Still with me? It's been a while, I know. Work has fried my brain so it's been hard to stay focused in the evenings to write. Only two chapters left after this one, and I've already started on the next. I'm hoping to have them to you soon.
Thanks goes out to detroitangel for the beta and lisamichelle17 for the pre-read!
So... are all of you as ticked about the NHL lockout as I am? Some new, live hockey would've been fantastic for my motivation... just saying.
"One, two, three." The voices rang out in the bar in the seconds before everyone slammed shots back.
I gave an involuntary shudder at the strength of the alcohol, still unsure as to what concoction the bartender had mixed for us was. Edward laughed at me, his hand rubbing my back in a soothing manner.
"Another!" Garrett called out.
I shook my head and waved him off. "No way. I'm done."
The two I'd just consumed were more than enough considering the drinks I'd already had. It was already starting to go to my head. I had a relaxing, stress-free weekend ahead of me—the first in way too long—and I didn't want to waste any part of it useless from a hangover.
"Just one more?"
Edward grabbed his beer and handed mine to me, directing me away from the crowd at the bar. "We're out," he said to Garrett who scoffed and laughed before turning back to the line of shot glasses being filled on the bartop.
We were well into February. The last couple months had flown by thanks to the nonstop demands of our responsibilities. My schedule had slowed down considerably after the New York trip. We wasted no time getting me moved into his house. In fact, we took advantage of our friends' long weekend after Thanksgiving and thanks to the muscle power of Emmett, Jasper, and a couple guys from the team, all of my things were packed and moved in a single day.
Unpacking was a different story and still a work in progress.
Christmas crept up and kicked off with an awkward introduction between Charlie and Edward. Charlie's attempts at playing the overprotective dad disappeared in the car somewhere between the airport and home after Edward not-so-casually mentioned being able to get Charlie a couple of comp tickets to see the Seahawks in the playoffs, thanks to his agent representing a couple guys on the team.
By the time we dropped him off at the airport three days later, I was sure that Charlie would miss Edward more than he'd miss me. Now Edward delighted in turning the tables and threatening to rat me out to Charlie any time we disagreed or he wanted something from me.
He'd managed to get Charlie even more on his team over All Star Weekend. I'd nabbed a few days off—guilt-tripping Jake into taking the training session booked those days—and flew in. Charlie met up with us and sat with me during the Skills Competition and the game itself. Granted, I'd just seen him a month earlier, but it was so nice spending that time with him. I'd forgotten how nice it was to just get away. For years, all of our time together was spent with one of us hosting the other. This almost felt like a family vacation and I'd made a promise to myself to figure out how to do it more often.
The weeks since then had been this strange hybrid of chaotic calm. With holidays and other big events past us, Edward and I were finally able to enjoy the mundane domesticity of cohabitation. We'd become such homebodies lately and had to make an effort to go out and socialize, like we were tonight. Every other aspect of our lives kept us so busy that it was tough to share our free time with the outside world.
He was busier than ever now that the league was in the final push before the playoffs. Teams were scrambling to lock in their spots, which meant more time practicing and more time dissecting game tapes.
For me, Jake had made good on his promise to add another trainer. A couple weeks ago he'd brought Seth aboard, and although this move would ease the burden on both of us eventually, the extra work of teaching him our course and preparing him to go off on his own only added to my workload.
I often felt like the walking dead by the time I got home.
"You look like you're going to fall asleep," Edward said. We reclaimed our booth and he pulled me close, letting me rest my head on his shoulder.
"Mmm," I mumbled as I closed my eyes. "Alcohol makes me sleepy."
Warm air brushed my ear as he spoke words so quiet only I could hear. "Not too sleepy, I hope. I have plans for you later."
I knew my smile was full of mischief when I looked up at him, chin resting on his bicep. "Never too sleepy for the kind of plans you have."
Just as he opened his mouth to speak, another body slid into the booth across from us.
"You two are disgusting." It was Garrett, apparently finished with shots at the bar for the time being. "You live together now—shouldn't you be arguing over dirty socks and who put the empty milk carton back in the fridge?"
