Authors: Catherine Gayle
We went to a TV timeout, and I made the mistake of looking up at the Jumbotron. Through the whole game, every time there had been a break, they’d been making more tributes to cancer survivors and doing things to draw attention to the warning signs someone needed to be aware of when it came to their own health. This time, they had a camera on Katie up in the owner’s box. She was sitting with her mom and several of the guys’ wives, each of them holding up a sign with a symptom of leukemia printed on it. Katie looked like she was a lot more relaxed than she had been when she’d left the ice, but the last thing I needed was to start thinking about her again. Not right now.
I turned my head away to stare at the ice in front of me.
“You dated her?” Grant Wheelan asked me. Wheels was a guy Jim had brought in over the summer to mentor me. I wasn’t sure he could teach me how to lead this team any better than Zee had in all the years I’d been watching him, but maybe he would surprise me. Mainly Wheels just talked to me a lot. So far, the biggest thing I’d learned was to do things the way I wanted everyone else to do them.
Lead by example
. Wheels had drilled those three words into my head every chance he got. He also liked to remind me I was supposed to be having fun, not taking everything so seriously all the time. I wasn’t so good at that one.
“Fuck,” I muttered under my breath. Then I shrugged. “Kind of. I guess so.” We’d never really technically been a couple, even though I’d taken her to her prom. I’d wanted to, but she’d been so young and had cancer, and then she’d left.
He made a grunting sound next to me. “Bet Webs would be happier if she was dating you instead of the guys she’s been all over the news with.”
“Fucking right, I would,” Webs said from behind us before he moved on to talk to Blake Kozlow about something.
That was definitely a change from all those years ago. I wasn’t sure I would agree with that assessment. I’d changed a lot in that time, and I wasn’t sure it was for the better. “Doesn’t matter what Webs would be happier with,” I grumbled. It pissed me off that Wheels was trying to make me talk about this right now when all I wanted to do was pretend Katie wasn’t even in the state, let alone in the building. “We aren’t together, and that’s not going to change any time soon.”
“That’s too bad,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, if I were you,” Soupy put in. His name was really Brenden Campbell, but everyone except his wife and the Storm’s GM called him Soupy—even his two adopted kids. I glared at him, and he shrugged and looked back at the ice. “Just telling you what I see, is all. Up to you to figure out what to do with it.”
He had always had a bad habit of doing that—telling me things I didn’t want to hear.
The TV timeout came to an end. It was about time. At Bergy’s signal, Wheels and Cam Johnson headed over the boards to take the face-off.
“Soupy, Babs,” Bergy said once they were gone, his tone returning to normal. “Be ready to go.”
I nodded, but I kept my focus on the ice.
“I’ve got Jonny,” Soupy said to me. At least he was back to talking about the game instead of trying to tell me how to handle my personal life.
The Kings had a potent power play this year, always dangerous. They moved the puck well, changing up the point of attack in an effort to get a clear shot in on our goaltender.
Our boys moved as a unit—one guy shifted to block a passing lane, and the other three adjusted their positions accordingly. Jonny dropped down to block a shot from the point, and our
managed to get their sticks in the way and clear bodies out from in front of the net so Nicky could see where the puck was coming from. Finally, after almost a full minute of being hemmed into our zone, Wheels poke-checked the puck and sent it flying down the ice, and those guys were able to get off for a change.
Soupy and I piled over the boards as soon as they came off—me about a second behind him since Wheels moved about as fast as molasses in a Canadian winter—and we headed into position.
The Kings switched to their second power play unit and got set up in our zone. They moved the puck back to the point on my side. I dropped to a knee, ready to block a shot, but he passed it to the other point. Soupy tried to get into position to block the shooting lane, but his knee buckled under him, and he went down with an agonized shout.
The shot got past him. Jens got just enough of his stick on it to deflect it away from Nicky’s net. I let myself glance over long enough to see that, no matter how hard he tried, Soupy couldn’t get himself up.
The Kings cycled the puck back to the point again. I did my best to cover two guys who both had bombs for shots, but there was only so much I could do. One of them pulled his stick back to load up. I went down. A shot blew past my ear and went in the net.
I skated over to Soupy, pissed at myself even though I couldn’t figure out why. “You going to be all right?”
“Can’t put any fucking weight on it,” he said.
He shook his head. “Felt something snap, but not bone.”
That made me think it was something like a ligament. Ken Archer, our head trainer, came over and talked to him for a minute before deciding it was safe to move him, at least. I gave Soupy a hand and helped him up, draping his arm over my shoulder while Archie did the same on the other side so we could assist him off the ice. The whole time, I was thinking I might have just witnessed the injury that would end his career. I hoped I was wrong.
Wheels clapped a hand on my shoulder as soon as I took a seat next to him on the bench. “You know,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Watching what just went down with Soupy is proof enough of that. If you want something, you should go for it.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I groused, more agitated than confused.
