She narrowed her eyes. “Did you just threaten me?”

I lowered my voice to a calm but intimidating tone. “Call it whatever you want, but I promise you . . . quitting this job is the best decision you’ll ever make.”

Before she could respond, I stepped to my right and limped through the front door.

 

“All right, time to go.” I clapped my hands loudly as I hobbled across the porch and picked up my crutches.

Michelle stopped talking to Gam mid-sentence and looked at me with bulging eyes. “What?”

“Yeah, you just got here,” Gam added.

“I know, but I have stuff to do. I’ll come back tomorrow, okay?” I bent down and kissed the top of her head again.

“Wait. You’re serious?” Michelle asked, setting her drink on the table.

“Very. Get the kids together. I’ll wait in the car.” I turned and limped slowly down the steps as the front door creaked open. I didn’t have to turn around to know who it was.

“Viper!” Gam called after me, but I didn’t look back as I got in the car and stared straight ahead. I was so close to snapping already and seeing Kat on the front porch again might just push me over the edge.

 

 

We were a couple miles from Gam’s house and Viper was still breathing heavy, more agitated than I’d ever seen him.

“You wanna talk about it?” I asked, hoping he didn’t blow up at my question.

He took a long, slow breath in and let it all out. “That was Dr. Jennings on the phone.”

Oh crap.

“And?” I asked anxiously, quickly looking from the road to him and back again.

“And I have a torn ACL that needs to be surgically repaired.”

“Oh, Viper! I’m so sorry.” I wanted to pull over and wrap my arms around him, but I knew he’d recoil, so I just kept driving.

“Yeah. It pretty much blows. My whole season is shot.”

“Not necessarily,” I disagreed carefully. “It’s only October. You can be back before the end of the winter.”

“That’s practically the whole fucking season!” he shot back with a glare that I felt even though I wasn’t look at him.

“Okay, don’t snap at me, and please don’t talk like that in front of the kids.” I sighed and shook my head but didn’t say another word. Talking to him when he was this upset was pointless. Obviously I felt horrible about his knee, and I wished more than anything it hadn’t happened, but when he was lost within himself like this, no one could reach him.

Not even me.

 

As I pulled onto my street, I noticed someone standing at my front door.

“Who is that?” I said out loud to myself.

“Looks like Jodi,” Viper answered dryly.

Jodi, and her much younger husband, Vince, lived right next door to me, and I could not have asked for more awesome neighbors. After Mike died, she helped me through some really dark days and weeks, until Viper came along and made those days and weeks bright again.

The headlights moved across the porch as I turned into the driveway. She turned and gave me a quick wave, following my car into the garage.

“Hey,” I greeted her as I got out of the car.

“Hey, yourself. Long time no talk.” She walked up the side of my car and gave me a quick hug.

“I know. Things have been a little crazy around here.” I opened the back door and gently unbuckled Maura, who was sound asleep.

“I’ve heard. I mean I saw,” Jodi said as Viper slammed his car door. “How are you feeling? Any verdict on that knee yet?”

“I have to have surgery,” Viper mumbled without looking up at her. He opened the car door for Matthew and then sulked along behind him into the house.

Jodi’s eyes widened and slid over to mine. “Wow. It’s a little chilly in here.”

“He just found out about the surgery a little while ago,” I defended quietly with a shrug. “It’s been a really bad day.”

“Yikes. I can imagine. Maybe I should go.”

“No.” I shook my head. “I’m guessing he’s going to go upstairs and want to be alone. It’s fine.”

Jodi followed me into the house. I dropped Maura’s bag on the island and turned back to Jodi. “I’m gonna go lay her down. I’ll be right back.”

She nodded and opened the fridge, plucking herself a water bottle.

I quickly ran up the steps and changed Maura’s diaper as quietly as I could. Thankfully, she didn’t budge. It was barely even dinner time yet, but she was so wiped out from the last couple days, and probably didn’t sleep as good at Kacie’s as she would have in her own bed, so I decided just to let her nap. She’d eat when she was hungry.

I laid her in her crib, turned the music on, and went to check on Matthew in his room, but it was pitch-black.

I peeked my head in my bedroom. Viper was lying on the bed on his stomach and Matthew was sitting on his back, watching television.

“There you are,” I said quietly as I walked over to the bed and put my hands on my hips. “Whatcha doing?”

“Watching Ninja Turtles,” he answered in a squeaky little voice.

“Don’t you think you should watch it in your room and let Viper rest?” I leaned down and kissed the side of his head.

“He’s fine,” Viper mumbled into the pillow.

“Okay. Are you gonna come downstairs at all?” I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug.

“Okay. Well, I’ll check on you in a bit.”

 

I grabbed the monitor from Maura’s room and headed back to the kitchen. Jodi was sitting at the island, lazily flipping through a Pottery Barn catalog.

I let out a deep breath, puffing my cheeks out as I collapsed on the stool next to her.

Jodi glanced over at me. “You look exhausted.”

“I feel exhausted. Between Gam’s hip and now Viper’s knee, it’s been the longest couple of weeks.” I lifted my head off the island and propped it up on my hand. “And I have a feeling it’s going to get worse, not better.”

“So what happened to his knee? I mean, I saw the game, but what does he have to have surgery on?” She flipped another page of the catalog.