The booth quickly filled up with the rest of our little group. Heidi, one of the team wives, pushed Garrett over to make room for herself and Alec. "Leave them alone. You only wish you had someone willing to tolerate your nasty-ass socks."
Garrett was already distracted by a tiny blonde trying way too hard to look like she wasn't trying too hard. He pointed at her before leaning across the table to tell us "That's the one. Right there. Gonna marry that girl."
We all laughed and shook our heads. This was him, this was what he did. Every girl that caught his eye, he made the same pronouncement.
"I can see you doing something like that," I said. "Out of everyone I know, I wouldn't be surprised if you were the one to get drunk and get married in Vegas."
"To a stripper," Edward added. The other guys nodded.
"Or a burlesque dancer," Heidi said.
I laughed. "The wedding pictures would be her with feathers to the ceiling and him with glassy eyes and dopey grin."
"Annulled three days later," Alec said.
"Fuck you all," Garrett said. He gave each of us a pointed glare, but fought a laugh the entire time.
The moment passed and wave of silence hit the table before Alec changed the subject.
"So . . . you think we're gonna be here next year?"
The limbo that the team existed in weighed heavily on my mind, even after we'd returned home.
The team's financial struggles were no secret. Even with the increased attendance and higher standings, the money just wasn't there. The city and team owners were scrambling to put a plan together, but so far nothing had been settled. The league had been threatening for some time to step in, and talk was building again. Rumors were rampant.
"Hey, where are you?" Edward asked, noticing how lost in my own mind I was.
I started stripping out of my clothes, eager to hop into the shower and get the bar smell off of me.
"What happens if the team gets sold or moved?"
His mouth twisted, whether in thought or frustration I couldn't tell.
"If that happens, we'll figure it out." He reached in to turn the shower on, his hand cutting through the water to test the heat. When he was happy with it, he turned and held his hand out to me. "Come on."
He helped me in and stepped in behind me. Immediately I felt his arms wrap around me and his chin rest on my shoulder as the water sprayed.
"Nobody knows what's gonna happen. It might be that nothing happens. We can't really make plans for something that we don't know. I don't see the use in worrying ourselves until things are more concrete."
"You're right. I guess tonight just got me thinking about it too much. Everything is going so perfectly right now that I hate having this unknown just hanging over our heads."
"Yeah, it sucks, but what can we do?"
I turned around in his arms and hugged myself closer to him. "Nothing. Let's just forget about it. We'll worry about it when we have to."
His fingers ran through the tangle of my hair as he leaned down to capture my lips with his. "Brilliant idea."
"Oh, he's just so dreamy."
The only thing that topped Emmett's falsetto was the way he fluttered his eyelashes as he spoke. I'd just taken a drink a split second before he started mocking the girls at the glass and was now choking through laughter.
Alice pounded on my back. "Take it easy there."
"Hi," Emmett said as he waved to the three girls who had turned to see what the commotion was about.
They gave him a funny look and turned back toward the ice, occasionally glancing over their shoulders as though knowing they were the butt of a joke, but unsure who was making fun of them or why.
"So, Bella," Rosalie said.
"What are you doing this summer?"
I couldn't help but rack my brain—not for summer plans, but as to why she would be asking, especially with such a mischievous tone.
"Not sure yet, why?" I said.
We'd both leaned forward in our seats in order to speak around Emmett. She casually brought her left hand up to her face and pretended to brush a lock hair from her cheek. My eyes widened at what I saw.
"Oh my god!"
I reached over and grabbed her hand, pulling it close to see the diamond.
"So?" she asked.
"Whenever and wherever you need me. I'm at your beck and call."
I reached over and pulled her into a hug. It didn't take long until an extra set of arms wrapped around us as Emmett said, "Now this I can get used to. Every man's dream, right here."
We let go and sat back up, I laughed and elbowed Emmett in the process. A few people were watching us, including the girls at the glass.
"Did you know about this?" I asked Alice.
"Just found out on the way here. If you hadn't ditched us . . ." she trailed off, teasing.
"Damn work, getting in the way."
"How's that going, by the way?" she asked.
"Okay," I said. "Everything's a bit off kilter while we train Seth and figure out how to split the schedule three ways now. But it's good. I just can't wait til it slows down."
