October 2020 / @ Dallas Stars
“Did you hear about the trade yet?” Sam asks when we’re hanging around in the players’ lounge after practice.
“No?” I reply. “Who’d we lose?”
“Ruhwedel in WB,” he replies. “Got some fourth liner from Boston.”
“Boston?” I parrot, trying to keep myself from completely flying off the handle. There’s no way they traded for Volkov. The odds are so low.
“Yeah. Volkov?” he says. “Hey, isn’t he the guy you fought last year?”
I can hear blood rushing in my ears. I nod dumbly.
“Man, that’ll be awkward,” he says with a light laugh.
“Yeah,” I agree, forcing out a weak chuckle. I practically stumble to my feet. “I’m gonna go hunt down Sid before he overdoes it. See you later, yeah?”
Sam nods, looking slightly confused.
Sid is still in the gym just as I expected him to be. He spots me right when I walk in, so I don’t have a lot of time to figure out how to say words.
“Are you planning on staying for a while?” is what I end up saying.
“Not really, why?”
“I’m just not feeling so hot. I can bully one of the rookies into taking me home if you wanna stay.”
“Nah, I was just finishing up. Gimme five.”
I lean against the wall outside the locker room as I wait for him. I was feeling fine physically when I told him I wasn’t feeling well, but I can feel the beginning of a migraine coming on. I haven’t had one since after our last game against Boston last season, but I wasn’t around anybody for that one.
“Ready?” Sid says, joining me in the hallway. I nod, trailing a bit behind as we make our way to the player parking lot.
My phone starts to vibrate in my lap halfway through the drive. I look down to see the screen lit up by Jace’s smiling face. I stare at it for a second, knowing what the call has to be about. I press the red button to decline the call, turning it on “do not disturb” and tucking it between my legs.
“Everything okay?” Sid says, glancing sideways at me from the driver’s seat.
“Yeah,” I reply. “Just a headache. Happens.”
I pop two pills of the migraine medication I was prescribed back in Boston once I get to my bedroom. I shut the blackout shades in my room and set an alarm before collapsing into bed. I’m not tired, but I’d much rather sleep through this migraine than be awake for it. I have to get on a plane to Dallas in five hours. I can’t imagine they won’t be playing Volkov as soon as possible, so he’s more than likely flying out to meet us there.
It takes me a while to fall asleep, my mind racing, but I wake up hours later feeling like I haven’t slept at all, anyway. My head is worse than it was before instead of any better.
I’ve been in this situation before, so I jam a pair of sunglasses onto my face and get on with pulling myself together.
There are six missed messages from Jace when I finally check my phone. I hesitate, because as close as Jace and I are, I have a feeling I know how this conversation is going to go.
I unlock my phone and call him back. He answers on the second ring.
“Are you okay?” he demands straight off the bat.
“Got a migraine,” I mumble back. “Took my meds, took a nap. Gotta leave soon, though.”
“You gotta tell someone, Callie. He’s gonna probably be there tomorrow.”
“It’ll be okay,” I murmur, sitting down on the edge of my bed.
“No, it won’t, Cal. He’s a fuckin’ predator. You have to tell at least one person. Sid. Mario. Fuckin’ Lafferty, for all I care,” he insists.
“What exactly do you want me to tell them, Jace? This isn’t a normal kind of problem. It’s gonna ruin everything. Locker room dynamics will be fucked to hell and back. Might as well retire and move to Alaska now,” I rant, voice raising as I go. A flair of pain runs through my head at the strain and I hiss, rubbing at my forehead.
“I’m not saying tell everyone. Pick someone. One. Chara looked after you in Boston, right?”
He’s being reasonable. I know he’s being reasonable. Chara never knew exactly what happened, but he knew enough that keeping Volkov the hell away from me at all times was the correct course of action. The idea of having to tell someone for real this time, in person, is enough to make me practically gag.
“Could you do it?” I whisper.
“If you want me to, sure,” he replies.
“Wouldn’t that make me, you know, cowardly, or whatever?”
“No, Cal. Telling someone this would be hard enough without your situation right now.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. Who do you want me to call? Sidney? Malkin?”
“Sid,” I reply. “Maybe not right now, though? I’m riding with him to the airport. I can text you when we get to the hotel, if that’s okay. Y’know, before team dinner?”
“Alright. Hey, bring your meds, okay? Text me if you need literally anything, huh? Or if you see a cool dog while you’re down there.”
