I had the best seats in the Blues’ home arena. Well, technically, I didn’t, but that was only because I refused to take any more of Tom’s money—considering he offered to pay my senior year tuition so I could focus on studying—and sit in the most luxurious spot available, designed specifically for family and friends of the players. Not to mention, I wanted to be in the middle of the crowd, right smack dab in the midst of all the energy.
“It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to a hockey game.” My mom sighed from beside me, but I could tell by the way she leaned forward, with her eyes set on the ice, that she was totally immersed.
I scanned the ice for my favorite guy: number 15. It wasn’t his first game playing in the NHL, but it was the first game that I had dragged my mother to and only the second game I had been able to attend. My senior year wasn’t nearly as trying as my first three years in college because for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t immersed in dance. After Tom had offered to pay for my tuition, I called off the second audition that Professor Petit had graciously given me after my fall last year and simply danced for fun instead of killing myself to be the best.
I was partially thankful that Theo’s parents weren’t able to attend this game because they were on babysitting duty—something they thoroughly enjoyed—but only because I knew this would be difficult for my mom. I was certain they were watching the game, though. Probably while wearing their Blues jerseys with Theo’s name on the back. I bet his niece was cheering right along with them in her Blues-themed pajamas that Theo bought her.
I lingered on my mom’s bright cheeks and noticed the happy color on them that I hadn’t seen in a while. Even though she was honest about what had happened with Tom, it didn’t mean things were okay. There was a lot of guilt that she carried with her over the years that seemed to only come out when she was halfway through a bottle of the cheapest Barefoot wine.
Thankfully, she still had most of her clients after the fallout between Chad and his parents. His mother may have connected mine with the rich folk of our hometown, but she wasn’t so quick to destroy those working relationships—something I made a mental note of. I had no idea what had happened after I left Chad sitting at the booth at The Bex, or what had happened with his parents after my mom hastily quit being their housekeeper and spilled the secrets of Chad’s father, but it seemed that Chad’s mother wasn’t as shallow as the men in her family, especially because she wiped the slate clean and told my mother the money owed to them was no longer a concern.
I gained the courage to pull my eyes from the ice again and put my them back on my mom. “Did you watch…um…Tom often? Before his accident?” Before you left.
It was all true. The rumors about Tom Gardini being this almighty hockey player. And it was clearly obvious that he was a man of good morals—something my mother never dismissed after learning that he had come back for me after all these years.
The first time they saw each other again, after twenty-two years of being separated, was nothing less than uncomfortable. I was present for their conversation for no more than five minutes before I excused myself and allowed them to talk in private. There was a lot of apologizing, probably some unshed anger, and a whole lotta awkwardness that I wasn’t sure what to make of. They made sure to remind me that, although I was at the center of their world, their decisions weren’t my fault, and I took that for what it was and let them hash their problems out without the interference of my feelings being present.
Tom was a good man. He’d asked me to bring my mother to one of Theo’s games, and I wasn’t sure if it was because he was still trying to create a stable relationship between us, or if it was because he was giving my mother an olive branch.
Either way, she was here, sitting beside me. Tom was up in his special box as the team owner, and Theo had just skated onto the ice with an ease that just about every other hockey player envied. Butterflies filled me up to the brink, and I smiled at the sight of the number 15 on the back of his jersey.
“Yes,” my mom finally answered my question, and I knew her well enough to hear the resolute sadness that followed the simple word. “I went to every single home game.”
I laughed, hardly able to picture her, at my age, sitting in the stands while watching a hockey game. For as long as I could remember, she hated sports, but now I understood why she stayed away. It would have been a painful reminder of the broken heart she was trying to mend while taking care of me. I couldn’t imagine having to force myself to leave Theo, and sometimes the only emotion you could latch onto, to protect yourself, was anger.
“What?” My mom snapped her neck over to me. “Why is that funny?”
“It’s just hard to picture you, at my age, watching a hockey game. It’s hard to wrap my head around.”
She rolled her eyes and shifted her body back toward the ice. “Well, just look in a mirror, baby. I looked just like you, sitting in a random seat in the arena with the tiniest little spark in my eye while watching the boy I loved play the sport he loved.”
“You know,” I started, easing my words out with caution, “Tom may have loved hockey, but to my knowledge, he loved you too.”
Her laugh was sarcastic as she shifted in her seat, wearing the Blues shirt that Theo bought her. He may have gone a little crazy with the Blues attire for the entire family, but that was what I loved about him. His intentions were always so good. “That was many, many years ago.”
I shrugged, watching Theo and his team get hyped up for the game. He skated over to the other team, and I knew exactly what player he was heading for. Emory was the goalie for the opposing team. They briefly tapped gloves and nodded at one another before Theo headed in the other direction, back over to his team.
The lights began to get brighter, and I knew the game was going to begin soon. My heart did a flip, and my stomach filled with nerves. It was as if I were the one playing the game instead of Theo, but I was so connected with my boyfriend that I felt what he felt. When he was nervous, I was nervous. When he was happy, I was happy.
Everything began to fade away as I watched each navy-blue jersey skate into a horizontal line, gearing up for the sports announcers’ opening words and the national anthem. The white ice grew blurry, and everything else faded as I unknowingly stood. Theo pulled off his helmet and held it between his elbow and side, freeing his hand to run it through his unkempt brown hair. Excitement surged up my throat, and my smile was wide when we locked eyes. His grin was at the center of my core, and when he winked at me from the ice, my cheeks burned. God, I loved him. And I knew he loved me too. There was never a doubt in my mind that Theo Brooks, the best hockey player in college hockey now destined to be the best player in the NHL, loved me. Hockey used to be his one true love, but he made damn sure to show me every single day that it was me instead. Don’t get it wrong, though. He still loved hockey. And even though my father was the owner of the team he now played on, he took practice, conditioning, and each game seriously, not wanting anyone to think that he didn’t deserve to have that jersey on his back.
My gasp was subtle when Theo tipped his chin, still grinning wickedly at me from the ice, and pointed his free hand in my direction. I glanced at the Jumbotron behind him and saw that the camera was zooming in on Theo’s face. His lips mouthed the silent words, “I love you,” and then it quickly switched over to me and my parted lips and pink cheeks.
I smiled almost instantly, taking my attention from the Jumbotron and putting it back on Theo. I mouthed the words back, and the entire arena roared—even the other team’s fans.
My mom whispered from beside me just before the game started, and I couldn’t help but latch onto her advice.
“Your father was right. One of the first things he said to me after twenty-two years of being apart was, ‘Theo Brooks loves our daughter.’” Her hand fell on top of mine, and she gave it a squeeze. “Don’t make the same mistake we did. Keep that boy’s hand tucked in yours, no matter what.”
I squeezed back and nodded, knowing I would never let it go.
Leave a Reply