Find your hope, forget your home,
Heed that feeling in your bones...
- - -
Luke knows the moment she opens her dark red lips and starts speaking that he’s going to agree to whatever it is that she’s saying. He doesn’t even have to decipher the consonants and vowels to realise, one hundred and ten percent, that this conversation is going to end with him agreeing to something that he has no real inclination to do but will somehow find himself roped into nonetheless.
He can’t even bring himself to be embarrassed about it anymore.
Gail finishes with a flourish of wide grin and batted ink-black lashes. “So, are you in?”
Of course he’s in. They both know the question is redundant before she's even asked it. They also both know she’ll remind him the night before and he’ll pretend not to have completely failed to register the details of the invitation the first time round and he’ll end up at a karaoke bar or a paint ball range without the slightest clue as to how he managed to get there.
It is an arrangement that has been working surprisingly well for them so far.
All things considered.
She claps once as she slides off the corner of his desk, nods her head, a perfunctory up and down of her chin as she heads for the door. Turns at the last minute and throws a kiss through the air towards him. He rolls his eyes but ruins the effect with an easy grin.
He’s not sure when exactly it was that he became a person with one of those, an ‘easy grin’. He thinks it started shortly after she took to calling him Homicide and turning up on his doorstep unexpectedly wearing little more than knee high boots and slash of red lipstick.
But he hates to admit that he might just be that shallow and settles instead for the more recent switch to Sunday afternoon movies on the sofa and milky morning coffees made while she’s still naked under his soft cotton sheets.
Or something like that.
“Oh, and one more thing…”
She’s back in his doorway suddenly, leaned seductively along the length of the frame.
“Do you need hire skates or do you have your own?”
He blinks. Twice. Feels his brow crease into a frown that has hers mirroring his in response.
“Yes, skates. For hockey tomorrow night.”
“Hockey.” A statement, not a question. He swallows the word.
Almost wishes the word would swallow him instead.
“Luke,” she’s tapping a pen against a notepad, as though she’s taking notes, “stop being ridiculous.”
“Hockey.” He doesn’t know why he repeats the word out loud once more. Forces his lips together in an attempt to make sure it doesn’t slip past them again.
“Luke?” She’s looking at him in that way she gets when cars backfire in the street and send him lurching to his feet. A cautious kind of concern that she doesn’t really know what to do with. “Are you having a stroke or something?”
He feels his frown deepen because... what?
“Oh, my god. Put your arms up.” She demonstrates the motion and manages to send the notepad and pen flying in the process.
He does so because doing what she says is second nature to him these days.
“Now smile.” Her lips widen out in a macabre caricature of the gesture she’s requested. He feels his own do the same.
She sinks then. Deflates around a relieved sigh of oh, thank god. Collects up the notepad and pen and makes for the door once again.
“I’ll put you down for hire skates then, yeah?” Disappears out into the hallway without bothering to wait for his response.
He’s still not really sure what just happened.
“We’re meeting at the rink at seven,” she announces, eyebrows raised as though she’s asking a question, even though he knows that she’s not. “I’ve got a spare stick you can use...” The raised eyebrows jiggle suggestively.
“Yeah, about that...” He’s spent the better part of the morning rehearsing excuses that don’t make him sound like a complete idiot.
He thinks he’s forgotten them all.
“You’re not backing out are you?” she cuts in. “The teams’ll be uneven and then there’ll be arguments over scoring and just, backing out’s not an option, okay? I’ll pick you up at six, I need to get there early and set up.”
He thinks if she puts half this much energy and focus into police-work, she’ll be his boss before they know it.
He thinks she probably already is.
“Gail. Stop for a sec,” he puts his hands up, palms out in a surrender of sorts.
“I just... look, I’ll come okay? But only to watch. I’m not playing. I’ll stand on the sidelines and cheer you on. I’ll even bring pom poms if you really want me to, but yeah, I’m not playing.”
“But it’s hockey.” Like that makes all the difference in the world.
And well, it kind of does.
“Exactly,” he agrees. “Which is why I’m more than happy to jump up and down like an idiot in the stands while you no doubt kick some butt.”
She moves into his office, pushes the door closed solidly behind her as her features soften. Here it comes.
“Oh, my goodness.” Whispered, and with her fingers pressed into her tight grin.
He rolls his eyes. Knows this is about to become the conversation he’d been avoiding all along.
“You can’t skate.”
He bounces his forehead against the discarded files on his desk twice before looking back up at her.
“Yes, I can skate. I’m Canadian. Of course I can skate. I just choose not to.”
The softness has disappeared again. Replaced by her more familiar angles and sharp edges.
“You choose not to?”
“That’s what I said.”
“What, like people choose not to eat red meat? Or buy iPhones? You choose not to skate?”
“I choose not to skate,” he confirms with a nod.
A thousand reasons scream through his head, one after another. He manages to stammer out a defiant “Why not?”
“Because it’s awesome,” she dead-pans, incredulous in the face of his refusal. “And hockey is like, legalised violence. You can’t tell me that there isn’t something extremely satisfying about body-slamming someone into the boards every now and then...”