My lips twitch in the attempt of a smile.
“Yeah, okay,” I say. “Thanks, Jace.”
“Don’t thank me,” he replies. “What kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t nag you about your safety? You’d have to fire me immediately, baby.”
“Trade to Arizona?”
He barks out a laugh.
“Yeah, you’d have to trade me to Arizona,” he agrees.
We hang up. I make sure I have everything, including my meds, before wandering out into the living room.
“Woah, kid. What’s with the sunglasses?” Sid asks when he catches sight of me.
“Relax. I’ve got a migraine. I have medication for it, so I should be fine for tomorrow night.”
“You better not be hiding a concussion from me,” he says, a mild threat.
“I’m not, I swear,” I say with a sigh. “I’m not an idiot.”
He keeps the radio at a noticeably lower volume during the ride to the airport. I lean my head against the window for the duration and try to focus on the fact that I can settle in for another nap when we get onto the plane.
The guys give me funny looks when I board, closely following Sid, but I shrug and take my new usual seat towards the back. Sam isn’t here yet. He gives me a similar look as the other when he arrives, though.
“Migraine,” I say quietly, shrugging with a single shoulder.
“Ouch,” he replies, settling into his seat and buckling up. “You see the trainers for it?”
“I already have medication for it,” I say. “Should be fine for tomorrow.”
“If you say so,” he replies. “Want me to grab Puck for you?”
“Yeah, please,” I agree. He unbuckles and stands, opening the compartment above our heads where I always shove the penguin PillowPet Chara gave me the first time Boston played at PPG Paints after my trade. I thank Sam when he hands it over, even managing a smile.
Takeoff goes fine. I put the PillowPet in the window and lean my head against it. The white noise of the cabin lulls me to sleep, and I finally feel a little better when Sam shakes me awake as we’re landing.
I text Jace as we’re all piling into the elevator to go up to our rooms, avoiding Sid’s eyes the entire ride. He’ll know everything the next time I see him, and the idea is terrifying.
Sam cranks the A/C up once we get into our room as always. I shrug into a button-up from my bag and lay out some clothes to change into when we get back from the team dinner.
“You sure you’re alright?” Sam says, sitting down on the bed closest to the window like usual.
“I don’t know, man, you’ve been kinda weird since I told you about the Boston trade this morning,” Sam continues.
His expression changes as he connects the dots like the smart boy he is. “Is it the guy? Volkov?”
I shrug, plucking at the bedspread beneath me.
“We had a bit of a problem back in Boston. He’s a total asshole and I want nothing to do with him, but now he’s on our team, so.”
“What’d he do, sleep with your girlfriend?” he jokes, knowing full well that I’m a straight female with a boyfriend.
I can feel my face contort. The smile drops from his face when I don’t laugh.
“We should probably head down to meet the team,” I say, getting to my feet and heading to the door.
Sid isn’t in the huddle of, ahem, penguins in the lobby when we get down there. That just makes me even more nervous, though, because Sid is never late to basically anything and people are going to ask. Some other guys are still absent, though, so it might not be that bad.
He shows up a couple minutes later with an expression I can’t quite read on his face. Blueger and Marino get off the elevator right after him, though, so at least he wasn’t the last guy to join our huddle.
I purposely sit on the opposite end of the table as Sid for dinner. Sam takes note of this because of course he does, but he doesn’t actually say anything like the absolute bro he is. I mostly just push the food on my plate around with my fork for the majority of the meal. My appetite disappeared this morning along with the news of the worst case scenario trade.
I somehow end up next to Sid in the line to get on the bus. I don’t look over.
“You can tell G and Tanger, if you think it’s a good idea,” I mutter without turning my head, lurching forward and onto the bus before he can reply.
I get a text from Sid as soon as the bus starts pulling away from the restaurant.
-do you want to talk about it?
-are you sure you’re ok with me telling G & T
yeah. Jace’s worried.
-is it ok if I ask you some questions?
-this was the thing that helped you get traded, right?
-has he tried to contact you?
well. he’s flying out to be here for the game tomorrow, right? it’s only a matter of time
-i’m gonna talk to Mario when we get back
-if that’s ok
that’s it, tho
no one else
-alright. I gotta ask: are you okay?
things were really bad last year. i’m really lucky you guys were so patient w/ me back then. i’m mostly fine these days. stupid shit sets me off sometimes, but really not often
i started getting migraines after everything last year
-no one on the team ever done anything?
