Chapter 8 – My World, Hockey Season

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Because of my decision to work later at night, when most of the staff were at home with their families, I didn’t see Aiden very often. Once in a while I noticed his car in the company parking stalls, but it was very rare. If he was at work on the nights when I was at the station, I did what was necessary and left the building as quickly as possible. I avoided him at every cost.

As summer turned to autumn, I kept my routine simple. I spent a lot of time at home, usually writing notes for my next shows. Every Sunday, I drove to mom’s house to have dinner with my entire family. About twice a month, Sid and I got together for a girls night at the bar or for lunch together. My life had finally calmed down and I was peacefully content. Personally and professionally, I was growing, strengthening, and learning about what was most important.

Before I realized it, autumn brought the beginning of Parker’s hockey season. As we sat around my mother’s dining table one Sunday for dinner, Lukas and Parker couldn’t contain their excitement over the beginning of hockey season.

“Power skating is almost over,” Lukas said to my mother, “and we had a coaches meeting last week to pick teams.”

Parker swallowed the food in his mouth and turned to my mother, “gramma, will you be at my first game again?”

My mother nodded with a smile. “Of course, Parker, dear. I haven’t missed a game yet, and I don’t plan on it.” She gave my nephew a loving wink before taking another bite of her dinner.

“Aunt Sienna, will you come too?” Parker gave me a hopeful smile and waited for my answer.

There was a deafening silence at the table as all eyes landed on me with knowing pity.

My sister interjected, “Parker, honey, I don’t think Aunt Sienna will be able to make many of your games this season because she’s very busy with work.”

The deflated look on my nephew’s face broke my heart.

“I’ll be there, Parker.” I blurted, without thinking. It’s amazing the effect that kids can have on us. In spite of the promise I had made to myself a long time before, the crushed look of disappointment on Parker’s face made me realize that there was a lot more to the situation than my own selfish reasons. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I smiled at my nephew, who lit up like a Christmas tree.

My sister, mother, and brother-in-law stared at me in shock.

Later on, the boys were in the kitchen helping my mother to tidy up after dinner while my sister and I sat in the dining room alone.

“Please don’t feel obligated to come to Parker’s hockey games, Sienna. I can make up an excuse for you.” She stared into her coffee mug and finished, “I know how hard it would be for you and I don’t think Parker realizes the entire situation.”

I took a cleansing breath and met my sister’s gaze. “I made a promise to my nephew and I intend to keep it – no matter how hard it will be.”

My sister gave me a nod of defeated acceptance then took a sip of her coffee.

That night, back at my house, I sat on the balcony, looking up at the stars in the sky and reminiscing. I made a promise to my nephew and I had to keep it in spite of my fears. A cold chill gripped my heart and I shivered as I remembered back to a momentous time between Hudson and I.

We started dating the night of the awards. After the moment we shared while dancing together, and the words that he whispered in my ear as he held me close, how could I not fall for him? In the beginning of our relationship, it was easy to hide from the mass of prying eyes because we didn’t get a lot of chances to see each other. Even though he travelled a lot for games, he invited me to every home game and couriered V.I.P. passes to my office the morning of each game. The passes allowed me to get into the family room, where family and close friends socialized with the team members after the game. It’s where I met most of the friends I made in L.A. I become close friends with Kara, who was married to centerman, Jason. In knowing Kara, I also become subsequent friends with Jamie and Lauren who were married to other players on the team. I spent a lot of time with the three women during the games and then they started inviting me to go out with them while our boys were traveling to out of town games. I became a hockey girlfriend without even realizing it. And I didn’t mind at all.

When Hudson played home games, we tried to spend as much time as possible together. Our relationship was one of give and take. Because I spent as much time as I could at his games, he would spend time with me on set while I was taping my show. Afterwards, we would usually go for a late dinner together or we’d go back to one of our places to spend quiet time together, out of the public eye. Hudson became a regular guest on my show and the entire crew adored his fun demeanour while he was on camera. He was always playful and charming, which is probably what led to the media guessing that Hudson and I were dating. Before I knew it, we were in every sports magazine and on every sports website, with headlines alluding to our relationship status.

