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“For the fifth and hopefully last time,” my dad says with faux frustration, “I’m good. Dandy. Peachy keen. Stop asking.”

I snicker and slip the last dinner plate into the dishwasher. I brought him home from the hospital this morning and I have to admit, he looks good. In fact, he probably could have come home yesterday, but out of an abundance of caution, Dr. Furhman requested he stay an extra night for some more antibiotics given via IV. Last night while dad noshed on some low-sodium hospital chicken and I ate a questionable meatloaf from the cafeteria, we watched the Cold Fury play their first home game of the preseason on the flat-screen TV affixed to the wall. I had offered to come in to work for the game, but Bruce told me to stay with my dad. I expect this is because they really don’t need me anyway, because this job was pretty much created just for my dad’s and my benefit. But still, it’s fortuitous that I can have some flexibility with Dad’s illness.

I was also a little grateful to avoid the opportunity to run into Hawke, who has knotted my gut up tight this week. It seems he and I are nothing but up and down since we’ve crossed paths again. We have a few days of polite existence, then we snap at each other. We have phenomenal sex, then we give cold shoulders. We focus on the present but then get mired in the past.

Up and down. Up and down.

It’s been two days since I saw Hawke in the workout room. True to his word, he came and visited my dad yesterday, but did so early in the morning before I got to the hospital. When my dad told me I had just missed him when I walked in, I was equal parts happy and dismayed. This twisted my gut further, and didn’t lessen in the slightest as we watched him play a fantastic game last night. He’s been a tremendous addition to this team, and you can tell he’s slotted in as seamlessly as a round peg fits in a customized hole. The Cold Fury slaughtered the Florida Spartans 5–1 and Hawke got a shorthanded goal after poking away a poor pass attempt on a Spartan power play. My heart zinged with adrenaline and joy over the play, even as my heart was dark from the way we had left things on Wednesday in the workout room.

And I hadn’t gotten Dad settled in his recliner this morning with the remote control in his hand for more than thirty minutes when Hawke called to check on him. I was gathering my phone, purse, and keys, getting ready to head out the door to make a quick grocery run, when the phone rang and Dad answered it. His voice was so damned buoyant and joyful when he said, “Hawke, my boy. Great to hear from you.”

Years have passed with bitter and bruised feelings in between, but my dad seems to have cast it all aside. He’s accepted Hawke back into his life as if they’d never lost touch. I’d like to do the same too, but that just hasn’t been achieved as of yet.

I wonder if it ever will be.

While my dad chattered away on the phone with Hawke—talking mostly about the game last night—I loitered around, eavesdropping. My dad recognized this as he shot a glance over at me standing near the door, then followed it up with a knowing smirk. I rolled my eyes, glared at him, and then stomped out of the room.

I close the dishwasher door, the remnants of our roasted pork loin and garlic broccoli just a vague aroma left in the air. After giving my hands a quick wash, I grab my cell phone from the kitchen table and head back to my bedroom to call Avery. She and I text each other pretty much every day, but we do try to touch base by phone at least once a week.

When the home screen illuminates, I see a waiting text. A quick tap of my finger on the icon and I see it’s from Todd.

Just checking in to see how you’re doing. How’s Dave?

Dear, sweet Todd.

We’ve talked by phone once since we parted ways, and he’s sent me a couple of texts. Despite the way I broke things off with him, he’s still kept in touch with me. He said, “I’m still your friend, Vale.”

And I suppose that’s true, but I can tell he’s harboring hope we’ll somehow make this work. While I don’t have any romantic interest in him now that I’ve broken ties, I don’t hate him. I don’t dislike him. On the contrary, I still very much like and admire the man I know him to be. While I never really thought being friends with an ex is possible, it seems that Todd is making a valiant attempt to disprove me, but again, I think he has an ulterior motive, so I need to be careful with him. I don’t want to give him false hope.

I shoot a quick text back. We’re both good. Home from hospital and all settled in. How are you?

I don’t wait for Todd to respond. It’s still working hours for a dentist and he normally doesn’t leave his clinic until after six p.m. I’m sure he’s armpit deep in cavities at this moment.

Instead, I dial Avery and she picks up on the third ring. “Your damn mutt is getting on my last nerve. She’s just eaten the third pair of Thomas’s socks this week. She’s a menace, I tell you.”

“That’s all on you, sweetie,” I tell her with a laugh. “If you’d put the socks in the laundry basket when you took them off his little feet, Piper wouldn’t be inclined to eat them.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she mutters. “I hear you.”

“How is my girl doing?” I ask, my chest constricting at the thought of Piper nearly fifteen hundred miles away. I sit on the edge of my bed and reach out to finger a framed picture of me and Piper on the bedside table. Her chocolate-brown face with a slightly pink nose, tongue lolling out the side of her face. We both look so happy in this photo and it seems so long ago. A picture of me and Todd had been next to it, but I put that in the drawer the day after we broke up. I couldn’t stand to look at his face, knowing that I hurt him.

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