Sam had been smart to accept Jillian’s offer to host my thirtieth birthday party. Of course, I pretended to be surprised so not to disappoint him. My only request for Jillian had been to keep the guest list short. When I arrived, besides the McGee and Gallagher clans, my friends Vanessa and her husband, Bryson, Mike and Tess, and Darin and his sister Elena were there to yell “Surprise!”
Jillian didn’t have a smidgeon of mean in her so I knew there would be no over-the-hill cakes or Grim Reaper decorations. As party planner extraordinaire, she’d have a theme, but if I’d had to guess, I would have guessed sports.
I would have been wrong. Again.
The theme was “Top 30.” Guests had submitted their own top thirty lists, which Jillian transferred onto oversized scrapbooking pages and hung across the yard and house. I hugged and laughed my way around the yard as I read them: Sam’s Top 30 Reasons I Married Casey; Griffin’s Top 30 Ways to Make Casey Mad; and Vanessa’s Top 30 Reasons Casey Needs My Advice. One of my favorites was hanging above the crib in the nursery: Top 30 Ways My Aunt Will Make Me Giggle.
A half hour into the party, Sam approached me with a look of concern on his face. “Case, uh, Tommy’s here, and I, um, it looks like someone’s in the car with him.”
“Didn’t he break up with Gina?”
“I thought he did.”
I think Sam was more relieved than I was when Tommy opened the door to help Nick out. We walked over to greet them.
“I hope you guys don’t mind,” Tommy said, “I snuck Nick out of rehab for the celebration.”
“Mind?” I said, “Now all my favorite people will get to meet you!”
Nick hobbled on a foot and a crutch until Tommy got his wheelchair out of the trunk. “Are you sure? Tommy wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“I’m sure. And since I’m the birthday girl, my wishes rule.”
Griffin joined us. “Haven’t you figured it out yet, Nick? Casey’s wishes always rule. It’s got nothing to do with her birthday.”
Sam shook Nick’s hand. “Sam Gallagher, Casey’s husband. Glad you could make it.”
“Good to finally meet you, Sam. My brother’s been bragging about you for months. I was getting jealous.”
We introduced Nick to the guests. I warned Vanessa about using her cross-examination tactics on him and begged my grandmother not to divulge anything too personal about me. Both of them ignored me. From what I could see, not one person gave Nick a reason to feel like an outsider.
Especially Mom, who hugged him and said, “Ned—your father—was a good man. If he had known about you, we would have welcomed you into our family much sooner.”
Nick and Tommy spent a good deal of time talking baseball with the Irish Twins. At one point Darin said, “You know the game, Nick. Maybe Casey and Griffin can draft you for their Double Header team.”
Tommy said, “Think about it, Nick, it’s not a bad idea. You wrote for that military paper, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but that was only a few times and for fun.”
Griffin said, “What we do is fun, isn’t it, Casey?”
“Maybe for you, it’s work for me.” I fooled no one.
“I know,” Griffin said, “we change the name from Double Header to Triple Play, then Nick and I can divvy up your criticism and wisecracks.”
“We’ll talk,” I said, contemplating how it would feel working with two brothers.
The menu was my favorite: a good old-fashioned New England clambake, starting with homemade clam chowder. After the cups were cleared away, Jillian dropped off bowls of steamers while Mom distributed platters of potatoes, sausage and corn-on-the-cob. Everyone got their own lobster.
Settled in the place of honor with my utensils and plastic bib, I watched Nick field-stripping his lobster and Griffin dipping steamers in broth and butter then dropping them into his mouth. Since Mike’s arm was still in a sling, Tess alternated between cutting up his food and taking bites of her own. Tommy deserted Nick for a seat near Elena. With one arm around her, he helped her crack a claw. Darin chatted with Vanessa and Bryson. About what—baseball, family, or God?—I didn’t know.
Mom sat down beside me. “Having fun?”
She nodded toward Nick. “Dad would be pleased and proud.”
