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To be honest, the shock of being manhandled by a person I had never seen before stunned me. No one had dared to lay a hand on me since I had grown into my skates during puberty. Granted, he was attractive in a rugged way, with short red hair and eyes dark as bittersweet chocolate. He was shorter than I was by four or so inches, but stocky and strong. Obviously powerful enough to hoist me against the wall and hold me in place.
“Let go of me.” I growled in French. He held tight, levering more of his weight into the hold. “I warn you, I do not allow people to touch me without permission, and you are lacking permission.”
“You’re acting a fool,” he replied in my native tongue. When I shoved, he shoved back, so I pushed harder, my teeth bared. Not once did he blink or show any sign of aggression, he merely held me down. My anger began to cool, minute by minute, as we stood staring at each other while the world moved in a slow-motion pace around us. “Are you a professional hockey player or a spoiled brat?”
“Fuck you,” I snapped, breaking the hold and the odd sort of spell he’d held me in. His hands fell to his sides. I righted my sweater while glowering at him. “I am not sure who you think you are to come into my barn and tell me how I am to act!” That I shouted in English so that all the little nosy Rush players peeking around the glass at us heard me.
“I’m here to fix things,” he said, his voice smooth as scotch and oddly devoid of any sort of accent. A well-educated man by the sounds as he enunciated each word clearly and calmly.
“Fix things? Pah. What here needs a fix?” I waved my hand in the air, the blocker barely missing his nose.
“You, for a start.”
He walked off then, taking a turn by the skate sharpening room. I liked the way he moved, with a purpose. The man reminded me of a badger I had seen once out hunting with my older brother and some friends in Ontario. Beautiful coloring, small ears, power hiding in a stocky build, and sharp teeth and claws. An animal one did not mess with unless one wished to lose a hand…
When I turned to look out at the ice, everyone leaped back out of sight. Fuckers. Knowing I had to save face, I whipped my blocker and glove at the wall, cussed vividly for a long time and then slammed into the dressing room. The team crept in one by one, each man giving me a wide berth and skittish looks.
“No one talks to me for the rest of the day,” I announced loudly when Goog took a step in my direction. He backtracked to his cubicle with haste.
So, thankfully, I was not disturbed by anyone, which was good. I showered, dressed, and left the arena, grateful to find that the warmth of September still lingered in the air. Soon it would be October and the air would chill, and with that cooler weather the regular season would begin. Not that we would be in any sort of place to contend for anything with the chaos in upper management. A fish rots from the head down my mother says, and that is true. The Rush were a stinky mackerel at the moment, and that confusion irritated and unsettled me.
Home was a brick rowhouse ten minutes from the rink. I’d worked hard to make the place mine over the years, and as soon as I stepped into the cool blues and soft grays I felt the tension in my shoulders begin to loosen. Toeing off my shoes at the door, I walked into the living room and over to the fifty-five-gallon aquarium where my angelfish swam around in lazy circles. I’d once read that keeping fish lowers stress and since I couldn’t really juggle a dog or cat with my travel schedule, fish were easy to maintain. My neighbor, an elderly woman, fed them every day when I was gone. Mrs. Prendergast also watered my spider plant and gathered the mail that fell through the slot.
“Bonjour,” I cooed at the silver-and-black fish as I sprinkled flakes on top of the bubbly water. I had four angelfish in the tank, big as my hand they were, with beautiful long fins. “You are so pretty,” I told them, closing the lid then dropping down to sit on my blue sofa to enjoy them for a while. They ate for a few moments and then swam around, gliding gracefully through the broadleaf plants or behind the driftwood sitting on the cool blue stones covering the bottom of the tank.
I checked my texts, finding one from my brother, Pascal, that I smiled at. A picture of his new baby boy, Jean-Claude, who was fat and smiling and looked a great deal like me at that age. I sent off a message.
He looks like his uncle.
I waited for a reply.
Yes, Marie says the same. Poor child.
That made me chuckle. We had a good relationship now, but for several years during our childhood we’d lost contact. My parents had split up, Mama keeping me and Papa taking Pascal to Ontario. The distance between us was over five hours, and we were allowed only one call a week. It was an ugly time, with my parents battling over every little thing and using us boys as pawns. My father tried to turn my brother against my mother, and my mother worked at making me hate my father. Finally, when Pascal was eighteen, he told Papa that he was done missing his brother and he left Toronto in his old beat-up Subaru and drove back to Mont-Tremblant.
Mama and I had been ecstatic to see him. I’d been six when they split, Pascal ten, so eight years had passed. Pascal had stayed in Quebec for four years, moving back to Ontario when Papa was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was quite advanced into the sickness by then, being close to fifty. Mama still refuses to see him but she does send him cards in the mail. I spend as much time as I can with both parents, as Pascal does. Growing up there had been so much anger. The adults never spoke, they yelled, all the time, no matter what, shouting…
My phone buzzed in my hand, pulling me from the past with a jolt. Another text but not from my brother, this was from the Rush, an internal memo from Helen Martin from marketing to remind us that tomorrow night’s first preseason game against the Allentown Admirals would include a fan appreciation contest. I glanced up at my fish and sighed then went back to the email. All tickets were on sale for five dollars and one lucky fan would be given access to the pregame skate, coming out onto the ice with us, and then sitting on the bench throughout the first period. The message was signed rather pointedly…
Please come to the game with your warmest smiles and happiest attitudes in place – Helen
“I am always warm and happy,” I told my phone right before I deleted the email.
*a new episode appears each Sunday, check the master list for updates.