Chapter 20

I wasn't really sure exactly what I planned on telling Casey. There were things he needed to know going forward, but I wasn't sure how far to go with it tonight. I didn't even know where to start and said as much.

"Maddie, you don't have to do this. Whatever it is you think you need to tell me can wait. It doesn't all have to be said tonight. We have plenty of time."

"I do know that. I hope that. But I thought I had a lifetime left with Jeremy. I refuse to take anything for granted anymore. I can't live by the there's always tomorrow ideology anymore. Honestly, there are topics that I would rather not drag out. And more importantly, I think there are things you need to know before you make a decision to become more involved with me."

"Okay, first, I understand why you feel that way. It's extremely difficult to lose someone that way. Secondly, there is nothing you can tell me that will change my mind about wanting to be with you." I smiled. I was pretty sure of two things. First, he was right. Second, that I would be waking up from this dream very soon.

"Maybe not, but it is still important to me that I tell you. I hadn't planned to go into tonight at all, but now I feel differently."


"Mostly because you have been ridiculously patient with me and because I promised myself that I would be completely honest with you. There isn't anyone that I haven't known my entire life besides Brad, Natalie, and Belinda who I have told my complete back story to and because I was a minor at the time, my name was never released in the newspapers." I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and focused on the shimmering pool. Then I dove head first into my past.

I left out the most gruesome details, but essentially told Casey everything. He never asked a question, never interrupted. He just sat on the chaise lounge next to mine and listened. I don't know how long I talked. It felt like hours and mere seconds at the same time. He was quiet for a very long time after I finished detailing my six years of hell. I hadn't even gone into Jer's death or the dreams I had had. I figured I had piled enough onto him for one night.

I glanced in his direction. He was sitting with his eyes closed and his chin resting on his steepled fingers, elbows on his knees. I held my breath and waited. I watched as he slowly opened his eyes and turned his head to look into mine. I saw an unexpected sadness and grief cloud his beautiful blue eyes. I was sorry to see it there. I wanted to do anything I could to erase it.

"I don't know what to say except that I am so sorry. I had no idea." He finally said, his voice hoarse with emotion. "I can't even imagine how horrible that was for you."

"I'm sorry. Maybe it was too much to reveal on our first dinner date." I replied and tentatively took his hand. I had the inexplicable need to touch him. Almost as if to make sure he was real.

"Don't be sorry. I'm glad you felt comfortable enough with me to tell me. I'm just so damned sorry you had to go through it at all."

"Thank you. I just felt that you needed to know. It can at times cause some issues for me. Like the nightmares, but I haven't had one in a long time. And I tend to be insecure about myself and I tend to shut down my feelings. I push people away, especially people I care about. So that is important for you to know too. It's not personal, it's just how I cope. I need you to understand that. It's something I'm working on and it has gotten better." I paused. "This is me doing my best to make you duck and run. I don't know that I'm ready for anything more than friendship right now. The next couple of months are going to be a big test for me, but I do like you and want to get to know you better. If you still want to after all this."

"We'll just take it one step at a time. We all have our issues, Maddie. None of what you have told me isn't anything that we can't work through." He looked at his watch. "I should let you get some sleep. It's after midnight. Will I see you tomorrow?"

"I really think I need to spend the day at home with the twins. I'm feeling neglectful."

"How about afterward?"

"Glutton for punishment are you? What did you have in mind?"

"I am at that. How about we spend a casual evening here hanging out with the kids? We can order in if you want."

"That sounds like a good idea."

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For tonight. For having dinner with me. For trusting me. I'm glad we finally made it out. I had a good time."

"I did too. I'm glad we were able to go too. Thank you for listening."

"Anytime pretty lady." He stood, still holding my hand. He turned it over in his and kissed the back of it. I walked him to the door. He tenderly kissed my forehead, wished me sweet dreams, and left.

I peeked in on the twins to find them sleeping soundly. I pumped and went to bed myself. I slept fitfully that night. I blamed myself for it. When you dredge up the past, your demons are bound to haunt you. I managed to pull myself out of a few particularly nasty highlight reels without waking the rest of the house. That was at least a bonus there. It proved to me that I could talk about it and not be completely throw backwards in the progress I had made over the years.

I woke before the birds in the morning. It was barely five in the morning when my eyes popped open. I groaned and rolled back over. I really wanted to curl up and catch another hour of sleep at a minimum, but it seemed unlikely. I hauled myself out of bed and popped my head in the nursery.

Jeremy was rustling so I fed him and put him back to bed. I fed Julianne and put her back down. She attempted to fight it, but sleep quickly won out. I decided that I could skip the pumping session and go back to bed. I was still worn out. I felt a little bit like I did after my early therapy sessions when the details were still emerging. I crawled back under the covers and slept until 8:30.

I quickly showered and grabbed some breakfast. I enjoyed a cup of coffee out by the pool and thought about everything. I saw Mrs. Woods in the kitchen and went back inside.


"Good morning to you Maddie. Did you have a good time last night?"

"I did. We got to talk. The food was excellent. It was a nice evening. He even came in for coffee afterward and we sat out by the pool for awhile."

"When are you seeing him again?"

"Well, he's planning on coming by after the game. I'm staying home today, so you get the day off. Heck, take tomorrow too."

"I will take today off. Thanks, but I'm not taking tomorrow off. One day is plenty. The twins should be up soon."

"I fed them both around five and got a little extra sleep myself. When did they eat last last night?"

"They both ate around midnight."

"That's an improvement. Maybe soon they will be sleeping all night."

"More than likely. Once they start getting some solid food in their systems it probably won't take long."

We chattered on waiting for the twins to wake. Justin and the twins made an appearance in the kitchen about twenty minutes later. He had them both dressed and ready for the day. I asked him what his plans were for the day.

"I thought I'd hang out here. I figure if you're going to be at the game, I get to spoil my niece and nephew without repercussions."

"Wrong. I am also staying home today. I gave Mrs. Woods the day off."

"I can still spoil them. I just have to listen to you bitch at me while I do it." I rolled my eyes.

"I promise not to yell at you too much."

"How was your date?"

"It was a nice evening."

"Just nice? No fireworks huh?"

"Shut up. We're just starting to get to know each other. We had a good talk after we got back. I did most of the talking."

"What did you talk about?"

"I told him about Craig." Justin's only response was to raise his eyebrows at me. "I felt he needed to know at least that much. It's a lot to deal with. I needed to make sure that he knew what kind of baggage I have before he made a decision to get involved on any level. I also told him that all I am ready for right now is friendship."

"How did he take that?"

"Pretty well actually. He's not putting on any kind of pressure at all. He's coming by after the game later, so be nice."

"I can handle that, but I won't be here. I have plans with Abbie later."

We spent the day playing with the twins and watching the game. True to his word, Casey showed up after the game. The Dodgers notched themselves another win against the Reds and Casey hit another home run, but they suffered a potential season ending injury to one of their starting pitchers. It would be a couple of days before the extent of the injury was known, but speculation was running rampant that his season was already over. That fired up the rumor mills regarding trades. As usual, Casey's name was being thrown around in trades to teams all over the country.

We talked and played with the twins. I opted to bottle feed them when they were ready to eat. I had already pushed the boundaries at the hospital and I didn't want to make him uncomfortable.

