“Yeah, I need to get going,” I say as fish my keys out of my pocket. I turn to Dave. “See you tomorrow around eight?”
Even as Dave is nodding, Vale butts in. “What’s tomorrow at eight?”
“A party I’m having at my house for the team and their spouses or girlfriends. Figured Dave would enjoy being around some hockey-minded folks again.”
“Oh,” Vale says quietly, and Dave adds, “Can’t wait.”
I watch as Vale gives me a tight smile and her boyfriend pulls her in tighter. It’s a move I don’t like, and I know I shouldn’t have feelings about it one way or the other, but I’m slightly mollified when Vale pulls away from him to grab my beer bottles off the table. Her brow is lined with confusion, and I can see she never expected Dave to get sucked back in with me.
Or maybe she’s just worried about him being out on his own so soon after having a virus injected into his brain.
“Would you like to come?” I ask Vale, and her head snaps up. “I mean, I didn’t invite any of the staff but you and I…we’re old friends, right?”
She just stares at me. Eyes all wide and unblinking.
“Both of you,” I clarify, giving Todd a quick nod. “It will be fun.”
“We’d love it,” Todd exclaims.
But I don’t look back at him. I continue to look at Vale and wait for her answer.
Finally, she gives a little sigh of affirmation and says in a quiet voice, “Sure. We’ll be there.”
Everyone’s having a good time.
My dad is in his element, talking hockey war stories with some of the players. He holds them captivated, a natural-born storyteller and an icon within his field. The smile on his face says it all, and I realize that my dad has been way too secluded since we moved here. With me working all the time and the only friend he now has being Hawke, he has to be utterly miserable and alone. I vow to myself to find some way to spend more time with him.
Hawke is sure as hell having a good time. I only talked to him briefly when we first walked in. He greeted Dad with a hand to his shoulder, which he squeezed affectionately. He smiled at me and then turned to Todd.
“Good to see you again, Tad.”
“It’s Todd,” I said automatically, and Hawke gave me an impish grin.
“Right…sorry…Todd,” he says, without an ounce of apology in his voice.
Then he led my dad off to introduce him around to the rest of the team. I kept my eye on Dad, which meant I kept it also on Hawke, who stayed by his side pretty much most of the time. While Hawke sucked back beer after beer, he always kept a fresh nonalcoholic one in my dad’s hand, and I thought that was sweet of him to accommodate him that way.
Most of the partygoers congregated on Hawke’s back deck, so I found myself out there as well. Todd is one of those people that can hold a conversation with any stranger, so he would often leave me alone to make rounds, where he happily introduced himself to anyone and everyone that he could.
It feels a bit awkward standing here by myself while I nurse my one and only beer. A few of the players make small talk with me, introduce me to their girlfriends and wives. There are plenty of puck bunnies roaming around, and I suspect that’s par for the course at any Cold Fury party. But for the most part, I’m left to my own devices, and that’s fine by me. My days of being the center of attention—the life of the party—are well and truly over. I learned in the hardest of ways the terrible things that can happen when you party to extremes and don’t consider consequences.
“Want another beer?” I hear from my left and turn to find Todd walking toward me with a fresh bottle. My inclination is to say no, but I only have one warm swallow left in my bottle, so I down it with a grimace and accept the offer from Todd. He comes to stand beside me, our shoulders brushing against each other.
Ordinarily, if we were out together, Todd would have his arm around my waist, and I would lean into him for warmth and security, but there’s a definite void between us tonight, which is completely my fault. This “romantic” weekend that Todd envisioned hasn’t happened so far and he’s not been happy about it.
The weekend started off good when I picked Todd up at the airport. It was refreshing seeing him, face all glowing with adoration as he opened his arms to me. For a brief moment, I allowed myself to be held, and I actually felt a slight measure of peace.
Then the weekend quickly started going to hell when we got to the apartment and Hawke was there. I really need to keep track of my father’s social agenda a little better so I can quit being surprised by his presence at our home. It was like a proverbial power punch to my gut when I saw him on our couch, looking like he belonged there. When he unfolded that massive frame from the couch, looking unbearably sexy in faded jeans and a ratty T-shirt, I felt something shift inside of me that I think has tarnished my feelings for Todd.
It was a realization, maybe a recognition, of something that Hawke does to me that I believe no other man will ever do. I can’t name it. I can’t place it other than it resides deep within me. The feeling came along much like an epiphany that Hawke owns a piece of me that will never be touched by another man. I’m not sure I recognized it before with Todd, but in that singular moment when I saw Hawke standing up from the couch in my apartment, I realized that something has been lacking in my feelings for Todd and in every other relationship—long or short—that I’d been in for the past seven years.