I sat on the examination table as Doc flashed a light in to my eyes. I kept my fingers crossed next to me hoping he would give me the ‘okay’ to start playing again. I needed to play again, I was becoming restless at home, and I’m sure Lillianah was going crazy. So much so, I noticed she started picking up extra shifts at the club. I didn’t like it when she worked 14 hour days, because of how exhausted she would get, but that was all she seemed to be working lately. “What year is it?” Doc asked and I snapped my eyes up at him. “You’re kidding right?” He laughed and nodded his head, “you drifted off in to la-la land on me there for a minute, I had to bring you back.” I looked down at my hands, “sorry, I was just thinking about my girlfriend and how she’s going to burn herself out with her work schedule.” He nodded his head again and opened what I assumed was my chart. He scribbled away on a piece of paper and handed it to me. I looked down.
Clear to play.
I jumped off the table with a wide grin on my face. “Thanks doc.” “Don’t thank me, thank your head.” All I could do was smile as I made my way in to the locker room and got dressed for practice. I looked at the yellow ‘no contact’ jersey hanging up in my locker and tossed it aside, grabbing the black one in the back. Once it was over my head, some of the guys started walking in. “Talbot’s back in order eh?” Staalsy smiled as he slapped me on my back. “Yeah so watch out, you’re number two on my hit list.” He stopped walking to his locker and turned around and looked at me. “Number two? Who’s number one?” I went to open my mouth but I heard the door swing open to my left. I looked over and watched Tanger walk in. I looked back over at Staalsy. “Number one.” His eyebrows shot up and he nodded his head. I headed out on to the ice, wanting to get a feel for things again before the guys came out. Sure I had been off the ice for a week, but it felt like a month.
Stride for stride my smile got bigger and bigger. This was where I wanted to be the most, this was where I belonged. I stopped at center ice and took in a deep breath, taking in the smell of fresh cut ice. This was my home. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes. Allowing my body to get back in to game mode. That was all interrupted when I felt a few pucks hit the back of my legs “What the fuck!?” I shouted as I turned around to see a smiling Sid and Flower. “Welcome back champ,” Sid laughed as he passed a puck to me, landing on my stick this time. “Seriously guys, I can’t wait to play in a game, it feels like it’s been forever.” I looked over my shoulder to see our new coach, Danny B, skate out on to the ice. “Hey Max, I heard you got cleared,” he greeted me slapping my shin with his stick. “Papers are on your desk.” “Desk? Oh yeah I guess I do have one of those eh? Well you ready to make the playoffs?” I gave him a skeptical look. Playoffs? We’re not making the playoffs. We were sitting pretty in tenth place, the Eastern Conference being the strongest conference in the league. We’d have to win 90% of our games to make the playoffs, and here we were with a rookie coach. “I know what you’re thinking Max, stay positive,” Flower stated. He knew me too damn well. I looked back over my shoulder once again to see Tanger take the ice. “Hey coach,” I called out for him and he skated the few feet over to where Flower and I were standing. “Are we going to scrimmage at all today?” “Yeah, I was planning on it, toward the end of the practice, why?” I looked over at Tanger once more. “I want to play against Tanger, he doesn’t think I can get around him.” Danny nodded his head, “sure, I can arrange that.” I skated away, but not before Flower grabbed on to me. “Don’t do anything stupid, it’s your first day back.” I just looked at him, I couldn’t guarantee anything. I wouldn’t feel any better about the situation until I send Tanger a message, and if that’s pounding him in to the ground, than that’s what I’ll do.
