Vale chuckles without turning around to look at me. “Okay. Just an ice bag. I’ll be right back.”
She turns and heads through the door to the treatment room. I take a moment to admire her gracefulness. It’s something she always had…more of an innate security about her body, causing all of her motions to seem effortless. I remember one time we were at a party in Sydney, and some of the girls were dancing on the tops of the tables. Of course, Vale had to do the same thing, and I remember being entranced with the way her body undulated as I stared up at her. All the other girls looked awkward and forced, but Vale was fluid and so damned sexy, she had every guy in the room panting after her.
Back then, it made me proud to have such a hot, gorgeous, and sexy girl, but if she did something like that today, it would drive me insane to have other men watch her that way. I guess when you grow up and mature, certain things become more important.
“Here you go,” she says as she comes back. “Scoot back on the table and stretch your leg out. Keep this on for twenty minutes, then you can go.”
She places a towel over my knee, then lays the bag of ice on top.
“Thanks,” I say quietly.
“It’s my job,” she quips, and then walks back over to the box of supplies she had been unloading.
“Well, you’re very good at it,” I say quietly. I watch as her head drops a little, but she remains quiet.
“Vale?” I murmur.
Her neck twists so she can look at me over her shoulder. Eyes guarded, fingers clutching hard at the small box in her hand.
“I’m sorry your dad’s going through this shit. And you too…I’m sorry you have this stress on you.”
Right there, in her eyes, the tension just drains, and for the first time since we’ve reconnected, she looks at me with no filter, and I can guess her feelings.
I see gratitude clear as day.
“Thank you,” she says with a smile. “That means a lot.”
“If there’s anything I can do, for either of you, I hope you’ll ask me.”
I know that may be pushing it, and fuck, I’m not sure why I offered, but it’s out there now. I expect she may draw inward again, but her smile goes a little wider.
“I appreciate the offer, Hawke. I think we’re okay, but I don’t know…maybe visit Dad every once in a while. He doesn’t know anyone here and I’m so busy all the time.”
“Already had decided on doing that,” I assure her. “I’m glad we reconnected. It was long overdue.”
“Yeah, it was,” she affirms. Not in a derogatory or chastising way, but merely agreeing with me on a fact of life. She then turns back to unpacking the boxes, and because I don’t want to push her any further, I watch the clock on the wall tick down the minutes until I can take the ice pack off.
I accomplished what I intended to do here—let Vale Campbell know that I won’t be a stress upon her at this time, and that we can have a friendly working relationship like adults.
Bottle of water.
And what the hell, a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie.
I slide my tray down the line in the executive cafeteria, also located on the bottom floor of the arena. I have a grand total of twenty minutes to eat lunch and get back up to the weight room, where I’m doing a strength training session with Max Fournier, who looks to be a shoo-in for the starting goalie slot now that Ryker Evans has retired. Fournier tore his ACL season before last, had a terrific rehab, but wants to up his game as far as his core strength. So I put together a plan for him and we have our first session today, which I’m excited about, because although I love tending to acute injuries, I really get a kick out of helping players with their conditioning.
I pay for my meal and grab the closest table. The cafeteria is deserted because it’s almost two p.m., which means this could be a late lunch or an early dinner for me. The morning drills are done and most of the players have left, but they’re due back for a practice scrimmage in a few hours.
While I really want to eat my cookie first, I force myself toward the tuna salad, thinking maybe that will fill me up and dissuade me from the cookie after. I can afford the calories for sure, because no matter how busy my day is, I usually budget time for getting in at least a half-hour workout of my own, but for some reason, cookies and sweets seem to congregate around my hips.
Just as I place the first bite of tuna in my mouth, I hear, “Up for some company?”
That voice. Rich, deep, and rough.
I don’t even need to glance up, but I do, meeting Hawke’s bright blue eyes dead on. He has his hair pulled back into a short ponytail, one lock at his forehead having sprung free to hang down over his eyebrow. His face is open and affable, which is still taking a bit to get used to. Ever since last week when I iced his knee, the tension that had existed between us seems completely gone. And that’s all on Hawke. He extended an olive branch to me and I took it, and as of now, we seem to be existing on a polite and friendly basis. I see him around the locker room or training rooms and he always waves or says hello. He has me tape his knee up every day before practice and we make small talk, usually about current events or something funny that’s happened in the news. All very easy and nonthreatening, and it’s put me completely at ease with him.
But there is a downside to this renewed yet casual friendship.
And that’s the way in which this new cordiality between us only serves to highlight the void that still exists. Every time he gives me a friendly greeting, I remember the days when he greeted me every morning by rolling over in bed and kissing me soundly. Every time I tape his knee, I realize how cold, clinical, and unfeeling my touch is upon his skin, especially when Hawke and I used to be all about the passionate touch. All those things tear me up inside, because I went a long, long time missing those things about Hawke after I called it off with him.