A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “She’s Everything,” Brad Paisley
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
My hockey career and travel go hand-in-hand—from amateur youth tournaments to professional ice arenas abroad. If there is a sheet of ice and a net somewhere—anywhere, I have always been hell-bent to defend it. It’s been my life for . . . as long as I can remember. The crease has been my “home.” And now, I’m realizing that idea has been a misnomer for decades.
“Home” is something I haven’t had—maybe since my father died—until now. I can’t remember a time in my life when it’s been this difficult to leave. Especially, knowing Bella will be at home in our bed every night. Or getting ready for work in our bathroom every morning. Living together is shifting something deep inside of me again.
I don’t want to go.
But I know I can’t stay. And she can’t go.
So, while I know better than to do it, I sacrifice my sleep schedule to love her for a little longer and hold her a little tighter, kissing every spot that I know drives her wild over and over.
Making every moment count is taking on new meaning. With Bella. With my team. On the ice and off. Even though James sits at my side during our Friday afternoon flight, I wish it were Bella, instead. Our trip to Mexico spoiled me in ways I didn’t anticipate. And now, my schedule is back in full force, pulling me away from her.
I know she’s busy with patients and will be having dinner this evening with Garrett, Al, and her parents, but I wish I were there too. If only to sit next to her. Or slide my arm around the back of her chair while she nestles herself against my side. Or hold her hand under the table while we laugh with the others over shared stories or inside jokes just between us.
Fuck, I miss her.
This road trip isn’t as long as when we were apart during her trip back to Forks prior to her mother’s surgery. While the original plan was for two weeks apart, I made it just over a full week before I bagged my trip in Aspen and went to Seattle. I’m not sure why I feel as if I’m struggling more with this trip.
It’s true that things between us are different now. We’re trying for a baby and I’m making big plans—all that include her. One of the biggest—retirement—weighs heavily on my mind with my audition on Sunday. Maybe my trouble is with the realities of what landing that position truly means. While it would be easier on me physically and keep me in the middle of our sport, it’s still being away from her constantly, which is giving me second thoughts.
Releasing a deep sigh, I wonder if another countdown will help the time to pass a little more easily. After inputting my return date into my phone, I stare at the screen.
4 Days. 14 Hours. 9 Minutes. 22 Seconds.
Four days or fourteen days, it doesn’t matter. I still feel like shit. I can’t text her. Or maybe I shouldn’t text her. I don’t want to be a distraction. Hoping I can wait until bedtime to call her from the hotel as we planned, I open my photos app and flip through the ones from last night.
While over half of a million dollars was raised—a new fundraising record for the foundation—we both managed auction wins. Bella has the new painting of me for her office, which thrills me to no end. I won both of the framed Miracle auction items—the autographed jersey and photograph, much to Ben’s disappointment. My instincts were correct about his bidding against me when he later revealed he was hoping to win them. Carmen agreed to pick up our new acquisitions, then deliver mine to the house after dropping Bella’s off at her office.
It was a great night in so many ways.
Swiping through the photos, I realize I haven’t shared anything on my social media since Mexico, and attempt to choose a favorite photo of Bella in her sexy Spider dress that tortured me all night. At least until we got home and I took my time easing it from her body.
Paring down my selections to my top three selfies with only us, I create a new post, add the photos, then consider the caption for a moment. Do I even need one? Because the look on both of our faces says it all. Maybe something short.
Winning never felt this good.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
At the Prudential Center in New Jersey on Saturday evening, there’s a buzz of anticipation around our locker room with game time approaching. I’m not the only one who notices something is up when Coach, Tyler, Marcus, and James have a closed-door meeting until they emerge with Tyler shutting off the music. Coach nods and addresses the room.
“Guys, can I have your attention for a moment? Then you can finish getting ready.” Everyone quiets before he continues. “Great. You all know by now that character is built on the road. This—right here tonight—is where we grind it out with the opportunity to grab six points on this road trip, and it starts with each of you. We’re lucky. It may not feel like it some nights, but we are. We have a lot of great voices—natural team leaders in this room both on and off the ice, and I want to recognize those.”
