Chapter 37: Two Minutes for Holding [Slapshot!]

Chapter 37: Two Minutes for Holding [Slapshot!]

 

7f8f8-in_the_boards

Losing Sebby meant losing the game, apparently. Sy could see how, but that didn’t make it any easier to swallow. They’d needed just one goal—they could have got the go-ahead goal, they could’ve broken the tie. They could’ve won it.

It became impossible the second Sebby had rushed out of the locker room, stripping off his gear as he went. An uneasy silence had settled over the room; a cough here, someone clearing his throat. Nobody knew what to say.

Sy had caught Brenden’s eye, and, well, that was what he wanted to talk about. He looked so concerned.

Of course, his worry bled over to Sy, and from there flowed through the rest of the room. It was weird. It was unsettling. What had made Sebby rush out on them, in the middle of a game? What could possibly have been that important?

“What the fuck,” Leo had spat finally, and they resumed some sort of normalcy, as though a spell had been broken. But the tension lingered—what was going on? Where had Sebby rushed off to? Was everything okay?

Of course they dropped the game. They weren’t there; their focus was broken. The Bears wiped the floor with them, scoring another two goals—both on Brenden’s watch, and Sy felt bad for him, because he was already upset, already distracted and worried about his friend.

Everyone knew it too; Sebby and Brenden had a fairly epic bromance, the stuff of legends. They were an odd couple, to be sure: Sebby hyperactive, excitable, loud, opinionated, outspoken, and Brenden so laid back, so reserved, so quiet and calm. But they brought out the best in each other—near Brenden, Sebby could become quiet, pensive, relaxed, and with Sebby’s influence, Brenden could get torqued up, truly excited about something (often hockey or cars). They often hung out together; where one found Brenden, they’d often find Sebby, and vice versa.

So they all knew that Brenden had to know what was going on, why Sebby would take off like that. And if he didn’t, no wonder he looked so worried, so concerned. Something was up with his best friend.

The game ended 3-1, and Sy stood on the ice a moment longer than he had to, smacking his stick against the ice, scowling, watching his blades glide through little piles of slushy snow. Fucking Boston.

The crowd roared through his ears. He scuttled off down the tunnel, smacking Timmo as the goalie left the ice, the second last to do so.

The locker room was a scene of chaos and confusion, jerseys and skates and buckets everywhere, even as the training staff scuttled around collecting their discarded items. Leo was plonked down in his stall, his head in his hands, muttering something about the game. Ty was being examined by one of the medics, probably making sure they got him stitched up, bandaged up properly now. He already had some gruesome bruising coming up on his cheek.

Mike was surrounded by the media, holding court at his stall, clearly trying to keep the journalists at bay, away from the other players. Sebby’s stall was strangely deserted—someone had been by to collect his shit.

Sy sidled up to Brenden, leaned against the edge of the blond’s stall. He glanced about, hoping to remain inconspicuous. Nobody seemed to have noticed him yet; his time would come, though, that he knew. The media was almost always after him for a soundbite—he was the captain. He was a superstar. They always, always, always wanted to know his thoughts.

But they hadn’t noticed yet, and he had more pressing things to worry about than giving the media the clipped, scripted response he’d been programmed to say. He almost never gave them what they wanted—emotion, self-blame, effusive praise, something. Anything. He just said what he needed to say—”we played hard, we gave it our best shot. We just need to work harder.”

Brenden was much more of a concern to him. “So,” he drawled, and the big defenseman glanced up at him. “You wanted to talk?”

“Not here,” Brenden replied, his eyes darting to and fro. He was just as hyper-aware of the media as Sy was; those last two goals had been his fault. They were going to jump all over him.

“Of course,” Sy said. “One question though. Is it about Seb?”

Brenden sucked in a huge, exasperated breath, and Sy didn’t even need the hissing “yes” he exhaled to know the answer.

 

*

 

Thinking back on it, Sebby decided that he might have been a little hasty in leaving the game. He probably could have stayed until the end of the game, taken a leisurely shower, done interviews, packed up his stuff, and then strolled the twelve or so blocks to the hospital in the frigid wind, and he wouldn’t have missed a damn thing.

