Along Came a Spider 2/C16

A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Chapter 16

Despite her reassurances, when Bella returned inside after speaking with my dad last night, I knew it hadn’t gone well. Her forced smile mixed with Charlie’s steely demeanor and my parents’ decisive exit at Mom’s prompting said it all. Dad crossed a line. Or many lines, if I had to guess. It isn’t how I hoped the dinner would go with our families together for the first time, but foolishly, I was optimistic.

Once we were alone later, Bella still wasn’t willing to divulge the details of their conversation, only sharing that he’s looking out for my best interests, but so is she, and left it at that. While I didn’t push, I suspect it’s because repeating any comments from Dad could sever my relationship with him completely. I know how he can be. And I know her. She wouldn’t want to be any part of the reason for that.

Even though he’s retired, Dad still has a lot of connections in the hockey world at all levels of play. While rumors run rampant in our league, I doubt my father is working with Jake as Bella believes. He could have heard about the details of those deals from anyone, including reporters looking to confirm the latest news. I have always considered his advice in the past, but ultimately, my decisions were mine. Or at least I thought they were mine. Looking back . . . maybe they weren’t.

Regardless, I shouldn’t dwell on things I can’t change, and I need to remain in a positive mindset that eventually, everything will get better. I’m hopeful one day Dad will accept Bella and our relationship, but only time will prove that to him. Until then, I’m certain he sees her as a temporary distraction in my career. For me, there’s nothing temporary about her. She’s my bigger picture and will be involved with all decisions moving forward. I need to remember that whatever was said between them, it wasn’t enough to push her away or cause her to second-guess the growing relationship between us. And that’s all that matters.

Even though Bella may not feel as if she prevailed favorably from last night’s conversation, I’m confident, without all the details, she did better than she believes. She’s tough, supportive, and loyal. Everything I need in a partner, and hopefully, everything I’m giving her as well.

After breathing through the last positions of my pregame stretching routine, I do my best to recenter my thoughts to our task for this evening. Before I return to our locker room to finish getting dressed, I stop by one of our workout rooms to grab a snack, and notice some of my buddies hanging out at a table eating. With less than an hour before warmups, I select a turkey and spinach wrap, reach for a banana, then join them.

“Hey, guys.”

“Spider. What’s the good word?” Marcus asks, leaning back in his chair.

“Win tonight, as always, but I also have good news,” I share, then take a bite of my wrap.

“Oh? What’s up?”

I lower my voice. “I have the ring.”

Vladdy’s smile soon matches mine. “Yeah?”

I nod. “Your aunt shipped it to Carmen’s studio with the paintings of Scout and Shadow.”

“You like it?” he asks.

“Yeah. It’s fantastic. Carmen is keeping it for me, so I don’t pull a Fin, and Doc finds it by accident,” I tease Demir who only shakes his head. “Now, I need to figure out how best to propose to Doc. Any recommendations?”

Demir grins. “I recommend a trip to Mexico.”

“That’s already been done. You’re no help.” I look over at Marcus. “What about Deedee? What did you do?”

“We eloped.” Marcus shrugs. “We were in Lake Tahoe on vacation and it had been in the back of my mind prior to the trip. The first night we’re there—having a romantic dinner, and I’m thinking to myself, what are we waiting for? She’s it. I want this forever. I want her forever. I didn’t propose an engagement. I proposed a wedding ceremony as soon as possible. And lucky for me, she agreed. We reached out to a wedding elopement planner nearby, who handled everything, and days later, we were married. Just us. No family. It was intimate, stress-free, and perfect for us.”

“So, you didn’t buy an engagement ring?” I ask after finishing another bite.

“No, I didn’t. I picked out two wedding bands at a local jeweler,” Marcus explains. “Real simple. She wears hers all the time and I wear mine off the ice. But I’ve given her other rings for her birthdays and our wedding anniversaries. I don’t believe it’s something she feels as if she’s missing out on having.”

“How did your families handle the news that they missed out on your big day?” I wonder, thinking there’s no way Bella would agree not to include at least her parents.