“You,” he counters, standing up and closing the distance between them, a classic distraction technique, “are hilarious. And sexy. And I can’t wait to watch you get your body-slam on.”
He tucks her hair back behind her ears and runs his thumb along the line of her cheekbone.
“But I’m not playing, okay?”
“Fine,” she huffs. Makes quite a show of running her pen through his name on her list. Effectively erasing him. He tries not to dwell too long on the obvious metaphor as she ducks under his arm and disappears.
“I did some investigating,” she reveals slowly, slides her gaze sideways over at him as she pulls her car back out into the steady early evening traffic.
He groans, because, of course she did.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?”
He shrugs honestly. Had been asking himself the same thing for most of the afternoon.
“Let me guess,” he concedes, “Frank?”
“Oliver,” she counters quickly. “And it wasn’t like I went snooping. I just mentioned to him you’d pulled out and he said he was kind of surprised you’d agreed to play to start with and I asked him why and well, yeah. You know the rest.”
There’s a fine mist coating the windshield, blanking out the rest of the world periodically before the wipers sweep across its expanse and bring the road back into focus. A CD he doesn’t recognise provides the melodic soundtrack.
“I thought you’d think I was making it up,” he concedes eventually. Eyes on the blur of green traffic light that reflects across the side of her face.
“Why would I think that?”
“I don’t know,” he admits, drops his gaze to his fingers bouncing softly against each other in his lap. “Because sometimes I think I made it up. I guess...”
“Did you?” She slows to give way and turns to face him suddenly.
“No.” A shake of his head for emphasis. She raises her eyebrows in return, no need for verbalisations.
“Though, sometimes I wish that I had.”
She brings the car to a smooth stop in the almost empty parking lot of the rink. A neon sign blinks its staccato rhythm high above their heads. Alternates between red and orange and blue and back to red again.
“Thanks for coming anyway,” she says softly, slides her hands into his and twines their fingers together tightly. “And sorry for giving you a hard time before.”
He leans forward and kisses the tip of her nose, pulls away again reluctantly. “I’m sorry for being an idiot.”
They’re half-way through the parking lot and dodging puddle filled pot-holes when the reality of what’s about to happen sinks in and he stops short. Swallows down the sudden, inexplicable urge to vomit.
“Luke?” But her voice is white-noise. Nothing more. Competing valiantly against the thunderous pound of his own heart beat reverberating inside his skull.
He feels her fingers close around the padded thickness of his jacket sleeve and he forces himself to look at her. To use her solid presence as something grounding.
“I’m sorry.” He apologises out of habit. Feels embarrassed through to his core. “I can’t go in there.”
Her gloved fingers move from his arm to the sides of his face, “Yes, you can. Of course you can.”
Except, he really can’t. Completely numb from head to toe, he’s not even sure how he’s still standing. Let alone breathing. Speaking.
“Oh, God.” He drags his hands down his face furiously, “I’m like, the world’s biggest cliché.”
He wants to run, back to the car, further than that maybe. All the way home.
He can’t move.
He’s torn, a heady mixture of utter humiliation and mind-numbing terror. He blinks, thinks he might be crying and, jesus, could this be any worse?
“Can we please just go home?”
He sounds like a five year old. She should leave him right where he’s standing and never look back.
But she threads her elbow through his instead. Wordless. Leads him back through the slalomed pot-holes as his vision continues to grey out at the edges.
He drags the seatbelt back around himself, across his chest and secured into the lock. Wraps his fisted fingers around the fabric strap and counts to seventy eight while she leans against the hood and makes a call.
Waits for the swell of relief that never quite arrives.
“So.” She draws the word out slowly. Softly bounces her fist off his thigh as she speaks. “I’m thinking Oliver left some important parts of the story out this afternoon.”
He doesn’t know what Oliver said to her so he doesn’t know if this is true, but he suspects it probably is. Doubts Oliver even knows the half of it…
They’re parked out the front of his apartment. The ignition silenced and shadowy darkness filling the emptied out spaces that surround them.
He thinks he owes her an explanation. Something more tangible than a parking lot panic attack and a plea he thinks he’d have got down on his knees to deliver if need be. Has no idea how he’ll get the whole lot out in one go.
And in a way that makes some semblance of sense.
It’s never made sense to him after all.
“I went to college in the states,” he starts, feels his voice rumble past lips that are still mostly numb. “Amherst in Minnesota. Hockey scholarship. Pre-med. The works.”
She doesn’t move. He can feel the air evaporating and he turns to her suddenly, offers up a tight smile that he thinks is probably lost in the inky darkness.
“Yep, I was that guy.”
He drags in a deep breath that mostly serves to clog up his throat. He feels light headed and sick.
“Until I wasn’t.”
“Luke...” And she’s said his name so many times over the last hour that it’s started to lose all semblance of meaning. “It’s okay, you don’t have to-”
“I know,” he counters quickly, searches out her face in the blue-black shadows, “I know, but just...” He trails off and she nods. Understands.
He notices that the radio is off and he wonders when she did that. Only just manages to stop himself from jabbing at the controls and ramping the volume to high. Swallows the urge before opening his mouth to continue.
