Kacie’s face lifted and her sad eyes moved from Michelle to me and back again. “Wait. Seriously?”

“Seriously.” Michelle’s gaze dropped to her hands where she played with her fingers nervously.

“Holy shit,” Brody mumbled under his breath. “That’s too bad. I’m so sorry, guys.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Michelle lifted her face to Brody. “Michael’s here and healthy and we’re very lucky.”

The room was silent for a minute.

“Yeah,” I added. “And he’s also lucky because since he’ll be the last kid till grandbabies, we’re obviously going to spoil the shit out of him.” I shrugged.

“Wait a minute.” Brody straightened up and raised his hands. “Did my best friend, Lawrence Finkle, really just say something about grandbabies?”

“Yeah, I did, asshole. You got a problem with it?” I teased.

“Shhh!” Kacie hissed. “No swearing in front of the baby. I really don’t think you want his first word to be asshole, do you?”

“Hell no. His first word is gonna be daddy. I can feel it.” I beamed.

Kacie glanced at Michelle and rolled her eyes playfully. “You really need to keep him away from your pain meds.”

Brody and Kacie left a little while later and it was just me, Michelle, and Michael in the quiet room. Michelle had insisted that I climb into bed and sit with her again, but within seconds of me scooting up next to her, she was asleep on my shoulder.

Some people walk through the doors of parenthood with excitement and open arms. Others, like me, are dragged through it kicking and screaming in resistance. As I sat in that room with Michelle sound asleep against my shoulder, Michael sound asleep in my arms, and Matthew and Maura on my mind, I thought about the scars I had on my hands from white-knuckling the door trim as hard as I could.

Brody was right. Fate didn’t ask permission and she didn’t give you warnings, but she had a way of balancing your life when you didn’t even know it needed to be balanced, and calming even the wildest of hearts.

 

 

Two Months Later . . .

 

“Every single thing hurts,” Kacie whined. “My hair hurts. My eyelashes hurt. My whole body hurts.”

“I don’t even think I can walk to the car,” I added.

We sat in the big, dark red booth at Brody and Viper’s new bar, The Penalty Box. It was three o’clock in the morning after the big grand opening party, and we had all clearly underestimated how old we really were.

“Who’s dumb idea was this bar thing anyway?” Viper asked. He was lying flat on his back on the wood floor, staring up at the ceiling.

“If I had the energy, I’d get up and kick you right in the junk,” Brody said dryly. He had lined up four bar stools and was lying across them on his stomach.

“We were pretty packed tonight though, huh?” Viper said, a little more upbeat.

“Yeah.” Kacie groaned as she sat up. “The line was out the door and around the block. I have a feeling this place will be like that for a while.”

“I hope so. I really don’t want to have to kill Viper to pay this loan off.” Brody pushed himself off the stools and looked around the room. “Holy shit. This place is trashed.”

I sat up, scooted to the end of the booth, and surveyed the damage. Confetti and streamers covered the floor. Dozens of glasses, half-full of beer, littered every table. There was even a random high heel abandoned in the corner. “It is trashed, but it’s still so damn beautiful.”

Like someone shocked his system back to life, Viper jumped up from the floor and looked around his new adventure with excited eyes. “It really is badass.”

The Penalty Box was a sports memorabilia collector’s mothership. Framed jerseys, hockey sticks, and bats covered the walls. Shelves with baseballs, golfballs, and basketballs sprinkled every corner and then some. Of course there was a heavy emphasis on the Minnesota Wild, but that was to be expected. After all, it was Brody and Viper’s bar.

Without a doubt, the most amazing part of the entire space was the oversized booth in the far back corner. It was a place just for Brody, Viper, and their friends and family. Above the booth hung a place setting that read “Head of Our Table—Mike Asher #88” with one of Mike’s old jerseys framed over it. I had no idea they’d planned that until I got there earlier that evening. I hadn’t seen a lot of it, actually. Viper was so excited, and so proud, that he refused to let me into the bar until it was completely finished. Brody had done the same thing with Kacie.

When we got there tonight, an hour before the grand opening, we were both speechless as we walked around and looked at everything closely. Brody and Viper specifically skipped hiring a designer because they wanted to do all of the decorating themselves, and surprisingly they did an amazing job, picking out every single detail personally.

“Should we do anything before we leave?” Kacie asked through a yawn.

Brody shook his head. “No. I have a crew coming in to clean up at eight o’clock because I figured it would be extra messy after the grand opening.”

“Good.” Viper clapped loudly. “Then I’m going to make sure everything is locked up in back and we’re getting the hell out of here. I’m exhausted.”

 

“I still can’t believe you guys actually pulled it off,” I said, still in awe, as Viper drove us home.

“I can’t either,” he replied. “Brody was so against it at the beginning, but the more we got into it, the more excited we got.”

“I’m proud of you.”

He reached over and grabbed my hand, pulling it to his lips. “I’m kinda proud of me, too.” He kissed the top of my hand and put it down but didn’t let go. “I have a surprise for you.”

My head turned toward him. “What surprise?”

“Don’t be mad, you promise?”

“Oh boy.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Fine. I won’t be mad.”

“You know how Taylor was here with the kids? Well, I asked her to take them to her house and keep them overnight.”

“You did?”

He nodded. “I was sure we were gonna be really late, and you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months now, so I figured we could sleep in and then go pick them up at her house.” He peeked at me from the corner of his eye. “You’re not pissed, are you?”