Justin was still home when Casey arrived, but kept his promise and was nothing but polite. He hung around until after the twins were fed and I had pumped then left for his date with Abbie. Casey and I settled on pizza for dinner. I balanced out the grease by making a salad. I put the twins in their highchairs and gave them some toys to keep them occupied and out of trouble while we ate. That quickly turned into a game of retrieve the toy knocked to the floor. They both squealed in delight every time we picked up their toys and returned them to their trays. I was surprised at how at ease and comfortable Casey was around the twins. I didn't think he had any nieces or nephews, but he wasn't the least bit nervous around them. He told me later that he had several cousins that had babies or small children. He helped me get them ready for bed and kept Julianne occupied while I fed Jeremy and put him down for the night. She cried when I took her from him. Looks like I've got some competition. She's really taken with him. Duh! What girl wouldn't be? That was a good point. He seemed to have that affect on the opposite sex. It was a struggle to get her to eat. She was more interested in looking around and playing. She finally got down to business and ate. She wasn't happy about going to bed, but I held my ground. It would be too easy to cuddle with her, but I fought the urge.

Casey was flipping through a magazine when I got back downstairs. I apologized for taking so long.

"Not a problem at all."

"Little Miss Princess didn't want to go to bed. She really likes you."

"I tend to have that affect on small children. My cousins' kids love me." He laughed. "Small animals too." Somehow he managed to not sound arrogant when he said it.

"Good to know. So what do you want to do now that the little ones are down. Hopefully, they will sleep for awhile."

"It's really up to you."

"It's such a nice evening, why don't we sit outside. Can I get you something to drink?"

"Sure. Whatever you have is fine." I got us each a glass of sweet tea and we sat out by the pool.

We chattered about nothing in general and lapsed into an easy silence. After last night's tales, I wasn't sure what to talk about. He didn't bring it up, but I still noticed a tinge of sadness around his eyes. I wanted to ask him about it, but I just didn't know how.

We talked more about our families. He really did come from a big family. He parents each had four siblings. He had numerous cousins. I told him about Brandon and how we had our issues last year, but that when I had seen him at Christmas things had been better. I thought much of that had to do with the fact that he noticed the change between Justin and I and that made him more relaxed.

We talked well into the night about nothing and everything. Neither of us revealed anything more significant about ourselves. I thought it better to slow down on that aspect. I had revealed more to him last night than I had to some of my closest friends. It made me feel vulnerable and I didn't like that feeling, but the fact that he was here tonight eased that a bit.

I did talk about how I was anxious to return to Oklahoma next month for Jake and Jessica's graduation. It was going to be a difficult trip I was sure of it.

Casey talked about missing his family. It was hard to be separated from them. He loved playing baseball, but L.A. was a major culture shock compared to small town Kansas. That was something we had in common. We both came from a small town. We were able to commiserate about everyone knowing your business, but loved the sense of community of a small town at the same time.

I did miss Oklahoma, but knew that I could never live there again. It would just be too hard. Besides, my life was in L.A. now. We called it a night when we both started yawning. I walked him to the door and we said our goodnights. I fed the twins and went to bed.

My dreams that night were better. Thankfully no nightmares plagued me. The twins woke around five for their early morning feeding. I knew I should get some more sleep, but really wasn't tired. I had slept soundly. I took a shower after they were back to sleep. Justin was already up when I hit the kitchen. I was surprised because he hadn't been home when I went to bed.

"Are you working today?" I asked and stretched.

"I am. It's just a photo shoot for some ad campaign, so I should be home fairly early."

"Cool. I have zero plans today. I may take the twins for a walk later."

"Be careful. I've seen the photogs camped out the last few days. Casey being around has whipped them into a frenzy."

"You really think that's why they have been hanging around? I noticed a couple the other day."

"More than likely. They are trying like hell to connect you to someone. What better match up for them? The Dodgers hottest player and one of L.A.'s favorite actresses. You two are a wet dream for the media."

"Crass, Justin, but there isn't anything going on. We are friends. Period."

"I know that. You know that. Casey knows that. They don't care. Anytime they can catch the two of you on film together, they are going to try. You know that Maddie."

"I suppose you are right. Maybe I will skip the walk."

"Good morning! You two are up early!" Mrs. Woods chirped.

"Justin's working and I couldn't sleep."

"What's on the agenda for today?" She asked

"He's got a photo shoot. I have zip planned. It's Monday. Seems like a good lazy day."

"Are you going to the game tonight?" She inquired.

"It's an off day today. They have a two game series against the Astros coming up, then a seven game road trip back East." I was more than I little surprised at myself. I didn't even realize I knew that.

"I guess I know who to go to for my baseball news." She laughed.

"I don't even know where that came from."

"You like him Maddie. It's okay." Justin added.

"I suppose I can admit that much. I do like him. How's Abbie?" I asked him, changing the subject.

"She's good. We went to dinner and a movie last night."

"Oh so normal. What did you see?"

"We saw Rules of Engagement. It's a war movie with Samuel L. Jackson in it."

"I like him. Was is good?"

"Yeah, it was pretty good. Planning a date night?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"You guys will never be able to watch a movie in the theater in peace. It would be a zoo."

"Please. I doubt it would be that bad."

"Trust me. It won't be easy."

"How do you manage it? Your face is out there more than mine."

"It's a little bit easier for me. Plus, Abbie isn't as well known as you are."

"Crap. Normal would be good right about now."

"Maybe you should stick to renting movies." He teased.

"I guess so." I said glancing out the window. Damn. There really were guys with cameras out there. What the hell? It was barely seven o'clock. What were they hoping to catch?

After some serious consideration, I did skip the walk. Hopefully things would die down like they usually did and I'd be able to leave the house without a camera in my face. Mrs. Woods and I just hung out with the twins. I really wished she had taken the day off like I offered. She was entirely too good to us.

Casey called while the twins were napping. We talked for a bit, but made no plans. I wasn't sure if he was afraid of being too pushy or thinking he'd wear out his welcome. We'd spent a lot of time together over the weekend. I enjoyed the down time.

Natalie called late in the day to tell me she insisted I go to the game the next two nights. She said we could go late if I wanted to get the twins down for the night, but I was going. I laughed and told her that I wouldn't argue. She could be pushy, but I loved her all the same. She had been a good friend since we had met.

I checked with Mrs. Woods to make sure it didn't conflict with any of her plans. She promised that it didn't. I told her to take Tuesday and Wednesday off during the day. She tired to argue, but I put a stop to it.

"You're going to have them all evening. I don't have anything planned. Which is surprising considering how Belinda likes to work me, so enjoy the time off."

"Oh, fine. There's no use in arguing with you."

"Funny. That's usually what I say about you."

"Natalie's making sure you get in some final ballgames before the road trip huh?

"If she had her way, I would be at every single home game this season, but that's not going to happen. They play eighty-one home games a season! That's a lot of games."

"You know I am more than willing to be on duty any time."

"I know that and I love you for it, but that's too much time away."

"Honey, if you were working full time, you'd be away at least that much."

"Point taken, but that's leisure activity, not work."

"Well, think of it this way. The twins go to bed fairly early. You can always go late to the night games and the weekend games are only a few hours long. You still have the bulk of the day to spend at home."

