A/N: I’m happy to welcome and share my thanks with two new members of my pre-reading team, AnakinSmom and princeselisa. Thank yous to NKubie for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for being my rockstar beta every week. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Woman, Amen,” Dierks Bentley
(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) /\ \
In a city filled with one point three million people, it’s undeniable how the absence of one in particular affects everything. Even if it is only for two weeks. Monday sucks. And despite the comfort of having Scout and Shadow with me, I still feel Bella’s departure deeply. I think they can sense a shift in my mood too. I know she will be simply a text or phone call away, but damn, I’m already missing her something fierce.
I appreciate how precious every moment of time she spends with her parents will be on this trip. Knowing I need to keep my intrusions to a minimum, I plan to limit myself to checking in with her daily. It’s a lofty goal, because I suspect it could easily snowball into two or three times a day, if I don’t keep myself in check. But at least I’m trying to give her space. Plus, I have my own responsibilities needing my undivided focus, no matter how challenging that may be with her gone.
When the final horn blasts Monday night, we take a loss against Edmonton, two to one with Ben in goal. I’m the first to the locker room, out of my gear, and eager to complete my post-game routine. And check my phone, which I left in my truck, for a text from Bella, letting me know she’s arrived safely.
It’s later than I hoped when I depart the locker room and practically sprint toward my truck for any answers that my phone may contain. Sitting in the darkness with only the occasional hum of departing vehicles from the parking garage, the tightness in my chest loosens marginally when I see her texts on my phone’s lock screen. I waste no time entering my passcode and launching the message app immediately.
Landed in Seattle.
The others are time-stamped four hours later.
Just arrived in Forks.
Mom says hello.
I’m exhausted and off to shower then bed.
Miss you. xx
Damn. I miss her too. I wonder if I should reply now or wait until morning when it’s more likely she’ll be awake. But what if she can’t sleep, or maybe she’s waiting to hear from me?
I miss you too. X
Sweet dreams, beautiful.
With a heavy sigh, I open my calendar app, counting down to the twenty-ninth. A solid fourteen days and I’m barely through day one. I won’t even get to see her on the twenty-ninth despite her being home, because we’ll be flying back after our game that night with Arizona. So, actually, it will be the early morning hours of the thirtieth when I’m put out of my misery.
I switch to the app store and download a countdown timer, then enter the necessary details. Date: December 30. Time . . . if the game doesn’t go long, we should finish at eleven, which is midnight Dallas time. I think it’s a little over two hours of flight time from Phoenix, but estimating three is probably more realistic, getting everyone on and off the plane. Which means I could be crawling into Bella’s bed at . . . I hope it’s before, but I’ll go with . . . 4:00 AM. Event label . . . Home.
Now I need a background pic. I scroll through my photos, selecting one from when we were in my hot tub yesterday, because she looks so fucking sexy wet. I press “Done” and my screen fills with the countdown, but my eyes are drawn to the photo and her beautiful smiling face as she cups my jaw. A grin threatens to take over my face as I almost dropped my phone snapping this pic. My heart accelerates at the memory, because her other hand which can’t be seen under the surface . . . well, it’s . . . busy teasing me.
13 Days. 4 Hours. 55 Minutes. 27 Seconds.
My eyes shift to the dwindling seconds, willing them to move faster.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
The highlight of Tuesday isn’t our morning skate. Although I do find comfort in my routines since they keep me centered, especially the extra yoga session I attend with some of my teammates after practice. It isn’t my time cuddling with Scout or Shadow when they join me for my afternoon nap. The best part of Tuesday is a text from Bella that arrives while I’m eating dinner on the couch. Shadow is missing, but Scout watches every mouthful disappear from beside me as if he hasn’t already eaten. My attention quickly shifts from the hockey game I’m watching between Tampa Bay and Ottawa to my phone lighting up with her texts.
Off to Dad’s retirement dinner.
Should be fun, as I think it will be a bit of a roast.
Lots of stories to tell.
I’m eager to hear them.
How do we look?
