The practice rink is empty, this early in the morning.
Oh, there’s the equipment guys hanging around, and some random other staff that Jeff waves to as he wanders through the back hallways, bag thrown over his shoulders. His sneakers are squeaking on the linoleum floors because it’s raining like crazy outside, and Jeff’s honestly glad they don’t have a game tonight, if just so he can stay at home later instead of braving the wet, frozen cold again.
The locker room would normally be empty this early too, because practice doesn’t start until ten, and it’s seven, three hours too early for any of his teammates to even be awake yet, unless they have kids, eagerly pulling them from sleep so that they can play, play, play.
Eric’s in the room, sitting in his stall in torn jeans and flip flops, with a long-sleeve shirt that’s soaked, like he’d just gotten in out of the rain too. Jeff would almost feel awkward in his loose-fitting sweats and Hurricanes pullover, but Tessa is standing up brightly in her Uncle Jordan’s stall, in a red-and-white tutu that matches the Hurricanes pullover she’s wearing.
When she catches sight of him, she says, “Jeff! Daddy, look, Jeff is here!” and points wildly. Then, before Jeff can even say hi, she asks, “Can I put on my skates now, please?” stretching out the please so far that Jeff’s sure she’s not breathing as she does it.
“He’s not letting you put on your skates?” Jeff asks, laughing, and Eric makes a face as he comes back with, “What? We just got here. Don’t gang up on me, you two.” To be fair, Jeff thinks, Eric kind of looks like he’s still half-asleep, rubbing at his face and blinking his eyes a couple of times, like nothing is quite in focus.
Jeff’s lucky in that respect: he’s a morning person.
Tessa is sitting down and sliding off the bench, grabbing her skates, little white ones, and rushing over to shove them into her dad’s lap before plopping down on the floor in front of him, lying back and sticking her feet up for him, wiggling her toes helpfully.
Eric sighs, but grabs hold of her ankle and starts helping her put on her skates, even though she’s upside-down. Jeff steps close enough that he can grin down at her, and she laughs.
“By the way, thanks,” Eric says, still tying Tessa’s laces.
Jeff shrugs and sits down next to him at his own stall, pushing off his sneakers and bending down to take his figure skates out of his bag. He hasn’t had the chance to wear them in a while—a few weeks, at least, because he has a different pair for practices, and then another for games, and a spare, but none of those are figure skates—and he runs a hand over the toe before he starts tugging them on, flexing his soles to make sure they’re comfortable and fitting well, still.
They need sharpened, probably, but they’ll be fine for the day. He can do it after, before real practice starts.
“It’s cool,” he says, finally, when Tessa’s skates are all laced up, and he’s got his on too, and Eric is finally starting to pull his own on, although his are still hockey-styled skates, unlike Jeff and Tessa’s. Tessa is wobbling around the room, balancing precariously. “I mean, it’ll even be fun, probably. Are you sure I can’t film it?”
Eric scowls, tying his laces more roughly than is really called for, but then he lets out a sigh, like he knows it’s pointless. “Please don’t,” he says, put out, and Jeff laughs before getting to his feet.
“Hey, Tessa, let’s go! We’ll beat your Dad to the ice, eh?” he asks, holding out his hand for her to grab. She does, more than happy to start out for the ice, and Eric stands up to follow them. He makes like he’s racing them, but Tessa ends up the first one gliding out onto the ice anyway, carefully keeping her legs under her.
She’s only recently graduated from helmets and kneepads.
“Can you show me and Daddy how to do a spin?” she asks, politely, when Jeff skates up next to her, coming to a stop.
Eric makes another face, something between affection and horror, and Jeff holds back the laugh because he thinks that’s going to become a staple for the next couple of weeks that they’re getting together to practice this thing.
See: Tessa, when she was three, went from morning daycare to morning skating, instead.