Of course, if he hadn’t taken off immediately, he might have missed the whole thing. That would have been Murphy’s law—if he’d stayed, things would have been over by the time he arrived. Since he left, Baby was taking as long as possible.

He wouldn’t have been much use if he stayed, he knew that much. He was nervous, shaking. He kept pacing; he couldn’t possibly sit still. Lorraine had been quite adamant that he wasn’t to be in the room; he wasn’t sure he blamed her. After all, it wasn’t like they were in a relationship. It wasn’t like they were sleeping together or he wanted to watch someone give birth (weird), so he was …

Well, he understood her objection. He hated every second he spent in that godforsaken waiting room, however. He felt like an absolute knob; he watched a few other people on the maternity ward, new fathers heading in to see their wives or girlfriends or whatever, while he sat there like some relic of an ancient era, waiting.

And he could do nothing but wait.

He leapt to his feet when they wheeled Lorraine out at something to nine, but nobody looked at him—the nurses, doctors, whatever they were, were heatedly discussing something, and the words C-section and emergency were being tossed around with alarming frequency.

Then they were gone, and Sebby sank back into his chair, trying to recall the soft echo of his mother’s yoga tapes—breath in, breath out nice and slow, make the breaths equal.

He hated waiting, and now it was worse, waiting for something like this to happen, waiting on the edge of a disaster. Everything could go right, or it could go horribly, horribly wrong.

Even his phone couldn’t distract him; most of his friends list was playing a hockey game right now, and nobody was updating anything. Nobody was messaging him. He thought about calling his father, but …

He’d have to explain this eventually. But he thought that maybe right now, in this space, wasn’t the best time or place to drop it on the old man—that Sebby was a screw-up, that he’d fucked up big time.

Not that his father didn’t already know, didn’t already suspect that …

It was a very long time before something finally happened, and that was Brenden messaging him.

He sent him the final score, and Sebby nearly whipped the phone across the room. Like he fucking cared! Like he cared that they’d lost, his kid was being born in another room and all he could do was wait until they told him—

[22.13 Bman: u got us worried man keep us posted]

And he deflated a little, sank back in his seat. He knew the inference; they’d lost because they were concerned about him. He’d left without saying anything, and it wasn’t like any of them knew about this.

He closed his eyes.

[22.16 Sebs: thanks dude still waiting] [22.17 Bman: get used to it]

He supposed that was meant to be comforting, but it wasn’t. He frowned at his phone for a while, then pocketed it. He ran a hand through his hair a couple of times, sighing heavily.

The night wore on. Social media still wasn’t interesting. He tried getting updates though the IHA app, but it was slow and broken. He got a couple of messages that sent two or three times over, and he wondered if he should even be using his phone.

Nurses kept wandering by, but none of them stopped to talk to him.

At long last, just as he was nodding off to sleep, a nurse in a cap and a mask stopped in front of him. She still had blue gloves on; she was holding a clipboard nonetheless. “Mr. Montclair,” she said, her voice muffled by the mask.

“Hi,” he replied, jerking his head up, blinking sleep from his eyes. He wasn’t even sure how he could fall asleep; he was so strung.

“Ms. Kupers is awake now.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Both Mom and baby are doing well—we had to move the baby to the NICU, she’s early, I’m sure you know–”

She. A girl. He had a daughter.

The nurse gestured for him to follow her. He rose from his seat, arms still folded over his chest, even as he followed her through the winding corridor to the elevator. They stepped inside the car; she punched the button.

“She’s pretty early,” the nurse said as the doors slid shut, “so she’s in an incubator right now, and she’ll likely be there for a few more weeks–”

“Can we move her to DC?” he asked instantaneously.

“Uh,” the nurse said, blinking. “Well, we’d have to talk to the doctors about that, I’d guess we could—maybe—depending on her health and–”

“I’m in DC,” he said, offering her a tired look. “I’m supposed to fly back tonight.” And shit, there was the road trip too. He hadn’t even thought of that. “I can probably stay a few days, get things sorted out, but I dunno about weeks.”

The nurse nodded, but said nothing further. The elevator dinged; the doors slid open.

More winding corridors, and then they were standing in a hospital room, facing the lone bed.

