I halt midstep, turn to look at her with astonishment. “Excuse me?”
“I’m glad Vale cut you loose before,” she says simply.
My hackles immediately stand to attention. While I know Avery wasn’t fond of me then, nor apparently now, I always thought she had Vale’s best interest at heart. I feel like I was in Vale’s best interest, despite a bad mistake I made. I thought Avery knew that too, but apparently I’m wrong.
“That’s kind of a bitchy thing to say, Av,” I say with anger tinged in my voice. “Especially since that’s old history.”
“Exactly,” she says, inclining her head to the side as if to emphasize her point. “So don’t fuck this up again. Now is your time.”
I blink…once, twice…stupidly a third time. “Now is my time?”
“Yeah,” she says with a minor eye roll as she unfurls her arms and steps into me. She pokes a bony finger into the middle of my chest. “You and Vale weren’t right back then. It’s easy in hindsight to see it. Too immature…impetuous. Too focused on each other to the detriment of all else. It wasn’t your time then.”
“But it is now?” I ask skeptically, because she almost seems to be…rooting for us?
“Yes, it is now.”
We stare at each other a moment and I shake my head, not sure I really understand what she’s trying to say. Clearly, my confusion reigns supreme across my face, because she elucidates.
“It’s like this, Hawke. You had your career set. You were a great hockey player and you were going places. The only place Vale was going was for a ride in your hip pocket. She had no direction, motivation, or ambition. Look at what she’s become now and tell me that would have happened if you two had stayed together.”
My mind spins. Surely she would have gone to school, even if she followed me through the NHL, right?
“Vale’s heart was broken when you two split, but she grew up. She grew up fast and she was focused. She became a new woman, and I’m thinking you like those changes, if the way you look at her is any indication. You may not see it, and she may never admit it, but the way in which your relationship failed was the best thing to ever happen to the two of you.”
That simply can’t be true. What we had was good and solid, right?
Or do the facts speak for themselves and whisper a truth I haven’t considered before? That perhaps neither one of us had the maturity to appreciate the other. What we had wasn’t really the one, great true love we thought it to be.
That’s another thought I quickly push out of my head. I don’t let it take up residence because if I lend any validity to this claim, it means I need to let her betrayal go completely. I need to chalk it up to the wisdom of the Fates and be happy with the ways in which we’ve grown.
And this is something I don’t know that I can do.
While I love being around Vale, and I appreciate more than anything having her back in my life, there’s still a small part of me that remains firmly protected, with the assumption that she’ll bail on me again. Hell, she’s talking about going back to Sydney with her dad. It’s like I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
For her to abandon what we have again.
We’re cruising down I-540, listening to Smashing Pumpkins. It’s a cool November evening, the stars are hanging low with a bright, full moon, and endorphins composed of pleasure, happiness, and excitement race through me.
Balling my hands into tiny fists, I lean forward and hammer them on the dashboard, my voice squeaking with near-jubilant hysteria. “The tumor shrank!”
“The tumor shrank,” Hawke confirms with a laugh and a fist punch to the air in victory.
My dad’s MRI was this morning, and while normally it would take a few days to get the results, Dave Campbell does enjoy rock star status at Duke. Dr. Furhman sat in the control room with the two radiologists and three other oncologists who waited breathlessly while sections of my dad’s brain were photographed. By the time the table was sliding out of the big, round drum that made up the amazing science of magnetic resonance imaging, Dr. Furhman was waiting there with a grin a mile wide.
Ten percent shrinkage.
The virus had done its job and now my dad’s body was fighting—and apparently winning—against the glioblastoma.
I had taken the day off to go with my dad, and after we hugged and jumped around the room with his hospital gown flapping, I immediately texted Hawke. He was at the arena, getting in a light workout as the Cold Fury was playing an evening game against the Dallas Mustangs. He had made me promise to let him know as soon as I heard something.
We have shrinkage, I had quickly sent to him.
His response was immediate, indicating he had been hovering, just waiting for my message. Never a good word to use with a man except in these circumstances. YES!!!!
I laughed, my hands still shaking with the disbelief of this good news, and started to text him back when my phone rang. A picture of Hawke and me came up on my screen. It was taken just last week at The Fox and Hound by Avery. I had been sitting on Hawke’s lap while we all sat around, had drinks, and reconnected with one another. His bearded cheek pressed to mine, our arms wrapped around each other. Happy, happy smiles on our faces.
I answered with barely contained glee. “Shrinkage!”
“Amazing,” he said.
He asked for details.