High pitched squealing interrupted the conversation, so we turned our attention back to the puck bunnies.
"Ohmigod, he looked right at me," the tallest of the three.
"And that smile! Did you see that smile?" another said.
"There he is again!" the first said as she posed—hip popped, boobs out.
I looked up to see that it was Edward that they were talking about and covered my mouth with the back of my hand trying not to laugh. He was looking, and he was smiling . . . just not at them.
Emmett snorted and covered it up with a cough, but not before he caught the girls' attention once more. To my surprise, when someone spoke up, it wasn't him. Instead, it was Jerry, the retiree fellow season ticket holder right behind me.
"Of course he's looking at you and smiling at you, sweetheart. Surely it has nothing to do with the fact that his girlfriend is sitting right behind you."
It took a second to register, but the excitement in their faces immediately melted into embarrassment. I knew the feeling; I could already feel my face heating up and slouched a bit in my seat as though it would make me invisible.
They didn't bother to hide the fact that they were sizing me up. Judging by the disapproval on their faces, I came up lacking. Of course, they'd clearly been conditioned to believe that tight clothes and excessive cleavage were the key to bagging a professional athlete. No doubt my simple jeans and long sleeves stumped them.
They turned to watch the ice again, though their buzz had effectively been killed. When the buzzer sounded a minute later putting an end to warm ups, they walked up the steps with slight sneers still on their faces. As soon as they were out of earshot, Jerry leaned forward between me and Alice. "Do you think it was something I said?"
"I'm not so sure about this."
I had a death grip on Edward's forearms. I'd been to a few of these optional practices before, watching from the stands. It was always fun to watch the guys goofing off, enjoying themselves. These skates were always so much more laid back without any real structure. Today, though, he'd coaxed me into a pair of skates that he'd bought for me and surprised me with. The other guys were already in the locker room and the Zamboni was circling the ice.
"I won't let you fall." I gave him a withering look and he amended his words. "I'll try not to let you fall."
I glanced over his shoulder at the Zamboni.
"Right now I'm more worried about being flattened."
"He's almost done. We won't go anywhere near him."
"Won't he be pissed that we're messing up his ice?"
"Nah," he said. "He'll have to run it again before the next game anyway. And sometimes office staff sneak down here and goof off during the day so it's bound to be messed up before then regardless."
I sighed, knowing I was about to relent. We hadn't even made it onto the ice yet.
He walked backward and stepped over the lip onto the ice without faltering the least bit. Me, I waddled and trudged, my feet clopping against the ground. As soon as my right foot hit the ice, I stiffened.
"You're fine," he said and urged me forward.
I let my left foot follow, feeling both feet wanting to slide out from under me. I tensed and felt my balance begin to waver. Edward's grip tightened, supporting me.
"Just push off, however feels natural," he said. Well, none of this felt natural. I had visions of Bambi, slipping and sliding on a frozen pond, and was certain he had ten times the grace I had in that moment.
I did as he instructed, pushing off with the slightest bit of force, afraid of picking up too much speed. He didn't seem to have the same issues, as I could feel him pulling me faster than I should have been moving.
"Slow down, slow down!"
He laughed, but didn't slow. "We're barely moving!"
Barely moving? We were already almost to the first turn.
"Shouldn't you be watching where you're going?"
"Don't you trust me?" He was still laughing at me, the little lines crinkling around his eyes.
"Not at the moment, no."
As we started around the turn, my eyes were glued to his feet as they crossed each other, certain that he'd kick my skate and send us tumbling. He didn't, of course, but that didn't stop me from watching when we hit the next turn.
I tensed again on the straightaway as we neared—then passed—the Zamboni.
"Sorry for messing up your ice, Mister," I yelled.
The driver grinned and tipped his hat at me, but Edward was shaking his head.
His smile was so pure I couldn't be too mad at him for laughing at me. "You."
After another lap, Edward made me try to skate by myself. Again, I was an uncoordinated mess, wobbling all over the place, but I stayed upright so I was calling it a victory.
As we skated loop after loop around the rink, the Zamboni finished and the goals were replaced.
"Stay right here," Edward said after guiding me to the middle of the ice.
