“And?” She moved her hand in a small circle, motioning for me to keep going.
“Did they call or text you?”
“No way!” She jerked back, sat up straight in her chair, and pointed at me. “No way are you getting out of this one. They’ve invited you to hang with them, haven’t they? And you’ve said no, haven’t you? Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why?” she pushed.
“Because I don’t want them looking at me, okay?” I yelled as I jumped up from the couch. “Because I know all they see when they look at me is the monster who killed his best friend. The monster who made his best friend’s wife a widow. The monster who left his best friend’s kids fatherless.”
She licked her lips and crossed her arms over her chest as the smirk on her face grew bigger and bigger.
I plopped down on the couch, completely emotionally exhausted, and glared at her. “What the fuck are you smiling at?”
“You.” She continued to smile proudly.
“I told you I’d piss you off and push you. And I will again, but this is great news, Lawrence! Now we’ve identified an issue to work on.” She clapped her hands in excitement.
“Shawn, I have way more issues than you could possibly ever fix. And please stop calling me Lawrence. Call me Viper.”
“You don’t need to be fixed, Viper. I know this is just the tip of the iceberg, but this really is a good thing. You’re opening up, and we’re on the way to getting you healed. And please, call me Dr. Roberts.” She laughed as she packed up her garbage and threw it away. “Okay, come on.” She glanced down at her watch. “My two o’clock will be here soon and he’s never late. We only have a little more time. Tell me about your friend that passed.”
I shrugged, picking at the skin on my fingers. “There’s not much to tell. He’s my best friend.”
“Okay. You said he was married?”
Was. There was that past tense shit again. Still not used to it.
“And he had kids?”
“Two. A son and a daughter.”
“Okay, and how is your relationship with them now? Have you kept in touch?”
The guilt of knowing that I hadn’t said one word to Michelle since Mike’s funeral was enough to make me lose my breath. My heart started racing, and I wiped the sweat from my palms on my pants.
“Viper?” Dr. Robert’s leaned in. “Stay with me. What’s happening right now?”
“Nothing. It’s hot in here. Can we open a window?”
“Sure.” Her brows pulled in tight and she watched me cautiously as she walked over to the window and cracked it. She sat back down across from me and didn’t say anything for a few minutes as I concentrated on breathing slow and controlling my pulse.
“Are you okay?” she finally said quietly.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Can we talk about it?”
I sighed. “Can we not?”
She raised her hand, looking at her watch again quickly. “He’s going to be here any minute, but I really don’t want to end like this. What was that about?”
“Cement heart,” I mumbled.
“Mike told me once that I had a cement heart, and in the room—the hospital room—” I shook my head, not wanting to finish.
“Keep going,” she ordered.
“In the room, when I went in to tell him good-bye, I also told him I’d take his place with his family. That I’d be there until the baby was eighteen, for anything they needed.”
“Aaaaand now you haven’t talked to them at all?”
“So first this horrific accident happens, which you feel responsible for, then he dies, and even though you’ve promised to be there for his family, you haven’t been?”
I took a deep breath and nodded again. It was hard to hear it said back to me.
“Here’s what I want you to do between now and our next appointment,” she started. We both looked up at the lightbulb that flashed by the door. She stood and finished picking up the garbage off the table. “I want you to think seriously about what kind of man you are now and what kind of man you want to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I said. Think about it. And come back Monday at three in the afternoon, okay?”
THE MONITOR LIT up with the sounds of Maura babbling happily in her crib. I rolled onto my side and turned on the video monitor so I could watch her. I sat up in shock when the grainy black and white screen came into focus, clearly showing my independent little eight-month-old standing in her crib. She wobbled back and forth, hanging on to the side rail for dear life. My heart raced with excitement, and out of habit, I turned around to share the news… with an empty side of the bed.
Those were the saddest moments. The moments I knew he would have been just as excited as I was for a new milestone in the kids’ lives. Even if he were out of town with the team, I would have called him on FaceTime and we would have been excited together. Now, I sat alone in my bedroom, staring at our baby girl, equal parts excited and heartbroken. A couple times when Matthew had said something funny at school or Maura cut a tooth, I’d called to tell Taylor. She’d done her best to fill the void of not having another parent to share it with, but it just wasn’t the same.
My eyes started to water, and I knew before I even got out of bed it was going to be one of those days. I’d been doing better. Three months since his death and the crying was getting less and less. As long as my heart was beating and there was breath in my body, I’d never stop missing him, but I was trying hard to focus on the good memories instead of the unknown future.
My bedroom door creaked as it pushed open just a crack and a tiny head peeked in.
“Hey, buddy.” I wiped my eyes and waved him over.
He walked slowly, staring at me with unsure eyes, and climbed in my bed. “Why are you sad, momma?”
“Oh.” I cleared my throat. “I’m just missing daddy today.”
His little head nodded up and down in agreement, though I wasn’t sure he knew what he was agreeing to. I tucked the blankets up under his chin and laid my head on the pillow next to him, taking a deep breath and smelling his hair. He still smelled like soap from last night’s bath. He scooted in close and I hugged him tight, looking outside at the rain streaming down the window.
I rolled over onto my side to face him, resting my head on my hand. “Me too. What should we have?”
He sat up in bed and thrust his little fists in the air. “Gummy bears!”
Laughing, I grabbed him and pulled him back down by me, tickling his sides. “We can’t have gummy bears for breakfast.” I poked and kissed his neck as he giggled wildly.
“Stop!” he panted in between giggles.
I quit tickling him and he sighed and looked up at me, not saying a word, just staring into my eyes. I brushed the fine brown hair from his forehead and rubbed his soft skin with the back of my fingers.