Hey, buddy. Sorry. Long night and an even longer day. I have no idea what the hell is going on. X-rays on my knee were negative, waiting on MRI results now. Apparently that takes all fucking day. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear something.

Andy: Jesus. Hope it all turns out to be nothing. Yes, please keep me posted. And for the love of God, text Brody. He sounds like a depressed eight-year-old whose best friend can’t come out and play.

Thanks. I hope it’s nothing, too. Stay tuned. And I’ll text the Drama Queen, I mean Brody, right now.

I scrolled down my phone to Brody’s texts.

Brody: Hey. Call me.

Brody: Yo! Where are you? What happened? Call me.

Brody: Coach Collins told us that the X-rays were negative. That’s a good sign. I can’t believe they still sent you home. Is it that bad? Call me, asshole.

Brody: Okay now you’re pissing me off. They better have been wrong about your knee and it’s really your hand that was hurt because if you’re being a dick and just not answering me, I’m going to hunt you down, make sure you’re okay, and kick the shit out of you.

Brody: Dude.

I rolled my eyes so hard I was surprised they didn’t get caught in the back of my head as I hit the reply button.

Calm your little pink panties, Murphy. I’ve been kinda busy. Yes, X-rays were fine but no results on the MRI yet. Those are coming later today and hopefully, if all goes well, my ass will be on a plane tonight and back into your arms by morning, pumpkin. I’ll let you know what happens.

As I shoved my phone back in my pocket, the back door swung open.

“Viper!” Matthew called out as he climbed into the seat behind me. He wrapped his short arms around me and the headrest, locking his hand underneath my chin and cutting off my air supply. He was so excited to see me that I didn’t even care.

I reached up and squeezed his hands with mine.

“What’s up, buddy?” I said when he finally let go and I could talk again.

He peeked around the seat and scanned my body from head to toe, pausing at my knee. “Mom said you got hurt. Is that where you got hurt?”

“Yep.” I nodded, following his gaze to my leg. “I hurt my knee, but the doctors are checking me out and I’ll be better fast.”

“I have an owie on my knee, too, remember?” He lifted his leg up and pulled his shorts back, revealing a huge bandage. “That was from when I fell off my bike. They used glue. Maybe they can use glue on your knee, too?”

“That would be awesome, bud, but there’s not really anything to glue on my knee. My owie is on the inside.”

“Ooooh,” he said as he nodded slowly.

“Matthew, hop up and buckle, please.” Michelle said as she set Maura in her car seat. Maura craned her neck to the side to try and see me around Michelle’s arm. “Hi! Hi! Hi!” she called out over and over.

“Hey, baby girl!” I reached my hand back and she wrapped her wet little fingers around it.

“Okay,” Michelle sighed as she clicked the last buckle on Maura’s car seat. “Everyone’s buckled . . . we have all our stuff . . . I think we’re ready to go.”

She plopped down into the driver’s seat and sat for a minute, rubbing her neck with her hand and moving her head in big circles. I’d been so focused on my knee that I didn’t think for a second how exhausted she must have been, too.

“Sore?” I finally spoke for the first time since we left the hospital.

“Kinda. Everything’s just tense.” She pulled her shoulders back and lowered her chin to her chest, trying to stretch out her achy muscles. I lifted my left arm and put it behind her.

As I rubbed slow circles into her neck with my fingertips, she froze and let out a soft moan that lingered for several seconds.

“You like that?”

“Mmhmm,” she answered without moving. “It feels really, really good.”

I licked my lips and stared at her. She was beautiful all the time, but she was most gorgeous when she wasn’t trying to be. Listening to the little groans and noises she was making as I rubbed her neck was torture . . . pure torture. They sounded a lot like the noises she made when I was moving in and out of her and suddenly, I wanted nothing more than that.

“Mooooooom, can we go now?” Matthew complained from the backseat.

Michelle’s head snapped up and she turned toward me, her eyes traveling all over my face before connecting back with mine. No words came out of her mouth, but they didn’t have to. I felt it. I felt her. I felt that moment.

She blinked a couple of times and sniffed, turning back to the steering wheel and pulling her seatbelt across her chest.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing.” She shook her head quickly. “Nothing at all. That was just . . . nice.”

“It was more than nice.”

Glancing at me out of the corner of her eye, she gave me a tiny smile. “It was.”

“I’d like to do more of that later. A lot more.” I stretched my hand across the center console and rested it on her thigh as she started the car. She didn’t say any more, but she didn’t need to. The last couple of weeks had been stressful for both of us, but we were in a good place. We were just fine.

We pulled up in front of Gam’s house and parked in the street as usual. There was a car in the driveway that I didn’t recognize, but Michelle had mentioned that lots of people were stopping by to visit Gam so I thought nothing of it.

Matthew hopped out of the car and was halfway across the yard before I even had my seatbelt off. Michelle shook her head and laughed. “You don’t think he likes Gam or anything, do you?”

“Not at all,” I joked.

As I climbed slowly out of the car, I noticed Gam was sitting on her porch, and Matthew was already sitting next to her on the wicker couch. Michelle set Maura down on the grass and she ran toward Gam’s house as fast as her chubby little legs would take her.

“Go ahead.” I motioned toward the stairs for Michelle. “You go first. It’s gonna take me a few minutes.”

Between the stupid brace I had to wear to keep me from bending my leg and the fucking crutches that had become my new best friend, everything took me longer. Especially stairs.

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