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“Yeah. Don’t,” he says. “He won’t talk about it. He won’t talk about them. It took him three years to say anything to me.”

“Wait. Them?” I ask, wide-eyed.

“I thought you said she knew,” he says to Murphy.

“About the kid, yeah,” she says.

Caden leans back against the wall. “It was more than just his kid, Rylee. It was his wife. He lost both of them.”

Tears stream down my cheeks for the second time tonight as I can only imagine the horror of what he must have gone through. I want to ask them how, but they’ve told me more than they had the right to already.

Everything I know about Brady Taylor makes sense now. The way he doesn’t want attachments. A different girl in every city. The way he carries on like a certified bachelor, an arrogant baseball player who rules the world. But there is nothing further from the truth. He’s hiding his pain. He’s trying to prevent himself from ever feeling that kind of pain again.

My head hangs low. Any fantasy I ever had about ending up with the man I accidentally fell in love with has just been trampled. He could never be with a woman like me. A woman who represents everything he lost, right down to his three-year-old son.

And he knows it. It’s why he left me at the hospital.

It’s why he walked out of here tonight.

My back hits the wall and I slide to the ground knowing I’ve just lost him for the second time.

For the last time.

Chapter Twenty-eight

“Read me a book, Nana?” Stryker begs, holding out his favorite Dr. Seuss title to my mom.

My mother looks around my living room. “Who’s Nana, little fella?”

“You are, Mom.” I pick up Stryker and sit him next to her on the couch. “You’re his grandmother. He calls you Nana.”

“I have a grandson?” She lights up and gives him a hug. “My, he’s a handsome one, isn’t he?”

“I’ll let you two read while I check on dinner.”

I peek in the oven to make sure the cheese isn’t getting too brown. Then I use the bathroom and wash up. I look in the mirror, wondering not for the first time, if I will someday end up like my mom. I’ve done the research so I know early-onset Alzheimer’s can be inherited. There is a blood test I can get to see if I have the gene that will predispose me to it. I’m afraid to have the test. I’m afraid of having to put Stryker through this. And the worst is yet to come.

She’s pleasant for the most part. Not combative like some Alzheimer’s patients can get. It’s why they let me take her on outings from time to time. But I know the day will come when I’ll be a complete stranger to her. The day will come when every single memory she had will disappear never to return. I’m grateful that I decided to move back. I don’t want to miss out on what could be some of her last good days.

“Mommy, Mommy, the baseball man is here!” Stryker yells at me as he runs down the hallway.

“Who?” I grab his hand and he pulls me to the living room.

“The baseball man.” He points to the front door and I see Brady walking in carrying a gift bag.

So many things go through my mind all at once. Why is he here after what happened yesterday? What is he going to think of my mother? How am I supposed to act around him with Stryker here?

Brady pastes on what I know must be a painful smile when he looks at my son. But he does it. I can tell he’s trying hard not to react like he did yesterday.

“It’s so nice of you to join us for dinner, Gerald,” my mother says.

I look at Brady in horror. Oh, God.

“Mom, this is Brady Taylor. It’s not Dad.”

She looks at him and touches his hair. “Nonsense. Come, put down your things. I made lasagna, your favorite.”

Brady looks like a deer in headlights. “I, uh … I brought you a housewarming gift. I’m sorry I had to leave yesterday. I had forgotten about a thing I had to do.”

He holds the pretty bag out to me.

“He brought you a present, Mommy!” Stryker squeals.

“Thank you,” I say, taking the bag from him. I look from Brady to Stryker. “Would you like to come in?”

Mom pulls Brady’s arm, forcing him into the living room. “Of course he’s coming in. Your father never turns down my lasagna.”

“Can you come with me to the kitchen, Brady, while they finish their book?”

He nods.

“Wait, Mommy – your present.”

I put it down on the table. “You watch it for me and I’ll open it in a minute.”

Brady follows me into the kitchen and I lean against the counter. “I’m so sorry. She’s confused.”

“You don’t need to explain, Ry. I’m no stranger to Alzheimer’s. My granddad had it. Growing up, we spent every Sunday afternoon going to the home to keep him company.”

I study his face while he talks and something dawns on me. “You know, you do look a bit like my father. He was in his thirties when they first met. But they didn’t marry until a decade later.”

