Page 31

I hand her a towel and make sure she gets to the locker room without slipping. Then I go back to the pool and dive in.

I always schedule Mrs. Patterson right before my lunch break. She likes to get her therapy in the pool and I like to stay afterwards for a workout.

I’ve always loved swimming, ever since I was a kid. But growing up in the north didn’t always lend itself to the sport. As a child, I begged my parents to put a pool in our backyard, but they insisted it was a frivolous expense for something that would only be used a few months out of the year.

That’s when I started going to the Y to swim. And that’s where I saw a young disabled girl getting physical therapy in the pool. I didn’t know what it was at the time, so I asked her caretaker. I was intrigued. I befriended the girl and even participated in some of her therapy sessions as a helper. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a physical therapist. I was only thirteen.

After thirty laps, my legs are burning and I take a break, holding onto the side of the pool.

“Ry?”

I look up and my heart skips a beat.

Hell, my heart stops. And I have to will it to start beating again.

Brady is standing at the edge of the pool looking utterly surprised to see me. He has a towel draped over his shoulder and nothing but his swim trunks on. I stare at him shamelessly, like I’ve stared at the cutout by the front desk. Only this time, it’s the real thing.

I turn around and push off the wall, gliding under the water to the other side of the pool. I need a minute to compose myself. To figure out if what just happened was real or only a figment of my imagination. To conjure up the strength to have a conversation with the man I’ve tried so hard to forget.

When I reach the other side, I look back, but I don’t see him. I sigh, thinking I’m losing it. But then he pops up out of the water right next to me.

“Rylee, what are you doing here?”

I climb out of the pool and go in search of my towel.

He follows me. “You can’t just ignore me, Ry,” he says, his loud words echoing off the walls.

I wring out my hair and dry my face before I whisper, “Not here, Brady. There are too many people around. Dry off and come back to my office.”

“Your office?” His eyes dart around the aquatics room and then over to the glass that separates us from the main gym. “You work here?”

He thinks about his statement for a second and then looks pissed. But I don’t think he’s pissed at me. He’s realizing he has friends – good friends – who work here who have kept this information from him. And suddenly, I feel guilty that I’ve put them in this position.

“Give me ten minutes and then come back to the PT room. My office is back there.”

I walk away, leaving him staring after me.

“She works here?” I hear him say to no one as I turn the corner into the ladies’ locker room.

I quickly rinse off and towel-dry my hair before putting my clothes on. I have just enough time to put on some mascara and a touch of lipstick before heading back to my office.

I knew this day would come. I was just hoping I had more time. More time to think about what I would say to him. More time to get him out of my head.

More time to stop loving him.

When I reach the PT room, he’s already there. Unlike me, he didn’t bother to change. His hair is still dripping water down his back and onto his chest. I follow one such drop until it gets absorbed by his swim trunks.

“You couldn’t have changed first?” I ask, forcing myself to look away.

He smirks. “I haven’t finished my workout yet.” He takes a few steps towards me. He reaches out his arms as if he’s going to touch me, but then stops. “What happened to you, Rylee? You disappeared into thin air. And then you show up here.”

I walk back into my office and sit at my desk, needing a barrier between us. “I could say the same thing about you. You never even showed up for your last two therapy appointments. What happened that night?”

He closes his eyes and shakes his head. I want to pry, but I keep remembering what Murphy said about him losing someone. Maybe he actually lost someone, as in they died, not just a bad breakup. Maybe being at the hospital triggered some bad memories for him. I remember how pale he looked when I found him shaking in the waiting room that night.

“I needed to get back to New York,” he says. “And I never hid from you. You could have called. I wasn’t the one who changed my number.”

“How do you know I changed my number?”

“Because I tried calling you in January.”

My eyes snap to his. “You did?”

“Why did you change your number, Ry?”

“It’s a long story,” I say.

He walks forward and leans on my desk. “Was it because of me? Tell me.”

I shake my head. “No. A lot happened after you left. I had to change it because—”

“Shit,” he says, slapping a hand on my desk. “It was that slime-ball, Alex, wasn’t it? Matt told me he was fired for sexual misconduct in the workplace. He also told me that you quit shortly after. What did he do to you, Rylee?”