-have to ask, sorry
-i kinda wanna wring V’s neck rn
i won’t stop you
-pancakes tomorrow morning?
we have practice
-captain power :)) don’t worry abt it
lobby @ 10?
I tuck my phone back into my pocket and suppress the relieved sigh that wants to come out. Sid found out and the world didn’t end.
_/ * \_
Sam grumble about “the captain playing favorites” as he gets ready for practice at around seven a.m. I keep my eyes shuts and drift straight back to sleep.
Sid is sitting on one of the couches in the lobby when I get down there.
“Hi,” I say awkwardly. He gets to his feet at my words.
“Hey,” he replies, equally awkward, because we’re a sad fucking pair. “Is it okay if I hug you?”
“Sure,” I agree, allowing myself to be pulled into his arms. The height difference isn’t as crazy as it is with me and the other guys. I probably would’ve said no if it was most of the other guys asking. It’s normally a blanket yes for the team, but I’m feeling particularly brittle today.
“Okay, buddy,” I say, patting his back, “pancakes, huh? Before you make me cry in the lobby.”
We get an Uber to an IHOP close enough to the hotel to be reasonable. I order an ungodly stack of red velvet pancakes that practically sends Sid into a diabetic coma just at the sound of it.
“I’m glad you trusted me with this, you know,” he says, taking a sip of his water.
“I wasn’t even able to tell you myself,” I mutter, fiddling with straw in my glass of apple juice. Even more sugar. The team nutritionist is going to have an aneurysm.
“So? You made the decision to let Jace do it for you. He was the only person who knew, and you took the step forward to include me,” he replies.
“I guess,” I mumble back.
It’s easier to talk once the pancakes arrive, which is so stupid I can’t even put it into words, but I’m not going to complain. I use the provided butter on each of the three layers.
“He used a knife on me,” I say casually, picking up the butter knife.
He splutters a bit as I start cutting the pancakes into pieces.
“Yeah, here and here,” I reply, pulling down the collar of Dumo’s hoodie to show the scar on my neck and gesturing to the general area of my chest. “Scarred so bad because I just slathered it in liquid bandaid every time it started bleeding again.”
“That’s…horrible,” Sid says quietly as I’m shoving two pieces of the pancakes into my mouth.
“Yeah,” I agree, using a cheerful tone that in no way corresponds to the conversation’s subject. “Oh, and a mini-stick. The handle. He used that on top of everything else he did. I don’t even remember why I brought it with me, so stupid.” I stuff more pancakes into my mouth, chewing over the silence that’s fallen over our table of two.
I’m pretty sure I’ve stunned him into silence, so I shrug to myself before continuing.
“I’ve never told anyone that part,” I add, spearing another piece with my fork, “not even Jace.” I pop the piece into my mouth and chew thoughtfully. I don’t really know why Sidney is the one I’ve decided to spill all my guts to, but here we are.
“I’m sorry all this shit happened to you, Chris,” he says finally. I shrug again. There’s nothing any of us can do about the past.
“Do you think I’ll have to play with him? On a line?” I say quietly, stabbing some more pieces a little harsher than necessary.
“I don’t think so. Coach’ll probably toss him on the fourth,” Sid replies, setting his fork down as a determined look appears on his face. “Maybe I should call Mario right now.”
“No, don’t, it’s okay,” I say quickly. “It’s one game, Sid.”
“One game too many,” he insists.
“Yes. If I opened up my mouth back before our playoff run last season, when I met with Mario and spilled a majority of the beans, this wouldn’t be happening.”
“You couldn’t have known.”
“Well, yeah. When Sam told me I was sure there was no way I could be this unlucky,” I agree, shoving more pancake pieces into my mouth. “Guess it’s all the insane amount of luck that got me into the NHL finally catching up with me.”
“That wasn’t luck,” he says, offering the first smile I’ve seen from him all day.
“I had to lie to a lot of people to get here, Sidney. I’m still lying. To a lot of people,” I reply. “Took a lot of luck to have so many people believe me, you know, not look at anything too closely.”
We stop the conversation there to keep from straying into topics that would be incriminating if someone were to record us. I can never be too careful. He finishes his food and chats to me about some of the guys on the Dallas team until I’m done eating.
Sam chirps the hell out of me when he gets back to our hotel room for our afternoon nap after Sid and I headed back.
