Tears well up in my eyes. Because those aren’t the words of someone whose girlfriend left him. Those are the words of someone who’s been destroyed by loss. And those are the eyes of someone who knows profound pain. I put my hand on his. “I’m so sorry you lost someone.”
He nods sadly. “I lost two someones,” he chokes out.
I motion out the door, to the cemetery he can’t see. “I’ve lost two someones, too. My dad and my best friend.”
He nervously plays with an invisible ring on his left ring finger. Oh, God. He lost a wife. And maybe even a child. A tear spills over my lashes.
Brady shakes his head like he doesn’t want my sympathy. “Listen, nobody knows that but you and Caden. It’s not something I want people to know.”
“Of course, Brady. I won’t say a thing.”
“When you took off, you left a gaping hole in his heart. He looks for you in the stands, you know. Like somehow, he expects you to show up between innings. Every time he looks up there, he does it with hope in his eyes. And every time you aren’t there, I swear a piece of him dies.” He laughs and straightens his back. “Look at me, I’m carrying on like a damn girl.”
I glance out the window over my shoulder to see Caden’s eyes burning into me. I know he must be sorry. I know he’s hurting. I’m hurting just as badly. My life has been turned upside down. I don’t even know what my reality is anymore. I don’t know what to expect when and if I show my face in New York.
“I need some more time, Brady. Can you please ask him to give me that? I love him. I do. I just need to figure out what’s best for me.”
“So, you won’t talk to him?”
I shake my head. “I can’t. Not right now. I’m sorry you flew all the way out here for nothing.”
He gets up to leave. “It’s not for nothing, Murphy. He’s shown you how far he’ll go to get you back. That man will do anything for you.”
“Will he?” I ask, wondering if anything means keeping more secrets from me.
“If you have to ask me that, then you don’t know him half as much as I thought you did.”
He walks out the door and pulls Caden away by his elbow. I can see Caden resisting, but Brady convinces him to leave. He looks at me one last time and we lock eyes. He mouths ‘I love you’ before turning to walk away.
I slump down in my seat and cry.
Austin comes over to check on me. “Are you okay?”
“No. But I’m not sure there’s anything anyone can do about it.”
He offers me his hand. “Come on, once the coast is clear, I’ll walk you home.”
We walk out the front door and I look down the street the opposite way of my house. “Thanks, Austin, but there are two people I need to go talk to. It was nice seeing you again. Good luck in grad school.”
We say our goodbyes and then I walk down the street, hoping I can find somewhere to stop and get two roses.
~ ~ ~
I don’t have my phone, so I’m not sure how long I’ve been sitting here—hours maybe—when someone touches my shoulder. I look up to see Caden’s dad. I had forgotten he was coming to town today. He flies out twice a month to see my mother and she travels to New York on the weekends he doesn’t come here.
“Hey, kiddo,” Shane says. “I heard you might be here. I hope you don’t mind if I sit with you for a minute.”
I motion to the ground next to me. “So, you saw him?”
“I did. We crossed paths at your mom’s house before he went back to the airport.” He pulls a small envelope from his pocket. “He left you this. Your mother thought you’d want to read it while you were here. She wanted to bring it to you, but I asked if I could. I thought maybe your dad and I should be properly introduced.”
I look at Shane, studying him for a minute as he stares at my father’s grave.
“You love her, don’t you?”
He gives me a sad smile. “Would it be okay if I did?”
I look at the headstone and then back at Shane. I think my dad would approve. And I know he’d want her to be happy. I nod my head.
“Well then, I don’t mind telling you that I’m a very lucky man,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have the love of several incredible women in my life. But Murphy, that kind of love doesn’t happen often. The kind of love you and my son share. I know he hurt you. But it’s a fact of life that lovers will hurt each other eventually. It’s how you deal with that hurt that matters. Life isn’t always fair. People aren’t always perfect.”
He stands up and touches my father’s grave almost as if he’s shaking my dad’s hand. He starts to walk away, but hesitates. “You told me not so long ago that if things come easily, they aren’t worth having. You said it’s the hard wins that are the most important.” He nods back towards my dad’s grave. “That man raised one hell of a daughter.”
