Authors: Lila Moore
He looked at me as if he was waiting for me to fill in the blanks. I couldn’t answer him honestly, not unless I wanted to blow up his life and potentially ruin his future in hockey. When he saw that no answer was forthcoming, he shook his head and looked away. It killed me. It was like he couldn’t even look at me.
“I wasn’t good enough then, and I’m not good enough for you now,” he said.
“That’s not true. How can you think that? Look at my life. It’s shit. No one is too good for me at this point.” I laughed awkwardly as if it was meant as a joke, but I was being serious. Sledge didn’t laugh.
“Why would you say that? You’re smart and beautiful. You’re going to get your degree and be a huge success.”
College was a big question mark in my life right now. I had no idea if I’d be able to finish. If my father had his way, I’d be held prisoner at home until the day I die. As for being smart and beautiful, well… I’ve made nothing but mistakes with my life, and I haven’t felt pretty since Sledge and I dated.
“Come to my game tomorrow night,” he said. It sounded more like a demand, then a request. “We need to talk. I’m worried about you, Bobbi. You used to smile all the time. You were happy-
were happy. What changed?”
“Come to the game tomorrow. Bring your friend with you. Promise me you’ll be there.”
“I’ll come,” I said, feeling worn down.
I had a feeling that if I refused to come to the game Sledge would show up at my dorm again and demand answers. At least the hockey game was in public. Sledge wouldn’t get too personal with me if we were surrounded by his fans and teammates. Or so I hoped.
I tried to perk up. “I had a lot of fun at the game last night. The box seats were pretty sweet.”
“I’ll reserve them for you tomorrow night.”
“You don’t have to do that. It’s too much.”
“They don’t charge me. I can reserve them whenever I want.”
“Okay, then,” I said awkwardly.
We left the café and walked in silence back to my dorm. I waited for him to question me further. Thankfully, he didn’t.
When we reached the lobby, he suddenly stopped. His hand slid around my lower back and rested on my hip. A shot of electricity went up and down my spine. Sledge pulled me to him and hugged me tight. I rested my head against his chest. He ran his hand up and down my back. I felt like I could melt into his body. I didn’t want to lead him on, but it felt so good to be held by him. When I was in his arms, my problems felt small. Life was manageable, if not a bit insignificant. I could have stayed there forever.
I’m not sure how long he held me, but when we broke apart I noticed that the girl working the sign-in desk was staring. It must have been for quite a while.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said.
Sledge grabbed my hand before I could walk away. “You know you can talk to me, right? If you need help, or if you just want to talk, call me.”
He released my hand and backed away. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow…” I smiled and watched him walk away.
Tomorrow. I’d set out to distance myself from Sledge and managed to do the exact opposite.
Astrid was less than enthused about attending the game. She found hockey boring, but she was also leery about me leaving the house so soon after I’d OD’d. She thought I needed to stay in bed and rest.
I’d attended all my classes and was determined to watch the game. I’d forgotten how much I love the sport. I used to play when I was a little girl. I’d go out on the ice with all the boys and we’d play all day until we were dead on our feet with exhaustion. My father forced me to stop when I turned twelve. He said I was too old to be rough-housing with the boys. It was inappropriate for a young lady to play a man’s sport, he’d claimed.
The more I thought about my father the less I liked him.
I pushed thoughts of him away. I didn’t want him to ruin tonight.
Astrid and I walked past the line of ticket holders straight to the private security guy who waved us through after checking out our box seat tickets. We headed up to our private room and settled in. We were late. The game had already started. Astrid headed straight for the buffet and started to load her plate with food. I took a seat in front of the glass and watched the game.
Sledge was the team’s defenseman. I was on the edge of my seat as I watched him position himself in front of the line. He stole the puck from the other team, then went on the attack. The crowd roared as he headed towards the goal. He faked to the left, then swung. The puck found purchase. The game hadn’t been going for long but he’d already scored the first point of the night. I was on my feet along with everyone else in the stadium.
“What happened?” Astrid asked, her mouth full of food.
“Nice. Did he punch anyone?”
“I like a good hockey fight.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sledge needs to stay out of trouble.”
“He won’t, though.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“He’s a hockey player. They’re always getting into fights.”
“When did you become an expert on hockey players?”
“I know trouble when I see it. Those boys are itching for a fight.”
I looked at the players on the ice. I’d only been watching the game for about five minutes, but I could sense the tension in the air. Astrid was right. The rival team wasn’t very good. They were desperate to prove themselves. What their team lacked in money and talent they made up in aggression. They were constantly body-checking our guys and trying to provoke them into a fight.
