“This isn’t goodbye, we’re going to keep in touch” is one of the greatest lies of all time. Of course, it’s rarely a lie when it is uttered, often through choked back tears. Those making the promise usually have the best of intentions.
Certainly the line of players who whispered that promise into the ear of Timberlain Lilley meant it, as they embraced the new widow at the funeral of her husband Jordan, starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. Timber seemed so broken it was difficult to make eye contact with her, much less know what the right thing to say might be. Her body trembled through each new embrace, her eyes still wearing a faded raccoon’s mask from the airbag that had broken her nose but saved her life. Timber had been “lucky” to walk away from the T-bone crash that killed Jordan Lilley behind the wheel and their three-month-old daughter Meghan asleep in her carseat in the backseat behind him, though “lucky” was not a word anyone lined up in the queue to wish her goodbye would have used to describe Timberlain. To the men who were her husband’s closest friends, her pain seemed to exist in direct proportion to their own helplessness to ease it.
So Timber flew out of their lives, accompanying the bodies of her husband and daughter back to Michigan, where father and daughter would end their journey interred together in a single casket. The Yankee General Manager represented the team on the trip, giving the Lilley family transport back to Michigan in his private jet, but playoff season was breathing down on them, and the Yankees had a night game that evening, so only Remy Robichaux was granted leave to attend the interment ceremony – Remy – the utility catcher who had made the Show late in his career only after a savvy pitching coach discovered Jordan threw markedly better when Remy was behind the plate.
Remy and Jordan had been friends back when being a major leaguer was still a dream they were chasing; back before Jordan had wooed and won the feisty Timber. He had been best man at Jordie and Timber’s wedding, and had stood in for the new father when Timber went into early labor while Jordie was away doing his weekend in the Air Force Reserves. Jordie had often joked that Remy had saved his marriage to Timber by teaching her to golf, when his own frayed patience as her instructor had ended with a set of very expensive golf clubs at the bottom of the Lilley’s swimming pool.
So through his own shock and grief, Remy determined to live up to the trust that kind of friendship implied. In the days after the accident, Remy spent every moment he wasn’t on the field glued to Timber’s side. He went with her to make the funeral arrangements, and ended up undertaking most of the decisions when she was unable to speak. In the days before the funeral, he slept on the sofa in her apartment in case she needed something in the night and had bawled like a baby right alongside of her the first time she dumped the breast milk she had pumped for a baby who longer needed it.
At the funeral, Remy’s arm often snaked around Timber when it appeared her knees were about to buckle, and it was on Remy’s shoulder Timber sobbed on the plane back home. But in the end, there was nothing he could do but make that same promise, that same heartfelt promise that, of course this wasn’t goodbye, of course they would stay in touch, kiss her cheek goodbye and head out to meet the team for a four game stand in Toronto
There were good faith attempts made by many of Jordie’s teammates at first. There were phone calls and invitations to weddings and other celebrations which were always rewarded with a generous gift but never with the actual presence of Timber Lilley, and after the first year or so the invitations slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped, not because the players and their wives no longer wanted to see the woman that had been part of their Yankee family for the last five years, but because after awhile, sending them seemed like fishing for a gift; there was never any real expectation Timber would be lured from the lake house in Michigan where she and Jordie had made their home.
In those those first few months after the funeral, Remy and Timber had spoken every few days, often in marathon middle of the night phone calls during which Remy would lay in the dark, three hundred miles away, and listen to Timber cry, even on evenings he was not alone in his bed. But then spring training had started, and the season kicked in, and Remy had met Samantha, whom he found intriguing in every way, but who, while staying at Remy’s one night, let it be known she objected to Timber’s late night phone calls loudly enough for Timber to overhear. So while Remy still tried to call Timber from the road, she never initiated the calls to him anymore, and by the end of the season, their phone calls dwindled to ten minute chats in which, it seemed to Remy, that they no longer had anything of substance to say to one another.
Timber had come to a game the first season after the accident when the Yankees played the Tigers in Detroit; had even come down to the locker room to say hello. Remy had rented a car and driven out to the Lilley’s “Lilley Pond” in Western Oakland County, where Timber had seemed, if not “fine,” like at least she was putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.
But the next season, when the Yankees played the Tigers, Timber didn’t respond to any of the player’s invitations to come to a game or to meet up, even Remy’s. And since their own lives had moved on, it was easy to convince themselves that she was distancing herself from her old life because she had a new one – a new man to love her as well and as deeply as Jordan had, maybe even a new baby to fill that hole in her heart. It was what they all wished for her, and that’s the way they tried to think about Timber. But for Remy, and for Yankee pitchers Scott Avila and Dylan Cooper who were closest to Jordan, every time they remembered their friend, they thought uneasily about Timber, and they wished they knew for sure.
That nagging feeling of leaving a chapter unfinished was the reason that, when the email from World Wonders landed in their inboxes, Remy Robichaux, Scott Avila and Dylan Cooper were on a three-way call with one another within minutes. World Wonders was the company Timber Lilley had founded when she was still Timber Graham, and while none of the three men had a real grasp on what the business actually did, the rumor was Timber was one of three Yankee spouses to outearn her husband.
The email was the kind of solicitation ballplayers receive hundreds of every year, requesting them to lend their name or appear on behalf of a charitable cause. This email asked if the men would consider coming to Flint, Michigan, on behalf of Word Wonders, to hand out bottled water to the residents of that beleaguered city, who through no fault of their own, found the water in their homes unfit to drink. The water was to be a Christmas gift from World Wonders to the community, and the date the company requested was the Sunday before Christmas.
Remy, Scott and Coop were all aware Timber had stepped down from an active role in the company when the baby was born, but she still owned the company, so it was reasonable to think that since the accident she might have resumed her position there. The hope flared in all three men that this was Timber reaching out, but skepticism was right on its heels.
“I called the company and they told me Timber doesn’t maintain an office there.” Scott was the first to voice his suspicions. This can’t be for real. This must be someone at the company who found our contact information in a computer somewhere and thought they’d see if we’d bite. “Timber’s name is not even on the email.”
“Maybe she didn’t want to put us on the spot, you know, guilt us into it two weeks before Christmas.” Coop ventured. “I tried calling her cell but as usual, it went right to voice mail. I’m not even sure it’s her right number anymore. I try texting every once in awhile, but I never get a reply.”
“The whole email is odd.” Remy frown at his cellphone screen. “This is a big company. They would send a private email to each recipient. This one is addressed to Scott with copies to me, Coop and Pete Puckett. If Timber had sent it, she’d have sent it to me with copies to you guys. And what’s with Pete Puckett. He and Jordie never even got along. Puck was the only guy on the team who didn’t go to the funeral. Did Timber even know him?”
“Puck knew her,” Coop replied. He used to refer to her as “Bitch Perfect.”
“I tried to get some answers from this Community Outreach Coordinator chick who sent the email,” Remy told the others, “And all I could get out of her was that she was directed to send the email by her supervisor, who is conveniently off on a Christmas holiday, – and that she was – and I quote – “sure someone must have run the invitation by Timber.”
“This is bullshit. It’s not her.” Coop concluded, and the others agreed. But in the end, even though the giveaway was set for the week before Christmas, and even though Remy’s girlfriend Samantha was likely to go postal when she heard about the trip, they wanted it to be true that Timber wanted to renew their friendship, so they said yes.
As did, to the surprise of all of them, Puck Puckett.