“You know what I’m talking about.”
I did. Apparently, I
couldn’t hide what I was feeling. Not only that, but I was just as messed up over Katie Weber as I’d ever been. What the fuck could I do about it, though? If she was going to leave, there wasn’t anything I could do to stop her…and I knew she would leave.
She always did.
“I need you
to cancel those New York auditions for next week,” I said to Derek on the phone.
,” he replied, not even attempting to hide his sarcastic tone. “I’ve already pushed them back once. If you change it again, you could get yourself blacklisted by Broadway, and that’s really not what you want to do. I promise you that.”
I couldn’t blame him for his aggravation. I’d already forced his hand in having him rearrange all sorts of auditions and other things so that I could come to Portland to sing the anthem—despite his repeated assertions that it would do nothing to further my career. Granted, he wouldn’t have had to do that if he had listened to me the first time around and penciled my Portland trip in on my calendar instead of brushing my plans off. He’d eventually given in and made the changes—not that he’d been happy about it—and he’d been letting me know just how unhappy he was about the “mistakes” he believed I was making ever since. I’d made plenty of mistakes over the years, and many of them had involved him, but I was one hundred percent positive that this would not be another one to mark down on the list no matter what he thought of it.
I pinched the bridge of my nose, wishing that would relieve the headache I’d had for the better part of a week. It had to be a stress headache. It was one of those that started with tension in my neck and shoulders and worked its way up. I should probably get a massage soon—that would help it more than anything, most likely.
I had never been comfortable with disappointing anyone, and I was definitely letting Derek down right now. Heck, I’d been letting him down ever since
The Cool Kids
had been cancelled, when I hadn’t been able to tell him immediately and in no uncertain terms what I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t have a plan in place, thinking my career would take care of itself because the popularity of my show was off the charts. I had just been winging it, and he thought that made me flighty and not career-focused. Now I was about to really upset him, and it was doing a number on me, both physically and emotionally.
“I mean cancel,” I repeated as firmly as I could. “I’m not going to New York. I’m not going to audition for any Broadway shows. I just can’t do it, Derek. I need a break. I need to spend some time with my family. I need to figure out what I want to do next, but I do know that, whatever it is, it won’t be on the East Coast. I can’t be that far away from them all the time.” Being in LA had been difficult enough. My family might drive me bonkers sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
to go to New York. You’re still riding a high after
The Cool Kids
, but if you let yourself drop out of the public eye—”
“I know. It’ll be harder to get back in.
What I didn’t know was if I wanted to be in the public eye anymore. I wasn’t sure fame and fortune were all they were made out to be, and I had been sincerely doubting that I was cut out for that kind of life for a long time. As long as the show had still been in production, I’d been able to push all those doubts aside and focus on my work. But seeing my parents and Jamie yesterday had only reinforced those reservations. Portland was my home; everything about Hollywood felt foreign, despite the fact that I’d been living that life for the past four years.
“Well, if you’re not going to take on work right now, you at least need to stay in the news. I could set you up with—”
“I’m not going out with anyone you think I need to be seen with.” Not ever again. Derek lived by the mantra that any publicity is good publicity, and I’d played by his rules for a while. Too long. I’d let everyone in my life that I cared about down by doing so, not the least of which was myself.
“So, what exactly are you saying?” Derek asked. In the background, he was furiously typing on his keyboard, probably already firing off emails to cancel the slew of auditions he’d lined up for me. “If you’re not going to New York, when are you coming back to LA?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“What the hell do you mean, you can’t answer that?”
“I mean I’m not coming back this week, and probably not next week, and I’m not even sure I’m coming back at all other than maybe to pack up the condo I’m renting and move everything out.” I wasn’t sure where that had come from, but—to my own surprise—I wasn’t in a rush to take those words back. There was some truth to it. A lot of truth, actually.
Derek fell silent for a long time, and when he spoke again, his tone was terse, his words clipped. “If you’re not going to actively pursue your career, our working relationship doesn’t have much of a future.”
I wasn’t sure what reaction I’d thought he would have, but I definitely hadn’t been expecting
. I swallowed the lump in my throat, but another one replaced it almost immediately. This made it feel permanent, as if the decision I’d made on the spur of the moment this morning because of a headache was going to alter the entire course of my future. Just like that. A snap of the fingers. Done.
“Are you firing me?” I finally choked out.
“I don’t know that I’d call it firing,” he bit off. “It’s more that you’re no longer willing to hold up your end of the bargain, so there’s not anything I can do for you. You’ve been indecisive for the last four months. You’ve bombed at the auditions you’ve gone to, and you’ve completely flaked out on the others I’ve managed to obtain. You aren’t taking your career as seriously as I am, and I’m not willing to work for someone who isn’t willing to work her ass off to have the kind of career you’re capable of having. I don’t think there’s much more to say about it.”
