Max (Carolina Cold Fury Hockey)(7)

By: Sawyer Bennett

I could have never said no to her.

So with the court’s approval, guardianship was legally transferred to me before she died, because their father didn’t contest it. Four months ago I became an instant mother to three kids who I didn’t know all that well and had no clue as to what to do with them. I only knew that it was now my job to care for them, raise them, and love them in the best way I could.

It’s my duty now to make sure they thrive.

With another sigh, I carefully remove Annabelle’s arm from around my neck and slide from the bed. I’m feeling too guilty just lying here when there are things to be done that could give me a jump start on tomorrow.

Hawke strides in through the lobby doors and as he approaches me I stand up from the plush couch I’d been waiting on.

I grin at him and say, “You’re late.”

He looks at his watch and then rolls his eyes at me. “By like one minute.”

I don’t respond but we do our bro greeting—palm smack, back of hand smack, and then a fist bump.

“Jim’s not here anyway,” I tell him as I sit back down on the couch. “Just called and said he’s stuck in traffic. Be about fifteen minutes late.”

Hawke sits on a wing-backed chair adjacent to the couch and rests an ankle over his knee. He’s dressed up, same as me, except his suit is black and mine’s charcoal gray.

“Did you go to the hospital this morning?” I ask him.

“Yeah,” he says. “He looks good.”

He being Dave Campbell, father of one sassy athletic trainer—that would be Vale. Dave had a seizure two days ago and is at Duke Hospital. He’s suffering from a rare brain tumor and received some type of experimental treatment at Duke, and I’m guessing this seizure was a complication. The reason our leading defenseman, Hawke Therrien, is visiting our athletic trainer’s father in the hospital is because they have history.

I mean…Hawke and Vale have a very long history.

And from what I learned yesterday afternoon when Hawke and I went out for a few beers, not a great history. I had sensed there was something going on between the two of them in the Cold Fury workout room. Vale tensed up the minute Hawke walked in, and I could feel weird vibes from him as well. I left after my workout, only to return a few minutes later to find Hawke’s hands on her shoulders with a disgruntled look on his face. He dropped her like a hot potato when I walked back in but didn’t try to hide anything from me.

Hence the beers after, and he laid it all out.

Apparently, Vale and Hawke were a hot item years back, but she broke it off with him suddenly and with no explanation. He hasn’t been able to figure it out but isn’t sure if he should ask either. To complicate matters, they apparently fucked the other night and now things are super awkward.

I didn’t have any good advice for him. My one stab at a relationship was a miserable failure, which was totally my fault. So the most I could do was listen to him lament about Vale and commiserate with him that it was a fucked-up situation.

“This place is something, huh?” Hawke says conversationally as he looks at the huge lobby filled with comfortable furniture that’s quite stylish and elegant. Thick, luxurious carpet done in light purple, gray, and cream match the floral-print wallpaper that’s posh rather than feminine. The receptionist sits at a cherry desk that looks Victorian and there’s a grand piano in the corner that a man sits at playing a soft melody.

It’s definitely not what I’d envision a nursing home to look like, and the only thing that gives it away is the various residents I see milling around. Some wander about with walkers while others are in wheelchairs that they pull along the floor by shuffling their feet on the carpet rather than having their frail arms try to push the wheels to get them to their destination.

We’re at Sweetbrier Nursing Home and Rehab Facility because one of the Cold Fury assistant managers, Jim Perry, held a fundraiser for this place. His mother was a resident here and she passed away a few months ago. He was so impressed with her care, he organized a charity live auction to raise funds to help build a new wing that would house a larger therapy gym as well as increase the dining facilities. He asked a few players to participate and I readily agreed. The fundraiser was last month, long before Hawke arrived for training camp, and I handled hosting and emcee duties for the black-tie event. Hawke’s here now because he made a late donation personally and volunteered to come with us to present the check for $57,000 we’d raised to the home administrator. There’d be a big write-up in the paper, of course, and management always loved when we did shit like this.