All I could say for Tanger was that he was lucky most of practice was spent broken up in forwards and defensemen. I was working on my stick handling skills when Flower skated up to me. “Hey I was being serious earlier, don’t be a jackass.” I shot a puck down the length of the ice, eventually landing at Hal’s feet. “You can’t look me in the eye and say if Tanger did to Vero what he did to Lil that you wouldn’t want to kick his ass either.” Flower kept his icy glare locked with mine before we heard coach yelling for us to start the scrimmage. Flower knew I was right, he would do the same thing, regardless of who the other guy was. I left him in the corner and met up with the rest of the team by the benches. A white jersey landed on my head and I looked around to see some of the other guys changing as well, when I saw Tanger in a black one, I quickly switched over in to the white jersey. “Talbot, I’m moving you to the left wing with Geno in center.” I looked up shocked. Winger? I knew Therrien was moving me around the lines, but never to a wing. I didn’t protest, I just went to where I needed to be. We went through the motions of the game as if there was no effort whatsoever. I took a shot on Flower, and went in for the rebound, only to find a stick smack me across the face. I jumped up from the ice to come face to face with Tanger. “What the hell is your problem?” I shouted at him and noticed the play around us came to a stand still. He didn’t say anything to me, he just stared me down. “You gonna answer me?” I shouted again this time shoving him. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Geno try and step in but coach grabbed his shoulder. “You’re stupid Talbot, what you’re doing in stupid.” I strained my ears a little just to make sure what I just heard him say was what he said. “What am I doing Letang? Can you please fill me in.” “We’ve moved on. You’ve forgiven her, I’ve stayed away.” I shook my head at him as I took my helmet off and tossed it aside. “Wow Letang, I’m yelling at you because you cross checked me across the nose. But now you just brought her in to it.” I pulled my arm back and then landed a shot right on his chin. Within seconds our gloves were gone as well as his helmet. “Let them go!” I heard who I assumed was Mike yelling.
“Has Lil ever seen you without a black eye?” Flower asked as our beers arrived at our booth. “Well now I have two, so double the pleasure. He didn’t even land a punch this is from the cross check,” I stated pointing my finger to my eyes which were turning a deep purple. “What the hell did he say to you to make you go all ape shit?” Sidney asked before taking a bite of his sandwich. “I was yelling at him for the cross check, but then he pulled Lil in to it, he brought it upon himself.” Flower shot me of disbelief. “Okay sure, I was planning on hitting him or something, but as practice went on, the idea sort of slipped, but then he cross checked me. I think we’re over it now, we duked it out on the ice then hugged in out in the locker room.” It wasn’t a lie, I did give him a hug before I left, but no words were spoken. None needed to be. “So Flower’s getting married, yeah!” I smiled before I dug in to my burger. “If she doesn’t kill me before than yeah, I guess I am,” he smiled just as Sidney’s girlfriend joined us at the booth looking like she was ready to kill someone. “I would say hi to you Avery, but I’m afraid you’ll attack me with something.” Her features immediately softened as she looked at me. “Hi Max. Sorry, I’m just stressed. Who would have thought beer would be stressful?” I held up my glass a looked at it. “Well, this beer tastes pretty damn good, that’s all that should matter.” She smiled weakly to me before she gave Sid a kiss and headed back to her office. After lunch I finished off a second beer and threw some cash down on the table. “Alright boys, I’m off to get a new phone.”
Staring at my clothes on the bed, I couldn’t do it. I reached for my cell phone and called Andrew, my boss. “Hey Andrew, it’s Lil, I can barely stand on my own feet, I think I need a day off.” I pat down next to my clothes on the bed and waited for his reply. “I was going to call you and tell you to take a day off anyways, you’re wearing yourself out Lil.” I nodded my head knowing he was right. “Thanks Andrew, I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Take tomorrow off too, don’t you want to go to your boyfriends first game back?” I scrunched my eyebrows together. “He’s hurt.” “Not anymore, crazy how fast word gets around town when it comes to sports.” I quickly said goodbye and called Max. “The number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” I pulled my phone away and looked down at it, that was his right number. Did he not pay his bill? I shoved my phone in my back pocket and headed out in to the living room where I grabbed King and took him outside for a walk.