"I suppose that's true. Why are you trying to talk me into Natalie's diabolical plans?" She laughed.

"I hardly think Natalie has anything diabolical planned by taking you to Dodgers games. She likes the company and she's looking out for you. You need to have some fun."

These conversations always went in circles. I had responsibilities at home. Maybe I didn't have to really work, but that didn't give me a free pass to dump my kids on the nanny and go out all the time. That just wasn't me.

"I like to stay home. I don't need to be out running all over the city. I have two kids. They take priority right now."

"Of course they do. You aren't being neglectful by going to a few ballgames or out to dinner. A happy mom makes for happy kids. You can't neglect yourself. It's important for you to have time for yourself. Believe me, I've been there. It takes balance."

I appreciated her advice. And while she was right, it didn't stop my own feelings of being neglectful. I think some of that stemmed from not wanting to be my mother. She really didn't neglect us, at least not Brandon and Jake, anyway. I would be damned if I repeated her mistakes. There was nothing more important to me than my kids. My own needs were secondary.

"I'll think about it. It just brings out some of my issues with my mom is all."

"I can understand that. Being a mom is a tough job. You always want what is best for our kids. Just remember, you need to take care of your own well being as well. Don't lose yourself."

I did end up going to both games and out afterwards with Brad, Natalie, Casey and some of his teammates. I felt a little guilty, but Mrs. Woods was right. I did still need time for myself, plus the twins were sleeping, so it wasn't like I was missing time with them. I had some fun. It proved to be extremely important in the month that followed. Both nights I made it home to do their after midnight feeding and was up with them for their early morning sessions.

Casey was gone from April 20th to April 27th. The team came home for a nine game home stand, but as the first anniversary of Jer's death loomed, I bcame more withdrawn and depressed. It was still hard to believe he'd been gone a year. It blew me away how hard it hit it. It was then that I realized I had been completely denying how I had been feeling. I had used any excuse to mask my feelings. The twins kept me busy enough and I stayed active enough so that most nights I feel into a dreamless, exhausted sleep. I just ignored it. I guess I hadn't made as much progress as I had thought.

Dr. Briggs would be disappointed that I was back to my old tricks. I was feeling really guilty about all the time I had been spending with Casey. It felt like like a betrayal.

Casey called often at the end of April, but I avoided him. It was completely unfair to him. He deserved an explanation, but I just couldn't talk to him. It wasn't just him. I couldn't talk to anyone. I hoped he would be around later for me to explain it. I hadn't expected the depression that set in.

I was pretty useless except for taking care of the twins. Mrs. Woods didn't say anything, but I could tell from the way she looked at me that she was worried. I knew it was bad when Justin pulled out of a work project to stay home. When Karen and Barb showed up, I knew I had hit rock bottom. I just couldn't shake it. By the time May 4th rolled around, I was in a full on major depression. I slept a lot and cried even more.

Unfortunately, the twins picked up on my mood and both went on a nursing strike. Despite forcing myself to pump, my milk supply suffered. No matter how hard I tried, they wouldn't nurse. That made me feel worse. Like I had failed them.

Dr. Cooper assured me that it would pass and all babies go on a nursing strike at some point. He told me to keep trying and since they were close to six months to go ahead an introduce some cereal into their diet. They took a bottle no problem, but wouldn't nurse. They seemed to enjoy the cereal. My freezer supply started to dwindle. I just couldn't pump enough.

By the time they turned six months old in mid-May, they were nursing again and I had managed to pull myself at least part way out of my funk. I could function enough that I sent Barb and Karen home. They had been a tremendous help, but they had families to take care of.

Justin would not be so easily forced back to work. He refused to leave me alone. He kept an almost constant vigil over my moods. He even joined forces with Casey. He encouraged him to visit often. Casey came by almost every day when he was home. I also got twice daily phone calls from home. Really four times a day because Barb and Karen both called me at least twice a day. Natalie became a near permanent fixture at the house. Belinda also stopped by almost daily. They were all so determined to get me back to a version of normal. I made a few phone calls to Dr. Briggs. She couldn't prescribe me anything, and I honestly didn't want anything, but it helped to talk to someone familiar with how my emotions worked.

I made arrangements for all of us to fly back to Oklahoma for Jake and Jessica's graduation. I wasn't really looking forward to the trip, but was excited for them. I hadn't been home in a little over a year and the prospect made me sick to my stomach. Joe and Karen wanted us to stay with them, but I politely declined and booked us into a near by hotel suite. It would be hard enough being back home, I knew staying there was a bad idea.

Natalie and Belinda dragged me to lunch and a few ball games before we left for Oklahoma. I wasn't really feeling up to it, but I didn't protest too much. They had all been so good to me during my depression, I just couldn't tell them no. They were just trying to help.

The Dodgers were still winning and Casey was still producing, but the Dodgers suffered a couple of bad injuries to their pitching staff. Rumors were flying about potential trades and Casey's name came up often. I tried to ignore all the trade talk. We had become very good friends and the thought of him possibly being traded to an East coast team or anywhere else was something I didn't want to think about. I hated to think about him thousands of miles away.

The Wednesday after Memorial Day the five of us, three adults and two wee ones, flew to Oklahoma. I was a nervous wreck from the moment I woke up that morning. The twins handled the flight well and managed to not have any major meltdowns until we were almost ready to leave the airport for the hotel. I nursed them both in the back of the rental SUV before we left.

The amount of gear required when traveling with infants was ridiculous. Thankfully, I had given Karen some money and had her pick up a few things that were waiting for us at the hotel. I could tell the twins were feeding off of my nerves as the day wore on. They initially fought a nap, but finally succumbed to the sandman.

I was surprised when Justin also checked into the hotel. When I questioned him, he shrugged and said he thought it would be a good idea if he was close by.

I made an attempt at a nap, but couldn't shut my brain down enough to sleep. Everything about home held bittersweet memories. I don't think there was anywhere within a fifty mile radius of home that didn't hold some memory of Jer. I laid on my hotel bed and just let the memories flash through my head.

Unfortunately, I realized that trips home would be few and far between at least for now. It was just too hard being here. I hoped to be able to stick it out through graduation on Friday and the joint party on Saturday. I was an actress after all. Surely I could put on a happy front for everyone else's sake. I didn't want to ruin this for anyone.

I wiped away the tears I hadn't realized were falling and hit the shower. The tears continued to fall and I let them, hoping to get it out of my system at least for today. I knew that was an improbable thought. We hadn't even made it to Joe and Karen's yet. That would be the biggest test of the week. I got my emotions in check and stepped out of the shower. I dried my hair and dressed in denim capris, a lavender tunic top, and silver sandals.

The twins were starting to stir. I got them changed and ready to go. It hadn't been that long since they had eaten, but I fed them anyway and then strapped them into their car seats. I got the tote bag ready to go.

I called Casey before we left. I had promised to call when we got in and had forgotten. We talked for a few minutes, but he seemed distracted. I asked if anything was wrong and he said no. I wished him good luck and he told me to tell Jake and Jessica congratulations. Our conversation left me uneasy. Something was going on with him that he didn't want me to know about. I could feel it.