“You’re still acting kind of weird,” he says, kicking off his shoes and flopping down backwards onto his bed, “Though your special Sid outing was gonna make it better.”
I crack a dry smile, removing my own shoes and crawling under the covers of my bed.
“Not the kind of thing that can just get better,” I offer up.
“The Volkov problem?” he guesses.
“Mmhm,” I hum back, curling onto my side to look at him from across the gap between the beds.
“He seemed like a normal guy at practice,” Sam reasons.
“Yeah, I bet he did,” I mutter, unlocking my phone and turning away from him.
I hear him get out of bed but don’t expect him to touch my shoulder. I lurch forward away from him.
“Don’t—” I stilt out.
“Sorry,” he says, pulling his hand away with wide eyes. “I’m just kinda worried about you, Chris.”
I sit up and lean back against the headboard, eyeing him warily.
“Don’t worry about it,” I say quietly. “Sid’s taking care of it.”
“Volkov, right?” he presses.
“Yes! Christ, Sam, how many fucking times are you gonna ask?” I exclaim, finally reaching my boiling point. “We don’t get along. He’s not the kind of guy you want around, especially not on your team. Sidney’s gonna get Mario to bury him in WB until he can trade him without it looking so weird, and then I’ll go back to normal, and you can stop asking.”
He takes a step away, backing up until he’s sitting on the edge of his bed.
“I’m sorry I’ve been bothering you,” he says softly. I shake my head, pulling my knees up to my chest.
“Gosh, don’t be sorry. I’m sorry for freaking out just now. I like that you care, okay? You’re, like, my best friend, Sammy. I wish I could tell you what the problem is, but I’m just not there yet. Sid only knows because I had Jace tell him for me.”
“It’s that serious?” he says.
“Well then you take your time. I won’t bother you anymore.”
“You can still be there,” I murmur. “Just stop asking about him, is all I’m saying.”
“Alright. It’s a deal, Weasel,” he agrees, holding out a fist for me to bump. The tension in the air lessens significantly once I do.
We settle in fully for our pregame naps, and I do my best to turn my brain off.
_/ * \_
As luck will have it, Volkov is placed in a stall on the opposite side of the room from me. I only realize when I feel eyes tracking me as I gear up and loom over to meet his. He gives a shark-like grin and I look down quickly, my hands suddenly shaking as I struggle to tie my skate laces.
Jarry nudges me from my left.
“Okay?” he asks.
“Peachy,” I reply, which is basically my standard “no, but let’s pretend I am for right now,” response.
“Anyone I can beat up tonight for you?” he tries.
I smile softly and shake my head.
“No. Thanks, though, big guy,” I reply twisting around to grab my phone.
sid, sam, and jars are in full on papa bear mode right now, so you have nottthhing to worry about, bby
-you told sam & J???
no, but they, like, sniff out when i’m acting weird and automatically activate fix-it
worry penguins <3
-V staying away?
looking, but no words yet
-it’s just this one game, right?
yeah, sid’s making sure
-text me at intermission? i’m watching the game :)
see you then :D
I tuck my phone onto the shelf in my stall. Geno appears in front of me seemingly out of nowhere, a serious expression on his face.
“Baby Sid doing okay?” he asks. I smile shyly.
“Yeah, G,” I reply, tottering up to my feet on my skates. “Ready to make Bishop cry.”
“No one’s giving you any problems?” Tanger asks, coming up from behind Geno to join the conversation. I know what this is. Sid told them and now they want to kick Volkov’s teeth in, and they’re looking for any reason to do so.
“Everything’s fine,” I insist a little tightly. “One game and it’s not a problem anymore. I’ll go out to see Seguin tonight, drag Sam along with me, and I’ll be able to pretend the last two days never happened.”
The pair exchange a look, but Sully comes into the room, cutting off whatever degree of worry was about to bombard me.
Sully keeps me on the third line as always, centering, because we just started working on me as Geno’s right wing. Sully’s trying out a huge juggling of the current lines, but it’s not getting too far considering the fact that trying me out on the wing is going terribly. It’s a disaster. I don’t think I’m moving anywhere anytime soon.
Volkov is paired with Schultz, so hopefully I won’t be on the ice with him very often.
He comes off a shift and plops himself right down beside me on the bench five minutes into the first.
“Hey, babe,” he says into my ear. “We’ve missed you back in Boston.”