One night, while Hudson was playing out of town, I was watching the game on tv with some of the other wives and girlfriends at the home arena. Hudson was being interviewed by Marcus, one of the reporters from my network. The game was just starting and Hudson was in full gear, on the ice as Marcus stood inside the players bench with a microphone. Being the professional interviewer that he was, Marcus asked the typical pre-game questions, like “how are you feeling going into tonight’s game?” and “what will be your roll in tonight’s match-up?” Hudson, always gracious and proper in front of the cameras, answered the questions the best he could without giving away too much information on that night’s game plan. He was always a great interview whether on set or at the games.

I was a little surprised when Marcus said, “is there anyone you’d like to say hello to, before I let you get back to your warm-up?”

Hudson turned to face the camera, smiled that charming grin that I couldn’t get enough of, and he replied, “I wanna say hi to my girl, who’s at home watching the game with her friends.” Hudson raised a gloved hand and waved into the camera. “Hi, Baby!” Marcus gave Hudson a knowing smile then said thank you for taking the time to answer his questions. Hudson gave him an accomplished smile before skating back in line with the team. I felt my heart do a flip in my chest, wondering if they had pre-planned the special hello to me.

All the girls turned to face me and they started squealing with excitement as I let Hudson’s words soak in.

“Well,” Jamie smiled at me, “you’re officially one of us now.” She gave me a quick hug before we turned our attention back to the game on tv.

It was the first time that he had publicly acknowledged our relationship and I was very flattered. I knew in that moment that he was all mine. Something inside me changed that night as I realized we were now officially a couple in the media-world.

And then the media-storm happened. I was approached by everyone who knew who I was. Most people who worked with me already knew that I was dating Hudson, and his team and their families knew, but suddenly I was getting invitations to be a guest on other sports shows – alongside Hudson. We didn’t do any interviews together because my contract forbade my appearances on other networks, but that didn’t stop the invitations from coming.

A few nights later, Hudson was back playing at the home arena. I was in the family room, like always, with the other girlfriends and wives. I stood facing the television screen while chatting with others in the room as our hometown boys were winning by a large margin. It was the third period and all the friends and families were socializing, convinced that the game would end with in a big win.

After passively watching Hudson’s first two shifts in the final period of the game, I noticed that the opposing team was beginning to get overly-aggressive because of their frustration. I broke off from the group of women I was talking with and I focused my attention on the screen. Hudson was an aggressive defensemen, but he wasn’t the type of player to look for a fight on the ice. Some people had called him a ‘goon’ but I disagreed. A goon, in my opinion, was a player who actively looked to start fights on the ice in spite of the score or whether or not the game called for it. Hudson was not that type of player. He didn’t start it – he finished it. Because of his mammoth size, a lot of opposing players would try to rattle his cage, in hopes of provoking a fight.

An opposing player seemed to be shadowing Hudson. Hudson had received an assist on the last goal and the other team took notice of his impressive play. I saw the feisty player take a run at him again. Hudson ended up dropping the gloves with the winger, named Johnson, from the other team. After Hudson cleaned the guy’s clock, they both headed to their respective penalty boxes. I assumed the aggressiveness would end at that point and the game would play out cleanly for the last few minutes. I could not have been more wrong.

After the penalties had been served, Hudson skated out onto the ice, but he didn’t see Johnson take after him again as soon as they skated into the play. As Hudson skated up to the boards in his own end zone to acquire the puck and set up another play, Johnson ran at him as Hudson’s head was down, eyes on the puck.

“Keep your head up, Hud,” I whispered to the screen as I watched the incident play out.

Before Hudson could look up, Johnson hit him, elbow first, in the head. Hudson’s head snapped back and I gasped. He was instantly knocked unconscious and his body was thrown against the boards.