She saluted me with her decaf coffee. “I know so.”
“Mom, I haven’t had a chance to tell you, remember when you told me to ask God for a sign?”
Her face brightened. “Yes?”
“I did. He gave me one I didn’t expect.”
“He’s like that,” she said. “Was it Nick?”
“Not Nick exactly, more what I sensed when we met. Peace and an inexplicable connection. Took me long enough, huh?”
She ran her hand down my cheek and under my chin, pausing there for a second. “God is love, Casey, and do you remember what love is? ‘Love is patient, love is kind.’”
“I’m beginning to believe.”
Keep believing, Casey.
March, a year later: Ft. Myers, Florida
While not much had changed in sunny, humid Florida in a year, a lot has changed back home.
In mid September, Sam began working the day shift, which gives us as normal a life as any police detective and writer can get. True, I miss some of my co-workers and former clients, but I never doubted my decision to leave Kincade, rather WGM. Besides, there’s something to be said for working from home in your pajamas.
Thanks to Nora, WGM surrendered our severance pay without a fight. Gordy and Nora were settled in their new positions. Some of Kincade’s former clients even followed Gordy to JB and Son.
As far as I knew, Lyle was still ringmaster-slash-head clown of the WGM circus.
Mike had shoulder surgery the first week in October. His recovery has been slower than they’d hoped. Though he arrived for spring training on schedule with the other pitchers and catchers, he’s spent most of his time in PT. His major contribution to the team has been encouragement, much of it aimed at his fellow pitchers. On New Year’s Day, he and Tess were engaged.
The highlight of spring training for Darin was the health food store and organic restaurant he’d found near the park. He says the only time his game was better was when he was catching for Mike. I think that’s what he likes to believe.
Nick’s release from the Marine Corps lined up with his release from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Once he was home, it didn’t take long for him and Tommy to make good on their promise to look for a place together.
Sam and I found our perfect house—a four-bedroom Colonial in a family-friendly neighborhood in Plymouth, a few miles from Griffin and Jillian’s place. We never had to worry about paying taxes on two properties because Tommy and Nick bought our condo in Kingston.
Tommy has been wooing Elena since Thanksgiving. In the Flynn clan, for that to happen, it means Sunday dinners after attending church with her whole family. When I asked him how he felt about that stipulation, he said, “After Gina? Are you kidding? This is a gift.”
Griffin and I finally had “the talk” about what he wanted to do when he grew up. Together, and without any guilt or pressure from me, he and Jillian determined their own path—which did not include writing Double Header columns or sports biographies, at least fulltime. He agreed to pinch hit when needed.
Of course, when Neddie Rose McGee was born October 27—on her daddy’s birthday—Griffin and Jillian’s whole worldview shifted.
Nick, my new Double Header collaborator and co-biographer, had the talent, drive, and time, which made it possible for us to submit our book proposal earlier than I’d predicted. In November, after a bunch of disheartening rejections, Roberta found a publisher who liked the concept enough to offer us a two-book deal. We got a modest advance and a year to complete our first book.
In early spring, Nick and I got an exclusive peek inside the Red Sox baseball chapel while working on a piece about the role Christians play on the team. The “chapel” turned out to be an unassuming family room in the chaplain’s home, a reflection of the unassuming hearts of the men who attended. Witnessing the power of their simple faith increased mine.
Somewhere along the way, Hildegard and I parted ways. Not sure why exactly; I didn’t seem to need her any longer.
Now, back at the Sox training camp, the bleachers are hot and the sun is strong and so is the Red Sox line-up. I’m not here alone. Both my brothers are with me.
So are my twins—both boys—due at the end of July.
I followed a fly ball to the heavens and whispered a prayer. “Despite how difficult I was, you still blessed me. Thank you, thank you, Lord!” A light breeze caressed my face as it wound its way through the rays of the sun.
You’re welcome, you’re welcome, Casey.