“Are you telling me your dad was a Scott Eastwood lookalike, too?”

I laugh. “He was a good-looking man.”

Brady reaches out and touches a lock of my hair. “I suspect he was, to have such a beautiful daughter.”

I feel heat cross my face. “Thank you for whatever is in the bag. You obviously don’t have to stay. I’ll make up an excuse.”

“I’ll leave if you want, but she was pretty insistent. Sometimes it’s just easier to go along.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “You’d stay for dinner?”

He walks over and starts opening kitchen cabinets. He pulls out two wine glasses. “I happen to love lasagna,” he says. “And my gift will pair well with it.”

I peek out of the kitchen and look at my son, knowing just how hard this will be for Brady if he stays. “You are welcome to stay, but please don’t feel obligated. I know it could be difficult.”

I catch myself before I say anything else that could betray our friends.

“You know, because of my mom. She can be a handful.”

Brady puts the wine glasses on the bar and laughs. “I know how to handle women, Rylee.”

I shake my head and roll my eyes. “I don’t doubt that you do. I’ll just set an extra place then.”

I take another place setting and put it as far away from Stryker’s seat as I can. I don’t want to make this more difficult than it already is.

“Gerald, did you know we had such a feisty grandson?”

“He does look like a fine boy,” Brady says.

“Mommy, can you open the baseball man’s present now?”

“Sure, sweetie, can you help me?”

Stryker gets excited as his hands dive into the bag. I help him pull out a bottle of wine. Then he pulls out a large decorative candle. Then he shouts as he pulls out the third item.

“Cars!”

I look at the ten-pack of Hot Wheels cars and then glance at Brady.

He shrugs. “I didn’t know what he’d like.”

I give him a heartfelt smile. “They’re perfect. Thank you.” I turn to my son. “Say thank you, Stryker.”

“Thank you, baseball man!” he shouts as I tear the package open for him.

A minute later, the timer goes off and I get up to pull dinner out of the oven. Brady follows me into the kitchen, leaving Stryker and my mom on the couch where he is showing her each tiny car.

“Thank you for my gifts as well. This will go nicely with dinner.” I hand the bottle of wine to Brady. “The corkscrew is in the drawer by the sink.”

Brady pours our wine and I get drinks for Stryker and Mom while the lasagna sets. I get the salad from the fridge and the bread from the oven.

I can’t help but stop and smile as I look at my surroundings. This is everything I want for my son. Sunday family dinners. I just wish it was by choice and not something my mother forced us into.

“Dinner’s ready,” I announce. “Can you put the salad out, Brady? Then you can take the seat at the head of the table.”

I dish everyone a generous portion and give Brady a double serving. Mom doesn’t fail to notice. “My girl, you’ll give your poor father a soft middle if he eats that much.”

“Not with the way he works out, Mom.”

“Nonsense. The man has no time for exercise with his schedule. Doctors are very busy, aren’t they, dear?”

She looks at Brady, expecting him to respond.

“Yes, uh …” He looks at me for help.

“Georgia,” I tell him, realizing I failed to properly introduce them.

“Yes, Georgia, doctors are very busy. As are baseball players.”

“I suppose they are,” she says. “Maybe that’s why that boy never visits our daughter anymore.”

Brady raises his brow at me but I ignore him.

“Go ahead Rylee, tell your father about the handsome boy who never visits with you. What team does he play on again?”

Brady smirks. “Is it the Nighthawks?” he asks, thinking she must be talking about him.

“No, no, that’s not it. What team is it, dear?” I don’t answer. “Oh, yes, the Mets. Tell your father about the handsome boy from the Mets who is courting you.”

Brady’s smirk falls into a frown. “Yes, Rylee, tell us about the boy from the Mets.”

“Stryker, do you want a piece of bread?” I hold out the bread basket to him.

He shakes his head with a mouthful of lasagna.

“Bread, anyone?”

I pass it across the table to Brady and he takes it, removing a piece without ever losing eye contact with me. It’s killing him in the worst way not knowing who we’re talking about. I have to keep myself from laughing, yet I’m not about to discuss Stryker’s father here at the table. For all intents and purposes, he doesn’t have one. Denny gave up all rights to him at birth. His name doesn’t even appear on Stryker’s birth certificate.

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