Mrs. Woods and I gathered up the twins and went across the hall to Justin's room. I was mid knock when he pulled the door open. He deftly caught my wrist before I gave him a black eye. I giggled out an apology. He was eyeing me curiously. Something he saw in my face concerned him.

"Are you okay?" He asked probing my eyes with his.

"I'll manage." I answered trying to duck my head from his scrutiny. He released my wrist and tipped my chin up.

"Are you sure? You don't look like you're managing."

"I'll be fine. I promise." I lied and he knew it. He gave me an exasperated look and released my chin. He was going to be watching my like a hawk.

We were surprised by the number of people at Joe and Karen's when we arrived. They had decided to throw an impromptu cookout and had invited some of our high school friends. It made it a little easier to be here, but it couldn't stem the rush of emotions and memories that hit me like a sledgehammer. I greeted everyone I could and then excused myself. I headed for the bathroom. My head was spinning and I felt sick. I shoved the door shut behind me and heard Justin swear. I had caught his hand in the door.

"Sorry! Now go away please."

"No way in hell I am leaving you alone."

"I know you mean well, but please. I just need a minute."

"The last thing you need here of all places is to be alone. I can't even imagine how hard this is for you. Please, let me help you." I thumped down onto the toilet lid and closed my eyes.

How in the hell was I going to make it through the rest of the week when five minutes in this house had me running for the bathroom?

I heard Justin sit on the floor in front of me. "I don't think I can do this. It's too hard."

"You can. I know you can. Graduation is in two days. I know you can make it that long. Then, if we need to, we can pack up and go home."

"There are memories everywhere. I can't escape them. It's like I'm being haunted."

"Then embrace them. That's all we have left of him."

"It hurts too damn much. He should still be here!"

"I know, I know. It's easy to distract yourself in L.A. You've got the twins, work, friends. Here it's different. It's all there in your face. I miss him, too." He rested his forehead against mine. "You ready to face everyone?"

"I don't really have a choice, do I?"

"Nope! Now plaster a smile on that pretty little face." I rolled my eyes, but did as I was instructed.

"How's this?"

"Stunning. Come on, Mads. Let's go congratulate the graduates." He took my hands, pulled me up and into a hug.

"Thanks for being there for me, J. You don't know how much I appreciate it."

We rejoined the party. I managed to hold it together. The twins were awed by all the people and activity. They lapped up the attention. I hugged Jake and Jessica, who were not surprisingly together, congratulated them, and passed on Casey's congratulations. Justin stuck close by.

"Wow! Congratulations from a major league ball player! How is Casey?" Jess asked.

"He's fine. I talked to him before we came over. He seemed distracted."

"Trade talks are heating up. The Dodgers are in desperate need of pitching. I hear Cleveland may have lost it's starting third baseman for the season. The reports are saying they are extremely interested in your boy." Jake added.

"Cleveland? As in Ohio? Shut up!" I exclaimed louder than I had intended. We were drawing a crowd of fellow baseball fans.

"I heard the same thing earlier." Joe said from behind me.

"But Cleveland? Really? Isn't there a West coast team interested in him?"

"You mean besides Team Nash?" Jess teased me. I stuck my tongue out at her.

"He never even mentioned it. And shush, we are just friends."

"Hard for that to progress with a three hourtime difference and a three thousand mile flight."

"It's all just rumors at this point. No one has reported anything substantial. That kind of blockbuster trade usually doesn't happen this far away from the trade deadline." Joe reasoned.

"Good." I breathed. They all laughed at me.

"But, both teams are in dire need of what the other has. It depends on who Cleveland's back up third baseman is and if they are willing to part with starting pitching for a rising star in Casey."

"Are you guys talking about Casey Allen? We heard he's getting traded!" Two of Jessica's friends joined the conversation. "He's yummy." I snickered. I think I had used the same word to describe him at one point.

"We are. He's a good friend of Maddie's." Jess grinned at me. This had set up written all over it. She was enjoying this.

"You know him? Seriously? What's he like? Does he have a girlfriend?" They rapid fired questions at about Casey at me.

"Yes, I know him. He's really a nice guy and not at all like you would expect him to be. And no, I don't think he has a girlfriend. Right Justin?"

"Yeah, yeah." He admitted grudgingly. The two of them had struck up a truce this month. I could sense some loaded questions coming, so I headed them off by offering to get them some autographed items for them.

"Rock star." I muttered under my breath.

"What was that?" Justin smirked.

"Nothing." I laughed.

"That's a good sound."


"You laughing. How are you doing?"

"I'm okay. The baseball talk was a nice distraction." I gasped as I was swung off my feet and spun around.

"Hey little sister!" Brandon said wrapping me up in a bear hug.

"Brandon! I didn't know you were here!" I squealed as he set me on my feet. We had come to our own truce since the twins had been born. It was more than a truce. We were back to being close and he was acting less over protective.

"I would never miss Jake's graduation. I'm glad you're here. How are you doing?" He asked, dropping his voice and looking me over.

"I'm hanging in there. It's harder than I imagined it would be being back here." I whispered, my voice catching. I blinked back tears that caught me by surprise. I had been deluding myself for months and it was finally catching up to me. I started for the house, but Brandon and Justin both caught me. "Let me go!" I hissed.

"Just breathe Maddie. You can do this." Justin coached.

"He's right." Brandon agreed. I looked at him bewildered. He hadn't agreed with Justin ever that I could remember. It had the desired effect. It cleared my head and gave me just a moment to breathe.

"I'm okay. I think. Brandon? Did you just agree with Justin?"

"I guess I did. Threw you didn't it?"

"It sure did. Thank you. Both of you. But I think the twins are getting hungry." They had been played with and passed around. I had barely seen them since we arrived. I hugged them both and went in search of my kids.

I found them being doted on by their grandmother and aunt. Jeremy reached for me first, so I took him in to feed him. We sat on the couch and I thought about probably my most vivid memory of this room, Jeremy's Senior prom. That had been a great night.

Justin was right. I shouldn't shy away from these memories. They were all I had left. I talked to him about his Daddy while he ate. He watched me intently like he was soaking up every word I said. When he was done eating he reached up and patted my cheek. I don't know if it was intentional, but it melted my heart.

Justin brought a squalling Julianne in to eat. She was a spitfire. I got her calmed down enough to eat and repeated my stories about her Daddy to her. She watched me, but the look on her face was more "You're interrupting my dinner" than "You're saying something interesting". A spitfire indeed. I chuckled at my temperamental daughter. I knew I was in for it with her and I loved her for it. There would never be a dull moment with her.

She was content to be held for the time being. I continued to talk to her and pretty soon, the tears from earlier returned. She watched me a little perplexed, like she wasn't sure what to do. As she continued to study me and I continued to talk to her, I became aware that we weren't alone. I looked up to see that our family had joined us. Julianne immediately reached out to Justin. He was clearly one of her favorite people. Truth be told, he was also one of my favorite people. I started to apologize for my absence and lack of composure but Karen cut me off.

"No one is judging you. Not one person here has any idea how hard this has to be for you."

"This is home, but it just feels wrong here without him. Everything feels wrong." Everyone found a spot and settled in. Looked like a family meeting had convened. "I feel guilty for having fun, trying to be happy, and spending time with Casey. Baseball games, nights out, dinners in, it all makes me feel like I'm being unfaithful."

