A/N: Thank yous to NKubie, LizziePaige, and Honeymoon Edward, for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for betaing. They’re all amazing, and I’m so grateful for their help. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Craving You,” Thomas Rhett (feat. Maren Morris)
(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.
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My Thanksgiving morning begins with big sloppy licks across my face from Scout long before my alarm ever sounds, putting a smile on my face. He’s an early riser like me. While I wish Bella were here, this is a solid second choice versus starting my mornings alone. Scout jumps off the bed, leading me toward the door and wagging his tail. I slip on a pair of sweatpants and grab a hoodie, sliding it over my head as we leave the room.
Shadow’s whereabouts are unknown until she reappears when I open the door to the pool area. I’m happy to see she’s awake and hope she’s found her new litter box in the laundry room. Shadow follows us outside and around the pool to the gate. Once opened, Scout happily escapes into the fenced lawn and pond area behind my home. We look on as he explores the perimeter, and I realize I should probably take him on a walk before I leave for the morning skate.
Upon his return from exploring the area, we walk back inside. I slide my feet into a pair of flip-flops and snap Scout’s leash to his collar. Scratching behind his ears, he leans into my touch and sits patiently as Shadow climbs onto Scout’s back. She settles quickly at his neck, ready for our walk around the neighborhood. On this peaceful, cool morning, there’s no rush, and I find myself enjoying this time just the three of us.
The lights are on as we pass by Marcus and Deedee’s home. He’s probably getting ready to leave, but I know their families arrived yesterday from California to spend the holiday and weekend here. So, they could be awake. They have a son, Alec, who plays on my nephew, Eric’s, hockey team. According to my sister, they are becoming quite the duo on ice.
At yesterday’s morning skate, the captains verified that everyone has somewhere to spend today. Every team I’ve ever played on has felt like family, even when mine wasn’t geographically close. Many of our international players are eager to experience traditional American holidays, and we don’t think twice about including everyone, especially on days like this one. Tyler’s mother is creating a feast at his home, and a handful of players will be going there. Others are joining Marcus and his family. I haven’t told my sister yet, but I’m bringing some of the guys with me too.
Once I return home with Scout and Shadow, I fill their food and water bowls, then get ready to leave, locating my phone still in its charger on my nightstand. I do a quick check of my social media accounts without anything new until I open my Instagram app. I’m stunned when I see the notification.
“drbswan tagged you in a photo.”
I’ve been tagged.
There’s no keeping the smile from my face when I touch the link, and it takes me directly to one of the selfies of the two of us I sent her yesterday. I’m fucking giddy at what this means.
We’re officially out.
My relief is swift, and I don’t hesitate, tapping the heart red under the photo and loving that she’s ready to put us out there. Maybe my turning down the Vegas deal was what she needed to hear from me last night. The caption says “My favorite goalie” with a Heart Eyes emoji next to it.
I suspect the first commenters to be Garrett and Al. “boyintheband” is probably Garrett, as I believe Bella said he’s a music professor at one of the local universities. While Garrett is originally from Austin, Bella told me Al is from Chicago. Even I know the musical, and knowing him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t have his middle name changed to “razzle dazzle.”
boyintheband straight fire
mr_razzledazzle flex it babe
mr_razzledazzle I’m here for this
My smile widens when I notice my buddies are also included in the comments section, but I didn’t realize so many of them were following her account.
bigben30 he’s okay
14capnjay mine too, doc
tcrow91 nice pic
bigben30 @14capnjay WTF
tcrow91 @bigben30 truth hurts
bigben30 @tcrow91 ouch
16volts new fav couple
Ben, James, Tyler, Marcus, and Deedee are all there, but I’m surprised that one of our defensemen is included as well. Demir “Fin” Aro is one of the younger guys on our team from Finland. On ice, he’s aggressive, guarding our blue line single-handedly at times like a shark and ready to pounce. I love everything about his game play, but off the ice, he reminds me of my early years in the league. We’ve gotten closer, and he’s one of the guys who will be joining me at Rose’s after our morning skate.
With Scout and Shadow curled up in his new dog bed and ready for a morning nap, I fill a travel mug with my green juice and leave for our practice arena, calling Rose on the way. The call barely rings once when her voice booms with warning over the speakers of my truck.
“You better not be canceling on me.”
“Good morning to you too.”
“Hey,” she says with a heavy exhale. “It’s madness here with only breakfast under way. Hang on. Eric, go help please.”
I can hear a mix of voices in the background, but Lucy’s recognizable laughter carries over everyone else.
“Sorry. I’m back.”
“Sounds like Em’s parents are already there.”
They live in Nashville, but always rent a home nearby whenever they visit Rose and her family. Sometimes they bring additional family members with them, but I think they love the extra space versus staying at a hotel suite, which I understand completely.
“They showed up an hour ago, and Lucy brought warm cinnamon rolls. God, they’re delicious. I’ve already had two. I’m going to gain ten pounds while they’re here for the next week. She’s covered my cooktop this morning with every skillet I have, making eggs to order and cooking bacon for everyone. The house smells incredible. Mom and Dad just arrived too.”