The ref did nothing to stop it. It was only a matter of time before the game turned into an all-out brawl. Sledge was notorious for his short fuse. If they pushed him, he would push back hard.
The minutes ticked by quickly. Harley managed to score a goal himself. It was two to zero. Astrid cheered on her man.
“Whoo!” she yelled, pumping her fist. “He’s lousy in bed, but he’s good on the ice.”
I laughed and took a nacho off her plate.
“He wasn’t that bad, was he?”
“Eh,” she said with a shrug. “I’ve had worse.”
I felt a pang of jealousy. Astrid had a lot more experience with guys. I’d only ever been with Sledge. Would I ever get over him and sleep with someone else? I watched him shoot across the ice. One of the rival team’s players slammed into him, knocking him off his feet. He crashed into the wall hard.
I jumped to my feet. Was he hurt?
Sledge staggered back up to his feet. He was a tough guy. It would take more than that to force him out of the game.
Sledge’s attention was on the guy who’d run him into the wall. I was too far away to see his face, but it wasn’t hard to guess how he looked. I’m sure he was furious. One of his teammate’s skated over and patted his shoulder. He leaned in close and whispered to him, trying to put a stop to his fiery temper. The period came to an end.
“I don’t get it,” Astrid said. “What do you see in this sport?”
“Are you kidding me? It’s exciting.”
“They never score. Every game is, like, one to zero, or one to one. How boring.”
“It’s not about high scores. It’s a game of suspense. You never know when someone is going to score.”
“Yeah I do: never. It’s so boring.”
I ignored her. “It’s also violent. There are fights. People get hurt a lot. And best of all, the guys are in amazing shape. Hockey players’ bodies are insane.”
“On your last point, we agree. Harley wasn’t much in bed, but he had the body of a Greek god. I could stare at him all day.”
Our personal server came into the room. I ordered some nachos and a Coke. The food was free. I hated letting it go to waste. It felt like forever since I’d last eaten. After I placed my order, Astrid turned to me.
“So, how are you doing?” she asked.
“You scared the shit out of me yesterday. I just want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I was upset. Yesterday was stupid and impulsive. It was an idiotic thing to do. I’m sorry I scared you,” I said quickly.
I didn’t want to talk about yesterday. Even though I’d promised Astrid not to return home or to my aunt’s, I was having doubts. It would be a huge life changing decision. I’d be cut off from my family for good and then what? The uncertainty was the worst part. I had no idea what my life would be like on my own.
Astrid reached over and took my hand. She squeezed it tight. “Just don’t do that again.”
“I’m not joking, Bobbi. Promise me.”
“I promise. No more pills.”
The server returned quickly with my nachos. They were covered in bright orange cheese, jalapenos and pico. I dug into them like I hadn’t eaten in weeks.
“I could get used to this,” I said.
“Tell me about it.” Astrid was on her third beer. “So, did you ask Sledge about the money?”
“No. It’s not right. I can’t take money from him.”
“You won’t ask him? Even if it means you can’t afford school? What if you’re forced to move back home?”
“You said I could do this on my own. Why are you backtracking now?”
“You can do it on your own, but it’s going to be hard. I’m sure Sledge would pay for your tuition. You have this great opportunity at your disposal, why not use it?”
“It just feels wrong. I don’t want to take advantage of him.”
“I still think you’re making a mistake.”
“What about Harley?” I said, changing the subject. “Are you going to see him again?”
“Maybe. I kind of liked him.”
“Yeah. He’s funny.”
“I thought he was ‘lousy’ in bed?”
“Well, I can always teach him. I love a willing and eager student.”
I laughed and polished off the rest of my nachos. The game resumed. The second period flew by. The rival team managed to hold off our guys. Even though no one scored, I was riveted. Both sides came close many times. It had me on the edge of my seat the whole game. The rival team wasn’t as bad I’d initially thought. They had fire and energy. Our guys thought this would be an easy win, so they weren’t giving the game one hundred percent.
As the next period started, they came out with more energy. Losing to this team would be a major embarrassment. In fact, anything less than a blowout would be humiliating.
The crowd was wild. They were on their feet the whole period, screaming encouragements and insults. Astrid yawned. The door opened behind us. At first I thought it was the server, but I soon heard the loud greeting of Chick.
“Hey, girls!” he said.
Astrid turned to regard him with a look of contempt on her face. “Who are you?” she asked.
