One Month Later
I was pretty sure Daddy P was going to kill our new guy.
We were on a hot streak, one that Aleks Suter almost ruined when he decided to get in a fight for no fucking reason. He’d been sent to the penalty box, and then we’d been scored on — bringing us to a tie with Toronto.
Fortunately for Aleks, Vince had answered that goal with one of his own less than three minutes later, and we’d pulled off the win. But as soon as we made it to the locker room, Will grabbed Aleks by the jersey and steered him down the hall to chat.
I did not envy him — especially since Daddy P seemed particularly grumpy lately. My guess was that it had a lot to do with the fact that he couldn’t find a reliable nanny to save his life, and he was trying to captain a team that had an unpredictable enforcer who liked to shake shit up.
When I made it to my locker, I high fived my teammates as they passed, peeling off my jersey and pads in-between. The energy wasn’t quite the same as when we won at home. There was no DJ to play our win song as we skated the rink, but there was something particularly satisfying about beating a team on their home ice.
I frowned when the last of the team had filed in, because Carter hadn’t been among them — and I hated it.
He’d been sent down to the AHL again.
I knew from experience how badly that shit hurt. When I’d started in the league, I’d flopped back and forth between the two until I upped my game. I had faith Carter would do the same eventually — he’d find his permanent spot here in Tampa.
But until then, I knew how it stung, how it made you question if you were good enough.
It also sucked for us, because Carter’s energy was one no one else could match. I missed the little fucker.
Reaching into my bag, I pulled out my phone, smiling when I saw a few missed texts from Grace.
Future Wife: How’s the weather in Toronto? Because I’d be willing to bet it’s not as great as here.
Her next text was of her in a tiny swimsuit sprawled out on a lounge chair by a pool. She had found a random house-sitting job in Thailand where she took care of the plants, packages, and a fat cat named Gegee, which meant she got to explore a new place like she loved to do.
I missed her like fucking crazy, but seeing the content smile on her face made me happy she went.
I snapped a pic and sent it back.
Me: It’s cold as balls. But I’ll be using that pic you sent to warm myself up when I’m back at the hotel.
Future Wife: Perv.
Me: You’re just mad you’ll miss out on the fun.
Future Wife: Or, you could FaceTime me and we could both have some fun…
I chuckled at the tease, putting my phone down so I could continue taking off my gear. When it buzzed again, I opened it to another photo.
This time, with her top off.
It was just ten in the morning there, the sunlight playing with the palm tree leaves above her and casting lines of shadows across her gorgeous body.
And now, I had a boner.
Me: Fucking hell, baby. You’ve got me rock hard in another team’s locker room.
Future Wife: In one week, I’ll have you rock hard in me.
Me: Now I’m definitely calling you when I get to the hotel.
Future Wife: Hmm… maybe I’ll answer. If I feel up to it.
She sent a winky emoji with that, and I smirked, shaking my head. Then, Vince popped up right beside me, and I hastily shoved my phone away before he could see the screen.
“I think Daddy P is going to need a stiff drink tonight,” he said, eyeing where Will and Aleks had just walked back through the door. Aleks looked smug, and Daddy P looked like he’d aged ten years.
“I can’t remember the last time he went out with us.”
“Well, I think we need to try tonight.”
I nodded, packing my shit away as Vince went over to talk to Will.
The last month had been a whirlwind. Between the team being on a hot streak with a promising spot in the playoffs ahead of us, my personal life was in the best shape it’d ever been in. Grace and I had found a way to be a couple while also not sacrificing anything that made us individuals.
Grace had spent a couple weeks in Tampa with me, neither of us wanting to be apart longer than when I had to go to the arena for practice or a game. But eventually, she was ready to roam, that adventurous part of her heart striking to life like a match.
So now, she had various trips planned — from Thailand to New Mexico. I was happy she was going. I was even more happy that the road always led her back to me in the end.
As for me, I had hockey — and for the first time in my life, it was well and truly mine. My father hadn’t tried to contact me since the day I told him how I felt. Some days, that hurt like hell. But most days, it felt like I’d cut myself free, like I’d shed the chains binding me to an abuser.
What soothed more than anything was that my mom had shown up in Tampa two weeks ago.
It was the night before Grace was leaving for Thailand, and when I’d gotten the call from my front gate and found my mom on the other side of it, I’d nearly shit myself.
I couldn’t remember the last time she’d left the house, let alone the country.
I’d made us tea, Grace launching into action and setting up the guest room while Mom and I talked. She’d left my father — and she’d told me it had been me who had given her the strength to do it.
Still, as happy as I was for both of our freedoms, it killed me to think of Dad being alone. But this was his choice, and all we could do was love him and ask him to show up for us. If he didn’t, that was on him.
Mom stayed with me until a few nights ago when we moved her into her own little condo near the beach — one I was happy to pay for. It would take time for us to heal our relationship, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But she was in Tampa, and we were trying. That was the only first step I needed.
Grace had faced her family shortly after the media frenzy died down, too. I sat by her side and held her hand as she told them how she’d felt her entire life. I knew it wasn’t easy for her, nor was it easy for her family to hear. Facing trauma of any kind makes everyone involved uncomfortable. But they listened, and so did she, and in the end, they were hugging and crying and making promises to change.
Vince was the one who jumped on board first. I’d never seen him take such a high interest in anyone other than Maven. But now that Grace was living in Tampa at least part time, he took every advantage he could to hang out with her and get to know her better.
It made Grace happy — which, in turn, made me happy, too.
Now, I was counting down the days to when I would have her back in my arms. This was apparently a common theme for me now, but as much as I longed for her, I loved that she was still the woman I met that night in Austin. We were together without her having to lose herself. I would have been in pain if it were any other way.
She was a bird with a need to move, to travel, to explore. I would never clip her wings, nor would I let her cage herself.
I wanted her to fly.
And in the end, she always came back to me.
She always came back home.