“I have, actually. Her and Neil are settled into their apartment and she says it’s perfect. She starts her new job next week.”

“Good,” I said with a nod. “I miss her.”

“Me, too.” Kacie’s mouth turned down.

We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about everything and nothing while the kids splashed in the lake and built sandcastles on the shore. Those couple of hours with her felt like my soul had plugged itself in for a recharge of epic proportions. I didn’t even know I needed that afternoon, but it was completely refreshing.

As the sun was starting to set, I was sad to start packing up the kids to leave.

“You know”—Kacie craned her neck to see the clock—“their game starts in about half an hour. Wanna give the kids a bath, throw them in some pajamas, and they can play while we watch the game? Maybe order pizza and sleep here?”

My need to go home and catch up on laundry was quickly trumped by my need to have a sleepover at Kacie’s house with all the kids.

“That sounds awesome, just let me check in with Gam. If she needs me, I’m gonna have to go.” I fished my phone out of my bag. “I’ll be right back.”

I stepped into the other room and dialed Gam’s number.

The phone rang . . . and rang . . . and rang. My heart started pounding faster as horrific scenarios zipped around my brain.

Finally she answered. “Hello?” she said through a laugh.

“What are you doing?” The words rushed out of my mouth in a scolding tone.

“Are you okay? Why do you sound like that?”

I took a shaky breath. “I was just scared because you took so long to answer.”

“Michelle, I just had hip surgery. I’m not quite marathon ready just yet,” she answered sarcastically.

“I know that. Anyway, what are you guys doing? Do you need anything?”

“Nope. We had lunch and Regina’s daughter brought some of her old home movies over, so we watched those and have pretty much been laughing all afternoon. I think we’re gonna have dinner and as soon as they leave, I’m hitting the sack. I’m beat.”

“Are you sure you don’t need anything tonight?”

“I’m fine. What are you up to?”

“I actually drove out to Kacie’s. The kids have been swimming in the lake, building sandcastles, and eating more junk food than I thought humanly possible.”

“I bet they’re having a blast. You’re a good mom, Michelle.”

Her words were the cherry on top of my afternoon sundae. Having no family of my own was as tough for me as it was for Viper, which was why I clung so tightly to Gam. Every mom thinks at some point in their children’s life that they’re screwing them up royally and doing every single thing wrong, but having someone there to give you a hug and tell you that you’re doing a good job makes all that self doubt just disappear.

“Thanks, Gam. That means a lot . . . especially today.”

“Anytime you need to hear it, honey, you just call me.”

We talked for another minute and I told her I’d call first thing in the morning.

I walked back into the kitchen and Kacie had her cell phone pinched between her ear and her shoulder, with Grace and Maura in each arm, balancing on her hips.

“Okay, thanks,” she said into the phone before strategically dropping it into her open hand. Her eyes met with mine. “Sorry, I was snooping and could tell you’re staying and I’m starving so I ordered dinner.”

“With two children in your hands? You really are Supermom.”

“I had twins, remember?” she laughed.

Before the pizza came, we quickly bathed the lake water, sand, and sunscreen off the kids and put them in clean jammies. Again, not cleaning out my car came in handy because I still had a clean pair for both kids in my overnight bag for Gam’s. The doorbell rang just as I finished brushing Maura’s curly blond hair. We set the kids down around the table and starting cutting pizza and passing out plates like we were feeding hungry animals at the zoo. Once the kids all had pizza, apple slices, and milk in front of them, Kacie and I finally made our own plates.

“Ooooh, the game is starting!” Kacie mumbled through a mouthful of pizza. She grabbed the remote off the coffee table and found the game on TV. They were zoomed in on Brody’s face as he took a few chugs of water from the Gatorade water bottle on his net. Kacie beamed with pride as the announcers talked about how he’d had three shutouts in a row and the team was looking really good early on in the season.

“Maybe this is our year?” she said with a shrug.

“That would be awesome, wouldn’t it?” I added.

Lucy, Piper, Matthew, and Emma ate fast and scampered off to play Ping-Pong in the basement while Grace and Maura toddled around the family room, chewing on everything they could get their hands on.

“Want a glass of wine?” Kacie asked as she put the last of the pizza in the fridge.

“Um . . . nah. I’ve been fighting a headache all day and that would just make it worse.”

Kacie nodded and filled her wine glass with Riesling. She grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and balanced the drinks carefully in her hands as she stepped over our makeshift baby gate of pillows and an ottoman.

“Thanks.” I took the bottle from her, ready to relax and watch our boys play. The second period was just starting and the Wild were already up 2—0.

I didn’t think the day could get much better.

Kacie plopped down roughly, giggling when she spilled a little wine down the front of her shirt. “Oh well.” She shrugged and took another sip.

“Thanks for tonight, Kacie. You have no idea how much I needed this.”

“Oh my goodness, don’t mention it. It’s been so fun. I think this should be our new road trip tradition.”

“I’ll drink to that,” I said as I held my water up in the air. She grinned and immediately leaned over, touching her glass with my bottle.

We relaxed back into her oversized couch happily, while our babies played and boys kicked ass on TV.

Just before the second period was ending, there was a breakaway play and Viper was all alone, dribbling the puck down the ice toward the goal. Kacie and I both sat forward in our seats, praying for another Wild goal. He skated along the boards, nearing the goalie, when out of nowhere Ricky Young from the St. Louis Blues barreled into him, sending him crashing into the glass.

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