It’s this three-hour class for kids between the ages of three and ten, where they learn how to skate, either for hockey or figure skating. Mostly, Jeff thinks, the first year was teaching Tessa not to be afraid of falling on the ice, because she’d always had helmets and knee-pads and elbow-pads everywhere on the rare occasions that Jeff tagged along to pick her up before they all went out for lunch or something.
But for the past couple of months, Tessa’s been leaning less towards hockey and more towards figure skating, leaving her dad kind of ridiculously depressed and entirely out of his depth.
Especially because at the end of the year, every year, the kids are allowed to do this short one-minute program of their choosing, like, to foster creativity or something, and Tessa decided she wanted to skate to Kiss the Girl, from the Little Mermaid.
And, well, her dad’s name is Eric.
Being a hockey player and all, Eric doesn’t really have the, “I don’t know how to skate!” excuse that most of the other parental figures can get away with. That, and the fact that Tessa has him wrapped around her little finger (him and the entire Hurricanes team, let’s be honest, here), was basically a guarantee that in roughly three weeks, Eric will be out on the ice with Tessa, costumes and music and all.
“Okay,” Jeff says, unable to keep the smile off his face, and tilts his foot out, demonstrating the start of a small, easy to duplicate spin. He doesn’t do anything fancy just yet, and helps correct Tessa’s stance when she slips and hits the ground.
She doesn’t seem to mind falling though, which is best thing that morning class has taught her, really. Jeff remembers being a kid and never even thinking about falling as a thing that could hurt, but he remembers his little sister crying as she held onto the walls of the rink, until she finally got the hang of it.
Eric is just skating in small circles next to them, less for practice and more because it’s easier than just standing still, sometimes.
“Hey,” Jeff says, trying to be stern, “you too.”
Eric huffs, but copies what him and Tessa are both doing, spinning easily, if butchering the landing, a bit. Well, landing. It’s not like their skates are coming off the ice anytime soon, but still.
“Can you show us a gooder one?” Tessa asks, and then corrects herself, “Good one,” when Eric tells her to.
“Yeah,” Jeff shrugs, and backs up to get some space. He still does some stuff for fun every now and then, usually during breaks at practice, and Eric will have seen him and laughed, like the rest of the team, but he tries for something a little more showy, now, if just for Tessa, who might actually have an interest in figure skating when she gets older, despite Eric and his brothers doing everything they can to make her see the light and glory of hockey.
His skates leave traces in the ice, all smooth lines and an easy eight forms under him after a minute, before he draws in a breath and holds out his arms, lifting a leg and spinning once, before bowing a little when Tessa yells and starts clapping.
Eric is clapping dutifully as well, but Jeff just rolls his eyes at him, and gets ready to do a spin where both feet come off the ground instead of just one. He doesn’t want to get too ambitious, because he really hasn’t worked on this type of skating in a long while, but it’s easy, smooth skating, and comes to him without him even having to think about it, or try, really.
He bows again, after, overly dramatic for Tessa, and Eric has an impressed look on his face, nodding as he claps with his daughter. This time, Jeff flushes a little, less from exertion and more from embarrassment.
“Alright,” he says, coming to a stop in front of them. “Enough of that, today is about you.” He grabs for Tessa’s hand, and guides her through making her own figure eight. After a minute, Eric skates over and grabs her by both hands, repeating it with her, only faster, and making her collapse with giggles halfway through.
“Practice!” Jeff yells, almost wishing he had a whistle.
“Yeah, yeah, come on, Tess, Coach Jeff is getting antsy,” Eric says, and Tessa giggles again, but lets her dad pull her up.
“Hey,” Jeff says, “you could always just go out on the ice and hit pucks at a goal. I’m sure it’d go nicely with the Little Mermaid music.”
Eric snorts, and then says, “I wish,” under his breath, as Tessa shouts, “No!”
Jeff keeps a notebook that he writes a couple short moves in, and as soon as they get the music they can actually start getting Tessa to memorize when she needs to skate what, but he’s not too worried about it. She’s only five, and it’s a program for her and the other kids’ families, not judges who’ll give her terrible scores no matter how perfect her landings are. To be honest, Eric will probably end up picking her up half the time, although she does very seriously specify that she wants to, “do a good spin,” at least once, all on her own.
