Volume 2 of the Something in the Water series arrives Tuesday, January 30!

Chapter 38: On the Road Again [Slapshot!]

Chapter 38: On the Road Again [Slapshot!]

The sky was dull and gray, threatening more rain. They’d had plenty the night before; the trees in Sy’s yard were still soaked, their bright fall colors muted in the morning mist. It was scarcely ten o’clock, and Mike was on his doorstep, all geared up and ready to go.

A more wistful part of Sy was transported back to their teenage years, days of yore when Mike would show up on his doorstep with all his gear, hockey stick in hand, asking Sy’s mother for a lift to the bus station so he could get home after a game.

Not much had changed in the intervening years, but now Mike was going with him, not just stopping over after their teams faced off on the ice.

He wondered how long it would last. Trade rumors were already swirling, even this early in the season, just two weeks in. Sy was used to it by now; every armchair pundit was intensely critical of his play.

He was the cornerstone of the franchise, though. He wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Mike, on the other hand, was expendable. He was solid enough, but the second he started slipping, he’d be on the chopping block. His contract was too big for him to under-perform.

Nonetheless, they were only two weeks into the season. Mike would come around. Sy would come around. They were still shaking off the rust of a sleepy summer. They were allowed.

“Hey,” Mike said, stepping over the threshold when Sy opened the door. They’d been friends for too long; there was no need to stand on ceremony.

“Practice is at ten, flight’s not until three,” Sy rattled off as he headed back into the kitchen. He heard the clatter of a hockey stick falling against the wall, then to the floor, followed by the thud of Mike’s gear and his soft, “Oh shit.”

Sy jammed toast into the toaster, rolled his eyes, and cracked an egg into a frying pan. Mike perched on one of the stools at the bar.

“You’re early,” Sy said, and Mike shrugged, accepted a glass of orange juice that Sy slid across to him.

“Yeah, well, couldn’t sleep,” the blond muttered.

“Mm,” Sy replied, then turned his attention to his eggs, sputtering away in the pan.

Mike slumped lower over the bar, shoving a hand through his hair. “It’s just … there’s a lot of drama right now,” he mumbled.

“When isn’t there?” Sy grumbled. Honestly, he was pretty sure hockey teams were nothing but drama sometimes. There was always something.

“I know. It just seems … way worse than usual. Just like, first Matt’s been sick, and then that whole thing with Macks and Jake, like fuck, what the actual fuck? And now Sebby.”

He probably thought he was being sly when he snuck a glance at Sy.

“Well,” Sy said, “I can assure you there’s no secret illegitimate children at my end of things, so if you need non-drama, here I am.”

Mike snorted. “Like you’re not drama. Between Katya chasing you around and you chasing Volkov, you are possibly the most drama.”

Sy glared at the pan, stabbed at the eggs. Mike paused; it was a calculated silence, and Sy knew it was coming.

“What’s up with you and Katya anyway?”

Sy widened his eyes. “I dunno,” he said, “I guess I finally got it through her thick skull that I’m, I dunno, gay?”

Mike sighed heavily. “Sy–”

“No, I am, Mike. Don’t even argue with me—we have this fight every time I say that.”

“Well, ‘cause I think you’re just boxing yourself in–”

“I’m fine with my identity, can you learn to be okay with it?”

“Well,” Mike said, “I just don’t—like Katya’s nice, okay? And it’s so unfair that you’ve got models throwing themselves at you and you won’t even give her a chance–”

Sy gritted his teeth. “Look, I’ve told you before, if you want her, go for it. I’m not gonna stop you.”

Mike wouldn’t make eye contact now; he stared steadfastly at the wall. Sy rolled his eyes; he’d seen that expression often enough to know his best friend was effectually pouting.

“Mike …”

“It’s just! She likes you, okay? And, like, she’s Dima’s sister, and it’s just …”

Sy slammed his hands down on the countertop. “Mike. Just ask her out. What’s the worst she’s gonna do?”