"Why are you doing this to yourself?" Jessica demanded. She was the last person I expected to say anything. Before I could answer she continued. "What do you have to feel guilty about? Living? Moving on? Having friends? My brother would want all of that and more for you." Heads nodded around the room.

"Maybe. But I can't help how I feel. Continuing on shouldn't have been this easy."

"Easy? Maddie, nothing about the last year has been easy for you. Do you remember the beginning of the month? You've tried to make it look to the outside world that you were coping. The people close to you know that none of it's been easy. You may be able to fool everyone else, but you can't fool us. You haven't even fooled Casey. He's worried about you too. We all are." Justin added.

"I've done a pretty good job of fooling myself then. I never expected what happened the beginning of the month, but I knew coming home was going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done. Jake, Jess, I feel like I owe you both an apology. This is supposed to be all about you, not me. So I promise, I will keep it together for the rest of the time we are here."

"No need to apologize at all. We all kind of prepared for it. We expected it. Don't worry. Just let us help you however we can." Jake said.

"It's just something that I have to learn to deal with. He's gone and he's never coming back, but the guilt just doesn't go away. I should have been in New Orleans with him or maybe I should have fought against him going in the first place. I should have been with him at the hospital. I never should have left. There are a lot of should haves, could haves running through my head." I sighed.

"It was an accident. You had no way of knowing. Besides, if you had been there, we might have lost you both and never would have known the joy of these two little blessings. You weren't meant to be there." Rick said softly.

"It's just not fair. He shouldn't have been there! Moving on shouldn't be this easy."

"Moving on? Maddie, you haven't really moved on. You sought comfort in something, someone who was familiar. There's nothing wrong with that." Justin mumbled. I think I had unintentionally hurt his feelings. He saw it in my face. "Don't. That's not how I meant it. You haven't truly moved on and you know it. Otherwise you wouldn't be holding Casey at arms length. I've seen how he looks at you and how you interact together. There is more than friendship there. From both sides."

"You're wrong. There's nothing more than friendship. He and I both know that." Justin stood and handed Julianne off and crossed the room to stand in front of me. He turned me to face the mirror.

"You're denying it because you think the time frame is wrong or it makes you a bad wife, or you're worried about upsetting everyone else. Look at the custom made necklace around your neck. A single lavender rose. That is not a gift of friendship. Your eyes twinkle and your cheeks color whenever he's around or anyone talks about him. He makes you happy. I'm grateful to him for putting that look back in your eyes and a smile back on your face. There is no reason to feel guilty." I sighed and met his eyes in the mirror. I wasn't going to win this. The faces I could see reflected back at us were in pure agreement with his words.

We all started to trickle back out to the party. I could see most everyone was still around. Before we went back out Brandon whispered in my ear,

"As much as I hate to, I agree with Justin. He's right. You deserve to be happy." I couldn't help myself, I laughed. Twice in one day he had agreed with Justin.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. I mingled some and answered questions about the twins, life in L.A. and eventually someone brought up my mother. The word on the street was that she was going to be released and soon. Someone mentioned an early release for good behavior. I shuddered as that translated in my head to some type of favors done by her or a friend on the parole board.

Three years was a slap on the wrist for what she had done to me. I could feel the rage I felt towards her bubbling under the surface. I was always very careful to keep that suppressed. I used the twins as an excuse to leave early. They were getting tired and cranky, so it wasn't much of a stretch. Justin insisted on leaving with us. We said our goodbyes and beat a hasty retreat before we got roped back into discussing her. That was one subject I had no desire to rehash.

Once I got the twins fed and hopefully settled for the night, I got myself ready for bed and vegged out in front of the TV. I flipped through the channels. Not really paying attention. My mind was elsewhere and all over the place. I vaguely realized I had stopped on ESPN. I was just drifting off when my phone rang. I jerked awake, fumbling for the phone when my eyes landed on the TV screen. Why were they showing a highlight reel of Casey? I finally found my phone and answered it.

"Hello?" I asked groggily.

"Maddie? Did I wake you?" Casey's husky baritone voice rumbled in my ear.

"I dozed off watching TV. ESPN is showing a Casey Allen highlight montage. What's up?"

"That put you to sleep, huh?" He chuckled.

"What? No! I actually woke up to it when the phone rang."

"I wanted to give you a heads up. There seems to be a very real chance I could be traded and gone before you get back."

"Really?" I asked, the smile leaving my face. "Please tell me it's the Angels and not the Indians." I crossed my fingers.

"Sorry, love. I wish I could. It's more than likely I'm heading East to Cleveland."

"Shit!" Wait! Did he just call you love? Not now, please. "Well, that bites."

"So, you'll miss me then?"

"Of course, I will miss you."

"I wasn't sure by your reaction if it was relief or disappointment." He teased.

"Definitely disappointment. I know I've been...distant. I'm sorry. This last month threw me for a loop."

"I understand. It's fine."

"No, it's not fine. I really am sorry. I think I've got a handle on it now. I had a family intervention tonight. When will you know for sure if the trade happens?"

"My agent is thinking either tomorrow or Friday. Either way, I'll go to St. Louis first to join Cleveland on the road."

Umm, Casey?"


"The ESPN ticker is reporting it's a done deal, so don't be surprised if you aren't in the lineup tomorrow."

"No one will be. It's an off day. I'm going to miss L.A."

"L.A. is going to miss you too. The fans, especially the female ones, won't be happy."

"There's only one fan I'm concerned about."

I paused before I answered. "I will miss you. There's still so much we have to learn about each other. And so much that I haven't told you. If I'm being honest here, it sucks and I hate it."

"I have to agree. I'll send you some Indians gear. We can still talk on the phone."

"I know, but it's just not the same."

"You could always fly to Cleveland to catch a game or two."

"How about I promise to come see you when your are on the West coast? Cleveland is a long flight for the twins."

"I suppose I can live with that. Maybe it won't happen after all."

"A girl can only hope." I was thankful he couldn't see me blush. "I hate to cut this short, but it has been a long, emotional day.

"I'm sure it has. It can't be easy being back home." He always seemed to understand where I was coming from without a lengthy, drawn out explanation.

"It's not and I haven't handled it very well, but tomorrow is another day. Hopefully, one without a blockbuster trade announcement."

"From your lips to the owner's ears. I will call as soon as I know anything. I might call just to say hi."

"Do that. Thanks for calling. Good night."

"Goodnight, Maddie. Sweet dreams only."

We both hung up. ESPN was still reporting that the deal was done and that Casey would be in the Cleveland lineup on Friday. I snapped the TV and the lights off. I buried myself under the covers and concentrated on having sweet dreams. They weren't exactly sweet, but they weren't nightmarish either. They were just a weird conglomeration of so many things that nothing really stood out.

I looked at the clock as I stretched and saw it was already 8:30. I yawned and flipped the TV on. ESPN was still reporting that Casey was headed to Cleveland, but his agent and the Dodgers were denying that the trade was a done deal. That was good at least, but I knew it was probably just a smoke screen. I got dressed and hit the living room. Justin, Mrs. Woods, and the twins were eating breakfast. The food of the week besides cereal was sweet potatoes. They looked like they were wearing more of it than they had eaten.