They skate until Tessa is too tired to keep up, and by the time they’re back in the locker room, she’s dozing in her dad’s arms as he tries and fails to untie her skates. Jeff has to do it, careful not to wake her up, and they put her down in the recreation area, where she face plants onto the couch and stays out like a light.
They have an hour to kill before the rest of the guys start showing up for actual Hurricanes practice, and Jeff leans back in his stall, a little tired from waking up so early. His yawn must show it, because Eric says, “Maybe we should take naps like Tess, eh?”
And yeah, that actually sounds like a really good idea.
They lose to the Penguins, and then to the Islanders, and follow it up with 5-2 loss to the Flyers, and Jeff doesn’t manage to so much as get an assist in all three games. Which: it’s not like they were likely to make the playoffs this year, but crashing and burning out of the race like that is still painful. He has a bruise to show for it too, when he tried getting to the puck during a fight against the boards, and got a stick to the ribs for his trouble.
He winces and settles onto Eric’s couch gingerly, a little sore still, as Tessa puts a copy of the Little Mermaid in the DVD player. For inspiration, apparently. She’d grabbed his hand after practice that morning, asking if he’d come over for lunch and a movie, and Eric had grinned, and said, “Yeah, come on, come watch your favorite movie, Jeff.”
Tessa’s eyes had got all big and she’d said, “The Little Mermaid is your favorite movie?” and any chance Jeff had had at begging out and going home to soak in a warm bath was history.
He accepts a plate of chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for lunch, helpfully prepared by Tessa herself, with some very decoratively placed ketchup, meant to be a… cat’s face, he thinks, because there are ear and whisker lines. Eric sits next to him, and grabs for the remote before Tessa can. She pouts and says, “Daddy!” but Eric just tells her to sit down at the coffee table and eat her lunch, before he’ll push the ‘play’ button on the main menu, where Sebastian is already talking to them.
They end up rewinding and watching a couple scenes more than once, for Tessa, and the Kiss the Girl scene twice just because the first time, Eric jumps forward and kisses Tessa’s cheek, tickling her and making her scream and laugh, jumping up to run around the room as Eric chases her.
Jeff ends up leaving at the end of the movie, standing at the open door while Eric smiles at him. Tessa ended up falling asleep near the end, there, and she’s on the couch, spread out limbs taking up far more space than she should be capable of, seeing as she’s so small.
Jeff bites his lip, smiling up at Eric a little, and Eric glances at her, still fast asleep, before pressing in for a kiss, sort of stupidly soft in that way he gets. Jeff kisses back, and then says, “Uh, yeah, see you later, Eric,” before heading down the drive to get into his car. He has breathe, putting his forehead down on the steering wheel for a moment, just to get his grip of reality back, just to – deal with all of it.
He sort of, maybe, might like Eric, in a romantic kind of way.
They aren’t dating; they hook up, sometimes, on weekends when Eric doesn’t have a five-year-old running around, because it’s easier for Jeff than trying to meet someone at, like, a bar or something, and Eric’s still going through the final legal aspects of the divorce, which makes picking up pretty hard, apparently.
But then Eric will invite Jeff over for chicken nuggets and the Little Mermaid, and it all gets a little messed up in his head. They’re not dating – they’re friends, with, uh, benefits. Jeff can’t really lose sight of that, or he’s going to end up getting hurt somewhere down the line, he’s pretty sure.
They meet up again and again to practice, even though sometimes Tessa has to be poked and prodded, still sleepy until she has her skates and jacket on, ready to get on the ice. Eric brings in a stereo to play the music so that they can start setting up cues and practicing moves by time.
Tessa likes spinning the most, especially in the costume she gets to wear for it – green leggings and a green skirt, all sparkly and shiny like a real mermaid’s tail, she says, with a purple top that Eric frowns at and says, “Aren’t you cold?”