Mike reared back. “Oh, I dunno, laugh in my face?”

Sy shook his head. “So what?”

Mike scowled. Sy rolled his eyes. “Seriously. Aleks does that to me all the time–”

“Yeah,” Mike scoffed, “and you have the most pathetic love life ever, so …”

Sy turned his back, started scraping eggs out of the pan. “Whatever. Carpe diem or something—you want it, go for it. The worst that’s gonna happen is she’ll say no.”

Mike was silent for a very long time.

It was strange, really. Mike had always been outgoing, loud-mouthed, almost abrasive. He was a lot like Sebby for that reason. Mike had never, ever had a problem getting a date when they were in high school. Even now, when they went out to the bar, Mike had absolutely no issues picking up.

So it was very, very strange that he wouldn’t ask Katya out. He had a plethora of excuses—at first, he’d been encouraging Sy to get with her (because Mike still resisted the fact his best friend was gay), despite his obvious jealousy. Then he’d refused because she was so clearly into Sy. And then it had been because she was Dima’s sister, and he wasn’t sure how that would sit with his Russian teammate.

It was all a bunch of excuses. As far as Sy could figure, Mike was intimidated by Katya. He probably liked her quite a bit, and he was scared she would reject him.

Mike was most confident when he had nothing to lose. The girls at the bar, the girls after games, the side pieces and hot bits, the puck bunnies—they meant nothing to him. So he had nothing to lose, and he was willing to risk it.

Katya was a different story.

He lifted his brows. “Seriously,” he said. “Just ask her out. I think I’ve reached an understanding with her—she’s not chasing me. Mutual respect, maybe friends.”

“Like actually friends this time?” Mike inquired, glancing at him.

The doorbell rang, echoing through the house. Sy frowned. “Who now?” he muttered, heading to the foyer.

Brenden was standing on his doorstep, wringing his hands. Sy heaved a sigh. “Let me guess,” he muttered, “you couldn’t sleep either.”

Brenden gave him a sheepish look. Mike had leaned back on his stool, yelled, “Hey B-man!” from the kitchen, before toppling over backward.

Both Sy and Brenden winced. “Mike!” Sy barked. “Be careful, dammit, we don’t need to call up anymore rookies from the little leagues!”

“Oh, ow, Jesus.” Mike set about righting himself.

Sy shook his head, looked back at Brenden. “Come in?” he asked, standing aside.

“Thanks,” Brenden drawled, stepped into the entryway. He kicked off his shoes.

“You eaten yet? Breakfast?”

“Would be good.”

“Hey, how come he gets offered food?”

“’cause he’s an actual guest, and you’re a pest.”

“Oy.”

Brenden hopped up on the stool beside Mike. “You heard from Sebs this morning?” Mike inquired.

“Mm,” Brenden replied with a curt nod. “Yup—he’s been up to the hospital to see Lucy.”

“Man, that’s weird,” Mike mumbled. “Sebby. A dad.”

“Pretty fucked up,” Brenden agreed. Sy glanced at the lanky defenseman, a frown tugging at the corners of his lips.

Something more was up with Brenden, that was for sure. Sy cracked another egg into the frying pan.

Well. They were going on the road for almost two weeks. Between shifting rooming arrangements and going out, Sy would find a way to corner him and drag it out of him. Whatever it was. It was his job, after all—he was the captain, and he needed to make sure his teammates weren’t playing distracted.

And whatever was distracting Brenden was likely going to impact his play. It was Sy’s duty to find out what was going on and solve it.

And solve it he would, because he was much better at dealing with other people’s drama than his own.

 

*

 

Dima woke to the shrill whistle of the kettle. He squinted at the ceiling for a moment, then slowly rolled out of bed. He padded downstairs, cautious and quiet, although he already knew what had happened.

Sure enough, Katya was standing in his kitchen, lifting the kettle off the burner. She poured boiling water into a chipped teacup—her favorite. A cloud of steam rose into her face.