Lorraine was sitting up, propped up. She looked tired, pale; her make-up was smeared and her hair was tangled, knotted. Sebby swallowed. “Uh, hi,” he offered.

“Hi,” she replied, almost numbly, the noise pleasant enough.

He glanced at the nurse. She made no move, however; apparently, she had been given orders to bring him to see Lorraine, not his newborn daughter. He looked back at Lorraine, stepped into the room. “Uh, how’d things go?”

“Good as they could, I guess,” she mumbled. She closed her eyes.

He contemplated her, studied the way her eyeliner was smudged, the way her mascara had chipped off her eyelashes, black flakes ground into the skin under her eyes, making her look older, more tired.

She opened her eyes. “She’ beautiful,” Lorraine said, a dopey smile soaring across her lips. “Just wait til you see her—she’s so tiny. So perfect. I almost regret …”

The words “giving her up” hung on the air. Sebby nodded. Lorraine let her eyes slip shut. “You should go see her,” she mumbled.

“I think we’re on our way,” Sebby replied, casting a hasty glance at the nurse. She looked at him, then darted out of the room.

The actual fuck.

He looked back at Lorraine. She lifted her lids, smiled again. “You’ll take such good care of her, I know you will.”

Sebby wished he believed that. “Well,” he said, “she’ll still have her mom—or auntie, or however you wanna be addressed. Okay? You’ll visit, you’ll see her.”

“Mm,” Lorraine replied, closing her eyes again.

The nurse appeared in the doorway. “Sir,” she said, lifted he eyebrows at him.

He glanced at Lorraine again. “I’ll see you again,” he said, and she nodded once. “Get some rest.”

She lifted a hand, waving him on.

The nurse took him to the unit, past all the other infants lying in their cradles, a nurse attendant watching over them. He peered at them, pressed his lips together.

His own daughter wasn’t swaddled in blankets, although she did have a tiny pink cap nestled on her head as she rested under the lights of the incubator. She was hooked to what seemed to be a million tubes and monitors, and he stared and stared, just watching, unable to do more.

She seemed peaceful at least, her eyes closed tight, her tiny hands curled into little fists.

“Oh my God,” he breathed at last, glanced at the nurse and moved closer when she nodded. He didn’t dare press his hands against the plastic; he felt like it might shatter.

Lorraine was right. She was perfect, so perfect, even with all the horror of the tubes sticking out of her too-tiny body, and he wanted nothing more than to steal her away—even though he knew that she was right where she needed to be.

“Do you want to hold her?” the nurse asked cautiously.

He whipped around. “Can I?”

Fuck, he sounded like an awestruck three-year-old, but dammit. He glanced back down. He wasn’t sure he could.

The nurse made her way over, started fussing with the machine. “For sure,” she said as she was working, “she’s premature, but she’s pretty healthy. It’s actually good …”

She paused. “Hang on,” she said, then darted off again, leaving Sebby alone in the room.

It seemed like eternity before she returned, and then again, like no time at all had passed. He could probably stand there forever, just watching his daughter breathe.

His daughter. Tears pricked at his eyes.

The nurse returned with an armful of blankets. “Gotta keep her warm,” she said with a tight smile.

“Do you need help?” he asked, feeling useless, clumsy, idiotic as he watched her swaddle the infant. The baby squirmed; her monitors started beeping. He watched her little arms shaking, trembling; her little legs, kicking so fruitlessly; her tiny mouth open in a squall, but no sound emitting.

She was too perfect. He wanted to hold her forever when the nurse handed her to him. He clutched at her, afraid to drop her, but afraid to break her too. She pressed her tiny face against him, curled her fingers (so, so small) in his shirt.

“Oh my God,” he breathed again, tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He was going to have to hand her back, but he didn’t want to.

She weighed hardly anything, she was so small in his hands, but she was the most precious, fragile thing he’d ever held in his life.

“Skin to skin is good,” the nurse said, and he stared at her for a moment. They both flushed bright red.

“Uh,” the nurse said, “not—like—it’s just. It helps them regulate their heartbeat and their temperature, and–”

“Oh,” Sebby said, and there was a confused moment where the nurse led him to a chair in the corner of the room, took the baby back from him, and he stripped his shirt off. It was only a few seconds, but he ached to have the baby back in his arms, reached out for her with searching hands before he’d tossed his shirt aside.

