Chapter 9 – My World, Bad Decisions

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The bitter winds of winter arrived early that year as I made my way into the radio station to record my latest show one night in late November. I quietly made my way through the darkened hallways in hopes of not disturbing whomever was working that night. I had the door to the recording room open as I scanned my notes to make sure everything was in order.

A few minutes later, I grabbed my travel mug and went to the staff room to see if there was any coffee made. Luckily, there was a fresh pot on. As I poured myself a cup, I noticed a box of donuts on the counter. There was only one donut left so I shoved it into my mouth and threw the box in the garbage before I made my way back to the recording room.

I finished the donut and drank half my coffee before I was ready to record my show. I leaned back in the chair and took a deep, cleansing breath in order to prepare myself when there was a light knocking on the door. I spun around in my chair and was surprised to find Aiden in the doorway.

“Hey.” He said.

“Hello?” I replied more as a question than a greeting, a little confused as to why he would willingly talk to me at work.

“Um, I was just wondering if you took the last donut from the staff room.” I gave him a small shrug and a guilty smile. When I nodded, he started talking, getting progressively more angry. “Those were mine. I bought them yesterday and wanted to have the last one tonight at work. The rule in the staff room is that if it doesn’t have your name on it, don’t touch it. Next time, maybe you should ask before indulging in someone else’s food.”

I wasn’t a naturally angry person, but his words seemed to hit my bitch-button that night. Before I could stop myself, I gave him a snarky reply. “It was just a donut. And I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to try to get along with me for the sake of work.” When I turned my chair around to face the equipment, in hopes that he’d take the hint and leave, I heard him close the door after stepping inside the room.

“Work has nothing to do with this. It’s about manners. I know you’re not schooled in the fine art of small town etiquette but here’s the first rule – don’t take what’s not yours.” He gave me a defiant, knowing, superior look as I dramatically turned back to face him. The arrogance emanated from him as I sat there with my jaw partially open in shock.

At that point, I had taken enough of his bullshit and I decided to stand up for myself. Fire burned behind my eyes and I could feel my entire body seethe with anger, an anger that rose from the pit of my stomach and came slowly bubbling to the surface.

Defensively, I crossed my arms across my chest and, with a passive-aggressive tone in my voice, I shot back. “It’s just a fucking donut. Get over it.”

By then, I was starting to shake because my anger was getting the best of me. “I don’t understand you, Aiden. You are such a dick to me and I don’t know what I ever did to piss you off. The only reason I haven’t cleaned your clock is because you’ve been very good to my nephew. Which is another mixed signal. Why are you so nice to my nephew yet, when we’re alone, you have this massive chip on your shoulder around me. What did I ever do to you?”

I was past the point of no return and my voice was getting louder and louder with each word that came out of my mouth. “And if you want to teach me about small town etiquette, why don’t you teach me the lesson about talking behind other people’s backs and insulting their ‘cute little one-woman radio show.’ Is that next week’s lesson?”

Like a deer in headlights, Aiden’s eyes were wide as he stared at me in absolute horror, looking as though I had just slapped him – which I considered, but decided against. I knew I was losing my composure and I had to step away from the situation. My entire body shook with adrenaline as I shoved past him and walked to the door. I ripped the door open and uttered “fuck you,” before I walked out into the hallway.

I marched down the hall, to the staff room, where I filled a disposable cup with water from the water cooler. I sucked back all the water before crumpling the cup and chucking it in the trash. And then I stood in front of the sink, breathing slowly, hoping to regain the composure that I had lost.

Once my heart rate had slowed a little, I quickly gathered my stuff from the control room and went home – my work could wait.

The next morning, knowing Aiden would be gone by the time I arrived at work, I quietly snuck into the staff room and dropped off an entire box of donuts with Aiden’s name written in thick, black, permanent marker across the top of the box before I made my way into the recording booth and closed the door.

That same day, after I had recorded my show and was sitting in my office going through my notes, Jeff came in and invited me to the staff Christmas party on the weekend.