“They were disappointed, but we threw a wedding reception style party a few months later, which smoothed over any ruffled feathers. We did it the way we wanted—when we wanted. Our choices. No one else’s,” Marcus defends. “We donated the money that we would have spent on our wedding to a local charity. That fact alone made Deedee happy, which means I’m happy.”

I shift my focus to Vladdy. “How did you propose to Nissa?”

“It is different in Russia. I asked her question. No ring.”

“And she said yes immediately?”

“Spider, I’m hurt. You doubt my charm?” Vladdy grins.

I chuckle. “Not at all.”

“I gave her a bouquet of wildflowers after she said yes. We were married two months later.” Vladdy peels away the wrapper from the last bite of his power bar. “Looking back, she would have preferred Western tradition of engagement ring, plus long-stem roses, instead of hand-picked wildflowers. Nissa is impressed by extravagance, which I learned once we were married.”

“I have no idea what to do.” Shaking my head, I finish my wrap in just a few more bites.

Marcus downs the last of his drink, then twists the cap back on the bottle. “Obviously, the proposal and engagement are important to you.”

I nod my agreement because Marcus knows I want to do everything right this time, which includes a yes from Bella for me. I need that.

“So, choose to propose in a way that will make it special for her. Is Doc coming to the game tonight?”

“No. She’s watching at home with her parents.”

Demir clears his throat. “How long are they visiting?”

“I don’t know. I believe they could be here to stay. We’ll see.”

“You’ll figure it out.” Marcus checks the time. “We need to get dressed.”

At everyone’s agreement, we each toss our empty bottles, wrappers, and plates, then return to the dressing room. I keep to myself, working through my remaining pregame rituals before sliding on my final pieces of equipment and uniform. Since I’m not the starter this evening, I’m one of the last to join the team as we step out onto the ice for warmups.

While I continue to stretch and remain loose, Ben defends the net against numerous practice shots from our teammates. With about ten minutes until game time, we exit the ice, listening to Coach’s final reminders before James reads the starting lineups for tonight, pumping everyone up for game time. When we gather in the hallway once more to take the ice, we’re all vibrating with energy.

Moving into our spots on the ice and bench, we listen to the Canadian and American national anthems, then the puck drops at center ice and we’re underway. Ben is tested early and often through Toronto’s relentless offensive attack. They hold the blue line, shifting the ice quickly to deliver the first goal of the game. Golden opportunities evade us as our power play fails to produce. When we finally capitalize on a neutral zone giveaway, a goal from one of our younger players evens the score before the first intermission.

At the beginning of the second period, quick passing and pure explosive speed by Toronto from the drop of the puck finds us on our heels. We aren’t finishing our checks, and we’re getting beaten in every matchup. With multiple second chances, they fire away at Ben until another puck eventually slips past him, giving them the lead two to one.

It’s only a one-goal game, but Coach is livid with our sloppy play. He hurls his displeasure in every direction, asking if we’re watching or playing in this game. While we’re not out of it by any means with plenty of time still on the clock, Coach fumes at us, the refs, and anyone within earshot until his face is beet red.

Unfortunately, things don’t improve. While we’re trying to make a line change, we turn over the puck, leaving Ben to face an odd-man rush barreling toward him. Ben makes the save, deflecting the puck away before a Toronto player collides heavily into his body.

When Ben fails to get up, play is whistled dead, but that doesn’t stop everyone from pairing off with insults flying immediately. I notice James’s shouting escalates to trading punches in the corner with the player who hit Ben. Once James and the Toronto player can’t remain on their skates, rolling around on the ice, the linesmen step in, separating the two. After sending them both to the penalty box, they continue shouting at one another.

With one of our medical trainers out on the ice, I shift my focus to Ben. It takes longer than expected for him to return to his feet, and I keep an eye on Coach who is giving one of the refs hell while gesturing wildly with his arms. Watching the overhead replay of the collision, I notice the way Ben falls backward and at an odd angle that the concern is for his right leg, possibly his knee. After Ben skates to the side and back a couple of times, he gives our trainer a nod that he’s able to remain in the game.

Once play continues, Toronto shoots a puck off of the goal post before capturing the rebound and feeding it back to the blue line. Ben struggles to reset into position, and it’s only seconds later when their defenseman shoots again, but this time, the puck rockets past Ben, putting them up three to one.

