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Whoa! No shit! Is that hair reddish or is it the picture?

B: Nope, she definitely has some red in her hair like Kacie. Assuming it doesn’t change, my mom might get her wish of a redheaded granddaughter after all.

Congrats, brother. I’m happy for you. Give Kacie a kiss for me, and tell her I said good job.

I was annoyed. Happy for Brody but annoyed with myself that I couldn’t even truly enjoy that moment with my friend because of the shitstorm I was feeling on the inside. How could one woman cause so many fucking emotions?

I stood up and shook my head. I’d had enough. I was done—with women and with abstinence.

I picked up my phone again, making an entirely different call before heading to my car.

“Hey, come in. I don’t have a lot of time, but you sounded frantic.” Dr. Roberts gestured me into her office. I walked past her to the coffee table and slammed my kitchen drawer full of numbers down, startling her. “Um… okay. What’s that?”

“Those are phone numbers,” I answered sharply with attitude as I stood between the couch and the coffee table with my hands on my hips.

“Okay,” she said slowly as she walked over to her seat, still staring at the drawer. “And you brought them here because?”

“I have no use for them anymore. Women are nothing but fucking trouble, and I’m done.” I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck with my hand. The tension in my shoulders was making everything else hurt too.

She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair as she pursed her lips. “Care to elaborate?”

“Since college, I’ve thought I had women figured out. You smile at them, pay them a few compliments, and before you know it, they’re eating out of the palm of your hand. So why is it the first woman I actually want to listen to and spend time with has to be the most complicated woman on the planet?”

“Michelle?”

“Yes, Michelle,” I snapped.

“What happened?”

“She asked me to go with her to a wedding a couple weeks ago and I went. We had a great time.” I finally sat down as I let my thoughts drift for a second back to the way my arms had felt around her out on the dance floor. “A really great time. Anyway, she has too much to drink and throws herself at me. I do the right thing and stop it and somehow I’m the asshole. Now she won’t talk to me.”

“Wow.” Dr. Roberts nodded slowly. “That’s a lot of stuff to happen in one night. Why did you turn her down?”

“What?” I snapped, narrowing my eyes at her.

“Why did you turn her down?”

“No, no. I heard you, I just can’t believe those words came out of your mouth.” I stood up and paced the room, surprised that there wasn’t a worn spot from my usual route, week after week. “You are the one who told me I couldn’t have sex, remember?”

“So you turned her down because I told you not to have sex?”

“Well, no. Yes. I don’t know.” Frustration had consumed me, and I just wanted to be fixed. My head hurt. My chest hurt. My heart hurt. “I’m so damn confused. All I know is I had the most amazing night with her. I’d even started to think that maybe we could do this, that maybe we could find a way to make it work. And then, being in her house—Mike’s house—I panicked.”

“Why did you panic?”

“Because I still feel guilty.”

“You have to move past that, Viper.” She sighed. “It’s already eating you alive, and it’s going to continue to get worse. What happened was an accident.”

“I know, but—”

“But what?” she interrupted.

“But it should have been me!” I yelled in frustration as I sat back on the couch.

“Okay, fine. It should have been you,” she agreed sarcastically. “Then what?”

“Then what what?”

“If it would have been you, what would life be like now?”

Looking at her like she had two heads, I said slowly, “I don’t know. I would be dead.”

“And?”

“And… they would all still be here.”

“Because…”

“Because life goes on.”

“Exactly!” she exclaimed, throwing her skinny, tan arms in the air. “Because life goes on. So you can’t keep worrying about what Mike might have thought or what might have happened if he were alive, because he’s not. Before you respond, let me ask you another question.” She held her hand up. “If you were dead, would you care what was happening down here on earth?”

“Would I care? I don’t know—I’m dead.” I shrugged nonchalantly. “But there are several people I’d haunt the shit out of, and you’re making your way up that list very quickly.”

“Get in line,” she joked, rolling her eyes. “I’m serious, though. If you were deeply, madly in love with someone and you passed, especially as young as you are now, would you want that person to stay single and cry over you every day for the rest of their life?”

“Would that be so bad?” I answered playfully.

“Come on, be serious.”

I sighed. “No, of course not. I’d want them to be happy.”

“Exactly.” She sat back and smiled. “Let me ask you one more thing…”

This lady makes my brain hurt.

“Do you think you make Michelle happy?”

“I have no idea.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit, blow-off answer.” She glared at me and shook her head. “Think about it. Honestly, do you make her happy?”

Leaning forward on the couch, I rested my elbows on my knees and let my head drop toward the floor as I thought back to the last couple of months with Michelle. “All I know is when I’m with her, we’re both happy, and when I’m not with her, I wish I were.”

“Then why do you keep fighting this? Mike was your best friend in the whole world, right?”

I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat and nodded.

“Did you ever think for maybe a second that it’s him up there pushing the two of you together?”

“What?” My eyes flew to hers.

“Maybe he wants the two of you together. He knows you; he knows your heart; he knows you would protect her and the kids fiercely and never hurt them. He doesn’t want to worry about some loser coming in and using Michelle for her money or the house or anything like that.”

Her words bounced around in my head. While part of me thought they were an absolutely ridiculous stretch, the other part of me wanted to believe she knew exactly what she was talking about so I could somehow justify what I was doing as a favor to Mike.

“Lawrence?” Dr. Roberts frowned as I stood up suddenly.

“I gotta go.”

She blinked quickly, pulling her brows down low. “What? Why?”

“There’s just something I have to go do.”

“Okay, when do you want to come back?” She followed me to the exit door.

I sighed and turned back, shoving my hands into my pockets as I stared at the ground. “I don’t know that I am.”

“Oh.” She sounded a little sad. “Okay. Well, I’m here if you ever change your mind.”

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