“I’m not really part of your staff though,” I clarified.

“I feel as though you are.” He smiled. “There’s free food and drinks,” he said enticingly.

A smile of appreciation crept onto my lips as I replied, “I’ll think about it. Thanks for the offer.”

*****

The night of the Christmas party, I was wrapped up in a thick blanket on my balcony in the unusually mild winter weather. I couldn’t seem to get my mind off the fight with Aiden. I didn’t feel bad for sticking up for myself, yet I felt bad for yelling at him even though he had it coming after what he had said about my show.

Admittedly, he was part of the reason I didn’t want to go to the staff party. But then it occurred to me that he was out of town with the junior hockey team that evening.

I sauntered over to my closet and found a teal cashmere sweater I had bought in L.A. that I hadn’t even worn yet. Knowing Aiden wouldn’t be at the party, I decided, last minute, to break in my new sweater and go to the soiree.

I walked in the door to the hall, which Jeff had rented for the night and transformed into party central. The bar was set up on the far side, tables were laid out in the middle of the room, and a DJ was on the other far side in front of open space for dancing. No one was dancing yet – I guessed not enough alcohol had been consumed so early in the night.

I made my way over to the bar and ordered myself a drink. Jeff snuck up beside me. “Sienna, I’m so glad you came. It’s nice to see you.”

He ushered me over to an empty table, where we talked about old high school friends as we sucked back a couple of drinks.

“So, tell me,” he started, “why did you decide to move home? I mean, when we were in high school, everyone wanted to escape this town and do something great with their lives. You’ve been in L.A. and, even though I don’t even know what you did there, here you are, back at home. Why would you move away from California to come back here?”

I shrugged, looked down at my drink, and hoped that Jeff couldn’t see the truth in my eyes. “Things just didn’t work out for me in L.A. I was hoping to make something of myself and it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.” I took a breath, in hopes that he wouldn’t ask any other personal or work-related questions about Los Angeles, so I attempted to change the subject. “I realized how important my family was to me and I decided to move home to be closer to them. My nephew just turned nine years old already. Where did the first eight years go?” I asked rhetorically with a chuckle.

“What about you, Jeff? Tell me everything that’s gone on here in the last few years. What have you been doing, other than running the station?”

Jeff shrugged passively. “Nothing much ever changes here – you should know that.” I nodded in understanding. “I married a girl from a small town about a half hour away and we had a good life together for a few years. But then I found out from a friend that she was having an affair. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t come home early one day after work and found his car in my garage.”

My jaw dropped. “I’m so sorry, Jeff. I can’t imagine how that must have felt.”

He shrugged again. “It happens more often than you’d think around here. Which is why I’ve decided that it’s just easier if I stay away from relationships altogether for now.”

“I completely understand.” I held up my cup, Jeff clinked his glass of wine against mine, and we both said, “cheers,” before taking a drink.

“Hey,” he said as I sat my drink back down on the table in front of me, “do you remember my first girlfriend from high school? Sarah?” When I nodded, Jeff continued, “well, she ended up in California just like you did. She ended up being some Hollywood actress. That’s the last I heard anyway. I haven’t talked to her in years.”

I remembered back to one night at a party that Hudson and I had attended with a few others from the team. Sarah Ryan – or as she was known in high school, Sarah Murphy – showed up at the party later that night after Hudson and I had been there a while. Sarah sure made a splash that evening, being caught with the hostess’ boyfriend out by the pool. She was completely belligerent and incoherent when the hostess tried asking her to leave, which led to a police escort a few minutes later. A few months after the party, I heard that Sarah had been on quite the drinking binge and was causing havoc everywhere she went. The movie she had made went straight-to-video release and, by the time Sarah got her life together, it was too late to resuscitate her career. The last I had heard of Sarah Ryan, she had married some guy in the porn industry who made her into some big porn star. It was just another case of Hollywood chewing us up and spitting us out.