He glances at Tyler before returning his focus toward us. “Tyler came to me with an idea, and we all agree with him that it’s the right move for the rest of the regular season. Marcus and Tyler will always wear A’s when we’re at home, but we’re going to start letting the A’s float around while we’re on the road. So, tonight, I’m happy to share that your alternate captains will be . . . Vladdy . . . and Fin.”
I look over at both, whose smiles can’t get any wider at this unexpected news. They each accept high-fives and knuckle bumps from everyone around them until one of the guys, who handles our uniforms, enters the room, changing out Vladdy’s and Demir’s game jerseys for ones with A’s reflecting their temporary promotions. After a few more whistles and shouts of congratulations when they try on their freshly amended jerseys, Coach holds up a finger, getting our attention once more.
“This doesn’t change how we play. I expect everyone in this room to give me your best. We play for the name on the front, not the one on the back. With a tough month ahead of us, let’s start it by taking two points tonight.”
That’s easier said than done.
Within minutes of the drop of the puck, we find ourselves falling into an unfortunate pattern—down by one goal and constantly battling to keep the game within reach. Our frustrations boil over with several unnecessary penalties until we settle down and continue to execute our game plan.
At the end of the first period, it escapes no one’s notice when Ben spends the intermission behind closed doors with one of our medical trainers. While I hope it isn’t anything serious, once we return for the second period, I watch Ben move without issue. Vladdy is tenacious around the net, chipping away at loose, second-chance pucks constantly until he sneaks one past their goaltender to even the score just before the horn sounds for the second intermission.
In the third period, we finally get a break when Tyler finds the back of the net with a one-timer, putting us ahead by one. Unfortunately, our lead doesn’t last long. When Ben loses his goalie stick, New Jersey scores on a deflected puck over his glove hand, evening the score two to two.
As time ticks down the last few seconds of regulation, Tyler has another opportunity, but fails to score, sending us to overtime. With the extra time on the clock, overtime is a battle of speed from one end of the ice to the other with missed opportunities for both teams until a shot by James bounces off the post. Marcus is in position to bury the rebound, giving us a three-two win.
Everyone is off the bench to congratulate Marcus, then Ben. It’s been a busy night for him with twenty-nine saves on thirty-one shots. While it wasn’t easy, we did it, adding two points to our total with Marcus named as the first and only star from our team for the night.
Once I finish my post-game workout and I’m getting dressed, our goaltending coach finds me. Quietly, he lets me know I’ll be starting Monday night against the Rangers, which is unusual to know this far in advance. I suspected I would get one of the starts during this road trip, but I was hoping it would be against my former team, the Islanders, on Tuesday night. Either way, I’ll take it. And I’ll be ready to play.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
The sound of a shrill whistle in the lobby of our hotel gets my attention. When I realize it’s directed at me, Vladdy is grinning from ear to ear as he closes the distance between us.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Finished my workout.” He uses the towel draped around his neck to wipe away the sweat on his forehead.
“Trying to keep my A.” He grins. “Where are you going dressed up? I thought football party is casual.”
“It is. I’ll be back in time for that.”
Vladdy looks around. “Is Doc here? You meeting her?”
“No. She isn’t.” I haven’t shared with Bella that my audition is today. I’m not sure why. Maybe just hoping to ease some of the pressure I’m feeling. I lower my voice. “I have a meeting this afternoon.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Probably. I’m trying to figure out my plans for retirement.”
His brow furrows at this news. “You’re retiring?”
“I don’t know.” I release a heavy sigh. “Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, of course, eventually. But, we’ll see how the rest of the season goes. Right now, I’m beginning to explore my future options.”
“Broadcasting. I have an audition,” I reveal. “My agent arranged it.”
