“And where exactly is that?” I ask, wondering whose apartment we’re going to.
He picks up Stryker in one arm and holds my hand with the other. “It’s wherever the two of you are.”
~ ~ ~
It takes longer than usual to get an excited Stryker to fall asleep. I read to him. Brady reads to him. Then Brady tells him a story about a boy and his guardian angel.
“It was Keeton, wasn’t it?” I ask Brady as we crawl into bed.
“The guardian angel in your story. It was Keeton.”
“I love you,” I tell him.
“No more than I love you.”
He proves it to me with his kisses, his loving caress. He takes his slow time with me. He moves his lips across every inch of my neck. His tongue blazes a path down to my breasts. I moan breathily when he takes a nipple into his mouth.
My hands travel across his strong, broad back. I can feel his muscles contract as he moves. I trace the ripples and ridges with my fingers. I reach down to take him into my hands. His steely erection throbs under my grip as I stroke him.
He moves a hand to my sex, inserting his fingers, making me arch my back into him. He traces his thumb across my clit. He whispers sweet nothings to me as we work each other to the edge of ecstasy.
“I can’t wait another minute,” he says. “I have to be inside you.”
“Yes,” I cry.
As he enters me, we lock eyes and I wonder how this even happened. How did this man wrap himself so completely around our lives that I have no choice but to love him? How did he fight his demons and overcome such loss so that he could love again? How did he take this ordinary girl with an ordinary life and turn us into an extraordinary family?
With every thrust, he says my name. With every breath, he declares his love for me.
And when we come, he watches me. I watch him. And for a moment, we are one. One person. One entity. One perfect being.
He nuzzles his head into my neck as we chase our recovery. Then he spoons himself behind me. “Hello, fiancée,” he whispers.
I smile for the millionth time today. “I think I like the sound of that,” I say with my raspy voice.
“Don’t get too used to it, sweetheart,” he says. “You won’t be one for long.”
“You want to get married soon?”
“As soon as possible.”
I think about it. “I’d like that, too, while there’s a better chance of my mom being lucid.”
“We’ll record it for her and show it to her later if she isn’t.”
I turn around in his arms. “When did you become this perfect man, Brady? You think of everything. You say the right things. You take care of us so well.”
He climbs on top of me. “It happened when I met you,” he says. “Don’t you know, Rylee—you’re everything to me. My Holy Grail. My jackpot. My perfect game.”
His lips crash down on mine and he shows me just how much he means those words. “I never want to spend another night without you. Move in with me.”
“Will tomorrow be too soon?” I ask.
He props himself on his elbows. “What changed your mind? Why did you finally say yes?”
“I always knew I would,” I tell him. “I knew I would from the moment you asked me. But it all happened so fast. I just had to be sure.”
“And you’re sure now?”
I nod. “I’ve never been more sure of anything.”
He cups my face with his hands. “I meant what I said about Stryker being my son. I want that. Will you let me adopt him?”
A tear rolls out of the side of my eye and he wipes it away with his thumb.
“Yes,” I say. “He’s going to be so happy to have a daddy.”
He laughs. “Let’s not forget to remind him of that when I take away his car keys after he fails chemistry in high school.”
“Car keys? But we live in the city.”
“We do now, but someday I’d like to have a house. A big house with a white fence and a basketball hoop. We’ll have a batting cage out back for Stryker.”
“And a pool,” I say. “I’ve always wanted a pool.”
“You got it,” he says, leaning down to kiss me again. “You can have anything you want, future Mrs. Taylor.”
He settles in behind me pulling my back to his front, yawning after his big day.
“I still can’t believe you did it today,” I tell him. “You accomplished what most pitchers will only ever dream of. Kids all over the world will want to grow up to be like you. Books will be written about what you did.” I squeeze his hand. “What were you thinking when you struck out that last batter?”
“I was thinking what a lucky man I am. And I was thinking I never thought I’d feel that way again. I was thinking none of it would have mattered if you and Stryker weren’t with me, Ry. And even if that last batter had stepped up to the plate and hit a home run, I promise you, I would still have been a winner.”
Eighteen years later …
I sit in our house, the one with the white fence, the basketball hoop, the batting cage, and the pool—I sit here doing something I haven’t done in twenty-four years.
It’s not that I wouldn’t have done it after Rylee and I got married. I probably would have, but just like Ry, she planned something extra special every year on this day knowing it might hold bad memories for me.
But today, every eye in our house is glued to the television. Reporters and cameramen mingle with our family and friends, all of them giving space to the six of us who are so anxiously watching the screen.
Stryker is sitting next to me, wearing his University of Florida hat for maybe the last time. From this day forward, he’ll wear a different hat. One that will shape his future.
“I think you’re more nervous than I am, Dad,” he says, putting his hand on my leg to stop it from shaking.
I nod my head, trying to hold back the tears of pride that I feel for this incredible young man.
His three younger sisters sit on the floor in front of us, all holding hands as we wait impatiently.
Rylee comes out of the kitchen, laughing. “You guys are a sight,” she says, coming to stand next to me.
I pull her down onto the couch and grab her hand. “What if Arizona takes him? I don’t want him to go there. Or Washington. Anywhere else but those two.”
Everyone knows I despise both of the teams we lost the World Series to when I was playing. I look down at the ring I got from the one we did win. I wonder if Stryker will wear such a ring someday.
Then I look at my wife. She’s still one of the two most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She gave me three gorgeous daughters. And when our third girl was born, Rylee insisted on naming her Tara. By chance, our first two daughters were named Nina and Ana. When Rylee realized it, she said she wanted to honor the first woman I loved by spelling out Nat’s name with the first letters of our daughters’ names.
She never ever lets me forget the two I lost. And I love her for it more than she will ever know.
And as much as I want Stryker to follow in my footsteps professionally, the one thing I truly wish for him is that he find a woman like his mother. If he can do that, it’s better than winning the World Series; more rewarding than pitching a perfect game.
“Oh, come on,” Rylee says. “You know you want the Hawks to take him. You want it so badly you can taste it.”
“Shhhh,” Ana says. “They are starting up again.”
The MLB commissioner takes the podium. “For the third selection of the MLB draft, the Arizona Diamondbacks select the center fielder from James Madison High School, Nelson Menendez.”
I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Dad. It’s fine,” Stryker says. “If Washington picks me, I’ll ask to be traded.”
Then I watch as he shakes his head and mouths ‘No I won’t’ to his sisters as they laugh.
Rylee squeezes my hand. I lean over and whisper to her. “I’ve waited my whole life for this moment.”
“I know you have.”
A few minutes later, when the commissioner takes the stage again to announce the first pick for the Hawks, I get up, needing to pace behind the couch because I have too much nervous energy. Rylee’s right, I want this so badly. I want his story to be the same as mine, but also different. I’ve done everything I can to protect him all these years. And now he’s going out into the world.
Rylee comes up behind me, putting her arms around me. “He’ll be okay, Brady. He’ll be okay wherever he goes. He’s just like his father. He’s strong, resilient, loving. He’s you.”
“He’s us,” I say, pulling her around to kiss her forehead.
“For the fourth selection of the MLB draft, the New York Nighthawks pick the right-handed pitcher from the University of Florida, Stryker Taylor.”
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