A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “My Boy,” Elvie Shane
(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) /\ \
With the rest of the team out on the ice for warm-ups, James and I change into our suits after finishing our workouts.
“Are you ready to go sit in the principal’s office?” James taunts.
“I suppose.” I chuckle at his reference to sitting with Royce and finish straightening my tie. “Unlike you, I don’t serve my time in the penalty box.”
James nods. “Right. I should carve my name in the boards since I’ve been in there so often this season. Some of those penalty minutes I served for you. This is no different.”
Departing the locker room, neither of us goes unnoticed as we make our way upstairs with a building escort. We stop to sign autographs and take photos along the way with plenty of Los Angeles fans, which always makes me smile.
Stepping into the team suite, my stomach growls when I see the food waiting. “Man, I’m starving.”
“Me too. Let’s say hello to Royce, then grab something to eat.”
To say Royce is less than happy to see us is an understatement. He’s downright pissed.
I nod. “Royce.”
“Hey, Royce. How are you doing?” James asks nonchalantly.
“I would be better if you were both on the ice tonight,” he replies sharply.
“Fair enough.” James looks over at me and a smile threatens to tug at his lips.
I want to say that we’re just following his playbook of rules and consequences, but I keep my mouth shut, knowing he’s not going to bend those for either of us. We’re here because of me and my choices, which sprouts a tiny seed of guilt for me on James’s behalf. Our press box is starting to look better by the minute.
When Royce returns his focus to the teams on the ice and one of his advisors sitting next to him asks a question I can’t hear, I know we’ve been dismissed.
James nudges my elbow, nods toward the food behind us, and mouths, “Let’s eat.”
Once we are away from the front office guys who hang on Royce’s every word, James attempts to put me at ease.
“Don’t let him worry you. He’s always a little . . . hostile when he doesn’t get what he wants.” James grins and holds his hand over his heart. “It’s nice to know he cares.”
“That’s one way of looking at it.” I chuckle and feel my phone vibrate in my pocket.
James and I look over the assortment of raw vegetables, fruits, meats, and cheeses. There is also a large variety of sushi and summer rolls to choose from, which reminds me of the platters we inhaled last week at my place. It’s enough to put a smile on my face at the memory, and we each select a bit of everything.
With filled plates, we set them at the long counter overlooking the ice. After sliding onto a barstool, I take a moment to check my phone while James grabs us beers. I’m not surprised to find texts and missed calls from Bella, Dad, and Jake. After a quick glance at Bella’s texts, I realize I need to address those first.
Are you okay?
Are you hurt?
I’m watching the broadcast
and I don’t see you anywhere.
Edward, I’m freaking out.
I didn’t tell her I wouldn’t be starting tonight due to missing practice on Monday. This isn’t about her. It’s about me being held accountable for my decisions, and I don’t want her to feel guilty for those. Hopefully, I can minimize her concerns. After a couple of bites, I send her a response.
Where are you?
I’m here at Staples, watching from the team suite.
Why? Why aren’t you on the ice?
You were supposed to start. Ben is in goal.
And I don’t even know who that is on the bench.
He barely looks older than your nephew.
What has happened?
“You didn’t tell Doc?” James asks from over my shoulder, obviously able to read her texts.
I shake my head, accepting his offered beer. “I explained previously that who starts or plays can change without much notice, and I don’t want her to think she’s responsible for us not playing. I decided to go check on her, and you decided to drive us. She probably would have been fine had we not shown up at the country club at all, but I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the ice not knowing what was happening after she ended our call.”
“And I would do it all again if you needed me.”
I nod, then sip from my beer. “Thanks. I hope I can help her understand that.”
I’m looking and James isn’t on the ice either.
Is he hurt?
He’s fine and sitting next to me.
This is my fault isn’t it?
Because you both missed practice on Monday?
Fuck. I lost you the start.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Tell him I’m sorry.
She’s so smart. I knew she would put it all together, but I don’t want to make this into a big deal, which is why I delayed having this conversation.
“Doc says to tell you she’s sorry,” I tell him between bites.
James smiles and shrugs. “No apologies are necessary. It isn’t the first time I’ve been a healthy scratch, and I’m positive it won’t be the last.”
I nod. “I know, but I’m passing it along.”
I shouldn’t have called you.
I’m finally her first call, and she regrets it. I don’t. Not for a single second.
There’s nothing to be sorry about.
And YES, you should have called me.
You should ALWAYS call me.
I would have been upset if you didn’t.
I’m so, so sorry.
How many games are you out?
I feel horrible.
God, I feel sick.
Hey, we’re fine. Don’t worry.