Jake continuously discourages my interest in pursuing this avenue, which I suspect is because it means considerably less money for him, but at least he came through, getting me what I asked for.
“Oh.” Vladdy’s smile falls, and I don’t miss the disappointment etched in his tone.
“Why do you say it like that?”
“You’re not one of those guys.” He shrugs. “You look good on camera, but do you really just want to talk hockey? You’re more than that, Spider.”
“Well, how do you see me?” I wonder.
“Goaltending coach. Player development. Something where you’re making difference with young players or prospects,” he explains. “It’s waste for you to do anything else.”
“Well, don’t tell anyone. Doc doesn’t even know I’m auditioning today. I’ll call her later tonight once I’m back and let her know how it goes,” I confide. “If it goes anywhere at all.”
“I not tell anyone. You know what this means, right?”
His smile returns. “We have to win the Cup.”
“Yeah, we do,” I agree with a matching smile. “Sorry to cut this short, but I need to go. The car is waiting to take me to the studio.”
“Break leg,” he says with a nod, but his hopeful expression fades, mirroring my own. “What? Is that not right for luck?”
I chuckle hesitantly. “No, I suppose that’s right. I’m just not used to anyone telling me that.”
He shakes his head. “I take back. Don’t break leg. We need you healthy. Be you. They love you anyway.”
“Thanks. I’ll catch up with you later tonight.”
With a small wave, I exit the lobby to find my driver waiting outside. Once I’m settled in the backseat, the ride from the hotel to the broadcast facilities in Secaucus goes too quickly with nervous energy vibrating through me. I haven’t prepared or practiced anything as Jake recommended, hoping I can wing whatever questions or game footage they throw at me. It’s just talking about hockey. I do that all the time. My knee bounces until the car comes to a stop at the entrance of the building. With a few deep breaths, I step outside, straighten my dress pants, and button my suit jacket.
I’m here. This is it. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t give this my best shot. Maybe I fall flat on my face. Maybe I don’t. I suspect it will be similar to being interviewed, which I’ve done for years. I suppose it’s time to find out if I have what it takes as an on-air hockey analyst. It’s a little weird to think of myself as anything other than a goaltender, but I shake off my building insecurities and walk up the steps to the entrance.
After entering through the large glass doors, an intern, whose name I forget immediately—not a good start—is waiting in the lobby and leads me to a dressing room filled with framed hockey photos on the walls. I accept an offered bottle of water, and there’s some small talk about the Super Bowl game this evening, but I find it challenging to focus on football when I’m here to talk about hockey. Crouching lower, I glance in the lighted mirror and run my hands through my hair before taking a seat on the couch to wait.
With the departure of the intern, I check my watch repeatedly between sips of water. I can’t sit still, and stand to pace around the tiny room, looking through the framed photos for what feels like forever until the intern finally returns fifteen minutes later. He smiles reassuringly with the news that they’re ready for me, but requests a selfie and an autograph before we depart.
After I happily oblige, we walk through the maze of hallways until we arrive on the brightly lit set I recognize from seeing it on television. An older man wearing a well-worn Devils cap nods from where he sits behind a camera pointed at the angled desk. Another guy probably closer to my age with a headset holds a tablet computer, then sets down his coffee mug when he sees me.
“Edward.” He offers his hand for a brief shake. “I’m Dean.”
I smile. “Nice to meet you.”
“Logan, let’s get Edward mic’d up.” Dean points toward his ear. “Edward, if you will add the earpiece, then whenever you’re ready, you can take the last seat at the end of the desk.”
“Okay.” Slipping off my jacket briefly, I follow his instructions while Logan clips a small box to my belt, then attaches a microphone to the lapel of my jacket.
Dean looks on as Logan makes a few tweaks. “Typically, you would be interacting with an on-air host, but I’m the only one available today. So, I’ll join you at the desk, asking you questions off-camera. Any experience in this setting?”
