“You offered him a job? How have I never heard this story?”

The light turned green and he shrugged and started driving again. “I don’t know. I thought I told you guys. Maybe not. Anyway, he said thanks but no thanks. He likes it down here. He likes being free to go wherever he wants during the day and said for the most part, people leave him alone. He’s not unhappy, just homeless. Well, later that day I ended up signing the huge Kenny Sparks shoe deal with Nike. Remember that deal?”

“Yeah, I remember that deal. That was massive. Why can’t you hook me up with one of those, fucker?”

“’Cause you don’t play football.” He let out a quick laugh. “Anyway, I was convinced that Douglas was my good luck charm, so the next morning he was on the bench again and I gave him ten bucks. He was so thankful, and now it’s become our thing. Douglas is my karma bank. I feel better helping him.”

“So you drive this way every morning and give that dude ten dollars.”

“Pretty much.” Andy nodded. “Unless he’s not here.”

“Huh,” I said, looking back out the window as we pulled into the rink parking lot. “You’re either the nicest human alive or completely fucking insane. I haven’t decided which yet.”

Andy let out a hearty laugh that filled the whole car. “Trust me, I’m neither. I do it to counter all the horrible things I think about my ex-wife during the day.”

 

The next hour flew by and my head spun with all of the medical terms and instructions thrown my way. Dr. Jennings asked Dr. Newell, the orthopedic surgeon, to come over and be there for our meeting, and I felt like my brain was the ball in their match of medical tennis. My surgery was scheduled for two days later and that’s all I cared about. I just wanted to get it over with so I could get back on the ice as soon as possible.

“Did you understand a fucking word of that?” I asked Andy as we walked to his car.

“For the most part. Why? You didn’t?”

“Hell no. I’m gonna need the condensed, dumb man’s version from you.”

He kicked at a rock in the parking lot and laughed. “Why didn’t you ask them to explain it again, bonehead?”

“I don’t know. It was overwhelming.”

We got to his car and both sat down, but he didn’t move to start the engine. “Here’s what I know for sure. Surgery is Friday morning, really fucking early so you’re going to have to let Michelle handle that one. I’m out. But I do expect a call when it’s over and you’re done . . . and maybe a video if you’re acting like an idiot from all the drugs.”

“You want a video?” I challenged. “I’ll give you a video, all right. One that has people calling you for a statement all weekend long.”

He pressed his lips together and shook his head. “Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to deal with the media on your behalf, so scratch that. No video. But seriously, your recovery could take up to nine months if you don’t take your physical therapy seriously and do everything you’re supposed to do, got it?”

“Nine months? That’s the whole season. Fuck that!”

“Then you have to be diligent. No blowing off appointments and do all the exercises at home that you’re supposed to.”

“Yes, Dad,” I said sarcastically.

He rolled his eyes as he started the car. “So are you going to finish filling me in on this Kat situation?”

I totally forgot we hadn’t finished talking about that. “It’s not really a situation. Well, maybe it is? I don’t know. I just want her gone and I don’t know how to make that happen.”

“So she’s Gam’s nurse. Does Gam know your history with her?”

“No.”

“Does Michelle know your history?”

“Hell no.”

“Were there . . . any . . . feelings when you saw her?” he asked carefully.

“Fuck no!”

“Okay, good. So basically you have no idea what the hell you’re doing?”

“Basically.”

“Good luck with that one, buddy. My only advice would be to not screw anything up that risks your relationship with Michelle.” He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye for just a quick second. “That girl is good for you. You need her.”

I turned and glanced out the window, unsure if he was talking to me, or warning me.

 

 

It had been exactly five days since Viper got hurt and they were five of the longest days of my life. I completely understood why he was grumpy and frustrated with what had happened, but I wasn’t expecting him to take it out on me like he was. I was looking forward to putting his surgery behind us and hoping that once it was done, he would bounce back to normal.

Surprisingly, the morning of his surgery he was unusually peppy.

He stood at the bathroom mirror and I walked up behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist, resting my head against his back. “Are you nervous?”

“Not really,” he said. “I’m more hungry than anything. Not eating and drinking after midnight is fucking torture.”

I smiled to myself. “I think they do that so you don’t get sick.”

“Well, great. They don’t have to worry about me getting sick, but they might have to worry about me scarfing down one of the nurses on the way into the operating room.”

I giggled and let go of him, moving over to my sink to brush my teeth and put on a little mascara.

As I leaned forward and opened my eye wide, dabbing my lashes with the black wand, Viper stared at me in the mirror. “You don’t need that shit, ya know.”

I straightened up and blinked my eye a couple times, frowning at him. “Huh?”

“That.” He motioned toward my mascara. “You don’t need it. You don’t need any of it.”

“I totally do. My eyelashes look like a newborn’s.” I squinted into the mirror and inspected my stubby, thin little eyelashes.

“No way. I agree that a lot of women look better with makeup on, but not you.” He shook his head. “You’re perfect and you don’t even realize it.”

I stared in the mirror at my boyfriend—rough and tough hockey player, a body that looked like it was chiseled in stone, covered in tattoos and intimidating enough to scare the pants off of just about anyone—but when it came to me, and my kids, he was a softie. A gentle giant. My gentle giant.