I’m excited to see she’s attached three images. I tap the first photo, enlarging the picture of her with her parents. Bella’s holding the camera, but it’s the first time I’ve seen a picture of them. They’re all dressed up with her mother standing in the middle. Her father looks a little uncomfortable, wearing a dark suit and tie, but Bella is the standout, looking as beautiful as ever.
Moving to the next photo, it’s of Bella with her father. I didn’t expect him to have a mustache, and there’s something about his gaze in this photo. It’s a little intimidating for someone going to a party in his honor. I chuckle, because I’m no stranger to intimidation, if this gaze is meant for me, like I suspect. Players do their best to get under my skin often, but I’m not easily rattled, even if it is coming from someone I would like to impress, like Bella’s father. My finger glides across the screen, moving on to the last photo, which is of Bella and her mother. They’re both wearing black dresses, looking happy and relaxed. It could be their shoes, but Bella’s a little taller than her mom.
I return to the first photo of the three of them and compare their features. Bella is the perfect blend of her parents with her father’s dark hair and fair skin, but her delicate facial features and eye color is all her mom.
You’re gorgeous, as always.
And you’re biased, but thank you.
Sorry, I can’t talk because we’re running late.
We’re flying to Tampa Bay after tomorrow’s practice.
I’m getting the start. 😉
I wish I could see the game.
No one around here has a clue about hockey.
You can catch the highlights online later.
I’ll be out with my friend Leah Thursday night.
But I’ll be checking the hockey app my boyfriend added to my phone.
I can at least keep up with the score that way according to him. 😉
I miss you and wish you were here.
Me too, Doc.
Have fun tonight!
I’m sure we will.
Good luck on Thursday! xx
Without another response from Bella, my phone screen goes dark. I tap it once and it lights up, reminding me of the current countdown.
12 Days. 7 Hours. 42 Minutes. 18 Seconds.
My head falls heavily against the couch.
I may not make it.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After finishing my debrief and dinner with our goaltending coach, I return to my seat where Tyler, James, and Marcus are still discussing tonight’s game as their empty plates are removed by the flight attendants. I’m exhausted—mentally and physically. I can’t wait to land, go to the hotel, and sleep.
An overtime win in Tampa Bay.
Four to three.
I’ll take it.
As a team, we made too many mistakes, but Tyler scored the winning goal. He was named one of the stars from tonight’s game and had an assist. Currently, he’s on a roll, airing his grievances during our short flight to Miami for our next game.
“I don’t give a fuck what anyone says. I’m not condoning that Tampa Bay bullshit, giving them two of tonight’s fucking stars. Spider should be the first, second, and third stars for our game. Forty-five fucking saves is stellar. And we won.”
James shakes his head. “We were a fucking mess. The only reason we came out of there with a win is because Spider kept us in it when we made too many bonehead penalties and turnovers. Our penalty kill was horrible tonight. It needs work.”
Tyler jerks his chin toward me. “I’d be shitting myself, facing down two or three of their guys coming at me at full speed, but you didn’t flinch. That’s balls of steel, man—absolutely amazing tonight. You can have my fucking star.”
I chuckle. “Thanks, Crow.”
Ben will be starting tomorrow, since we’re playing back-to-back games on this short road trip. He’s lost his last two, but tonight’s game could have gone either way. We’re not playing good hockey right now.
Marcus finishes his wine, handing his empty glass to the flight attendant. “We had a great start, but the penalties took us out of the game early. Our confidence was shot and we played slow. Did we create any opportunities? It’s a resounding no. They’re an intimidating team that’s been playing together for six to seven years. It shows in everything they do. We fought back in the third, but damn, we’ve got to do better.”
I close my eyes, checking out of their conversation and ready to think about anything else, but mostly Bella. I wonder how her night out with her friend is going. Removing my phone from my pocket, I connect through our plane’s Wi-Fi to find I have a new text and photo from her.
Leah says hi.
I tap the screen, enlarging the picture of them.
“Holy fuck.” James leans closer, grabbing my wrist and twisting my phone toward him. “Who’s that with Doc?”
“I don’t know. A friend in Washington—Leah.”
“Have you met her?”
“Is she single?”
“I have no idea. You know as much as I do.”
“Well, Leah needs to visit Dallas and Doc needs to introduce me.” He nods toward my phone. “Take a pic of us and send it.”
