A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Look What God Gave Her,” Thomas Rhett
(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) /\ \
It’s difficult to contain my excitement.
I’m going to be a dad.
I can’t sleep.
Bella can’t either.
Not good when we have to work tomorrow—I glance at the time—later today. At least I’m not starting in tonight’s game, but I’m still going to feel this lack of sleep if we can’t wind down soon.
Once everyone left, Bella got ready for bed while I made a quick trip to our nearby twenty-four hour pharmacy for additional pregnancy tests. After using three of those—all different brands at her request—our news remains the same: we’re going to be parents. It wasn’t a false positive, ending Bella’s concerns about the validity of the original tests I bought in Mexico.
While I love the life she’s breathed into this home, we finally have it to ourselves since her parents are living in her townhouse. Bella is in the kitchen with Scout, raiding the gelato bar leftovers. Without his immediate return, there’s only one thing that would keep him in there: his favorite peanut butter treats. I’m on my phone, reading through my latest internet search with Shadow snoozing and snuggled against my side in Scout’s absence. The consensus appears to be that Bella’s slip about our positive result is too soon.
Some suggest we should have waited until the end of her first trimester. Others recommend longer than that. Well, there’s no going back with our family and friends from this evening. They won’t tell anyone, but I could wait until she starts showing before I share anything on my social media. Regardless, I really want to text Vladdy and Marcus. They’re probably asleep. So, I’ll just wait until our morning skate to share our latest news.
With a few taps, I browse through the app store, looking for something to guide us through what to expect and when. While I’m vaguely aware of my sister’s experiences with her pregnancies, this is different. It’s Bella. And this will keep me connected while I’m traveling too.
“Oh my goodness, a spoonful of lemon gelato swirled together with the chocolate is amazing.” She smacks her lips before licking them. Dressed in one of my T-shirts, she turns off the lamp on her nightstand, ready for bed.
“Yeah. The best, but the coffee one could be my favorite.”
Her mention of coffee grabs my attention and I watch as she lifts the covers, settling into her side while Scout hops onto the bed, picking a spot against her legs.
Bella’s precious coffee.
She isn’t going to like my suggestion of discontinuing it. Maybe I’ll send her a few links supporting my position, but I need something else from her at the moment.
“Hey, when was the first day of your last period?”
Her brow furrows. “Who wants to know?”
“Well, me and this app.” I tilt my phone for her to see the screen. “I want to find out your due date, and this app will calculate it based on that, then tell us what we can expect each week.”
Bella shakes her head. “I’m not sure how I feel about sharing that info with one of those apps. What about my privacy?”
I shrug. “I won’t use our real information other than the date and I’ll create a new profile. Here, let me figure out your due date with one of the calculators outside of the app. What’s the date?”
“I double-checked earlier. It was January fifth.”
“Okay. It wants to know, typically, do you have twenty-eight day cycles?”
I nod. “That puts our due date at October eleventh. Estimated date of conception . . . January nineteenth. Damn, Doc.”
“That was when we were in Mexico,” I reveal.
“I’m sure it’s an approximation. We’ve been trying since before that trip.”
“October eleventh,” I repeat, then smile. “We’re going to have a little pumpkin.”
Her smile soon matches mine at the thought. “As if it could be possible for me to love fall even more, it sounds as though I will. We met then, carving pumpkins.”
Oh, I’m more than aware, but I don’t want to say anything by accident that could ruin my plans. After a quick peck to her lips, I shift our focus back to the app, clicking on every link.
“It says your first prenatal visit will be next. They will confirm your pregnancy, but some doctors may recommend waiting to schedule it for another two to four weeks. Pumpkin is—”
“Pumpkin?” Bella asks.
“Yeah, the app said we needed a nickname, and well, we’re a family of nicknames.” I grin. “Pumpkin is as big as a poppy seed. Okay, that’s tiny—microscopic, but full of potential if he or she is showing up on any home pregnancy test. Our kid is undoubtedly an overachiever.”
“It says that?”
I shrug. “It’s more of a guess on my part, but some of that is noted about the tests. Always remember, no matter what you think, it’s never too early for skating lessons.”
I need to plant the idea about some of my expectations for once Pumpkin is finally here.
“What? It’s true. Ask anyone.”
With her chuckles joining mine, I scroll through the list of things she could be experiencing.
“In your opinion, any nausea, bloating, cramping, spotting, mood swings, fatigue, or sore breasts? I only know about the mood swings.”
Her eyes widen. “Is this how it’s going to be? And mood swings? I’m going to give you the opportunity to walk that one back.”
“You’ve been a bit more tearful today,” I suggest.
“It’s my parents’ second wedding!” Bella defends.
“Okay, lately then,” I amend.