He crumpled to the ice as Johnson skated off around our net with the puck and he didn’t bother to look back.

“Shit,” I muttered as the others around me stared up at the screen in horror. By then, the entire room was focused on the game, watching as Hudson laid on the ice, not moving. I was sure we were all wondering the same thing – would Hudson be stretchered off the ice or would he be okay? The family room was silent as I watched the television. The whistle was blown and the play was stopped. One of the trainers ran out onto the ice to help Hudson.

With baited breath, my eyes were glued to the tv screen in hopes that Hudson was alright. Kara put her arm around me, comforting me. “It’s always hard to watch the very first time,” she mentioned quietly. I tore my eyes from the screen for a moment to look at her. What did she mean, the first time??

A few minutes later, I was ushered down the hallway towards the medical room, where injured players were treated. I stood outside the door by myself for what seemed like hours – in actuality it was probably only a few minutes. When the door finally opened, the trainer came out and ushered me inside to see Hudson. He was sitting on an examination table with his head in his hands. I stood in the doorway, watching Hudson, but couldn’t find any words. When he looked up at me, I ran towards him and knelt in front of him, searching his eyes.

“That one kinda hurt,” Hudson said quietly before he placed his hand gently on my cheek and smiled. “But I’m alright.” His head fell into his hands once more as he muttered, “I’m out for the rest of tonight’s game.”

I let out a breath of relief and smiled up at him, on the verge of tears. “You scared me.”

Hudson looked me in the eye and then shook his head, “I should have known that little fucker would come after me. He’s a dirty fighter, especially when he loses a tilt.” He sighed. “I’ll be okay though. The doc gave me some meds for the pain.”

The disappointment on his face bruised my heart. I leaned up and kissed Hudson on the mouth. He smelled like sweat and hockey-hands. But, at that moment, I couldn’t get enough of him.

It wasn’t the first time that Hudson had been hurt and it wouldn’t be his last.

*****

A week later, I was driving my mother to the rink for Parker’s first hockey game of the season. I was completely on edge because I hadn’t been to a hockey game since my life had been blown open in Los Angeles. I nervously tapped my fingers on the steering wheel as I drove, my eyes darting from side to side.

My mother must have felt the tension. “Sienna, sweetheart, if you want to just drop me off, I can tell everyone that you didn’t feel well and had to go home to lay down. Sid and the boys can give me a ride home after the game.”

I gave my mother an appreciative smile. “It’s okay, mom. I’ll be fine. I made a promise to Parker and I intend to keep it, even if it’s a tough one.”

When we walked in the front doors of the arena, it hit me just how hard the moment was about to become. I told my mother to go ahead into the rink area and I’d be just be a few minutes. She gave me a sympathetic smile before she nodded in understanding and turned to walk away. As soon as my mother was out sight, I let out a nervous breath as I paced around the foyer. Outwardly, I looked like any other spectator waiting for someone in the front entrance but, inwardly, I was a mess of emotions.

Looking out at the cars in the parking lot, it occurred to me that I could just get back in my car and drive away. But the sense of duty to my nephew kept me rooted to the foyer. I turned to face the double doors that led to the rink and a shiver crept up my spine. I stared at the closed doors and wondered if I’d be able to maintain my composure long enough to get through an entire hockey game.

“I can do this,” I said out loud to myself, hoping no one was around to witness.

A surge of courage took over my body when I thought about how excited my nephew was at his ball game when he saw us sitting in the stands and when I remembered the happiness on his face when I said I’d be at his hockey game. Calmness washed over me and I knew what I had to do.

I marched through the double doors, into the rink, as though I owned the place. I stood at the far end of the rink, the concessions stands behind me, and I watched as the kids and coaches made their way onto the ice for warm-ups. My brother-in-law stood behind the bench, talking with another coach, my sister and mother sat in the stands behind the bench, and the skaters took the ice for warm-ups. I watched in wonder as the kids skated circles in their respective ends of the ice and around the nets in front of me.

