I leaned my shoulder against the wall so I could face her, not saying anything for a second. After a few more sniffles and another wipe on her sleeve, I finally asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” She shoved her fingers into the corners of her eyes before wiping the tears on her jeans.

“What is this? What’s happening?”

She shrugged. “It’s just… nice. It’s been a while now that I’ve been doing it on my own and to have you here and the way you jumped into action and helped out…” Her voice cracked and trailed off. I stepped into the kitchen and grabbed a box of tissues off of the counter.

Matthew poked his head up from the couch again. “What’s wrong? Is Momma okay?”

I looked down at the tissues and back up at him. “Oh yeah, she’s fine. She just has a really big booger and I’m giving her tissues.”

He giggled and lay back down.

I slowly slid back around the corner and pulled a tissue out of the box.

“Thanks.” She sniffed again as she took the tissue from me. “I’m sorry. This is so stupid. You probably think I’m a neurotic moron now.”

“Not even a little bit,” I said in my most serious tone.

Her eyes flipped up to mine as they started to water again. “I don’t know why I’m so worked up to begin with. My son gets the stomach flu and it sends me into a fucking tailspin.”

I don’t think I’d ever heard her swear before. I found it inappropriately hot.

“Hey. You don’t have to justify anything to me, okay? And about the Gatorade, I was happy to help out. He’s really become my little buddy lately, and I feel bad that he feels so crappy.”

“You have been around a lot more, and it’s been really nice… for him and for me.” She wiped the mascara from under her eyes. “He’s smiling more than he has the last several months, and I didn’t realize how lonely I was. The texts you send me in the morning are usually the highlight of my day.” She looked up at me quickly and shook her head like she’d said something wrong. “I didn’t mean it like that—”

“I know.” I reached out and swiped a tear from her cheek. “It’s okay.”

“Anyway.” She wiped her eyes again and looked up at me with a forced grin. “Enough boo-hooing for one night. I’m gonna get my boy some Gatorade while you cut the pizza, okay?”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “I have a better idea. Toss that pizza.”

TWO HOURS AND a quick trip to the grocery store later, Michelle and I were sitting on the couch in a total food coma, stuffed to the brim with peach BBQ chicken over roasted potato wedges and Parmesan asparagus.

“Oh my God,” Michelle moaned. “That was the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.”

“I’m glad you liked it.” I smiled at her. “You can apologize when you’re ready.”

She lifted her head and frowned at me. “Apologize?”

“You know darn well that when I told you I could cook, you doubted me. What did you say to me? I believe it was ‘prove it’?”

“If I could get up, I’d walk over and hit you,” she threatened, pulling the corner of her lip up in a smirk.

“And you”—I leaned over and rustled Matthew’s hair—“are doing so good with the Gatorade. Keep it up, champ.”

Matthew was on his second glass of Gatorade and so far, so good. Nothing had come back up, and he even had a little color back in his face.

“The night finished off a lot better than the morning started out, I’ll tell ya that.” Michelle yawned. “And you’re right. I’m sorry.”

I peeked at her out of the corner of my eye. “Huh?”

“You’re right,” she repeated, sterner this time. “When you said you could cook, I totally thought you were lying, but you definitely proved it, and I’m sorry.”

“Wow!” I teased. “Bet that was fun to say.”

“Not at all.” She rolled her eyes.

I looked at the clock on my phone. “All right, well I better get going. I have some errands to run tomorrow morning before we head out of town for our road trip.”

“Wait.” She sat up suddenly. “I want to ask you something, but you have to promise not to laugh at me.”

“Okay.” I laughed. “I promise.”

“You’re already laughing.” She sighed.

“My bad. Here, let me try again…” I cleared my throat and put on my best serious face. “Okay, try again. I’m ready now.”

“So, I’ve been thinking about this for several days, but I wasn’t really sure I wanted to ask until tonight. I really don’t want Matthew and Maura growing up remembering their mom was on a first-name basis with the pizza delivery man. Will you… teach me?”

My eyebrows shot up. “Teach you to cook?”

She bit her lip and nodded.

“Hell yeah. I would love to.”

“Really?” Hope filled her eyes and made them sparkle like I’d never seen before.

“Yeah, really. I’ll be back tomorrow after I run my errands, at like two o’clock, and we’ll work on dinner, okay?”

“I’ll be ready,” she said confidently.

UP EARLY WITH a bounce in my step, I ran my errands in record time and grabbed a few things from the grocery store that I was pretty certain Michelle didn’t have stocked in her kitchen. I had a little extra time to kill before heading to Michelle’s, so I stopped by Gam’s and brought her a box of almond crescent cookies, her favorite.

She put the cookies on a plate and set them down in the middle of the table before she grabbed a root beer and handed it to me.

“What?” I laughed, suddenly defensive as I noticed her staring at me with narrow eyes.

She leaned her chin on her hand and kept staring, her eyes moving all over my face as I tossed a cookie in my mouth. “You. Something. What’s going on?”

I shrugged. “Nothing’s going on. What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint it, but you seem… giddy.”

“I don’t do giddy,” I argued as I opened my root beer and took a huge gulp.

“I know. That’s my point.”

“Anyway, what’s new on your end?”

“Lawrence, I’m nearly ninety years old. Just waking up is exciting.” She sighed and grabbed a cookie off of the plate.

“That’s right. Someone has a birthday coming up.” I grinned at her as I wiggled my eyebrows up and down.

“Yes, and I want a big damn party. This will probably be my last birthday.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “You’ve been saying that about every birthday for the last ten years.”

“Well, I really mean it this time, so you better go all out. I want a huge cake and some of those Chippendales dancers, okay?”

I frowned at her and shook my head. “You’re out of your damn mind. I am not ordering you a stripper.”

“Really?” She let her hand fall hard against the table and glared at me. “You’re not gonna grant a dying old lady her last wish?”

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