"Morning! When do we want to leave for the mall?"

"You're in a good mood." Justin observed.

"I got a pretty good night's sleep. I had some weird dreams, but no nightmares."

"That's good. I was worried after yesterday."

"I was too. I didn't know what to expect."

"Have you heard the news?"

"About what?"

"Two things actually. First, your mom got her release today and second, Casey is being traded."

"Okay, first of all, I don't care if they ship that woman to Siberia. I want nothing to do with her. Second, Casey called me last night to warn me about the possible trade. He said he would call when he knows for sure." I joined them at the table and picked at some breakfast.

The news about my mom had affected me more than I had expected, but I wasn't about to let on. It seemed unfair that she only did three years for something that had scarred me for the rest of my life. I tried to push it out of my mind. I pumped after breakfast. The twins weren't showing much interest in nursing since the addition of solids, but I didn't really want to introduce formula at this point.

I still hadn't heard from Casey by the time we left for the mall. Graduation was tomorrow and the joint party on Saturday. I still hadn't figured out the perfect gift for Jake or Jessica. Jess was still planning on spending the summer with me in California, but I wasn't sure what her college plans were. I had no idea what they would need.

We browsed the mall for awhile and I finally had a gift epiphany. I got them each a laptop with a web cam on it. That way they could keep in contact over the summer and use it for college. I got one for myself too.

We had brought a single stroller for each of the twins. The double I had was too bulky for travel. Plus they enjoyed having their own space. Mrs. Woods and I were each pushing a stroller and Justin walked between us. We had just entered the food court to head back to the car when I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Standing with her back to us about twenty feet away was my mother. She was dressed to the nines in a red Chanel suit and black Louboutain pumps. She looked more like she had just stepped off the runway than out of prison. This was the last place I expected to run into her. I would have thought that she'd have had more important things to do. Half of me seethed like a caged animal at the sight of her. The other part cowered like a little girl. She was deep in conversation with a man who looked like a business associate. I wouldn't have thought she'd have anyone left to socialize with. You would think she'd be a pariah in this town. Instead, I'm sure she was playing the victim and abandoned mother card. I didn't know how anyone could socialize with her knowing what she had done to her own daughter. I could feel that carefully suppressed rage bubbling. If we didn't get out of here, I wasn't sure I could be held responsible for my actions. I said a silent prayer that we could get out to the car before she saw us. I ducked my head and hissed Justin's name under my breath. I ducked my head and hissed Justin's name under my breath.

"What? What's wrong?" He whispered back.

"She's here!"

"Who is...Oh!" He saw her as soon as he spoke. "Let's keep moving. Maybe she won't see us." That was unlikely, but I hoped to avoid her. I raised my head just enough so I didn't run into anyone with the stroller. We passed the spot where she was talking to someone and I raised my head, thinking the chance of recognition had passed. I was very wrong.

"Well, well, well. The prodigal daughter returns." She said sarcastically from behind me. Justin tensed and looked at me. I shook my head and kept walking. I didn't want to give her a chance to bait me into a public confrontation. It didn't appear she was going to just let me go. I could hear her heels clicking behind us as she followed us. Justin had his phone to his ear and was talking quietly. When she caught up to us, she grabbed my arm. "You didn't really think I was going to just let you walk away did you?" She hissed, her voice full of venom and malice.

"Actually, I did. I don't have a damn thing to say to you." I spat back. I could feel the anger, no rage, building beneath the surface.

"I have plenty to say to you."

"This really isn't the time or the place for this." She recoiled like I had slapped her. Her eyes were as round as saucers. I pushed the stroller away from me, towards Justin. Too late I realized it wasn't me she was fixated on, but something behind me. The twins. I took a protective step backwards.

"So, it's true. They are yours."

"Of course, they are mine. Stay away from them and me. I mean it!"

"Aww, the protective mother. So adorable."

I was shaking from the years of pent up rage and hatred, but she saw it as fear. I'd kill her with my bare hands before I let her near my kids. Justin recognized what she didn't and stepped quickly between us, his arm snaking back around my waist.

"That's enough Katherine. Just walk away." He ordered, trying to diffuse the tension.

"What is it about my daughter that appeals to you Lowery boys?" Justin started to reply, but was cut off by a deep baritone behind us. My mother's eyes widened even more.

"Mother, leave her alone. You've done enough damage for all of our lifetimes." Brandon growled. I couldn't remember him ever siding with me against her. Jake stood tensed on my other side.

Surprising call by Justin. You can say that again. Surprising...Shut up! Where did they come from?

"Brandon, I just wanted to see my grandkids and she got all defensive." Our mother cooed trying to placate him.

"Right. Jake and I heard everything thanks to Justin. You were trying to pick a fight. Just leave us all alone. We don't need or want you in our lives."

"Jakey, you don't feel that way do you?" She pouted at him.

"I do feel exactly that way. You let Craig abuse Maddie for years. You even believed him over her when she came to you for help. There is no forgiving that." Jake said, the contempt clear in his voice.

"Madelyn?" My mother questioned in an injured tone.

"Do you seriously think that because they let you out that that makes everything okay? You should still be rotting behind bars."

"I repaid my debt to society. The parole board said so." She sniffed. I was dangerously close to losing control.

"Your debt to me will never be repaid! He would have killed me if I hadn't escaped. While everyone was out looking for me for THREE days, you knew exactly where I was. You. Were. There! I remember you being there. You are dead to me." I seethed, desperately trying to hold onto the thread of composure I had left.

"You were always so melodramatic, Madelyn. Acting suits you"

I felt that final thread snap and my vision went red. I broke away from Justin and before anyone could stop me, I punched her right in her stupid mouth. She swayed, but stayed on her feet. Good, you get another shot at her.

No one moved to restrain me, so I hit her again. I felt some serious pleasure as I watched the blood spurt from her surgically enhanced nose. This time she crumpled to the tile. I was completely oblivious to everything around me. For the first time in my life, I embraced the rage and hatred I felt for her. I started towards her again, but two strong arms pinned mine against mine sides. I struggled for a minute, then Justin's voice reeled me back in.

"Maddie, that's enough." He whispered in my ear. "She's likely to file assault charges."

"Let her, but I don't think she will. Will you mother?" She lamely shook her head. She probably would, but I didn't care. It would be worth it. At least she knew one thing now. She couldn't intimidate me anymore. I was no longer that weak, broken little girl seeking her constant approval. I turned my back on her and saw security heading in our direction.

"Here comes security." I sighed. I had let her do exactly what I had tried to avoid. She baited me into a public confrontation.

"You're probably going to make the news tonight. There are several people running cameras." Jake observed.

"It figures. I'm sorry you guys. I just snapped. I couldn't control myself."I looked from Justin to Brandon to Jake. They all tried to look stern, but I could see the laughter in their eyes. Mrs. Woods looked a bit shell shocked.

"We're going to need to speak to all of you. " A big, burly security guard said as they reached us. I nodded.

Two paramedics were tending to my mother. One security guard stayed with her while we were led to the security office. I knew she'd probably file assault charges. There wasn't anything I could do about it now. We took turns telling our versions of the story. I think we were all surprised when the missing security guard returned and said she had declined to press charges. I thought for sure she would out of spite. Maybe she figured she had it coming. She had lost everything.

