I grab his hand to let him know I’m listening.
“My junior year I became somewhat of a celebrity on campus. I broke all kinds of records and got a lot of media exposure. But with that came unwanted attention.”
He takes in a deep breath and I can feel him tense up behind me.
“There were a few break-ins at our apartment. Someone stole a family picture once and then some of my clothes another time.”
“That must have been awful,” I say.
“It wasn’t such a big deal for me,” he says. Then he pauses. He pauses for a whole minute or more. “But I had them to think about so I convinced the athletic department to put a security system in our apartment.”
His breathing becomes erratic and I’m worried he might hyperventilate. I hold his hand tightly and his grip around me becomes almost unbearably strong, like he’s trying to hold onto them.
“I forgot to set it,” he says, his voice cracking with desperation. “I always set it. I never left without doing it. But that day … It was the last game of the College World Series. It was my glory game.” His voice is thick with emotion and shaky with fear. “We all left at the same time. She was going to run some errands and then come home before dropping Keeton at her sister’s so she could drive up for the game. I never knew she didn’t make it there.”
He buries his head into my hair and I can feel a hot tear roll onto my neck. “Nobody even told me until after the game. After we’d won. If her father just would have called me earlier I would have had hours with her, not minutes. By the time I got to the hospital, Keeton …”
I turn around and embrace him as he breaks down and cries. “Shhh,” I murmur into his hair. I let him hold me as tightly as he needs to as he relives his nightmare.
“It was the same person all along,” he says. “One crazy woman broke in all three times. She’d tried once after we got the alarm, but the alarm scared her away. But that day—I forgot. My mind was on the game and I just walked out the door without thinking about it. And she got in. That day of all days, she got in. She went through our stuff. And when Nat and Keeton walked in on her …”
He moans out a cry of pure devastation.
“Oh, Brady. I’m so sorry.”
He shakes uncontrollably in my arms, sobbing into my shoulder.
“She never intended to hurt them. It said so in her suicide note when they found her body later that night. She said she just wanted my stuff. She said Natalie scared her and the gun just went off. It went right though Nat’s neck. And …” —his body stiffens and he can barely get out the words— “And when it happened, Nat’s body went limp and she dropped Keeton. He fell against the corner of the counter and struck his head. They said he died instantly.”
My sobs mix with his. The horror of not only losing a child, but the love of your life, is unimaginable. He lived through hell.
“I got to say goodbye to her. She couldn’t talk to me because of her injuries, but she could hear me. And I lied to her. I told her Keeton was alive and waiting for her. But the truth was … he was dead and waiting for her. I knew it the minute I saw her. I knew she was dying, too. And two things battled in my mind in those last minutes. I wanted her with me. But I wanted her with him.”
He cries out. “Goddammit! First I let that crazy bitch in my house and then I practically prayed for my wife to die. I killed them, Rylee. They are dead because of me.”
He sobs into me. He cries harder than I’ve ever heard any man – any person – cry. I’ve never been in the presence of so much pain. I comfort him the only way I know how, with my hands. I work my hands around his neck and massage him. His sobs become weaker and his breathing evens out. I think he falls asleep from exhaustion.
I lie here and hold him. I think of a young family that never had a chance to grow. I think of a young man who had to endure more than any person should have to endure. I think of the man lying next to me who I love with all my heart. And I know I will give him as long as it takes to heal his heart. Because he’s worth fighting for.
Hours later, he stirs in my arms. “Their funeral was the same day I got drafted by the Hawks. I walked out of the reception and never looked back. I took one small picture, the framed photo, a few of my old baseball mementoes, and a shirt. I left the rest of the details to her parents. They packed up our apartment. Put it all in storage. I couldn’t do it. I just ran away. I guess I’ve been running ever since.”
“I’m so sorry, Brady. I can’t even imagine your pain. But thank you for telling me. Thank you for trusting me.”
Light starts to shine through my curtains and he pulls away. “I should go,” he says.
