“Oh, honey. That goes without saying,” Michelle agreed, shaking her head. “Damn vultures.”

“Man, look at this. You guys are all on your second, third, tenth kids, and here I am living by myself, with no one to come home to at night, no family to love, no one to talk to…” I said as seriously as I could. They all stared wide-eyed at me, not sure how to respond. “Suckers!” I bellowed, laughing as I ducked the hail of peanuts.

“MORNING, SUNSHINE.”

My head throbbed as I cracked one eye open the very next morning. Darla was sitting on the edge of my bed, smiling at me as she tied her shoes.

Blinking away the sleep, I leaned up on one elbow. “Where you going?”

“You’re off work for the summer, but the rest of us aren’t,” she teased as she disappeared into my walk-in closet. “What are your plans for the rest of the day anyway?”

I sat all the way up and stretched my arms out. “I think I’m gonna go visit my grandma.”

“Oh yeah?” She reappeared from my closet wearing a Minnesota Wild sweatshirt.

“Hey, that’s my favorite one,” I whined playfully.

“I know.” She smiled at me. “So… your grandma, huh? Do you visit her often?”

“Not as much as I should.” I sighed, feeling guilty. “It’s hard to get over there during the season, so I spend as much time with her as I can during the off-season. We’re kindred spirits, actually.”

She stopped moving and stared at me for a second, processing what I’d just said. “Kindred spirits? You and your grandmother?”

“Yep.” I laughed. “Believe it or not. Gam’s not a typical grandma. She looks like it on the outside, but on the inside she’s wild and crazy.”

“Hmmm.” She tilted her head to the side. “I’d like to meet her sometime.”

I nodded. “I’m sure you will.”

“All right, I gotta go.” Grabbing her purse off my dresser, she walked over and bent down to kiss me good-bye.

“What about my hoodie?” I mumbled through the kiss.

Darla pulled away and narrowed her eyes at me. “I’ll bring it back, you big baby.”

I yawned and lay back down on the bed. “You coming back tonight?”

“Maybe.” She blew me a kiss and turned down the hall.

“What do you mean maybe?” I called after her.

“Gotta see what other offers present themselves,” she yelled back from my kitchen.

I couldn’t help but smile as I heard the clink of the cookie jar on the counter.

She knows me so damn well.

Gam’s little ranch house was modest but really well taken care of, considering her stubborn eighty-nine-year-old ass wouldn’t let me hire a landscaper. Not a flower out of place or a bush overgrown. It was her pride and joy, other than me of course.

The hum of my motorcycle brought Gam out to her front porch.

She tipped her watering can toward some weird pink puffballs in a pot as I took my helmet off and secured it to the back of my bike.

“You’re so goddamn loud. The whole neighborhood knows when my grandson comes over.” She smiled, shaking her head. I walked up the white wooden steps to her porch and she offered me her cheek.

“Gimmie a break.” I kissed her. “These old bats living in your community can’t hear shit.”

“You win.” She nodded. “Here, come sit.”

We walked over to the two white wicker chairs on her porch, and I collapsed into one, still tired and a bit hungover from the night before.

She stared down at me, studying my face. “You look like hell.”

“Thanks. I feel like hell.”

“Let me get you something to drink.” She patted my knee and disappeared into the house.

I rested my head against the back of the chair and closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. Her porch smelled sweet from all the flowers that surrounded it. A bird annoyingly chirped somewhere from one of the twenty bright-colored birdhouses I’d hung in her trees a few years ago. Birds were her passion, especially cardinals. They were her favorite. She would sit and watch them all day long and talked about them like they were her friends. She also talked about the squirrels. Scratch that, more like bitched about the squirrels. Holy shit did she hate them.

The door hinge creaked as she came back out carrying a tray with our drinks in mason jars, as usual.

“Here, drink this.” She handed me a glass of sweet tea along with a couple aspirin. “And take those. You really do look like shit.”

I smiled and shook my head as I washed the pills down with a swig of tea.

“So, what’s new with you?” I leaned back in my chair.

“Well, I’m not dead yet, so that’s something to celebrate.” She raised her jar in the air before taking a drink.

I looked back and forth from my glass to hers. “Why does your tea look different?”

“Because my tea is whiskey.” She grinned proudly.

“Whiskey?” I stared at it incredulously before checking the time on my phone. “It’s ten thirty in the morning.”

“Lawrence, when you’re my age, you learn to do things when you want to do them, not when it’s socially acceptable. Hell, who knows if I’ll still be around at dinner time? While we’re on the subject, I had half a tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream for dinner last night. Cheers!” She raised her glass again and winked at me.

The silver curls on top of her head didn’t budge unless the wind blew at hurricane levels, the skin on her face was covered in wrinkles and laugh lines, and her glasses were thicker than my… hockey stick, but all of that was very deceiving. Knitting wasn’t her thing, she didn’t bake, and she didn’t complain about loud music or kids walking on her lawn. She was a foul-mouthed, whiskey-drinking badass who told it like it was and didn’t take crap from anyone. Even though she often complained about getting old, other than a bum knee and a little glaucoma, her health was great, and I was beyond thankful for that.

“How’s your knee feeling?” I asked. “The weather’s been weird the last couple days, really damp.”

“Oh, you know… the usual.” She shrugged. “If I sit too long, it tightens up. If I stand too long, it tightens up. When I get up in the morning, it’s tight. When I go to bed at night, it’s tight.”

“At least you’re consistent,” I joked.

“Enough about my old bones. Have you talked to your parents lately?”

The muscles in my arms tightened. “Nope,” I answered sharply, looking her straight in the eye, a gentle warning not to ask any more questions about it.

She stared back at me, squinting slightly as she tried to decide whether or not to push it.

“Have you talked to Ben? He was here last week.”

“I know. He told me,” I said, thankful she’d decided against talking about my parents. “He called last week. Said everything is still on track, so that’s good.”

Ben Goldberg was the best financial adviser in all of Minnesota. Not only did he stop me from pissing all my money away on beer and strip clubs, I paid him a little extra to help take care of my grandma. She’d received a small insurance claim from my grandpa’s death, and while she lived simply, it was nowhere near enough to last her the rest of her life. Ben told her he’d invested it wisely and not only was it still there, but she was making a little on it every month. Little did she know she’d run out of money two years ago. A couple times a year, Ben went over finances with her in… layman’s terms. She didn’t understand percentages and IRAs and all that confusing shit, so she had no idea I paid Ben to pad her account. All she needed was him to reassure her that she was still set. I was supporting her one hundred percent, paying for anything and everything she needed, and that was strictly between Ben and me. If she knew the truth, she’d march her old, stubborn ass down to Starbucks or some shit like that and get a job. That was the last thing I wanted. She’d spent her whole life working hard as a cook, and I wanted her to worry about nothing more than her flowers and her birds.

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