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Famous Last Words: Chapter 31


The puck leaves the ref’s hand, and my stick is already motion. Northpoint’s center is slower than me, swiping across the ice a split second too late. I’m already charging toward their zone, the roar of the crowd fading as I focus on nothing except the red pipes in front of me and the goalie between me and the netting. Between me and him, there’s nothing but a stretch of smooth white.

I fly across the blue line after the puck, debating on whether I circle and pass or try to capitalize on this breakaway. We’re up by two goals with five minutes left in the third period, which is a pretty comfortable lead.

Three goals sound better.

I shoot, the satisfying sound of the siren blaring through the arena as soon as the puck finds the back of the net.

“Hell yeah, Hart!” Hunter pounds the top of my helmet, his voice jubilant and excited.

The fans packing the bleachers are excited. My teammates are excited. I even catch a glimmer of a smile beneath Coach’s bushy mustache as I skate along the bench, tapping gloves to celebrate my goal.

I think the one person in this rink—aside from those affiliated with Northpoint—who’s not excited is…me.

Sure, I see the excitement. Hear it. Understand it.

But I don’t feel it.

It’s like checking a task you have to complete off a list.

Score goal, check.

Four minutes and fifty-four seconds later; win game, check.

I shake hands with Northpoint on autopilot. Walk into the locker room on autopilot. Listen to Coach’s gruff congratulations on autopilot. Shower and change on autopilot.

Aidan and Hunter are bickering about where to get dinner as we walk down the hallway and into the lobby. I don’t care what kind of food we get, so I stay silent.

I’m trying to revel in how it’s January and we’ve only lost one game this entire season. That doesn’t sound as impressive as undefeated, but it’s a whole lot better of a record than anyone expected us to still have. And it means I might actually get that championship.

The last item on my list.

Win championship, no check yet.

“You gonna chime in, Hart, or keep up with the zombie impression?”

“I…” My voice trails as soon as I spot him.

The lobby is close to cleared out by now. The game ended at least thirty minutes ago, so the only people remaining are purposefully staying behind.

Hugh Garrison is standing in almost the exact same spot as the last time he was here, right by the spot on the wall where my plaque for the Caddell-Spade Award hangs.

His expression shifts to apprehensive as soon as he recognizes I’ve spotted him, possibly waiting for me to walk away again.

“One sec,” I mutter to Aidan and Hunter. We drove here together, so they have no choice but to stick around, or else walk.

My father’s face is chaotic with emotion as I approach. He’s never chosen to hide any of his feelings around me. Back when I had a schedule of going over to his house, anytime I made an excuse not to he would tell me, “Conor, I’m disappointed.” But he would look it too, have that disappointment written across his face. It would make me feel guilty. And then I’d be angry about feeling guilty. His obvious emotions encouraged me to hide my own, to shut down rather than react. Something I still do.

But, for the first time, I don’t resent Hugh’s openness. I can read the pride and excitement in his expression, and it’s a relief, almost, that the Edgewood game wasn’t the only time my father saw me play hockey.

“Hi, Conor.”

“Hey.” My grip tightens on the strap of the bag that’s slung across my shoulder, but I don’t otherwise react.

“That was an incredible game. You’re…” He shakes his head. “You’re one hell of a hockey player.”

There was a time when I would have snapped And you had nothing to do with it in response. But I’m tired of lashing out. Tired of being angry and bitter.

“Is Harlow okay?” I blurt, instead of a more appropriate response, like thanks.

He’s a link to her. If Harlow was in a plane crash, they would call the Garrisons, not me. I’m desperate for any connection—for any information—at this point. I don’t even care that Hugh’s the source.

“She’s fine.”

I exhale, relieved. I’ve written dozens of texts to her, then deleted them without sending.

There’s so much I want to tell her.

Random shit, like how I watched an orca documentary the other night because I was thinking about her. How I gave Aidan and Hunter the tickets she got me for Christmas because I couldn’t stomach going knowing it was something she’d planned for us together. How I drove down to the Sound on Saturday morning to watch Sam’s boat head out without her, too much of a coward to go say hi to the guy because he told me to take care of her and I didn’t.

Important shit, like how I love her.

I have no clue how to say any of it.

“Fine might not be the right word, actually,” Hugh continues. He’s studying me closely, and I shift under his scrutiny. “She’s clearly…down about something.”

I break eye contact. For the first time, I feel ashamed, standing in front of my father. I’ve been uncertain and uncomfortable, but never ashamed. That was always his role in my mind.

“I’m impressed—proud—Conor. Everything you’ve accomplished with hockey, with so many things.”


Hugh nods. “I knew it would impact your life, Conor—the poor decisions I made. Knew you’d have hard questions, that they’d maybe lead to some uncomfortable conversations. Worried how to ensure you and Landon both felt like you were priorities to me. But I never…I never thought this is where we’d end up. Not talking for years. All I know about you is that you’re a terrific hockey player. And that you light up the woman I love like a daughter in a way I’ve never witnessed. I glanced out my living room window and saw Harlow playing basketball in the driveway, looking happier than I’d seen her in years. Maybe ever. I’ve known that girl her entire life. Allison threw her mother’s baby shower. She’s sweet and polite and considerate. And do you want to know what she told me, when I asked what you were like?”

I stay silent. Because, yeah, I want to know.

“She told me ‘You missed out.’ And she was right. I know she was right. I’ll tell you I’m sorry a thousand times, Conor. Sorry about what happened with your mother, sorry how it resulted in us not having a relationship. I never thought my mistakes would affect your life this way, would impact the relationships you have with other people. I don’t know what happened between you and Harlow. She wouldn’t talk about it. But if it had anything to do with her living with us, I feel like I owe you another apology for that.”

“I fucked it up on my own,” I tell him.

Nothing in Hugh’s expression lightens.

“The worst thing you can experience as a parent is seeing your child repeat your mistakes. Realize they’ll carry your regrets. And Conor, if there’s one thing I say to you that you take the time to listen to—other than that I love you—it’s to fix things before it’s too late. Before something happens that you can’t take back. Make different choices than me, Conor. I pushed the woman I loved away. Tried to forget her by meeting someone else. I was lucky that woman was Allison. That we grew to love each other. But there will always be a part of me living an alternate life. That wonders if your mom still plays Christmas carols at Thanksgiving and wishes that I’d been the one to buy you your first pair of skates.”

I swallow, trying to clear the lump in my throat.

He holds out a piece of paper.

“Here’s Harlow’s flight information for tomorrow. If you decide not to pick her up, my number is at the bottom. And if there’s ever anything else you need, I’ll always answer.”

He turns to leave.

“I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over it. What happened with you and Mom. What happened with you and me.”

Hugh looks back. “You’ll always be my son, Conor. Whether or not you let me be your father is your choice. And I realized I stopped asking you to make it. So I’ll be here, every home game for the rest of your season. Whether you want to talk when I’m here? Your choice. I can be another face in the crowd, cheering you on. Cheering for my son.”

He stares at me, and I stare back.


“Okay,” he repeats, then walks out of the lobby.

I stand, watching the door swing shut behind him. Then head back toward where Aidan and Hunter are waiting by the side exit that leads straight into the parking lot.

“Was that Harlow’s dad?” Hunter asks.

I never answered his question, last time. I just stormed off.

“No. That was mine.”


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