“No,” she denies, perfectly happy, as she says, “pick me up and spin, Daddy!”
Eric sighs but does it, grabbing her by her waist and spinning her through the air right as the words sha-la-la-la my oh my, looks like the boy’s too shy, he ain’t gonna’ kiss the girl come through the stereo. It’s kind of perfect timing, and Jeff grins when Eric puts Tessa back on the ice, and she skates away with a hand in the air, a little wobbly but fine, otherwise, as the music continues with ain’t that sad, ain’t it a shame, too bad, you gonna’ miss the girl.
“That was really good,” Jeff says, after, and while they’re not ready to perform the routine in front of anybody just yet, they actually have a routine, so that’s progress enough that they end up taking Tessa out for ice cream, after, because there’s no practice for once, and no game until tomorrow.
Eric and Jeff both get ice cream too, with the shared agreement to not tell any of the team nutritionists.
“What is that?” Jeff asks, peeking over at Tessa’s cup of ice cream, all dark chocolate and fudge with oreo cookie bits and gummy worms swimming in it.
“Mud!” Tessa yells, and takes a big spoonful, getting chocolate on her chin as she takes a bite.
“Looks delicious,” Jeff says, laughing, and Eric grins.
“Marc convinced her it was the best thing ever last time he was here, and she hasn’t wanted vanilla since.”
“Chocolate is pretty good,” Jeff says, even though he’d ordered sherbet for himself. Eric, of course, has vanilla with chocolate sauce and sprinkles, because he’s an ice cream traditionalist like that.
Jeff licks the little pink spoon they gave him with his bowl, making sure he’s getting all the ice cream, and then looks up to catch Eric staring at him, mouth crinkling into a smile. Jeff is pretty sure he flushes red in response to that look. He kind of wants to kiss Eric right then, all cold, biting mouths, sweet like ice cream.
“Daddy,” Tessa says, a second later, all stretching the word out, “it’s rude to stare.”
Eric makes a stern face and looks down at her, away from Jeff, finally, and says, “You’re right. Sorry, Jeff.”
“It’s okay,” Jeff has to say, swallowing down the embarrassment, and then distracts Tessa by pretending to try and steal a bite of her ice cream.
Predictably, she screams and grabs the bowl, holding it away protectively, and yells, “No! You can’t have any, you have your own, and they’re my gummy worms!”
“Not even a little?” Eric asks, lifting his own spoon, and Tessa’s eyes go wide.
“No!” she yells.
Jeff and Eric shake their heads and sigh, but agree not to steal any of her ice cream, if just because they’re getting looks from some of the other people in the shop. “Promise?” she asks suspiciously, and they both have to pinky promise before she’ll settle back down and eat her ice cream.
Despite the distraction though, when they’re getting back in the car ten minutes later, Tessa getting buckled up in the back, she asks curiously, “Daddy, and you and Jeff gonna’ get married?”
Eric hits his head on the ceiling of the car, standing up so fast, and Jeff winces – both at the question and at Eric’s response to it.
“Uh,” Eric says, after a minute, glancing at Jeff, “that’s—kind of a loaded question, kiddo.”
Jeff doesn’t really see how it’s all that complicated, and he makes a face, tilting his head a little, eyebrow raised. Eric shrugs and finished buckling Tessa up, closing her door and climbing into the front seat.
“Well, if you’re not,” Tessa goes on, philosophically, “Jeff should marry me!”
Jeff smiles back at her widely, and says, “I could probably do that.”
“Hold up,” Eric says, “I thought you wanted to marry Uncle Marc?”
“I’m going to have lots of husbands,” Tessa announces, and Jeff barely keeps from bursting out laughing. At least she’s confident about it.
Tessa gets to go to her mom’s for the rest of the week, half of which consist of away games that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to win. Three losses from three games is demoralizing enough, but with the trade deadline coming up, Jeff feels jittery and nervous. At this rate, he wouldn’t even be surprised if management felt like trading him. He’s not really doing enough out there to make it worth keeping him, no matter how much he loves it in Raleigh, no matter how great it is to play with the guys, with Eric.