“I don’t really remember what happened, though I’ve been filled in on the details over and over and over so that now it’s like I can watch it all play out in 3D.”
She nods, but he can’t quite fathom why. Thinks it’s probably a reflex motion of ambiguous reassurance delivered to the crazy person who’s coming apart quickly at his seams. The kind of reassurance you offer when you’re not really sure what it is that’s coming next. Except that it’s probably worse than all the horror movie endings you’re currently imagining. In vivid technicolour.
“We were playing Tufts,” he continues quietly, speaking to his hands. “The other guy, Jake, we’d been at each other all game. I don’t remember that specifically, but I do remember playing him in other matches and we’d always been pretty tough on each other. Stupid college rivalry stuff.”
He nods, as though to convince himself of the truth in his words.
The windshield is starting to fog up in the one corner. Enclosing them more completely in the confines of her car. The need to escape is outweighed only by the sudden realisation that he really wants someone to know the truth.
Really wants her to know the truth.
“There was a collision. It was,” he drags his fingers down his face as he forces himself to breathe. He’s dizzy and hot and he thinks his eyes are probably shut. “It was bad. Hard. Jake, apparently, they said-” He drags in a chest-full of air and manages, only just, not to choke on it. He watches her catch his fingers as they drop back into his lap, she twists her own through them forcefully but it’s a motion he can barely feel. “They said that his helmet came off. And his head hit the ice, kind of about here.”
He wrenches his fingers free and rubs them over a spot on the back of his head. Low down, towards his neck and off slightly to one side. Needs to be specific for reasons he can’t quite put together.
“He died a couple hours later. At the hospital.”
He doesn’t think he’s ever said those words before. The effect is shocking and he wrenches the car door open, fights valiantly against the seatbelt still trapping him in place.
Time chops and changes. She’s in front of him before he can register that she’s no longer beside him.
“Luke.” Her hands in his hair and her lips against the side of his face. “Luke, shhh. Stop. It’s okay…”
He laughs. Thinks he might be going crazy.
“And what about you?”
The lights are off. Her voice comes from above him. As though she’s yet to slide under the covers.
“Me?” He looks up sharply. Not sure yet what she’s referring to.
“The hockey game.” Her voice is inexplicably soft. Like the words themselves may be just enough to break him. “You said you don’t remember it so, I’m guessing you were hurt too? What happened to you?”
He swallows thickly. Feels the uncomfortable numbness start to creep back. Phantom agonies that he never can manage to leave behind.
“I woke up two days later.” Her sharp inhalation stills him for several beats. “There were metal plates in my spine and half a dozen screws holding my right ankle together.”
“Jesus, Luke.” Breathy. Like a whisper that leeches under his skin. Settles in there, ghost-like. Familiar. He has collected so many after all.
“I’ve seen it since, you know? The footage from the game. It’s weird. Watching it now. Like it’s all happening to someone else. To people that I don’t know.” He’s babbling. Can’t stop the words now that he’s let them start. “You can almost see the second I lose consciousness as my back hits the base of the boards, the point where they meet the ice, and my helmet kind of ricochets off.” His eyes blink closed and he’s greeted by a flash of the grainy footage flickering through his synapses. “I came back to Canada after that. Moved back home for rehab. and all that fun stuff. Didn’t even get to go to the funeral.”
“Or to medical school. Obviously.” He laughs. Like the notion is hysterical. He thinks it probably is.
He wishes she’d stop saying that. His name, like it matters.
“My parents were so pissed when I became a cop. You have no idea…” Shakes his head against the pillow, as if to erase the memory. “They didn’t even come here when I got shot, you know? They live in BC, in Kelowna. At least, I think they do. Or they did.
He stops to take a breath. Finally.
Deflates as the exhaustion he’d spent all day warding off finally catches up to him. His back is aching, which is ridiculous. Hates himself for being this pathetic as he shifts to relieve the pressure that isn’t even really there. Twists his hands up beneath himself and kneads his fingers reflexively into the muscles along his spine.
“Hey.” Her palm ghosting across his forehead. “Are you okay?”
He squeezes his eyes shut, tight, forces himself onto his side and buries his face against her leg, brings his knees up to her feet and holds his breath until it all slows to something of a stop inside his head.
At the precinct the next day the match they missed is the main topic of conversation. Apparently Dov was a figure skater in a former life and managed to astound them all with his toe loops and triple Salchows.
Or something like that.
He manages to hide from most of it, shutting himself in his office and dragging out cold case after cold case, layered as they are with a thin sheen of dust.
“Hey, you…” She holds out a coffee, like it’s a peace offering that he thinks she doesn’t need. “You left early this morning.”
He shrugs, still more than a little off balance by the previous night. Looks up reluctantly, “Wanted to get an early start on these…”
She sets the drink down on his desk before quickly rounding it, twisting his desk chair counter clockwise to face her as she brings her knees up lithely and balances on his lap.
“We’re okay, right?” Straight to the point.
He blinks. Has no idea what the correct answer to that question is besides I hope so… and if we’re not then I don’t know what I’m going to do… Leans forward to kiss her instead because it seems so much more eloquent than any words he could come up with ever could.