I found myself sitting outside of my usual Starbucks sipping on my Americano. “Now there’s a sight,” I heard that all too familiar voice from in front of me. I brought my head up and smiled at Max. I watched as he grabbed my phone off the table and started typing away. My smile grew wider as I thought back to the first time he did that, how I told him that was a very bold move and he was so proud of himself. “I changed my number and got a new phone,” he explained as he sat down across from me immediately pulling his attention to King who just sat down on his feet. “Why did you change your number?” I asked curiously. “I’m sure my old one is still lingering out there somewhere, who knows who could get their hands on it, so I just changed it, now only you, the boys and my family have it. So do you have the day off?” I slowly nodded my head wondering if he was going to tell me how he’s been cleared to play. “I have tomorrow off too, I was planning on going to the hockey game because their superstar was just cleared to play again.” A smile came over his face and I felt my whole body erupt in butterflies. It amazed me how just his smile would still do that me. “I will be playing. How did you hear?” “My boss, he said word gets around fast when it comes to sports around here.” He reached across the table and grabbed my hand. “So, will you, my beautiful girlfriend, come to my game tomorrow night?” I looked at him a little harder when I noticed something. “Take your sunglasses off.” He gave me a stranger look before I continued, “please?” He took a deep breath and pulled them off. “Maxime! What the hell happened to you? Are you not aware you just got over a concussion?!” I shouted at him which unfortunately grabbed the attention of some by passers. He quickly put his sunglasses back on and squeezed my hand. “I took a stick to the face, that’s all. I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Doesn’t even hurt.”
We walked down the street hand in hand only being stopped once for an autograph. “So do I have you to myself for the rest of the day?” Max asked as we continued to stroll down the road. “All yours, whatever you want to do,” I winked at him as he stopped us from walking and turned around, heading back the other way. “Where are we going?” I laughed, but allowed him to drag me down a side street. “You’ll see,” he stated as he squeezed my hand. We walked another three blocks before he stopped me in front of a house with a for sale sign out front. I looked at the house than back at him. “What is this?” A smile came over his face as he looked up at the house, it was a beautiful two story, modern architecture stuck in the middle of the Southside. “I was thinking about buying it. I’d like to get out of that apartment and in to a house.” My eyes grew wide as I looked back at the house. “Well if you want it and you want to buy it, then buy it.” He turned to look me straight on, grabbing my other hand that held King’s leash. “I don’t want to buy a house if my girlfriend doesn’t like it. We can maybe check out the inside later this week? But what do you think about the location?” I looked around, it was far away off the main road that I’m sure noise wouldn’t be a problem like it was at my old apartment. “Well it’s not too far from the club which is nice. Are you serious about this though? You want to buy a house?” He looked back up at the house. “I was looking around before I met you, and it makes even more sense now. Well are you ready to go home?” I leaned forward and gave him a lingering kiss before nodding my head. “No where else I would rather be.”
The next night I found myself standing in front of the closet trying to figure out what to wear. “You should go like that. Nothing would motivate me more than seeing my girlfriend in the stands in just her underwear.” He wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed my shoulder. “If I went like this you would end up with another concussion.” I reached forward and pulled out the Betsy Johnson sweater he got me on Valentine’s day. I grabbed some black leggings and red suede boots and got dressed. “You’re sitting with Vero tonight, is that okay?” I looked over at Max who was slipping on his suit jacket. “Yeah, that’s perfect. I really like Vero, I want to get to know her better.” “Perfect,” he whispered as he gave me a kiss and then gave me a once over. “You look hot.” I shook my head and followed him out of the apartment. Once we were in the arena I hung out around the family lounge for awhile before heading up to the seat. I still looked out of place with my black and red hair, and the fact that it was up in a pony tail so my tattoo on my neck was visible. “Lillianah! It’s so good to see you again!” I looked to my right to see Vero making her way toward me. We greeted each other with a hug, and she took the seat next to me. “It’s good to see you too! So I heard you’re getting married,” I smiled my hardest trying to act excited for her, but saying the ‘M’ word since Valentine’s day was a little difficult. She nodded her head and held her hand out for me to take a look at her ring. I took her hand in mine and examined the ring, I did a double take and brought her hand up closer to my eyes. Princess cut. The ring I saw was round. “Are you okay?” Vero asked with a laugh. “Yeah, I just, uh, yeah. It’s very beautiful, congratulations.” I released her hand and looked out on the ice. If that wasn’t Vero’s ring I found, who’s was it?