“There he is!” Jodi called out as she stood quickly and gave Viper a quick hug. “How ya feelin’?”

“Shitty,” Viper replied in his new normal, grumpy tone.

“Well, perk up because we brought your new neighbor over for a visit.” As soon as she acknowledged him, he stood and walked over.

“I’m Joel,” he said as he extended his hand for Viper.

“Hi, Joel. Viper.” He shook his hand with a nod.

“My son, Gavin, is the one upstairs playing with Matthew,” Joel added, trying to avoid awkward silence.

“Thank God. I thought Matthew was in there talking to himself,” Brody joked as he patted Viper’s shoulder. “All right, I’m out. You call me if you need anything, and everyone else”—he turned to the room—“it was nice meeting you, seeing you, whatever. Bye!”

Brody left and shortly after Jodi, Vince, and Joel decided to go, too. I walked them to the front door as Joel called Gavin down from upstairs. As he trudged down the steps, with Matthew following, he whined that he didn’t want to go.

“Guess that’s a good sign that they got along, huh?” Joel laughed as he threw a mopey Gavin over his shoulder. “Gavin, can you please tell Matthew’s mom thank you for having us over?” He turned halfway so Gavin faced me.

“Thank you for having us over.” He giggled, his face turning beet red from being upside down.

“You’re welcome, big guy. Once you guys are in and settled you can come back and play, okay?” He nodded and Joel turned back toward me.

“Thanks again,” he said. “I’m looking forward to finally being neighbors with some cool people, and not the weird guy who collects worms and old water bottles in the apartment next to me.”

I laughed hard and touched his arm as he headed out the door.

“See ya,” Vince said as he followed Joel out the door.

“Bye, babe!” Jodi pulled me in for a quick hug. “I’ll call and check on you tomorrow. Remember, if you need anything, let me know.”

Thankful for my friend, I squeezed her back. “I will. Thanks!”

 

I closed the door and skipped back to the kitchen, excited that Viper was actually downstairs for once.

He was sitting at the island, staring down at his phone.

“Well that was fun, huh?” I said cheerfully.

“Sure.”

I sprayed the counter and wiped it with a paper towel. “I just mean . . . having a new neighbor, especially one with a son Matthew’s age. I’m excited about it.”

“I can tell,” he said dryly.

I set the bottle down and turned slowly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What?” he finally looked up at me.

“I don’t know. You said ‘I can tell’ with a tone.”

“I don’t know. I didn’t really care for the guy. So he has a kid . . . great.” He blurted out, then returned his attention to his phone.

“What is the matter with you?” I finally blurted out, feeling days and days of frustration well up inside of me.

“Nothing is the matter with me,” he sputtered. “So I didn’t care for your new friend, big deal.”

“First of all, he’s not my new friend . . . he’s our neighbor. Second, you talked to the guy for maybe five minutes and in that time you decided you don’t like him?”

“Yeah, I did. Nowhere does it say I have to spend at least an hour with someone to determine if I like them or not.” He shook his head, put his phone in his pocket, and grabbed his crutches. “I’m going upstairs.”

I swallowed a huge lump in my throat and let him go.

 

 

Michelle didn’t talk to me when she came to bed that night. She changed into her pajamas, quietly brushed her teeth, and slipped under the covers . . . all without one single word. I almost reached out at one point and put my hand on her hip, but I could tell by how far away she was that she didn’t want to be touched. Not that I blamed her.

In the morning, she got up before me and again . . . silence. She showered early, and then I heard her quietly talking to the kids as she got Matthew ready for school. Before she left, she popped her head into the room. “I’m gonna take Matthew to school and run to the pharmacy and fill your prescriptions. Do you need anything while I’m out?”

“No thanks,” I answered without rolling over. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t want to look at her or if I didn’t want her to see me. They sounded the same, but they were two entirely different things.

“Okay. I’ll be back shortly.”

I heard her footsteps head down the stairs, and a minute later, the front door shut.

Though I really wanted to take a shower, I decided to make something to eat while the house was empty, then do my exercises from Sherman, then shower. With the way things had been going, I’d probably be ready for a nap again after all that.

I left my crutches leaning against the island and cruised along the counter like a toddler, trying to find something that sounded even remotely decent to eat.

“Maybe I’ll have her stop and get me some food,” I said out loud to myself. Pulling my phone from my pocket, I leaned my hip against the counter and hit the button to call her. Her phone rang out loud in the kitchen and my eyes searched the room until I saw it . . . lying on the table.

“Shit! There goes that.” I put my phone back in my pocket and limped over to the pantry. My eyes scanned the shelves of chips, soups, and cupcake mix, looking for anything that sounded edible.

I wandered back over to the fridge and decided that even though it was early, a turkey sandwich would be good enough. As I pulled the turkey and mayo out and set them on the island, Michelle’s phone rang out again. Hobbling over, I glanced down at the screen. I didn’t recognize the number, but I worried it might be Matthew’s school or something important, so I picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Good morning. Is Michelle Asher available, please?” a woman asked in an annoyingly cheerful voice.

“No, she’s not here right now. Can I take a message?”

“Can you please just let her know that Greentree OBGYN called to confirm her appointment for tomorrow morning at ten thirty with Dr. Brookes? And that if she needs to cancel or reschedule to please give us a call before six p.m. tonight.”