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Unfortunately, when I got there, my throbbing headache seemed to magnify even more when I realized she wasn’t. I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach—non–booze related—that something bad had happened. Bits and pieces were returning to me, and I did remember that she hadn’t been feeling well and wanted to leave the party. Period cramps, I think. I also distinctly remember me telling her I didn’t want to leave because this was my last night before flying out to Pennsylvania, and I wasn’t about to leave just because it was “that time of the month.”

I had been called up to the Titan minor league team and this was what I had been waiting for. My foot was back in the door and it was a moment of huge celebration. I was leaving, and if I was lucky enough to get solidified within the Titan organization, I probably wasn’t ever coming back here. In just a year, I had gained massive improvements in my conditioning, my skills, and my confidence. I was ready for the big leagues and they wanted me, so it was a night to party, celebrate, and say goodbye. I was going to be sad to leave this community where I’ve lived for the past four years, so I wanted to make it count.

Of course, I would be crushed to leave Vale, but in my mind, that was just temporary. I had to work on getting her to come with me. Despite her libertine ways, she was at heart a small-town girl deeply meshed within her community and even closer to her dad. So, we’d be separated for a while until I could get her to make that leap with me, but still…I’d be seeing her. Surely she’d come to visit me and we’d make our long-distance relationship work. But these guys…my bros that I’d played junior hockey with for so many years? This was my last night with them. Surely she understood why I didn’t want to leave.

Surely she wasn’t pissed at me for that?

Oliver made a quick call to Avery, his twin sister and Vale’s best friend. The call was short, and even though Oliver tried to find out where they went last night, the most he got out of her was that Vale wasn’t feeling well and was staying at her dad’s house. I’m sort of thinking that her “not feeling well” translates into her being pissed at me.

And as I look at the little gray house, which holds two bedrooms along the front and a small hallway that leads to a cozy living room and even cozier kitchen, my heads feels like it’s about to split open. I know that’s not from the hangover anymore, but has everything to do with the fact that something is seriously wrong for Vale to have stayed the night here without any word to me about it. I must have done something awful last night, and I’m practically choking on the dread rising within me.

My plane to Pittsburgh leaves in a little less than seven hours, but I have a four-and-a-half-hour drive to Halifax. I’m packed up and ready to go—made sure of that yesterday before the party—but I have to make things right with Vale, and that doesn’t leave me much time. My bags are in the car and Oliver is prepared to take me to Halifax, but I’m hoping a very sincere apology to my girl will put things right again and she’ll be the one seeing me off. Putting on my best hangdog look, I slowly walk up the immaculate sidewalk that Vale faithfully plants with flowers every summer for her dad. Apparently it was something her mom used to do before she died, and it was a tradition she took seriously.

Dave’s not home, and I know this because her father is the athletic trainer for the Oilers. At this time of day, he’s at the arena working on players before conditioning training, which I’m sure is filled with dudes that are as hungover as me. I noticed none of the people lying on Oliver’s floor this morning were my former teammates.

I knock on the door, hear the padding of footsteps, and when it opens, I’m staring at Avery. She’s Oliver’s fraternal twin sister and they look a lot alike, with auburn hair and dark brown eyes. You would think that with me being Oliver’s friend and her being Vale’s friend we in turn would be friends.

Not the case.

Avery and I don’t like each other very much and I’m not sure why. We know each other well because when I first came to live in Sydney, Oliver and Avery’s parents fostered me until I turned eighteen. We lived together for two years and never warmed up to each other. I find her abrasive and too princesslike for my tastes. She’s told me on more than one occasion, usually when she’s drunk and uninhibited, that I’m an egotistical bastard.

Still, we try to maintain a polite existence when we are in the presence of Oliver and Vale. Neither appears to be around right now, so I cut right to the chase as I take a step toward the entryway. “Where is she?”

Avery sidesteps, puts herself in my path, and sneers at me with malice. “As if you even care.”

“Spare me the dramatics,” I mutter, trying to act as if I have nothing to be ashamed of, when in fact I’m not quite sure I know what happened last night. “Why did she stay here rather than at our apartment?”

I expect Avery to light into me, call me a creep, an asshole, or some other equally “princesslike” curse she can come up with. Instead, she takes a deep breath while something wars within her eyes. She gives me what I might almost believe is a look of sympathy, but I quickly shake that off. Avery can’t stand me and wouldn’t feel sorry for me in the slightest over anything that could come between me and Vale.

Instead, she sort of lowers her head in resignation and backs away from the door so I can come in.

Vale’s bedroom—the one she grew up in, that is—is directly to my right, and I see the door is closed. Dave’s bedroom is just across the hall, so when Vale and I started dating when we were sixteen, I couldn’t have ever dreamed of sneaking into her room at night.

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