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It led to our third first date, a day-trip to San Clemente.

We walked along the beach, stopping to watch some young people set up a bungee cord between two palm trees. Ten minutes later, on the walk back, we stopped at the same spot. Only this time, I looked down and saw a small stone at our feet. On it, someone had written “He is for you.” I handed it to her, saying, “I think the Universe is trying to tell us something.”

She didn’t reply, but when I went to her house the next day, I saw that she had put the stone, a handful of succulent cuttings and some moss in a large ceramic planter, along with two rocking chairs she’d crafted out of champagne cages. I took a picture.

My family had come to L.A. in 1954. My first playmate was Tom, who lived next door. I was four; he was not quite two. In the years that followed, our two families stayed best of friends, moving from Studio City to Sherman Oaks and then to Woodland Hills, all part of an effort to remain close.

In the summer of 2000, Tom finally got married. I went to the wedding but lost touch the next ten years, until he called one day, saying that his son was now six and about to start Little League. Tom had bought a copy of the instructional book I’d written about baseball and through that, had found my number.

He asked if the three of us could meet and spend time teaching his son how to play. Each year, for the next four, we’d get together just before the season started, spending hours with his son. Then it was Tom’s turn. Wanting to play in an adult league in the Valley, he asked me to teach him the same things.

Afterward, we went to Leasa’s for dinner, putting his son in front of the TV with a bag of popcorn and a ball game, while the three of us talked. Tom was still an active L.A. County Lifeguard and still had a swimmer’s body. Only this time, he appeared thinner, even gaunt. He told us he was leaving the marriage, so I attributed it to stress.

Turned out, it wasn’t.WP_000337

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