He cleared his throat. She jumped, then dropped the kettle back to the stove top, screeching, “Dimitry!”

Served her right, he thought. “Katyushka.”

“Do not scare me,” she breathed, placing her hand over her heart, as though stilling it.

“Then do not break into my house and creep around like a thief?”

She rolled her eyes. “I have a key,” she told him tartly. “Which you gave to me. And I do not think making tea is like being a thief.”

“A tea thief,” Dima clarified. She shook her head. “What are you doing here anyway?”

He waited as she lifted the cup to her mouth and took a dainty sip. She swallowed, then curled her hands about the cup; it met her satisfaction.

“Am I not allowed to visit my dear brother now?”

“Hmm,” Dima said, glancing to the window. “It seems you always bring trouble when you visit.”

She tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Rude,” she murmured, then brushed by him into the living room. “I hear you are going on a road trip!”

Dima followed her into the other room, watched her plonk down on the sofa, crossing her legs in a way that was, frankly, unladylike. She grinned up at him. “So I have come to watch your house.”

He opened his mouth to protest.

“Also,” she said quickly, “I have a shoot here.”

“Unlikely,” he muttered.

She glanced at him coolly. “You are very rude to me this morning.”

“You are in my house for no reason this morning, Katyushka.”

She waved a hand flippantly. He waited again. She took another long draught of her tea. “Well,” she said finally, setting the cup down with a clink, “I think you could be nice to me. After all, I have got you a date.”

Dima rolled his eyes heavenward. “A date?” he asked, then looked away. “Katyushka, I am leaving for two weeks this very afternoon–”

“This is fine! I am still working on getting you the date, but those are details.”

He glowered at her. He loved his sister, but sometimes. Actually, most of the time, she drove him insane. She was especially grating when she tried to play matchmaker.

He had no interested in her vapid model friends. He had no interest in almost anyone. He liked people well enough (sometimes), but he much preferred to be on his own, and as far as he knew, he’d never really fallen in love or lust with anyone.

Katya just kept smiling. She coiled a lock of hair around her finger. “I think you will like him very much.”

Dima’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Him?” he asked, his glare intensifying. “Katya, what–”

She grinned impishly and looked away.

 

*

 

Sebby had explained exactly nothing, which annoyed Gabe perhaps more than anything. He’d simply shown up on Gabe’s doorstep at one in the morning. They’d hardly said anything to each other; they’d both gone to bed almost immediately.

That was fair; that was fine. They were both tired, clearly. But Gabe had fully expected some sort of explanation—at least a couple of words—in the morning.

Instead, he was asked if he could call an Uber to the hospital. Then he’d been told not to bother; Sebby had already done it. Ten minutes later, he was gone, and Gabe was left to contemplate his breakfast and his former teammate acting sketchy as fuck.

His first thought was that something must have happened to Lucian. Why else would Sebby need to go to the hospital? Why else would he stay in Boston? Why else would he exit a game suddenly and dramatically, without injury?

A quick check on the Boston news told him that Lucian was probably fine. The greatest Bears player in living memory would not suffer a stroke or a heart attack or be involved in a drunk driving accident without someone in Boston reporting on it.

While he was glad Lucian was safe, it brought him no closer to solving the mystery of why Sebby was acting so shady.

He fiddled with his phone a bit, then texted Ty. Maybe he knew something.

But he probably wasn’t up yet; it was only quarter after eight. Or maybe he was at practice. Or …

Whatever the reason, he didn’t respond. Gabe sighed and texted Ryan instead. He got a response almost instantly.

That was enough to distract him, thank goodness. They traded barbs, talked about afternoon practice. Ryan asked if he knew what was up with Sebs yet, agreed with him that it was rude that Sebby had just taken off like that.