I decided against telling Jeff about the debacle surrounding Sarah.

As the night progressed, a few of the staff members that worked for Jeff came over to chat for a while and then they’d move on to other tables.

Later in the evening, I was at the bar, waiting on a couple more drinks for Jeff and myself when I felt someone sidle up beside me. I turned my head to find Aiden standing beside me with an apologetic smile on his face.

I took a small step further away from him as I waited impatiently for my drinks.

“Hey, Sienna.” His voice was low.

I nodded in acknowledgment, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to him. He didn’t deserve my words. Those were saved for people who meant something to me, like my family and my listeners.

He took a step closer to me and attempted to engage me in conversation. “So, are you having a good time tonight?”

Defeated and trying to make a point, I ignored his question and retorted, “aren’t you suppose to be out of town working?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yeah, I was. The game ended and I decided to drive home tonight instead of getting a hotel. It was only a two-hour drive. I wanted to make an appearance at the staff party.”

“Great.” I exaggerated with an eye-roll to prove my irritation.

After a slight pause, he said, “I got the box of donuts you left for me in the staff room. Thank you.”

Without saying a word, I nodded at him again.

There was a slight pause as the bartender handed me the drinks I had ordered. Just as I turned to walk away, Aiden caught my attention.

“Listen, I know we’ve started off on the wrong foot…” his voice trailed off as I raised my eyebrow at him. He took a breath before continuing. “I’d like to start over.” As if trying to convince me even more, he summed up by saying, “I feel bad about how I’ve treated you and I’d really like to start over.”

I looked him straight in the eye, ready to dispel the myth that there was any chance in hell that we could be friends, but something stopped me.

“Fine. Whatever.” I replied passively as I walked back to the table where Jeff sat, waiting for his drink. I couldn’t help but wonder if Aiden meant what he had said. Would he start treating me better? Or was it just an empty promise to save face? Time would tell. But I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

As Jeff and I continued our conversation about our high school friends, Aiden made his way over to our table and sat down opposite me, beside Jeff, and listened as Jeff and I continued our conversation.

About an hour later, and a few more drinks down the hatch, I was starting to feel light-headed and realized it was time to get going home. As I announced my intentions, Jeff said, “wait, don’t go yet. One more drink?” His voice was playfully pleading.

I agreed to one more drink.

I listened quietly, not really interested as the conversation shifted to Aiden and the junior hockey game that he commentated that night. “It was a good win. Clean hits, good goals, and a lot of heart from our hometown boys. It was a tough win, but they did it.”

My disinterest must have been written all over my face because Aiden asked, “are you not a fan of hockey, Sienna?”

Considering my history with Hudson, and not wanting to divulge my past, I shook my head. “Nope. I hate it.” And then I drowned my feelings in the bottom of my drink before throwing my jacket over my shoulders and saying I should get home.

“For someone who says they hate hockey, you show up at a lot of hockey games.” Aiden’s tone was inquiring, but I didn’t feed into his line of questioning. Instead, I shrugged and glared at him.

Oblivious, Jeff stood up, downed his drink, and said, “they’re closing the bar here, but, if we hurry, we can make last call at the club a couple blocks away.”

I had assumed he was talking to Aiden as I buttoned the toggle buttons on my winter jacket without looking at them.

“Sounds good to me.” Aiden stood up and finished his drink before gathering all of our empty glasses and taking them back to the bar, leaving Jeff and I standing alone at the table.

“So, the three of us will grab one last drink at the club before you head home?” Jeff smiled at me.

I gave him a blank look, not realizing he had meant all of us and not just Aiden. As I stumbled over my words, he finished by saying, “one more drink won’t hurt anyone.” Jeff held out his arm for me.

I stared at him for a moment, wondering if I would be able to withstand one more drink. With clouded judgement and a willingness to dance off some of the alcohol in my system, I nodded and then looped my arm through Jeff’s before he led me out the door.