James and I will be back on the ice tomorrow night.
It’s only one game.
Every game is important.
You taught me that.
Are you starting tomorrow?
I smile at her response, because she’s learned so much about our sport in such a short time.
No. Ben is playing back-to-back.
I may start on Saturday against San Jose.
He’s going to be exhausted.
I don’t think I can watch this game.
I understand when your favorite player isn’t on the ice. 😉
My playful teasing is lost on her when I get her next texts.
I messed up.
I told your mother you were starting tonight.
I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told her.
We had such a good meeting this morning over coffee.
I was so proud to share that news with her.
I’m glad to hear it went well, but that probably explains the missed call from my dad. I should check and see if he left a voicemail.
Doc, it’s okay. I’m not upset at all.
Mom knows starting lineups change with little notice.
Share anything you want with her.
I promise I won’t tell anyone about Saturday.
Again, I’m so sorry.
I love you and we’re all good. X
I love you too. xx
With the drop of the puck, my stomach sinks when Los Angeles scores within the first two minutes of the first period.
James nods as we watch the overhead replay. “It looks like Crow and Vladdy switched, then Crow couldn’t get back in time to cover his man. That sucks. We’ll get it back.”
With an empty plate already, he returns for more food while I finish what is on my plate and listen to the message from my dad.
“Edward, your mother said you were starting tonight, but I don’t see you there. Did you finally agree to a trade? Call me. I’m eager to hear the good news.”
Of course, he would think me being a healthy scratch is indicative of a trade happening, but after my talk with Coach, that’s wishful thinking on Dad’s part. I’ll call him back later. I switch back to my message app and open Jake’s texts sent not long ago.
Hey, man. I’m here at Staples.
Where are you?
Sounds like a story.
If you say so. I’ll find you.
Can you talk?
I’ve got multiple things brewing for you.
Not with Royce here.
Can we walk and talk?
While I’m not interested in anything to do with the upcoming trade deadline, Jake could have something for me beyond the end of the season. It’s a little early for that, but with everything up in the air about where Bella could land her next job, I know I need to hear him out at least. Previously, he mentioned doing an audition for one of the networks as a gameday analyst. It’s something I would consider, but I’m not sure if I would be willing to move if it was required for a job of that nature.
Sure. At intermission.
See you then.
Just before the closing seconds of the first period, we’re still down by one, but true to his word, Jake finds me in the suite. James’s light mood evaporates instantly, and his eyes narrow at Jake’s arrival.
“Spider, are you going with me down to the locker room?” James asks.
My eyes shift to Jake briefly then to James. “Uh . . . you go ahead without me. I’ll see the guys at the next intermission.”
He nods, watching as Jake and I step out into the concourse for a little privacy.
“That guy is an asshole,” Jake mumbles with another glance behind us.
“No, he isn’t. Let’s walk.” Once we’re farther away from the team suite, I lower my voice, hoping to keep our conversation between us. “So, what’s up?”
“Keep an open mind,” he starts. “I think you’re going to like this.”
“Jake, this better not be another trade,” I warn.
His smile falls a little. “Edward, you deserve to be a starter. I have two teams—Vancouver and Calgary—interested in bringing you in as a starting goaltender. Starting. Not backup. Starting,” he emphasizes again. “Plus, they’re each willing to add a one-year contract to the deal. One of them is for four and the other is four point five mil. Almost double what you’re making with Dallas. They have a few draft picks or younger players they’re considering including as part of the trade deals who probably would be of interest to Royce. But both teams are in great positions to make the playoffs. And . . . this would give you another year past the end of the season to play. A chance to win the Cup twice. Think about it, man—back-to-backs.”
Jake is getting way ahead of himself, and I’m already shaking my head, unsure if I will be playing beyond the end of this season.
“Starters make five to six minimum. Their offers aren’t enough incentive to leave. And it isn’t only about the money. You know that. I like being in Dallas. We have a great team and are a solid contender this year. My family is there too.”
“You’re killing me, Edward.” Jake groans in frustration. “What if I could get either of them up to five?”
The thought causes me to pause for a moment and really consider the possibility. Could I do that? Move to Vancouver or Calgary as a starter for the rest of this season with a five million, one-year deal for next season? I haven’t been a starter for years. Could my body take that kind of demand again? Especially at thirty-four? I would be there for roughly a year and a half.
What would Bella do? Stay in Dallas? I don’t want to be away from her for a week, let alone a year and a half. At this point, she is reluctant to move into my home. So I have no idea how in the world I would convince her to move with me to Canada. Plus, there’s the whole situation with her mother, then her job.
