like I swear just a few minutes ago you were going to ask me to stay.”

“And if I did, what would you have said?”

She shrugs. “I would have said I want to, but I can’t.”

I nod. “We’re two peas in a pod then, aren’t we?”

She laughs, but it’s not a fun laugh. It’s a pained one. “Only I get the feeling my reason for not staying and your reason for not wanting me to stay are quite different ones.”

I look over to the closet where the Bumbershoot t-shirt sits on a shelf. Then I look back at Rylee. We stare at each other. This is the closest we’ve come to crossing the line into personal conversation. This is the closest we’ve come to admitting whatever feelings there might be between us.

My heart is pounding. My head is cloudy. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, but sometimes, you just have to jump off the cliff to feel the exhilaration. “Rylee, I think you should —”

Her phone rings on the nightstand, and we both look over at it. She reaches for it to see who’s calling.

“I have to take this,” she says, jumping off the bed and walking quickly into the other room. “Hannah?” I hear her say as she walks out the door.

I think you should stay anyway, I was going to say. I was going to tell her that despite my reasons, despite her reasons, she should stay the night. I sit on the bed and run my hands through my hair wondering what is happening to me.

Rylee comes running back into the room, frantically searching around for her pants on the floor. “I have to go,” she says, tears rolling down her face.

I spring off the bed and go to her, putting my hands on her arms to calm her. “Ry, what is it? Who was on the phone? Who is Hannah?”

For a split second I think maybe her mother has passed away.

She brushes my hands away and pulls on her jeans. She doesn’t bother to take off my t-shirt, she just throws her jacket on over it, leaving her blouse in a puddle on the floor.

“What’s happening?” I ask again, more forcefully.

“Stryker’s hurt. She’s taking him to the hospital. I have to go there. Now.”

“Stryker? Your boyfriend?”

She pulls her purse over her shoulder and stops to look at me in surprise. “Boyfriend? No. Stryker, my son.”

“Your what?” I fall back against the bed.

“Brady, I h-have to go to the hospital, I’m s-sorry.”

Mascara is running down her face and I see that her hands are shaking.

Fuck.

“Well, you can’t drive yourself. You’ll have an accident. I’ll drive you.”

I quickly throw on some clothes and join her in the living room as she’s waiting impatiently by the front door. I take her keys from her knowing she’s in no condition to drive.

“Can you tell me what happened?” I ask as we get into the elevator.

She closes her eyes. “He loves those little iced cookies, the ones I keep in the jar on the kitchen counter. He knows he only gets one every night. But he’s precocious and sometimes he tries to sneak more, so I have to put them up in the cabinet where he can’t see them. B-but, I f-forgot to put them away tonight before I left. It’s my fault. Hannah said he came out of his room after she put him to bed and he must have climbed up on the counter to get one. She heard the crash in the kitchen and when she went in … ” She covers her mouth in horror. “Oh, God … when she went in, he was lying on the floor – dazed.”

“Jeez, Ry, I’m sorry.”

I know only too well that she’s going to blame herself if anything happens.

I’m still reeling. Rylee has a fucking kid? Everything starts to make sense all at once. The way she’s always having to move things around so she can go out with me. The way she knows all the animals at the zoo and the aquarium. The way she’s always home by ten.

“How old is he?” I ask.

“He’s only three. Oh, my God, Brady. What if he’s really hurt? What if he …”

I don’t hear anything she says after “He’s only three.” I lean over like I’ve been punched in the gut. I put my hands on my knees and try not to hyperventilate. Because Rylee’s the one who is losing it here, I can’t afford to lose my shit as well. I do my best to pull myself together, but I feel like I’ve just been hit by a truck.

The elevator doors open and she runs ahead of me. I can’t get my feet to move. She turns around. “Are you coming?”

When I don’t answer – when I can’t answer, she gets pissed.

She holds out her open hand. “If you can’t act like an adult long enough to get over the fact that you’ve been sleeping with a single mother, then hand me my goddamned keys and I’ll drive myself.”

“It’s not that,” I say, finally walking out after her.

“Can we not do this now, Brady? Stryker is hurt. He’s my top priority, not the fact you’re thinking I deceived you. Which I didn’t.”

“It’s not that either.” We reach her car and as we get in, I look in the back seat. No child seat. “Why don’t you have a booster seat in the back?”

“I always put it in Hannah’s car when she watches him. He likes to go to the park and the playground.”

If only it had been in here and I had seen it that very first time I rode in her car. If I had seen it, we wouldn’t be doing this. And if we weren’t doing this, Rylee would have been home and she would have put the cookie jar away.

If only I hadn’t walked out of our apartment thinking only of myself.

I shake off my thoughts of that horrible day.

“Which hospital?” I ask.

She gives me the directions as I speed through the nighttime traffic to get there. As I do, my stomach turns and bile rises in my throat thinking of the other time I raced through traffic to get to the hospital.

I drop Rylee at the emergency room entrance.

“You don’t have to stay,” she says, jumping out of the passenger seat. “You can leave my keys at the desk.”

I watch her run into the hospital. I know exactly how she feels. I know exactly what kind of pain she’s in for if …

I pound on the steering wheel, wanting so badly to stay for her. Wanting so badly to leave for me.

I find a parking spot and sit for a minute, contemplating my options. She gave me an out. She doesn’t expect me to stay. I can walk away right now.

But despite the voices in my head screaming at me to leave, I find myself walking into the waiting room of the emergency department. I look around and find a seat in the corner, pulling my baseball hat down low so nobody will recognize me. I sit here and people-watch as the minutes on the clock above my head tick away.

A lady comes in through the doors, frantically trying to find her husband who was brought in by ambulance. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” she screams, as a nurse takes her into the back. I listen to her pathetic pleas to God in her weak and broken voice as she disappears down the hallway.

It doesn’t work, I think to myself. Pleading with God doesn’t work.

I put my forearms on my knees and lower my head, succumbing to the memories that I know will devastate me.

Dripping wet from the many bottles of champagne that were poured over us in the locker room after our momentous victory, my coach pulls me aside, looking as somber as I’ve ever seen him. Oh, shit, did we lose after all? Was there some kind of technicality that disqualified us?

“Son, you need to head back to Lincoln right now,” he says. “There’s been an accident.”

“Accident?”

He nods sadly. “Natalie and Keeton are at Lincoln Memorial.”

“What? No, Natalie is here at the game.”

“I’m sorry, son. She never made it here.”

“A car accident?”

“I don’t have any details, Brady.” He motions for one of the assistant coaches. “Dan will drive you as soon as you get changed.”

Nat and Keet are in the hospital? The gravity sinks in and I feel a wave of nausea. I run over to Dan. “I don’t need to change, let’s go now.”

In the car, I call Natalie’s phone, hoping she’ll answer. Car accidents happen all the time. Maybe they took them to the hospital as a precaution. She doesn’t answer. I try her sister, Katie, next since Natalie was supposed to drop Keeton off with her before she came to the game. No answer.

I hesitate as my finger hovers over her father’s name on my contacts screen. Was he in town this weekend? I can’t remember. I tap on his name, wondering if it’s the right thing to do. If he doesn’t already know about the accident, I have no details to tell him. If he’s not in town, knowing him, he’ll jump on the next plane just so he can try to micromanage the doctors and nurses should Natalie or Keet need special care. But my call rolls to voicemail.

I start the process over again, first calling Natalie, then Katie, then Dennis. Someone has to answer eventually. I’m about to give up and try to call the hospital directly when Katie answers her phone.

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