That was even better, baby’s tiny cheek pressed right flush against his skin, right over his heart, which was thudding away, and he loved her so unbelievably much.

He’d had no idea he could even love something, someone like this. But he did, and it was heartbreaking and wonderful. He touched her tiny face, gently as he could, and she turned to his touch.

He was scared, he was nervous, he was unsure. But this was right. So right. He could do without partying, without wheeling and sniping and whatever else. Hell, he could probably give up hockey if it meant he could spend time with this beautiful little thing.

He glanced at the nurse, who nodded. “Take your time,” she said, although her eyes darted toward the clock. They couldn’t stay here forever; she had work to do, the baby had to go back in her safe little nest.

He paused, then shifted the infant to one arm, dug his phone out of his pocket with his free hand. “Uh—could you ..?”

She smiled brightly. “Take a picture?”

“Please,” he said. “I, uh—well, y’know, pics or it didn’t happen, right?”

She grinned, held up the phone. There was no flash and he had the sound turned off, so he didn’t even know if she’d taken a picture, until she handed the phone back to him.

“Thanks,” he said, pocketed the device again.

“No problem,” she said. Her eyes darted toward the clock again.

He sighed. He didn’t want to. “Um,” he said, “well, we should probably let her … go back. I mean, you guys are keeping an eye on her, probably wanna make sure she’s really healthy.”

“She’s doing good with you,” the nurse said. “You don’t have to–”

“Well, like, I got stuff to do, right? Um. I guess I gotta tell people, figure out my flights, make arrangements—I didn’t really expect … this tonight.”

But he’s so glad it happened.

“All right—if you’re ready. We have some paperwork for you to fill out …”

He knew the next few days were going to be a whirlwind; the next things on his to-do list would be finding somewhere to crash for a few days, figuring out how to get her moved, asking Q if he could get a reprieve of a few days to get his life sorted out. Or, well, as sorted as it could possibly be with a brand-new baby.

His daughter.

He texted one of the photos to Brenden, wrote, ‘uh so this happned’

The reply was almost instant. [23.42 Bman: ???!!!!]

He snickered. His hands hovered over the keyboard for a second. Then he wrote, ‘say hi to luciana.’

 

*

 

Brenden startled out of sleep to the buzz of his phone. They were on the bus, almost at the airport; he couldn’t believe he’d fallen asleep so quickly. He rubbed at his eyes, then plucked up his phone.

Sebby.

[11.41pm le_eclair: uh so this happnd]

Brenden stared. And stared. And stared. Then he wrote back. And then he clicked on the picture and stared some more.

[11.43pm le_eclair: say hi to luciana]

Brenden groaned inwardly. Of course Sebby would name his kid that. Nothing like a tip of the hat to his old man—Lucian was going to be thrilled that he was his granddaughter’s namesake, Brenden was sure. (He was also sarcastic from time to time, although not everyone gave him credit for it.)

The bus jerked to a halt. Dima leaned over the back of the seat, peering over Brenden’s shoulder, frowning. “Hey,” he said, “it is Sebs, with little baby.”

“With a baby?” Mike spat, his brows shooting up into his hairline, before knitting together. He grabbed Brenden’s phone. “Lemme see that—holy shit, it is Seb.”

“A baby?” Leo asked, pivoting in his seat.

The guys were crowding around now. “Who’s kid did he steal?” Mike asked of no one in particular.

Brenden caught Sy’s eye. Recognition flashed through those bright green orbs; the captain got it.

“It’s uh–”

“Holy shit, did Sebby get married over the summer? And none of us were invited?!” Mike looked so mad.

“Shotgun wedding,” Dima said, the words rolling off his tongue, and Brenden frowned, wondered how the Russian even knew that turn of phrase.

“Ha, probably,” Leo laughed, “seriously, though, he knocked someone up? That’s fucked up–”

“More fucked up that he’s got a kid,” Danny mumbled, shaking his head. There was something black about his expression, and Brenden grabbed his phone back—from Tyler, who was now admiring the photo with something akin to shock and awe.