Long after he’s gone, I sit and stare at the small envelope in my hands. My legs have gone numb by the time I finally open it.
I’ve only ever loved two things in my life. Baseball and you. I never thought anything would be more important to me than being out on that field. But here’s the thing, and some days I can’t even wrap my mind around it—I love you more. I love you more than baseball. And I would give it up in a second if it’s the only way to have you. If being in New York, being in the spotlight because of my career, is too hard after what happened, we’ll move. We’ll move to Okoboji if you want. Or to some island where we can live away from TV and internet.
Nothing else matters if I can’t be with you, Murph. Just say the word and we’re gone.
I’m done apologizing. And the truth is, if it happened again, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing. Because I will go to the ends of the Earth to protect what’s mine.
Please say you’re mine.
Because I’m sure as hell yours. Every damn piece of me. You own me, Sweet Caroline.
Come back to me.
Hot tears stream down my cheeks. He’s willing to give up his dream for me?
My father’s words of advice echo through my head as I can barely see his headstone through my blurred vision. Even from the grave, he’s taking care of me. “Thanks, Daddy,” I say, wiping my tears. “I have to go now. I have a baseball game to get to.”
I sit on my chair, looking at the black velvet box in my locker, debating just leaving the ring here. Why bother putting it in my pocket if the girl it’s meant for will never wear it? Maybe it’s not good luck after all.
She didn’t call me today. I thought for sure she’d call me after she read the letter. I don’t know what else I can do. I poured my heart out to her. I crossed the country for her. If I thought it would help, I’d fly back there tonight. But she made it clear she didn’t want to see me.
It took all my strength to stand outside that coffee shop window when Brady was with her. I had to muster every bit of willpower to walk away when she was sitting just ten feet from me. It almost killed me to get back on that plane without her.
I open the box and take out the ring. I put it on the tip of my pinky finger and study it. I didn’t get a large, ostentatious ring like some players might. I knew Murphy wouldn’t want that. But I did make sure it was a perfect, flawless diamond. Because despite the scars she has—the ones I don’t even see—she is perfect and flawless.
Sawyer pats me on the back. “She’ll come around, Kess.”
“You good?” Brady asks.
I know he’s not asking if my heart is okay. He wants to make sure my head is. That I can keep my private business off the field, or at the very least, use my grief for the greater good of the team.
“I got your back, Taylor. Don’t worry.”
He looks at the ring I’m holding and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m full of shit. Maybe I am. But then I remember what Brady has lost. I still don’t know the details because he hasn’t expanded upon what he told me last night. Whatever happened to him was obviously horrific, however, and it makes me feel like a dick thinking he got through it and can still be at the top of his game but I’m acting like a whiny little girl.
“Bring it in!” our coach yells from the center of the room.
I throw the box into my locker and stick the ring in my back pocket. Who did I think I was kidding? I knew I would. I’m having an incredible season. My best one yet, the past three games notwithstanding.
When I take the field with my team, I can’t help myself. As I walk behind the plate, I look up in the stands. Girls scream my name when my eyes scan the section Murphy normally sits in. I see Scott, who is staying with Lexi while my dad is in Iowa. I nod at them and Lexi gives me a sad smile. She knows it’s not them I was hoping to see.
Brady comes up behind me on his way to the mound. “Let’s do this,” he says, holding his glove out.
I tap his glove with mine. “Let’s do this.”
When we get to the top of the sixth and we’re up by three, I feel like maybe I’ve gotten my mojo back as we take the field. I can do this. I can make baseball the most important thing again.
I don’t even realize it when I glance up at the stands once more. But then I blink, because I’m sure I’m seeing things.
I can’t even help it when I stop and stare. Our eyes lock together and I watch it happen. I watch as a brilliant smile curves her lips. And as the smile gets bigger, my heart gets lighter. She came back. And she’s here. I never thought she’d set foot in this stadium again. How could she after what happened to her?
Then I want to kick myself when it dawns on me that everyone in the stadium is looking to see what I’m staring at. My eyes shoot to the JumboTron to see the cameras focused on her. But she’s not looking at the massive screen. She’s looking at me. She gives me her usual thumbs up and blows me a kiss, and just like that, I know everything will be okay.