I look at the kid who is about to burst out of his skin.
“He’s right, I am.” I walk toward the boy, holding out my hand. “Brady Taylor, and you are?”
His eyes get so wide I think they’ll leave the sockets. He shakes my hand but doesn’t say anything.
His mother laughs. “His name is Cameron. And that’s his younger brother, Christopher. I’m Wanda. It’s a pleasure to meet you and …” She looks at Rylee.
“Oh, sorry. This is my friend, Rylee.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Wanda says.
“Can I have your autograph?” Cameron asks, finally finding his voice.
“You bet. What would you like me to sign?”
He looks at his mom. “Uh, I don’t know. I don’t have anything.”
She shoves their aquarium brochure at me. “Here, how about this?”
Rylee fishes a pen out of her purse and hands it to me tentatively. I stare at it. Shit. I can barely grip a pen let alone sign an autograph.
“You’re a big Hawks fan, huh, Cameron?” I say, biding time as I figure out what to do.
“Oh, yes. We’re from Albany. My uncle took me to a game last year. You were great. You always are.”
Rylee leans close and whispers, “Just scribble something with your right hand, they won’t know the difference.”
Then she takes the brochure and holds it for me while I try to write something that in some way, shape or form resembles my name. It looks like chicken scratch. But when Rylee hands it to Cameron, he looks at it like he just got Willie Wonka’s golden ticket.
“Wow! Thank you,” he says, jubilantly.
Cameron’s mom takes a few pictures of me standing between her sons, then she grabs the youngest boy’s hand. “We won’t keep you. You’ve made Cameron’s day. His year. Good luck, Mr. Taylor.”
“My pleasure. Have a nice day.”
As she walks away, Cameron reluctantly follows her, looking back at me until they turn the corner.
I turn to Rylee. “Well that was an epic failure.” I look down at my left hand and shake my head.
“Not for Cameron. You heard his mom. He’ll never forget what just happened.”
“I can’t even hold a fucking pen well enough to sign my goddamn name, Rylee.”
She puts her hand on my defective one. “It will happen, Brady. I have faith that it will. One day – maybe not next week or next month – but one day you’ll be carrying on and won’t even notice when it happens. On that day, you’ll do something ordinary like open a jar of pickles without thinking about it. And when that happens, you’ll know you’ve made it back. You’ll know you can be a pitcher again.” She looks up at me with those deep-green eyes. “When it happens, if it doesn’t happen here, I hope you’ll let me know when it does. Because it will be quite a moment.”
“When?” I ask, wary of her optimism.
“Yes. When.” She tugs on my shirt. “Now come on, we don’t have much time to finish. There’s so much more I want you to see.”
We just make it through the entire place before closing time. And when we exit through the front doors, Rylee makes me jump when she squeals, “Oh, look! A ship is leaving. Come on, let’s run down there and watch.”
She runs ahead of me and then looks back, beckoning me to follow her. I stare at her for a moment before conceding to her wish. This woman, when we’re in my therapy sessions, she’s so focused and professional. But here, she’s like a kid. Wild and free. Curious and inquisitive. She’s so much fun. She’s …
I stop myself right there. I’ve no intention of thinking of Rylee Kennedy as anything other than a friend, a physical therapist, or a sexual conquest. Hell, she’ll be all three if I have my way. But she can’t be more. She could never be more.
No one can.
I think back on Friday night as I walk the few miles to the training complex to meet with the strength and conditioning coach before my PT appointment. After the aquarium, we took a streetcar to one of Rylee’s favorite historical parks and then we finished up the night by eating at a mom-and-pop sandwich shop – some out-of-the-way place tourists don’t know about that delivered one of the best Reubens I’ve ever had.
I was home by eight thirty.
It was the best non-date I’ve ever had.
My weekend was spent partly at the beach and partly on the phone being badgered by Murphy to accept the modeling contract.
I’m really looking forward to Sunday, when my team flies in for a three-game series. I’ve tried hanging out with some of the guys here, but the incessant questions about playing for the Hawks gets old and sometimes I feel like they are just using me to get a leg up with the organization.
I open the doors to the weight room and find the person I’m looking for sitting at a desk in the corner. “Hi, Matt. Nice to see you again.”