“Only post-game interviews with reporters,” I share, but my answer is probably expected.
After a nod from Logan that I’m good to go, I step toward the desk, settling into the empty seat.
“Right. This is a little different.” Dean takes the seat at the other end of the desk. “You will divide your focus between looking toward me for answering questions or into the camera whenever you go more in depth. It’s your opportunity to share your passion for the sport and connect with viewers—fans who tune in for those behind-the-scenes details and stories. We have some recent game footage ready for you to watch from the monitor. You’ll probably recognize it.” He grins. “You offer a unique perspective as a goaltender and with your career of experience. We want to hear it. Relax and just be yourself. That’s who we hope to see.”
“Great. Got it.”
“Edward, can you hear the control room?” Dean asks.
“Hello, Edward. I’m Doug, the voice in your ear.”
“I can hear you,” I confirm.
Doug explains, “I’ll be the one counting you down and giving you cues. Try not to acknowledge me verbally or physically if you can.”
“Good. I have about six minutes of game footage for you to watch. I’ll play it twice, then we’ll give you a few minutes to collect your thoughts. Think about what stands out for you. Your experiences and how they relate. Dean will do a short intro with some questions and you will get an opportunity to discuss the footage. Don’t forget to sit up straight and smile.”
I release another steady breath, noting his advice. “Any chance I can look over the questions before we begin?”
Dean laughs. “And where would the fun be in that? We need to see how you react without knowing those ahead of time. Most on-camera banter is off-the-cuff. It’s some of the best, most natural footage we get.”
I grin. “I had to at least ask. I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s do this.”
“Okay. Watch your monitor, Edward,” Doug reminds. “Footage rolling in three . . . two . . . one.”
I chuckle when I recognize the game they’ve selected for me. It’s from last night between Calgary and Edmonton. The Battle of Alberta—one of hockey’s greatest rivalries. I saw clips of the game first thing this morning, specifically this moment. It is the top hockey story from all the games played last night. I thought or maybe hoped that our game against New Jersey would be what they wanted me to discuss today, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The clip playing is near the end of the second period with Calgary down by three goals, six to three, when all hell breaks loose, including fighting between goaltenders—a rarity. Both were given penalties for fighting and leaving their crease, which resulted in game misconducts, ending their nights. But that turn of events put the focus of the third period on the backup goaltenders. Calgary’s backup goaltender had started the game and was pulled when they were down four-one early in the second, but his night wasn’t over since he was expected to return to the game. Not an ideal situation for any goaltender.
There is no denying my turning down the starting goaltender position for Calgary is lingering in the back of my mind. Rewind back to before the All-Star break—if I had made a different decision and taken their offer, then that would have been me in that fight. I wouldn’t have thought twice about dropping the gloves when Edmonton’s goaltender left his crease and skated to center ice, inviting a fight with Calgary’s goaltender.
Regardless, I don’t need to see this one twice or any time to gather my thoughts, but watching it for a second time puts me more at ease, suspecting the types of questions I will soon be fielding.
At the conclusion of the clip, Dean asks. “Any other questions before we begin recording your audition?”
“What should I do with my hands?” I wonder. “On the desk? In my lap? Clasped? Or not?”
“Whatever you feel comfortable with Edward,” Dean says. “Do you gesture a lot with your hands when you speak? Because if you do, then you’ll need to minimize those movements since they can be distracting to the viewer.”
“I don’t think I do, but I never really thought about it before.” I try out a few combinations, but nothing feels comfortable. So, I shake out the tension building in my arms, then rest my elbows on the arms of the chair, leaving my hands unclasped in my lap.
“Camera one ready?” Doug asks through my earpiece.
“Camera one ready,” the operator confirms.
“Here we go, Edward.” Dean smiles. “Good luck.”
“Camera one recording,” Doug says once the red light on the top of the camera glows brightly. “Dean, you’re on—in three . . . two . . . one.”