As the final seconds tick down for the period, Tyler steals the puck, then holds it for a beat, which is long enough for Vladdy to catch up as the trailer. The timing of Tyler’s next pass is spot-on as Vladdy elevates the puck, shooting it into the back of the net, and he keeps us within one when the horn sounds for the second intermission.

There are whispers of concern surrounding Ben in the locker room before the start of the third period, but when I give him a questioning look, he shakes his head, leading the team back on the ice, ready to play. Whatever he’s tweaked, he’s playing through it. Toronto’s fourth goal hits the back of the net after a face-off. With a review of the replay and lack of a reaction from Ben, I’m wondering if he even saw it, as their lead increases four to two.

Vladdy continues his onslaught around the net, pushing and shoving his way to gain a better position over their defensemen. Through Vladdy’s tenacious work, his screen of their goaltender is enough to provide Demir the opportunity he needs. Sending the puck from the blue line over their goaltender’s shoulder, Demir’s goal keeps us within one.

With a minute left, Coach waves Ben off the ice and he hurries onto the bench, giving us an extra attacker. Toronto’s goaltender makes an incredible glove save on a shot by James, leading us to a final face-off. While Tyler wins the face-off, we lose possession and Toronto scores an empty net goal, ending the game with a win, five to three as time runs out.

It’s a disappointing loss when they’re a highly offensive team with some of the best scorers in the league, but so is Tampa Bay, and we prevailed against them on Monday night. With every game critical in the second half of the season, we need to do better if we’re going to have any hope of making the playoffs, let alone winning the Cup.

Regardless, I have no doubt there is a lingering concern for Ben’s injury simmering in the back of everyone’s minds, including his. I know it’s in mine because I’ve been there and played through those. Without proper rest and recovery, it makes the hill we’re on even more challenging.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

The next morning, Bella is eagerly off to work while her parents leave with a plan to do some sightseeing around Dallas. After my morning skate, I don’t return home immediately, and drive toward another destination in mind—Mane Attraction. As I step through the doorway, a chime announces my arrival and I approach the reception desk.

The man looks up with surprise. “Good afternoon, how can I help you?”

“I’m here for a haircut.”

“Okay. Do you have an appointment?” he asks.


“I’m sorry, but we don’t accept walk-ins. I can check our next available appointment for you.” He taps on the keyboard and returns his eyes to the computer screen. “Currently, we’re booking six months out.”

“For a haircut?”

He grins. “That’s correct.”

“Nothing today?”


“No cancellations?” I prompt, trying to find any angle I can think of into their appointment calendar.


“I’m a friend of the owner,” I say, looking around, hoping he’ll appear suddenly. But he’s nowhere in sight, and I concede a little. “Well, I’m a friend of a friend of Al’s.”

“Aren’t we all?” He raises a challenging eyebrow, as if he doesn’t believe me.

I shake my head. “Isn’t Al here?”

“Alistair is currently on his lunch break,” he shares hesitantly.

“Oh. I’ll wait.”

The man tilts his head in question. “I’m sorry. What would you be waiting for?”

“Al. Does he have a station or something where I can sit?”

“And your name is?”


“Mr. Edward—” he starts.

“It’s Cullen, not Edward. Cullen is my last name.”

“Mr. Cullen, please take a seat with the others. Once Alistair returns, I’ll let him know you’re here.” He dismisses me with a wave of his hand toward the couch.


Moving toward one of the open seats in the waiting area, I settle into a spot as those already waiting glance up from their phones and magazines, pretending not to watch my every move curiously. Having attracted the attention of anyone within hearing distance at my arrival, I don’t miss how various employees walk past where I’m sitting to select products from the nearby shelves. Others stop at the reception desk, verifying their next appointments before their eyes land on me.

Despite their blatant perusal, it doesn’t seem that anyone recognizes me, and with a quick check of my watch, I wonder how long Al will be. My gaze returns to the receptionist who is still watching me suspiciously. We exchange brief smiles, then I slip my phone from my pocket and attempt to appear busy.

