“I’m sorry about the way I acted before, and I’m even sorrier about the things I said.” She grabbed the wadded-up tissue off of the coffee table and started picking at it.

“You don’t have to apologize, Michelle—”

Her eyes swept up to mine and she cut me off. “Yes. I do. No matter what happened, he really is your best friend, and you didn’t deserve that from me. I know you love him, and I know he loves you. I was just…” Her voice trailed off as she shook her head back and forth.

My throat felt tight. I was getting choked up because she was choked up.

Do not cry.

I got up and went around the table to her couch and sat down. Not knowing how she would react, I hesitantly put my arm around her shoulders. Me hugging her may have been the last thing in the world she wanted at that very moment, but I couldn’t help it. I had to hug her. Thankfully, not only did she not punch me in the face, but she leaned into me just a little and rested her head on my chest. “Don’t say any more, okay? Let’s just sit here and… I don’t know,” I sighed.

She sniffed. “Pray?”

“Nah,” I said confidently. “Mike is as strong as they come. I’ll be surprised if he’s not trying to sign himself out of here this time tomorrow.”

“MICHELLE?”

I was sound asleep and nearly jumped out of my skin when a nurse came into the waiting room and called Michelle’s name. We’d dimmed the lights a few hours before to try and get some shut-eye, but the catnaps were few and far between until this last one, when I finally crashed. I blinked quickly to try and force the room into focus just as Michelle hopped up and walked toward the nurse. They disappeared around the corner as I sat up. Brody heard me and cracked his eyes open too.

“What’s going on?” he whispered loudly, trying not to wake Kacie, who was still sleeping against his shoulder.

“I don’t know.” I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. “The nurse just came in and called Michelle out. Hopefully Mike woke up and asked for her or something.”

The words were barely out of my mouth when Michelle reappeared in the doorway, teary eyed. “What’s going on?” Brody asked, no longer worried about whispering. Kacie jolted awake, blinked once or twice, and was instantly alert.

“I just talked to Dr. Reese.” She sniffed. “Apparently Mike’s had a stroke.” Her voice gave out and she trailed off.

Kacie gasped and rushed over, pulling her in for a hug as Brody and I sat, stunned.

“What does this mean?” Brody asked.

“They’re doing an EEG in a little bit to check his brain function and then they’ll know more,” she mumbled through sobs into Kacie’s shoulder.

My stomach dropped for the hundredth time in the last twenty hours.

Brain function? Holy shit.

Brody went over and sat on the other side of Michelle, gently resting his hand on her leg. “Has he woken up at all?” he asked.

Michelle never lifted her head to answer him, but Kacie looked at him with sad eyes, pressed her lips together, and shook her head slightly. “No, he’s been out since yesterday at the rink.”

Brody leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he stared down at the ground. With each passing second, the room got smaller and smaller around me, and I suddenly needed to get out. I’d never been claustrophobic, but at that moment, I felt like I couldn’t breathe in there.

“I’ll… be back,” I stammered as I wobbled to the doorway. Once in the hallway, I started jogging, desperately looking for an exit. Any exit.

I took two lefts, one right, and an elevator down to the main floor and I was finally outside. I thought for sure once I was out of that room and outside I would feel better, but I was wrong. No amount of sunshine and fresh air could take away the dread that had permanently planted itself in the pit of my stomach. I walked up and down the sidewalk with my fingers linked on the top of my head, trying to make sense of what was going on, but I couldn’t.

“Viper!”

I turned when I heard my name to see Taylor, Big Mike’s little sister, hurrying toward me with tears streaming down her face. She threw herself into my chest and started sobbing. I wrapped my arms around her and let her cry for several minutes. Once her shoulders stopped shaking and she was done, she pulled back and wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt.

“Sorry, I don’t know what came over me.” She looked up at me and tried to smile. “I just saw you and all of a sudden, I lost it.”

“It’s okay. I’ve almost lost it myself a bunch of times.”

“How is he? Is he awake yet?” Her eyes begged me for good news, any little sliver of hope to hold on to.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her what Dr. Reese had told Michelle, so I just shook my head. “Not yet.”

“Can you take me up there? I have no idea where I’m going.”

“Sure, follow me.” I turned and headed back into the last building in the world I wanted to be in, not because I didn’t want to be there for Mike and Michelle, but because I wanted to go back in time and undo what had been done… by me.

We took the elevator up to the third floor, made one left, two rights, and we were back to the waiting room. Michelle and Kacie were still sitting close together on the couch holding hands, and Brody was pacing on the phone. Once Michelle and Taylor saw each other, they both started hugging and crying again.

“I can’t believe you came.” Michelle sniffled as she pulled back and cupped Taylor’s face in her hands. “You must’ve driven all night.”

“Are you kidding? Of course I would be here.” Taylor’s breath hitched. “He’s my only brother.” When those words left her mouth, Michelle’s face twisted and she bit her lip to keep from breaking down all over again. “Is he awake yet?” Taylor asked.

Michelle shook her head. “No, and unfortunately, he had a stroke this morning.”

Taylor’s hand flew up over her mouth as she gasped.

“But,” Michelle added quickly, “the nurse came in right after Viper went downstairs and said that while he’s nowhere near out of the woods, they’ve stabilized him for now, so we can go in one at a time to talk to him.”

Michelle turned away from Taylor and looked at the rest of us. “Is it okay if I go in first?”

“Of course,” Kacie answered immediately. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Thanks,” she muttered quietly. “I’ll be back soon.”

As soon as Michelle was out of the room, Taylor let out a huge sigh and plopped down onto the couch next to Kacie. “This is unreal.” She shook her head, staring incredulously at the coffee table.

Kacie nodded. “It is.”

“Wait,” Taylor looked around the room quickly, “Where are the kids?”

“Michelle said they’re with her neighbor Jodi.” Kacie responded.

“Oh, okay. So…” Taylor asked slowly, “what exactly happened? Michelle called, but we didn’t really get into it over the phone. She just said there’d been an accident at practice.”

I knew right then that I would hear that question over and over for the very near future, and every time someone asked what’d happened, I felt worse than the time before.

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