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When he comes out to pitch the third inning, I decide it’s time to hold up the sign. I turn around and apologize to the fans behind me and then I hold up the large white poster board over my head. It reads: KNOCK KNOCK.

As usual, he glances over at me on his way from the dugout. He looks confused, however, when he sees me holding the sign. He looks away and then the batter comes up to the plate. He throws a strike, but then throws four balls and walks the batter.

I hold up the sign again, hoping he’ll look over. He does. I stare him down until he mouths the words, “Who’s there?”

I smile and change the poster to a new one. This one says: EUROPE.

The second batter comes up and the first pitch is a strike. Then Brady throws three balls. He’s frustrated. Caden calls time and approaches the mound. Brady looks over at me and I hold up the EUROPE sign again. I stare him down until he acquiesces.

“Europe who?” he mouths, reluctantly.

I switch to the last sign and hold it high over my head. It reads: NO – YOU’RE A POO.

He reads it and then shakes his head. I can’t see his eyes under the bill of his hat, but I’d guess he’s rolling them at me right now. Brady and Caden share a few words and then Caden walks back behind the plate. Brady glances over at me and the left side of his mouth turns upward into a half smile.

Then he throws two strikes in a row and the umpire calls the batter out.

The third batter gets two fastballs right up the middle and then a curve ball on the inside. He never stood a chance.

Brady tips his hat at me before walking back into the dugout.

He doesn’t look at me much for the rest of the game, but when he does, he’s laughing. And he has the best game he’s had since he came back.

Hours later, when he comes to my apartment after the second game, he picks me up and carries me back to my bed. He lays me down and crawls on top of me, hovering over me. “What made you do that?” he asks.

“I guess it was a combination of things. You mentioning the signs and then Stryker told a joke earlier today.”

“I never said anything to you? Maybe talked in my sleep?”

“About what?” I ask.

He laughs. “You know I hate those girls who hold up the stupid ‘I love you’ signs, but I’ve often thought I’d like it better if they held up a sign with a joke on it.”

“Really?”

“It’s like you read my mind, Ry. And it worked.”

“It wasn’t the sign, Brady. It was all you. You just needed to stop thinking about pitching for a minute.”

“I did, you know. I kept thinking about that stupid joke every time I looked at you.” He leans down to kiss me. “God, I love how much you get me. Marry me yet?”

“Not yet,” I say, smiling.

Chapter Forty

Boston is a beautiful city. I love it here. I have wonderful memories of taking the train here with Mom and Dad when I was younger. So when Murphy asked me if I wanted to come for the weekend, I could hardly refuse. The Nighthawks are ending a three-day series with the Red Sox today and she thought we could all have a much-needed night out after the game.

And I must say the thought of spending an entire night with Brady and not having to worry about Stryker walking in, makes me oh so happy.

Stryker is staying with Lexi for the night. He loves her two girls, Beth, and her older sister, Ellie, who is deaf. And although my son just turned four, he’s already picking up some basic sign language just by being around them. I’ve learned a few words myself so I can communicate with Ellie whenever I see her.

Murphy and I check in to the hotel, leaving our bags in the guys’ rooms, and then we head over to the stadium. “Can you please stop at a market or convenience store along the way?” I ask the cab driver.

“Picking up supplies?” Murphy asks, laughing.

She knows the drill. Every time I go to a game, I come prepared with signs and a joke. The good news is, I haven’t had to use them every time. But it’s kind of become our thing. And sometimes I think Brady gets upset if I don’t have one for him when he’s pitching well.

Stryker helps me with the jokes. And just like a four-year-old, most of them are centered around human waste or bodily noises. I think he and Helen must Google knock-knock jokes when I’m at work, because for as young as he is, he’s got some good ones.

“Nice one,” Murphy says, as she watches me make the signs. “You know, Caden and Brady are very different out there. Caden won’t ever look up at me, not after he finds me in the stands right before the game. But Brady is always looking at you.”

“Caden looks at you when he hits a home run,” I say. “And maybe Brady looking at me is not such a good thing. Maybe that’s what’s messing up his game.”

“I don’t think so,” she says. “He’s always looked up into the stands. He told me once that it gives him energy. While Caden might not like to think about the forty-thousand pairs of eyes watching him, for Brady, I think it drives him to succeed.”

“God, I hope he succeeds,” I say. “I can’t imagine how heartbroken he would be if he didn’t.”

