Viper’s husky laugh echoed throughout the whole first floor as Jodi nudged me and cleared her throat. “Oh, Viper, this is my neighbor Jodi. Jodi, this is Viper.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jodi murmured in the phoniest voice I’d ever heard her use.
“Likewise,” he said quickly before turning his attention back to Maura, who was completely enthralled with watching him at that point. “I’m gonna give you back to Mommy now because I’m taking your brother to the library, and then to the bar.”
I cocked my hip to the side and crossed my arms over my chest, glaring at him again.
He peeked at me out of the corner of his eye and then continued, “Just kidding. The bars don’t open until noon on Sunday.” Laughing at himself, he walked over and gently handed Maura to me.
“Try not to get kicked out of the library, okay?” I said, half teasing, half serious.
“Hmmm…” The corners of his mouth turned down as he looked up toward the ceiling. “I’ve been kicked out of a lot of places, but never a library. Matthew, come on! Let’s make this day interesting!”
“Yay!” Matthew jumped up and before I could argue, they were out the door.
Maura lay in my arms with her eyes glazed over, sucking her thumb.
“This one is just about to fall asleep,” I whispered as Jodi sat at the kitchen table. “I’m gonna lay her down and we can talk for a bit, okay? Make yourself at home.”
It didn’t take long for Jodi and I to step into stride like friends often do. She was doing a fantastic job of making me laugh with all of her inappropriate stories about her younger, much younger, boyfriend, Vince.
“Wait a second… he proposed? Like on his knee? With a ring?” I asked with my mouth agape. Jodi was just a little older than me, in her midthirties, and had already been married and divorced. Twice.
“Yep.” She nodded, sounding almost embarrassed about it. “In front of his whole family. What was I supposed to say?”
“So wait, are you going through with it?”
“Why not?” she shrugged. “He’s hot. He makes good money. The sex is off-the-charts amazing. Might as well go for it and see what happens. They say third time’s a charm.”
“You’re insane, you know that?” I laughed as I walked over to the counter and grabbed the coffee pot to refill her cup. “Have you guys talked about this wedding at all?”
“Yeah,” she sighed, leaning her chin on her hand. “I was hoping to go to the Bahamas or something for one of those destination weddings, but he wants a church, tux, flowers, DJ, the whole nine yards.”
I sat back down across from her. “Seriously?”
“Well, he’s never been married. I can’t take the wedding experience away from him just because I’ve already done it twice.”
Licking my lips as I pinched them together, I stared down at my coffee cup.
“What?” she challenged.
I held my hands up in the air innocently and shook my head. “I didn’t say a word.”
“No, but you thought something. Spill it.”
I looked back down at my coffee cup and ran my finger around the edge. “I was just thinking that maybe you should see if the bridal shop can give you some sort of VIP discount for being such a great return customer.” I tried unsuccessfully to stifle my laugh.
“You’re such a bitch.” She reached over and smacked my leg.
We sat for a minute, laughing and enjoying the moment together without saying a word.
“Think about it,” she added. “By the time you’re ready to get married again, I’ll be such a pro at wedding planning that you can actually pay me to do yours.”
I shook my head sternly. “No way.”
“Come on, I promise I’d do a good job.”
“I wasn’t saying no way about paying you, I was saying no way about getting married again.”
Her lips parted and she frowned at me as I picked my coffee cup off the table and carried it over to the sink. “Why not?”
I turned to face her and shrugged, leaning back against the counter with my arms crossed. “I don’t know. It seems silly. Will I date eventually? Maybe, but I just don’t see the point in marrying again.”
“Michelle, you’re young, you’re hot, and you still have a lot of life left.” Jodi stood up from the table and walked over, leaning against the counter next to me. “There’s no reason for you to spend it alone.”
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly, staring down at the floor. “Some days I’m great and I feel like, okay, I can do this. I can be a single mom and still give these kids the best life ever. And then the next day, I miss Mike so bad I feel like I can’t breathe. There have been days where I’ve barely gotten out of bed.”
Jodi wrapped her arm around my waist and laid her head on my shoulder, but didn’t interrupt.
“And don’t even get me started on nighttime,” I continued. “It used to be my favorite. Mike and I would put the kids to bed and start off watching TV, but by the end of the night we were either having some deep conversation, wrestling, or making love on the floor in the family room. Sometimes all three in the same night.” I sniffed and she squeezed me tighter. “I hate nighttime now. Once the kids go to bed, that’s when the sadness peaks. I sit down here all alone reliving what we used to have. I hate it.”
Jodi lifted her head and looked over at me. “Why don’t you come get me? I would love to unwind with you at the end of the day, as long as there’s wine.”
“Thanks.” I smiled. “But you have enough going on over there with Mr. Teenage Sex Maniac.”
She rolled her eyes and hip bumped me. “He’s not a teenager. Not for a couple years now.”
We both laughed at the ridiculousness of what she’d just said.
“And now here I am, thirty years old and hungover so bad that my dead husband’s best friend offered to take my son to storytime.” I sighed heavily.
“Yeah, what’s up with that? Fill me in.” Jodi pulled her arm back and turned around to lean again the island, facing me this time.
“There’s not really anything to tell. He was Mike’s best friend, has been for a while, and I guess when Mike died—” I paused and swallowed hard. “—he promised him he’d look after us.”
She pulled her brows in tight and narrowed her bright green eyes at me. “Why would he do that?”
“He, uh… was the one that caused the accident… kinda.”
Jodi’s hand flew up to her mouth as her eyes grew huge. “You’re kidding me!”
I shook my head. “Nope. So he feels this… obligation… to make things right. And I appreciate it, but I don’t need it. Today was the first time I texted back and took him up on one of his offers.”
She dropped her hand from her mouth and frowned at me. “Offers?”
“Not really an offer, I guess, but he’s been texting me every single morning to say hi and see if we need anything.”
“Wait a minute.” She cocked her head to the side and narrowed her eyes again. “That guy, that hot, beefy, tatted-up guy texts you every day to say ‘good morning’ and see if you need anything?”