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The Graham Effect: Chapter 53

GIGI

Just a moment in time

RYDER LOOKS LIKE SEX IN A SUIT, AND IT TAKES ALL MY WILLPOWER not to bang him in the bathroom at the Hall of Fame ceremony. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be, having a hot, six-foot-five hockey player husband. I want to bang him all the time, and that’s a real problem.

But tonight is about my father, so I keep my brain out of the gutter, chastely hold my husband’s hand, and count the hours until we’re in a bed.

The ceremony was more emotional than I expected. I cried during it, pride filling my chest when the former Boston head coach honored my father with a beautiful speech. Now it’s the party portion of the night, and we’re unfortunately stuck doing the part I hate the most: mingling. Luckily, I have Ryder and Wyatt to share in the torture with. Mom doesn’t seem to mind the mingling. Or maybe she just had to do so much of it over the years, for both her career and his, that she’s good at pretending.

“Greg, I’d like you to meet my kids, Gigi and Wyatt.” Dad appears with an older gray-haired man in town.

The man looks vaguely familiar, and then Dad introduces him, and it turns out they played together for one season twenty years ago, when Dad was a rookie and Greg was the wily veteran.

“And this is my son-in-law, Luke.”

It amazes me how in less than a month, Dad can now say the word son-in-law with such ease, as if Ryder’s been part of the family for years.

“Oh, this guy needs no introduction,” Greg says with a grin, reaching out to shake Ryder’s hand. “Luke Ryder! Ah, man, I’ve been following your career since the World Juniors. Can’t wait for you to head to Dallas and see what you do down there.”

“Me too,” Ryder says.

They chat for a few minutes, and then our group moves along to mingle anew.

This time it’s a coach from Detroit. One of the other inductees this year is a former Red Wings player.

Dad once again introduces Ryder, although this time he adds a throwaway line that makes me raise an eyebrow.

“Luke is going to coach at the Hockey Kings camp in August,” he tells the guy. He glances at Ryder. “Coach Belov will be assisting us one of the days on a shooting workshop. So you two will get to work together, get to know each other better.”

“Looking forward to it,” Ryder says, and I can see him doing his level best to maintain a neutral expression.

Once Belov wanders away, Ryder stares at my dad, who says, “What?”

“Was that your way of giving me the coaching slot at Hockey Kings?”

“Oh, do I need to do an official ask? I just assumed you’d say yes.”

Wyatt snorts.

I sip my champagne. For once in my life, I might actually be enjoying myself at one of these events. So, of course, the universe decides to ruin it.

Brad Fairlee is making his way toward us.

“Shit,” I mutter under my breath.

Ryder follows my gaze and instantly reaches for my hand.

Dad notices the new arrival and gives me a look of assurance. “It’ll be okay.”

And it is. At first. Fairlee just shakes Dad’s hand, congratulates him on the honor. Then he congratulates both me and Ryder on our respective championships. I manage to stifle my resentment when he and Dad discuss the upcoming women’s Worlds. It’s in two weeks, and it utterly grates that I could have been playing in it. Still feels like a failure on my part, but I keep forcing myself to remember Ryder’s words. It’s just a moment in time. There will be other moments.

Everything’s friendly and polite—until Fairlee brings up his daughter. It starts off innocuous, him telling Mom about how Emma is auditioning for roles on the West Coast. Then it turns into him glancing at me, his features tightening.

“Emma mentioned you two ran into each other this winter.”

I nod. “We did.”

“She was quite upset when she got home.” His tone remains careful, but his eyes are accusatory.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I answer, equally careful.

There’s a beat of silence.

Then Brad sips his champagne, lowers his glass, and sighs. “Of the two of you, I will say, I expected you to be the more mature one, Gigi. You could afford to show her some grace.”

Oh no, he didn’t.

And ironically, it’s not my reaction he needs to worry about. He just called me immature and graceless in front of my asshole husband, my asshole brother, and my asshole father. That’s bad enough.

But it’s the mama bear he triggered.

“I don’t think so, Brad,” my mother barks in a sharp voice. “With all due respect—and I do respect you—don’t try to parent my kid. Go parent your own. She’s the one with issues that need working through.”

His eyes flash. “Emma didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Emma crawled into my bed, naked, and tried to screw my husband,” Mom says politely, while my brother coughs into his hand to stop from laughing.

Fairlee is stricken. He quickly turns toward my father, who nods and says, “True story.”

“Jesus. Garrett.” His chastened eyes return to my mom. “Hannah. I had no idea. I…apologize on behalf of my daughter.”

“Brad. No. You have nothing to apologize for,” Dad interjects, because at the end of the day Brad Fairlee didn’t do anything wrong. He simply tried to be a good dad by spoiling his kid, making up for her mother leaving them both. “We just kindly ask you don’t talk to our daughter about things you know nothing about.”

“Understood.” Fairlee nods, still looking mortified.

A moment later, he stumbles off in a daze, chugging his champagne.

Sighing, I glance at my parents. “You didn’t have to tell him what Emma did. I feel—” I stop, remembering everything Ryder advised me. Then I shrug, smiling at my husband. “Actually, no. I don’t feel bad. She made her bed.”

Ryder grins. “That’s my girl.”

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