After a brief pause, Dean begins. “Welcome to today’s episode of In the Crease, I’m Dean and joining me is Edward Cullen, the backup goaltender for the Dallas Stars. We’re glad to have you with us today.”
I grin. “It’s good to be here.”
“Currently, your team is on a road trip, playing three games in four nights. How do you prepare for the demands of this type of trip?” Dean asks.
Unsure of how concise or lengthy I need to be, I state the obvious. “We take them one game at a time.” There’s a gap of awkward silence when I don’t continue with any further explanation, but I’m not sure what else to say.
“Edward, keep going,” Doug encourages. “And turn toward the camera.”
I start to nod, then stop myself before shifting my focus. “Uh . . . travel makes every normal routine a challenge—nutrition, workouts, recovery, but especially, rest. There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed at home.”
Doug’s encouraging voice is softer in my earpiece. “Good, Edward. Nice and easy.”
Dean moves on to his next question. “Your team went to overtime last night against New Jersey. Tell me a little about that win.”
Okay. So, we are going to discuss it. I’m filled with relief.
“Um . . . well, it was a tough one. We fell behind at the start. Something we need to work on,” I concede before adding a few comments about our opponent. “They’re a great team with a lot of emerging talent. We knew they were going to test us, and they didn’t disappoint. This time of year, it’s important to be reliable and consistent with everyone looking toward the playoffs as those begin to take shape.”
“While your team was busy last night, there was another game that everyone is talking about today. The Battle of Alberta.” Dean asks, “Do you have a favorite going into that matchup?”
There’s zero chance I’ll choose one team over the other and hope for the most neutral response.
“Playoff hockey in February instead of May is always a favorite.”
Dean smiles. “Nice side-step.”
“The fans and the players love the rivalry with an emotional investment on both sides.” After a slight pause, I share what I recall from the current standings. “Those two teams are close in points, either tied or within one, which means every game counts.”
“Turn toward the camera,” Doug prompts quietly.
I follow his direction, then continue. “At this point in the season, there are less than thirty games remaining. Soon there will be twenty, then ten. It goes quickly. Of course, Calgary wants to win at home. If you look over the history between the two teams, they have the edge in the regular season, whereas Edmonton excels in the postseason.”
“We saw a lot of goaltender action last night. As a backup, how challenging is it to step into a game of that nature without any warm up time?”
“Immensely. We try to stay loose, always ready to step in for any reason. Every game is different and a goaltender can never predict when they will be needed.”
“Goaltender fights.” Dean smiles. “Thumbs up or down?”
“Definitely up.” I grin, knowing that for the viewer that is the only correct answer. “The crowd loves any fight, but it’s important to examine what started the scrums. When a player comes in with a late hit or continues to jab for a puck after a whistle, there isn’t a goaltender in the league who wouldn’t want to retaliate. Have they done so in the past? Probably not. Someone else stepped in, because as goaltenders, we’re trained not to let our emotions get the best of us.”
“Ever been in a fight before?” Dean asks.
“On or off the ice?” I tease before sharing my answer. “Yeah, sure. It can get a little hairy in juniors.”
Dean chuckles. “Sounds as if there’s more to the story.”
“Always leave them wanting more, right?” Looking into the camera without any prompting this time, I steer the focus away from me and toward fighting in general since it’s a unique part of our sport. “In those situations, you want to know who’s in the fight with you, who has your back. It will unite your team in ways you can’t teach or coach. Some players have more to prove than others do if they are working toward a spot on the roster. A player should bring their best game every time they step on the ice, which includes stepping forward to fight. If they don’t, someone else will. It can give a team an instant shot of adrenaline, which could be desperately needed on a night like this one. This game was a big win for Edmonton against a great hockey team. They needed it. It’s what is necessary to be a playoff team. While they’re probably feeling great going into their next one, there are always ways to improve.”
Dean nods. “Any advice for those young viewers and future goaltenders out there, wanting to be the next Edward Cullen?”