"Where are you going?" I asked, starting to panic. He was my safety net. I was going to fall without my safety net.
He kissed me quickly and started skating away. "I'll be right back."
I started to reach for him to keep him from leaving until I realized it was throwing me off balance.
He stepped off the ice and reappeared a minute later, lobbing pucks in my general direction.
"What in the hell are you doing!" I flinched every time he let one fly.
"I'm not gonna hit you!" he called back.
He skated over to me a moment later, stick in hand.
"Here, take this," he said, handing it over.
I took it, but held it out from my body as he skated around and kicked the errant pucks closer. As he skated back, he looked at me and laughed.
"It's not gonna hurt you." He took hold of my arm and pulled me closer to center and started to manipulate my arms and legs into position. "Here, take a few practice shots."
"Me?" I yelled.
"You act like you have no idea how this game works," he said.
"I watch the game, Edward. I don't play it." I looked at the distance between the pucks and the goal. "I take one swing and my ass is going to the ground, you know that, right?"
"You'll be fine," he insisted. "Just try it."
He was wrong. It took approximately two seconds after my first shot for my butt to be intimately acquainted with the ice.
"Be nice to me," I said.
"I'd be very nice to you, but you won't let me touch you."
"I'm wounded because of you."
"Want me to kiss it and make it better?"
His hand slid down my back and stopped somewhere over my left cheek. I snuggled in closer to him on the couch, trying to guilt the remote control off of him.
"It'd sure be nice to find something on TV to distract me from the raging pain in my hip." I might've been exaggerating a little. A lot. But it was kinda sore. Probably bruised, though not nearly as bruised as my pride.
"I gave you Ibuprofen and an ice pack, what more do you want from me?"
"The remote. This movie sucks."
He kept the remote as far from me as possible, never taking his eyes off of the television at any point during our conversation.
"You're delirious. Are you sure you didn't hit your head? 'Cause this movie's awesome."
I huffed and shifted, finding a small amount of enjoyment in the wince he gave as my elbow dug into his side.
"I don't even know what's going on! They're just blowing stuff up. They haven't even explained why."
I gave up for the time being. "Such a guy."
A few minutes later, his cell phone rang. He searched his pockets before he realized he didn't have it. He laid the remote down then immediately realized his mistake. He waved it at me as he stood over me.
"I'm taking this with me."
Go right ahead, I thought.
As soon as he was in the other room, I scurried to the TV and manually changed the channel, although finding the right buttons was hard. When was the last time anyone had to do this? Damn, televisions changed a lot over the years.
I could hear Edward walking back into the room just as I made it back to the couch. "Hey, what's going on?"
There was an extended silence where someone must've been speaking on the other line. I didn't think anything of it until I noticed Edward's expression. I couldn't place it, but it concerned me.
He didn't yell it; the matter-of-fact way he said it was even more disconcerting.
He glanced up at me while the person on the other line spoke. I mouthed "what?" to him, but he held a finger up telling me to wait.
More silence, then, "Yeah, man. Thanks for calling. See ya tomorrow."
As soon as he ended the call, I started. "What's going on? What happened?"
"Garrett just got traded."
The team made a few more deals over the next week or so, offloading a few moderately high contracts in an effort to better the financial situation. Edward kept telling me not to worry, but I couldn't help it. Everyone who'd been traded had some idea that it was a consideration and not a word had been mentioned to him. I wanted to believe him, but for the time being, I was watching the calendar closely and counting down to the trading deadline.
It wasn't new to me. I'd followed the league long enough to expect this very thing every February as teams began that last ditch effort to put together the perfect combination of players that would—hopefully—get them through the playoffs. It was different this time. I was personally invested.
We did get a few new players who meshed well and helped us win games, but it was still hard to see people I'd come to consider friends, or at least acquaintances, say goodbye.
Things quieted down significantly in the last few days before the deadline, so it looked as though the front office was finally happy with the team they'd assembled.
I was out of town again, this time mostly just observing as Seth took the reins, leading the training session. He was pretty much ready to go out on his own, and I couldn't wait. I'd already planned a thousand different ways to spend the extra time I'd have.