When a little gloved hand raised and waved to me, I waved back, recognizing Parker in all his hockey gear. A smile automatically formed on my face as my eyes were glued to the little guy who stole my heart as he skated harder, obviously trying to show off for his aunt. His arms pumped at his sides as he made one more skate past me without waving, concentrating instead on the task at hand.

In that moment, I had an epiphany. This was not Hudson’s hockey. It wasn’t a bunch of grown men slamming each other’s bodies into boards in hopes of earning millions of dollars and a cup. Instead, it was a bunch of kids who played for the love of the game. This was the most innocent form of hockey that existed. And I was grateful to be asked to be part of it.

Parker passed by me one more time before I turned around and made my way to the concession stand. I bought three hot chocolates and weaved my way through the stands to where my sister and mother were sitting, my anxiety dissipating with each step. After they each took a cup from my hands, they both smiled at me with pride. Once I settled in my seat, my sister gave me a pat on the leg and whispered, “good for you, Sienna. I know how tough this is for you.”

I took a deep breath and then smiled. “I’m ready. It’s time to move on.”

I wasn’t quite ready to start my own cheering section, but I was ready to reintegrate myself back into the world of sports little by little.

A few days later, in an attempt to venture even further out of my comfort zone, I took Parker to a hometown junior hockey game the following week. When we first walked in the doors of the arena, my breath caught in my throat as I noticed the crowd and noise.

I took a deep breath, cleansing myself of more fears, when Parker grabbed my hand. “C’mon, Aunt Sienna, let’s get some hot chocolate before we find our seats.” I smiled at Parker and let him lead me to the concession stand.

As we waited in line, I turned around to see that the rink was packed with people. When the players skated onto the ice for their warm-up, my nervousness returned for a moment, but I quickly pushed it away and looked at my nephew, who had a smile of delight on his face. I could see envy in my nephew’s eyes as he watched the massive junior players skating around the ice and then doing drills.

The innocence of youth and naivety written all over his face. I said a silent prayer. Please, don’t let Parker get sucked into all the darkness in hockey.

We each ordered a hot chocolate and an infamous rink burger before weaving our way through the crowd to find our seats just as the starting line-up was being introduced. As we sat down in our seats, right behind the visitors bench, I recognized the announcer’s voice. When I looked up at the in-house announcer’s booth, there he was again – Aiden. I just couldn’t shake the guy.

During the first intermission, I ushered Parker down to the washrooms and I stood just outside of the door waiting for him to come out. I watched the people milling around the arena and wondered what they would think if they knew what really happened behind closed doors in the hockey world. And then I wondered if the dark world of hockey started at the junior level. Would the players be in the underbelly of the arena right now, dealing with the darkness that would take over their world once they made it to the pro leagues? Would the coaches approve of the behaviour or would they be left in the dark just as the friends and families were?

Just as my thoughts were getting the better of me again, Parker emerged from the washroom and took my hand again, snapping me out of my shame spiral. “I’m ready to go back to our seats now.”

“Okay, let’s go.” I let out a breath and smiled while Parker led me through the crowd again. Just as we were rounding the corner to the stairs, I noticed Aiden walking towards us. I put my head down and averted my eyes.

“Aunt Sienna, there’s Aiden, the radio man you work with.” Parker pointed out. Aiden heard his name and looked up at Parker.

The three of us stopped to the side of the stairs so others could get past us and Aiden engaged my nephew in conversation against my will. “Hi there. Parker, right?”

My nephew beamed at the idea that Aiden, the radio guy, had remembered his name. He nodded up at Aiden, who asked, “are you enjoying the game so far?”

Parker was animated. “I am! My favourite player got the first goal!”

Aiden cocked his head to the side. “Bryce is your favourite player?” When Parker nodded, Aiden leaned in closer to my nephew as though disclosing a secret. “He’s my favourite player too, but I’m not suppose to tell anyone that, so let’s keep it between us, okay?” He winked knowingly at Parker and my nephew acted as though his idol had just let him in on the biggest secret in the world. It was obvious that Parker adored Aiden and, thankfully, Aiden seemed very comfortable reciprocating the banter with my nephew. I was grateful that Aiden could put our personal issues aside in order to be polite to Parker.

