Page 35

“Kyle Stone, meet Rylee Kennedy,” he says.

Kyle shakes my hand. “I hear you are in the medical profession as well, a physical therapist?”

“That’s right I am.”

“And Brady tells me your father is the famous orthopedic surgeon, Gerald Kennedy, is that true?”

I’m wondering how that conversation even came about. Are Kyle and Brady friends?

“Yes. He died four years ago.”

“I know. I’m very sorry for your loss. He gave a guest lecture in one of my medical school classes about eight years ago. Almost turned me to ortho instead of emergency medicine.”

I laugh. “Yeah, that sounds like him. He was very passionate about his profession.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Rylee. I should introduce you to my wife, Lexi.”

“Oh, my gosh, yes!” Murphy squeals. “And they have two adorable little girls, the oldest is about Stryker’s age. You could have play dates.”

“That would be wonderful. I’d love that.”

“I didn’t really think of it until now,” Murphy says. “But I have a lot of friends with kids who I could introduce you to.”

“I’d be grateful,” I tell her.

“Head’s up!” Sawyer yells as I see him come in the front door holding one end of my couch.

I watch as it comes through the door so I can see who’s holding the other end. I thought it was just the three of them helping.

When I see Brady, my heart pounds. I’m aware that Murphy is watching me, so I try to play it cool like I don’t care who just walked into my apartment.

“Well?” Brady says as they are standing there waiting for my direction. “Where do you want it?”

“Uh, sorry.” I inwardly roll my eyes at myself. “Over along the far wall just under the window.”

Brady nods his approval. “That’s exactly where I would have put it.”

I watch as he works meticulously to center it perfectly. Then he comes over. “How’s that?”

“It’s great. Thank you. What are you doing here?”

“I happened to be in the area and saw these guys struggling with the moving truck.”

Sawyer swats him on the back of the head. “You just happened to be in the area. Right. And I was not struggling with the truck – it was as expertly parked as one could get.”

Brady shrugs him off and holds up his left arm. “And moving shit is good physical therapy, don’t you think? I have to try like hell not to drop any of your stuff. You might kick my ass if I break some fru-fru heirloom vase.”

“I don’t have fru-fru anything,” I tell him.

“Oh, good. So that box I dropped off the back of the truck, you’re okay with that?”

“What?” I squeal, running to the door.

“Just kidding, Ry.” He winks at me as he walks by to go get another load.

“Did you know about this?” I ask Murphy.

“No,” she says, laughing. “But you must admit, the man has shown up and been helpful lately.”

“Hmmm. I guess.”

Kyle and Caden bring in my bed frame and box spring. Kyle grabs a tool box off the counter. “I’ll put your frame together if you tell me where you want it.”

I head to my bedroom with Kyle and we discuss the various places that would be good for my bed. I settle for the far wall since he pointed out the outlet for my television is on the wall by the door.

When I get back to the living room, Brady comes in carrying a box. “Where does this go?”

I read the side. “Stryker’s room. First door on the right.”

Brady doesn’t move.

I point down the hallway. “It’s that one.”

He just stares at the door down the hall.

Caden comes over and takes the box from him. “I’ve got this one. You can head down for another one.”

Brady walks back out my front door without a word and I wonder what in the world just happened.

When he comes back up a few minutes later with a box that belongs in my room, he has no problem traipsing down the hallway to put it there.

As the apartment gets filled with my stuff and I realize their job is almost done, I order out for several boxes of pizza. When they arrive, I pull out the case of cold beer I’d put in my new refrigerator when I got here this morning.

I tell everyone to leave the boxes and come enjoy dinner. It’s been a long day and I just want to organize things by myself tomorrow. Kyle has a beer with us but then goes home to his wife. Sawyer eats and leaves shortly after. So, awkwardly, Murphy, Caden, Brady and I are left sitting around my living room like we’re on a double date or something.

I’m grateful when my doorbell rings. I smile knowing who’s behind it. I hop up and walk to the door, thanking my new nanny, Helen, for bringing my son over. I’ve been trying out nannies for a month now, even before I went back to work. I’d gone through three before finding Helen. She’s perfect. She’s a grandmother who became a widow last year and was looking for something to keep her busy. She sometimes takes Stryker over to play with her grandkids. I hired her through an agency that does thorough background checks so I feel confident he is in good hands.