I stare back, mouth dropped open in shock. A cold feeling is flooding my system, my fingers suddenly numb in my gloves. Then Geno is there, bullying himself onto the bench to sit between us, ignoring Volkov’s protests.
“Chris okay?” Geno asks.
My face contorts. I, horrifyingly, have the sudden urge to cry. Right in the middle of an NHL game, a game where I’m pretending to be a guy.
“Uh huh,” I lie, but the wobble in my voice gives me away, anyway.
Sully taps me for my shift, so I go over the boards with watery eyes. When I look back over to the bench as I’m waiting for the faceoff, Geno is delivering Volkov some kind of Russian threat.
At least back before Volkov’s trade I could use the anger and fear to fuel my game. Most of my goals against Boston have been because of that. This is more difficult, though, because there is no scoring against Volkov and beating him when he’s on my own team.
I don’t pick up any points all period. Rust snaps one past Andersen and it takes us right into intermission.
I duck past all the worry penguins, snatching my phone from my stall and locking myself into an empty conference room. Jace answers on the first ring, and tears are already slipping down my face at the mere sound of his voice.
“Cal?” he says. I let out a strange choked noise in place of words. I sit down on the floor behind the big table and pull my knees to my chest.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” he soothes, and it might work if he was actually here, but that’s not the case.
“I don’t wanna do this,” I mumble, rubbing my eyes with my free hand.
“You don’t have to, bébé, you don’t.”
“It’s hockey,” I argue, sniffling pathetically. “I have to be grateful to even be here. All the time.”
“What? No,” Jace argues. “You’ve proven yourself. You’ve proven yourself so much, bébé. You can set limits.”
“I wanna play,” I mumble smally. There’s a pause.
“Okay, Cal, okay,” he says, seemingly shifting gears. “Two more periods, huh? Another phone call in twenty minutes, then you’re home free, baby.”
“You’re right, you’re right,” I agree, nodding to myself. That’s not too long.
“Callie?” Jace says suddenly.
“I love you.”
I hiccup, my heart skipping a beat.
“So much,” he confirms. “For a while.”
“Me too,” I confess. “For a while.”
“Yeah?” I can hear the smile in his voice.
“Yeah,” I breathe back.
I check my time and force myself to my feet even though I’d much prefer staying here, hiding, for the remainder of the game.
“I have to go,” I say, wiping my eyes again for good measure.
“It’s okay. I’ll talk to you soon, remember?” he replies.
“I love you,” he adds. Butterflies flutter to life in my stomach.
“I love you, too,” I say shyly, grinning like an idiot.
We hang up. I actually feel significantly better until I actually get back into the locker room. I put my phone back in my stall and avoid the strange looks sent my way at my return. I sit down in my stall and don’t heed any mind to their glances. I just have to get through this. Twenty minutes. Call Jace. Twenty more minutes. That’s it.
The plan sounds easy in my head. Perry calls me “Crosby’s bitch” when we’re fighting in the corner for the puck, though, and shoves me after I send it around the end boards to Sam. I shove him back, which is normal for me, but I do it again after he does when I’d normally let it go.
“You wanna go, bitch?” he asks, so I toss my gloves and go for it.
I don’t remember most of the fight. I get a fist in the left eye for sure, but his face is pretty fucked up too when we’re finally pulled apart. I’m sent straight down the tunnel, trying to ignore the echoes of the time when Volkov called me the same thing, accused me of blowing Crosby to weasel my way into the league.
All of the hands of the trainer on me starts to make my stomach turn. The period ends while I’m on the table. It seems like they’re getting ready to clear me for the third when I can feel the puke coming up and quickly request a bucket. The vomiting sends them all into a total tizzy, convinced I have a concussion, which just brings more touching, so I just feel worse and worse as time goes on.
“I wasn’t feeling good before the fight, guys, I swear,” I say, which isn’t even a lie. I’ve been mildly nauseous since I found out about the trade itself.
They’re not convinced. I eventually reach my breaking point.
“This isn’t a physical thing,” I say lowly to Melissa. “You’re all touching me too much. That’s it. It’s freaking me out.”
“Psychological,” she says, clearly unimpressed.
“It’s a long story. Also none of your business. Just back off and let me sit here for the period and if you’re still worried after the game’s ended, I’ll go to the ER.”
This seems to placate her. Nobody really volunteers to miss an entire period, let alone go to the ER.