He was getting angrier and angrier—Sebby clearly had no consideration for him, just like always. Just like always, Sebby expected everyone to be at his beck and call. Just like always, Sebby didn’t even think about anyone but himself.

Another text. He blinked at it a couple of times, then realized it wasn’t from Ryan, but from Sebby. He gritted his teeth.

‘can u believe?’ he wrote to Ryan. ‘wants a ride now, has *tasks* to do’

Ryan sent him back that stupid falling over laughing emoji. He glared at it, wondering what his teammate meant by that, then pocketed his phone. He didn’t care what Ryan meant.

He met Sebby outside the hospital. The blond looked a little frazzled, but said nothing as he got into the car. Gabe glanced at him. “So,” he drawled finally, “where are we going?”

“Hm? Oh, uh, I guess like the … pharmacy? Or …”

He frowned in thought. “Where do you get stuff for babies?”

Gabe started. “What?”

“Shit, man, I don’t know anything about this–”

“About what?”

Sebby looked at him again. “Babies,” he said, “like, I gotta get stuff for Lucy before I can bring her home–”

“Lucy?”

Sebby stared at him for a moment, then said, “Oh. Right. Lucy—my daughter. She was born last night.”

Gabe pursed his lips. He was silent for what felt like a very, very long time—long enough that Sebby started fidgeting nervously at least.

“You have a daughter,” Gabe managed at last.

“Yeah,” Sebby said. “Kind of a new thing.”

Gabe drummed his hands on the steering wheel. “Okay,” he said, “okay. And we need to go get … stuff. For this hypothetical daughter.”

“She’s not hypothetical, man! She’s a real thing—here.”

The Stars forward’s phone was shoved rudely in his face. Gabe reared back, blinking and trying to make his eyes focus. An image of Sebby hanging on to an infant was splayed across the screen.

Sebby glared at him, then slowly withdrew the phone. He glanced down at the screen, blinked a couple of times. His expression softened. Then he put the phone away.

Gabe turned his attention to the road. “Okay,” he said, “we need to go get things for Lucy.”

“Yup.”

“Okay,” Gabe said once more, then put the car in drive.

 

*

 

Matt sat on the stairs, watching Danny as he finished packing up his gear. He definitely wasn’t looking forward to the two-week road trip, and he had a feeling Danny wasn’t either. Still, he said nothing as he watched him carom around the room, checking his bag, then checking it again, tossing in some other little trinket or necessity.

It was pretty clear something had him stirred and shaken, but Matt didn’t know what. They’d had breakfast like normal. Danny had asked about Matt’s appointments for the next two weeks, like normal. And Danny had gone to practice, like normal.

Yet everything seemed so … off.

It wasn’t that Matt wasn’t used to it, of course. Danny was sometimes a brooding sort of fellow. He got real quiet about things on a frequent basis; if something was bothering him, he was more likely to ruminate on it than to talk about it.

Not that Matt was always much better.

He cradled his face in his hands, elbows on his knees, and watched. Finally, as Danny was zipping up his duffle, Matt plucked up his courage. If he didn’t ask now, chances were he wouldn’t get an answer for two weeks—or longer, if ever. Matt was prone to forgetting about things; he might not even remember about Danny’s mood in two weeks. And if he asked him, even over text, even while he was on the opposite side of the country, Danny was unlikely to tell him anything much. He might even just ignore Matt until he forgot.

“Dan?”

“Hm?”

They locked gazes, and Matt just stared at him, hoping to pin him with the intensity. “’sup? You seem upset.”

Danny regarded him for a moment longer, then averted his eyes. He looked into his duffle, unzipping it again. He rifled through the contents, as though looking for something.

“Dan …”

“It’s nothing, okay?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Have you seen my–”

“You already grabbed your cufflinks.”

Danny frowned at him. Matt lifted his eyebrows. He knew Danny too well. He always triple-checked whether or not he had his cufflinks, and then had a moment of panic on the way out the door, ripped his luggage apart, and finally located them in some pocket or something.