I hug my son and thank Helen, quickly slipping her a key so she can let herself in Monday morning while I’m getting ready.

“There was a police down there. He let us in,” Stryker says.

“That was the doorman, sweetie. He wears a uniform, so he kind of looks like a policeman.”

“Oh.” He looks around the room. “Who are all these people, Mommy?” He sees all the boxes. “Is this our new house?”

“Yes, this is our new house. I’ll show you your room as soon as you say hello to everyone.” I take his hand and walk him over to the living room. “Stryker, you remember Mr. Caden and Ms. Murphy, don’t you?”

“Hi, Stryker,” Murphy says.

I don’t miss that she’s eyeing Brady warily the entire time.

“Hey, slugger.” Caden picks up Stryker and spins him around to pleasured giggles.

My own smile fades when I watch Brady. He’s staring at my son, looking like he’s in physical pain. Maybe he’s stricken by how much Stryker looks like me. Everyone always tells me he is my carbon copy. His hair is my exact shade of brown and his eyes mirror my green ones. He even has my nose. I’m more than a little grateful for the resemblance. I didn’t need to be looking at a mirror-image of my ex-boyfriend who didn’t want anything to do with either of us.

Maybe reality is setting in and Stryker being here in the flesh is reminding Brady that I’m a single mom. A single mom he doesn’t want to mess with. Or even mess around with.

“Mommy, who’s that man?” Stryker asks from Caden’s arms.

“This is Mr. Brady. He plays baseball just like Mr. Caden.”

Stryker’s eyes light up. “You like baseball?”

Brady doesn’t answer.

“Brady?” I touch his arm.

He looks down at my hand and then back at my son. “Uh, sorry. Yeah, I like baseball,” he says with as much emotion as a turnip.

“Will you play with me sometime? With me and Mr. Caden? He likes baseball too. He got me a hat. Can I show it to him, Mommy? Can I show him my new hat?”

“I … I, uh, …” Brady looks at Caden and Murphy with eyes as distant as I’ve ever seen.

Murphy takes Stryker from Caden’s arms. “Come on, little man, let’s you, me and Mommy go see your new bedroom.”

“Okay. I’ll show him my hat later. And can I have pizza, too?”

“Yes, sweetie, you can have pizza,” I say as we walk towards his new room.

I look back, confused when I see Brady doubled over and Caden putting a hand on his back.

Stryker squeals when he sees his race car bed. He missed it while sleeping at the hotel. He opens the lids of some of the boxes and gets out toys, littering his room. As I watch him put his mark on our new home, something hits me like a ton of bricks – Brady didn’t once come in Stryker’s room. Caden or Murphy would take boxes or bags from him if they had Stryker’s name on them. Brady seemed terrified of Stryker just now. Not in an I-don’t-want-kids kind of way. More like an I’ve-seen-a-ghost kind of way. And then there’s the way he reacted at the hospital last fall.

Oh my God.

I turn to Murphy with tears in my eyes. “Did he lose a son?”

She looks down at Stryker to see him happily playing. Then she gives me an affirming nod.

I think back to all the autographs I’ve seen him sign at the request of kids. He never seemed to have a problem with that. I look at my son and have a horrible thought.

“How old was he?”

She nods to Stryker and my hand comes up to muffle my cry.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” my sweet boy asks, dropping his toy to see if I’m okay.

“Nothing, baby.” I force a smile. “I’m just so happy you like your new room.”

When he goes back to playing, Murphy whispers, “I couldn’t not tell you anymore. There was no way I could explain what just happened out there. But please, Rylee, he placed his trust in me. He doesn’t ever tell anyone. Please don’t tell him I said anything.”

“You didn’t,” I assure her. “I guessed it. All you did was nod.” I run a hand through my hair. “But what do I do? What do I say?”

We hear a door close. “I’m not sure you need to worry about that tonight. I’m willing to bet he just left.”

Caden walks down the hall and joins us in Stryker’s room. “Brady had to leave. He had a thing. He told me to tell you he’d see you later.” Caden looks between Murphy and me. I don’t doubt he sees my teary eyes. “You told her?” he asks Murphy.

“She figured it out,” Murphy says. “Don’t worry, she won’t say anything.”

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