In Danny's defense -- well, there wasn't really a defense. He probably should have expected everything to go to shit as soon as he left Philadelphia. It was just that even in his worst nightmare, the one where his kids hated him forever for moving to Montreal and his dogs forgot what he looked like, he'd never imagined this.
"Danny B!" Claude whisper-yelled over the phone. The bar was too loud to really hear much and his new teammates weren't helping, so Danny had slipped outside, and he was already regretting not stopping to grab his jacket. "You enjoying the foot-loose and child-free life in Montreal, old man?" In the background Danny thought he heard a familiar giggle, and his blood ran cold. "Merci," Claude added, voice muffled, like he had moved his mouth away from the phone. "You need the corkscrew?"
"Claude, why are you talking like that?" Danny asked carefully.
"Kids asleep," Claude said. He was clearly still trying to keep his voice down, without much success. "We're being very quiet, eh? Can't wake the little Brieres, they need their beauty sleep so one day they can be pretty like me -- owww!"
Danny did not have a good feeling about this. "Who is we?"
"Don't be an idiot, Daniel," Sylvie said, loud and clear and clearly tipsy at the very least, which answered one question and raised about a million more. "Put him on the speaker, eh, Claude? Oh, shit, sorry, I didn't -- "
"It's fine, it's fine, I'll open another bottle," Claude said. "Danny, you talk to Sylvie, eh? I'll be right back."
"Um," Danny said. "So, uh, how are the boys?"
"Sylvie, red or white?" Claude called, tinnily audible over the speakerphone. If Danny closed his eyes he could easily see each of them in the kitchen in Haddonfield, Sylvie sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, Claude at the counter fussing over the ingredients for grilled cheese. It was like asteroids colliding to imagine them there at the same time.
"White, please," Sylvie said. "The boys are doing very well, except there's some girl that Caelan is sulking over, I think, and Carson is having trouble in math again."
"Who can blame him," Claude said, normal-sounding again, and Danny heard the clink of wine glasses against each other before he spoke again. "Math's bad enough with the numbers, I think they add the letters just to confuse us."
"Just remember it was your bright idea to offer to help with algebra," Sylvie said dryly.
"How can I forget? At least I don't have to read essays about this horrible book with the murder island children that Cameron's so excited about."
"Murder... island children," Danny repeated.
"Lord of the Flies," Sylvie sighed. "It's good he likes reading something for school for once, but I wish he wouldn't tell me about it in so much detail."
"The entire ride home from practice, nothing but the murder island children," Claude said moodily. "I wish the schools would think about us before they assign these books. I'm going to have nightmares for weeks."
"How did practice go today?" Danny asked, desperately hoping for some familiar ground to catch his bearings. He tried to keep up with the boys' schoolwork. He did. There was just so much of it, and it seemed like every time he turned around they'd learned five new things he didn't know the first thing about, and it was discouraging enough when he was there to hear about it first-hand from them, let alone over the phone from Sylvie or Claude. At least with hockey he knew how things stood.
"Fine, so far as I know," Claude said. "Carson was quiet on the way home. I still think we can at least try to find a different team, it's not so late in the year," which was an ongoing argument that Danny really didn't want to rehash, especially when Claude was tipsy enough to get belligerent.
"Can we wait to talk about this until the next time I'm in Philly," he suggested.
Whatever Claude intended to say next -- Danny could tell just from the sound of his inhalation that it wasn't going to be agreement -- was interrupted by a barely-audible "Mom?"
"You should be in bed, baby, it's late," Sylvie scolded. "Do you need a glass of water?"
"Mom, aren't we going home?" Cam asked.
"You're sleeping over with me, buddy, don't you remember?" Claude's voice changed when he was talking to Cam -- to any of the boys, really, but especially to Cam. Danny couldn't have described the difference if he tried, but he could recognize it in a heartbeat, even when he couldn't make out the actual words. "It's late and we're getting up early so you can drive over to your mom's and get Caelan's science project before school, you need to go to sleep."
"Okay, but I want Mom to come tuck me in," Cameron bargained, and Danny couldn't help smiling, thousands of miles away.
"That seems reasonable," Sylvie said. Danny didn't need a visual to recognize her groan as she pushed herself upright. "Say good night to your Papa, baby."
"Hi Dad! You played really good tonight, Claude let us watch the highlights, you should tell Gally that was a great goal -- oh, good night," Cam added, clearly obeying a silent prompt.
Danny bit his lip, momentarily grateful that nobody could see him. "Good night, Cam, I love you."