He shuffles onto the plane, ready to huddle into his seat and try to sleep the whole flight if just so he can forget about what a terrible road trip it’s been, but Jordan plops down next to him, elbowing him, and says, “Hey, so I hear my niece proposed the other day.”
Jeff can’t help smiling, and saying, “Yeah, I guess she’s appreciative of the whole figure skating thing.”
Jordan’s eyebrows go up. “You’re teaching her to figure skate?”
Jeff bites his lip, because—what? Jordan doesn’t know? Even if Eric was trying to keep it quiet, like he thinks figure skating is embarrassing or something—it’s really not, it’s awesome—Jeff is pretty sure Tessa would’ve said something. She’s been ridiculously excited for weeks now.
“Um, yes? Sort of. She has a routine she wants to do for her skating school and I’m helping her practice.”
Jordan grins. “Right, right, the Little Mermaid thing Eric got dragged into. You’re helping with that? How bad is my big brother, man? Has he landed on his ass yet? Face-planted? I need to get a video camera for this shit, it’s gonna’ be great.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” And that’s Eric, coming up behind them in the aisle, obviously unimpressed. Jordan snorts and lifts an arm to wrap around Jeff’s shoulders, tugging him in for a bro-hug, or whatever. Jeff never really got into the, like, college guy thing where you can hug and sit on each other without it counting as being really, really gay, so he sort of just goes with it, trying not to turn red and give himself away as being completely awkward and out of place.
He’s pretty sure he fails, by the frown on Eric’s face.
“Move it, Jordy,” Eric says, and Jordan whines and puts up an argument for a minute, but eventually gets up, letting Eric sit down instead, his thigh pressing against Jeff’s, warm.
“Whatever, don’t make out in the bathroom. The mile high club isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Jordan says as he takes off up the aisle, a couple of snickers from the guys escorting him. Jeff feels the back of his neck heat up, because it’s kind of an open secret that he and Eric have hooked up before.
Apparently Jeff has one of those faces that means he can’t lie? And Eric’s always grinning after he gets laid, everybody says so, so it’s kind of obvious when they—when they get together.
“Ass,” Eric grumbles, adjusting until he’s comfortable in his seat.
“Is he really going to Tessa’s show?” Jeff asks after a minute, and Eric sighs.
“Tessa invited him before I could get a word in, so yeah, he’ll be there, with a camera, probably.”
Jeff can’t help smiling a little, and Eric bumps him in the shoulder, shaking his head but with a grin on his face.
A week before the show, Eric goes down hard in a game against Philadelphia.
They were up by one goal in the second, but had a stupid too-many-men penalty called on them, and when Eric tries to block a shot on Cam, he gets hit—practically steamrolled—by one of the opposing guys at the net. It maybe wouldn’t have been so bad if the net hadn’t already been dislodged, slipping back on the ice. Four or five guys all fell right there, hitting each other and making everything worse, all in Cam’s blue zone, and Eric ended up on the bottom of the pile, leg twisted wrong.
Some of the guys pull people up and off, and a couple shoving matches get started behind where Eric is trying to sit up, wincing obviously enough that Jeff isn’t surprised when one of the refs leans down and asks, “You okay, Staal?”
“Yeah,” Eric says immediately, but the grimace doesn’t help his case, and the way he buckles after trying to stand up the first time doesn’t either.
He plays another shift, but not very well, and Coach benches him through the whole third period. He’s upset about it in the locker room after when they lose by two goals, face all angry lines. Jeff sticks by him after he gets dressed, worried even though Eric keeps saying he’s fine.
The medical guys don’t agree.
It’s a sprain, they say, and Eric’s scratched for the next three games in order to let it heal without getting worse, and Eric’s told under no circumstances to go skating. Neither of them think about Tessa’s show until her mom drops her off the day after, and Eric calls him, sounding tired and resigned, asking, “Hey, you feel like coming over? Tessa’s upset about the show. I think you’d help cheer her up.”