“No. Wait.” I reach over to my nightstand and pull out my photo book from the drawer. I open it and show him a picture. “This is a picture of my dad. We were very close. He had me late in life and I was his only child. And then when Mom got sick, well, all we had was each other. And, Brady, I know it’s no comparison to what you lost, so please don’t think I’m trying to measure my loss with yours, but I’m not sure you’ve ever gotten closure. You left almost immediately. You never had time to grieve them properly. When my dad died, I was devastated. I felt so alone. It took me more than a month to get myself to go through our house and his things. But packing up his things was exactly what I needed to start healing. Every shirt had a memory. Every trinket had a story. And as hard as it was to go through his belongings, it was what I needed to move on with my life. I think you need closure, too.”
He studies my face. He lifts his hand and cups my cheek. He traces my jaw with his finger.
“Would you go with me?” he asks. “Would you go with me if I go back to Nebraska?”
Tears sting the backs of my eyes as I nod my head over and over. “Just say when.”
The light is bright through my window now, and he gets off the bed looking guilty that he kept me up so late. I stand up and grab his hand. “Come on, I’ll go make us some coffee.”
“But …” He nods in the direction of Stryker’s room.
“We’re not going to parade around naked or anything, Brady. But I think it’s time he gets used to having you around.”
He smiles. “Thank you, Ry. I promise I’m going to try with him. I’m going to try hard.”
“I know you are. And I promise I’m going to be patient.”
He pulls me into his arms. “I love you, Rylee Kennedy.”
I wrap my arms around him. “I’ve waited my whole life to hear someone say that.” I look up at him. “I’m so glad it’s you.”
The fasten-seatbelt light is turned off and the flight attendant brings us some bottled water. Brady stares out the window, lost in thought, as I look around the cabin seeing how the other half lives.
I’ve never flown first class before. I’ve never wanted to. It seems a waste of money just for extra leg room and free drinks. But now was not the time to fight with him about it. We’re flying into his past. And he’s bringing me along with him. He’s trusting me enough to let me in.
The last week has been full of ups and downs. Brady has been around the apartment more often when Stryker is awake, but I can tell he’s struggling. And he has a sadness about him I’ve not seen before. Ripping the Band-Aid off his past has opened up old wounds that need time to heal.
Brady grabs my hand. “Talk to me. Tell me something to keep my mind off where we’re going.”
I nod and I take a drink of my water. “His name was Denny Sharp.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Stryker’s dad?”
“Yes. He played for the Mets. I met him through my father. Dad took me to a benefit once after my mom got sick and wasn’t able to attend.”
“I’ve never heard of him,” he says.
“He only played for two years. He played right field and didn’t have a great batting average. He was arrogant and charming and frivolous with his money.”
“Just like me.” He squeezes my hand.
I laugh. “Well, there were some similarities. But I was young and naïve. He swept me off my feet and made me feel like I was the only woman in the world. The problem was, he was making several other girls feel the exact same way.”
“Shit,” he says. “No wonder you weren’t jumping at the chance to be with me.”
“It wasn’t until I got pregnant that I found out about the others. I found out because he told me. He said he never wanted to be tied down. He wanted nothing more to do with me, which quite frankly was perfectly fine by me. I wasn’t about to stay with a man who was cheating on me. I thought about going after him for child support. I was a poor grad student, after all. But if he were paying support, he’d still be in my life. We’d be connected for eighteen years. He might even want to see the baby at some point. And that wasn’t okay with me. If he could so easily turn away from me, from us, he didn’t deserve to be in our lives. So my father hired a lawyer and Denny signed away his parental rights as soon as he legally could after Stryker was born.”
“I’m sorry you’ve had to go through it all alone,” Brady says.
“It’s okay. Stryker is the light of my life. If I had to do it all over again, I’d still do it. I can’t imagine not being his mom.”
“You’ve done a fine job raising him. He’s a great kid.”
“So whatever happened to Denny Sharp?”
I shrug. “The last I heard he was selling used cars over in Jersey.”
Brady laughs. “Serves him right. Thank you for telling me.”
We make some small talk over the next few hours, but mostly Brady just holds my hand and stares out the window. And I mostly stare at Brady.
I’ll admit at first, I did think he was a Denny. And I was right. He was. Fast balls. Fast cars. Fast women. It could have been his motto. And I think part of the reason I agreed to sleep with him last year was to prove to myself that I could be with Brady and not fall for him. And I didn’t at first. I fought my feelings with everything I had. But when we were together, life was carefree. Fun. Easy. It was everything I’d never had being a single mom.