“This is just so fucking unfair. I did this. I should be the one lying in that bed, and you should be going home tonight with Michelle and the kids. I hope you know I would give anything to make that happen.”
My mind raced a mile a minute.
“I have to make that happen. I have to find a way to make this right. One of the last conversations we ever had, you teased me about having a cement heart. I have to prove that’s not true, and the only way I can do that is to take care of Michelle and the kids for you.” I hurried over to the bed, my blood rushing through my body as I took his hand. Practically begging, I continued, “I mean it, Mike. Whatever they need until Maura is eighteen. I’ll be the stand-in. I won’t be near as good as you would’ve been, but I’ll do it.” I let out a sob, something I hadn’t done in years. “I’ll do anything for you. I love you.”
Mike died at 7:21 p.m.
MY DOORBELL RANG for the third time, but I didn’t move off of my couch. I knew who it was, and I didn’t care. Within a minute, Brody appeared at the sliding glass door in my kitchen, cupping his face with his hands as he peeked through the door. He saw me staring back at him.
“Hey!” he yelled as he banged on the glass. “Open the damn door!”
My arms and legs felt like they weighed a hundred pounds each, and it took all my strength to peel myself off of the couch and go unlock the door.
“What the fuck?” He frowned, closing the door behind him. “Did you hear me ringing the bell?”
I walked over and lay back on my couch again. “Yep.”
“Why aren’t you dressed? We have to leave.”
I lifted my head and looked back at him, finally noticing the sharp black suit he was wearing, before rolling away.
“Viper!” he called again, sounding annoyed. “Get dressed! I just dropped Kacie, Andy, and Darla at the church. Come on!”
Funerals suck. No one wants to get dressed up and sit in a stuffy church and listen to people say the same bland crap about someone they loved. To top it all off, Michelle asked me to say something at the service. I’d tried to sit down and write out a speech several times over the last couple days, but that just wasn’t me. I wasn’t a planner. I figured I’d just get up there and say the first thing that came to mind.
“Hey! Asshole!” Brody shouted from the kitchen. “Stop ignoring me. Get up!”
I groaned as I got off the couch and headed toward my bedroom to get dressed.
“Don’t forget to bring your jersey!” he called out as I walked down the hall.
“Wait…” I stopped and turned back toward the kitchen. “What? Why?”
Brody grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and leaned against the island as he cracked it open. “Some of the guys thought it would be meaningful to wear our jerseys instead of our jackets during the service.”
“Great,” I mumbled and closed my bedroom door.
The street leading up to the Cathedral of St. Paul was crowded with people, some making their way to the church to pay their respects, others gawking at the people coming and going. Bloodthirsty reporters and cameramen tried to get as close to the church as they could, all trying to snap pictures of crying teammates or get the money shot of the grieving widow.
“Try not to break any cameras today, okay?” Brody said smugly, as if he were reading my mind.
Ignoring his comment, I put my sunglasses on and squeezed my jersey tight in my hand.
Just get through today.
Brody pulled into a parking space a block from the church, put his truck in park, and sat back in his seat without turning the engine off. Looking straight ahead, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You ready for this?”
“Not even kinda.” I stared straight ahead and zoned out too. The sun was shining bright and the sky was crystal blue, not a cloud to be seen. A perfect Minnesota day, except for the absolute horror of burying my best friend.
Brody turned his truck off and grabbed his jersey out of the backseat. “Let’s get this over with.” We hopped out and started making our way down the street. The closer we got to the church, the thicker the crowd grew. We both kept our heads down and tried to make it through the hordes of people without being recognized. Once we finally got to the steps leading up to the cathedral, the whispers were too loud to ignore and the cameras were clicking as fast as they could.
“Move please,” I barked at a couple people in jogging clothes on the steps, clearly there being nosy pains in the ass.
“Geez,” the girl snapped as I brushed past her.
I stopped and started to turn back around, but Brody was behind me and pushed me to keep moving up the steps. His nostrils flared and I knew he was annoyed too, but he shook his head. “Don’t. Not worth it.”
We walked through the big wooden doors of the cathedral into the lobby. People dressed in all black stood around talking and laughing as if it were just a normal day.
Brody craned his neck, looking into the actual church. “It looks like most of the guys are here and they have their jerseys on. You gonna change?”
“All right, me too. Let’s do that fast.”
We hustled off to the restroom and changed into our Wild jerseys, heading back toward the church as soon as we were done. Brody was taking his time walking through the lobby, shaking a few hands and chatting with people, but I was in no mood, so I passed him quickly and headed up the aisle, looking for a familiar face. As I scanned the pews already filled with people, Darla stood up and waved at me. I waved back and walked toward her, Kacie, and the rest of the group.
As I got closer, Darla stepped out from the pew and stared at me with the saddest eyes I’d ever seen. Her chin started to tremble and a tear fell down her cheek as she pulled me in for a giant hug, which I gladly accepted.
“Hey,” she said softly into my shoulder.
I cleared my throat. “Hey.”
We hadn’t seen each other since the accident. She’d been swamped at work while Mike was in the hospital, and when the whole gang had a little get-together the other night at Mike and Michelle’s house, I ignored the thirty or so texts from various people begging me to come over.
“How are you?” She sounded sincere, like she actually gave a shit how I was doing. I wanted so badly to tell her how I really was, but lying was always easier.
She pulled back and looked at me with puffy, red eyes, shaking her head. “No you’re not.”
I smiled, kissed her cheek, and scooted past her into the pew next to Kacie, Michelle, Andy, and a few other friends. They all chatted quietly while I stared straight ahead at the big wooden casket.
Do not cry.
Next to the casket were more flowers than I’d ever seen in my whole life, and pictures of Mike were everywhere. Some hockey pictures, but mostly pictures of him with his parents when he was little, him with Taylor, and of course him with Michelle and their kids. His jersey was draped across the end of the closed casket with his stick leaning against it. The sight of it was almost too much for me.
Brody slid past me in the pew and sat down between Kacie and me just as the organ started playing.
Once the priest started his service, I zoned out. I wasn’t religious so most of it went over my head, plus I’d started panicking about what I was going to say when it was my turn. There were way more people there than I’d been anticipating.