“He will,” she says. “He is. His pitching is great. It’s his head that needs work. Caden tells me he’s an ace in practice. He says Brady pitches just like before, maybe better. But in the games, he sometimes freezes.”

“Do you think he’s afraid of getting hit by another ball?”

Murphy reaches up and touches the scar under her eye. “Could be. I was terrified for a long time after I was hit, even if there was a net between me and the field. I imagine it’s worse for him being down there in the direct line of fire knowing what kind of damage can be done. But he’ll get over it,” she says. “He’ll get over it because he has to.”

Our guys take the field and look over to find us. Murphy blows Caden a kiss. We both give a thumbs-up to them. And I might say a silent prayer.

After the first two innings, I fear I might need today’s sign. He’s frustrated. But at least when he gets up to bat, he gets a single and drives in a run. Maybe that will help his confidence.

Halfway through the third inning, however, when he walks another batter, I know it’s time. I wait for him to look up at me and then I hold up the sign.

KNOCK KNOCK

I think I see the corners of his mouth turn up in a repressed smile. “Who’s there?” he mouths.

Then he turns back to face his batter. This is the dance we do with the signs. He never gets the full joke at once. He likes to think about it; anticipate it. He says it helps him keep his head out of the game. It works. He strikes out the batter. And the third one fouls out to the right fielder.

In fact, I don’t need to give him the next part of the joke for three more innings. Maybe he could even go the whole game without it, but let’s face it, as juvenile as it is, I know he wants to see it.

A PILE-UP

I see him mouth the words, “A pile-up who?” Then he shakes his head and laughs. He doesn’t even need me to hold up the sign that reads: EWWWWWW! But I do anyway.

Murphy puts a hand on my arm. “You’re a godsend, I hope you know that.”

“They are just stupid kid jokes, Murphy.”

“I’m not talking about the jokes. Even as he’s working his way through his slump, he’s still happier than I’ve ever seen him. That’s all you, Rylee. I do hope you marry him one day.”

I look down and watch them run off the field. “Yeah, I hope so too.”

During the seventh-inning stretch, the ever-popular ‘Sweet Caroline’ song gets played and I see Caden peeking out of the dugout to mouth the words to Murphy. The song, even though it’s played only at Red Sox games, has a lot of personal meaning to them.

In the end, the Nighthawks squeeze out a narrow win.

“Come on,” Murphy says. “Let’s go meet the guys as they come out. We’ll be their groupies.”

The plan was to meet them back at the hotel before our night out, but how can I argue with her when she looks so excited about it. I shove my signs into a trashcan and we make our way to the visitors’ clubhouse.

There is a good crowd waiting where the guys will come out, probably because we’re not too far from New York and the fans can travel easily.

I’m eager to see Brady. I know he will be in a good mood tonight. I can’t wait to spend the entire night with him.

Murphy and I hang back, but some of the fans are getting close to the barricades they use to separate the crowd from the players. As I see Brady and a few others come out the door, a security guard grabs a woman’s arm when she tries to slip through.

“You have to stay behind these, Miss,” he says.

“But I’m Brady Taylor’s girlfriend,” she says.

Murphy and I both look at the girl and then at each other. “Shit,” I say. “We should have gone back to the hotel.”

She gives me a sympathetic look.

“I don’t care if you’re the Queen Mother,” the security guard says. “Everyone stays behind the line.”

“Brady!” the girl yells.

Brady’s eyes snap over to her. He sighs and shakes his head. He doesn’t know Murphy and I are here waiting so he goes over to the woman. “Shauna,” he says, acknowledging her.

She tries to throw her arms around him, but he pushes her off and pulls her to the side.

I scoot closer and camouflage myself behind someone else so I can try to hear what they are saying.

“What are you doing, Shauna? I told you on Thursday I can’t see you anymore.”

Murphy nudges my elbow. And then Caden spots us and comes over to greet us. Murphy puts her finger to her lips to shush him before he speaks. She wants to hear Brady’s conversation as much as I do.

“That’s nonsense,” Shauna says, putting her hand on his chest provocatively. “Come on, Brady. You know you can’t resist me.”

Brady looks around and spots Caden, then his eyes widen when he sees me standing just a few feet away. He looks like he’s not sure what he wants to do so I shake my head at him, letting him know not to acknowledge me.

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