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Stryker falls into a fit of giggles.

Sawyer and I stand behind the pitcher’s mound watching Brady and my son toss a ball back and forth.

“Thanks for coming,” I say.

“I couldn’t let your kid learn from anyone but the best,” he says with a nudge to my ribs.

“And yet you’re standing back here with me.”

He gives me a knowing look. “It’s not that hard to see this really isn’t about baseball, is it?” He nods to Brady and Stryker.

“Thanks for that, too,” I tell him, happy that he’s letting Brady and Stryker have this moment.

“I know you don’t know me very well, and I’m sure you think the same about me as everyone else, but I hope you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt when I tell you I’m a nice guy.”

“I’m not judging you, Sawyer.”

“Well then you might be the only one.”

“People have reasons for what they do,” I say, staring at Brady.

Sawyer nods. “Yeah, they do, don’t they? He told me about Natalie and Keeton a few weeks ago, you know.”

I look at him in surprise. “Really?”

“Yeah. And I’ll bet my right arm you had something to do with it.” He studies me. “You’re good for him.”

“He’s good for me. For us. Maybe someday you’ll find someone who’s good for you.”

He laughs. “Not likely.”

“Why not, Sawyer? What are you afraid of?”

He raises an accusing brow. “Are you and Murphy the baseball whisperers or something? Do you guys just go around trying to fix everyone’s shit?”

“No. I guess we want everyone to be as happy as we are, that’s all.”

“Happiness is an illusion,” he says. “Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re happy. And it sure as shit doesn’t mean they’re happy.”

I look at him, wondering not for the first time, what his story is.

“It’s not an illusion if you’re with the right person, Sawyer. Maybe we could find someone nice for you to go out with.”

“Sure,” he says. “I’ll take anyone out once.”

I scold him with my eyes. “Maybe we could find someone you’d like to take out more than once.”

“Again – not likely.”

“How come you never take a woman out more than one time?” I ask.

He ignores my question and nods to Brady and Stryker. “Your son seems to be taking to him.”

I smile. “He does.”

I stand back and watch the two of them bond, trying my best to stave off the tears.

Two hours and one tired kid later, we make our way out of the park, Sawyer going off in one direction and the three of us in another. Even as exhausted as Stryker is, he’s got a permanent smile on his face. I think Brady and Sawyer just gave him the best day of his life. He wouldn’t let Brady put all the baseballs back in his bag, he’s still holding one. I wonder if he’ll ever give it up.

“You’ve created a monster,” I tell Brady.

“The best kind of monster,” he says. “Nothing is better than a kid who loves baseball.”

When we exit the park, I see a police car down the street, pulling my attention to the flashing lights momentarily. When I look back at Stryker, he’s not at my side. My eyes dart around and then I scream as I watch my son run after his baseball right out into the busy street.

“Stryker!” I scream, running after him, not even thinking about how I’m most likely going to get hit by a car.

Everything happens so quickly. I get pushed down to the ground and then I hear car horns and screeching tires. I get up and scream his name again, running out into the traffic that has now come to a stop. I’m terrified at what I’m going to see when I come around the cars. Visions of my son’s bloody body flash through my head. I’m crazy with fear and the world goes in slow motion as I run across the street.

I fall to my knees as I see Brady’s large body wrapped around Stryker. Brady’s arm is bleeding with numerous scrapes down one side. He’s holding onto Stryker for dear life. When I make it to them, Brady releases him but looks over every inch of his body, just like I do.

“Is he okay?” I ask frantically, as I check Stryker’s head and then each arm and leg.

“He’s fine,” Brady chokes out, a tear running down his cheek as he watches Stryker pick up the ball he was after like what just happened is no big deal.

He picks Stryker up and walks us both back to the sidewalk where he finds a bench to sit down on.

I pull my son onto my lap and squeeze him tightly. “Thank God.”

Then I talk to him sternly. “Stryker, you can’t run out in the street like that. You can’t chase a ball. We can replace a baseball, we can’t replace you.”

As soon as I say it, I realize how those words might affect Brady and I glance at him to see if he noticed.

“Your mom is right, sport. You can’t ever do that again. She would be lost without you. I would be lost without you.” He puts his arm around us. “Both of you.”