“He didn’t know,” Brenden said, clicking out of the conversation—Sebby had texted him again, but he needed to deal with getting on a plane now. “Just found out—the lil’ lady is early too.”

“He told you, but no one else?! Jeez.” Mike still looked mad.

“Nobody tells you anything, Red Robin,” Leo sneered.

“Of course he’d tell B-man, they’re like … best friends.”

“Bros.”

“Is that why he left the game?” Ty paused. “Is that why you fucked up and let two goals in?”

Brenden blinked.

“Hey!” Sy snapped. “Don’t talk like that–”

“If Brenden’s head wasn’t in the game,” Luke huffed, cuffing the rookie, “I think it’s understandable.”

“Dude, none of us had our heads in the game.” Mike sighed. “It’s on all of us.”

Ty was bright red, tight-lipped, but said nothing more. Brenden shrugged at him. It was okay—he didn’t care. He had been distracted. He had let those two goals in. He wasn’t the kind of guy to deny his faults.

“So, uh, I guess we’re doing this road trip without Sebs, huh?”

A few nervous glances around the bus. Sy shrugged. “Can’t see how we’ll avoid it,” he said. “We’ll just have to call someone up.”

“Has he told Q? What about the front office?”

“I’m sure they’ll hear about it soon enough …”

Chatter died away as they disembarked the bus, heading across the tarmac to the plane, boarding their flight back to the District. They had two days to pack, and then they were decamping Washington for a two-week road trip that spanned the country. They’d make it back to Washington just in time to face off against the Knights in a Halloween weekend tilt.

Brenden stepped onto the plane, grinned at the crew. He stowed his luggage, took up his seat next to Ty, bumped shoulders with him to tell him that he didn’t care what had been said; they were good.

He glanced at his phone one last time, at Sebby’s last message:

[12.01am le_eclair: dude im in love]

 

*

 

Gabe frowned at his phone as it buzzed, uncharacteristically, three or four times in a row. Ryan glanced up at him over his beer, lifted his brows. Gabe shrugged, sat back, kicking a foot up on the table. Ryan rolled his eyes.

“You know the waitresses hate that,” he told the Swede. Of course they knew; they were regulars and the waitresses told him just about every damn time.

Gabe just grinned, then frowned at his messages. Ty had texted him—probably just a goodbye.

[23.53.31 amerikanskpjok: hey sebby is stayin in beantwn might need a plc 2 stay]

He quirked a brow. Ryan took another draught of his beer, glanced around.

Sure as shit, the second message was from Sebby. Gabe clicked it open cautiously. It was innocuous enough, just a “hey can i crash?”

They didn’t really talk; they hadn’t really talked since the trade. There had been a few times, like when Sebby had visited with the Stars the first few times, but it …

Hadn’t been the same. Gabe was always a little full up on guilt for having got Sebby—poor, unassuming, guileless Sebby—traded. He’d hoped that it would fade over time, but …

It hadn’t. He still felt like shit about it. That he’d been so petty, so jealous that he’d basically told the Bears he couldn’t work with Sebastien Montclair one day, one hour longer. They couldn’t offer him enough money to do that.

And, because Sebby had been playing like shit at that point, they’d let him go, signed Gabe instead.

It had never felt right, except in the moment he’d offered the ultimatum. At first, he’d convinced himself it was because he was scared the Bears would turn him away instead; he’d overplayed his hand. Things had worked out in his favor, though—but the bad taste still hadn’t gone away, even years later.

Perhaps because he’d always liked Sebby. Maybe because he’d liked Sebby a bit too much.

And Sebby was oblivious, oblivious to everything. He was a superstar; he thought he could fix anything by throwing enough money at it. He had fame and respect already; he was Lucian Montclair’s kid. He was marked, chosen—he was destined for greatness. He hadn’t had to eke out his legacy bit by painstaking bit. And even though he’d been playing like shit, he’d still been so adored, so admired. Meanwhile, a guy like Gabe couldn’t buy a break if he wanted to—it was up and down between the big leagues and the farm team, even when he was playing well, even when he was putting up the numbers.

