“Yeah, she’s sitting right here shaking her head. Bye. I love you.”

“I love you, too, kiddo,” I said, smiling to myself. “I’ll call later.”

The line was quiet for a minute and then I heard a heavy sigh. “That kid is something else, isn’t he?”

“He really is,” I said through a chuckle.

“I’ve never heard of a kid being mad because he didn’t have to get stitches before.”

I lay down on the bed and switched ears. “Oh, I totally get it.”

“You do?”

“Hell yeah. Boys love battle wounds. As much as it hurt, he was probably excited to go to school Monday and show his friends his stitches.”

“But he still has the cut. Isn’t that good enough?”

“No way. Stitches look tougher.”

Another sigh. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand boys.”

“Trust me, we feel the same way about you girls,” I teased.

“So, how was your flight?”

“Good. I mean, Brody wouldn’t keep his hands off me, but other than that it was fine.”

She let out a quick giggle. “Ya know, if you weren’t such a hornball all the time at home, I might seriously wonder about the two of you.”

“We did talk about the bar thing though.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, he’s willing to at least check some things out with me.”

“I talked to Kacie for a while this morning and she said that he’d been thinking a lot about it. I’m happy for you.”

“Did she say anything else?”

“Not really. We laughed about how different the two of you are. You want the bar to have a super fun place to hang out, but Brody is looking at it as an investment opportunity for when he’s not playing hockey anymore.”

I waved my arm in the air. “Psh, that’s because Brody isn’t planning on playing forever like me.”

“You’re gonna play hockey forever?”

“Hell yeah. I’m immortal.”

“Did you inhale plane fumes or something?”

“I’m not kidding,” I defended.

“Viper, you’re almost thirty and not getting any younger.”

“Yeah, and I’m gonna be the oldest guy to ever have an NHL contract, you watch.”

She let out a small chuckle and I wasn’t sure if she was laughing with me or at me. “I hope you’re right,” she finally said. “I can’t imagine being any prouder of you than I already am, but that sure would bump it up a notch.”

“Thanks, babe.” I let out a heavy sigh. “I sure miss you guys already.”

“We miss you, too,” she said in a soft, sexy tone. “But thankfully this is only a quick road trip and you’ll be back home soon.”

“I can’t wait. I hate being away, especially now with Gam just coming home and stuff.”

“She’s totally fine. We were there with her all day, except for our little detour to the ER. We helped her take a bath, she read a few books to Maura, and she taught me how to make skirt steak. Then she wanted to take a little nap, so we came home to pack overnight bags.”

I’d known Michelle was an amazing person for a long time and she’d been my amazing person for a year, but she continued to surprise me with the way she cared for me, and now Gam. I was overcome with gratitude and not sure how to process it all.

“Are you still there?” she asked a couple seconds later.

“Yeah, sorry.” I cleared my throat. “It’s just that . . .” My voice trailed off and I took a deep breath.

“Viper, what is it?” she asked softly.

“It’s just that I love skirt steak so much, and knowing that you know how to make it now is overwhelming me.”

“Oh, you’re such an asshole!”

“What?” I exclaimed defensively. “I really do love skirt steak.”

While I hated Viper being away, thankfully it was an easy transition. I was already used to that lifestyle from being married to Mike. I handled it all in stride. The kids, the house, life in general. It all balanced out. Now I had the added task of helping Gam out, and while it wasn’t that big of a deal, it worried me a little. She lived about half an hour away from my house, so it wasn’t that easy to just zip over if she needed me. Most days we went over in the morning and hung there until bedtime. A couple nights we’d even slept over just in case she needed anything during the night.

I spent the morning at her house and then Regina came over to visit with her daughter and grandkids. Feeling guilty that I had to be there so much, Gam told me to head on home since she had people there. I probably should have argued more, but I was happy to have a day to do some other things. I gave her a kiss good-bye and told her to call the minute Regina left.

Just as I was loading the kids in the car, my phone beeped, letting me know a text had come in. I clicked Maura’s buckle shut and grabbed my phone from my back pocket. It was a text from Brody’s wife, Kacie.

K: Hey! What are you guys doing today? I know you’re busy with Gam and stuff, but I was wondering if you wanted to come up here and swim while we still have a few nice days left?

I let out a heavy sigh and looked back and forth from Matthew to Maura. I had a million things to do at the house, but those two had been such troopers about going with me to Gam’s every day, they deserved a little fun. Plus, the thought of having another mom to chat with for a while sounded more exciting than a bubble bath and a glass of wine.

“Hey, you want to go to Kacie’s and swim with the kids?” I asked Matthew.

His arms shot straight up in the air. “Yay!”

I mumbled under my breath as I grabbed the bag behind the passenger’s seat. “Wait. Let me just see if I have—Bingo!” I pulled their wadded-up bathing suits from the bag and held them up. “Guess it pays to leave your junk in the car for a couple weeks, huh, Matthew?”

He grinned and nodded.

I sent Kacie a quick text.

You have no idea how bad I needed this today. On our way!

Kacie and Brody lived about an hour away, but the kids were ready for a nap anyway, so the timing was actually perfect. They slept in the car while I drove along, bopping my head to the soft music.

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