“There were a few big hits in the first period, weren’t there?” Aiden asked.

“Yeah, but I don’t like when the players get hurt.” I smiled at Parker’s response. He understood the consequences and it gave me hope that he wouldn’t grow up to be an aggressive player. “We aren’t allowed to hit in my league. But some kids do it anyway.”

I looked down at my nephew with shock on my face. “That’s not right, Parker. You should always follow the rules.”

“Don’t worry, Aunt Sienna. I never hit anyone. I’d rather score the goals.” Parker gave me a look of knowing pride.

Aiden and I both chuckled at my nephew’s words of wisdom, which was followed by an uncomfortable silence.

I looked up to meet Aiden’s eyes for a moment until he tore his gaze from me and looked back down at my nephew. “It was really nice seeing you again, Parker. I hope we bump into each other again soon. And good luck during hockey this season.”

Parker, ever the optimist, replied, “you can come watch me play sometime. I’m really good and I score a lot of goals.”

Aiden gave me a knowing glance and said to Parker, “yeah, I’ll have to do that sometime. I’d love to see you play.”

Parker looked at me for approval and I shrugged and smiled.

“I should get back to the booth now. But it was great to see you again, Parker. I hope to see you at more of these games this season.”

Parker nodded with stars in his eyes.

Aiden stood up straight, looked me in the eye, his smiled had faded. “See you around,” he muttered at me before walking away.

In spite of the camaraderie between Aiden and Parker, I still didn’t like Aiden. He was still an arrogant, pompous, anger-filled asshole in my opinion. But I was very grateful that he could put his arrogance aside to chat with my nephew. Aiden rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning and, just because he was nice to my nephew didn’t mean I had to like him. There was a small part of me that wished he didn’t get along with Parker so well so that I had even more reason to dislike him.

The last two periods of the hockey game passed quickly and the home team won by a score of 3-2. As the crowd dispersed from their seats, I could hear Aiden speaking highly of the game over the noise from the arena.

Just as Parker and I were putting our jackets on and getting ready to leave, I heard Aiden’s voice announce, “would Sienna and Parker please make their way up to the announcer’s booth before exiting the arena. Parker and Sienna to the announcer’s booth.”

Parker’s eyes were wide as he looked over at me and said, “he called out our names over the speakers at a hockey game!”

Aiden caught me by surprise and I feigned an excited shrug at Parker before we weaved our way in the opposite direction. We reached the booth just as Aiden was closing the door. He told Parker that he had a surprise and asked us to follow him.

The arena had pretty much cleared of people by the time we made our way down to the lower level, where I sat in the stands and Aiden took Parker onto the player’s bench. I could barely hear what they were saying, but I could hear them chatting about hockey and their favourite players.

And that’s when I noticed Bryce McMillan, Parker’s favourite player, making his way down the tunnel towards the bench. A part of me was excited that Parker was about to meet his favourite player, but another small part of me wanted to grab my nephew and run screaming out of the arena. I didn’t want my nephew to get too excited over a hockey player. I hated the idea that Parker looked up to someone who had the potential to be a terrible role model even though I knew nothing about the player.

I could practically see stars in Parker’s eyes as Aiden introduced him to Bryce, who shook my nephew’s hand, smiled happily, and handed Parker a signed hat before Aiden conducted his post-game interview as Parker sat on the bench and watched. At the end of the interview, Bryce, once again, shook Parker’s hand while saying, “it was great to meet you, little buddy.” Parker peeked his head around to see Bryce as the player made his way back down the tunnel towards the dressing room.

Aiden was patting Parker on the back as he guided my nephew back to me. When Aiden looked up to meet my gaze, I gave him a semi-approving half smile.

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