“I would like that.” I smiled sincerely at him. “Thanks for coming by, Viper. This was unexpected but very nice.” He started to walk past me to the front door, and I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and wrapped my arms around him. I think I just needed to be close to someone else who’d been close to Mike. He took a shaky breath and hugged me back, tight. We stood like that for a couple seconds until Maura started yelling because she was out of pancakes.

Viper laughed and pulled back, bending down to kiss the top of her head. “I get pissed when I’m out of food too, little one.” He stood up and called down the hall, “Hey, ninja turtle head, get out here and give me a hug good-bye!”

Matthew came flying around the corner, sprinting straight for Viper. They hugged each other for a long time too. “Are you gonna come back soon?” Matthew asked.

“You want me to come back?”

Matthew nodded furiously.

“You got it, buddy. I’ll come back very soon.” He leaned in and closed his eyes as he kissed Matthew’s forehead. He set Matthew down, waved at me one more time, and slipped out the door.

Matthew smiled the whole rest of the day.

“WHOA! WHAT THE fuck?” Brody froze in the doorway of the weight room and stared at me. “Am I seeing things?”

“Shut up, asshole.” I glared at him in the mirror while I continued my bicep curls.

“Not only are you here,”—he walked toward me—“but you’re here earlier than me? I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone right now.”

I dropped the dumbbells onto the rack and grabbed my towel to wipe the sweat off my face, ignoring him completely.

He walked over and sat on the bench next to me, dropping his bag on the floor. “You know I’m just giving you shit, right? I’m happy to see you here.”

“Thanks.”

“Like, really happy.”

“I heard you the first time.” I laughed.

“I’m guessing the sit-down you had with Collins went well, then?”

I realized then just how much I’d shut Brody out over the last couple months. He had no idea about my meeting and what I was being required to do. A year ago, we wouldn’t have gone a day without talking, let alone a week or more.

“Uh, it went okay.” I looked around the room to make sure no one was within earshot. “The big wigs are making me see a therapist.”

He lifted his eyebrows and his eyes grew huge. “For real?”

“Yep.” I nodded.

“Yikes.” Brody shook his head. “That’s gonna be interesting.”

“I’ve already seen her.”

“Her?”

“Her.”

“Holy shit. Poor girl. It’s like feeding a baby antelope to a hungry lion.”

I picked the dumbbells up off of the rack and started lifting again. “It’s actually been okay. I kinda like her.”

“You like her, or you like her?”

“Oh, she’s hot as hell, and I would’ve fucked her senseless, but I can’t for two reasons.” I puffed my cheeks out as I finished my set. “First, she’s engaged. Second, she read me like a fucking book and knew my game before I could even start playing it. This chick is a serious mind reader.”

“Wow. Lawrence Finkle has met his match. Who would’ve thought?” He stood up, scooped his bag up off the floor, and flung it over his shoulder. “Hey!” His eyes flashed up to mine. “Speaking of chicks, guess what?”

“What?”

“We’re having another girl!” He smiled proudly at me.

“Seriously?” I turned to face him. “Does your dick not know how to make boys or what?”

Brody picked the damp towel up off the rack and threw it at my face. “Just say congratulations, asshole.”

“Congratulations, asshole,” I joked.

He rolled his eyes and turned toward the door. “I’m gonna grab a bite to eat after I’m done with my workout. Wanna join me?”

“Thanks, but I can’t. I have… plans.”

He turned to face me. “With the mind reader?”

I nodded.

He stood there and stared at me for another second before grinning. “Proud of you, brother.”

“Proud of you too… big daddy.”

After workouts, I showered quickly and hustled to Dr. Roberts’s office, getting there with only one minute to spare. I flipped the light switch and took my phone out, shooting a quick text to Michelle.

Hey. Just checking on you to see if you need anything.

The minute I hit send, the door opened and Dr. Roberts stood smiling at me in the doorway. “You’ve been on time twice in a row now. I’m impressed.” She waved me in cheerfully.

“Don’t get used to it. I can almost feel myself getting ready to oversleep,” I teased as I walked past her, silencing my phone and shoving it into my back pocket.

“Ha ha.” She sat in the chair across from me. “So, how was your weekend?”

“It was good.”

“Did you do anything exciting?”

“Not really.”

She turned her head to the side and looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “I feel like there might be something more to that ‘not really.’ Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“There’s really nothing to tell.” I shrugged. “I talked to someone I haven’t talked to in a long time, went to the grocery store, got laid, worked out—”

“Wait, wait, wait.” She closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to process everything I’d just thrown out there. “You talked to an old friend—”

“Well,” I interrupted, “more like a friend of a friend. It was Mike’s wife.”

“Mike. The Mike?”

I nodded.

“Wow. How did that come about?”

“I thought about what you said, all night long, actually. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About what kind of man I was and what kind of man I wanted to be.” I paused.

“And…”

I cleared my throat. “And I don’t want to be the kind of guy that makes promises and doesn’t keep them. I know that guy. He sucks.”

“Good! I’m proud of you for being proactive about this. How did it go?”

“Um… okay. It was hard at first, being in that house. Being with her. All of it. But it ended well. It ended really well.”

Life was weird. If someone had told me a month ago that I’d be sitting in a therapist’s office, spilling my guts, and actually enjoying it, I would have told that person they were off their fucking rocker. But I couldn’t deny it. If any good was going to come out of this thing with Mike, then it was going to be a brand new Viper. A better Viper.

She was leaning forward in her chair with her elbows resting on her knee, listening closely. “Tell me more. What did you say? What did she say?”

“First, I apologized for what happened to Mike, then I told her about what I promised him in the hospital room. I told her I felt awful that I hadn’t contacted her at all and then I asked if she needed anything.”

The corners of her mouth turned downward and her eyebrows dipped low as she shook her head slowly. “You know, for someone who tries so hard to be a badass and keep people at arm’s length, you really are a great guy.”

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