“Okay?” Sid asks when he comes by to check on me.
“Fine. I’m out for the third, though,” I reply. “They think I have a concussion.”
“I threw up a couple times,” I say with a shrug, gesturing to the bucket sitting on my crisscrossed legs. “I already wasn’t feeling so good starting, like, this morning. Then, I got back here and they wouldn’t stop touching me.”
“Oh it’s a—” he pauses, lowering his voice and leaning forward to presumably give us some privacy, “an anxiety thing?”
“I guess, yeah. I’ll just chill here til the end of the game and it’ll be fine.”
He still looks worried, but goes to grab my phone and some Gatorade when I ask him to.
out for the game, but ok
all the trainers, like, converged on me at once. freaked me out, all of the hands on me
they panicked, think I have a concussion
compromised, i’ll skip third and go to the ER if they’re still unconvinced
i’m ok, tho, promise
-you better not be lying
-concussions aren’t something to fuck around with Cal
-why’d you fight Perry, anyway?
he called me sid’s bitch
like V did way back
and i flipped, like a psycho
-we play him next week
-i’m gonna knock his teeth in
someone’ll construct a feud and we’ll never hear the end of it
-there is a feud
it’s one guy. people have said stuff like this to me before. V has me extra on edge right now is all
Jace and I text back and forth for a while. Melissa lets me watch the game on a tablet after some minor beginning. We were actually down by one coming out of the second, but I guess my fight brought some hype to the team because Rust and Tanger each knock one into the net, the pair of goals only thirty seconds apart.
We win the game. Melissa takes me through the concussion testing and is thankfully satisfied when I perform normally. I’m declared not-concussed and head back to the locker room.
“Howdy, y’all,” I drawl, making my way to my stall.
“All good?” Sam calls.
“All good,” I agree. “Just them being overly-cautious.”
My phone chimes with a text as I’m changing.
-still going out tonight?
I send back an affirmative to Seguin. I’m going to treat myself to some horrifyingly off-diet plan food.
_/ * \_
Sam allows himself to be dragged out to the bar by me as I expected. Seguin brought Benn along, as well, so they take half of the booth.
“Ouch,” Jamie says when I slide into the booth with Sam close behind. “That bruises up quick.”
“Yeah, well. Fist to the eye and all that,” I reply, shrugging.
“I honestly thought it’d be a lot worse since they kept you out of the third,” Tyler says.
“I puked my guts into a bucket when I got back to the trainers, so they wanted to be cautious.”
Sam jerks a bit from beside me and gives me a surprised look when I turn my head. Right. He didn’t know.
“But no concussion?” Tyler presses, suddenly concerned.
“Nah. I’ve just had a rough past couple of days is all,” I reply.
“Hey! I just remembered you got another Boston reject yesterday. How’s that going, anyway?” Tyler asks, changing the subject.
I bristle, fiddling with the corner of the laminated menu.
“He’s not gonna be around long, so don’t get too excited,” I say quietly.
“No? he just got there. Played pretty good tonight, too,” Jamie says.
I look around the bar, an incredibly paranoid move, before leaning forward.
“I’m gonna tell you three something that, like, five people know in total. You can’ tell anyone,” I start, speaking lowly. I wait until they all nod in agreement before continuing. “I asked for my trade, and because of the situation they were in, they basically had no choice.”
“What do you mean?” Jamie says, eyebrows furrowed.
“Volkov had a very serious problem with me. He did some really not nice things to me. Management handled it terribly, I had proof of everything, so it was either they traded me where I wanted to go or I expose them,” I explain quietly.
“And nobody outside of Boston management knew about Volkov, so the Pens traded for him. And Boston didn’t warn anyone, probably because they were still bitter about being forced to give you up, right?” Sam finishes for me. I nod.
“I actually told them to roast me to the media like they did to you, Ty,” I admit. “None of it was true, but I was fine with it as long as I got out of Boston. As long as I went to Pittsburgh, too.”
There is a pause where nobody speaks. Our waiter appears with our drinks and food. I accept the large plate of potato skins with wide eyes. I think it’s about time I stop eating like shit because the team nutritionists are literally going to murder me when they hear what I’ve been eating.
“So. What did Volkov do to warrant all that?” Seguin asks. Sam looks to me expectantly, as well.
“Well, I mean, uh,” I stammer, rubbing at the scar on my neck absentmindedly.
