“What’s your deal today, grumpy pants?” Sherman asked, interrupting my thoughts.

I turned toward him. “Grumpy pants? Who says I’m grumpy?”

He arched one eyebrow at me. “With you . . . it’s obvious.”

I rolled my eyes and hopped off the bike. “I’m fine. Come on, kick my ass today.”

“Gladly,” he mumbled and walked with me to the mat in the corner.

My face flushed and sweat beaded on my forehead as I worked my way through leg presses and lateral lunges.

“Let’s head over to the stair machine for a bit,” Sherman said once my sets were done.

“The stair machine? Really?” I complained.

He took my hand and pulled me up from the floor before he turned me and gave me a gentle shove toward the stair machine. “Quit your bitching and move it.”

The stair machine kicked my ass. Within three minutes the sweat that had previously been on my forehead was now dripping onto my T-shirt and I was panting like a fool.

I watched in the mirror as Sherman took the hands of Emily, one of the other therapists, and danced around the room to Stevie Wonder. He spun and twirled her as she threw her head back, laughing wildly.

After a few minutes, he huffed and puffed his way back over to me. “How’s it going?” he asked breathlessly as he looked at my screen.

“Sherman.” I shook my head slowly. “What is your deal?”

He tilted his head to the side. “My deal?”

“Yeah. The crazy outfits . . . your ridiculously happy mood all the time . . . what’s your deal?”

He stared at my reflection in the mirror and took a deep breath. His voice lowered. “I wasn’t always a happy man, Viper. I was actually a very miserable man for over half of my life.”

I frowned back at him. “You? Miserable? I don’t buy it.”

He pressed his lips together and nodded, his face serious. “It’s true. Very true. Here, come with me.” Reaching across me, he stopped the stair machine and nodded his head toward the e-stim table.

“We’re done already?” I asked as I hopped up.

“You asked a question, and now I’m gonna answer it.” He put the sticky things on my knee, connected the wires, wrapped me in ice, and turned it on. “So. I was married right outta high school.”

I lifted my head and looked at him incredulously. “To a woman?”

“Shut up and lie down.” He pushed my forehead down until I was lying flat against the table again. “Yes, to a woman! Anyway, we married young and I went off to work. That’s what I was supposed to do, take care of her and our two kids.”

“You have kids?”

He sighed and put his hands on his hips. “Did you go to kindergarten?”

“Kindergarten? Yeah.”

“Were you absent the day they taught kids that it isn’t polite to interrupt? Hush!”

I rolled my eyes and shut my mouth.

“So I went off to work, but I was resentful. Angry. I wasn’t even ready to be a husband, but before I knew it, I was also a father. So I started drinking . . . a lot. The more I drank, the more I retreated from real life. Eventually I started missing work, and then I lost my job. She took the kids and went to live with her parents while I rotted in our house until the bank eventually took it.”

My heart sank. I wanted to tell him to stop talking but my mouth wouldn’t open. I needed to hear the rest.

“She divorced me and I couch surfed at friends’ houses for several more months. One day, I woke up and decided that I was done. I was lonely and missed my family, so I went to get them back.” He paused and stared down at the table, pulling his brows down low. “But I was too late . . . she’d already moved on. I went to see her and she had a new ring on her finger. My daughters looked at me like I was a stranger, and my wife looked at me with hate in her eyes. I walked away from that house and never went back.”

“Never?”

He shook his head. “I went back to school and got my dream job, and eventually I started smiling again. Then I smiled a little more, then a little more. But it took a long time. And now, I wake up every day and decide to be happy.”

“What about the days you feel like shit and just don’t care?”

“Those are the days I pick out the wackiest outfits,” he said with a wink. “Because everyone around me laughs, and ultimately, that lifts my mood.” I was so invested in his story, I’d forgotten all about my knee. He lifted the ice and started peeling the tabs off. “Okay. You know my story, now tell me yours.”

I wasn’t as open as Sherman, but after all that, I couldn’t not tell him anything. “There’s a girl in my life, and we’re having some problems. I’m kinda shutting her out at the moment because I don’t know how to handle my problems.”

He stood up and crossed his arms. “Is she worth fighting for?”

I didn’t even have to think about that answer. “Yes.”

He raised his eyebrows quickly. “Then you better fight fast. Or else one day, you’ll go back and some other man will be holding your girl’s hand and carrying your kids through the park.”

I had no idea I could learn so much from a man who wore heart-shaped sunglasses.

 

After therapy, I drove straight to Brody’s. I didn’t care that it was almost dinnertime and I might be interrupting. I needed to talk to him.

Brody and I had never gone two days without talking, let alone more than two weeks. I took a deep breath and climbed the front steps of his porch.

As soon as I rang the bell, I heard kids squealing and screaming as they sprinted toward the front door. “Quiet down or I’m giving you to whoever is on the other side!” Brody hollered. He pulled the door open and stared at me. “Never mind.”

I let out a nervous laugh. “Probably not a good idea to give them to me, huh?”

“What are you doing here?” he asked with a stone face.

“You got a minute? I want to talk to you.”

“Uh . . .” His eyes darted around. “Yeah. Kacie’s actually out with some friends. Come on in.” He pushed the door open and let me in.

I carefully stepped over dolls and books and princess crowns as I followed him through the house. “Whoa. What happened in here?” I surveyed the disaster in his normally spotless kitchen.