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What the hell?

“You know what? Gummy bears it is.”

His mouth fell open as he gasped, then he stood up quickly, cheering as he jumped up and down on my bed. “Woohoo!”

“Just this once, though, okay?” I added. “This isn’t gonna be a new trend. And… you have to have an apple too. Deal?”

“Deal!” He held his hand out for me to shake.

“Come on!” Instead of shaking his hand, I turned around for him to jump on my back. “Let’s go get your sister out of her crib.”

“What do you think of a nice quiet day at home today?” I asked Matthew as milk dripped from his chin and dropped back into his bowl of Froot Loops. Thankfully, once we got downstairs he decided that he wanted something a little more filling than just gummy bears.

He shrugged and nodded.

“Maybe this afternoon we’ll take a little trip to the library?”

“Yeah.” He nodded more excitedly. “I wanna play at the train table.”

“You got it!” I tried to sound upbeat.

Since Mike had died, little Matthew didn’t smile as much anymore. He always seemed sad and lost, and maybe it was my imagination, but I felt like he stared at the front door a lot.

As I was cutting a pancake into teeny tiny pieces for Maura, the text alert sounded on my phone.

Hey. You around today?

I stared down at my phone, trying hard to remember whose number it was. Finally, I responded.

I’m so sorry. Who is this?

While I finished cutting Maura’s pancakes, I kept one eye on my phone, waiting for it to buzz again. Finally, it did.

It’s Viper. I was hoping I could stop by.

Viper? That’s weird.

Oh, sure. I’m making a run to the library, but not till later. Come by whenever. :)

I’d barely put the phone down and it buzzed again.

Thanks. I’ll be by in about twenty minutes.

That was weird. I’d barely talked to him at all since Mike died and not once since the funeral. I set the phone down on the counter and went back to cutting Maura’s pancakes.

A little while later, the doorbell rang. I went up front and opened it as quick as I could, waving Viper in out of the rain.

“Hey.” He smiled as he came through the door.

“Hey. This is unexpected.” I closed the door behind him. “The kids are in the kitchen eating breakfast. Follow me.”

“Viper!” Matthew yelled. The second he saw Mike’s best friend walk into the kitchen, he jumped out of the kitchen chair and rushed over, leaping into Viper’s arms.

Viper squatted down and scooped him up happily. “What’s up, buddy?” Matthew wrapped his arms and legs around Viper like a monkey and squeezed.

“I haven’t seen you in a long time.” Matthew said.

“I know, buddy. I’m sorry about that,” Viper responded. “Look at how big your sister got.” He walked over and knelt down toward Maura, who grinned a huge grin up at him. “Whoa! She has teeth!”

“Yep.” I laughed. “A few of them. She bites hard too.”

“Momma,”—Matthew turned to me—“I’m done eating. Can I go play?”

“Sure, baby,” I said as he squirmed out of Viper’s arms and disappeared down the hall.

“Wow. He doesn’t stop moving, does he?” Viper ran his hands through his wet hair.

“Or talking.” I laughed. “Pull up a seat. If I stop feeding her for too long, it gets pretty loud in here.” I barely had the spoon off the plate and she already had her mouth open like a little bird.

The wooden chair made a loud noise as it scraped across the kitchen floor. Viper sat down and sighed. I waited for him to fill me in on why he was there, but he didn’t start talking. After a minute of awkward silence, I set the bowl down and turned to face him. He had a pained look on his face as he stared into the family room.

“Is it weird being here?” I finally asked.

He jumped a little, as though he’d forgotten I was even there.

“Kinda.” He shrugged. “It’s just tough.”

I offered up a small smile. “Tell me about it.”

“That’s actually why I’m here, to talk to you about Mike.” He cleared his throat. “First of all, I want to apologize… for what happened.”

“Viper—”

“Don’t, please. Just let me get it out.” He scooted his chair a little closer. “Everyone keeps telling me that it was an accident and I, more than anyone, know that it was, but it still doesn’t change the outcome. I just need you to know how truly sorry, from the bottom of my heart, I am. I would give anything to take his place.”

My throat felt tight as my eyes welled up with tears. “I appreciate it, Viper, but the apology is completely unnecessary. It was an accident. I know how much you loved him, and I totally know how much he loved you. It’s just an all-around shitty situation.”

I walked over and grabbed a tissue from the box on my kitchen counter.

“That’s not the only apology I owe you.” He sighed.

I narrowed my eyes at him and sat back down. “What do you mean?”

“Something you don’t know is that when I went into his room… to say good-bye… I made a promise to him to help you and the kids with whatever you could possibly need until Maura is eighteen years old, longer if you needed it.”

My heart sank. I was completely blown away by his gesture to my husband. “You said that?”

He nodded. “And here he’s been gone a few months already and I haven’t even come by once. I feel like a dick.” He looked down the hall toward the playroom and cringed. “Sorry.”

I looked back at the hall and realized he was worried about Matthew hearing him swear. “Oh, don’t worry about him. When the Ninja Turtles are on, he doesn’t hear much else.”

“I love those guys too,” he said with a crooked smile. “Anyway, I feel like I’ve let him down all over again, and I let you down too, even though you didn’t know about the promise. Still, I knew about it and I’m sorry.”

“Viper, it’s okay.” I reached out and gently rubbed his hand. “What brought all this on? I mean, why today?”

He shrugged and stared down at his hands. “Someone asked me yesterday what kind of man I was and what kind of man I wanted to be. All I could think about was this promise that I’d broken. I thought about it all night. I couldn’t sleep.” He finally looked up at me. “I almost texted you at three in the morning, but then I realized that was a jackass thing to do.”

“Oh, I was probably awake anyway. I don’t sleep very well these days.” I sighed.

“I’ll have to remember that.” He laughed nervously. “Anyway… is there anything I can help with? Anything at all I can do to make this easier on you?”

“That really is sweet of you, but we’re getting by. One long-ass day at a time.”

“All right.” He stood up and shoved his hands into his jeans pockets like a nervous teenager. “Well, I’m not gonna take up any more of your day. Plus, I need a nap after my long night. You have my number now.” He nodded toward my cell phone on the counter and looked me straight in the eye. “Please call me if you think of anything at all that you need, Michelle. And I’m going to check on you from time to time, if that’s okay?”

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