The club was packed and the music pounded through the building. Jeff, Aiden, and I made our way to the front bar and ordered drinks. As we stood in a group, Jeff yelled over the music, “follow me. I think I found an empty table.”

He led me and Aiden to a corner booth at the back of the room. We all took off our jackets and made ourselves comfortable before slugging back our drinks. The waitress showed up after about five minutes and announced that it was last call. We each ordered two more drinks and the waitress weaved her way through the crowd to the bar.

Jeff put his hand on my shoulder and slurred when he said, “wow, Sienna, I’m feeling dizzy and you seem to be keeping up to me with the drinking.”

We giggled together like high school kids. I looked over at Aiden, who was chuckling along with us as though he were a parent watching his of-age children in the bar together for the first time.

I glared at Aiden, wondering why the hell he was with us. I didn’t want him there and I didn’t care if we ever got along.

“You…” my voice trailed off as I pointed directly at Aiden, my inhibitions gone. “You’re such a dick sometimes.” I announced as Jeff cut up laughing again. I guess he had assumed I was joking – I was not. “Has anyone ever told you that before?” I chuckled at my own brilliance. “You’re quite a dick.” Through the alcohol-induced stupor, it felt good to finally get that off my chest.

I don’t know if he agreed with me, or he just understood that it was the alcohol talking, but Aiden chuckled and nodded at me. Which, of course, pissed me off even more.

“You think you’re so damn special with your suit and tie and your pompous attitude, like you’re better than everyone else. Well, you wanna know what I think?” I looked at Aiden, who sat across the table with a playful smirk on his face. “I think you’re no better than the rest of us but you hide it better. That’s what I really think.”

Aiden laughed. “You’re slurring your words.”

Just as I tried to reach across the table to smack him, and before I could continue with my rant, Jeff grabbed my arm and pulled me out of my seat. “Remember this song from high school?” Jeff looked at me expectantly. “We have to dance to this!”

He pulled me towards the dance floor before I could say anything more to Aiden. When I looked back at Aiden, he still had that smirk on his face and it just kept pissing me off.

“I hate him,” I blurted to Jeff as we danced to an up-beat techno song.

Jeff laughed. “Aiden’s harmless. Getting to know him outside of work over the past few years has taught me a few things about him; he’s old-school, he’s set in his ways, and he’s been working in this field for a long time. I think that you intimidate him because you have effortless success and he’s worked hard his entire life and still hasn’t made it to where he wants to be.”

I contemplated Jeff’s explanation for a moment, but it hurt my head so I pushed it all aside, to consider at a later date.

“Effortless…” I scoffed. “I wish.”

Jeff didn’t hear me. He was lost in his own world of letting the music take control of him. And I joined him.

When the song was over and we made our way back to the table, I sat down and listened as the guys chatted on and on, glaring at Aiden the entire time. The waitress had dropped off our drinks and I was slowly sucking my drink through the tiny straw when Jeff announced it was time for him to go.

“Unlike most people who work at the station, I have to be there tomorrow morning for a conference call. I just hope my hangover is tolerable.” He laughed as he put his jacket on. “Have a good night, you two. And I’ll see you guys at work again soon.”

Without another word, he was making his way through the crowd towards the front door.

I sat incredulous in my seat, across the table from Aiden, staring at Jeff’s back as he walked away. I was mortified that my old high school friend left me alone with such a heathen of a co-worker. I slowly looked over at Aiden, who had his head down and was concentrating on his drink. My jaw hung open in shock.

As I sat there, stunned, staring at my arch enemy from across the table, something inside of me softened. I realized that we had actually had a good time together that night, in spite of our rocky start since I started working at the station. It occurred to me that, in the span of that night, Aiden had apologized, asked if we could start over, and hadn’t said or done anything even slightly offensive to me all evening.

I watched him as his gaze floated around the dance club. Without my hatred glasses on, I noticed, just as I had the first night I saw him, that Aiden was actually a very good looking guy. He was tall and ruggedly handsome. Yet, the suits always gave him a bit of a polished look that contrasted his ruggedness. He really wasn’t as intimidating as he wanted to be. Jeff had said himself that Aiden was harmless.

