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Caden comes down the hallway, hair still wet from a shower. He pours everyone a glass of wine. “We missed you at the games,” he says, patting Brady on the shoulder.

Brady flew home early from Minneapolis, missing yesterday’s and today’s games so we could head out to Lincoln at the crack of dawn this morning. Being on the disabled list, he’s not required to be at all the games, but he likes to go anyway.

“Thanks,” Brady says. “I had shit to take care of.”

“And did you take care of it?” Caden asks.

Brady nods and looks at me. “Yeah. Yeah, I did.”

The guys talk baseball while I help Murphy put the finishing touches on the meal. Then she calls everyone to the kitchen. “Caden, can you and Brady take the platters over to the table please? Here, Rylee, you bring the wine. I’ll get the rest. And can someone open the salsa?”

Caden is still filling Brady in on the game when Brady picks up the jar of salsa and opens it effortlessly.

“Oh, my God!” I say, my jaw slack as I stare at him.

“What?” he asks.

I nod to the jar of salsa.

When he realizes what he just did, he says, “Holy shit!” He looks at me. “Holy shit!”

“Murphy, do you have any more salsa?” he asks.

“You don’t like that one?” she says.

I’m tearing through Murphy’s pantry before she even realizes what’s going on. I come out with another jar and hand it to Brady. He opens it with a huge smile on his face.

“Well, it’s not pickles, but I’ll take it,” he says. “I’ll fucking take it.” Then he picks me up and spins me around.

I’m laughing and crying at the same time while Murphy and Caden are looking at us like we’re crazy.

“I’m back!” he yells at the ceiling.

“You’re back,” I say. “I never doubted it for a second.”

He stops spinning and kisses me. Right here in Murphy’s kitchen with the two of them watching, he kisses me with as much passion as he’s ever kissed me before.

He pulls his lips away, but he’s still holding me. “Marry me,” he says.

My eyes go wide. I’m not sure I heard him correctly. “Uh …”

“Come on, Ry. Marry me.”

I wriggle out of his arms. I look over at Murphy and watch as she grabs Caden’s arm and pulls him out of the room.

“What the hell is happening here?” I hear Caden ask his wife on their way out.

“Brady, you’re talking crazy. We can’t get married.”

“Why the hell not?”

“We haven’t been dating long enough.”

And you pretty much just buried your wife and child today, I want to scream.

“We’ve been over this before, Ry.”

“Yes. We have. And I love you, Brady. But before I commit my life to you, before I commit Stryker’s life to you, I have to be one hundred percent sure. And you should be, too.”

“So the answer is no?” he says.

“I’m not giving you an answer,” I say. “I’m not giving you an answer until I’m ready.”

“I’m not giving up, you know,” he says. “Not until I get the answer I want. And I can be very persuasive.”

I smile, knowing just how true that is.

“Is it safe to come back in?” Murphy asks.

“Yes, come on in,” I say.

Caden and Murphy just stand there and stare at us when they enter the kitchen.

“We’re not engaged,” I say. “Brady was just excited over his hand.”

“Yet,” Brady says. “We’re not engaged yet is what Rylee meant to say.”

Murphy gives Caden a knowing smile. “Okay, come on, let’s eat. And you can tell us what’s so great about opening a jar of salsa.”

Brady tells them about the pickle jars and his grip.

“So how long do you think before he can pitch in a game?” Caden asks me.

I shrug. “I’m not a coach, guys, don’t look at me. But if I were betting on it, I’d say a few weeks to a month.”

“I’m betting on a few weeks,” Brady says. “I’ve always beaten the odds when it comes to baseball.” Then he looks over at me. “You did it. You got me back.”

“I guess we make a good team, don’t we?” I say.

He puts his left hand on mine and traces his thumb across my ring finger. “That’s exactly what I’m counting on.”

Chapter Thirty-nine

The past few weeks have been tough on Brady. He’s pitching again. But he’s not pitching particularly well. He was so looking forward to being out on the mound again, but now it’s almost like he dreads it. He’s lost his confidence.

I think he expected to jump right back in where he left off and be at the top of his game. When that didn’t happen immediately, it messed him up. The team is giving him some latitude because they know it takes time, but even after only a few weeks, he tells me he can feel his manager’s confidence waning as well.