It was stupid, but it was routine.

Danny sighed heavily, then hung his head in defeat. “It was just … a weird night,” he mumbled.

Matt pursed his lips. “How so?”

“Well. Sebs left the game–”

“Yeah, I saw. What happened there? Didn’t look like he got hit or anything, so–”

Danny glanced up at him guiltily. Matt frowned.

“He didn’t come back with us last night. He got called to the hospital–”

Matt nearly choked on his heart. “What? Why? His dad? Something happen to Lucian Montclair?”

Everyone knew Lucian Montclair. He’d been one of Matt’s favorite players when he was growing up. If something had happened …

“No.”

“Who then? His mom, his brother, his–”

“His daughter,” Danny said.

Matt paused. “What?” he asked finally.

Danny nodded, sighed heavily. “His kid was born last night.”

“Holy shit,” Matt breathed after a considered moment. “Sebs has a kid?”

“Does now,” Danny replied. His voice was muffled; he’d stuck his head back in his duffle.

Matt felt an incredulous grin spreading across his lips. “Wow,” he murmured, “guess I’ve missed a lot being out, huh? Didn’t even know Sebs had a girlfriend–”

“He doesn’t.”

Another pause, another poignant look.

Matt was dumbstruck. He sagged back against the stair, processing. Sebby had a kid, but not a girlfriend.

He lifted his brows. “Wow,” he said finally, contemplating the carpet beneath his feet. He should probably clean. The stairs needed vacuumed like nobody’s business. “Um. Wow. That’s … so, like, too much wheelin’?”

He offered Danny a tepid grin. The brunet didn’t respond. Matt sucked in another breath. “That’s … that’s big of him,” he mumbled.

Seriously. Taking on a kid—a baby—was the last thing Matt would expect a guy like Sebby to do. Sebby was only twenty-three (Matt, at twenty-five, was hardly much more mature, most of the time), and he was the quintessential party-boy on the team. Go out for drinks after a game? Sebby was there. Win, lose, tie—didn’t matter. Didn’t matter if he’d played like shit, didn’t matter if he’d had the best game of his life. There was always a reason to go out. He was always doing dumb shit, pulling pranks in the locker room, in hotel rooms …

He was a troublemaker, an immature kid who’d somehow made it to the league and didn’t have to worry about growing up. He had gobs of money, got paid to play a sport he loved, would retire by forty without ever really needing to work, to scrimp and save to get by. Life, for Sebby, was a breeze, a lark.

Except now he had a kid. He’d accepted that responsibility.

He didn’t have to; it probably would have been easier for him to turn away than anything else, just pay child support or something. There were ways around it. He could have even denied responsibility, denied that it was his kid.

Matt couldn’t fathom Sebastien Montclair, of all people, simply accepting that he’d fucked up, that he’d made a mistake, and taking responsibility for the care of another human being.

That last part scared him a little more than the idea of Responsible Sebby. In his mind, Seb being responsible was almost a non-possibility. The fact that he had to be was kind of terrifying—another, helpless life was resting on Sebastien’s ability to act like an adult, to be responsible, to make good decisions.

He grimaced. “Well,” he said finally, “I guess it takes a village, and Sebby’s lucky he’s got the rest of us, the Stars organization, behind him, doesn’t he?”

Danny still didn’t smile, didn’t laugh. Nothing. Matt chuckled nervously. Danny was starting to freak him out a bit. “Although, a little girl hanging out with a buncha hockey bros like us, that’s gonna be interesting–”

He bit his tongue and glared at Danny. “Seriously,” he said, his voice falling. “Dan. Say something. What do you think about this?”

The brunet omega glanced at him finally, a hesitant, fleeting look. Like he was scared about something. Then he looked down at his shoes, forced his feet into them. “I,” he started.

He glanced at his watch. “Have to go,” he mumbled, then grabbed up his duffle bag, slung it over his shoulder. He all but bolted out the door, clothes and various other items attempting to escape his half-open luggage.