After our shopping trip yesterday, I left the jewelry store empty-handed, which was disappointing, but none of the engagement rings felt like . . . her.
I don’t know what to say.
“Jake . . .”
He holds up his hands. “Okay, don’t say no. Take some time to think about it. There’s no rush if we’re still working out the details, but let’s switch gears. I have something else. Your next road trip after this one is the first week in February, right?”
I check the calendar on my phone and confirm we’re playing the New York area teams then. “Yeah, that’s right.”
Jake nods. “I’ve got an in-studio audition for you in New Jersey. I’ll text you with the details when I’m back in the office tomorrow. The audition shouldn’t take long. You’ll watch some previously aired game clips, then they will record you talking about them. You know, answer questions and share your insights. Make sure you wear a suit.”
“I can do that.” I smile, because he is finally listening and considering my future retirement options. This is one I’ve been eager to try. “Should I practice?”
“It wouldn’t hurt if you’re serious about it, but you need to realize, the money won’t be close to what you’ve been earning as a player. It’s a small fraction of that. A job like this one would only shuffle you to another part of the game.”
I shrug. “I will need to transition at some point, and this is an option that would be easier on me physically. I can’t play forever.”
“Understood. But I can also help if you want to move behind the bench as a coach since you said you weren’t interested in the front office. I still think recruiting or scouting would be great options for you.”
I wave off those ideas for now. “Let me see how this goes first.”
He nods. “How’s everything else? You guys are on a winning streak now, right?”
“Yeah, but those come and go. We just need to take it one game at a time.”
“Okay. Keep the Vancouver and Calgary deals in mind. I’ll see if I can get you more money. Even if you ultimately say no, the chatter wouldn’t hurt to remind Royce of your value. Especially if we’re negotiating with him for next season.”
Considering Royce isn’t exactly happy with me at the moment, I know that any conversation now wouldn’t be well received.
“Jake, that’s only going to piss him off. I don’t believe he would be willing to extend my contract or up the dollar amount before the end of the season. And I’m unsure if I’m ready to have that conversation.”
“All right. All right. I’m just looking out for you. You know that, right? I’ve got your back,” Jake reassures.
“You should. I pay you enough.” I smirk.
He grins. “I better let you get back to the game before you are missed. I’ll be in touch.”
After returning to the suite, I fill another plate with the new selections made available during my absence. I add salad, rice, and some sort of grilled chicken with a sauce to a new plate before taking my spot next to James with a fresh beer.
“Hey.” I nod toward my plate. “Are you finished?”
“Hey. Nah. I just got back. I’ll go at least another round.” He smiles, then watches me closely for a moment before putting away his phone. “All good with . . . ?”
I know he’s curious about my conversation with Jake. “Yeah. He’s just doing his job.”
While I turned down the Vegas deal eventually, I gave it careful consideration before doing so. And now, Bella is even more of a factor in my decisions. I wish I could tell James not to worry, but before I can do that I really need to have a conversation with Bella first. My future isn’t as certain as his.
James is the kind of player to build a team around. He’s in the third year of an eight-year contract. In his past twelve years of playing in the league—all with Dallas, James has earned three times more than I have in the entire fifteen years of my professional career. There’s no doubt in my mind he will be the face of Dallas hockey for years to come and probably finish his career here. At thirty-one, he isn’t slowing down, but coming into his prime with a lot more hockey left to play.
“I see.” James nods. “Well, if you haven’t heard it from anyone else, I’m saying it now. I want you here—not just because you’re my friend, but because you’re one of the best. We’re lucky to have you. With most tandems, the gap in talent between the starter and backup is questionable, but that isn’t the case for us. Everyone on the team knows we can win with either of you in goal on any given night, which is a comfort—no, a confidence like no other.”
“I understand that you’ve got to do what is right for you, but whatever you choose—I’ll support you. We’ll always be friends, even if that means you’re sitting on the other bench and living in another city.”
I smile, because his comments echo what I heard from Coach yesterday. “I feel the same way.”
Our focus returns to the game, and it isn’t until toward the end of the second period that Tyler scores on a power play goal evening the game at one-one. James and I leap from our seats enthusiastically when we put another puck in the back of the net thirty-seven seconds later, giving us the lead. It’s a tough battle through the remaining twenty-five minutes of ice time to protect our lead, but we do.
Ben makes thirty saves, and we walk away from this game with a win, plus another two points to add to our position in the standings. It’s our fifth win in as many games. While reporters love to bring that up constantly, we know keeping that winning streak alive is unreasonable, but we will try to ride it for as long as possible. In this league, every game is challenging with the exceptional level of talent found on each team. We can’t and won’t take anything for granted.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
“Edward. Are you at the hotel?” he asks.