“Well, the good news for you is that I’m not canceling. It’s the opposite.”
“Great. How many are you bringing?”
“Three for now. James, Ben, and Demir.”
“Ben? I thought he was dating—”
“Nope. They’re over. Again.”
“Hmmm. Maybe I should call Jess and ask her to stop by today. Or Angela.”
“I think we’re going to disagree,” she says. “Well, if anyone else’s plans change, we have room and plenty of food. Mom brought some of your favorites.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, but what about . . . what if I bring Scout and Shadow?”
“Come on, Rose. They’ll be good. They are so content to be reunited with one another, but I can’t leave them at home alone when I’ll be away most of the day. They’re part of my family now. I promise, they will sleep most of the time, and there won’t be any issues. Please, for me.”
“How do you know there won’t be any issues? You haven’t been with them even a full day yet.”
“They’re older and both house trained. When I went to the SPCA, I told the facilities manager I was only looking to adopt a pet that would be good with children and other pets. Your kids helped with the process. Rose, listen, if there’s a problem with either Duke or Sassy, I’ll take them back home. Come on. Give them a chance. You’ll see.”
“Fine. Bring them, but I’m not cleaning up after either one. That’s on you.”
“Okay. Got it and thanks. The guys are going to drive separately, but we’ll arrive after our morning skate around one. Need me to bring anything?”
“Wine. There’s never enough wine when Em’s mom is here, and now she’s pouring Mom a glass of rosé. It looks like we’re having wine with breakfast. Is it even eight o’clock yet?” She laughs. “I’ve got to go before she finds my Moscato.”
I chuckle. “I’ll bring you more wine and see you later today.”
After ending the call with my sister, the urge to call Bella and hear her sleepy voice is difficult to resist, but with the time difference, she’s probably not awake yet. If she is, then her father’s kitchen is undoubtedly a flurry of activity like my sister’s, with the addition of five unexpected guests. Once I pull into a parking spot in the garage next to the practice arena, I finish the last of my green drink, send Bella a quick “Happy Thanksgiving” text with a heart, then leave my phone in the middle console of my truck.
I’m one of the first to arrive, but before our morning meeting, I stop by one of our workout rooms with an eating area. It’s always stocked with snacks and drinks, including a variety of hot and cold meal options. I select my standard breakfast of oatmeal with berries and nuts, plus a side of scrambled eggs. As the rest of my teammates arrive, some grab a quick snack, leaving to receive medical treatments, but others stay, sitting with me for breakfast.
By nine, we’re all dressed for working out off-ice. We begin with our morning meetings as a team, then switch to smaller groups, going over details for tomorrow night’s game with our coaches. Ben will be the starter against St. Louis, but we all focus on the latest scouting reports for each of their players. It’s a great rivalry between our teams, but they’re dealing with injuries to at least six of their dominant players, which means their lesser-known teammates will be getting more ice time.
At the conclusion of our morning meetings, we go our separate ways for off-ice workouts. I prepare as I would on game day, finding a quiet place away from my teammates to do my stretching routine. Everyone is always surprised that Ben and I prefer to warm up away from one another, but it’s an important part of our mental prep—what works for me doesn’t necessarily apply to Ben and vice versa. When I’m loose, I move to an empty hallway and do hand-eye exercises, throwing two racquetballs against a wall repeatedly to ready my eyes for tracking the puck. Afterward, I suit up in my skates and pads, spending another ten minutes stretching, and visualize myself making saves.
When I’m ready to take the ice, it’s almost eleven. Ben and I work through skating and save exercises away from the team with our goaltending coach. The time goes quickly, and soon we’re added to the team drills, spending additional time tweaking issues with our power play and penalty kill units in anticipation of an aggressive St. Louis team. They’re the reigning champs, and tomorrow night will be another opportunity for us to see how we measure up.
Our goal at the beginning of the season was to be in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving, and we’ve done that. We are second in our division behind St. Louis. Now, our next goal is to be in a playoff spot at the end of the season. We’re twenty-six games into our 82-game schedule with plenty of hockey left to play. With my decision to stay in Dallas, I’m more confident than ever we have what it takes to be the last team standing, raising the trophy proudly over our heads in front of our family, friends, but most importantly our fans.
With the end of our ice time, I change out of my gear, then Ben and I meet with our goaltending coach for his final notes for each of us and things to remember going into tomorrow night’s game. During our meeting, I rehydrate with a sports drink and coconut water, then refuel with a bagel smeared with peanut butter, before I finish the morning skate with my final stretching routine.
After a shower, there’s a buzz of excitement in the locker room as everyone discusses their afternoon and evening plans. Most are focused on the three football games scheduled for today. Dallas’s football team is hosting Buffalo for the second game, and a few of the guys are friends with several of their players. So, they’re pumped about attending the game, but a majority of my teammates are excited to spend time with family members from out of town, while enjoying traditional Thanksgiving feasts.
I’m no different, looking forward to all of it, but it isn’t the first time today my thoughts drift to Bella, wishing she were here in Dallas.
There’s no denying her return can’t come soon enough for me.