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More important, my anger and hurt over what she did all those years ago need to take a backseat right now. I don’t need to make this any more stressful for Vale, with what she’s already carrying on her shoulders. And besides, why do I really need the answers anyway? That’s over and done with and I’ve moved on.

She’s clearly moved on.

Sudden resolve surges within me and I push up off the bench. Bruce Duvall is the only athletic trainer out here on the ice during this practice session, as there’s usually one nearby at all times in case someone gets injured. I assume Goose and Vale are in the training or therapy rooms.

Bruce looks at me as I swing my legs over the boards and drop down onto the ice. As I skate by him, I say, “Knee’s feeling a little sore; going to get it iced.”

He hardly spares me a glance but gives a quick nod before his gaze slides back over to watch the drills in session. I skate across the empty half of the rink to the far side where the door to the underbelly of the arena is, slapping on my skate guards and heading back toward the locker rooms.

Confident that practice will be over soon, I go ahead and strip down out of my equipment, tossing the various items in the large canvas bins on wheels set along one wall. The equipment staff will handle the cleaning and laundering of everything. I put on a dry T-shirt and workout shorts, slip on a pair of athletic slides, and then make my way over to the training rooms.

There are three rooms devoted to the athletic training department. The treatment room where Vale taped my knee, the therapy room that holds ice baths, TENS units, and other modalities, and then the workout room where the athletes can work on strength and conditioning. All three rooms are side by side with glass walls facing the interior of the locker room, and are connected room to room by doorways. I imagine Vale gets an eyeful if she is so inclined after practices and games, as some of the guys walk around naked and let their junk hang loose. But she’s a professional and so are we, so I suppose it comes with the territory.

As long as none of the guys willfully wave their dicks in her face, it’s all good.

I can see Vale in the treatment room, which has a row of five padded tables along one wall, an adjacent wall holding a long counter with cabinets above and below that hold supplies. The far wall houses Bruce’s and Goose’s offices with a small supply closet separating them. I don’t see Goose in there so I have no clue where he is, but it’s even better that we’re alone.

I have some things to say.

I walk in, watching as Vale rips tape off a box and starts unloading packages of Steri-Strips from it. She doesn’t hear me walk in and I don’t want to startle her, so I rap lightly on the door jamb.

She still gives a little jump and turns to face me with a smile on her face. It pains me when it slides right off as she recognizes me, and cool politeness takes over.

“Hey,” I say as I walk her way. “Knee’s a little sore. Thought you could take a look at it.”

Vale’s brows draw inward with concern and she motions toward a table. “Did something happen to cause it?”

“Nah,” I say, not feeling the slightest bit guilty for my lie just so I can have a few moments to talk to her. “Just came off the ice and noticed it.”

I hop up onto the table with my legs hanging over the edge and kick off my slides. She’s silent as she turns to the sink and washes her hands. After they’re dry, she walks up to me and says, “Go ahead and lie back. I’m going to do some range-of-motion tests.”

I do as she says, contemplating the best way to break the ice with her. So far, her stilted, short answers to any questions I’ve posed have made it clear she doesn’t want anything to do with me. So obviously, asking her questions isn’t going to work.

I’m silent as she maneuvers my leg, trying not to focus too much on the feel of her soft hands against me or the smell of her shampoo…I had thought before it was flowery, but I think it might actually be strawberries, and the scent is fucking delicious.

“Any pain when I do this?” she asks with one hand on my calf, the other on my thigh as she rotates my knee.

“Not really,” I say, because I don’t want to call any attention to my knee. What happens here today will go in my chart, and that will be considered when decisions are made at the end of camp.

“How about this?” she asks, rotating the opposite way.


The hand on my calf slides down, grasping the bottom of my foot firmly. With the other hand still holding on to my thigh, she pushes hard into my foot. “This cause any pain?”

“Nope,” I say quickly, and then add, “I think it’s nothing more than my muscles getting back in shape. But figured some ice can’t hurt, right?”

Vale slowly lowers my leg and gives me a small smile. “Well, doesn’t appear anything’s loose or torn, but if it’s worrying you, we can make an appointment with Dr. Godson.”

He was the team’s orthopedic doctor, and I sure as shit wasn’t doing that. Talk about an unnecessary red flag.

“I think it’s just lack of conditioning. Got lazy this summer,” I tell her firmly. “Just get me some ice and I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Well, let’s go sit you in an ice bath,” she says as she turns back to wash her hands again at the sink.

“No fucking way,” I growl. “Those things are torture and my balls will go into hibernation until next summer. Just an ice pack will do.”

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