JARED

Okay, this was not how I saw my next two days turning out. In my head, I was flying back to Harrisburg in comfort with my notebook, examining game film, working on a worrying third pairing, and then landing to go back to my lovely safe house. With Ten and Charlotte.

“Tell me again why I’m doing this?” I asked Ten under my breath as I loaded my gear into the tiny trunk. I shoved it into the space and cursed when it wouldn’t quite fit, thumping it hard until it finally hooked under the edge.

“Because babe, he’s my best friend, and I sometimes think that you and he don’t quite see eye to eye.”

I glanced at my idiot volunteering-type husband and rolled my eyes. “We do,” I pointed out.

“But I want my best friend and my husband also to be best friends.”

I winced as “Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me” blared out from the stereo, but Ten patted my shoulder. “I’ll meet you back home.”

“I think I hate you,” I muttered, and then closed the trunk and saw that Stan was right there staring at me and grinning widely.

“Much speed,” the big Russian announced as he climbed into the driver’s side and reached open to shove open my door. I kissed Ten with all the desperation of a man going to the gallows and then kissed him again, just for luck.

“Nah, you love me, really,” Ten waited until I was in the car before tapping the roof. “Bye.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but Stan drove off before I had a chance, and I clung to the door handle as he careened out of the Raptor’s parking lot and headed out. A group of fans was at the gate, waving at Stan madly, and I slunk into the seat as he waved back and took his hand off the wheel. If I made it to Harrisburg alive, it would be a miracle.

It took ages just to get out of the city. I wasn’t sure what was going to kill me first, Stan’s race driver handling of the car, or the ear-splitting volume of Elvis, although I’d managed to turn down the music on two separate occasions when he was busy pointing out things I didn’t want to see. When we stopped for lunch in a diner outside Las Cruces, New Mexico, I beat him back to the car and was quick to be in control of the stereo. He let me get away with it for a few seconds of some random playlist, and then we were back to Elvis.

“So, the game,” I said a little desperately, given we were on what seemed like the one-thousandth play of “Blue Christmas”. If I knew hockey players, having been one myself, it was talking hockey was the one thing that stopped them listening to Elvis… or whatever.

At least he turned it down. “I know people,” he said ominously, and I didn’t even want to think about what was coming next. “Iceman, I take out Ryker for you.”

Take out? How do you mean that?” I asked, a touch of dread skipping up my spine.

Top down, the wind blowing his hair, arm draped casually over the steering wheel, Stan gave me a wink.

“You know what I am meaning,” he replied, then went off on a tangent about being able to poke check Ryker better than any other goalie in the league.

“Oh, you meant to take him out of the play in hockey!” I gasped as we raced down a long stretch of desert highway at a speed I didn’t dare guess at.

“Of course. What other way do you think I mean…oh, no. We are both married men. Of course, Ryker is most cute, but I have a happy home with Erik and my children so no taking out dating of your son.” He glanced over, smiling at me, his retro TCB gold Elvis sunglasses glinting in the setting sun. “Also, Jacob is big moose-sized man. Will punch me in the nose if I ask out his husband.”

“No, I didn’t mean…” And then I thought better of it and went with it. Explaining what I’d been fearing would be far more awkward. “Right, yes, Jacob would punch you in the nose. Forget I mentioned it. So…uhm…how are the kids?”

If hockey didn’t work, then talking about the children would. I was a dad. I knew things. I blinked in shock as we raced past a roadrunner. I was going to die out here in the desert, and only the coyotes would know where my bones lay.

“They are most amazing!” I sighed as he began an hour-long ramble about the three kids, the dogs, his cat, Mama, and something about Heelys. “So we all buy some because spending time with children is most important. I am good on the wheels but Mama is not. So she hacks out the wheels out of her sneakers with kitchen knife. Now she has sneakers with hole in bottom. When I ask why she makes hole in sneaker with steak knife she says if ‘God had wanted us to be wheeling on feet he would have made us bumper buggies.’”

“Makes sense.” Who was I to argue with Mama? “Look, a hotel!” I shouted as I tried to work out what a bumper buggy was.

“Oh, it is one with the lights left on all night for us. I like those commercials. I think they are for cowboys but are also not because they do not wish to say no to non-cowboy guests. Maksim would be good for this hotel! He has spurs that mingle-mangle-mingle.”

“Jingle-jangle-jingle,” I corrected before I could stop myself.

“Happy holidays!” he bellowed as we flew by the Hotel 6. Damn it. I’d forgotten we were going straight through. Stan drove for several more hours. At midnight we roared into the parking lot of a CEFCO convenience store in Amarillo, Texas.

I’d never been happier to skid to a stop in my whole life, and I’d been the one who had taught Ryker to drive. Talk about hair-raising.

“Come, Iceman! We fill up gas tank and buy good convenience store foods. Then we watch movies while you drive. I sleep with Elvis on TV for rock and roll background sleeping sounds. I have all of Elvis cinematic masterpieces on my tablet. Since you are newcomer to The King we will start at first movie ever made, Love Me Tender. You will fan boy over it! If we hurry we can do two, maybe three, Elvis film splendors before is time for you to sleep. Why are you looking so pale faced? Did the burritos make your belly upheave into your mouth? If so, I have something Mama makes to settle belly. Works clickity-spit if you can swallow down the clumps of beet leaves.”

I was going to throttle Tennant. If I survived Mama’s beet leaf stomach remedy…

 


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