“Dinner happened.” Brody ran a hand through his hair. He walked to the pantry and pulled a garbage bag out, quickly filling it with paper plates and crumpled napkins. “So what’s up?”

I pulled out a stool and sat down at the island. “I know you’re going out on the road again tomorrow, and I just wanted to talk to you before you left again.”

“Okay.”

“I feel bad about our conversation at my house. I know you were trying to help and I was a dick about it.”

Brody nodded. “You were definitely a dick.”

“Yeah. So I just wanted to apologize.” I looked down at the island and pulled a bunch of crumbs into a small pile.

He leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “I appreciate your apology, but I don’t really need it. I’m just worried about you.”

“I know.” I nodded. “I’ve been a little out of it.”

“A little?”

I shrugged. “A lot.”

“And now?”

“Better . . . I think. Being at the games helped.”

He tilted his head to the side and narrowed his eyes. “Why did that help?”

I dropped my eyes to the island again. Talking about my feelings with anyone wasn’t easy for me, and holding eye contact while talking about my feelings was impossible. “I felt like I was still part of the team. It made me feel important again.”

“Is that what you’ve been thinking this whole time?” His voice raised in surprise. “That you weren’t part of the team?”

I shrugged again. “It wasn’t just that. I don’t know. I felt . . . lost.”

“Lost?”

“Yeah. Hockey is my life, Brody. That’s all I have. If I don’t play hockey, I don’t know who I am.”

“Viper, hockey is a part of your life. A small part, and that’s it.” He shook his head vehemently. “That’s what you don’t get. You have Michelle and Matthew and Maura.”

I scoffed at his response. “I did have them. I royally fucked that whole thing up, too.”

“You absolutely fucked that up . . . royally,” he agreed.

“I don’t even know where to begin trying to fix it.”

“Well, here’s my question. And for once, just answer me honestly. Don’t dick me around.” He walked over and leaned on the island across from me, staring me straight in the eye. “Do you want to fix it? And I mean that. Do you want to be there with her and the kids . . . and the new baby?”

I stood up from the stool and paced the room. “Yes. No. I don’t know.”

“Bro, you have to figure that part out first. What’s your holdup? Is it Michelle?”

“No.”

“The kids?”

“No. I love those kids. I miss them like crazy.”

“The baby?”

I stopped pacing and glance back at him. “Maybe?”

“Okay. Why does that freak out you?”

“Are you kidding?” I threw my hands up. “Look at me. I’m a fucking mess. I can’t even handle myself. How the hell am I supposed to be a father? What am I gonna teach this kid . . . do everything the exact opposite of the way I do it?”

“Viper.” Brody straightened and put his hands on his hips, looking me square in the eye. “You already are a father. Don’t you see that? Everything you’ve been doing with the kids for a year now . . . You’ve cleaned up barf, you’ve put Band-Aids on skinned knees, you’ve read bedtime stories. That’s all being a dad. You’re already doing it, and you’re amazing at it.”

I stared at him but didn’t respond.

“Listen,” he continued, “you seem to have this victim mentality right now that you need to get rid of. You feel like everything is happening to you, but have you taken the time to look at the bigger picture?”

I shook my head.

“Fate doesn’t ask permission and it doesn’t give warnings,” he said. “I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Maybe you’re meant to have this baby. Maybe it’s going to be the best thing that ever happened to you. When I met Kacie, I had no idea she would lead me to all this.” He held his hands out wide. “And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

A big thud from above our head, followed by a loud cry, made Brody take a deep breath and exhale through his nose. “A little bit of peace and quiet maybe, but not the world. I’ll be right back.”

His words bounced around in my head as he ran upstairs to check on the girls. I walked over and sat down at the kitchen table, trying to soak everything in and think about it one step at a time. Brody had been one of my best friends since he joined the team, but he was more than a friend. We were each other’s brother. We’d been through just about everything together, and I respected him more than almost anyone else on the planet. For him to tell me I was already an amazing dad really hit home.

Brody was back within a couple minutes. Just as he crossed into the kitchen, I heard the front door close. He turned back and looked toward it. “What are you doing home already?”

I couldn’t make out what she said, but I could tell by the voice he was talking to Kacie.

Brody walked farther into the kitchen, staring at me with wide eyes. “Play dead,” he mumbled.

I frowned at him. “Huh?”

Kacie was saying something about cars as she walked into the room and froze when she saw me. Her eyes narrowed. “What are you doing here?”

Play dead. I get it now. Too late.

Kacie was five foot nothing and about as threatening as a ladybug, but the look in her eyes made my stomach drop.

“I just came by to talk to Brody,” I answered.

“Oh, you wanna talk? Good, ’cause I wanna talk, too.” She marched over and slammed her purse down on the table before plopping down on the chair next to me.

“Babe, are you drunk?” Brody asked.

“Shush,” she snapped at him before turning back to me. “You’re a piece of shit, you know that?”

Brody sighed and rolled his eyes. “Definitely drunk.”

“What makes you think you can just up and leave and not call her for this long?”

I looked to Brody for help, but he just shrugged.

“It wasn’t intentional,” I said.

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