Fucking crushing.

Add to that not being able to build Legos with Matthew or read books to Maura or a million other little things I’d taken for granted and I had to leave. Sitting on that street, staring at that house, knowing they were inside was gut-wrenching. They were less than a hundred yards from me. I could have been at the door within one minute, but I didn’t know what to say. I also didn’t want to make Michelle mad and totally ruin her Thanksgiving.

Instead, I started my car and left, drove straight to McDonald’s, and ate alone in my car before heading home and not leaving my bed the whole night.

Frankly, other than to go to therapy, I didn’t really leave my house—or my bed—for the next week. Then I got a text from Andy.

Andy: Hey! I’m gonna pick you up at about 4 p.m. Be ready.

 

I quickly tried to remember if we had plans but came up with nothing.

For what?

 

Andy: You haven’t been to a game since you got hurt. It’s been long enough and you’re going to make an appearance there tonight. You still need to cheer on your team.

 

I do cheer them on. I watch every fucking game!

 

Andy: That doesn’t mean shit. They need to see you there. With them. Be ready at 4, and that’s an order.

 

Andy was my agent, but I hated when he acted like it. I also knew that when he told us to do something, we didn’t have a choice. At all.

Fine.

 

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to the game—those guys were my brothers—but I didn’t really know what to say to them either. Most of them had called and texted after my surgery, but I’d ignored them. Brody had come by my house, but we got into a fight. These guys were all hockey players, but I didn’t feel like one anymore, so what the hell did I even talk to them about?

 

Four o’clock snuck up on me pretty fast. I threw on a Wild hoodie and jeans and walked out the front door. As I walked down the sidewalk toward his car, Andy rolled his window down.

“What the hell are you wearing?”

I looked down at myself and back up at him. “What?”

“Get back in the house and put your damn jersey on!”

I rolled my eyes and turned back to the house without saying a word. My closet was a total disaster and I couldn’t find anything in there. After five minutes of kicking dirty clothes around and snapping hangers in frustration, it dawned on me. My jersey was still at Michelle’s house.

I prepared myself for a fight with Andy and left my room.

“Dude. What the fuck?” Andy’s words startled me. I hadn’t even heard him come in.

“What now?”

He was standing in the kitchen, his eyes slowly scanning the piles of pizza boxes and empty Chinese food containers that were stacked high and covering most of my counters.

“This.” He motioned toward the garbage with horrified eyes. “Is this all you’ve been doing for the last month? Eating crap and letting your life waste away?”

“Listen, if your plan is to lecture me all night, then you can just go by yourself. I’m in no mood for this shit.”

“I don’t want to lecture you, Viper, but look at this. You’re out of control,” he exclaimed.

“I’m not out of control!”

He glared at me. “Have you even been going to therapy?”

“Yes!” I yelled back. “I go all the fucking time! It’s practically all I do.”

Andy put one hand on his hip and sighed as he ran the other one through his hair and looked down toward the ground. “I’m worried about you, Viper.” His head raised and he stared back at me. “You’re not just my client, you’re one of my best friends. And you’re acting so erratic that I’m worried about you. Not just your career. Fuck your career at this point. I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I grumbled. “I’ll be fine.”

“I have serious doubts about that, but we’ll have to talk about it later because we’re gonna be late. Grab your jersey and let’s go.”

“I don’t have it.” I shook my head. “It’s at Michelle’s.”

He pulled his lips in and pinched them tight as he inhaled deeply through his nose, making sure I heard his annoyance. “Fine. Whatever. Let’s go.”

 

We didn’t talk much on the way there. It was awkward and quiet—a lot like the rest of my life at the moment.

As soon as we pulled into the players’ lot at the stadium, my pulse quickened. My body knew where we were and it was responding.

“You excited?” Andy asked as we made our way down the concourse toward the locker room.

I put my hands in my pocket and shrugged. “I don’t know what I am. Nervous. Excited. I feel like I’m gonna barf, so that’s something.”

He let out a loud laugh and punched my shoulder. “You got this. I know it’s probably weird to be back here, but you have to know these guys are dying to see you.”

“I hope so.” I nodded.

The closer we got to the locker room, the louder the music from inside grew. My heart slammed against my chest as we got to the door.

Andy looked over at me. “You want to go in first?”

“Uh . . .” I stammered and took a deep breath, puffing my cheeks out.

He put his hand on my shoulder. “I got this.”

He walked through the door ahead of me and I lowered my head, staring at the back of his feet as I followed.

“Holy shit!” a familiar voice called out. “It’s Viper!”

I looked up to see Louie, wearing only a T-shirt and nothing else, walking toward me with his arms open. Several other guys called my name and cheered and followed Louie my direction. The next several minutes were spent giving high-fives and hugs and filling all the guys in on the latest with my knee.

“I’m so glad to see you here, man.” Louie slammed his hands on my shoulders.

I leaned back and glanced down at his junk. “Not that excited though, huh? Tiny Louie is still pretty tiny.”

“Fuck you!” he said with a laugh.

The crowd dispersed and everyone went back to suiting up for the game. Over in the corner, I noticed Brody sitting on the bench, putting new tape on his stick. I walked over and nudged him in the shoulder from behind.