Michelle skipped up the stairs quickly and went right over to Gam, wrapping her arms around her shoulders. Gam leaned in and squeezed her right back.

“Sorry I didn’t get up to give proper hugs,” Gam said. “I’m moving a little slow these days.”

“Yeah, you and me both,” I added as I finally got the top of the wooden steps.

She looked over at me and tilted her head to the side, shaking it slightly. “And my grandson. What in the world am I going to do with you?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Take me out back and shoot me?”

“No!” Matthew cried, jumping up from the couch with wide eyes.

“I was just kidding, buddy. Sorry. Bad joke.” I ruffled his blond hair as I stepped past him and leaned down to kiss the top of Gam’s head.

“Look at us”—she waved her arm back and forth between the two of us—“you with your crutches and me with my walker. We’re a mess. A hot mess.”

I rested my armpits on the top of the crutches and arched an eyebrow at her. “Did you just say hot mess?”

“I did.” She nodded proudly as Michelle giggled next to her. “I’m learning all sorts of new things from my nurse.” She narrowed her eyes and glared at me. “You shouldn’t have done that. I don’t need help.”

I looked over at her walker and back at her. “Oh, right. You’re completely self-sufficient.”

“Don’t be a smartass,” she snapped.

“Okay, Matthew and Maura, let’s run inside and see if Gam has some apple juice in her fridge, okay?” Michelle said in an overly chirpy tone, clearly trying to distract the kids from the brawl that was about to go down between me and Gam, and our accompanying metal apparatuses.

“Do you have any cookies?” Matthew asked Gam.

“Do I have any cookies? Does a zebra have stripes? You bet your little rear end I have cookies. All kinds of cookies. Help yourself.” She pulled him in for a quick hug before he stood up. “And Matthew,” she lowered her voice to a loud whisper, “if your mom says you can only have two, tell her I said you can have three. Because . . .”

“Gam’s in charge!” Matthew cheered as he jumped up and down, pumping his arms in the air.

Michelle rolled her eyes playfully and turned Matthew by the shoulders, leading him into the house with Maura following right along behind.

“Oh, Michelle!” Gam called out.

Michelle took a step back and peeked her head out the door.

“The nurse is in there. Introduce yourself. She’s actually really great.”

“Okay, I will.” She smiled then disappeared.

“She’s great, huh? Does that mean you’re not going to kick my ass?” I said sarcastically as I sat on the chair next to her. Leaving my leg outstretched in front of me, I relaxed back into the chair and folded my hands on my stomach.

“Oh no.” She raised her eyebrows. “I’m still going to kick your ass, but it’s going to take me a few weeks to do it. This hip thing really slowed me down.”

“Meh.” I waved her off. “You’re old as dirt, but you’re also tough as hell. You’ll be back to normal before you know it. Seriously though . . . you like the nurse? I’m really glad.”

“I do. She’s kinda sassy, and I love that.”

“I was nervous because I had Ellie handle everything. I was going to take a look at the list she narrowed it down to, then this happened,” I said, glancing down at my knee. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Ellie about it at all, so I’m glad she chose a good one.”

“Ellie did a great job. I mean, she’s only been here a couple days but I can tell we’re gonna get a long.”

The screen door creaked as it swung open, and we both turned.

“Oh, perfect timing. Here she is,” Gam said with a big smile. “Kat, come over here. I want you to meet my grandson, Viper.”

Kat froze in the doorway, our eyes locked on each other. There was no introduction necessary. Kat and I already knew each other.

We knew each other really, really well.

 

“Uh, nice to meet you, Viper.” Kat smiled awkwardly as she walked across the porch and offered me her hand.

I tried to keep my shock to a minimum as I shook her hand. “Hi” is all that came out of my mouth.

“Have a seat.” Gam patted the couch next to her.

Kat’s dark red lips spread into a tight smile. “I really shouldn’t. I just came out here to see if you needed anything.”

“Oh, hush. Sit down. You work too damn hard.” Gam grabbed Kat’s hand and pulled her down next to her. She squeezed her shoulder and looked over at me with a big smile. “Isn’t she the best?”

I nodded at Gam, trying not to make any more eye contact with Kat.

“You two actually have a lot in common. You’d never know she’s covered in tattoos under this shirt.” Gam laughed, tugging on her sleeve.

Except I did know she was covered in tattoos. I’d seen tattoos on Kat that Gam, and ninety-nine percent of the population, would never see. I’d been with Kat when she got some of her tattoos.

“That’s awesome.” I nodded, trying to figure out how the hell to get Kat out of Gam’s house.

Fucking knee!

If this had never happened, I would have been able to go over Ellie’s selections and Kat would have been a big, fat no. When the hell did she even become a nurse? Last time I saw her she’d been a fucking bartender.

My irritation was growing bigger by the second. I just wanted to throw Michelle and the kids and Gam in the car and drive away long enough for Kat to leave and never come back.

Michelle knew about my past. I’m sure Mike had told her about my antics when we were friends, but I also never kept secrets. I was an open book. If she asked a question, I gave her an answer. An honest answer that she sometimes wasn’t expecting and didn’t want to hear. So she stopped asking questions. She loves me for me and doesn’t hold my past against me, but she doesn’t like to think about it either. And here was a glaring part of my past, sitting on my grandmother’s porch, holding her hand.

“Here you go, babe.” Michelle handed me a glass of lemonade.

I was so lost in my own world that I didn’t even hear her come back outside. She looked at me funny as I took the glass from her. “You okay?”