Our last day on this three day road trip had been a busy one. The group assembled hadn't been a very large one, but the company had a number of branches. Our lunch hour had been packed with business talk since they were interested in bringing this training to their other locations, and before we knew it, we were rushing back to finish the afternoon.
I sat off to the side again where I'd be out of the way and could observe Seth. I took a few notes, had a few tips and pointers that I wanted to give him, but for the most part he had it down. He'd already been on a number of trips with Jake and a few with me; what he didn't know was that, if things went well this time, Jake was ready to let him take over on his own.
So when the session ended, it was tough to hold back and not congratulate him or celebrate.
"So how do you feel?" I asked as we walked the few blocks to our hotel.
He grinned. "Great. Really great. It's still strange having you—or Jake—there watching me, knowing that you're critiquing me, but I think I have a pretty good handle on the material now. I'm pretty confident with it."
"You know we aren't judging you, right?" I said. "Well, not in a bad way."
"No, I know," he said. "Oh, hey, a couple of those guys invited us out tonight. They're all going to some sports bar for dinner and drinks. Wanna go?"
"I'll pass," I said without hesitation. "I kinda just want to relax. You go, though. Have fun."
"You sure?" he said, and I knew he felt guilty about leaving me alone.
We stepped into the lobby of the hotel. "Positive. Actually, I've been eyeing up the cupcakes in bakery case of that deli over there every time we pass. I'm gonna stop in and grab one before I go up to my room and spend my night eating junk food."
"Okay then," he said. "Do you just want to meet down here in the morning?"
"Yeah. Nine o'clock?"
"I'll be there."
He took off toward the elevators to go to his room as I detoured into the deli. I placed my order, deciding on an iced tea as well, and stepped off to the side while they made it. An evening newspaper had been left on the counter, so I flicked through it to pass the time.
Not finding anything on the front page, I moved it aside. The sports section was directly underneath and what I saw made my heart drop.
It was a picture of Edward mid-slapshot with the headline "Coyotes Make Bold Last-Minute Trade—Cullen to Pittsburgh" mocking me.
I could barely breath, I was shaking, and it felt like everything was closing in on me. I began to search my purse for my phone, sure that there would be a message letting me know this was a misunderstanding of some sort.
My hands fumbled, trembling too badly to function. I finally found my phone and it took a few tries to bring up my messages. The day had been so busy that I hadn't checked since this morning, and I'd always turned it to silent while in a training session. I never even set it to vibrate because that too was a distraction. I'd worked through lunch on those negotiations for further training sessions so I hadn't had a chance to check then.
Sure enough, I had a ton of messages—both voice and text. I brought up text first seeing all of my friends' names pop up, but most were from Edward. I skimmed, unable to read, but apologies jumping out at me. I didn't want to waste time sorting through everything to find answers, so instead I called him.
The phone rang once, twice, and finally he picked up mid-way through the third ring.
"Bella." The sound of his voice rocked me.
I turned and left the deli, heading straight for my room. "What happened?"
I could hear the sob trying to fight its way out in the quaking of my voice.
"I had no idea," he said. "I swear to you. This all came out of nowhere this morning. I've been trying to call you."
"I know, I know," I said.
"They couldn't pass up the offer, they said." The connection crackled but didn't disconnect as the elevator ascended to my floor. "They got a couple younger, but high scoring guys who are still locked into small contracts and a first round draft pick. Getting rid of my salary was just . . . they couldn't pass it up," he repeated.
"What happens now?" I asked. "When do you go?"
An uncomfortable silence passed. "I'm already gone."
A/N: This chapter was what made me want to write the expansion. I try not to put too much real life in my fics, but I did steal a pretty big event here. This was how I found out that *my* hockey player got traded. Came home from college for the weekend, planned to see him play a couple games, giant headline in the paper when I got home. Trade was made in the morning and he was almost immediately on a plane. Nothing else here is taken from real life. Our relationship was nowhere near this advanced, so none of B&E's relationship is based on that. Just this little (big) plot point. No self-insert... I don't want to squick anyone out. Hell, I'd squick myself out if I did that.
And for those of you who know me... you aren't at all surprised by where I sent him, are you? ;-)