“Viper doesn’t dance.”
She put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips together. “But Viper talks about himself in the third person?”
“Sometimes Viper does… as long as he’s not dancing.”
Rolling her eyes, she grabbed my hand and continued dragging me over to the jukebox. “Dancing is easy. You just wiggle.”
“Bullshit,” I teased. “It’s a lot of pressure. You have to wiggle to the beat of the music and hope you don’t look like a complete fucking moron while you’re doing it and people are staring at you.”
“Since when does Viper not like people staring at him?” She nudged me with her elbow as she flipped through the songs on the jukebox.
I took a couple dollars out of my pocket and slid them into the machine. “Since Viper learned that he can’t wiggle to the music very well.”
Michelle punched a couple of buttons on the jukebox and turned to face me, leaning her hip against the machine. “Come on. I don’t believe that. You’re always talking about your sexual conquests and how many women you’ve been with, but a little thing like dancing freaks you out?”
“Yeah, it freaks me out!” I defended playfully. “I fuck in the dark and most of the time, hopefully, she has her eyes closed. So if I make a stupid face or move my arm in an awkward way, no one else is watching.”
“Speaking of sexual conquests…” She craned her neck to look over my shoulder, back toward our table. I glanced back, following her stare. Portland was at our table with a big round tray carrying all the drinks.
I turned back to Michelle. “What? Portland? I’ve never fucked her.”
“But you’ve wanted to.”
“She’s hot. Scorching fucking hot.”
“Really?” Lifting up onto her tippy toes to get a better look at Portland, she took a deep breath and puffed her cheeks out.
“Why are you asking? Where is this coming from?” I asked.
“I was married to Mike for seven years, together for nine. I haven’t dated since I was practically her age, and I’m not ready now, but I loved being in love—” She paused, her eyes lowering sadly to the floor. “—and someday, years from now, I’m hoping maybe it’ll happen again.”
I didn’t respond.
I didn’t know how to respond.
I just stared at her as the guilt flooded over me again, filling up my lungs, making it damn near impossible for me to take a breath. She would have to start all over again one day, and it was my fault.
“So anyway,”—she cleared her throat and lifted her face back to me—“I was just wondering what men considered hot these days. Guess I’ll have to up my game, maybe get a tattoo and a boob job.”
As she giggled at herself, the corners of her eyes sparkled… and my heart broke.
MY HEAD THROBBED like it was resting on a bass drum instead of a pillow as I laid in bed, silently begging my headache to go away.
Your own fault, Michelle. That’s what you get for mixing beer and cocktails.
I hadn’t had a hangover in years. Actually, I couldn’t even remember the last time, and when I tried hard to think about it, the room spun faster. Thankfully, Maura had decided it was a good day to sleep in, so I was able to snuggle in bed with Matthew a little longer than usual.
“Momma!” Matthew whispered loudly.
My eyes popped open, blinking over and over as my son slowly came into focus. His face was only a couple inches from mine and he was staring right at me with his huge blue eyes. His father’s eyes. “Yes, sweetheart?” I asked as I rubbed his soft cheek with my fingers.
“Stop snoring. I can’t hear the Ninja Turtles.”
“Sorry, baby.” I rolled over to face the other way, smiling to myself as he snuggled into my back.
A glowing light on my cell phone caught my attention from the nightstand. I grabbed it and slid the lock across the screen blinking against the brightness of it.. My daily text message from Viper.
V: How are you today? Need anything?
I noticed he’d sent it an hour earlier at quarter to seven, so I decided against my typical thanks-but-no-thanks text.
What the heck were you doing awake at 6:45??? And other than an awful, head-crushing headache for me, we’re okay over here. Thanks.
I tucked the phone under my pillow, pretty sure that he’d probably gone back to sleep and wouldn’t answer for a while. To my surprise, my phone buzzed just a few seconds later.
V: I don’t know. Couldn’t sleep. I’m not surprised about that headache. You were feeling pretty good last night. Hopefully you can just lay around today and chill while it goes away.
I tried to force my brain to think.
What day is it? Shit. Sunday.
I wish. Matthew has storytime at the library today.
V: Can I take him?
My eyes glazed over as I stared at my phone, convinced that my brain had somehow mixed up the letters of what he’d really said and I was reading them wrong.
No, that’s okay. You don’t have to.
V: I know I don’t have to, but I want to. I haven’t seen my little buddy in a week anyway. Please?
I rolled back over toward Matthew. His little profile was tinted blue from the light on the TV.
His head turned toward me, but his eyes stayed glued to the screen.
“Matthew, listen to mommy for a minute.” I waited a second for him to finally look at me. “You have storytime at the library today, and Viper was wondering if he could take you.”
His eyes grew as big as I’d ever seen them as his mouth dropped open. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” he cheered, pumping his little arms in the air. Suddenly, his excitement vanished and he looked at me sadly.
Oh no. Here it comes.
The knot in my stomach was the size of a basketball. Was this the sad face I would have to deal with for the rest of my life? This disappointment, this devastation of not having his father around?
“You’re gonna stay home, right? Just me and Viper are going?”
I stifled a laugh. “Yes, baby. Unless you want me to go.”
He shook his head furiously, clearly wanting me to stay away. “Just Viper. I’m gonna show him the Lego table.”
“I bet he’d love that.” The excited look on his face warmed me on the inside. I hadn’t seen him smile that big since… well, last time Viper was over. “Hang on a sec, buddy.”
I rolled away from him and grabbed my phone to text Viper back but was surprised to see I had another text waiting.
V: C’mon, pleeeeease? Our reading level is probably the same so we’d be a perfect match.
I shook my head, smiling to myself as I typed out my response.
Well, when you put it that way, how can I say no? Storytime starts at 11.
As I hit the send button on my phone, Maura started to fuss on the monitor.
Again, his body turned to face me, but his eyes were left behind on the TV. After a minute of me not saying anything, he looked at me, wondering what the holdup was.
“Maura’s finally up and Viper is picking you up in a couple hours. What do you say we go have some breakfast?”