I pulled Mrs. Woods aside once we were released. I started to apologize, but she silenced me with a hug. "I'm glad you finally stood up for yourself."

I chuckled. "I was afraid you were upset with me. I let her goad me into a confrontation."

"You needed to at least tell her how you feel. You've been holding on to that for a long time. I'd never admit it to anyone but you, but I'm glad you hit her. I wanted to hit her." That pulled a full blown laugh from me. The thought of Mrs. Woods hitting anyone was too bizarre. "I'll bet Justin will be sleeping on the couch again tonight."

"What do you mean again?"

"Oops! He was sure you'd have a nightmare last night and wanted to be close by, so, he slept on the pull out in the living area. Don't tell him I told you."

"I won't tell. I promise." We made our way back to the car and loaded back up. The twins had been remarkably good throughout the fray they witnessed. They ate as soon as we got back to the hotel and went down for a much needed nap.

I still hadn't heard from Casey. I checked my phone. One missed call from one Casey Allen. I'd call him later. I had to get ready for another evening at Joe and Karen's. Michelle and Chase were supposed to be there tonight. I was nervous about going back, but it would just be family tonight. I was getting out of the shower when my phone chirped. I wrapped myself in a towel and ran to answer it.


"Hey!" Casey's warm voice greeted me.

"Hey yourself! Are you still a Dodger?"

"I am for now. My agent said there are still a couple of things they are working out. There could be an announcement tomorrow. Mike already told me I won't be in the lineup tomorrow. So, it's looking like I will be in St. Louis by the weekend."

"St. Louis?"

"That's where Cleveland is playing this weekend."

"Well, that was not what I was hoping to hear." I moped.

"I know. It's definitely not what I wanted to tell you, but we need to get used to the idea."

"I know you're right, but I still don't like it."

"Me either, but it's an occupational hazard. How is your day going?"

I laughed long and hard."How much time do you have?"

"That good huh? I have all the time in the world." I filled him in on the events at the mall.

"Are you kidding me?"

"Nope. Can you believe it?"

"That's wild. How are you feeling?"

"My right hand hurts some, but it was surprisingly cathartic. I hadn't really acknowledged all that pent up rage before. It was probably a good thing Justin grabbed me when he did."

"Sounds like it. Make sure you put some ice on your hand. It will feel worse tomorrow."

"I will. I should also put in a call to Dr. Briggs. Talking seems to keep the demons at bay."

"I've always found that to be true. I guess I should start packing."

"Yeah, I need to get dressed. We have to be a Joe and Karen's soon."

"Dressed?" He asked his voice dropping an octave and cracking slightly. I could practically feel it rumble through the phone and settle in my chest. I felt the heat rush through my body with just his utterance of that single word.

"You know clothes? Towels are too drafty." I don't know why I told him I was only wearing a towel.

"Nice mental image." The unmistakeable undercurrent of want and need in his voice zapped me like lightening through the phone.

"Sorry, I just got out of the shower when the phone rang." I continued playing coy. I felt the need to remind him what he was leaving behind, of the possibilities he was leaving behind.

"No need to apologize. Again, nice mental image. You killing me here "

I blushed, remembering my own almost lustful thoughts when he had mentioned taking a long, slow shower. Almost? They were pretty full blown. Quiet! "Just returning the favor."

"Oh really?" I reminded him of the conversation we had the evening before we went to dinner.

I knew damn well he remembered that conversation. I could hear it in his husky voice. "I could barely form a coherent thought. That seems to happen to me a lot around you."

"You're getting much better though."

"I still manage to come off like a starstruck teenager sometimes."

"You're still new at this whole getting to know you thing."

"I'm not that new to it. It's just...different with you."

"Why do you think that is?" I knew exactly why that was, but the fact that I knew we were destined to be together and how wasn't something I was ready to tell him.

"Now that is a story I don't have time to tell. But I will. One day."

"I'm intrigued."

"You will just have to stay that way. Besides, it's a story you need to hear face to face."

"Very interesting. I expect to hear it the next time we get together."

"Hmmm, we'll have to see about that."

"That's it!"

"What?" I squeaked. I was panicked that I had pissed him off.

"I'm catching the next flight to Oklahoma."

"Go pack, you goof ball and call me when you hear anything."

"I'm serious. I can get to St. Louis just as easily from Oklahoma."


"What? I could."

"I know that, but you need to pack. I'm sure you have other things that also require your attention."

"So true. Okay, I will talk to you soon."

"I'm still hoping for good news. Thanks for calling. Bye Casey."

"Bye Mads." I looked at the phone before I flipped it closed. He had never called me that before.

I dressed quickly and towel dried my hair. Justin was impatiently pacing.

"Sorry! Casey called. Still no trade news."

"You were in there an awfully long time for a no update call." Justin grumbled.

"We talked awhile. I'm sorry. I'm ready, I think."

The evening went better than the previous night. Brandon and Jake had filled everyone in on the confrontation with our mother. That earned me the nickname "Rocky" for the night.

The sadness and hurt was still there under the surface, but I felt lighter. Maybe some of what Justin had said last night had clicked something in me. I think letting go of all that rage and hatred had the most to do with it. It had been slowly consuming me. At least it had been directed at one of the right people. Craig was still rotting in prison and would be for a long, long time. I shook my head and refocused on the people around me.

Joe was asking if I had talked to "my ball player". I told him there was still no confirmation of a trade, but it would likely be coming soon and that Casey would join Cleveland in St. Louis.

Michelle and Chase showed up shortly after we did. I hadn't seen them since Christmas. I could tell immediately that she had news to tell. She looked like the Cheshire cat. I took the first opportunity I could and pulled her outside to the deck.

"Spill!" I demanded. She laughed.

"I never could hide anything from you, but I should wait. This weekend is about Jake and Jessica."

"I won't tell. Now tell me!"

"Chase proposed last night!" She squealed.

"Congratulations! I am so happy for you!" I squealed back hugging her. "Where's your ring? I want to see it!" She pulled it out of her pocket and slipped it on her finger. It was a beautiful one carat solitaire. "It's absolutely stunning."

"What's stunning?" Karen and Barb had snuck up on us.

"Busted! Now you have to tell them." I laughed.

She didn't say a word, just pulled her hand out from behind her back and wriggled her fingers at them. They cheered in excitement. Karen's eyes teared up with joy. Pretty soon, everyone joined us on the deck.

Chase eyed us suspiciously then shook his head laughing.

"I knew you would at least tell your mom and Maddie."

Michelle walked over to him and they made the official announcement. She apologized to Jake and Jessica, but they brushed it off. We were all so excited for them. There was much to celebrate this weekend. We all sat around talking and just enjoying being together. It didn't happen very often that all of us were able to get together. And after the loss we had all suffered last year, not one of us took it for granted.

Michelle pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to me. I raised my eyebrows at her and unfolded it. I hadn't seen this one. It was a tabloid page one side had a black and white picture of me and Casey at the hospital the night Jeremy had smashed his cheek on the coffee table. Casey had his arm around my shoulders. I explained the story behind that picture. We were talking to Kyle about our getaway from the press. It wasn't a very flattering shot, but it hadn't exactly been a photo op kind of night.