He looked wounded by her dismissive greeting. “Bobbi, are you going to introduce me?”
“Sure, sorry. Astrid this is Chick. We went to high school together.”
“Hi,” he said to Astrid.
She nodded to him, not really paying attention. Chick’s small town friendliness didn’t mesh well with Astrid streetwise cynicism.
“I wanted to come up and check on you,” he said. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s great,” I said.
He took a seat beside me. I squirmed. Chick was a nice guy, but his presence was a living reminder of my secret. I didn’t trust him to keep quiet.
“So, Bobbi,” he said, leaning in close. “Do you think we could talk later? There’s something important I need to discuss with you.”
My stomach dropped. Exactly what I’d feared was coming to pass. He wanted to talk about my secret. Of course. He couldn’t just forget it and move on.
“Let’s just enjoy the game,” I said with a smile.
“I’m supposed to meet Sledge after the game, so…” I shrugged.
“You’re meeting Sledge? That’s good.” He leaned in close and whispered. “Are you going to tell him about-”
“Oh! Did you see that?”
“What?” he said alarmed. “Sledge almost scored. You missed it. Aren’t you working for the team now?”
“Yeah, Sledge got me a job as a-”
“We’re not keeping you are we? I don’t want to get you into trouble.”
“No, it’s cool. I’m just-”
“You should go. I know Sledge really went out on a limb to get you this job. He’d be heartbroken if you lost it.”
“Really? He talked to you about it.”
“Sure,” I lied. I just didn’t want to talk about my baby with Chick. It was best if he left.
“I guess you’re right. I don’t want to disappoint Sledge,” he said.
“It was good to see you again, Chick.” I jumped up, took his arm and led him to the door. “We should hang out sometime.”
In truth, I didn’t want to see him again. It wasn’t anything personal against Chick. It was just that every time he was around the specter of my baby hung over the conversation. I didn’t want to encourage him to talk about it. What if he blabbed to someone and Sledge found out? The only thing worse than telling him the truth myself would be if he learned about the baby through someone else.
At the door, I grabbed Chick and pulled him close so that Astrid wouldn’t hear. “Look, I really appreciate what you’ve done for me.” He stared at me blankly. “Keeping my secret, I mean.”
Realization sparked in his eyes. “Oh! Sure. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
I put up my hand silencing him. “We don’t need to talk about it…
. I’m trying to move on with my life. I can’t do that if I’m constantly being reminded of what happened.”
Referring to my pregnancy out loud felt forbidden. My insides twisted with anxiety at the mention of the word baby.
“It would ruin Sledge’s life if he learned the truth. You don’t want to hurt him, do you?”
“No. I just think it would be best if-”
“I really appreciate all you’ve done Chick, thanks.”
I pushed him out the door before he could say anymore. I hoped it was the last I saw of him. Though I doubted I was that lucky. I returned to the game.
“What was that about?” Astrid asked.
She looked at me hard, but didn’t press the issue. Sledge scored again. I watched with less excitement. I had a new fear: Chick. I had the sinking feeling he would expose me. He was a simple guy who was guided by a simple belief in right and wrong. I’m sure he saw me as in the wrong. He thought it was best that the truth be revealed. Life’s not that simple though.
I chewed on my fingers as the game played out before me. A player for the rival team jumped on one of our guys. Sledge skated over to defend his teammate. He threw punch after punch. More people joined in. For once, Sledge was fighting side-by-side with his teammates. It was a nice change from watching him fight against them.
The fight was quickly broken up. The ref penalized two players, but no one was ejected from the game. The game resumed and wound down. The final score was four to zero.
“Should we head down to the locker room?” Astrid asked. I could tell she was eager to catch a glimpse of the players undressing.
“Maybe we should wait here.”
She gave me a look that said stop being a wet blanket.
“Fine,” I conceded. “Let’s go down there.”
We made our way to the locker room. I assumed they wouldn’t let us in, but the security guy recognized me.
“Bobbi, right?” he said. He must have registered the surprise on my face at hearing my name. “Sledge told me about you.”
The security guy smiled and said: “You two can go in. The guys are getting dressed. They won’t mind two pretty girls keeping them company though.”
Astrid smiled slyly at the guard and pushed me into the locker room. Naked men with towels around their waists walked past. We drew a couple of curious stares, but for the most part, the guys laughed and playfully insulted each other.
A girl in the men’s locker room wasn’t an unusual sight. Many of the sports reporters were women. They seemed nonplussed by the sight of completely naked, muscular hockey players.