A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “You,” Chris Young
(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) /\ \
The hockey game we’ve been watching must be over, since I wake to the sound of the announcers beginning their post-game report. I don’t know how long my eyes have been closed, but I doubt it’s been that long. Our overindulgent wine celebration has done a number on me tonight, and I shouldn’t have opened that second bottle, but I did with Bella’s encouragement. I would do anything for her.
It’s been an unexpected day with Bella resigning from her job quite spectacularly. I had no idea I would find her at the country club wielding a golf club, landing blow after blow upon Sam’s car. While the damage was minimal, I understand it was undoubtedly the culmination of years of pent up frustration and resentment. There is only so much one person can take when everyone around her is reaping the benefits of her hard work, especially Sam. She’s unapologetic for her actions, but I know there always are consequences. Hopefully, her lawyer will be able to mitigate those going forward.
Bella called her parents this evening to let them know about resigning her position. While on speakerphone, I heard her mother’s comments full of supportive encouragement, but Charlie’s disappointed reaction upset Bella. She adamantly defended her reasoning, but I think he will feel better once she lands a position in a new practice. I have no doubt Bella will find one, and if she doesn’t, then I wouldn’t be opposed to helping her start her own practice, despite the discouragement from her lawyer. Knowing her as I do, it would be a smart investment in her and our future together.
With Bella snuggled against my side, I release a sigh, staring at the ceiling with my inevitable departure looming. After tomorrow’s morning skate, we’re flying to Los Angeles. It isn’t the longest we’ve been apart, but it is another absence, which is never easy. Illuminated only by the soft light of the flickering colors of the television, I look down at her in my arms, then tuck a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.
Amidst the flurry of countless calls she made today, she shared one important piece of information with me.
When she left the dental office this morning, I was her first call.
She has no idea how much that means to me. It’s what has kept me at her side all day. I’m not sure what would have happened if James and I hadn’t shown up when we did. But I also understand what it’s like when fury and frustration boils over. I see it all the time on the ice. This isn’t new to me, as I’ve been held responsible for my own mistakes in the past, because not everything gets settled on the ice. Bella isn’t infallible—no one is. While I suspect she has ignited a war with Sam, I plan to support her in any way she needs, every step of the way.
It’s late, and I know we need to move to the bedroom, but I can’t resist relishing this simple moment with her now, which is all that matters. I leave a kiss on the top of her head, jostling her slightly.
“Doc?” I whisper.
She hums and her eyes open briefly.
“The game is over. Are you awake?”
“Yeah.” She clears her throat. “But I may have missed most of the third period. I had a dream that I quit my job and went off on Sam.”
“That wasn’t a dream.” I chuckle. “You have the heart of a hockey player. You were giving me flashbacks to the first goalie stick I broke. My dad was pissed, but not as mad as I was at the time.”
“Carlisle? Pissed? I can’t imagine,” she teases. “You’re so even-tempered now. It’s difficult to believe anything would upset you.”
“I’ve had my moments. Trust me. I’m not proud of them, but they happened.” My hand glides back and forth along her back soothingly. We’re both quiet with only the recap of the broadcast, and Scout’s soft snores filling the quiet space. My mind returns to the thought of my departure. “I’m going to miss you.”
Bella tilts her face and gives me an easy smile. “I’ll miss you too.”
“You don’t have to stay in Dallas.” I’m a little concerned about leaving her alone. I know she will refuse my offer, because she’s been making plans for this week and next, but I put it out there anyway. “You could come on our road trip. Wives and girlfriends do that all the time. Some even bring their little ones along. I can make the arrangements for you, if you wish.”
“Edward, I can’t leave.” She shakes her head slightly. “I have so much to do. I made plans with your sister for tomorrow evening. I’m finally going to see one of Eric’s hockey games, and I always love spending time with Katie. Your mother and I are meeting on Wednesday morning for coffee.”
I love that she’s making plans and will be spending time with my family while I’m away.
“Garrett and Al are coming over to my place on Thursday night, and I have no doubt wine will be involved.”
I grin. “I’ll select some bottles for you to take with you.”
“Thank you. I also have a lunch date with Alice on Friday. I’m not sure how that conversation will go. Maybe it will be just a check-in, but it has the potential to be more.”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” I encourage with a kiss on the top of her head.
Alice probably wants to hear how Bella’s mother is doing since she has been involved in finding a new doctor for her at Anderson. I know there was some concern about Reneé flying too soon. Reneé’s doctor in Seattle recommended they wait until four to eight weeks after the surgery, and the doctor she will be seeing in Houston agreed. I think Bella said her mother’s appointment at the end of this month would be at the six-week mark. There is also some discussion about Bella being in consideration for taking over the responsibilities as our team dentist. But Royce or his father would be the ones to make that call not Alice.
Bella nods. “Your sister and I will continue to narrow the possibilities this week for who I could approach. And with Jason’s help, I hope to have at least made an offer to someone before we leave for Mexico.”