“Have fun. Stay healthy. Be positive. Never lose your love for the game. And make extra work a habit. The difference will be found in players who are willing to put in the extra work through things like stretching and drills. I tend to be one of the first on the ice and last to leave. I want every minute they’re willing to give me.”
“Edward Cullen, the one turning the lights off at a hockey rink near you,” Dean teases.
I laugh. “Leave me the keys. I’ll lock up.”
“Thanks for being with us today.”
“It’s been a pleasure.”
Doug counts us down, “Three . . . two . . . one and that’s a wrap.”
I sigh with relief once the glowing red light on the camera darkens.
I did it.
Although, it felt fast. I wonder if I said enough or too much?
Dean chuckles. “I think this could sell a few more number thirty-five Dallas jerseys.”
I grin. “One can always hope.”
“Nice job, Edward,” Doug commends. “A little bit of a bumpy start, but you settled in nicely. You project an easy in control vibe with a smooth, richness to your voice. I can see you having a wide appeal to our audience.”
Dean nods. “I agree completely. Some guys stumble over their words, speaking too quickly. Others go for the big laughs that can fall flat or border the edges of inappropriateness, alienating viewers. You’re one of those guys who fans would love to go have a beer with and talk hockey the rest of the evening.”
Doug continues. “None of us make the hiring decisions around here and we’re not supposed to give feedback, but it was one of the better auditions we’ve had recently.”
“Sometimes we’ll have an audition for a player or coach wanting to become a television analyst, and ultimately, the recommendation is to look into their local markets. They’re not ready,” Dean reveals. “They may have the knowledge and experience, but that doesn’t always translate to success here. Or appeal to various demographics. It’s just my two cents, and take it for what it’s worth, but that isn’t the case with you. I can see you easily stepping in at a national level.”
Okay, I did better than I thought.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. I guess we’ll wait and see what everyone else thinks.”
For me, it felt good, but their praise is exactly what I need. I can’t wait to call Bella, and share how it went. After Logan removes my mic, I pose for a few more photos and meet with Doug face-to-face when he exits the control room. Once I’m settled into the backseat of the car to return to the hotel, I send Bella a text.
Are you available for a video call?
I’m disappointed when my texts go unanswered and try to call during the ride, but my call goes to voicemail. After arriving at the hotel, I return to my room to change my clothes, then try calling Bella again without any luck. I don’t leave a message and depart my room, taking the elevator downstairs to the reserved room where we’re hanging out to watch the Super Bowl this evening.
“Spider!” Demir shouts. “Wait up.”
Noticing Demir and Jonsu coming from the direction of the lobby, I wait for them, holding the door open. A quick glance inside our room for the night reveals a nice setup with a few of my teammates camped out on the couches and chairs already watching the pregame shows on the huge television screen. Some guys are playing a spirited game of ping-pong while others have a card game going at one of the tables. Everyone else is grabbing food from the buffet and I’m considering checking out those options as Demir and Jonsu approach.
“Are you going to the bar?” Demir asks.
“Uh . . . no. Why would I?”
“There is someone there asking about you,” he explains.
“Asking about me?”
“A woman,” Jonsu adds, sending my mind shuffling through the possibilities.
For a moment, I wonder if it’s Bella here to surprise me and that’s why she isn’t answering my calls or texts, but I suspect Demir doesn’t know who it is or he would tell me. So, it can’t be Bella. Unless that’s part of the surprise.
I shrug, as my curiosity stirs a bit. If it is Bella, I don’t want to miss any opportunity for some time together. “I guess I’ll go check it out. See who it is.”
Demir nods. “Ben is there too. He said he would join us in a little while. Maybe check in with him. He’s already had a few, but he says he’s fine.”
Knowing Ben won’t be starting tomorrow night, I’m not surprised he is indulging a little this evening.”
“Okay. I will,” I promise. “I’ll catch up with you guys in a bit.”