I was perched on the foot of my bed in my parents’ house, unable to do anything but blink back tears. He was right about everything he’d said, and there wasn’t any point in arguing with him about it. “No, I suppose there’s not,” I forced out, my voice cracking.
We stayed on the phone for a few more minutes, hammering out the details required to dissolve our contract. By the time we hung up, my head was pounding like never before. Had I just completely ruined my chances of having the career I’d always dreamed of? I mean, sure, my first go at it had been everything I’d expected and nothing I’d ever imagined in my worst nightmares, all rolled up in one. But did that mean I should just throw out the idea of ever pursuing it again? Derek Hatch was one of the best talent agents in the world, and now I’d walked away from him.
I tossed my phone on the bed, wishing I never had to pick the damn thing up again, and dug some ibuprofen out of my purse. Then I headed out to the kitchen. Dad was sitting at the bar with an iPad, watching film from last night’s game over his breakfast, and Mom was unloading the dishwasher. I took a glass from her and filled it with water from the fridge before tossing back the pills.
Dad glanced up, his brow furrowed. “You sick?”
“Just a headache.”
“You look tired.” His voice sounded like a bark, gruff and terse. I’d come to understand that meant he was worried. He had worried about me way too much over the years. I’d given him too many reasons to worry, but I wished he would stop.
Especially right now, when there wasn’t anything wrong but a stupid headache. “Thanks for saying I look like crap,” I quipped, scowling at him. “I
tired. I flew in yesterday and headed straight to the arena, and you know how late it was when we got back here.” I swallowed some more water and set the glass on the counter across from him, leaning on my elbows. And I grinned, hoping it would help ease his concerns.
“I’m not saying you look like crap. I’m saying you look tired.” He shut off the video and pushed the iPad aside. “You look tired like you did when you were sick.”
“Dad,” I said, hating the whining tone that came out of me. He was hovering, and it made me feel like I was a teenager again. I was twenty-two years old and already a multimillionaire in my own right, thanks to both my work on
The Cool Kids
and taking Derek’s advice to hire a financial planner as soon as I’d booked my first job. I’d made as much money in four years as Dad had made in two decades as an NHL player. It wasn’t about money, though. The fact of the matter was I wasn’t a kid anymore, and I hated that he still treated me like one.
“You’re due for your blood work and all that, anyway,” Mom said, sliding in next to me to put a cutting board in the cabinet. She gave Dad a look. “Why don’t you call Dr. Oliver while you’re here and set something up?”
Dr. Oliver was my oncologist. As much as I hated to admit it, Mom was right; it was time for me to get checked and be sure I was still cancer-free. Even though I knew there was no good reason to think there would be anything abnormal about my tests, the thought of going in for them always made me nervous—way worse than stage fright. Like, puke-up-my-guts-without-being-able-to-blame-it-on-chemo nerves. Getting anxious about something like that would only make my headache worse, though, so I decided not to let that happen until there was a good reason for it, like when I was walking into the doctor’s office and they were about to draw half a dozen vials of blood from my veins or something. That seemed like a reasonable time to get nervous.
“Yeah,” I said to make Mom happy and to get Dad off my back. And I supposed I would do it to ease my own worries, too. “I’ll see when he can get me in.”
“But not tomorrow,” Mom said, reaching overhead to put away a plastic mixing bowl.
“What’s tomorrow?” I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself from asking. Knowing my mom, she might have set me up on a blind date or a speed-dating event, and anything along those lines was the last thing in the world I wanted. She would never set me up with any guy like the ones Derek had insisted on, but that was beside the point.
“Dani’s going to be here,” Mom said. “She’s coming down for the weekend and wants to spend some time with you.”
Dani was my younger sister. She was in her first semester at The Art Institute of Seattle studying fashion design. Our brother, Luke, was off playing college hockey at the University of Minnesota. He hadn’t been drafted by an NHL team, but he was starting to really come into his own there and was picking up the notice of a bunch of scouts. A late bloomer, Dad called him. Luke might just turn into one of those undrafted success stories someday. That was what he was hoping for, at least, and even if he’d driven me nuts for so many years when we were growing up, I wanted it for him, too. He was my brother.
It was a lot easier to enjoy my brother and sister now that we were all adults. I hadn’t seen either of my siblings in way too long, so there was no chance I would pass up the opportunity to spend time with Dani. “Got it. No doctor’s appointments tomorrow.” That would give me at least a while longer before the nausea-inducing anxiety kicked in, anyway. I took off down the hall, my glass of water in hand, to get on my doctor’s schedule.
My cell was ringing when I got back to the bedroom. Probably Derek. He had likely thought of something else he needed to hash out with me in voiding our contract. I answered it without even looking to be sure it was him.
“What now?” I demanded, sounding harried and harassed, not that I really cared. I
harried and harassed, damn it all.
It wasn’t Derek. I didn’t need to look at my caller ID to know that it was Jamie, but I looked anyway to be sure I wasn’t losing my mind.