He can feel her lips spread into a grin beneath the weight of his and he pulls back slowly.
“Well, good,” she nods. “Just making sure.”
“Hey, Luke?” Softer now. Gentle in a way that has him instantly tensing in response. “I’m so sorry about yesterday.”
He frowns, confused. Can’t fathom what it is she thinks she needs to apologise for.
“For all that stuff I said, about hockey being about violence and body-slamming and-”
“Hey.” Presses one finger against her lips in a bid to cut in. “You have nothing to apologise for. I’m a screwed up crazy person and you are perfect and, in fact, you should feel free to body-slam me any time you like…”
He wraps his arms around her back and pulls her closer. Keeps his eyes fixed on hers as she lets herself fall loose into him. If he could find a way to get her under his skin, to keep her there forever, he thinks that he probably would.
“Hey,” she calls as she makes her way back to door. “For the record, you’re not screwed up and you’re not crazy and I am definitely not perfect.”
He raises his eyebrows, a challenge of sorts.
“Okay, well,” she starts to concede with a grin, “maybe you’re just a little bit screwed up.”
“And maybe you’re just a little bit perfect?”
“Yeah,” she nods. Grins, “maybe.”
“Take the next left.”
“The next left. There at the lights, take it.”
He reaches for the turn signal even as his instincts scream at him to ask more questions. Get some clarification. He eases his car over one lane in preparation for the turn she’s requested and dares to ask.
“There’s somewhere I want to drive past.”
“O-kay.” The word, drawn out. Like he’s sceptical. Which he is.
There are fairy lights in the trees dotted along the side of the road. Soft snow is peppering the windshield of his car as he pulls back off the gas. Sure all of a sudden where it is she’s taking him.
And she can read him like a book in return.
“It’s okay,” she rushes, eager to assure him. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
He doesn’t answer.
The outdoor rink is still lit up despite the late hour. He cuts the ignition and then pulls his hand back to the wheel. Holds on.
“See that guy in the booth over there?” She points to the far side of the rink where a small white box, harshly lit with a bare bulb, appears occupied by a single person. He follows the point of her finger reluctantly and nods once.
“That’s my cousin, Travis. He said we’ve got as long as we need.”
“You told him?” Sharp. Accusing.
“No, Luke, look at me.” He does. Her worry is almost palpable. Figures it’s vying for position in the car alongside his sudden panic.
“I didn’t tell him anything. Not really. Just enough…” She trails off. “I can go tell him it’s okay, that it doesn’t-” She moves to get out of the car but a hand on her arm stills her movements.
“Wait.” An expulsion of air. Little more. She nods, turns back to him.
“We can just sit here if you like. We don’t have to-”
She blinks. Flickering fairy lights dance across her cheekbones. He can see her immediate understanding.
“I haven’t- you know, been out there, anywhere, for twelve years.” His hands drop heavily from the steering wheel, “I probably don’t even remember how…”
Apparently Travis has left them some skates under the bench seat near the gate.
He lets her lace his up and then sits there shivering against a cold he can’t really feel while she does the same to her own.
“Luke?” His name as a question. He thinks she might be as unsure about this as he is. Now that they’re actually doing it.
He lifts his chin slowly, she’s standing in front of him. Both hands out. An invitation of sorts that he wants nothing more than to refuse. Point blank.
If he doesn’t vomit in the next five minutes he thinks he’ll count it as win.
He reaches up, slips his gloved fingers into hers but doesn’t make a move to stand. The skates are tight around his ankles, the achingly familiar feeling, paradoxically foreign at the same time. He feels claustrophobic in them. Like he can’t breathe.
“There are helmets here,” she lets him know, voice as gentle as the snow that continues to powder the ground beneath them. “If you want one.”
She makes no move to pick one up herself and he shakes his head once, indicating no. He thinks strapping a helmet on too would signal the beginning of the end for his fast fraying sanity.
He’s standing before he can register that his muscles have expanded and contracted in movement. And they’re at the edge of the ice before she whispers breathe and relax and nothing bad’s going to happen…
He thinks he might just believe her.
The feel of the frictionless surface beneath him for the first time in over a decade has his heart almost tapping at the underside of his ribcage. The adrenalin is keeping him numb to the freezing temperatures and every now and then he has to remind himself to take a breath.
She’s skating backwards slowly, still attached to him by her mittened fingers, dragging him with her as he remains completely rigid on his feet.
“Are you okay?”
He nods quickly. Slightly manic. It feels wild and uncontrolled and she laughs suddenly. The sound of it shocks him.
“I’m sorry,” she offers hesitantly, still caught mid-giggle. “It’s just that, well, you look so far from okay it’s not even funny… Except it kind of is…”
She slows them to a stop and reaches up, ghosts her lips over his quickly, blink and you’d miss it style.
“I think that’s enough for now, yeah?”
He nods again, the same manic head bob he’d offered her just seconds ago. She laughs again and slips her hands from his. Slides them around his waist instead and tightens them into a hug.
“You did so good.” The words muffled into the front of his jacket.