Aiden caught my gaze and smiled before taking a sip of his drink. I could feel the blood rushing into my cheeks at being caught staring and I looked away.

There was a small pause before Aiden said, “so you danced with Jeff before he left. Does that mean I get a departing dance as well?”

I met his gaze and noticed something in his eyes. Was it acceptance? Playfulness? Willingness? Friendliness?

Just as I questioned whether or not he was kidding, Aiden stood up from the table and held out his hand to me. Oh, what the hell, I said to myself before placing my hand in his and allowing him to guide me onto the dance floor just as the last song had ended.

When a slow song started to play, we looked at each other in utter shock. Neither of us moved as the song started and other couples surrounded us on the dance floor.

For a moment, we just stood there, staring at each other as the song played on. And just when it started to turn awkward, Aiden reached out for me and pulled me closer, slowly swaying back and forth to the music.

I didn’t bother to fight against it. I allowed Aiden to guide me around the dance floor. And then my mind began to wander. I almost chuckled out loud at the thought that Aiden and I had despised each other so much in the beginning and now, here we were, slow dancing in each other’s arms.

I considered what he had said back at the staff party, about starting over. Did I want to? Did I care to? For the sake of work relationships, I decided it would probably make life a lot easier if we were civil to each other.

I suddenly realized that Aiden’s hands were on the small of my back, the most sensitive part of my body. I held back an instinctive shiver of excitement. It had been a long time since any man had touched me in the one spot that naturally set my body on fire.

And then the urges set in.

I took a step back from Aiden, who looked down at me as though he had done something wrong. I was embarrassed by my feelings. After all, it was Aiden. I looked down at my shoes, my cheeks on fire, and I whispered, “I have to go.”

He ushered me back to our table and helped me put my jacket on before he guided me out the front door. I stood on the curb as Aiden hailed a cab. Just as I was about to tell the driver where to go, Aiden jumped in the other side of the car.

“McInstosh Street please, driver.” Aiden was demanding and in control.

I put my hand down on the seat between us to steady myself as the driver took the first corner. Somehow, Aiden’s hand found mine. My breath caught in my throat as I felt the heat from his hand warming my own. But I couldn’t bring myself to look over at him, in fear that he would see the nervousness in my eyes.

Before I knew what was happening, I felt his arm reaching around my waist and pulling me closer to him in the backseat of the cab. “You feel cold,” he whispered.

Dizzy from all the drinks I had consumed, I leaned my head against his chest and closed my eyes. I could feel his chest rise and fall with his breath and I could hear his heart beating beneath the winter layers. Something inside my own body woke from a very long slumber.

My breathing began to match his and I laid the palm of my hand against his breastbone in feeling his every thought. My hand began to tingle as I opened my eyes and met his gaze. There was a hint of a smile on his face as I searched his face for answers. Should I throw the past few months out and allow us to start over? Should I give in to my urges? With Aiden…?

I let go of my inhibitions and my lips met his in the back seat of the cab for the rest of the ride to his apartment.

When the driver announced our arrival, a few minutes later, Aiden and I were reluctant to pull away from each other.

His hand cupped my face, “Come with me.”

Aiden had a natural charm about him that enticed me, like a moth to a flame. He may have been a little rough around the edges, but, once he softened, he was thoughtful, charming, romantic even, and tender. His gaze melted the ice around my cold heart and my entire being was on fire as I made my way out of the cab while Aiden paid the driver. He led me through the hallways of his apartment building and I stood behind him as he unlocked his front door. He ushered me in first and closed the door behind us as I shook the jacket off my shoulders.

He turned to me as I stood before him and, for a moment, we only stared at each other. He let his own jacket fall to the floor before he pulled me against him as he leaned back against the door.

And then pure animalistic instincts took over.

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.