“Yeah, well . . . the season just started, so you’re gonna have to wait eight months for that. Hopefully nine.”

“Nine would be nice, wouldn’t it?” I sighed. If we were still playing in nine months, that meant the Wild made the play-offs. Not only did I want to still be playing in nine months, I wanted to be winning. We all did. We’d been working our asses off, and we deserved it.

“It would,” he said, probably thinking the same thing I was about play-offs. “And then—I’m serious—you drop those kids off with us and take your girl on a great vacation. A real vacation. None of those rent-by-the-hour shady ass places that comes with its own semen-filled pool right there in your room.”

My shoulders shook as I laughed. “I haven’t been to one of those in a long time, but oh the memories.”

“Disgusting.”

“Don’t knock it till you try it,” I joked, looking over at him just as his lips curled and his eyes widened.

“No thanks. Those STDs can stay right where they are.” His eyes slid over to me. “And you better not even be thinking about taking her there. She deserves better, especially for putting up with your dumb ass on a daily basis.”

“She really does, doesn’t she?”

Without lifting it off the seat, he turned his head to face me. “Between you and me, I think she deserves a ring.”

“A ring?” I sputtered, scowling at him.

“Yes, a ring,” he repeated. “A big, fat diamond one.”

I shook my head, crossing my arms over my chest. “You’ve clearly lost your fucking mind. I’m not buying anyone a ring—ever.”

“Oh come on,” he said, rolling his eyes dramatically. “You guys have been together for a year now. It’s seriously never crossed your mind?”

“It seriously never has,” I responded with a shrug.

“Why not? It’s the natural progression of things.”

“Maybe it was natural progression for you. For me, it’s a death sentence.”

“You have things backwards, my poor, stupid little friend. Let me teach you.” He turned in his seat and leaned in close. “You don’t date a woman who has two kids for a year if you never plan on marrying her. That is a death sentence.”

“No, it’s not,” I scoffed. “Michelle is awesome. She feels the same way I do.”

“She does?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve talked about it?”

“No, because she’s not a needy leech like most women.”

Brody turned back in his seat, facing forward again. “It was nice knowing you,” he said dryly.

“Shut up,” I nudged him hard with my elbow. “I do agree on one thing though, she is pretty fucking awesome . . . and supportive of everything. For example,”—I mentally put on my salesman hat—“she thinks this bar idea is amazing.”

“Oh my God.” He stared straight ahead at the back of the seat in front of him. “Don’t. Just don’t. I really don’t want to be known as the crazy hockey player who snapped and threw his best friend out of a plane, but if it comes to that . . .”

“You promised you’d think about it.”

“I did think about it.”

“And?”

“And . . . now’s not the time or the place.” He raised a finger and pointed to the row in front of us where Louie and a couple other guys sat.

I waved my hand. “Fuck them. Come on, tell me. What do you think? Honestly?”

“Honestly?” He raised his eyebrows and then let out a heavy sigh. “It sounds like a lot of work and a lot of money.”

Fuck.

I nodded slowly and sat back against my seat feeling defeated. While I understood his apprehension, I was still disappointed with the answer. I’d thought about that bar at least a hundred times over the last week or so, and every time I let myself get a little more excited.

“But,” he continued, and my head snapped toward him, “it also sounds like a lot of fun if we can make it work.”

“Wait. Seriously. You’re in?”

“Here’s what I’ll commit to . . . we’re going to take this in stages. Right now, I’ll agree to talk to people and do some research on start-up costs and shit. If I like what I hear, we’ll move to the next stage and I’ll agree to scout places with you. If I like what I see, I’ll agree to move to the stage after that. Got it?”

“Got it,” I agreed with a big, stupid smile on my face. “But I have one question.”

“Okay?”

“Is there a stage when we get to give each other a celebratory hug and hold on for an awkwardly long time?”

He closed his eyes for a quick second and shook his head. “Yes. It’s right before the stage where I hack up your body into little pieces and bury it somewhere.”

 

Once the plane landed and we got to the hotel, I called Michelle just to check in. The phone rang a couple of times before someone picked up.

“Hello?” a tiny voice said on the other end.

“Hello? Who is this?” I asked, knowing exactly who it was.

“This is Matthew. Hi, Viper.”

“Hi, buddy. How are ya?”

“Good. Guess what?” The excitement in his voice practically came through the phone and punched me in the cheek.

“What?”

“I was riding my bike outside today and I totally wiped out. I had to go to the hospital and everything!”

“Wait. You did?” I wasn’t too concerned because he sounded happy about it, but a trip to the hospital isn’t what I was expecting to hear from him.

“Yep. I had a big cut on my knee that wouldn’t stop bleeding, so Mom took me.”

“And what happened?”

“Well,” he said, his tone turning gloomy, “they used glue to close it up.”

“Okaaaaay. Is that a bad thing? You sound sad.”

“Kinda. I really wanted stitches. I’ve never had stitches before.”

I let out a hearty laugh that bounced off the walls of my empty hotel room. “Buddy, you’re young. You still have plenty of time for stitches. Trust me.”

He let out a small sigh. “I hope so.”

“Is Mom close to you?”