Murphy wanted a drink. She was an alcoholic, so some gnawing, subterranean part of her often wanted a drink, but it hadn't been this bad in almost a year now. Sternly, she reminded herself that this was hardly like telling Avery his mom had cancer. This was good. She had met someone, and they had something that was quickly amounting to a relationship.
"Mom?" Avery asked, his head canted to the side curiously.
Looking into Avery's prescient eyes, Murphy knew that she owed most of her success as a parent to Avery himself, but she still thought of raising him as her finest achievement, infinitely better than any Emmy or Humboldt. Sometimes she wondered how she had thought that those awards would be enough to fill up her life.
"I have tickets for the Nationals game on Saturday," Murphy managed at last. "Three tickets."
"Cool." The excitement in Avery's face flattened to calculation. "Who are we inviting?"
"My friend Rachel."
Avery was silent. Despite having used the same technique in countless interviews, Murphy found herself stuttering, "We just met this summer, in New York, that's where she lives, but she's in broadcasting, too, so we've been getting together—having lunch, I mean—on the weekends."
"Good," Avery interrupted. "You should have more friends than just Uncle Frank." He peered at her keenly. "You should go out on dates."
Murphy inhaled sharply. "I do. With Rachel."
"Your girlfriend Rachel." Avery nodded decisively. "Okay."
"Mom," he huffed, "okay."
Ah, there was that teenage insolence she had to look forward to. She ruffled his hair. "Thank you."
His lips twitched upwards as he turned away. "Whatever."
Rachel hadn't been to Murphy's brownstone since that first night, but now all four stories hung over her like a storm cloud. She lifted a hand to her Red Sox cap, rubbed the frayed brim, and rang the bell.
Murphy did not answer the door. Instead, Rachel found herself looking down at a boy who had to be Avery. "Hi," she said, trying to remember the protocol for interacting with your lover's thirteen-year-old son. She flicked her gaze to his Nationals cap. "I like the hat."
"Thank you," he said decorously and stepped back to admit her. "Please, come in."
"Avery?" Murphy called as she stepped onto the landing, still affixing her earrings. "Was that the doorbell? Ah."
Rachel couldn't suppress a grin as her eyes met Murphy's. "Hello."
"I'm going to get a soda," Avery announced, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Rachel and Murphy met at the bottom of the stairs. Ruefully, Murphy retreated to the first step, equalizing their heights. She took Rachel's ball cap. "Had this for awhile?"
"You bet. It's lucky, and the Sox need to kick some Yankee butt today."
"I get the feeling I've invited you to the wrong game."
"I think I'll enjoy this one."
"I hope so," Murphy replied absently. She was staring at Rachel's lips. Sighing, she leaned over the banister to study the hallway that lead to the kitchen. "Avery's certainly taking his time."
Gently, Rachel guided Murphy's face back towards hers. "I think he's waiting for you to greet me properly. Like this."
The kiss was short and simple, Rachel's dry lips against Murphy's lipsticked ones, but when Rachel retreated, Murphy's eyes were closed and there were two spots of color high on her cheeks.
"Avery," Murphy called, or tried to. She cleared her throat. "Avery, let's go!"
The visiting team scored four runs in the first inning, and although the Nationals eventually scraped together four of their own, by that time their opponents had eight, and there the score stayed. Murphy didn't care, and neither Avery nor Rachel seemed to mind. Later, they found out that the Red Sox had lost their game, and thus the league; Murphy insisted on taking Rachel back to her hotel, where she quickly consoled her.
On the way to school the following Monday, Avery asked, "Do you think Rachel would like Tony Cheng's?" That was the Chinese restaurant where they had eaten Thanksgiving dinner ever since the frozen turkey incident.
"She does have her own family to go home to," Murphy temporized, "but they are out in California. You want me to invite her?"
He shrugged expressively, and Murphy began to hope.
Thanksgiving was the second time Rachel slept in the brownstone. Murphy stopped counting pretty soon after that.
"Turn this crap off, Murphy," Frank whined, trying to bat the remote from her hand. Murphy shushed him irritably. "Come on, Murph, I just wanna rip that bow tie right off his—"
"Shut up, Frank!"
"Here to discuss the new bin Laden tape," Tucker Carlson chirped from the TV, "among other things, from Air America Radio, it's Rachel Maddow."
Chastened by her outburst, Frank watched the bow-tied prick and the short-haired woman get into it. He was trying, but he couldn't figure out why Murphy wanted him to see this. He and Murphy were reporters; these were pundits. Reporters broke stories; pundits just fought about them. "Murphy," he said cautiously during a lull in the bickering.
"I'm dating her."
Frank blinked, frowned, and studied the TV for a moment. "Murph, she's young!"
"What? That's what you're going to say, that she's young?"
"Well," Frank said reasonably, "she is. She must be twenty-five years younger than us." He looked Murphy up and down. "Are you telling me you're gay?"
"Then you're bisexual."
He held out a hand. "Okay, okay, no labels. I kinda thought, back when Ellerbee would come visit you, so I guess this makes sense. You know, Murph, I've only been your best friend for thirty years, you coulda said something a little sooner."
"Yeah," Murphy agreed abashedly. "I guess I didn't think it was worth the trouble, before."
He caught Murphy's eye. "But she's worth it?"
Murphy glanced back at the TV and smiled reflexively. "She really is."
Murphy didn't tell anyone else. She knew that her other friends would have supported her, and that was enough. Besides, it wasn't any of their business.
Frank wanted to meet Rachel. Murphy had expected that, but that didn't mean she liked it. She was still stonewalling him when he convinced their producer to let him cover spring training, and then invited Rachel to an exhibition game behind her back.
Wisely, Frank also extended the invitation to her and Avery, so that was how Murphy found herself at a small stadium in Fort Myers, surrounded by several thousand Red Sox die-hards. Currently, one of those die-hards had the edge of her hand pressed against Murphy's knee. The very picture of innocence, Rachel was turned toward Avery, eagerly explaining some bit of Red Sox arcana that Murphy wouldn't have been able to repeat to save her life.
"Hot dogs, hot dogs, get your hot dogs!" That was Frank, who had braved the concessions line. "I've got a mustard with relish"—he passed that down to Murphy—"ketchup and onions"—he handed that to Rachel with a questioning look—"and the best of both worlds, mustard and ketchup"—this, he presented to Avery with a flourish.
"What did you get?" Murphy heard Avery ask.
"A chili cheese dog with banana peppers and extra pickles, of course."
The sun was a red ball on the tree line, and although darkness had not yet fallen, the enormous lights that ringed the stadium were burning brightly. The clouds hung low in a purple mass, but their edges were ethereal pink against the periwinkle sky. Rachel's hand moved surreptitiously from beside to on Murphy's knee, and Murphy covered it with her own. A fastball smacked into the catcher's mitt, but the next pitch cracked off the bat and soared over the fence.
Several thousand Red Sox die-hards, Murphy silently amended amid the roar of delight, and the three people she loved best.