Sebby should have been sent down so many times. And Gabe had wanted him to be, had wished he wasn’t on the team. Maybe if the execs weren’t so blinded by the shining Montclair star, they would have been able to see real talent when it was in front of their faces …

But Sebby had been his friend too. He was guileless, almost stupid. He could be irritating; Gabe couldn’t count the number of times Sebby had pissed him off, his flip attitude toward everything, his money-will-fix-it problem-solving. It was maddening.

But he meant well. And Gabe knew, he knew the road to hell was paved with good intentions, but any time he’d ever called Sebby on his bullshit, he’d just looked so goddamn clueless, like he hadn’t even thought of that.

He probably hadn’t.

So it was hard to stay mad at him, even when he didn’t have to work as hard as he should have, even when everyone was willing to make exceptions and excuses for him. He hated being called out, but when he was faced with the truth …

He tried. He honestly did. And so Gabe had walked that strange line between hate and something not quite so vitriolic. Neither feeling had been quite right; neither had sat easily in his stomach.

He glanced at Ryan, then fired back a ‘sure’ to Sebby. He pocketed his phone. Ryan looked at him expectantly. He shook his head. “I should get home,” he said, swiping his keys off the table as he stood.

“What, and just slap me with the bill?”

Gabe managed a grin and a wink. “I owe you, Wardsy,” he said, then turned and ducked out of the bar, into the frigid night. The wind was howling, and the threat of a storm hung in the air, although the rain had yet to come.

He glanced at his phone again. ‘Thanks man,’ Sebby had written, ‘owe u big time, dunno what the old man’s gonna say’

Gabe quirked a brow, frowned. He wondered what Sebby had done this time.

 

*

 

Danny crept in, closed the door with his foot. It squealed on its hinges; they still needed to get that fixed. He sighed, then dropped his gear to the floor as gingerly as he could. It was late, and he didn’t want to wake Matt.

He toed off his shoes, left his jacket lying on the bench by the door. It was still soaked; he could still hear the rain tinkling off the windows. It had let up now, but it had been pouring when they got in.

He made his way upstairs cautiously, quietly. He crept first to the washroom, then into the bedroom.

Matt was dead asleep, sprawled across the bed, arms flung wide. Danny paused, felt a half-hearted smile tremble its way to his lips, then disappear into the darkness again.

It reminded him of when Matt was younger, just nineteen or twenty, when he’d go party and get drunk, pass out on someone’s floor or couch.

That had been so long ago now. It seemed worlds away as Danny stood there, contemplating.

He felt a bit like a creep, so he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. He shuffled around in the dark, trying to make as little noise as possible. Matt’s breathing was easy, undisturbed.

Danny paused over the dresser, dropping his cufflinks into the little dish they put them in—his were always getting mixed up with Matt’s. Sometimes, they had mismatched ones for the game and didn’t notice until it was time to get changed.

He crawled into bed at last, jostling Matt as he did so. The alpha mumbled in his sleep, groaned, and rolled over. Danny settled down against the pillows, then laid there, staring up at the ceiling.

One thing he’d always loved about this bedroom was its lack of windows. Some people didn’t like that, but it made for total darkness. Danny had always found that preferable when trying to sleep. The moonlight, the starlight, the streetlamps, the headlights of racing cars tracking insanely across the ceiling—he hated that, found it distracting.

Now, however, he was wide awake with nothing but the darkness to distract him. There weren’t even any shadows; all was black.

Sebby had a kid. Sebastien Montclair. Of all people. He was only twenty-three, just a child really. Danny was thirty—old—and he couldn’t even fathom …

He glanced at Matt. He couldn’t see much in the dark, but he could hear the alpha snoring softly, feel the motion of the blankets with his breathing.

It felt like jealousy, but he had no idea what he had to be jealous about. So Sebby had fucked up and knocked someone up and now he had a kid. What was there to be jealous about? He had no idea.

He curled his hands into the blankets. It was a stupid feeling anyway. He rolled over.

There was nothing to be jealous about, not his stupid teammate with that stupid self-satisfied smile on his face, not with the tiny, doll-like creature in his arms, her tiny pink cap—

He dragged a pillow over his face. Fuck. He was jealous. So jealous. And that was the stupidest thing ever, because he didn’t even want kids.

He opened his eyes and stared into the darkness for a long while, waiting for sleep to overtake him.


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