“Grounded?” I busted out laughing again. “I haven’t been grounded since… ever.”

“Bullshit,” Brody disagreed. “There’s no way you were never grounded as a teenager.”

“It’s true. I was a fucking angel. Still am,” I teased as I pulled my shirt over my head and tossed it in my bag.

“Holy shit, everyone back up.” Brody held his arms straight out to his sides and took a giant step back. “Lightning is going to strike the locker room any second.”

“So wait,”—I ignored him and looked at Mike—“since we’re grounded, does this mean you’re not coming over tonight?”

Mike’s eyes darted to Brody’s and back to mine. “What’s tonight?”

“You have the memory of a fucking goldfish,” I said as I picked a towel up off the bench and whipped it at his head. “Poker night, remember?”

Brody ran his hands through his hair. “Oh, shit. I forgot.”

“Tough,” I barked at him. “You have to be there, both of you.”

Brody held his hands up in front of him defensively. “Relax, I’m going. I just forgot.”

Mike nodded. “I’ll be there too. Who else will be there?”

“I texted Andy, Viktor, and Louie, but I’ve only heard back from Louie so far.”

Mike glanced around the room to make sure everyone was out of earshot. “Oh I’m sure Louie responded the second he got your text.” He laughed as he sat down on the bench to lace up his skates. “He’s so far up your ass that when you open your mouth to talk, I see his eyes staring at me from the back of your throat.”

The sentence was barely out of Big Mike’s mouth when Louie popped his head around the corner. “Viper, are you going on the ice or working out first?”

Brody let out a loud roar as he dropped to the bench and high-fived Mike, who was laughing just as hard.

“Uh, not sure. Probably the weight room,” I answered.

“Okay.” He nodded and disappeared back around the corner.

I turned around to Brody and Mike, who were still laughing so hard they could hardly breathe. “Fuck you both. Be at my place at eight o’clock.” I grabbed my iPod and headed out toward the weight room.

“You sure we can’t come earlier?” Big Mike teased in between breaths. “I can think of at least one person who’d like to get there earlier.”

I flipped him off and kept walking.

“I’M A LITTLE early. Hope that’s okay.” Louie smiled as he stood on my front porch.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

“It’s fine,” I lied. “Come on in.”

Louie was the young and all too eager backup goalie for our team. He was a cocky little pain in the ass who seemed to always be two steps behind me, but for the most part, he was harmless. His arrogance turned most of the guys on the team off, and they gave him a lot of shit for it. Personally, I liked his attitude, so I kinda took him under my wing.

“Nice place!” His eyes darted around my kitchen as he set a case of beer on the kitchen table.

“Thanks. I wanted to buy a condo, but my grandma insisted I needed a yard.” I sighed.

He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and walked over to look out the back window. “Nice yard!”

“Thanks. Again.”

“Wait…” He turned back around with a puzzled look on his face. “Is that a trampoline out there?”

“Yep.”

“You don’t have kids, right?”

“Nope.”

“Then why do you have a trampoline?”

Chuckling to myself, I shook my head as I loaded the beer into the fridge. “What’s a trampoline for, Louie?”

“Uh… for people to… jump?”

“Right. And what’s the best part when you’re fucking a girl and she’s on top?”

I could practically smell the thick black smoke his brain was producing as he thought hard about what I’d just asked.

Three… two… one…

“Oooh! I get it!” His excitement turned into confusion almost instantly. “Wait… really? Chicks come over here to jump on your trampoline?”

“No, they come over to hang out with me, and I sweetly coax them into the backyard where I sit on a recliner and drink a beer while they jump up and down on the trampoline, preferably in a bikini.”

“You have a recliner out there too?” he exclaimed, turning back to the window.

I tilted my head to the side and scratched it, completely baffled at his response. “That is what you got out of what I just said?”

Before he could answer, the doorbell rang.

Thank God.

As I was heading toward the front door, it swung open. Brody, Mike, and Andy poured into the house, arguing over the baseball game.

“Bullshit! That was a bad call at the plate. He was safe at home, and if you couldn’t see that, then I think we need a new goalie,” Mike ranted.

“He was out,” Brody argued back. “The ball beat him by at least four steps.”

Andy nodded as they walked by, leaving my front door wide open.

“What were you guys raised in a barn?” I called after them as I walked over to shut the door.

Holy shit. I sound like Gam.

“Wait for us!” Michelle giggled, pushing the door back open.

Kacie reached up and kissed my cheek. “Hey, Uncle V.”

My eyes practically bulged out of my head as they shuffled past me. “Hold up,” I commanded. “What are you guys doing here?”

“We love poker night!” Michelle cheered, throwing her arms in the air.

“We called Darla too. She’ll be here once she’s off work,” Kacie added. Noticing my lack of enthusiasm to see them, she added, “Awww, don’t worry. We aren’t here to ruin your boys’ night. I brought guacamole and wine.” They turned and walked toward the kitchen.

“Wine doesn’t belong at poker night,” I yelled after them as I shut the door—again.

At least they called Darla and invited her too. The odds of getting laid by something other than my hand just increased about a thousand percent.

TWO HOURS HAD passed and we hadn’t even touched one card, but I was cool with it. We were still having a good time shooting the shit around the kitchen table. Darla had just gotten to my house and immediately parked herself on my lap. I was zoning out as she told Kacie and Michelle about the new doctor that had just started at the hospital. Apparently he had dreamy eyes and a killer ass.

“So did you guys exchange numbers?” Kacie leaned in close to Darla, almost whispering.

If it was for my benefit, I didn’t need her to be quiet. Darla was a beautiful, single girl who was free to date—and fuck—whoever she wanted. So was I. I liked our freedom with each other.

“No, but we work together two more times this week. I totally checked his schedule.” She giggled.

Darla never giggled.

“You should ask him out for coffee or something,” Kacie urged her. “Make a move before another nurse on your floor snags him. A couple of those girls are major whores.”

“Can I meet the whores?” Louie interrupted.