It kills me to see him like this. I go to as many games as I can. I take Stryker with me a lot. He loves to watch baseball. He wears the glove Brady gave him. Keeton’s glove. Someday we’ll tell him where it came from.

Brady always looks up at me when he’s walking to the mound. Sometimes he looks at me between pitches, especially when he seems to be getting frustrated. I just wish there was something I could do to calm him down. He’s always telling me that when he thinks too much about pitching, it messes him up.

The past few weeks have been tough on me, too. Since he’s back playing, I haven’t gotten to see him much. Especially since he’s done with physical therapy. While it’s true that players get some sort of PT on a daily basis, they don’t go outside the organization for that day-to-day stuff.

It’s plain and simple. I miss him.

Today is Saturday and Stryker and I are getting our Hawks shirts on. Murphy and Lexi are coming by shortly and we’re going to the first game of their double-header together.

Stryker already has his baseball glove on. “I’m gonna play baseball like Bwady,” he says.

He stopped calling Brady ‘baseball man’ when Brady started spending more time with him. Ever since we got back from Lincoln, Brady has made it a point to eat with us—both of us—whenever he can. And he’s gotten creative about it, even coming for breakfast when he’s in town since he knows Stryker will be in bed by the time he stops by after his games. Sometimes he spends the night and then gets dressed before Stryker wakes up, pretending he’s just shown up for breakfast. I love those nights. Nights when I can lie in his arms and dream about the possibility of a future with him.

He asked me to marry him. Marry him. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. And Brady hasn’t let me forget. He brings it up almost every time we’re together. “Marry me yet?” he says. And I give him my standard answer. “Not yet.”

I get down on my knees in front of my son. “Do you like Brady?” I ask. “He wants to spend more time with us, would that be okay?”

He nods emphatically. “Bwady helps me play baseball.”

“Yes, he does, doesn’t he?”

I know Stryker understands the basic concept of a daddy, but he never asks me about it. I guess because he has a nanny and isn’t in a daycare setting, he’s not seeing men pick their kids up and then questioning me about it. Occasionally when we read books that talk about fathers, he will ask a question or two, but sometimes I think he believes kids either have a mommy or a daddy, but not both.

The doorbell rings and I let Lexi and Murphy in. They both high-five Stryker and then he tells them a knock-knock joke.

His joke is silly and juvenile and it makes us all laugh. It also gives me an idea. “We need to stop at the corner market along the way,” I announce.

I put my Hawks ball cap on and give Stryker his and we go on our way.

When we get to the stadium and find our seats next to the first-base dugout, I pull out the thick black marker and the poster boards I bought and get started on my project. I hope Brady doesn’t get mad. But in my defense, he only said he didn’t want me holding up ‘I love you’ signs.

Brady looks up at me when he heads to the mound. I give him a thumbs-up and Stryker yells, “Go Bwady!”

Brady winks at Stryker and then looks over at Caden, who’s his catcher. The first two batters fly out to center field. The third batter hits a ground ball and gets thrown out at first. The fans go crazy. But Brady isn’t happy. All three batters got a piece of him. He’s not going to be happy until he strikes out every last player on the team.

When the Hawks are up and Caden comes up to bat, Murphy grabs my elbow. She still gets nervous every time he steps up to hit. We all yell and scream when he hits a double.

Sawyer comes up next. He gets a few strikes on him and then hits a good dinger over the head of the second-baseman to bring Caden home. It’s so much fun to watch Sawyer on base. He steals more bases than anyone in the league and everyone knows it. It’s a game between him and the pitcher—will the pitcher throw him out or will Sawyer add another stolen base to his impeccable record? Luckily, Sawyer wins that game most of the time. In fact, we’re all on our feet cheering when the next pitch gets past the catcher and Sawyer steals home.

Brady doesn’t get to hit because the next few guys get out and he’s pretty far down in the lineup. Hitting is not Brady’s strong suit. Whereas Caden is one of the best batters on the team, Brady is considered average. They didn’t hire him because of his hitting ability. And that’s the problem. They won’t keep him because of his hitting ability either. If Brady doesn’t prove himself on the mound, there will be no reason for him to play.

The second inning is more of the same. Brady gets the ball over the plate well enough, but balls are being hit to the outfield and the other team scores a run. I can tell how frustrated he is when he goes back into the dugout.

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