The door banged shut. Matt stared after his mate for a moment, trying to decide what the fuck had just happened.

 

*

 

Luke sighed as he put the Cayenne in park, pulled the keys out of the ignition. He had about fifteen minutes before boarding still. Time enough for yet another coffee—not that he relished drinking airport swill.

He checked his luggage, headed up to the lounge.

Sy, Mike, and Brenden were already there. That figured, he supposed; Sy was never late for anything. The two blond defensemen flanking him were kind of a novelty—Brenden was so laidback that he rarely worried about being early, and Mike was so disorganized that he was almost incessantly late.

Luke flung himself down into the seat beside Brenden, earning himself a curious glance. “Hey,” Sy said.

He grunted in reply, then glanced at Brenden. “How’s Sebs?” he asked.

Brenden snorted, then hauled out his phone. Sebby had been sending him regular updates, it seemed—Brenden had a veritable photo gallery of little Luciana Montclair.

“I’m surprised he hasn’t started filming her, posting every minute to Pictogram,” Brenden mumbled.

“Kid’s gonna be such a brat,” Mike announced, then took another long, loud sip of his coffee.

“Spoiled rottener ‘an a coupla apples in the sun in November,” Brenden murmured, then put his phone away.

“Well,” Luke said.

Mike glanced down into his cup, then stood up, fishing in his pockets for change. “I’m gonna grab another one. Want anything?”

“Just a coffee’s good.”

“Black?” Mike asked.

“Yup,” Luke replied.

“I dunno how you drink that,” Sy muttered.

“You know what they say,” Brenden murmured, “once you go …”

“Don’t,” Luke groaned, “B-man, just don’t.”

Mike sneered at their captain. “At least he ain’t all fancy like you, with your latte.”

“It’s good, shut up.”

An awkward silence settled over them as Mike made his way to the counter. Luke caught Sy’s questioning glance.

Well, something was up. He hoped it didn’t have anything to do with what he’d asked his captain the other day. He was more than happy to let that die.

“So,” Brenden drawled, “uh. We heard you’re goin’ t’ court.”

“Mm,” Luke replied, glancing sidelong at the lanky defenseman. He pressed his lips together tightly.

He wondered where they’d heard that rumor.

Brenden shifted uncomfortably. “So, uh. What are you gonna say?”

“I’m not saying anything,” Luke huffed. “I’ve told Sean that over and over again—I’m not testifying.”

They watched Mike try to flirt with the clerk at the coffee counter. Try was the operable word; she kept shutting him down.

“So, if you’re not testifying …”

Luke shook his head. “I don’t even know why we’re doing this,” he muttered. “I don’t want to. I just want to … get back to playing hockey, just forget about it.”

Another pause.

“It’s not ‘cause he’s a … teammate, is it?” Sy asked hesitantly.

“No,” Luke snapped, “like, it’s not … Look, I don’t want the whole world knowing, prying into my private life. Why shine a spotlight on it?”

“Gotcha,” Brenden said quickly, and the expression on his face verified he did understand. He knew what Luke was getting at—that Luke was omega and he didn’t want to advertise. He didn’t want to draw any attention to himself.

“You should say something though,” Sy said, nodding his head sagely, like he was some kind of expert on this stuff. Like he was so old and wise. Luke resisted the urge to roll his eyes; Sy was only twenty-three, but he acted like he knew everything. Like being good at hockey, being captain gave him some kind of insight into universal truth. “This kinda shit goes on way more than anyone acknowledges, y’know, all those cases where players are speaking out now, saying their coaches abused them, y’know, hearing it from someone in the big leagues, it could make a world of difference to some of the younger guys who’ve gone through that–”

“It’s different,” Brenden said.

“I told you, I don’t want to be put in a spotlight,” Luke said. “I don’t wanna be some mascot or martyr or whatever. I just want to play hockey.”