He’s not sure he agrees. But then, he’s not really sure of anything at the moment, except that the wooden bench at the side of the rink feels like mountain ranges and oceans of miles away.
They’re back there in seconds and as he bends to remove his skates he notes that his hands are shaking so violently that untying laces is not an option.
He can’t even untie is own damn laces.
That is kind of funny.
He laughs then. Drops his head into his shaking hands and looks across at Gail through eyes blurred with tears.
And maybe he’s not laughing after all.
They follow one another into the shower when they get home. Snow damp and shivering as they shed layers of clothing and turn the heat as high as they can stand it.
“Thank you,” he whispers into the steam, unsure yet if he’s ready for her to hear the words. If she’s ready enough to believe them.
She’d panicked in the car on the way home. Convinced beyond doubt that she’d coerced him into doing something he wasn’t ready for and that he was now one loud noise away from throwing himself in front of a moving vehicle.
Or something like that.
He’d done his best to reassure her but the whole evening was still something of a foggy blur and he’s not even sure that he remembers most of it.
He wraps her against his chest, lets the hot water pound against the top of his head and fill his insides with white noise and static. Wonders how someone so tiny could manage to take up so much space in his life, in him, and can’t fathom for a minute what he’d do if she disappeared.
“Have you ever thought about seeing someone?”
“Seeing someone?” His confusion is genuine and he looks up sharply from stirring milk into coffee.
“You know,” she continues with an expansive sweep of her hand that doesn’t actually tell him anything more. “A therapist.”
“I mean, I just thought it might be-”
“I’m seeing you,” he cuts in, quiet over the sound of the background music. Drops his eyes back to the drink he suddenly doesn’t want and watches the foam circle clockwise against the rim.
Hands snake around his middle from behind. A chin comes to rest lightly against his collarbone.
“I know you are. But I’m not-”
“You’re everything.” To me, he doesn’t quite manage to add.
“You should talk to someone who knows what they’re doing, Luke. Someone who can help you-”
He doesn’t want to have this conversation. Not now. Probably not ever. Just further proof of his gaping inadequacies. He wants to take back all the things she’s come to learn. To reconstruct the walls he’d built and hide out behind them forever.
“I don’t need help.” He believes this.
“Gail, don’t. Please, just-” He wants to clamp his hands over his ears and scream ‘til she walks out but he’s equal parts terrified that if she does, she’ll never come back. “Can’t I just talk to you?”
A compromise of sorts.
He feels sick.
“Of course you can talk to me.” She moves away, leaves him with little more than cold air and fear. “I just thought it might be a good idea to get some professional help with this.”
‘This’. Whatever ‘this’ even is.
“I don’t need help.” A mantra. Looping. I don’t need help.
“It’s okay.” She capitulates easily. A rare phenomenon that he thinks means more than he can currently decipher. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do…”
He makes the decision without really making a decision at all. Finds himself slotting his car into the mostly empty lot opposite the outdoor rink not fifteen minutes from his apartment and drumming his fingertips against the steering wheel robotically. Still not sure how he got to here.
He shuffles out into the early evening chill. Drags the hood of his jacket up and over his head, more for camouflage than anything else, and takes up a spot on the low slung bench seat that surrounds the rink. His knees bounce, there’s no rhythm to the movement and when he blinks his eyes closed his head fills with the sound of body meeting boards and he has to plant his palms squarely on either side of him to remain upright and conscious.
He lasts fifteen minutes the first time. Before the noise in his head becomes too loud and the thunderous roar beneath his ribs too painful and the phantom ache in his spine too agonisingly real.
He blasts the heat until his toes lose their numb tingling and then heads to The Penny, gets there five minutes late but concentrates carefully on his well-constructed façade. Barely misses a beat.
The second time he gets to minute twenty three before his back muscles spasm and his fingers no longer move on command.
He counts it as a win nonetheless.
There are kids dotted around the ice, some teetering precariously on double blades; others sweeping in graceful turns around the crowded corners of the rink.
He thinks he envies them all their carefree fun. Rosy cheeks and hand-knitted mittens with tuques to match.
He doesn’t tell her where he goes. Considers lying, considers telling her ‘therapy’ because he knows it would make her happy and, in a way, he thinks that’s probably what this is.
But it’s also not, and it’s something he knows instinctively he needs to do alone. At least for now.
Else it’s unlikely he’ll do it at all.
On his ninth visit he fumbles through his wallet for the required notes and hires a pair of poorly fitting skates that he manages, somehow, to tightly lace.
His grip on the metal fence should be embarrassing but the rink is empty save for the oily teenager with his head in a magazine in the booth and so he claws his way around the edge ten metres or so before he can panic and change his mind.
By the time he does, it’s too late to turn back.
It’s another three nights before he realises that she’s taken to sleeping at her place instead of curling up tightly beside him in his bed.
He’s not sure what to make of the revelation. Kisses her hungrily as he drags her through the door to his office and holds his breath as the words tumble out.
“I missed you last night.” Punctuates the sentiment with his lips against hers. “And the night before that…”
They break apart and she twists so that her back is against his chest, he can see her reflection in the window opposite.
