Every eye in the arena was on me; I could feel them on the back of my head. They were all thinking the same thing—Mike would be here if not for Viper. I wanted the game to start. I wanted that moment to be over, desperately. Rage boiled in my blood stream, and I just wanted to get out on the ice and get it out of me before I exploded.
A hand on my shoulder brought me back to reality.
“You ready?” Brody was frowning.
Looking around, I noticed that everyone else was already skating off the ice, but I was so lost in my own head, I hadn’t even realized we were done.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s go!”
The game against the Oilers was more like a blood bath. One guy needed four stitches to close a cut in his chin, another guy lost two teeth, and medical glue fixed another cut on a hand—and that was just their team. In the end, the Wild came up with the win, barely, with a score of 3–2. A power play near the end almost tied it, but thanks to Murphy and his fast glove, he snatched the puck out of the air and saved the day.
After every game, we typically hung out for a little bit while the crowds thinned, but that night I took an extra long shower, hoping the crowds and reporters would be gone by the time I was done.
I wrapped a towel around myself, and my lonely friend that hadn’t seen action in almost three weeks now, and went to the locker room to get dressed.
“Just about everyone is gone. Except Kacie,” Brody said from the other side of the room. I whipped around to face him. I hadn’t even seen him sitting on the bench.
“Oh. Whatever.” I shrugged like it was no big deal.
“Don’t give me that shit. I know you.” He laughed.
“It’s just hard,” I admitted. “Not only was it the first game but also Big Mike’s tribute, and you know the reporters are gonna be hungry. I don’t want to say or do anything that’s gonna get me fined.”
“Like breaking a camera?”
I glared at him. “That cost me ten fucking grand.”
“You deserved it, but so did he. Hurry up and get dressed. I’ll walk out with you.”
Throwing my sweats and hoodie on, I decided I didn’t give a shit about drying my hair. I just wanted to go home and crawl into bed.
I grabbed my bag and followed Brody out of the locker room with my hood up and my head down, in case anyone was hanging around outside.
The wooden doors of the locker room thudded as they shut behind me, and within seconds, my name was called out.
I looked up to see Matthew sprinting down the hallway toward me.
Immediately dropping to my knees, I held my arms out to catch him. “What’s up, buddy!” I was genuinely shocked to see him there. Michelle hadn’t mentioned anything in her text this morning about coming to the game tonight, but I was beyond excited to see her and Matthew.
As soon as he got close enough, I scooped him up in my arms and tossed him into the air. Lucy and Piper ran straight for Brody and wrapped their arms around his legs as Emma walked as fast as her little legs would let her, staring straight at her dad. Michelle and Kacie followed along behind them.
“Nice game, stud,” Kacie said in a sexy voice as she leaned in to give Brody a kiss.
“Do you two ever stop?” I rolled my eyes.
Brody looked at me as he reached down and palmed Kacie’s belly, which seemed to be getting bigger by the day. “Clearly not.”
“Hi, Uncle V!” Piper called with Lucy waving at me from behind her.
“What’s up twinkadinks?” I reached over and high-fived both of them, giving Emma a raspberry on her cheek as I went by.
I turned my attention to Michelle, trying hard not to stare too much. She was smoking in her jeans and boots and fitted Wild jersey. “Hey.” I reached over and gave her an awkward hug with Matthew still in my arms. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“I didn’t either.” She laughed, glancing over at Kacie and back at me. “I knew what they were doing for Mike, but I wasn’t sure I could sit through it. Kacie talked me into coming at the last minute, and I’m glad I did.” She reached out and squeezed Kacie’s hand.
“I’m glad you did too. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a chance to see this guy again!” I threw him up in the air again and he rewarded me with a giggle. “Wait, where’s Maura?”
“I left her home with Taylor. I figured it’d be too loud and crazy here.”
Kacie looked from Brody to me to Michelle. “Do you guys have to go home right away? I know it’s late, but it’s not that late. Wanna grab a late dinner at Stumpy’s?”
“I’m game.” I nodded.
Michelle held her finger up in the air. “Just let me check with Taylor real quick.” She pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket and took a couple steps away as Matthew wiggled out of my arms to go stand by his mom.
“Come here, girls. Let’s put hoodies on, please. It’s getting chilly out there.” Kacie waved the girls off to the side and started to dress them. I waited for Brody to follow and help her, but he pulled his brows in tight and narrowed his eyes at me. “You guys have been seeing each other a lot lately.”
“You and Michelle.”
I nodded toward Matthew. “It’s because of him. I like the little guy.”
“Is that all?”
“What the fuck are you trying to say?” I growled at him. “You think I’d move in on my best friend’s wife?”
He shook his head. “That’s not what I’m saying at all. And even if there were something starting between the two of you, I wouldn’t judge.”
I glared at him as hard as I ever had in my whole life. “Fuck you!” I spat before heading up the ramp toward the parking lot.
I pushed the glass doors open and took a deep breath of the crisp air as I paced around outside the door. I shouldn’t have snapped at Brody like I had, but what kind of an asshole kills his best friend and then goes after his wife? What the fuck kind of person was I that Brody would think for a second I would do something like that?
Before I could turn to go back in, the whole group filed out. Kacie, Michelle, and the kids went on to their cars as Brody came over to me.
“Dude. Listen, that’s not at all what I was suggesting,” he said as he got closer. “I was just noticing that you’d gotten closer and—”
“I know, I know,” I interrupted him. “I shouldn’t have snapped like that. It just hit a nerve. I don’t know why. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, no worries, man. Let’s go chill out at Stumpy’s and have a beer and relax.” His hand clapped my shoulder. “It’s been an emotional night for everyone. We all need to wind down a bit.”
I nodded and headed toward my car, hoping my shitty mood would be gone by the time we got to the bar.
By the time we pulled into the parking lot, my mood had already lifted.
“Viper! Can I sit by you?” Matthew yelled as he caught up with me and slipped his hand into mine.
I let go of his hand and lifted him up onto my shoulders instead. “You better sit by me.”
Our small gang barreled through the door of Stumpy’s, causing quite the scene. People who’d obviously watched the game on TV clapped and cheered as we made our way over to our corner table. Brody and I turned and pulled a couple extra stools over for the little kids while Kacie sat with Emma on her lap, shifting uncomfortably.