I chuckle, angling my phone and snapping our photo.
“Let me see.” He reaches for my phone, zooming in and out of the photo. “Okay. I look good. Send it. And tell Doc I said hello.”
Hope you’re having fun.
“James says hello,” he says, hovering next to my shoulder as my fingers pause. “Do you want me to type it?”
“I’ve got it.”
James says hello.
“There. Are you happy?”
“Don’t forget to send the photo. And, no. I’m not happy. I’ve been feeling like the odd man out lately. It’s ridiculous. Ty’s still going strong with Lauren and Ben’s been talking with that one chick from your sister’s Thanksgiving.”
“Yeah. And something is going on with Fin and the other one.”
“Yeah, Jessica. Last Sunday, the beer cart girl was flirting nonstop with Fin when we went golfing and he gave her nothing. Zero response, which isn’t like Fin at all. He handed me her number when she left it on our scorecard.”
“Hmmm. Jess is my age and Fin is . . . “
“Twenty-one. That’s a thirteen year difference.”
“Damn, my sister is at it again.”
“At this rate I’m going to be the only single person at our after party on New Year’s Day. I’m the fucking captain of this team and shouldn’t have this much trouble getting a date.”
“What about the beer cart girl?”
“I suppose I could call her. She’s kind of young.” He shrugs and shakes his head slightly. “She was interested in Fin. Not me. That’s not a good start.”
I nod and accidentally tap my phone, lighting up the screen.
James notices the photo on the lockscreen. “Damn, that’s a great pic with Doc. What’s with the countdown?”
“It’s when I’ll be put out of my misery.” I chuckle sadly.
“It’s the next time Doc and I will be in Dallas at the same time.”
10 Days. 2 Hours. 23 Minutes. 37 Seconds.
It feels like forever.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Friday night’s game against Florida unexpectedly turns from bad to worse. They score first, but we’re quick to even it up. Their next goal bounces off one of our guys beyond Ben’s reach and into the net, which is unfortunate, putting us down two to one at the end of the first.
The next four Florida goals find the back of the net quickly in the second period. I get the nod to start warming up, and Coach pulls Ben not even halfway through the game when we’re down six to one. I take over, allowing only one goal, but unfortunately, it’s a penalty shot after a hooking call on a shorthanded breakaway, giving their player a hat trick. Never a good feeling.
Tyler scores two for us, one in the second on a power play and another in the third with an assist from Marcus. James puts one in the back of the net with an assist from Demir in the third period, but it isn’t enough. Even with my twelve saves, the damage is done. We lose seven to four, sending us home battered and exhausted from the loss.
After boarding our plane, Ben and I sit with our goaltending coach, going over each of tonight’s goals we allowed and our saves. It helps both of us to discuss what we did right, what we did wrong, and what we will do differently next time. The resolution gives us a chance to move past our mistakes and not fixate on the outcome before our next game on Sunday. Ben nods and slouches in his seat slightly when our coach says he’s getting the start against Calgary. His confidence took a hit tonight and it could take extra time for him to move on from the loss.
Returning to our seats for dinner, the cabin is dark and quiet with only a few whispered conversations as the mood subdued. James barely utters a word from beside me, which is unlike him, but Coach walks through, letting everyone know we’re expected on the ice first thing in the morning. Once I finish my meal, I put in my earbuds and enter the passcode for my phone, tapping on the countdown.
9 Days. 3 Hours. 17 Minutes. 56 Seconds.
At least we’re in single digit days.
I stare at the background photo for a moment, missing everything about her, before selecting a playlist to listen to for the remaining two hours of the flight. Checking my messages briefly after boarding, I saw a few from Bella but didn’t have time to respond then. Even though it’s after midnight, it’s still early on the West Coast. I think her only plans for the rest of the weekend are to spend time with her parents before her mother’s surgery on Monday. I smile when I open her messages from earlier.
Text or call whenever.
I’m watching a Christmas movie.
Mom is exhausted and went to bed early.
Dad claims he’s awake, but the snoring from his recliner could rival Scout’s. 😉
I’ve had to increase the volume twice!
We’re on the plane, flying back home.