“I thought you might have needed some space,” she explains. “Things got a bit full on for a while. I just thought you might’ve wanted time to sort through it all without me there dragging you into things you weren’t ready for.”
She twists again, to face him this time. Runs her thumb along his jawline as he swallows hard.
“How are you doing?”
He wants to tell her that he skated from one side of the rink to the other last night. All by himself. That he didn’t piss his pants despite that fact that he was convinced the whole time he was going to. That his ankle didn’t fall apart, that his head stayed right where it was supposed to be and the fact that he doesn’t think he breathed once in the entire, stammered journey didn’t really seem like that big of a deal.
He wants to tell her that the apartment is empty when she’s not in it. Even when he’s home. Especially when he’s home. And that he can’t sleep anymore without the weight of her next to him.
Instead, this: “Can you stay tonight? Please?”
She grins. Wide. Jumps suddenly and slings her thighs around his hips, tight.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
He waits until later, when the darkness settles and her breathing evens out into sleep before adding thank you and stay for always.
And I think I might love you.
I’m so sorry.
He buys a decent, second hand stick at a yard sale on a whim. Hides it in the trunk of his car beneath some towels and other discarded detritus and doesn’t even look at it again for three weeks.
Christmas comes, and then the New Year rolls around. There are dinners to attend and family members to impress. It is easy to forget.
It is easy to pretend not to remember.
They gift each other a weekend away. Head to New York for three days and lose themselves in the brightest lights of the biggest city. She drags him to Rockerfeller Center. There are too many people on the ice for him to even contemplate stepping out there, but watching her make her way through the crowds with fluid ease is not nearly as terrifying as it once might have been.
She grins across at him, waving madly as she passes. The length of her bright red scarf trailing behind as she disappears into the masses, only to reappear again and headed straight towards him.
She lets herself crash lightly into the siding, arms wrapping around his neck as she does so. Laughing breathlessly into the sleeve of his winter jacket.
He thinks he decides then that he’ll never let her go.
He makes deals with himself as his foot tenses against the gas pedal. If there’s less than ten people on the ice when he arrives, he’ll get the stick out.
Less than eight.
Less than five.
In the end there’s three. Several more huddle around the fence supervising the kids and shouting muffled encouragement around steaming Styrofoam mugs.
His ankle protests the boot but he puts it down to the fact that it’s been twelve years and grits his teeth and fades the sensation out. It is not the first time he’s forced himself onto the ice carrying an injury. The notion was once second nature to him after all.
Edging out onto the ice, he works the stick from side to side reflexively. Pushes it along in front of him as he moves around the perimeter slowly. He notes an instant increase in his feeling of balance now that the stick is in his hands. A settling of his shifted equilibrium as he picks up the speed slightly and bends his knees a little more freely.
Just like riding a bike.
There’s a kid on the ice doing the same as him. About fourteen he thinks, as she passes him easily. Blonde braid escaping from the twists of her Maple Leafs scarf. He’s seen her there before, skating laps as the winter carries on, oblivious.
When she loops past him again he feels his own tempo step up a notch to match her. Keeps her fifteen feet ahead of him then, nothing more, nothing less.
They do three laps like that before he trails off, breathless. No-where near hockey-fit enough to keep up her pace. She’s decent he thinks, for a kid at least.
More than a match for him these days.
It becomes something of an unspoken ritual after that. They’ll do half a dozen flying laps without so much as a nod of acknowledgement before he slows to a glide and begs off. Sweat sticky and exhilarated as she continues to circle her way around the rink, dizzying.
He can hear her laughing as she passes, muffles something across the ice at him that sounds a lot like old man.
He feels lighter after that. Inexplicably so.
And when she’s back there later that week, dribbling a puck awkwardly across the ice, he waits patiently for her inevitable moment of lost concentration and cuts in. Guides the disk expertly from one end of the rink to the other while she stands motionless in the middle, open-mouthed and indignant.
He passes back to her as he works his way along the side, and she pushes off quickly, intercepting the pass cleanly but struggling to keep the puck under control once she’s got it.
The whole thing feels so completely second nature to him that he doesn’t even register the slight change in the ice surface until his skate catches and his hip and right shoulder make heavy contact with the frozen surface beneath him.
His breath catches somewhere high up in lungs that refuse to contract. He’s sliding, eyes wide as the metal fence looms.
She’s over him even before he’s come to a complete stop. The world spinning madly, halo-like around her head as she fills his field of vision.
“Holy shit, mister, are you okay?”
He wants to tell her not to swear but she’s only echoing the words that are tumbling round inside his own head.
Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit…
“Are you hurt?” She’s quite insistent. Hands hovering over him urgently as he works his lips into a position to form words.
“I don’t know,” he manages to stammer out. And it’s the truth. He really doesn’t. “I might be.”
“You were hurt before, right?” And he blinks back at her dumbly, her level of insight, shocking.
“Yeah,” he manages to nod, “a long time ago.”
He still hasn’t moved.
“I’ll get my dad,” she nods efficiently. Scoots off before he can tell her not to panic.
Before he can tell himself not to panic.
