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I headed straight to Gam’s.

She opened her front door, beaming when she saw me. “To what do I owe this surprise?”

“I missed my favorite old lady.” I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her tight, lifting her off the floor just a little.

“Well, this old lady missed you too.” I could tell she was smiling as she talked. “Come on in. I was just baking.”

I set her down and pulled back, eyeing her skeptically. “You? Baking?”

“Okay, I was thinking about baking, but I was just about to pour myself a drink. Want one?”

“There she is!” I joked, following her to the kitchen. I noticed she was limping more than normal. I motioned toward her leg. “You okay?”

She waved me off. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. What can I get you?”

“Do you have any root beer?” I grinned.

“Of course I do!” She winked at me. “I keep it stocked for surprises like this. She took a bottle of IBC root beer out of the fridge and set it on the table in front of me before turning back to the counter to mix her own drink. She was just about to sit down at the table across from me when she stopped and put her hand on her hip. “Actually, it’s nice out. Wanna sit on the back deck instead?”

“Absolutely.”

Gam’s backyard was just as amazing as the front. Flowers of every color sat in planters in the corners of her deck and a dozen more birdhouses hung from the trees. Two turquoise Adirondack chairs I’d bought her a couple years back sat right in the middle of the deck overlooking the lake her house was on. It wasn’t a big lake, certainly not as big as the one Kacie and Brody lived on, but it was big enough to have a boat out on, and she loved to sit and watch them and, of course, protect her birdhouses from those bastard squirrels.

“It is nice out today.” I walked over and set my root beer on the small table that sat in between the chairs.

“You say that like it’s the first time you’ve been outside all day. Don’t tell me that you’ve just rolled out of bed.”

“No, I was up early, actually,” I said in my best know-it-all tone.

“Oh?” She sat down in one of the chairs and set her whiskey and water down next to my bottle. “What were you up so early for?”

Other than Coach Collins, his assistant Mia, the big wigs in the office, Brody, and Dr. Roberts herself, no one knew I was going there to see her on a semi-regular basis. I hadn’t yet told Gam about my meetings in general, and no way in hell was I ever going to tell her about the “restrictions” I’d been put on, but it was time to let her in… at least a little.

“I had an appointment with my therapist.” I looked at her and waited for her reaction.

She looked over at me quickly with her dark brown eyes narrowed at me, her hand raised up to shield them from the sun so she could see me better. “A therapist? Seriously?”

I took a deep breath. For obvious reasons, Gam’s opinions and judgments of me ran much deeper than anyone else’s.

“Yes, seriously. The dickwads in the front office thought I was spiraling out of control with what happened with Mike, so they sent me to her. Oddly enough, we’re talking about all sorts of things now. She’s trying to make me better as a whole.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “She?”

“Yeah. Dr. Roberts. You’d like her. She doesn’t put up with any of my shit.”

“Good, she shouldn’t.” She nodded. “You think that smile of yours can get you out of just about anything, and you’re mostly right. At some point you needed to grow up and deal with life head-on, not hide in the weeds and wait for it to drive by before you showed your face again. You’re good at that, Lawrence.”

I’d just been schooled by my eighty-nine-year-old grandmother.

“I know. And I’m trying. You have to give me some credit.”

“Okay, you win… for now.” She smiled, staring out at the water. “How is this going to affect your season? Don’t you start soon?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “We report back in two weeks, actually. I’m just going to have to work around my schedule. It is what it is. If it’s important enough, you make time for it, right?”

Her head turned toward me again, eyeing me warily. “You’re freaking me out talking like that. Knock it off.”

She turned her head back toward the lake and closed her eyes as a small, tight smile appeared on her lips. I didn’t say anything.

We just sat in the warm sun, enjoying the quiet together. In that moment, as in many other moments throughout my life, I wished she were my mother instead of my grandmother. She would have protected me.

THE WEEK WENT by faster than I remembered any other week going by in my whole life. My workouts and practices were priority number one, but I found that not concentrating on where my next woman would come from gave me a lot of extra time on my hands. I did a complete overhaul of my house, going through every cabinet and closet and getting rid of carfuls of shit I didn’t need and didn’t use anymore. How does one single guy accumulate so much junk anyway?

Before I knew it, it was Sunday. Library day. I’d still been texting Michelle every single morning asking how things were going, and most days it was the same answer, though once in awhile we’d chat for a minute too.

That morning, instead of my typical text, I sent a different one.

See you at 9?

She answered almost immediately.

M: Yep. Matthew hardly slept last night. He’s so excited.

Good. Tell him I am too. Any chance I could take him for lunch after?

M: Absolutely. It might change his excitement into convulsions but I’m sure he’d really like that. Thank you, Viper. This means more to me than you know.

That last text made my day. Knowing that Matthew was so excited was one thing, but knowing that Michelle appreciated it brought everything full circle for me.

I told you, Mike. I told you I’d help, buddy. I’m trying.

Nine o’clock rolled around and I was standing on Michelle’s porch pushing the doorbell. Like a herd of buffaloes charging through the house, Matthew came flying toward the front door from the kitchen with Michelle following right along behind him, shaking her head.

She laughed as she opened the door. “Seriously. This kid is nuts.”

“What’s up, buddy?” I cheered as excitedly as I could. Matthew’s skinny little body jumped up toward me, completely trusting that I’d reach out and catch him. Of course I did.

“I can’t wait. Today is On The Farm day. Remember?” he babbled excitedly, his eyes gleaming.

“How could I forget?” I answered, looking over at Michelle and winking.

She wrapped her arms around herself and smiled at me with closed lips.

“Did you tell him?” I asked her.

“Um…” She frowned at me and shook her head slightly, clearly confused about what I had asked.

“About after?”

Her eyes grew big. “Oh. That. No.” She laughed. “He was already so excited about the library that if I’d told him about the second part, I would’ve had to lock him in his room all morning.”

I turned my attention back to Matthew, who was staring a hole through me about two inches from my face.

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