"Love you too!" Cam said cheerfully, and let Sylvie usher him away, rambling at full tilt about what Danny could only conclude was the book with the murder island children.
"Since when does Sylvie like you?" Danny demanded as soon as Sylvie and Cam's voices had completely faded to inaudible, switching to French just in case. Sylvie's French had gotten rusty after years of living in Philadelphia; usually Danny tried not to take advantage, because he knew it was shitty of him and he'd done that too many times while the divorce was still fresh, but he felt like this was an exceptional situation.
"Why wouldn't Sylvie like me? I'm not divorced from her." Claude paused, then added thoughtfully, "Also, I cook, and I'm never late picking the boys up from school. I think that's a big part of it."
Danny was self-aware enough to realize that complaining that Claude was supposed to be his friend would do his appearance of mature adulthood no favors, but it took him a moment to bite the reflex down. "I just didn't realize you saw that much of her," he finally said, lamely.
"Well, you know, the boys and everything," Claude said. "It's a two-person job." He didn't seem inclined to elaborate, and Danny didn't feel up to dragging any more information out of him, so instead he kept up an easy conversation about their teammates and the dogs until Claude abruptly switched back into English. "Cam get to bed okay?"
"Out like a light," Sylvie said. "I don't think it was a nightmare, he just woke up and was a little confused. Nothing to worry about."
It wasn't until Claude sighed loudly enough to be audible over the phone that it even occurred to Danny that there was anything he could have worried about. "Has Cam been having nightmares?"
"A few," Claude said, right on top of Sylvie's, "Nothing serious."
"Is there anything I can -- " Danny started to offer, choking on the sudden lump in his throat. He fucking hated being away from his kids for any reason, but this was the worst part, not being there when they needed him. Sometimes he wished he'd taken the buyout and just stayed. Not often, because hockey, but right at that moment he would have given it up to sit on the edge of Cam's bed and make sure he was dreaming sweet dreams.
"We've got it covered, Danny," Sylvie said, kind but firm, and he barely registered Claude's added reassurances, boggling all over again at the easy "we", the idea that she and Claude were somehow a unit now. "We should let you get back to your teammates, anyway, it's getting late."
"Up at the fucking asscrack of dawn," Claude groaned, and then yelped. "Sorry, sorry! Ugh, the kids aren't even around."
"It's the principle of the thing," Sylvie said primly. "Anyway, have a good night, Danny."
"Don't let the rookies keep you up all night partying, old man," Claude added. "Sleep tight!"
"Good night," Danny said automatically, and the call ended.
"Danny B!" PK called when Danny finally stopped staring at his phone and went back inside. "We were starting to think you ditched us! You pick up or something?"
"I left my coat right here," Danny pointed out. He sat down next to PK, which might have been a tactical error. "I had to take a call."
"You were gone an awful long time for a phone call," Carey remarked from PK's other side.
"My ex," Danny said shortly, expecting that to put an end to the questioning. He'd already known PK long enough that he should have known better.
"Danny B, Danny B." PK shook his head. "We are at a bar full of hot co-eds, and you're taking calls from your ex-wife? Women don't think it's cute when guys are all hung up on old relationships. You're not as young and hot as you used to be, man. You've got to work on this a little more!"
"Shut the fuck up," Danny said reflexively. "I was dating when you were still in your cradle, you infant. And anyway I don't want to pick up right now. And it wasn't Sylvie calling, it was Claude."
"You have an ex named Claude?" Carey asked.
"No, my ex is Sylvie," Danny said impatiently. "Claude was the one who called."
"Circles within circles," Carey murmured. Danny ignored him.
"And what the fuck is Claude doing with Sylvie, anyway," he complained, more to himself than to PK or Carey. "I don't want them to talk to each other."
"Wait, wait, wait," PK said. "Is Claude Claude Giroux?"
"Who the fuck else would he be?"
"And Sylvie is your ex-wife?"
"I literally just told you that."
"And G called you, but really you were talking to your ex."
"They put me on speakerphone," Danny said.
"Jesus," PK said. It took Danny a moment to parse the expression on his face; he didn't think he'd ever seen PK look genuinely sorry for anything before. "Fucking hell, I don't actually know the protocol for finding out your old teammate is sleeping with your ex-wife, but. Uh. Shots?"
"What?" Danny stared. "Claude isn't sleeping with Sylvie. He picks up the boys from hockey practice every Tuesday and takes them back to the house for dinner while Sylvie's at yoga class. She was just over to get the kids." He frowned and added, "Maybe I should call back and make sure she's staying over tonight. They both sounded too drunk to drive."