He rolls over onto his back and is relieved to discover that nothing really hurts all that much. Except for maybe his pride. Which he doubts will ever truly recover.
He’s shaking, and he thinks he might be in shock which really only serves to add to the embarrassment as he pushes up onto his elbows before sitting up completely, teeth chattering against the sudden chill.
“Hey, are you okay there, buddy?” She’s back then, with her dad in tow.
He drags his gloved hand across his face and nods, “Yeah. I’m pretty sure I’m fine.”
A hand appears and he stares at it for a beat before realising what it’s for.
“Sorry about that,” he offers as he accepts the haul to his feet. Transfers his grip immediately to the fence as other man shuffles back awkwardly, his runners not ideal for keeping traction on the icy surface.
“No problem. Just so long as you’re alright.” Then; “We might call it a night, hey Kali?”
She nods, blue eyes wide in her head.
“Hey,” he offers, sticks a trembling hand out in her direction, “Sorry if I scared you. I’m Luke, by the way…”
“I’m Kali,” she offers redundantly, “And you didn’t scare me.”
He laughs at her indignation. “Okay then, well, I sure scared me, so I’m gonna call it a night too I think.”
His right hip is already starting to stiffen and he’s not sure how he’s going to explain the inevitable bruising when it appears. If it hasn’t already.
He’s almost back at the car when a voice wavers through the soft breeze, “Hey, Luke? See you on the weekend?”
He grins and nods as he tosses his stick back into the trunk. “See you on the weekend.”
“So.” The single syllable drawn out. “I have a confession to make.”
She’s spooning pasta into a deep bowl; bolognaise sauce dotted across her chin.
“You’ve quit the force and you’re running away with the circus.” Deadpanned as she pointedly hands him a block of cheese and the grater.
“Not quite. I kind of fell today.”
She looks up sharply, a frozen tableau as the spoon halts mid-air.
“At the outdoor rink on Queen Street.”
“At the outdoor rink on Queen Street,” she repeats. And he rushes to cut in before she can get any angrier than he thinks she might already be.
“I wanted to surprise you,” he pleads quickly. “I’ve been going there a little bit, I mean, mostly, at first, I just sat in the car and freaked out. But then I started going on the ice a little and then I met this kid-”
“You met a kid?”
“Yeah, she’s pretty good actually. And so suddenly I was like, following her around the rink and-”
“You were following a kid around the rink?” Incredulous.
“Jesus, not like that. Just, following her movements. Her speed. That kind of thing. And it was all kind of coming back. How it should all feel.” He trails off at that, swallows around the lead in his stomach. Heavy. “Why I used to love it so much.”
She’s silent opposite him for a beat too long. And he’s terrified all of a sudden.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to but, I don’t know. It was new and terrifying and I thought if I told you then it would all be real somehow…”
He looks up, bares everything that he has.
“I don’t think I was ready for it to be real just yet.”
Dinner is seventeen levels of awkward, but she stays and he’d been half convinced that he’d be spending the night alone.
“Are you hurt?”
They’re side by side on the sofa watching the end of something he’d not really been paying attention to.
“You mean, besides my dumbass pride? Not really.”
“Not really?” She sounds sceptical and he can’t really blame her, all things considered.
“The kid’s dad was there, he came over and, to be honest, I can’t really remember much of it. I think I went into shock which really only makes the whole thing even more embarrassing…”
“Luke, what does not really mean?”
He twists slightly towards her and drags his sweatpants down an inch or several, “Well, I don’t think this is gonna feel all that great in the morning.”
“Shit, Luke!” Ghosts her fingers over the rapidly purpling skin. And yep, that had pretty much been his reaction also.
She looks up then, runs her hands through his hair and down the sides of his face as though inspecting him for damage.
“Is that it? Did you hit your head? How’s your ankle? And your back, fuck, does your back hurt at all?”
She’s panicking suddenly, working her hands up under his shirt and blinking back inexplicable tears.
“Gail, stop, shhh-” Plants his hands on either side of her face and waits ‘til she slows her movements to a standstill and looks back, still blinking rapidly. “It’s okay, I’m okay, I promise…”
As soothing as he can manage given the circumstances, “I’m okay. I’m okay…”
Perhaps as much for his own benefit as hers.
She collapses into his chest then and he pushes his nose into her hair, envelopes her against him as completely as he can while her soft sobs reverberate through his hollowed out insides.
He hates that he has the power to do this to her.
The knowledge that she could care this much about him, both terrifying and exhilarating in the same shallow exhale.
“I have a confession to make too.” Murmured and with most of the volume lost in the fabric of his hoody. She pulls back, mascara smudged across one cheekbone. “But you have to promise not to be mad.”
“I-” She inhales, sharply, presses the heels of her hands against her eyes desperately and doesn’t bother to remove them as she continues speaking. “I found the footage of your crash.”
He thinks he stops breathing then.
“It’s on YouTube.” Nothing more than a whisper.
He makes a noise, somewhere high in the back of his throat. Not words. Not anything really.
He thinks it’s either that or be sick.
She waits until the lights are off before she offers anything more. Neither of them have spoken since her revelation. He can’t. He’d need air in his lungs for that after all.