After shoving another pillow behind my head, I settle against the headboard of my bed, ready to call it a night. “Yeah. I’m in my room.”
“Good. So, you can talk. Tell me the good news. It’s Calgary, isn’t it? I knew they would come through. That agent of yours is worth his weight in gold. When do they want you there? Tomorrow?”
“Uh . . . slow down. I don’t have any hockey news to share,” I caution.
“But you didn’t play tonight or even dress. Oh, hell. Is it your ankle again? Or your wrist? Did you hurt it in practice?”
“Neither. And no, I’m fine,” I reassure.
“Then why in the hell aren’t you on the bench?” he asks, then groans as if he has the situation figured out. “How many times have I told you to keep your mouth shut?”
I don’t like his tone, and I’m quick to defend my actions. “I have, but that isn’t it. I missed a practice before we left. No big deal.”
“Missed a practice?” he asks incredulously. “I don’t understand. Why would you do that? You never miss practice. I taught you better. Edward, what’s going on?”
“Nothing. Like I said, it’s no big deal. Let’s leave it at that.”
We’re both quiet for a moment, but I know he won’t let this go.
“Your sister quit her job.”
“That’s what I heard.”
“Mmm-hmm. And your girlfriend is responsible for both of them being unemployed. Is it also her fault you missed practice?”
I’m getting more and more pissed off with the direction of this conversation. “No.”
“Why don’t I believe you? She’s no different from the rest of them—quitting her job, and now expecting you to fund her next frivolous adventure.”
“You’re out of line.”
“Am I? I don’t think so.”
“You know what, Dad? I’m not doing this—”
After adjusting my position, I release a deep frustrated breath. I recall Tanya’s recent reminders of how he treated her combined with her suspicions of how he’s been acting toward Bella. It puts me in a difficult position, but I want to make sure he understands disrespecting Bella in any way won’t be tolerated.
“No . . . I think I am doing this with you. You’ve got some kind of chip on your shoulder when it comes to Bella or anyone I date. I see what you’re doing, and you know what? I do have news for you—that’s not going to work for me, Dad.” I pause and collect my thoughts.
“Not that either of us owes you any sort of explanation, but Bella quit her job because she was working for an asshole who was taking advantage of her. I’m thrilled and proud of her for standing up for herself. She no longer has to deal with him or anyone else in that office who doesn’t appreciate her. Bella deserves better and so does my sister.”
“Edward, you are letting this woman—”
I cut him off before he can say more; I’m not listening to his opinions anymore.
“Let me make this really clear and in terms you’ll understand. Bella is on my team now, and she is exactly the kind of woman I need. You’d better get used to the idea, because she isn’t going anywhere. Stop ignoring her when we’re all together or when I’m not around. Stop blaming her for a situation you know nothing about. And stop pushing for me to leave Dallas. You aren’t going to drive a wedge between anyone, but you and me.
“I’ll discuss any career moves I make with Bella first before making a decision. And despite any preconceived notions on your part, she doesn’t have a frivolous bone in her body. Or need me to fund anything for her. You would know that if you took the time to get to know her.” I take a moment to catch my breath. “Dad . . . I love her.”
He’s quiet, and I wonder if he’s still on the line before he chuckles when I don’t continue.
“I’ve heard that before. I suppose next you’re going to tell me it’s different this time?”
“It is different,” I defend.
“She is going to ruin years and years of hard work you’ve invested getting to this point. You’re right there, son. It’s so close. I can feel it.”
“You’re wrong. She won’t ruin anything. Stop treating her like she isn’t an important part of my family because she is. I’m warning you—”
Dad interrupts, “Listen to you—warning me. Look at what she’s doing to you. She’s in your head, turning you against your own father. What kind of woman does that?”
“That’s absolutely not the case—not what’s happening at all.”
“Oh, Edward. I’ve seen this all before. You really know how to pick ’em. When will you ever learn?”
“You know what? I’ve heard enough. If you can’t be supportive, Dad, then we have nothing left to discuss here.”
“I’ve always been supportive of you,” he states.
“But that’s just it, Dad. You haven’t. Throughout my entire career, I needed you to support me—not only on the ice, but also off too.”
“You’re blaming me for your failures now?”
“Not at all, but maybe your form of support is the problem here. I need you to support us and our relationship. Until you can do that—”
Beep, beep, beep.
I pull my phone away from my ear and confirm the sound.
He ended our call—hung up on me when he didn’t like the direction of the conversation coming back to his unacceptable behavior.
Why am I not surprised?