“It’s fine. I’m fine. He just got out of control. He became obsessed with me which is why I changed my number. And then when he found out I changed it, he got mad, saying he was my boss and had to have my number. When I wouldn’t give it to him, he … he forced himself on me.”

Brady’s hands ball into fists and his face turns red.

“I’m okay. He didn’t do anything. Matt walked in on us before he had the chance, and then I called the higher-ups and told them everything. He was removed from his office that same day.”

I see someone walk into the PT room. “Listen, Brady, I have a client now.”

“We’re not finished with this conversation, Ry,” he says, walking backwards and then stopping in my doorway. “We’re not even close.”

Before he walks away, he stands there and stares at me. He studies every curve of my face. He traces my arms with his eyes. And by the time his gaze meets mine again, my heart is pounding. And when he finally turns to leave, I feel … bereft.

“I’ll be right there, Mr. Harold,” I yell from my office.

Then I take a minute to control my racing heart. To calm my shaking hands. To ward off the crazy thoughts that are invading my head.

Chapter Twenty-four

“Can we go straight from here?” Murphy asks, as we finish up our lunch together in the gym café. “I can’t wait for you to see what I have lined up. Thanks for letting me help you find a new place.”

“Are you kidding? I owe you big time for doing it. I’ve been so busy trying out nannies and looking at preschools, not to mention the time I’m spending with my mom, that I haven’t even been able to think about it. You are a life saver. And, yes, we can leave from here. I should be done with my last client at five thirty.”

I pick up my trash and throw it in the garbage can. But before I leave, I can’t help it. I have to ask.

“Murphy, have you talked to Brady? Did he say anything to you?”

She laughs. “I was wondering when you were going to bring that up. And yes, I got an earful last night. He reamed me out for not telling him you and I were friends.”

Guilt consumes me. “I’m so sorry to have put you in that position. I never should have asked you to keep your mouth shut. It was unfair of me.”

“I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was the best thing for both of you. But at least now he knows you didn’t change your number because of him.”

“Is that really what he thought? I had no idea he was going to try to call me, especially after six weeks of radio silence.”

“He was going to invite you to my wedding in January.”

“What?”

She smiles and nods. “It’s true. He ran the idea past me, and at the time, you were still in Tampa and we hadn’t become good friends yet. I told him to go for it. But truth be told, I couldn’t believe he was even considering bringing a woman to a wedding. I mean, this was Brady Taylor we were talking about. But that was just the first of many changes I’ve seen in him since he came back last fall.”

Murphy was the second person I called when I decided to move back to New York. My mother was the first. Murphy and I had gotten along well during her visit to Tampa. We kept in touch afterward and she told me if I ever needed anything to call her. Being a single mother with a parent in a memory care facility does not lend itself to friendships and most of the friends I made growing up and in PT school had fallen away.

I stand here looking stunned about the fact that he wanted to take me to Murphy’s wedding.

“Don’t look so surprised, Rylee. The man was completely taken with you. Still is, if his behavior last night tells me anything. I told you, he’s changed.”

I look at my watch and realize I’m late for my one o’clock. “I have to go, Murphy. I’ll see you tonight.”

Walking back to the PT room, I wonder what she means by that. He’s changed. He’s changed how? He’s not an arrogant spendthrift? He’s not bedding everyone in sight? He’s not running away from hospitals?

As I contemplate the possible answers to my questions, I come to a halt when I see none other than Brady Taylor himself sitting on one of my training tables. I look around for Jeannie Nolan, my one o’clock.

“Brady, I have a client. You can’t be here.”

“I know you have a client. I’m it.”

“You are not my client, Brady. Not anymore.” I walk back to my office to check my schedule on the computer and shake my head when I see Brady’s name pop up in this time slot.

“What? How?”

“I ran into Ms. Nolan at the front desk when I was trying to make an appointment with you. She agreed to switch her appointment to a later date.”

“She agreed?” I stare him down.

“Well, after I said I’d pay for it.”

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