They sat at the island as I quickly cleared Matthew’s and Maura’s lunch plates. I grabbed the grapes and started to lift the bowl, but Jodi stopped me. “Leave those here. They look delicious.”

“Okay.” I laughed. “What do you guys want to drink? I have water, Gatorade, apple juice, beer—”

“Water for me,” Jodi said before tossing a couple grapes in her mouth.

“Me, too,” Vince added.

“I’ll actually take some apple juice,” Joel answered.

“Really?” Vince turned to him. “Apple juice? Are you five?”

He raised his hands defensively. “What? It sounded good.”

I grabbed two water bottles from the fridge and two mason jars from the cabinet. “It actually does sound good. I’ll have some apple juice with you.” I handed Jodi and Vince their bottles and poured apple juice for Joel and me.

“To new neighbors.” Vince raised his bottle and we all met in the middle.

I leaned on the other side of the island across from them and sighed, feeling a little guilty that Viper wasn’t with us. “Hopefully Viper wakes up soon so you can meet him, too.”

“I’m sorry, but who’s Viper?” Joel cringed. “I should probably know this, sorry.”

“Michelle’s boyfriend,” Jodi answered before I could. “He had knee surgery a couple days ago, so he’s been napping a lot.”

More like all the time.

“Oh, okay.” He nodded. “Knee surgery. That’s rough. What kind was it?”

I set my glass down and licked the apple juice from my lips. “He tore his ACL.”

Joel hissed in through clenched teeth. “Ouch! I’ve heard that’s rough. My brother had that done and was out of commission for a while.”

“Yeah, well”—I looked at the ceiling—“don’t say that too loud. He’s been told he won’t be back on the ice for six months and is already freaking out about that. Any longer and I’ll probably have to institutionalize him.”

“On the ice?” Joel’s eyes moved to each one of us. “I missed something.”

“Sorry.” I shook my head quickly. “He’s a hockey player . . . for the Wild.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Oh! Like a real hockey player?”

Jodi laughed and threw a grape at him. “No, a fake hockey player.”

“I didn’t know,” he said defensively. “I don’t really follow hockey. I’m more of a football guy.”

“Oh no, hockey is life in this house. Has been for a long time.” I thought back and I couldn’t remember a time where our lives didn’t revolve around a hockey season or a road trip or playoffs.

The doorbell rang out. “Speaking of hockey . . . I think I know who that is. I’ll be right back. Help yourselves to whatever,” I said on the way out of the room.

As soon as I rounded the wall, Brody’s smiling face was pressed up against the glass. I grinned and rolled my eyes as I pulled the door open. “Hey, crazy man!”

“Crazy? You put up with Viper voluntarily and you’re calling me crazy?” He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and gave me a quick squeeze.

“Touché!”

“How’s the patient doing anyway?” He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest.

I shrugged. “He’s fine.”

Brody narrowed his eyes and stared at me in silence.

“What?”

“I’ve been married a few years now, and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that fine is never good. What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” I defended. “Really. Everything is great.”

“You’re a liar.”

I pinched my bottom lip in between my teeth and stared out the front door, trying to decide if I should even say anything.

“Just tell me what it is,” he said, as if he were reading my mind.

“This is just . . . hard. He’s being very weird with me, very short. He won’t let me in. He doesn’t come downstairs . . . ever. He doesn’t eat. I just don’t know how to bring him out of this.” My voice started to crack so I cleared my throat.

Brody nodded slowly, taking in all I’d just said. “Let me talk to him. See if I can get him to open up at all. I know Viper is a tough nut to crack—he always has been—but maybe I can big brother some sense into him.”

“Thanks.” I sniffed and quickly blinked away the sting of tears that I’d been holding in for over a week.

“You hang in there.” He stood and cupped my head, pulling it against his chest. “I’m gonna talk to him, but ultimately you’re the one he needs. Don’t give up on him.”

Brody let go and I gave him a tight smile. “Never.”

“I’m assuming he’s in your bedroom now?”

“Yep. He was sleeping, but he might be awake now. I don’t know.”

“I don’t care. I’ll go wake his ass up.” Brody wiggled his eyebrows up and down and hustled up the stairs, taking them two at a time.

 

I went back into the kitchen and Maura was sitting on Jodi’s lap, babbling on and on about Matthew and him taking her favorite pony a couple days before.

Jodi chuckled and looked up at me. “I feel so bad. I don’t understand half of what she’s saying.”

“Me either,” Vince added.

“I didn’t get it all, but she said something about Matthew and Rainbow Dash and the pantry . . . I think?” Joel’s eyes slid from Maura to me for confirmation.

“You got it. A couple days ago Matthew took her favorite pony and hid it in the pantry. Clearly she’s still not over it.” I reached over and took a grape out of Maura’s closed fist. “Hang on, let me cut this for you.”

“How did you know that?” Jodi asked, looking at Joel incredulously.

“I have a kid.” He shrugged. “Granted, we all understand our own kids best, but sometimes we can get bits and pieces of other people’s kids, too.”

“That’s true,” I added with a laugh as I cut up a handful of grapes and put them in a plastic bowl for Maura.

 

We all sat and chatted for a little while longer and eventually, Brody and Viper appeared.