She shakes her head. “My mom is refusing to proceed with cancer treatments that could prolong her life.”
“Well, maybe she’ll change her mind with our news revealed tonight.”
She’s lost in thought for a moment, causing me to prompt once more.
“So . . . none of the other symptoms?”
After closing the app, I plug my phone into my charger on the nightstand, then turn toward her, which causes Shadow to reposition closer to where Scout is sleeping.
“Do you find your partner more attractive after learning about his superior sperm?” I tease.
Her eyebrows lift with disbelief. “You and your sperm are fishing for a compliment? You have millions. Clearly, my single little egg is the real MVP here. There’s a disparity discussion to be had about quality versus quantity.”
Goodness, I love her and find her even more attractive. I can’t wait until she starts showing. I already have trouble keeping my hands to myself whenever I’m around her. Knowing our child is growing inside of her, well, that will make it nearly impossible.
“Oh, Doc. You’re right. How did I get so lucky?” I reach out, brushing her hair away from her face. My grin fades slightly at a thought. “With my schedule, I know it’s inevitable, but I don’t want to miss anything. You’ll lean on our family and friends when I’m not here?”
“Of course I will,” she agrees easily.
“Even though this is a short trip and I’ll be back on Sunday, I’m going to miss you,” I confide.
“I’ll miss you too.” She lifts the covers, then hooks her bare leg over my hip. “You know, I still have some thanking to do with that Sue and Billy stunt you pulled earlier today.”
I grin. “You do. I recall a promise from earlier, but you’re not close enough for what I have in mind.”
We’re never going to get any sleep at this rate. I roll onto my back, bringing her with me, and Bella straddles my waist and proceeds to thank me in all my favorite ways.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
With a whistle from Coach ending our morning skate, almost everyone departs the ice to complete the last of our off-ice workouts, plus our final meetings before tonight’s game. Since Bella is back at work today, I’m in no hurry to get home, knowing my only plan is to eat and catch up on sleep with my nap before leaving for AAC. It sucks because I won’t get to see her again until early Sunday morning since we’re leaving after the game.
Demir continues taking shots at the goal on the other end of the ice while Marcus spends extra time in front of the net, working on deflecting those pucks. James nudges my arm as we skate toward the door.
“Look.” He nods toward the stands.
Tilting my helmet backward to sit on my head, my eyes follow his. I’m surprised to see him sitting in the stands of our practice arena. When he stands, making his way to where I’m exiting the ice, I release a steady breath. Apparently, he has something to say. That’s not new.
I shrug my indifference. “It’s fine.”
“Right.” James doesn’t go far, glancing at me occasionally while signing autographs for a few young fans waiting nearby.
With his approach, he nods. “Edward.”
He looks at the ground, then back at me, as I wait, shifting back and forth on my skates impatiently.
“You looked great out there.” Dad fidgets with the bill of his ball cap before mumbling, “Better than this team deserves.”
And I’m tired of his insults.
“I have to go.”
His eyes widen at my abrupt departure. “You’re making a huge mistake staying here.”
He just doesn’t know when to stop.
“And you’ll never change.” I shake my head, walking toward the hallway that leads to our locker room.
Once I’m at the doorway, he shouts, “Your mother told me.”
It halts my departure instantly and could only mean one thing: he knows Bella is pregnant. Turning around, I notice his smirk, but I’m not prepared for what he says loud enough for everyone around us to hear.
“Is it even yours?”
With those four instigating words, I see red, dropping my stick, glove, and blocker as rage surges through my veins. Charging toward him, my helmet falls off as I rear back, delivering a satisfying crunch of my clenched fist across his face. His head jerks to the side with the force of the blow, and he stumbles backward, looking at me with disbelief. I land another and another, watching as blood gushes from his nose.
One more hit forces him to crumple to the ground, but before I can throw another punch, someone pulls me away from him.
“Does that answer your question?” I growl angrily. “Or do you need more confirmation? Stand. Up. What? Nothing to say now?”
“Come on, man.” I recognize James’s pleading voice with his arms wrapped around me tightly.
“I’m done with you! And your bullshit! How fucking dare you!” I scream, pointing at him. “Don’t you ever—ever speak to or come near me or Bella again.”
“Aww, man. Let’s not do this here. Let’s go,” James urges.
I turn away from the man I thought I knew, but maybe never did, as I stomp through the doorway and down the hallway. With James following behind me, he guides me into one of our treatment rooms, closing the door behind us.
“Damn, Spider.” He nods toward my hands. “We need to ice those. Coach is going to shit and you’re going to feel it, if we need you tonight.”
