He nodded slowly. “I know that my apology doesn’t mean shit to you right now, but I want you to know from the bottom of my heart how sorry I am about everything. The way I acted when you told me about the baby, for not checking in this whole time, for the way I acted before all of this even started. I’m sorry for all of it, Michelle.”

I pinched my lips together and watched him as he spoke. I waited for him to break eye contact and look away, but he never did. He delivered his apology and was more sincere than I’d probably ever heard him, but that wasn’t enough to make over a month’s worth of anger disappear.

I took a long, deep breath through my nose, trying to choose my words carefully. “You’ve been gone for weeks, Viper. Weeks. Not a couple hours, not a couple days. Weeks. And now you stroll into Matthew’s school and my house like nothing ever happened?”

He shook his head. “It’s not like nothing ever happened. I know I fucked up. Trust me, I know that. But I want to make it better.”

I tilted my head to the side. “Really? How do you plan to make that better? How exactly do you plan to erase all of the memories from my head about what an asshole you were when I told you I was pregnant and the following weeks when you completely ignored me and the kids?” I said through clenched teeth. I wanted to scream at him, but Matthew was sleeping on the couch in the next room. “You weren’t here when I needed you most. You rejected me—and my kids. How are you gonna fix that?”

“I don’t know how to fix it, Michelle, but I wish I could. I wish more than anything I could go back and do everything differently. Everything!” His voice sounded desperate, frantic even. “When I found out I couldn’t play hockey, I went to a bad place. That darkness spread like poison through every part of my life. It’s not an excuse, but it is the truth. Hockey has been all I’ve known since I was eight years old. It was like someone ripped my foundation from under me and everything else just fell right along with it.”

I listened intently but didn’t respond.

“And now,” he continued, “I’m trying to rebuild. I want to rebuild, but I’m putting my house back up in a different order. You and the kids are all the foundation that I need. If I’ve learned anything being away from you, it’s that. I need you guys way more than I need hockey. Hockey is still an important part of my life, but it’s just a couple of bricks.”

I cleared my throat and tried to make my voice strong. “I appreciate your apology, but I think it’s best that you leave.”

His shoulders fell. “Leave?”

I nodded. “I don’t know what to say to you. Right now I’m angry and I’m upset. I wasn’t planning on seeing you today. And let’s both be honest, once you walk out that door, I have no idea when I’ll see you again.”

“That’s what I mean,” he said as he stood and walked over to me. “I get it. I get now what an ass I am and how I run away from the things I should be running toward. I don’t want to leave, Michelle. I don’t want to leave ever again. I want to stay here and make things better again. I want to prove to you and the kids and to him”—he put his hand on my belly—“that I can be a good dad again. I promise. I can do it. Please let me.”

The corners of my eyes stung as I gently pushed his hand away. “Go.”

“No. I’m not,” he said adamantly as he took my hands in his. “I want to stay and talk to you. I’m not running any more, from this or from anything else. Ever again. Let me fix this.”

One single tear dripped down my cheek and I shook my head. “Viper, I can’t do this with you right now. I’m supposed to be taking it easy and this is not easy.” My whole body strained as I tried to keep the rest of the tears in.

“Okay, okay. Please don’t cry. The last thing I want to do is upset you.” He took a deep breath. “I’m gonna go and let you calm down. You let me know when you’re ready and we’ll talk, okay? No fighting. Just talking.” His eyes moved back and forth between mine, hopeful as he waited for my answer. “Okay?” he repeated when I didn’t respond.

“Fine,” I resigned, pulling my hands back from his.

“Okay,” he said with a relieved nod. “I’ll be on the porch.”

“Wait. What?” I frowned as he grabbed his hoodie from the back of the kitchen chair and threw it over his head.

“I meant what I said. I’m not running and I’m not leaving. You just let me know when you’re ready for me and we’ll talk.” He gave me a tight smile and headed out the front door without another word.

I stood in the kitchen with my arms wrapped around myself, convinced that I’d been abducted by aliens and dropped into The Twilight Zone. I rubbed my forehead with my fingertips and waited to see if I heard his car start in the driveway, but I never did. Tiptoeing quietly to the front of the house, I peeked out the dining room window. Sure enough, Viper was sitting on the bench on my porch with his arms folded over his chest.

What a stubborn, stubborn man.

Fine. If he wanted stubborn, I was going to give him stubborn. I was in a warm, cozy house and he was sitting on a front porch in Minnesota in December wearing nothing but a hoodie. We’d just see who caved faster.

Over the next hour, I caught up on all the laundry, scrubbed my powder room top to bottom, and found any excuse to walk near the front of the house, just to see if he was still out there. So far, absolutely no movement from him.

When Matthew and Maura woke up from their naps, they asked where Viper was. I had to think fast, so I told them he was on the front porch having a time-out. They spent the next several hours going back and forth from their playroom to the front window to make funny faces at him.

It was getting late and I was running out of steam.

“Hey, guys, we’re gonna go up and do your baths early tonight, okay? Then we’ll do dinner after.”

Used to their baths being the last thing of the night, they both started to complain.

“If you guys go upstairs without a fight, I’ll let you take your bath together just this one time.” I dangled an elusive carrot in front of them to get them to listen to me.

They both turned and hustled up the stairs without another word.

I ran the warm bath and poured an extra capful of bubbles into the tub. They each grabbed a couple of toys from their room and sprinted to the bathroom. I let them splash and play, basically washing themselves, for a long while as I sat on the floor next to the tub, trying to avoid their splashes. After I dried them off and put them in toasty jammies, we all headed downstairs to find one dinner.

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