My smile widens at the mention of her going with me to Mexico. A decision that no longer is dependent on her former job or boss. It’s probably selfish, but I’m thrilled about that turn of events. Mexico can’t get here soon enough for me. A week of nonstop sun and sand with a bikini-clad Bella all to myself will be the perfect vacation. I can’t wait, but for now, we both need sleep, not a nap on the couch.
“Sounds like you’ll be busy while I’m gone, which means it’s time for us to get in bed.” I wiggle my eyebrows. Standing from my spot, I turn off the television using the remote. “Can you walk or do you need me to carry you?” I offer, but don’t wait for her answer, lifting her easily and tossing her over my shoulder.
“Edward!” she shrieks, despite her upside down giggling protests. “Put me down! Scout help!”
At the shout of his name, he raises his head, barks, and jumps off the couch, following behind us closely.
“You won’t get any help from Scout.” I flip off the lights and walk down the hallway toward my bedroom. “He thinks you should be in bed too.”
“Shadow!” she says, grabbing onto my ass, which shifts my gray sweatpants lower.
“And I’ll put you down where you belong.” I push open the door to the bedroom, walk over to the edge of the bed, then drop her into the middle. “Right. Here.”
Only slightly distracted by the way her braless chest jiggles in my T-shirt tied at her waist, I crawl on top of her, covering her body with mine.
“I belong right here, huh? In your bed.” She grins, running her fingers through my hair.
“Always. I should tie you to it, so you can never leave.” I kiss the sensitive area in the crook of her neck where I know she’s ticklish, which prompts more of her giggles, then move to her lips. “Mmmm. I love you.”
“I love you too.” She sighs. “Thank you for being here for me today.”
“You don’t have to thank me. I will always be here for you, Doc. That’s a promise.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
“Guys, great practice today. I like the energy I’m seeing. Let’s keep our momentum going on this road trip.” Coach looks around at everyone gathered and kneeling at center ice, then checks his watch. “That’s it for now. Uh . . . Cap. Spider. Come see me in my office once you’ve completed your workouts. Everyone else, I’ll see you on the plane in a few hours. Don’t be late.”
James’s gaze meets mine, and he nods his support. There is little doubt what’s coming for either of us, especially for me, with Stefan practicing here today. When I decided to go check on Bella after she ended our call abruptly, James wouldn’t let me leave alone. I tried to convince him not to miss yesterday’s practice, but he was hell-bent on leaving together. As everyone steps off the ice, James waits by the rink door since I’m the last in line.
“No worries, Spider,” he reassures, patting my shoulder as we walk together to the locker room. “I’ll always have your back on and off the ice. Always.”
“I know Doc isn’t happy with me right now, even after I apologized yesterday. I fucked up things with Leah, but hopefully, Doc won’t hold it against me.”
I chuckle. “Don’t expect her to make any introductions for you in the future to any of her friends.”
He hangs his head a little. “I don’t blame her. I texted my apologies to Leah, but she hasn’t responded.”
“Yeah, don’t hold your breath. It’s time to move on. And Doc is focused on other things at the moment.”
James nods. “Man, she fucked up that driver. It broke my golfer’s heart to see the club shaft bent like that, let alone the way the head was dented, but I get it. Dude is lucky she didn’t hit him with it. I had no idea she was part ninja the way she whipped that club around.” He mimics some fast ninja moves with his arms.
“Probably too early to tease her about it.” I grin.
His smile grows. “Okay. I’ll wait. Maybe by Mexico she will be ready.”
“Don’t bring your clubs.” I chuckle.
“Good idea. I’ll leave them at home. So she doesn’t use them on me.” James smirks. “I did get the number of the chick working in the pro shop.”
I shake my head. “Only you, Cap. Only you.”
“What? I figured it was a good idea, you know, in case Doc needed to contact her in the future.”
I nod. “Right. That’s the reason.”
“Maybe I’ll ask her out. I don’t know.” James shrugs. “It’s a good way to keep tabs on that asshole boss of hers too. Before I left, I warned him not to mess with her.”
“Yeah. She’s family now.”
There’s no keeping the smile from my face at one of my good friends treating Bella like family by sticking up for her. “You didn’t have to do that. You probably shouldn’t have done that.”
“I know, but I did. Maybe it will help get me back in her good graces.”
“Well, you can try, but it may take a while.”
James grins. “I’ve got time.”
After I change out of my gear and complete my off-ice workout, Ben, Stefan, and I meet with our goaltending coach going over his notes for Los Angeles, but I suspect they’re lost on me. I finish my post-workout snack, then walk upstairs to our team offices.
“Hey, Coach.” I knock on his open door.
He looks up over the top of his glasses and smiles. “Spider, great. Come in, close the door, and have a seat. You looked great out there today.”
“Thanks.” I settle into one of the chairs on the opposite side of his desk.
“I’m pleased with how both you and Ben are performing. Great numbers. Great tandem. But I have to ask, how is . . . everything else?”
“I’m good.” I know to keep my answers brief and not give him any reason to doubt me or my abilities in any way. “No issues.”