He’s not angry. Not even close. Just scared and sad and more than completely overwhelmed.
She’d extricated herself from his grip after that. Disappeared for minutes before returning with a glass of water, a graham cracker, and two loose Advil bouncing around in the palm of her hand.
He’d managed to keep it all down but only just.
“I only watched it once…” Whispered into her fist.
Like maybe that makes a difference.
And maybe it does.
“I couldn’t…” She’s crying again. He can hear the soft hitch in her voice as she attempts an explanation he doesn’t think he needs. “I couldn’t watch it again… Luke… oh, God…”
Her voice switches then, shifts to desperate as she crawls over him, wraps her hands behind his head and forces her lips over his. He tastes salt water and despair. A heady combination of the two.
A mixture he knows well.
She’s hot on top of him, mouthing her lips across his jaw and along the side of his neck. Up into his hairline and then down to his heaving chest. Like maybe she wants to climb inside him.
Take up permanent residence.
His arms are under her shirt, forcing the fabric up and over her head before pulling her back to him, tight. Under his skin. Her nipple in his mouth, fleeting. Hard and soft right where it counts most.
She’s still crying, still murmuring hot words against his prickled skin.
He pushes her hair back from her face, sweat slick. Kisses the saltwater of her tears as her eyes close, scrunched tight.
“You were just lying there…” The words breathy against the side of his face. “And no-one did anything for the longest time. You were just lying there on the ice. I thought you were dead. Like maybe it was all going to end differently this time and you’d die and I’d wake up and you just wouldn’t be here anymore…”
He can’t listen to her.
But he can’t stop himself all the same.
“I’m sorry.” Her head shaking side to side. Manic. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-”
“I love you.” He breathes the words out, watches for the moment that she breathes them back in.
Feels everything slow to a still between them.
A loaded kind of silence.
“Oh, Luke.” An expulsion of air wrapped around his name. “I love you, too.”
He feels like he’s aged fifty years the next morning. Stiff and sore beyond belief.
She giggles into her fist as he hobbles to the bathroom. The bruising on his hip extending above the band of his boxers.
He’s leaned against the basin and staring at himself in the mirror when she sidles up behind him. Addresses his reflection casually.
“And do we think we might have learned a lesson somewhere in all that macho ‘I’m gonna beat a kid around the ice’ bull-crap?”
“Only that I’m not fourteen anymore.” Cocks his head to the side, watches as she combs her fingers through her hair. A futile attempt to tame the sleep-mussed locks into something manageable. “And that landing on ice still hurts like a bitch.”
He catalogues the damage. His hip is royally screwed. He can barely walk on it, though he knows it’s all just bruising. His right shoulder is also kind of stiff, but it’s nothing he suspects a hot shower won’t fix. His back is the unknown quantity right now and he’s settled on not thinking about it in a bid to deny the niggling ache.
It’s working quite well so far.
“I meant what I said last night.” Sudden, and with her eyes locked on his via the conduit of the bathroom mirror. She said a lot but he thinks he knows to which part she’s referring.
“And you think I didn’t?” Perhaps a shade more defensive than he’d intended.
She shrugs. And he sighs. And kind of hates that they can’t have the type of conversation they’d shared under the heady cover of darkness last night now in the cold light of day.
“Well, I did.” Countered softly. Resigned. “I meant every word. I still mean them now…”
Her fingers are twisting in the hem of her t-shirt; he covers them with his own and turns somewhat clumsily to face her.
“I love you.”
She grins then. Wide and unrestrained.
“I love you, too.”
He leans forward and drops a kiss on the tip of her nose. “Now that we’ve got that straight, I need you to do me a favour.”
“Call Frank for me and make up some excuse about how I tackled a mugger to the ground to rescue an old lady’s purse or something and that I probably won’t make it in today…”
“What, you don’t think he’ll believe the truth?”
“That I got my ass handed to me by a fourteen year old on the ice? More like, I don’t think I want him to know the truth…”
“Okay.” A solemn nod. “Deal. But only because it’s my day off and I can stay home and play nurse. Otherwise you’d be coming with me so I could watch you limp around the office all day making up excuses for your inability to sit down for more than five minutes at a time.”
“Hey, if you’re just gonna mock me and my haematoma, maybe I’ll go in anyway… leave you here by yourself.”
“Heh,” she smirks, eyes bright, “You and your haematoma,” air quotes slung around the word, “will be lucky to make it back out of the bathroom without my help. So watch it, mister.”
She’s only half joking.
“Hey.” Serious all of a sudden. “If you go again- skating I mean, can you promise you’ll tell me first. I mean, you don’t have to take me, just, let me know where you’re going.”
He nods, cups a hand around her cheek and runs his thumb across her lips.
“Okay, sure. I promise.”
She seems to deflate a little then. Relax into him as some of the tension she’d been carrying melts.
“I mean, it’s no biggie. I just figured that way I could have the ambos on stand-by for when a three year old challenges you to a penalty shoot-out or something…” She giggles and breaks away, skips back a few steps and pauses by the door.
He steps towards her awkwardly and groans as his obvious discomfort only serves to make her laugh harder.