Jeff winces automatically, because Eric—he can’t skate. He’s not going to be able to go out there and do the show with Tessa even after all the work they put it in, and she was so excited. Crap.
“Yeah, of course,” he says, through the phone, and when he stops for gas on the way, runs inside the station and grabs a bag of M&M’s, hoping that’ll help.
“Hey,” Eric says, when he answers the door. He’s on crutches, with his foot held up a few inches off the ground. He looks exhausted, and Jeff gives him a little smile before saying, “Hi,” back.
“Tessa’s shut herself in her room,” Eric says after Jeff comes in. “Pretty sure she’s crying. I don’t even know if that’s better or worse than the tantrum she threw earlier when I first told her the bad news.”
He eases down onto the couch, letting the crutches drop to the side.
“Should I try to get her to come out?” Jeff asks, unsure. He doesn’t know if it’s his place, really, especially if her own dad hadn’t managed, but Eric just shrugs and says, “You can try.”
Tessa’s bedroom door is white on the outside, like every other door in the house, but it has a big piece of wood hanging from it, helpfully decorated by Tessa herself, all pink and green and sparkly. He knocks, and then opens the door an inch, asking, “Tessa? Can I come in?”
She’s sitting in the corner, her face set in a frown. Her braids are a mess and her face is red like she really has been crying, and Jeff’s chest aches just looking at her.
“Go away,” she says, and looks down at the dollhouse in front of her, holding the miniature dolls in her hands. They aren’t Barbies, like what Jeff and his sisters would play with when they were little, but he figures the principle is the same anyway, and he slips down to sit across from her, leaning in carefully to ask, “Whose house is this?”
She gives him a look, and then says, “Anna’s. She’s going shopping right now though, because she needs a new outfit.” The doll she’s holding is in a pretty blue leotard, for ballet, Jeff’s pretty sure, but he’ll go with the obvious metaphor Tessa’s trying to give him here.
“She could have more than one outfit,” Jeff says, and starts looking through Tessa’s box of doll clothes—they’re all made of rubber, which is kind of weird—and he holds up a jacket, asks, “What about this one?”
Tessa scrunches up her nose and says, “No, that’s ugly.”
Jeff looks at it and frowns, but puts it down. It didn’t seem ugly to him, but whatever.
“This one,” Tessa says, grabbing a purple one, and then starts struggling to get it on the doll.
“You know your dad is really sorry, right? He didn’t mean to get hurt,” Jeff says, after a few more minutes of playing with the dolls, “or ruin your show.”
“It’s not fair,” Tessa says, staring hard at her dolls.
“Yeah,” Jeff sighs, and he lays out on the floor, pushing a stuffed pig out of the way so that he has enough room, “it sucks. But you’re making him really sad by not coming out of your room. He feels really bad about it.”
“Does he feel sad enough to go skating?” Tessa asks, petulant and crossing her arms, but her shoulders are slumped, and Jeff thinks she’s probably tired of playing dolls all by herself too.
“You know, me and you could still go skating,” Jeff says, because he wouldn’t mind taking her to the rink for a while. Eric might even be able to get some sleep, actually rest up his ankle so that he can play again sooner rather than later.
But Tessa’s head whips up, and she says, “Really?” almost out of breath. “You’ll skate with me?”
Jeff thinks he’s missing something, but he nods, slowly, and says, “Yeah, of course, Tessa.”
She jumps up, knocking the bucket of doll clothes over, and rushes into her closet. “I don’t wanna’ do the Little Mermaid song with you!” she yells, voice muffled, “so I’ll wear my other outfit, and you can match, and me and Daddy’ll do Little Mermaid when he feels better.”
“What?” Jeff asks, sitting up, and Tessa comes out of her closet, red-and-white tutu in her arms, with a red pair of tights and a little hurricanes jersey, the one with the E. STAAL written on the back, if Jeff remembers right.