An excruciating twenty minutes later, I recognize a voice from somewhere in the back of the salon, increasing as he approaches the front desk. I drop the magazine I wasn’t reading onto the coffee table, sitting a little taller in my seat. I’m next. Or I’m determined to be next.

“Afton, is my next—Oh!” When his eyes land on me, Al clutches his chest. “Good heavens and Judy Garland’s ghost! Edward, what are you doing here?”


“Hey, Al. I wanted to get a haircut,” I explain as my eyes shift to Afton. “But apparently, that’s not possible today.”

“What?” Al squeals with a high-pitched shriek. “You want a haircut? Oh my goodness. Of course it is. We can rearrange . . . things.”

“No, we can’t. We’re staying on track,” Afton warns. “You don’t have any—”

“Pffft.” Al waves off his concerns. “I always have time for Edward. Come on back.”

I stand gleefully, winning Al’s favor to a disappointed Afton who releases a heavy sigh. Al leads me toward a chair in front of a lighted mirror, then attaches a cape around my neck.

“This is such a wonderful surprise. So, what are we thinking?” he asks, barely touching my hair. “Shampoo and maybe a little trim?”

“Um . . .” I shift in the seat, then remove the little black box from my pocket. Revealing it from under the cape, I set it on the counter in front of me as Al freezes in place and his eyes widen. “What I really need is your help with this.”

“Oh. My. Goodness!” Al exclaims, then covers his mouth while his eyes shift between my reflection and the box. When he can finally speak, he whispers, “Is that what I think it is?”

My smile grows, and I nod. “I’m going to ask her to marry me, and I hope I’ll have your support.”

“I can’t look at it. Aaaack! Don’t show it to me. Okay, show it to me. No, don’t show it to me. I can’t see it.” Al protests, “Why? Why would you do this to me? I’ll never—never—be able to keep this to myself. I don’t have that kind of willpower. Well, that’s it. I need to avoid her.”

I chuckle at his dramatics.

“Oh, God. There’s no avoiding her,” he cries, then slumps with defeat. “She’ll text or call me. I can’t have a phone. Step one, eliminate my phone. I’ll lose it. Afton!” Al pauses, removing his phone from where it’s sitting on a shelf as the man joins us. “Here. Take my phone! Don’t tell me where it is unless Gare needs something.”

“Oh-kay,” Afton agrees with a puzzled look on his face, then returns to the front desk with Al’s phone.

Al gasps, then lowers his voice. “But what if she shows up here? We’ll need to cancel all my appointments. Or-or she comes to the house? Maybe Gare can tell her I’m ill and can’t have any visitors. I have the plague or something contagious. Deadly. Oh, no. We are supposed to have dinner together tomorrow night with her parents. Oh, Edward! How long do I have to keep up this charade?”

“Hopefully, not long,” I reassure.

“A day?” he asks optimistically. “Dear goodness. A week? Please, please don’t say a month.”

“I don’t know. I thought—weren’t you an actor or something?”

“But this is real. She’s my girl,” he whines.

“Well, I need enough time to figure out how to propose. I don’t know how long that will take. I want to do it right. Or whatever is right for her. Any ideas?”

“You want my ideas? I think I may cry. Okay, I’m crying.” He reaches for a tissue and dabs his eyes while sniffing away a few tears. “I mean, who gets to help plan their bestie’s proposal?”

I chuckle. “I’m hoping you. And I need your help with something else too.”

“Edward, my heart can’t take much more.” He holds out a trembling hand. “I’m shaking so much that I hope you weren’t serious about getting a haircut. The one time you come to me for your hair—your gorgeous head of hair—and I’m choking.”

“It’s a surprise for Doc’s parents that we have to keep between us.” I add, “For now.”

“More secrets?” His heavy sigh is full of dramatic exasperation, but I suspect he’s thrilled to be in the know. “Okay, tell me. Tell me everything. I hope I don’t combust. What is it? Are you going to make me swoon? Or cry again? Oh, God, it’s probably both, isn’t it?”

“Uh . . .”

“And what are we thinking with the proposal? Casual? Extravagant? Tears? No tears? Who are we kidding? Of course, there will be tears. Oh! I think we need to cancel my appointments for the rest of the day or have someone else take them. Afton!”