"Turn it over." She instructed. I flipped the page over. On the other side was an almost full page shot of us outside the restaurant on the night we had dinner. Someone had taken the picture as we approached the restaurant. Casey was leaned in towards me, lips near my ear. I knew exactly when it had been taken. He had been teasing me about the valet guys checking me out. I passed the page around and explained the picture. It was a flattering shot.

I teased Michelle about buying rag mags. She said the teaser of exclusive Madelyn Nash/Casey Allen date night photos sucked her in and she had to buy it. I rolled my eyes and told her all she had to do was call and I would tell her whatever she wanted to know. I set her up for twenty questions, but she didn't bite. I breathed a sigh of relief. The evening ended with a meltdown of diva proportions by Julianne. She wouldn't nurse, but greedily sucked down a bottle. We took them back to the hotel and tucked them in for the night.

I woke early the next morning. The twins were still asleep, so I took a long hot shower. It was graduation day. We had no plans except to hang around the hotel until it was time to leave. I took my time getting ready. There wasn't any rush, but I just wanted to be able to throw on my dress and go. I chose a royal blue and white floral print halter dress and white Manolo heels. It seemed appropriate given that it was school colors.

I fed the twins once they got up and then we played. By lunch I still hadn't heard a word from Casey. I also hadn't turned on the TV. I was attempting to feed the twins sweet potatoes when Justin came through the door. He flipped on ESPN without a word. I knew immediately why, but it still didn't dull the shock of seeing the trade confirmed. I knew Casey was likely already in St. Louis. I had held out hope that the trade would fall through. I turned the TV off when the analysts began discussing how the trade would affect both teams.

"I knew it was coming, but it still sucks. He told me he'd be gone before we got back."

"It's just Cleveland. He'll be back in L.A. by October."

"I know that, but I don't have to like it." I sounded like a petulant teenager arguing about curfew. I went back to playing with the twins. Justin went back to his room. I told him he could stay, but he left anyway. I wasn't in much of a mood for anything.

I put the twins down an hour later for their nap. I was absentmindedly flipping through a magazine when my phone rang. I was ready to toss it out the window. It was Natalie. I was surprised it had taken her this long to call.

"Hey Nat!"

"Did you hear? Casey has been traded!"

"I heard. He called me the other night to give me a heads up. I haven't heard from him today though."

"It sucks. How's it going there? How are you doing?"

"Eh, I'm okay. It's weird being here, but getting a little easier. We ran into my mother yesterday on her first day out of prison."

"Shut up! Tell me everything!" I ran down the details for her. She was appropriately horrified and angered until I got to the part about punching her. She howled with laughter. "Good for you! She deserved at least that."

I looked down at my slightly bruised and puffy right hand. "It did feel good." I laughed. "Mostly it was just having the strength to stand up to her. She still acts like she's a victim and she didn't do anything wrong. It's mind boggling. But I'm done with her and that chapter of my life."

"I'm glad to hear it. It's time to look forward. You can't change the past, only learn from it." We talked for a little while longer. I know she really wanted to grill me about Casey. I think that's what her statement about looking forward alluded to. Knowing Natalie as well as I do, I was sure that's what she meant, but things in that area of my life had just gotten decidedly more complicated.

I still wasn't sure I was ready to date, but now the one person I could see myself possibly dating would be three thousand miles away for eight months out of the year. That thought brought back a snippet of the "mystery man" dream when he told me we'd find each other when we were both ready and the time was right. I was more confused than ever. Had I missed my window? Or was the time just not right? My emotions were in complete turmoil and warring within me. I was being pulled in two directions. Part of me still ached for Jer and part of me was ready to move on and be happy. The part aching for my dead husband usually managed to overrule the me ready to live life. Now I didn't know what was right. I sighed and went to get dressed. I didn't have anything else to do. My life would make a good work of fiction.

My phone rang again while I was brushing out my hair. Now who was calling?

"Hello?" I said impatiently. I wasn't in the mood to chat. I hadn't even looked at the caller ID.

"Bad day?"

"Oh sort of. I just found out some not so great news from ESPN!" I grumbled.

"I'm sorry I didn't call. I should have. I didn't think hearing it from me would make it any more appealing."

"I know. I'm sorry. I'm cranky. How's St. Louis?"

"I don't know. I'm not there yet. I got them to give me until Saturday to report. I had a stop to make first."

"Oh. Are you in Kansas?" Boy, was I being nosy.

"Nope. Just have a few things to take care of."

"Cryptic. I guess I'm going to have to sign up for MLB Extra Innings through DirecTV to see you play."

"We'll be on the West Coast in August."

"August?! That's two months away!"

"Two and a half really because it's mid-August. We play at Seattle, then at Oakland. The we come back to play the Angels in late August."

"This really blows Casey."

"I know, sweetie. I don't like it either. Have Belinda put you to work. It will be August before you know it. Or you could come to Kansas City later this month. Maybe meet my family?"

"I will have to think about it, but it's a tempting offer."

"That's not a no."

"No, it isn't a no, but it's not a yes either."

"Let's call it a maybe."

"Maybe it is."

"I'll let you go. I know you have to get to graduation. Have some fun this weekend."

"I'll try. Oh! I almost forgot to tell you. Chase proposed to Michelle!"

"That's great news! Tell them I said congratulations. I promise to call soon."

"Okay, talk to you soon." I slipped into my shoes and grabbed my purse. Mrs. Woods, God love her, had the twins all ready to go.

They were both dressed in school colors as well. Julianne's outfit was blue and white polka dots with a matching ruffled hat. There were even ruffles on the butt. Jeremy looked just as adorable in a blue and white striped outfit. I went over an knocked on Justin's door to see if he was ready. He greeted me with a dazzling smile and a whistle. "Oh stop! Are you ready to go?" He was wearing khakis and a deep green shirt that set off his eyes.

"I am all set. You look great! Love the school spirit."

"Wait until you see J and J. They look adorable. We walked back across the hall. He laughed as he took in his niece and nephew in their blue and white.

"You all match. They do look adorable." We wanted to make sure we left early enough to get decent seats at the stadium. When we arrived, we found that we weren't really all that early. Apparently everyone else had the same idea. It looked like most of the graduating class was already there. There was a large crowd gathered on the concourse towards the center of the bleachers. Foot traffic came to a stand still. Jake and Jessica were in the crowd, waving frantically at us. I shifted Julianne's weight and waved back. I could almost hear Jess sigh before she started motioning to me. I pointed at Julianne and shrugged. I didn't want to drag her through all those people to get to them. Justin was in a fit of hysterics next to me. When he pulled Julianne from my arms, I looked at him. He pushed me in Jake and Jessica's direction. For the first time I realized he was hiding something from me. I could tell by the look on his face.


"Just go Maddie! You'll find out soon enough." I hurried over to Jake and Jess. I was worried that something was wrong. Jessica was jumping up and down in excitement by the time I reached them. I was so focused on them that I never noticed the reason for the crowd. They each grabbed a hand and pulled me through the crowd. They both stepped back and pushed me forward. I turned my head to look at them, but I bumped into someone who dropped whatever they were holding. We both bent down at the same time to pick up what had fallen to the pavement. I looked up to apologize for my clumsiness. I could feel my eyes widen as I straightened back up. I had to be dreaming.