I can’t call, but I can text.
I’m so sorry you lost.
I bet everyone is exhausted with back-to-back games.
I snap a selfie that includes James sleeping next to me. I check it briefly before sending and notice I look tired.
You’re always so handsome. Even tired. xx
I didn’t realize you would play tonight.
Want to talk about it?
Not much to say.
I did what I could to shut them down.
But I hadn’t fully recovered from last night.
It’s more difficult to recover properly when we’re on a road trip.
Time to focus on winning the next one.
What movie are you watching?
Tell me your dad didn’t select it.
Ha! He didn’t.
Mom bought a bunch of new movies recently.
Mostly comedies. There’s even a hockey movie.
How about that? LOL
You’ve probably seen it.
I’m going to watch it tomorrow with her.
We’re baking Christmas cookies too.
Yeah, that’s a great one.
I’d stay awake for it.
We’ve found something other than me to keep you awake. 😉
Everyone departs for Aspen tomorrow.
Vera texted that Rose dropped off Duke and Sassy this evening.
I hope they all get along like they did at Thanksgiving.
I guess I’ll find out when I get home.
Awww . . . they will.
Duke is a great old dog.
And Sassy will do her own thing, like always.
You leave for Aspen on Monday, right?
I have practice tomorrow.
We play Calgary Sunday.
Then I’ll fly out Monday.
Vera’s going to stay at the house while I’m gone.
I hope you have a wonderful time with your family.
Do you ski?
Yeah and snowboard. What about you?
I’ve never been into sports.
Except for now—with you.
I miss you.
I miss you too.
I think I miss you more.
I switch to my countdown app, take a screenshot, and send it to her.
Awww . . . that’s a great picture.
I can’t believe I’ve been here almost a week.
It’s gone quickly, but we’ve been busy.
I can’t wait to see you in . . .
9 Days. 2 Hours. 47 Minutes. 46 Seconds.
That’s oddly precise.
Or earlier, if we can depart Phoenix quickly.
It’s my best estimate.
I forgot to tell you Sam messaged me on Monday.
It was a little odd or maybe just unexpected to hear from him.
He said not to worry about covering on-call when I return home.
So, I guess I’m all yours that week . . . if you want me.
As if that’s ever in question, I can’t type my response fast enough. The thought of coming home to her again—in nine days—puts a smile on my face instantly.
Come to my place straight from the airport.
I have everything you need.
Wine, chocolate, and a bikini.
The bikini is optional. 😉
Where’s the drooling emoji?
I should check-in at home and do laundry.
My washer and dryer are available 24/7.
Tempting . . .
How about this . . .
I open my photo app, scroll through my photos, and locate an outtake of me shirtless from the calendar photo shoot. After it shows as delivered, I wait for a few minutes before she responds.
AND I know how to do laundry.
SOLD! Where do I sign up?
My cheeks are starting to hurt from smiling so much during this conversation. I can’t get enough of her playful banter. The way she can lift my mood, especially after our loss, is . . . addicting.
I’ll send the paperwork immediately.
(pen in hand) Would you prefer I sign as Doc, Bella, or Dr. Swan?
When I return, I need to take a spin through your photos.
You’ve been holding out on me.
The best photos went into the calendar.
Judging from what you sent, I’m going to disagree.
Now, where’s that drooling emoji you mentioned earlier?!
This is what she does. She makes me feel ten feet tall. I could talk to her all night, but I know it’s getting late and she needs sleep. Releasing a contented sigh, I stare at my phone wishing I could see her.
Is it still Friday there?
Can I call you tomorrow night?
I’d like to do a video call.
Or do you have plans?
No plans other than what I already mentioned.
Maybe . . . I know it’s not an ideal situation right now.
But if you have time, I could introduce you to my parents when you call.
I have time and I’d like that very much.
It’s a date. 😉
Great. Just text me when you’re ready.
We’ll be here, probably full of Christmas cookies by that time.
Okay. I can’t wait.
Have a good night, Doc. X
Good night, Edward. xx
I lean my head against the seat and close my eyes, as my heart surges with happiness. There’s no keeping the smile from my face at the thought of our call tomorrow and meeting her parents.