"So, your ex-teammate who still helps take care of your kids is friendly enough for after-dinner drinks with your ex-wife, who also still looks after your kids, and they called you up, I'm going to go out on a limb here based on every time I've ever heard you on the phone with your ex or G, to talk about your kids," Carey said. "Danny B... like, I don't have kids, I'm not an expert, but so far as I can tell it works better when the people looking after them talk to each other. You think they're going to figure out who's on pick-up duty in mime?"
"But they're going to talk to each other about me," Danny stressed. The problem seemed obvious to him, and Carey was pretty smart, for a hockey player. He shouldn't need to spell it out.
"No, no, wait, I get it," PK said. "This is like when Pricey started dating Angela, right? And you never wanted to let me hang out with her, 'cause you thought I was going to embarrass you by telling her about that time you hooked up in the bathroom of a Timmy's or how you never wash your jockstrap or whatever."
"Pretty sure I wasn't wrong, either," Carey said, rolling his eyes. "Okay, I'll bite. So in this analogy G is you?"
"Do you clowns even know what analogy means," Danny muttered. Both Carey and PK ignored him.
"No, no, keep up, Pricey, G is Angela."
"That makes no sense," Carey said flatly. "G was Danny's teammate for years, I'm pretty sure he knows about any jock-sweat issues already."
"Yeah, but it's a metaphor, like, it's not the actual jockstrap, the jockstrap is being a shitty cook or never remembering anniversaries or being bad at oral, or whatever. That's still pretty dumb, though, Danny B," PK added, turning to look at him. "It's not like G doesn't know all that stuff about you already. Except maybe the part about oral, and that's not even relevant, you know?"
"The skills are transferrable," Carey argued. "I bet I could give a great blowjob if I wanted to."
"No, man, the technique is totally different," PK said. "Don't get cocky. Heh, cocky."
"Technique, yeah, but you can pick that up. I'm talking, like, basic concepts and fundamentals, it's not that different, so -- "
"Claude Giroux is not my girlfriend," Danny interrupted. He didn't know where this conversation was headed, and he didn't want to. Usually he didn't particularly like stating the obvious, but he felt like given the situation it needed to be said.
He liked the matching pitying looks that PK and Carey turned on him even less. "Um," PK said. "Danny B, I'm pretty sure he's closer to being your other ex-wife."
"You're delusional," Danny said with great dignity, "and I really don't want to hear any more about your blowjob techniques, and so I am going to go somewhere else now, thank you very much, good night."
"Suit yourself," Carey said. PK just waved and settled back into a discursus on the subject of oral sex -- even more horrifyingly, he sounded completely serious about it -- so Danny wandered off to find Prusty and his ducklings. He liked Gally and Chucky: their problems were always entertaining, and they were too self-centered to pay attention to anyone else's.
Danny woke up the next morning to a splitting headache and a reply to a text message that he didn't remember sending from Claude. Claude had sent a picture, grainy and yellow-tinted; when Danny squinted at the screen a little it resolved itself into a photo of Claude and the dogs huddled together in bed, taken from such an awkward and unattractive angle that Claude must have done it himself. Danny tapped out of the photo, already composing an irritated response: Zoey and Zora had their own beds downstairs and they weren't allowed to sleep with Danny or the boys, which both they and Claude knew perfectly well. Danny didn't want to come home when the season was over to find that Claude had spoiled all their training.
To add insult to injury, he could tell from the bedside lamp that Claude was in his bedroom. He was glad that he'd had enough sense not to put Sylvie in there for the night, at least, and with the limited number of bedrooms in the house in Haddonfield it made sense Claude would have to sleep in the master bedroom while Sylvie was in his, but letting the dogs up in bed with him was a step too far.
He'd already started to type You are the worst house/dogsitter ever when he realized that Claude had sent a text along with the photo. Scrolling up to read the rest of their conversation from the previous night made Danny wince with embarrassment, a badly spelled mix of English and French and uncomfortable references to oral sex, and he swiped back down to the bottom of the message thread. Claude's last text hovered right above the box where he was typing, impossible to ignore. haha ok old man bonne nuit! wish u were here? :P
Danny knew exactly what the house in Haddonfield would be like that morning, Sylvie yelling because they were running late, all three boys moaning and groaning about school, breakfast, or both, at least one of them panicking over forgotten homework, hockey gear on the floor and both dogs underfoot, and Claude in the middle of it all, shambling around like an unkempt scarecrow in his pajamas because he never bothered to put on his clothes or his false tooth before driving the boys to school. Absolute chaos, every morning without fail.
yes, Danny wrote, and hit send.