“What song should we skate to though?” she asks, quickly, and then she’s grabbing at a case full of CD’s, all Jonas Brothers and One Direction and Justin Bieber, and Jeff realizes, what, exactly she thinks he’s just promised to do.
Or, rather, what he has just promised to do, because telling her no now isn’t really an option.
Jeff manages to talk her out of Macklemore—her Uncle Jordan was the inspiration there, Jeff’s pretty sure—and Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive, and an alarming amount of One Direction, mostly because Jordan’s going to be recording this, and Eric wouldn’t stop grinning in that way that meant he was about to burst out laughing, which is kind of the worst. Jeff gets laughed a lot, actually; he’s pretty short and looks young for his age, especially for a hockey player, but he tries to cut it off at the pass as often as possible.
They end up going with Imagine Dragon’s It’s Time mostly because Tessa likes all the clapping they’ll get to start with. They only have a few days to put something together, so Jeff tries to mostly just—edit the routine Tessa already mostly has memorized for the Little Mermaid, and makes sure everything she has to do is pretty simple, and not too dependent on timing.
The show starts at five, and Jeff drives with Eric in the passenger seat, and Tessa and Jordan both in the back, talking excitedly about the show.
“You’re gonna’ kick some butt out there, eh, Tess?” Jordan says.
Tessa nods, gripping her seatbelt tightly, and says, “Yeah! Me and Jeff have been skating all the time.”
“You know, you could have asked me,” Jordan needles her, and she rolls her eyes.
“You don’t know how to figure skate, Uncle Jordy,” she says, very informative, and Jordan squawks at the lack of confidence in her uncle’s skills on the ice.
Jeff ignores them and turns carefully into the rink, a lot of other cars already filling in the parking spots, parents and friends getting ready to watch both Tessa and all of her clubmates do their skating programs.
Tessa drags Jeff into a different area than Eric and Jordan go, Eric hobbling on his crutches, but grinning and waving and yelling, “Good luck!”
There are little girls in sparkly leotards and skirts everywhere he looks, accompanied by harried looking moms and dads and older siblings, and then Tessa pushes Jeff into a box, separated from the rest of the room by a curtain, and says, “Get dressed! I’ll be right outside, okay?”
It sounds exactly like what Eric would say if he was letting Tessa try an outfit on at a store, and Jeff has to smile. He strips out of his jeans and tugs on the red slacks before pulling the Hurricanes jersey over his head. It’s actually an older one—Tessa had insisted it have STAAL written on the back, just like hers, because they were apparently skating for Eric, who unfortunately can’t be on the ice tonight like he’d wanted.
She’d had a nice little speech, at least.
But so it’s an older jersey, one that Eric had had in his closet, and was willing to let Jeff mess with. Not that he’s great at sewing or anything, but he’d taken in the sleeves just enough that they aren’t going to mess him up when he has to pick Tessa up on the ice. He doesn’t have twenty pounds of pads on underneath, and the jerseys are always too big when you wear them without the pads.
He steps out, leaving his shoes there, and Tessa goes in, saying, “Okay, now it’s my turn. Stand right here, and don’t let anybody peek.”
“Promise,” Jeff says, and then digs out his phone to text Eric while he waits for Tessa to get dressed. They’re one of the last to go on, Jeff thinks, number twelve out of like, fifteen, so they’ll have a while to wait anyway.
Jeff: Everything look good out there?
Eric: yeah. you’ll both do great. give tess a kiss for me.
Jeff smiles, and texts back: Sure. :)
When she comes out, all dressed in white and red, with her dad’s number on her little jersey, Jeff grabs her in a hug and gives her a kiss on the cheek. She laughs and he says, “From your Dad. He says good luck.”
She nods, and says, “We’ll be awesome.”
They wait through the other routines, and when it’s their turn, finally, Tessa skates out first, a little wobbly, but straightening out once she hits her stride. There’s not that many people watching – enough that Tessa’s nervous, but Jeff used to do things like this all the time, for real judges, and now days he plays hockey in front of thousands of people a couple of times a week.