He stands up and walks over to shake my hand. “Brady, nice to see you, too, although I wish it were under other circumstances.”
“You and me both.”
He directs me to the desk. “Come, sit. We’re just going to talk about things today and make a plan for the rest of your stay. How’s the arm?”
“The elbow’s good. Rylee and the doctor both say it’s healing nicely.” I make as good a fist as I can and pump it. “It’s the hand that’s really bothering me. It doesn’t work for shit.”
“We’ll leave that to Rylee and your doctors. Here we’re going to make sure your shoulders, legs and core stay strong for when you get back into the game.”
Matt’s a good guy. We all work with him and his staff during spring training. But I like him even more now that he uses words like when and not if.
We talk for half an hour and he puts together a schedule for me. He wants to get me in the pool as soon as my elbow can take it. He says that will work my shoulders and keep them loose. I look over the printout of exercises and the time he wants me to dedicate to strength training every day and I consider stripping Rylee of her title and transferring it to Matt.
Then again, what the hell better things do I have to do?
“You can do a lot of this on your own,” he says. “But some of the more difficult sets that require use of the arm, I’d rather you do here where the staff can keep an eye on you. Go ahead and start with the leg and core exercises this afternoon. The rest, we’ll wait for the go-ahead from Rylee.”
I nod. “I’ll come in the mornings before my PT and do what I need to here, then I can use the gym at the hotel for some of the other stuff.”
“Sounds like a plan. Just shout out whenever you need me. Otherwise, we’ll meet up once a week to keep tabs on your progress.”
We shake hands again and then I leave the weight room, walking across the courtyard to the PT building. When I walk in, I don’t see Margaret, but I do see a note taped to the window next to where she normally sits. It says she’s out sick today and to go ahead and walk into the back.
I look at my phone and see I’m early. But I walk through the propped-open door anyway because it’s boring sitting out here alone. I figure I can sit and talk to Brad as Rylee finishes up with him. Brad is here from Vegas. He tweaked his knee pretty badly when he had a collision with another player and now he’s out for the season as well.
But when I look around the rehab room, it’s empty. No Brad. No Rylee. No Alex or the athletic trainer who sometimes hangs out waiting for the A-team’s practice to end – that’s when things really get busy around here. And it’s why they schedule rehab for guys from any of the other three teams earlier in the day.
I hear a voice and walk in its direction. As I get closer, I realize it’s a woman speaking, but it’s not Rylee. I peek through the open door to one of the offices and see Rylee’s back. Her hand comes up to touch her laptop screen and she runs her finger lovingly along the edges of an older woman’s face.
“When you get home from school, we have to talk about that nasty boy down the street,” the woman on the screen says. “He bothers me with all his hanging around.”
“Mom, we don’t live on Flagstone Road anymore, remember? You live in the memory care facility and I’m down in Tampa for now.”
The woman is her mother? And she’s in a memory care facility? Damn.
I feel like a dick standing here and eavesdropping. But we don’t talk about personal stuff. And for some reason, I want to know all the things she’s not able to tell me. Things like maybe her mom is one of those ties she still has in New York. I wonder if she’s the only tie, or if there are others.
“Tampa?” her mother says, putting her hand over her heart. “What are you doing in Tampa? It’s so far away. Does your father know about this? He won’t be happy. No, he won’t be happy at all. Did you ask his permission?”
Rylee’s shoulders slump as she sighs. “Mom, Dad has been gone for almost four years now. Remember?”
“Four years? Goodness, where did he go?”
I listen to Rylee and her mom talk for the next five minutes. Rylee sometimes plays along with what her mother is saying, and other times, she tries to remind her mother what reality is.
Her mother is a lot older than we are for sure, but she looks way too young to be having dementia or whatever.
Another woman comes into view on the screen. “Rylee, your mom is getting tired. Joe is going to take her back to her room while I chat with you.”
Rylee and her mother say goodbye and then the woman replaces Rylee’s mom in the chair she was sitting in.
Rylee’s shoulders start to shake and I realize she’s crying. “I’m losing her more and more each day, Barbara. It’s killing me that I can’t be there with her.”
“We are taking good care of her, Rylee. You can rest assured.”
“Mu-maybe I should m-move her down here after all,” Rylee says, stuttering through her tears.