It’s that peace, and the fact that she’s obviously trying—with Sarah, with me, and with the universe—that has me moving over to hug her. It isn’t something I do often, so I’m not sure who’s more startled by the action, my mom or me.

Still, she hugs me back and even pats my arm. “Eat your pancakes before they get cold.”

It’s pretty much as close to an I love you as my mother gets on non-holidays, so I take it.

Breakfast is a lot more subdued than most of yesterday, but once my stomach is full and the Tylenol has kicked in, I feel a million times better. Which is a good thing because, even though I have a hangover and the mother of all cricks in my neck, I still have a job to do. A job that starts with raiding Nick’s garage for his lawn mower and ends with my grass actually getting cut.

A deal is a deal, after all, and he stuck around through way more yesterday than I would ever have asked him to. And since I start work in the morning, it’s time I keep up my end of the bargain.

After taking care of the breakfast dishes—Sarah and Mom cooked, so I cleaned—I run upstairs and change into a red tank top and my most comfortable pair of shorts. Then I grab my phone and head out the door and over to Nick’s.

Before he left last night, Nick mentioned that he’d be running errands most of the morning. I insisted he text me the code to his garage so I can get the mower, and he humored me—even though the look on his face said he didn’t expect me to be in any condition to mow the yard.

I may not be in any condition to mow, but I am going to do it anyway. After pulling up the text on my way across the street, I get into the garage without a problem. And since I’m braced for it, I’m not even surprised by the obsessive neatness of the space, complete with printed labels above each of the tools he has hanging over his large workbench.

I am, however, shocked by the size of his lawn mower. And sadly, that isn’t even a euphemism.

To begin with, the thing is a Honda, and forget a lawn mower, the engine on it looks like it could probably power a small SUV. Plus, it’s wide. Like really, really wide. And I know it says it’s self-propelled like my vacuum, but I’d be lying if I admitted I don’t have a few doubts about how I’m going to control this thing.

I glance over at my grass. Each green blade looks like it has somehow managed to grow another six inches overnight. Maybe it’s good that he has a giant metal beast like this. I’m not sure anything else would get through my mini jungle.

The only problem? I have no clue how to get this bad boy to move.

Still, Google exists for a reason.

After I roll the mower across the street to my yard, I pull out my phone and technology teaches me how to start the beast and how to keep it revving afterward. Thank God for YouTube parents who post how-to videos.

Following the steps Ed from Topeka showcases in his video, I turn the fuel valve, move the flywheel break control to the run position, and then yank the starter cord. Nothing happens. Not a thing. I try again. And again. And again. My right arm is jelly now, so I try with my left until it is marshmallow fluff. I’m mentally running through every curse word I know, but I refuse to let this beast defeat me.

My breath is coming out in hard puffs when I turn back to Ed, saving a few curse words just for him. Forty-seven seconds into the video, I spot my mistake. I turn the fuel valve, adjust the choke throttle lever, move the flywheel break control to the run position, and pull the starter cord. The sound of the beast’s motor coming to life almost makes me pass out in joy.

It’s a helluva lot better than actually pushing the mower through my unruly grass. After three feet, though, I realize pretty much nothing is cut. What the actual fuck. So I turn back to Ed, who it’s clear now has left out some pretty important steps.

After scrolling through a few videos, I discover that I can’t mow my grass like they do on the Home Depot commercials. It’s too long. Instead, I have to do some circus-act routine where I lean backward so the front of the mower lifts up and then lower it onto a small section of grass slowly. I try the maneuver. It’s awkward and hard and my sorry excuse for arm muscles are aching like a bitch, but it works. Thank fucking sweet baby Jesus, it works.

An hour later, I’ve sweat out my brain—it’s totally possible—and even more of the stinky wet stuff is rolling down my face, my back, my generous-size thighs. It’s gross and miserable and all of that has to count for something, so with my last ounce of energy, I put the finishing touches on my message to the HOA, cut off the mower’s engine, collapse onto the section of still-to-be-mowed grass, and close my eyes.

If there are snakes slithering around in here, they can have me.

I am too damn tired to fight.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

   I’m not sure how long I lay in the hot sun, waiting for the snakes to attack.

Long enough for the foot-long grass to prick me through my clothes in every uncomfortable place imaginable.

Long enough for sweat to drip from every pore in my body.

More than long enough for me to wonder if I can hire a lawn service that takes sexual favors as payment. At this moment, I am happy to give as many blow jobs (condoms required) as necessary if it means I never have to do this again.

I’ve just begun contemplating whether I have the strength of will to crawl to the door in the back of the house or if I’m just going to die right here—not going to lie, the fact that dying on my front lawn is probably against HOA regulations makes the second option oh so much more appealing. I’m about to decide if I’m going to expire while flipping off the neighborhood or not when something moves between the burning sun and me.

“I’m impressed.” Nick’s warm, gravelly voice interrupts my final plan to stick it to the Huckleberry Hills HOA. “That had to take some effort.”

I open one eye (because two seems like too much investment) and look up. “It did. A lot of effort. And now I’m going to die.”

I close my eye again and would have totally tried for final death throes, but I’m afraid it will only make me sweat more.

“You are the strangest woman I have ever met,” he says with a bemused laugh.

“That’s not true.” This time I don’t even bother to open my eyes. “You knew Aunt Maggie, queen of the psychedelic vibrators.”

“True. But she left them to you, so you’ve inherited the title.” He doesn’t sound the least bit upset about the fact that I’m a little odd, not the way Karl would have been. Back when we were first married, he always complained when I danced a little in line at the post office or sang my favorite song while shopping in the produce aisle or wore my favorite red shoes anywhere.

At first, I stopped doing those things around him because I didn’t like making him feel uncomfortable. Eventually, I stopped doing them at all. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop. I just got out of the habit of being happy.