He nodded excitedly as he jumped off the bed, doing a ninja kick in midair, and ran down the hall to Maura’s room.
I had just finished cleaning up breakfast and barely had Matthew dressed in his khakis and blue plaid button-down shirt when the doorbell rang.
“It’s Viper!” Matthew’s legs moved so fast that he ran in place on the hardwood floor for a second before finally gaining traction and bolting toward the front door.
“Calm down.” I chuckled as I followed him to the front of the house. “He’s not coming for another hour.”
“It is him!” he squealed as we got closer.
Viper waved through the glass of the front door.
Suddenly I worried that I’d maybe told him the wrong time. I frowned as I opened the front door. He was standing on the porch carrying a cardboard drink holder with different cups in it.
“Viper!” Matthew threw his arms around Viper’s leg and squeezed tight, closing his eyes.
Viper reached down with his free hand and rustled Matthew’s hair. “What’s up, champ?”
“I feel horrible. Storytime doesn’t start until eleven. I must have told you the wrong time,” I apologized.
“No, you told me eleven. I just thought I’d come by early and bring these.” He held the cups up.
Confused, I looked at the drinks in his hand. “What is that?”
“I don’t know what you drink, so I brought a coffee, a hot tea, an orange juice, and a chocolate shake.”
I pulled my brows in tight and shifted my glance from the cups back up, eyeing him skeptically. “Chocolate shake?”
He grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “I got that one for me, but if you want it, it’s yours.”
“That’s okay. I’m not really a chocolate-before-noon kind of girl anyway.” I laughed and took the cardboard holder from him, carrying it to the kitchen. He scooped Matthew up into his arms and followed along behind me.
“Viper, have you ever been to the library?” Matthew’s voice squeaked with excitement.
“I have, but not in a really, really long time. You’ll have to show me around, okay?”
Matthew was so close to Viper’s face they were practically touching noses. “I will. They have this cool Lego table there and the top is all Lego stuff and you can build right on the table and there’s this net right in the middle of the table and they have Legos right in the table for you to use!” Matthew rambled without taking a breath.
“Really? Did you eat yet?” Viper asked.
I took the coffee out of the cardboard holder and poured cream into it as Viper turned toward me, whispering under his breath, “Is it okay if we go early?”
“Sure.” I shrugged and licked the cream off of the spoon before turning around and dropping it in the sink. “The library opens at nine on Sundays.”
Viper looked back and Matthew and tossed him up in the air. “Wanna go now?” he asked excitedly.
Matthew could hardly contain himself. He threw his arms around Viper’s head and squeezed again. “Yes!” he yelled.
I took a quick sip of the warm, delicious coffee and started toward the garage door. “I’m gonna grab his car seat. Can you keep an eye on Maura for me?”
He looked at me for a quick second and nodded before Matthew continued going on and on about the Lego table again. I hustled out to my minivan and slid the door open, reaching into the backseat to unhook Matthew’s booster. The garage door creaked as I shut it and walked back through the mudroom to the kitchen.
“What’s the matter, huh?” I heard Viper ask in a soft voice.
I rounded the corner from the mudroom and he was standing next to the highchair Maura was just in, which now sat empty. His back was to me, and I could see that he was holding her. She sat up in his arms, looking him straight in the eye with a frown on her face.
“What’s wrong? Why are you fussing?” he asked again.
I stopped and listened with my hand over my mouth, trying not to laugh out loud. Why was it so funny when grown men tried their hardest to do a baby voice?
Maura reached out and grabbed both of his cheeks in her chubby little hands and shrieked while squeezing as hard as she could.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow.” He laughed as he tried to pry her hands from his face.
I couldn’t contain my laugh anymore and spit all over my hand as I finally let it out. Viper turned to face me, rubbing his cheek with one hand.
“Watch out for that grip,” I warned, still chuckling as I walked through the kitchen with Matthew’s seat. “She gets a hold and doesn’t let go.”
“Holy sh—cow,” he caught himself. “Who knew those tiny fingers could be so deadly?”
“You’re a hockey player,” I joked. “Treat her like one too. You gotta try and predict her movements and dodge them. I’m gonna go buckle this into your car, okay?”
He nodded, keeping a watchful eye on Maura’s quick hands.
I went out to his car and opened the door, pleasantly surprised by what I saw. I don’t know why I was expecting Viper’s car to look like a disgusting frat house on wheels, but it was the exact opposite. Actually, it made my van look like a disaster.
“Hey, stranger!” I heard someone call from behind me.
I set Matthew’s seat down and stood up, closing the car door. My neighbor Jodi was walking over.
“Hey! How are you?” I wrapped my arms around her when she got to me.
She squeezed me tight. “Me? How are you? I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
I pulled back and sighed. “I know. I’ve been a bit of a recluse, just… getting used to everything, ya know? Trying to form a new normal.”
“Yeah.” She reached out and rubbed my arm, tilting her head to the side as she looked at me with sad, sympathetic eyes. “How have things been? Are you doing okay?”
“You know what?” I glanced back toward the house, feeling bad that I’d ditched Viper inside with the kids. “Do you wanna come in for a bit? We can catch up?”
“I would love to!”
“Whose car is that anyway?” she asked as we walked through my front door.
As we walked down the hall to the kitchen, Viper walked across, bouncing Maura up and down gently as he cupped the back of her head and made silly faces at her.
Jodi grabbed my arm and stopped me. “Who is that?”
“His name is Viper. He was Mike’s teammate and best friend.”
“Holy shit, girl, you better introduce me.”
“Jodi, you have a boyfriend.” I laughed and shook my head.
“Yeah, but he’s not here and that guy is fine.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the kitchen behind her.
“There’s Mom,” Viper said to Maura in that goofy baby voice again. “We thought maybe she was gonna run away and leave us fending for ourselves, didn’t we? Uncle Viper was wondering how the heck he was gonna feed you since he doesn’t have those things she has.”
“Tits!” Matthew yelled proudly.
Viper’s eyes shot up to Matthew and quickly over to mine as I glared at him. Jodi’s hand flew up to her mouth to stifle her giggle.
“Ya know,”—I shook my head and tried not to laugh—“I can’t get the kid to remember a nursery rhyme that I taught him last week, but he can’t seem to forget the one word that you taught him months ago.”