“Did he do that?” Sam exclaims, yanking my hand away. I shove him away harder than necessary, tugging my hoodie up to cover the scar.
“Yes, Samuel,” I bite out with a glare. “Among other things.”
“Christ. I kind feel bad people are calling you the new me, then,” Tyler says.
I shrug, finally picking up a potato skin and cramming it into my mouth.
“Doesn’t bother me,” I reply. “You made yourself at home in Dallas and you seem happy there. I get to do that in Pittsburgh now. If I had the choice, that would’ve been where I was from the beginning.”
Jamie and Tyler look at each other to share a bright smile. Sam tries to smile at me, too, but I don’t return it. I’m going to need to have a serious talk with him about personal space and privacy later.
My phone starts to vibrate against the table, Jace’s face proudly displayed. It’s right on cue. He always calls after games.
I answer it, listening in to the table’s conversation all the while.
“Hey, I’m out with Seg, Benn, and Sam right now,” I say in greeting.
“Who’s he talking to?” Tyler whispers across the table to Sam.
“Oh, just her boy—” Sam begins, but stops talking, eyes wide, when he realizes his mistake.
I groan, resting my face in my hands. This is way too much for me to deal with in one night.
“Yeah, I’m gonna have to call you back later,” I say tiredly. “Sam is being an idiot again.” I hang up and shove my phone into my hoodie pocket, turning on Sam.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I exclaim.
“I didn’t mean to, I’m so sorry,” he stammers out.
I sigh again, running my hands down my face as I turn to look at Segs and Jamie. They’re wide-eyed and confused just as I expected them to be.
“Alright, welcome to the Callie Holden club,” I say lowly. “First rule of the club is you don’t talk about the club.”
“So, lemme get this straight. You’re…a girl, but you’re pretending not to be?” Tyler says slowly.
“Exactly. Simply. Nothing changes. I’m Chris. You’re Tyler. That’s it. The only hockey player allowed to call me Callie is Jace Thomas, and only in private.” I pause, eyes flicking between the two Stars. “If you tell anyone, there are plenty of players bigger and scarier than me who will be more than happy to end your career,” I add, smiling sweetly.
“Oh, wow. Message received, secret safe,” Jamie agrees, holding up his palms in surrender.
There’s another lapse in conversation. I munch down on my potato skins and ignore the way my hands are shaking.
“You’re doing an amazing job at hiding all of this,” Jamie remarks.
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t,” I reply.
“Are you ever gonna tell, like, everyone?” Tyler asks.
“Not anytime soon, no. Years, probably, if I can have my way. It’s only about time someone from home recognizes my face and says something to the right reporter, though. I probably won’t have much of a choice,” I reply.
The pair nod in understanding.
“Is that why you’ve been playing so insanely? Establish that reputation?” Tyler says, waggling his eyebrows. I snort, shrugging.
“That’s how I’ve always played.”
_/ * \_
I don’t talk to Sam the entire ride back to the hotel. He follows me to our room in silence. If I were to look back at him he’d almost certainly give me puppy dog eyes, which is why I don’t. I’d probably punch him.
“I can’t believe you did that,” I say after he’s closed the door behind us.
“I know, Chris. I’m sorry. They seem like good guys, though, so I really don’t think they’ll tell anyone.”
“That’s not the point, Sam. I only tell people who I know can be mindful enough not to let anyone else know, especially by accident,” I say, trying to keep myself from freaking out. “You didn’t just slip up, you were going to tell them about my boyfriend. On purpose. Why?”
He stares back, mouth popped open like I’ve caught him doing something he shouldn’t.
“What’s so great about him, anyway?” he says, his demeanor shifting dramatically. It’s kind of terrifying.
“Jace,” he replies, crossing his arms.
“Why does that matter?” I say carefully.
“You know he was an asshole to girls before he got with you, right?”
“Says lotsa guys in the league, Chris,” he snarks back. “Why’d you pick him of all people?”
I stare back in a minor state of shock. Where the hell is all of this coming from?
“Are you jealous?” I ask, thoroughly confused.
The expression on his face explodes.
“Yes, I’m jealous! I have fucking feelings for you!” he exclaims, his voice probably too loud for the time of night.
The confession renders me speechless. He speaks again before I can even figure out what to say.
“What makes that asshole so special? Why was he the first one to know everything?”
I’m so angry suddenly that I can’t stop the truth from spilling out.