Sy crinkled his nose; he didn’t like the answer. Luke shrugged; if Sy was so concerned about the issue, maybe he should take a stance on it. After all, he was the face of the bloody league.

A cup of coffee was thrust into his face. “Here,” Mike said, “you owe me $3.50 and a night as my wingman, ‘cause damn, I got a discount ‘cause you’re cute, apparently.”

Luke blinked up at the scowling defenseman, then glanced over toward the coffee counter. The clerk had her back turned, so he couldn’t make heads or tails of what Mike was saying.

“Harsh,” Brenden laughed.

“You can’t even pick up a girl at a coffee bar?” Sy gibed. “Jeez, Mike. You’re slipping.”

“Shut up, I got more game than any of you.” The blond shook his wrist, rolled up his sleeve. “All right, time to get a move on. Coach’ll have our heads if he finds us here sipping lattes.”

“Shut up, it’s good!”

“Tremblay, Robinson, Sutherland, Mackinnon. The hell are you dopes doing here?”

They all froze as Coach Q’s voice boomed across the room. “You got a flight to catch—don’t be late because you’re sipping on overpriced airport coffee.”

‘Told you,’ Mike mouthed at Sy, who glowered back.

“At least be late because you’re drinking scotch or something.”

Q’s mustache twitched as he smirked, and Sy groaned, tipping back his head. “Jeez, Coach,” he muttered.

“Pretty sure that’s worse for our livers, Q-tip.”

“Robinson, what did I tell you about calling me that?”

Mike grinned raucously. Q was still smirking at them, though; he shook his head, then tapped the face of his watch. “Five minutes, Robinson, if you aren’t on that plane …”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” Mike replied with a mock-salute.

“That’s the captain,” Brenden said, spinning him about to face Sy.

“No wonder you’re such shit on the ice. Do you know which end is which?”

“Probably doesn’t–”

“Oy, oy, you assholes can just shut your faces …”

 

*

 

The ringing phone drew Callum out of a deep sleep. He gazed at the ceiling for close to a minute before finally blinking. He turned slowly to his phone, still blinking sleep from his eyes.

He plucked the shrilling device up off the night stand, pressed it to his ear. “G’day,” he mumbled, rubbing at his eyes.

It shrilled again, and he winced, then hit answer. “Allo.”

“Cal,” said a gruff voice. Coach. Right, okay. He sat up a little straighter, tried to clear the cobwebs out of his head.

“Mornin’ Coach,” he said, hoped his voice didn’t give him away.

“You awake?”

“I believe so,” he replied. If he wasn’t, how was he on the phone? Last time he checked, he didn’t answer calls in his sleep.

“Good. We got a call, just got the paperwork done.”

“Yeah?”

“Pack your bags, kiddo, you’re joining the big team for tomorrow’s tilt in Dallas. You’ll leave straight from the arena after tonight’s game, bus you over to Harrisburg, we’ve got you on the first flight out in the morning. Capisce?”

“Got it,” Cal replied, swallowing down excitement at the very prospect. Some of his Patriots teammates had gotten the call-up before—most of them were waiting for a call this season. A few of the guys had been up last season; the lucky ones had been called up during the playoffs. The only guy on the big team right now was Luis, a perpetual bouncer—a guy who was good enough to keep getting called up, but not good enough to stick. He was replacing Sweeney right now.

Of course, to get the call meant that someone was likely injured or ill. For a two-week stint on the road, it likely meant an injury, although not a serious one.

Cal was a right winger, like Luis and Sweeney. Cal hadn’t heard anything about injuries, but the Bears were rough …

Sweeney was still out. That left Luis, Montclair, Mironov, and Beckham. Beckham had been out last spring; that was how Luis had gotten called up in the first place. The Stars had then operated with three lines for a little bit during the playoffs.

He put his phone away. He supposed he’d find out who it was sooner or later. Right now, he had a road trip to pack for.


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