“Say it again!” I shout at number forty as the ref guides him away from me with a busted lip and split cheekbone. “Pussy!” I got a few good hits on him before the ref broke up our fight.
We are playing against the Los Angeles Devils and are crushing them six to one with two minutes left in the third period. Forty was asking to get his ass beat the entire game. He kept jabbing me in the ribs, holding onto me when the ref wasn’t looking, and overall being a dirty fucking rat. He sealed his fate when he spoke a word about Laura. Granted, he doesn’t know Laura or even her name. But he asked if my girl was in the crowd before commenting how he’d love to take her from behind and make me watch, and I tuned out a few other things because, after the first remark, he was fucking done.
The crowd is, of course, going crazy, believing it was some random fight, which it was, I suppose. But to me, it was war. You don’t talk about my girl, or son, or my team. I will always protect them with my fists and my life.
We finish the game, and MacArthur can add another shutout to his stats. He’s an incredible fucking goalie and an amazing dude. We are so lucky to have him. He had a great game tonight with some mind-blowing saves.
After the game, I shower and change as fast as possible, itching to get to Laura and Jack. I have a surprise for them, mostly for Laura; Jack may be too young to appreciate it fully. I really hope they didn’t see it when they came in for the game, although even if they did, I doubt they would know that it’s for them.
I find them in the family waiting area, a place dedicat- ed to the team’s families to wait without being bombarded by fans. Jack spots me first and comes running.
“Hey, buddy. Enjoy the game?” I ask, kissing the side of his head.
“Yeah, it was awesome!” He sings.
Laura walks over, and I pull her in for a kiss while still holding Jack. “And you?”
She cringes. “I always struggle to watch you fight, but it’s part of the game, and he didn’t hit you once. So it was a little easier to watch this time. You had a really good game, babe.”
“Thank you,” feeling warmth spread through me at her praise. “I have a surprise for you. Come on.”
They follow me, surprisingly without questions, until we reach the arena’s front entrance.
“Take my hand and close your eyes,” I tell her with Jack in my arms.
She does what I ask. “Should I be scared?”
I laugh. “No.”
Guiding her to one of the newest additions to the arena, I placed her directly in front of it and set Jack beside her. “Open.”
“I remember how much she loved the sport, and she used to be my biggest fan at games when I was a kid. You once said she was the reason you started watching hockey. So, I thought this would be a good way to honor her.” I say softly, letting her take it in.
The newest addition to the arena comes with two benches with a plaque on each one that reads, Sponsored by the Young Studio Foundation. The Young Studio was her mom’s hair salon.
“What is the Young Studio Foundation?” She whispers, tears streaming down her cheeks to sad smiling lips.
“I had a foundation created in the name of your mom’s studio that will raise money for families in need with loved ones in the hospital. To help with bills, to help with groceries, or anything they may need. Families complete an application to the foundation, and the board selects recipients from a certain criterion.” I pull her back into me, my arms around her shoulders.
She remains quiet, and I kiss the top of her head. Jack runs over to the bench and sits on it.
“It’s a good one. Thanks, Dad,” he says sweetly, un- aware of the true meaning, but we can explain it to him one day.
Lu spins in my arms. “I love you so much, Alec.” She says as I kiss the tears away. “Thank you for everything you have done for us.”
I squeeze her tighter and plant soft kisses on her cheeks, eyes, nose, and forehead. “You don’t have to thank me. She was an amazing woman, and I’m happy to do it for her. I love you too, Lu.”
This moment has me thinking of her mom and how hard she must have fought to return to Laura and Jack. She was always a fighter. It reminds me of the day we went to visit her in Duluth.
I rest my clasped hands on the bed beside her, focusing my attention on her frail face. “Hey, Mrs. Young. You raised an incredible woman and would be so proud of the boy she is raising.” My eyes flicker to her right hand, which I take in mine. “I’m sure you are pretty upset with me, and we have a lot to catch up on, but I’m here. I’m not going anywhere, and I plan on explaining it all to you when you wake up.”
I continued telling her how my hockey career was going and about the first time I met Jack. Then Laura talked to her for a while, and my heart ached to look at her while she watched her mom’s frail body, bedbound. I could see her pleading in her gaze for her mom to wake up. Laura stands to leave the room.
Before leaving, I feel the urge to say one more thing to the woman who always puts everyone first before herself. I whisper, leaning toward her ear, “You don’t have to worry about them anymore. I’ve got them. You can rest easy now.”