Looking down at the blossoming pink on my knuckles, I flex my hands a few times. They sting a little and one of the knuckles is cut with blood starting to ooze. “They’re fine. I’ll be ready. A few punches aren’t going to keep me from playing.” I start working open the straps of my pads, removing them from my legs.
“No, they’re not fine, and neither are you.” James sets a couple of ice packs from the freezer next to me on a table. “What the hell, man? You never hit anyone.”
“Cap, you heard what he said. Everyone did.” Shaking my head, I pull off my practice jersey, then remove my chest protector. “To come at me like that—I’m sick of his shit.”
“Trust me. I know that feeling, but I never hit my dad. You drew fucking blood,” James points out.
“Whatever. If what he said to me is anything close to what he’s been saying to Doc, then he had it coming. I’m done with him. He crossed a line, and there’s no going back. I’ve been waiting for an apology, and he comes here to provoke me? Insult me? Well, I won’t fucking apologize for standing up for her or myself.”
“Think about what this means, especially for your mom and sister.”
“This is his doing.” I refuse to back down.
“Will they see it that way once he tells them who caused his injuries?”
I have no idea, but I can’t imagine them ever siding with him over me.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
It’s difficult to focus on my pregame workout Friday evening with my dad’s appearance at the practice rink this morning. I’ve been hoping to let it go, but hours later, I still have no regrets, even if there is some sort of fall out with Rose or Mom. Relying on every bit of my training over the years, I do my best to shake it off, which is easier once the puck drops.
With a slow start by both teams, no one capitalizes on opportunities at either end. Fortunately, we’re the first to break through near the end of the first period on a power play, with a rebound goal by Marcus off a missed shot by Tyler. Barely into the second period, we put another puck in the back of the net, scoring off a one-timer by James after a pass from Demir, putting us up two to zero. While there are smiles from one end of the bench to the other, there is still a lot of time left in this game since Minnesota continues to challenge Ben around the net.
With plenty of traffic in front of him taking away his line of sight, someone from behind the net chips a puck off his pads and it trickles across the goal line. From the replay, it appears as if he thought he made the save, but the review overhead shows he accidentally helped the puck across, making the score two to one. Minnesota’s next best scoring chance happens late in the second period, and is attributed to a mistake by Ben when a puck easily slips between him and the post. He didn’t even flinch on the soft wrist shot, which evens the game, two to two.
Racing into the attacking zone, no one is more surprised than Vladdy by a hard hit in open ice from one of our teammates, Surčin, a fellow Russian. While it is accidental contact, Vladdy hurries to the bench. His face fills with pain, as he moves past where I’m sitting and down the tunnel with one of our medical trainers following closely behind him.
As the time in regulation winds down in the third period, we’re unable to find the back of the net, and it appears as if we will be going into overtime. With twenty-five seconds left, Minnesota scores on a wrap-around goal, moving ahead two to three. The replay shows Ben so far out of position to block the previous shot that he couldn’t get back to the other post in time and his leg pad alone wasn’t enough. Even if the puck wasn’t jammed into the net, any elevated puck was a clear easy shot with plenty of open net. Despite our attempts to score in the final frantic seconds of the game, the horn blows at the end of regulation, and we take the loss.
Vladdy never returns to the game, and he’s nowhere to be found when we enter the locker room to change out of our equipment before completing our post game workouts. I overhear Coach tell an assistant that Vladdy won’t be traveling to St. Louis. One of our top draft picks from Austin will go in his place, and as much as I dislike losing tonight, I don’t like how that feels even more, knowing we’re leaving without him.
Once we’re all on the plane, Ben and I meet with our goaltending coach before dinner to debrief the game. Dejected throughout the entire conversation, Ben is shouldering this loss more than anyone is, due to his mistakes. I’m not one to point fingers and do my best to commiserate with him. Sometimes, there isn’t anything we can do to stop the ones like those that got past him tonight. Coach shares that I’ll be getting the start against St. Louis since the games are back-to-back, giving Ben more time to regroup.
Returning to my seat, the flight attendant arrives at our row, handing me my dinner tray. Before I start eating, I send Vladdy a text, asking about his injury, then send another to Bella letting her know about my next start. There are also messages I missed earlier today from an unknown sender.
Wanted to talk in-person
when you were here.
Sorry, I missed you.
FYI, you’ve got a problem.
Call me. We need to talk.
Heidi. And she thinks I have a problem? I’m curious what that’s about. Well, I can’t call her now, and click on messages from Al.
I’m elbow-deep in orange craft foam
and having second thoughts.
Downing a few quick bites of my salmon, I click on the link he shares. It takes me to a website, Tattle, known for its gossip boards about professional athletes and their significant others, but specifically, the link directs me to a recent blind item and pinned post.
NHL goaltender hooks up with model/ex-girlfriend on recent road trip to NYC area.