“You’ve got this,” he says, skating next to her, and she nods, all wide eyes.
Then the music starts, familiar clapping, and they go.
It’s almost the same routine as the Little Mermaid one, with some minor differences. Tessa spins and spins, and slides into a couple figure eights when she wasn’t supposed to, and slips once, landing on her butt, but she gets up quickly and starts skating again, like a little champion. She has a huge smile on her face, and she keeps twisting to see where her dad is sitting in the audience. Jordy has his camera up, and when Jeff has to pick Tessa up by the waist, and spin while holding her in the air during the words, I’m just the same as I was, now don’t you understand, I’m never changing who I am, he makes sure they’re angled so that Jordy can catch her smiling.
She almost slips when he sets her back down, but he manages to keep a hold of her until she straightens out, and then she’s bowing, twice, three times, as the music comes to an end. She’s breathing hard, and Jeff is too, as they wave to the audience and get a nice applause. He can hear Jordy yell, “That’s my girl!” from the stands, and then Eric, “Beautiful, Tessa!” right after him.
For how much practice they did, it almost seems too short. Jeff always felt like that, figure skating. He feels the same way about hockey sometimes, when his shifts are too short or far in-between. Tessa grabs him in a hug backstage, and she doesn’t bother getting her regular clothes back on, just slips on her sneakers and drags Jeff out to go find her dad in the audience.
Eric grabs her up in a hug, smacking a kiss to her forehead, and says, “You were amazing.”
“Pretty sweet, Tess,” Jordy says, camera still up. “Say hi to the camera.”
“Hi!” she yells, and Jeff laughs when Jordy looks up at him with it, but dutifully says, “Hi,” into it.
Tessa falls asleep in the car after they drop Jordy off, and Jeff offers to carry her in because Eric’s not quite up for that kind of weight on his ankle just yet. She mumbles sleepily when he deposits her on her bed, having to shove a couple dolls out of the way before he can drag the blanket up and over her.
When he walks back out to the living room, Eric says, “Hey, come sit down,” patting the spot next to him on the couch.
Jeff walks over and slides down, and then yawns. Eric smiles. “Tired?”
“A little,” Jeff admits.
“You could stay over,” Eric says, suddenly, and Jeff blinks up at him.
“Uh, Tess is—“
“I mean, to sleep,” Eric clarifies, and then shakes his head. “Well, everything. I—shit, you were great out there. You’re great with Tessa, and I mean, I want you to stay over. We’ll make breakfast in the morning, and—”
“Are you—“ Jeff pauses. He’s not sure how to ask, except to just… ask. “Do you want to tell Tess that we’re…” But they aren’t dating, so Jeff doesn’t understand what Eric wants to tell her.
Eric smiles, wry, and says, “If you’re ready for that. I know dating somebody with a kid is a lot of pressure, but we’re—you and me—it’s good, isn’t it?”
Jeff stares at him, and then repeats back, “Dating?”
Eric winces. “Unless you don’t want to.”
“No!” Jeff says, too loud, and he flinches and looks down the hall towards Tessa’s room. “I, no, yeah, we can—we can date, that’s—that’d be good,” he says, finally, swallowing down the yes, please that wants to come out.
Eric is rubbing at the back of his neck now, but he has a little grin and he asks, “Yeah?”
Jeff nods, beyond sure. “Yeah.”
“Awesome,” Eric says, and then, “good. Yeah. Let’s—bed. I’m tired; you’re definitely tired.”
Jeff was trying to hide the yawn, but he smiles, caught, and lowers his hand, letting Eric help pull him up off the couch, weak ankle or not. They walk down the hall quietly, stopping just once to kiss, like Eric can’t wait, and it’s—it’s crazy to think that this—this is about to happen. He going to be dating Eric, and he’s going to have, just, a family breakfast with Eric and Tess, and it’ll be—it’ll be good.
Jeff can’t stop grinning, even against Eric’s mouth as they kiss in the doorway of his bedroom.
It’s going to be great.