“You know what Volkov did to me? He raped me after an away game in Jersey. I went to high school with Jace, and I was so scared that other guys on the team were in on what he did, so I asked him for help. And he stuck around even though I didn’t ask him to,” I say lowly. “He was there before you. I love him. You’re my best friend, Sam, and I love you, too, but not like Jace. The fact that I had to tell you all of this to get you to back off makes me sick.”
“Christ, I had no idea,” he whispers.
“I told you Volkov did something really bad to me, I told you Jace helped me. That should be all you have to know to leave it alone, but you just have to push and push for information I’m not ready to give you all the time.”
“I’m sorry, Chris,” he says.
“You have a girlfriend, Sam.”
He looks down, kicking at the carpet with his shoe.
“Not anymore,” he replies. “We broke up two weeks ago.”
“And then you caught feelings for me?”
“I think you’re confused, Sam. We spend a lot of time together. We see each other every day. I get it. I really think this is just a rebound thing. That’s probably not what you wanna hear right now, Sam, but I know you, and I’m not your type.”
“Chris…” he begins, sounding vaguely heartbroken.
“I really hope it’s just a rebound thing,” I continue, voice wobbling as I move towards me luggage.
I zip up my bag and grab everything around the room that’s mine. Sam looks on without saying anything.
“I’m gonna go stay with Sid, okay? Please just…please just think this through, okay? I really care about you and I don’t want things to be…all fucked up.”
He doesn’t say anything even as I leave. I stand outside of Sid’s door for a few minutes, trying to figure out what the hell just happened. I eventually knock, prepared for the irritated Sid that answers the door.
His face instantly shifts from annoyed to concerned.
“What happened? Are you okay?” he asks, and it’s then that I finally feel the tears on my cheeks.
“Sam thinks he’s in love with me,” I blurt out. It’s not exactly what he said, but it’s what I’m seriously afraid of.
Needless to say, Sid pulls me quickly into his room, shutting and locking the door behind us. I tell him everything, alternating between sniffling and actively crying as Sid keeps handing me tissues.
“Why would he do that?” I mumble. “Why would he say all that?”
“I don’t know, Chris,” Sid says softly.
“Do you think I’m right? Do you think he’s just confused?” I say desperately.
“I definitely think it’s a possibility, kiddo. I know the two of you are pretty close, so it makes sense that his breakup might’ve made him see things that aren’t there,” he agrees.
“What do I do now?” I say, wiping at my face again.
“I think some time apart would help. Some distance to get some perspective.”
I nod, tossing the tissue in my hand into the garbage. Sid hands me my PillowPet Puck when I turn back towards him. I offer him a wobbly watery smile.
We share the single king sized bed, our heads at each other’s feet. It takes me a while to fall asleep, so I only get a few hours of sleep before we have to get up for breakfast.
It’s awkward. The fact that I avoid sitting anywhere near Sam definitely doesn’t go unnoticed. Geno sits on my left and Sid on my right as I shovel scrambled eggs into my face and ignore everyone’s curious glances. I sit with Dumo on the plane, who’s surprised when I ask but agrees nonetheless.
A migraine hits me at full force halfway through the flight. I scooch past Dumo to get to my bag in the overhead, rifling around for my pills. I pop two and sit back down, focusing on my breathing.
“What’s up with you?” Dumo asks unceremoniously. I open up one eye to squint at him.
“I have a migraine,” I reply.
“Yeah. Happens sometimes.”
“Do you want me to move so you can stretch out?” he suggests.
“Nah, it’s a short flight. I’ll be okay.”
Dumo hands me his sunglasses as we’re landing. The sun is out and loud at this point in the day. Sid guides me to the car and doesn’t say much on the ride home.
I curl up on the couch once we get inside, my arms bracketed around my head. The pills seem to have done nothing.
Sid nudges me over. I’m confused for a second, and annoyed, but move anyway.
“In my lap,” he says softly. I don’t know what he means at first, but figure he means my head. I scooch back towards him a bit and lower my head gingerly into his lap.
He brushes his fingers over my eyelids and just under the ridges of my eyebrows, back and forth with some minor pressure. It isn’t an instant fix, but it definitely feels good. I relax a bit, trying not to think and just fall asleep.
“Taylor did this for me sometimes during my concussions,” Sid explains, his voice at the perfect low volume.
“S’nice,” I breathe back.
I fall asleep just like that.