We pulled onto the long dirt road that led to Kacie’s house and drove slowly through the trees until her house came into view. Lucy, Piper, and Emma were running around the front yard and Kacie was sitting on the big porch swing with Grace in her arms. She stood and waved as we pulled up.

“I still can’t believe you live here,” I called as I unbuckled Maura from her car seat. Brody and Kacie had built their dream house just a hundred yards or so away from her mom’s place, The Cranberry Inn, and it was beautiful. An enormous, white country-style house with the most massive front porch I’d ever seen. In the back was a huge deck that looked out over their large yard that butted right up to the lake. It was a dream.

“Sometimes I can’t believe it either,” Kacie said as she came down the steps to meet me. “Hi, sweet girl.” She leaned over and planted a kiss on the side of Maura’s sweaty head before wrapping her arms around me, too. “How are you? Brody told me about all of the craziness with Gam.”

“I’m good.” I shrugged with a smile when she pulled back. “It does add a lot of work to my day, but nothing I can’t handle.”

“Come on in. I made lunch,” she said cheerfully, waving us to follow her.

“Matthew, I’m gonna go inside with Kacie. You stay by Lucy and Piper, got it?” I asked him in that way that moms do, where it’s more telling than asking.

“Yes, Momma,” he answered quickly before turning around and chasing Emma across the yard.

“Lucy and Piper?” Kacie called out.

“We got him, Mom,” Piper called back.

We climbed the wooden steps of her porch and went through the door. Kacie’s house was bright and open, yet warm and inviting. The strong smell of cinnamon invaded my nose and I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. “That smells so good. Are you baking?”

“No way,” Kacie shook her head with a laugh. “It’s a candle. I hardly cook at all when Brody’s out of town. I’m the worst.”

“I hardly cook when Viper’s in town. I’m the worst.”

We both laughed as I sat down at the kitchen table, letting Maura loose on the floor. She immediately waddled over and plopped down next to their black lab named Diesel, who was sleeping quietly. “She’s okay over there, right?”

“Oh yeah,” Kacie nodded. “He’s the most gentle creature you’ve ever met in your whole life. If living with these four crazy girls hasn’t made him snap yet, I’m pretty sure nothing will. Plus, he’s in his happy place.”

Without saying anything, I tilted my head to the side, not sure what she meant.

“He’s lying on top of the air conditioning vent,” she added.

I let out another quick laugh as she turned and headed up the stairs. “I’m gonna lay her down real quick. Be right back.”

The floor above my head creaked as she walked across the second floor to Grace’s bedroom.

“Momma. Goggie!” Maura said excitedly.

“I know.” I grinned at her. “Is that a doggie?”

Her little head bobbed up and down as she looked back at Diesel, who’d opened one eye and was watching her cautiously.

A couple seconds later, Kacie came back down the stairs with the baby monitor in her hand. “Okay,” she said with a big sigh. “What can I get you to drink? I have water, sweet tea, pink lemonade . . .”

“I would love a glass of pink lemonade, actually.”

“Coming right up.” She took a pretty aqua glass out of the cabinet and set it on the island. “Okay, so let’s get to it. How are you really?”

“I’m good,” I answered.

She stopped pouring and glanced at me skeptically, raising one eyebrow.

“I promise I am,” I reassured through a chuckle. “I mean, I’m not sure what day it is, but I’m good.”

“You have a lot going on right now, Michelle.”

“I know, but I love Gam so I don’t mind.”

She set the glass down in front of me. “I know that, but just because you love someone doesn’t mean taking care of them isn’t exhausting.”

“I’m definitely exhausted, I’ll give you that. But it’s nothing I can’t handle yet.” I didn’t really want to talk about Gam and my exhaustion any more. It just made me more tired. “So what’s going on over here with you guys? We didn’t get to talk long the other day.”

“Not much.” She shrugged her shoulders as she sat down across from me with her own glass of pink lemonade. “Just settling back into our routine of having Brody gone half the time. That’s always an adjustment.”

“I’ll drink to that.” I raised my glass before taking a big gulp of the tart juice.

“And every year I feel bad. As summer ends, he gets so excited to start a new season, but for me it’s bittersweet because that means he’s going to be gone . . . a lot.”

“Same here.” I nodded.

“And lately he’s been hinting to maybe wanting another baby, and honestly . . .” Her voice trailed off as she shook her head, staring outside.

“Are you really thinking about it?”

“I don’t know. Part of me would love to try and see if I can give him a son, but then I think maybe we’re just meant to have four girls.” She looked back at me and stuck her bottom lip out dramatically. “My uterus is tired.”

I tossed my head back and let out a loud laugh. “I can only imagine.”

“What about you guys?”

My laugh stopped like someone turned it off with a light switch. “What about us?”

“I don’t know. Marriage, mini-Vipers . . . any of that on the horizon?”

I swallowed hard, wanting so desperately to be honest with Kacie about how I really felt about all of that, but decided it wasn’t the right time. “I have no idea. He’s not exactly the marrying type, ya know?”

“He wasn’t until he met you.”

“I’m still not sure, but who knows. I guess stranger things have happened, right?”

“Stranger things have happened. Like me catching Brody loading the dishwasher last week. If that can happen without me even asking, I’m pretty sure nothing is impossible.”

I let out a quick laugh. “Hey, I meant to ask you. Have you talked to Darla lately?”

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