“Okay.” He nods, pulls off his glasses, and tosses them onto his desk before leaning back in his chair. “You probably know why you’re here.”
“You missed yesterday’s practice.”
“And I apologized for not letting you know sooner. It was unexpected, and the timing couldn’t be helped.”
His eyebrows shoot up. “You also missed the team lunch last week and were late for the shopping trip.”
“All true.” I nod.
“It’s not like you to miss anything, and I don’t want to see this as a new repeating pattern. You know activities off the ice are as important to the team as what we do on the ice.” He watches me closely for a moment. “New girlfriend?”
“No. Not new. Almost three months.”
He grins. “That’s fairly new.”
I shrug. “It doesn’t matter to me whether we’ve been dating for three months or three years. I would make the same choices.”
“Well . . . we all make those choices. Some greater than others—from ailing family members to the loss of a family pet. I would never expect anyone to miss something like the birth of a child either.
“I need you to be mentally checked in on the ice. If you aren’t, we all suffer, especially in your position as a goaltender. You’re an important part of this team, and when you aren’t here, whether you’re on or off the ice, you don’t just let me down.” His eyes shift to beyond the glass windows of his office that overlook the rink below, then back to me. “We have team rules. Edward, you know that, and I have to enforce those.”
“It was never my intention to put you in a difficult position,” I defend.
“Good. Let’s not have this conversation again. If something is happening, come talk with me. I don’t like being blindsided. You and James are two of the strongest voices in our locker room. I know that. Even though there will never be a ‘C’ on your jersey, I don’t miss how the young guys look up to you both.” He releases a heavy sigh and leans his elbows against his desk, steepling his fingers. “As much as I want to do so, I can’t start you tomorrow night or even dress you on the bench.”
I’m filled with disappointment at his confirmation, but I knew this was coming.
“You’ve been around this league long enough to know I have no choice.” Coach shrugs and shakes his head. “Ben will get the start, and Stefan will be on the bench as backup. You and James will be marked as healthy scratches for the night.”
“I expect you to do your regular gameday workout, then you can sit in the press box or join Royce to watch the game.”
Neither is a great choice, but I’ll take Royce over the press who travel with us on trips like this one. I’m not interested in giving them any information about my missing this start. We’re always careful with what we share, since they tend to blow things out of proportion. The last thing I want is speculation about my health, position with the team, or any of Bella’s personal situation. So, I’ll keep my distance.
Coach smirks, probably already knowing my choice. “We’ll miss having you in goal, and especially, James on the ice. He’s an incredible player, but I understand his loyalty to you. He didn’t blink an eye when I had this same conversation with him earlier. It’s admirable and one of the things I love about our sport—the solidarity.
“You’ll return to the bench for Anaheim on Thursday. I want to see how Ben does with back-to-backs. He hasn’t had one this season, because I like my goaltenders to have at least two days of rest between starts. After your overtime win in Tampa Bay prior to the Christmas break, you didn’t get that when you came in for him the following night against Florida.”
“It was tough,” I agree, recalling the aches and pains that lingered for days afterward without enough time to recover properly.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it’s no secret I plan on us making the playoffs. We won’t have three-on-three overtime play or shootouts at the end of regulation during those games. You and Ben will need to be ready for full, twenty-minute overtime periods—as many as needed. So, I’m going to push him while we’re here in the middle of the schedule. And you.” He releases a deep sigh. “No promises, but I’m thinking on this trip, your next start will be on Saturday against San Jose. I like your numbers against them, and Ben will be in need of rest by then. After what I saw this morning, Stefan isn’t ready to make his debut, but if Royce or anyone asks, you didn’t hear that from me.”
“I’ll be ready whenever you need me,” I reassure confidently.
Coach nods. “Edward, I was never a goaltender, let alone a goaltending coach. I wouldn’t know the first thing to tell you, other than stop the puck.” He grins, then we share a chuckle. “I know it’s a little—no, a lot more complicated than that, but I would like to think I understand the amount of mental prep you do every game or practice.
“On over half of the teams in this league, even at your age, you would be their starter. I have zero doubt in my mind that’s the case, because if I was coaching any of them, I would start you. It’s not even a question. But we both know, those teams are very unlikely to find themselves playing beyond our regular season schedule.
“As we approach the trade deadline in just over . . . about a month now, I would ask you—caution you—not to get distracted. You’re in a great position right now with four wins in your last four starts, and it wouldn’t surprise me for you to be approached as teams scramble toward the deadline. It’s no secret that one of the best ways to beat an opponent is to remove its vital pieces. And you’re vital.
“We need you here in Dallas. We want you here. I want you here. Don’t doubt that for a second. I can’t ask for a greater commitment from any player who is one of the first in the building or the last to leave. I know you have a big question waiting for you at the end of this season, but let’s leave that for then and focus on now.”
“We’re here to have fun. And win the Cup.” He smiles, looking around the room. “Or Royce will find someone else for this office. My door is always open, if you need it.”
“Thanks, Coach. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good. See you on the plane.”