Could a trade be on the way when his current girlfriend finds out?
Obviously not me, but before I read the responses to the post, I switch back to my message app.
I would never do that to Doc. Ever.
Didn’t you just get back from a road trip to New York?
You’re mentioned as a possibility.
Yes. But, it isn’t me.
Do you know the model mentioned?
There’s a picture someone posted
of her later in the comments.
I return to the link and scroll until I see the photo.
My stomach sinks when I see an old picture of Heidi and me when we were dating.
I know her.
She’s an ex-girlfriend.
But again, it’s not me.
It’s unsettling to think I need to defend myself like this. While my friendship with Al is new, the last thing I need is him questioning my sincerity toward Bella. There’s no chance in hell, I would ever do something like this to her or jeopardize our future together. I mean, for fuck’s sake, she’s having my baby, and I’m getting ready to propose with his help.
My apologies for even asking.
My gut was telling me no,
but I just wanted to double-check
before I unleash on those nasty trolls.
It’s doubtful Bella will ever see this,
but you might want to make her aware
in case someone in your circle
brings it to her attention.
I don’t think it should come from me.
Scooping up a large bite of rice, I shake my head knowing I can’t control what other people say or do, and Bella knows that. As I scroll through the comments on the post, I am concerned that I’m mentioned repeatedly as a possibility. The same poster keeps bringing me up, and when I click on their profile, it appears to be a recently created account with a profile pic of me.
My anger grows at the possible consequences of some anonymous poster’s careless actions. I have never cheated on anyone. So, I can’t imagine why someone would believe I would do such a thing.
Unless . . . these aren’t careless actions, but very deliberate ones, trying to cause trouble for me with Bella or get in my head.
Who could be behind that kind of scheme? An opponent, or someone else? And why now? Heidi and I ended our relationship before I moved to Dallas. Maybe this is the problem she’s referring to in her texts.
Once I finish my dinner, I open my last text conversation with Bella again, reading the words I sent previously.
Hello, beautiful. We’re on the plane.
I’m starting Saturday night. =D
You know, in case you want to watch
your favorite goaltender in action.
While I’m trying to figure out how to ease into the “problem” conversation, a text from her arrives.
Oh, I’ll be watching. 😉
She includes a Heart Eyes emoji, putting a smile on my face.
I understand it’s late.
You’re probably in bed,
but I need to talk to you about something.
And I hate that this is the way I have to do it.
What is it?
I know you don’t pay attention
to gossip message boards,
but there’s a chance
something that’s floating around
could get back to you.
I just found out.
I don’t want it to upset you.
But you’re upset—
More than I should be.
Okay. Keep going.
I blow out a steady breath, diving into what I know.
A former girlfriend of mine
was looking for me on our last road trip.
I never saw her, but apparently,
she was at our hotel bar.
We broke up before I moved to Dallas.
I haven’t had any contact since.
What’s on the gossip boards?
The original post is a blind item
saying that a NHL goaltender hooked up
with an ex-girlfriend on a recent road trip to NYC.
I wait for any type of response, but when one doesn’t arrive, I continue.
Then later in the comments
a poster suggests it’s me multiple times.
With an old picture of us when we were dating.
My ex reached out to me via text
And wants me to call her.
Did her text say anything else?
Just that I have a problem and
she wanted to share the details in-person.
I don’t want to call her without
you aware of what’s going on.
Okay, just to be clear—
I trust you. I believe you.
Don’t think for a second I would believe
some blind item over you.
Anyone can post that shit.
Thank you for saying that.
I would never cheat on you.
I’ve never cheated on anyone.
And this is one of the reasons
I hate social media.
I get it.
Typically, I would ignore gossip like this,
but I think I need to hear whatever she has to say.
I don’t want you to be hurt
or doubt my commitment to you.
Ever. That’s my biggest concern.
Edward, I may bend,
but I won’t break.
Give me a little credit.
I’m stronger than that.
You and I know the truth.
We’re the only ones who matter here.
If you believe talking with her is important,
then call her. I won’t be upset.
While I’m growing more confident that a conversation with Heidi will produce the answers I need, I’m filled with relief at Bella’s suggestion and gratitude for her loyalty to me. And us.
Thank you for being you.
And I’ll give you all the credit.
That’s more like it.
I should probably share with her what went down with my dad earlier today, but I’ll save it for once I return home.
I love you.
I love you too.
Good luck tomorrow night.
I’ll let you get some rest.
I plan to sleep in tomorrow and
spend a lazy day with Shadow and Scout.
Maybe make a pan of brownies.
I need some down time.
I wish I were there.
It sounds heavenly.
Then we wouldn’t be sleeping. 😉
She’s exactly right.
Good night, beautiful. X
Good night. xx