Stryker starts crying. I think we’ve scared him. “It’s okay, baby. You’re okay. We’re not going to let anything happen to you.”

Brady runs his hand down Stryker’s back, helping me soothe him as onlookers ask if we’re okay.

I remember the scrapes on Brady’s arm—his pitching arm—and reach my hand out. “Oh, Brady, your arm.”

He shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”


“But nothing,” he says. “My arm’s okay, Rylee. And even if it wasn’t, I’d still do what I did. I’d do anything for you. Both of you.”

“Thank you,” I say, lacing my fingers with his.

“How do I apply for the job?” he asks.

I look at him like maybe he hit his head on the pavement. “What job?”

He nods at Stryker. “The one that puts my name on his birth certificate.”

My eyes snap to his. “You’d … really?”

“Really,” he says. “I want him. I want you. I want this.”

“I love you,” I tell him.

“I love you, too.”

“Mommy?” Stryker says.

“Yeah, baby?”

“Are you gonna tell Nana I got a home run?”

I laugh, thinking how quickly children can move on from one thing to the next. “No. I’m not going to tell her, but you can.”

“Good. I can show her my lucky ball,” he says, still holding onto it.

I shake my head at his lucky ball thinking how much worse this could have turned out.

“Can Bwady come eat with Nana?”

I look over and raise my eyebrows.

“Yes, I’d love to eat with Nana, sport. Family dinners are the best, aren’t they?” He stands up and holds his arms out to Stryker who happily hops up to be carried home.

Brady throws his baseball bag over his shoulder and takes my hand in his. I notice a few people snapping pictures of us and wonder what they must think, the playboy of baseball walking down the street with a child in his arms. But I don’t care about the attention we’re getting. I’m half tempted to ask one of them to send me a picture so I can see for myself what we look like as a family. The family I’ve always dreamed of.

Chapter Forty-two

I know Brady thinks he’s ready. He says he’s ready. But there is a small part of me that isn’t sure. And I’m only getting married once in this lifetime, so I’m going to be darn sure I pick the right man.

A few weeks ago, when Stryker ran out into the road, I knew that was a turning point for Brady. I’ve seen him heal so much since then. I’ve seen him try to be a father to my son. And every time I see them together, I fall in love with Brady even more.

Still, I’m waiting. For what, I don’t know. A sign maybe. Something to tell me this is it—he is it.

Stryker puts on his Hawks hat and hands me mine. Then we head out to the game. I grab the poster boards. And on them, the joke I haven’t needed to use. I carry them with me anyway. Maybe that’s my superstition. But he doesn’t need them. He hasn’t for weeks. He’s back in the game. He’s back in spades.

We meet Murphy and Lexi and the four of us go to the game together. This is a big game for Brady. This is the team he was facing last year when he broke his arm. He feels like he has a score to settle. I just hope it doesn’t mess with his head. Maybe it’s a good idea that I brought the posters after all.

The Hawks are winning 3-0 after six innings. As our guys take the field, Murphy grabs my hand and squeezes. “You know what’s going on, don’t you?”

Of course I know what’s going on. Everyone in this stadium knows what’s going on but nobody is talking about it. Brady is pitching a perfect game. Not one batter has made it to first base. Not with a hit, not on an error, not because of a walk. He has three more innings to go to be in the history books. Nine more batters. A lot can happen. The odds are not in his favor.

I stare Murphy down, refusing to talk about it.

“Et tu, Brute?” she says, giggling.

“Don’t you dare mess with the mojo or I’ll have to hurt you.”

“Seriously, Murphy. What’s wrong with you?” Lexi says.

Brady and Caden knock their gloves together and then go to their respective places, Caden behind the plate and Brady on the mound. As always, he looks up at me on the way. I smile and Stryker yells, “Go Bwady!”

It’s a tough inning. The first batter is really putting Brady through his paces. The batter has fouled off seven balls. I can tell Brady is getting frustrated. He throws two wild pitches and then Caden calls time and walks up to the mound. Brady shakes his head at him and Caden puts a hand on his shoulder.

I reach down and grab the poster board. I wait to see if he looks up at me. When he does I hold it up.


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