Tuesday, August 31, 2010

125.) Home

Soundtrack Song - The xx, Basic Space

As soon as Jo and I stepped foot back into Mom’s house, I spotted my Mom in the kitchen. She was standing in the doorway, watching us carefully and waiting for us to make the first move. Her fingers kneaded the towel in her hand, crinkling and wrinkling it before smoothing out the material and repeating that same action, over and over again.

Jo dropped her arm from around me and gently nudged me toward the direction of the kitchen. All it took was one step farther from the door, and Mom came bustling toward me with her arms outstretched. We met in the middle of the living room and hugged each other. I let her do that for a little while, because I knew how much it meant to her. She always came running whenever I had scrapped a knee or got hit too hard with a puck; she was a nurturing mother. But my need for her brand of care had waned.

I was seeing her a little differently now. I still loved her and was indebted to her for all her sacrifices, but it wasn’t the same anymore. This was the first time that she hadn’t been the strong, independent woman that I had always pictured her to be. Nor was she a mother with the only duty to protect her only child. She was less of that idealized person, and now more human instead. All because I had learned about her past that had been built around so much more than me—whereas our life, from the time we had left until now, had always consistently revolved around me and whatever I needed. It was humbling, and it put a lot in perspective.

Mom kissed my cheeks and patted them softly, her mouth spewing out apology after apology. She instructed me and Jo to sit in the living room while she finished with the cookie dough she had begun mixing up. Her method of stress release had always been baking and cooking; I couldn’t really eat the stuff because it was always so decadent and calorie-laden, especially considering I had another game in the Finals to worry about the very next day, but that wouldn’t stop her. Jo and Henrí would be reaping the benefits of her bake-a-thon.

Instead of sitting in the living room, I told Mom that Jo and I were going to head upstairs. “We’re gonna go up to my room.”

“Just as long as you—”
she started to say, but then she cut herself off. I knew exactly what she was going to tell me: Just as long as you keep the door open. However, she didn’t say it. Mom nodded and simply said, “Okay.”

I was surprised by that, because I had expected her to maintain and enforce the rules of the house that I had grown up with and knew so well. I guess things were changing, though, and Mom was starting to accept the relationship I had with my girlfriend, that it was serious and meant a lot to me.

Waving at Jo, I beckoned her to follow me up the stairs. I guided her toward my bedroom door and let her walk through before me. As she plopped on the bed, I closed the door, waiting to hear the distinct click meaning that the door was safely and securely shut behind me.

Jo raised her eyebrow. “I thought you weren’t allowed to have girls up here all alone?”

“I’m not,” I told her, quickly crossing the room and pulling my shirt back over my head. This was the second time I had done this today; the first time was when I had let myself in when Jo was still sleeping. “But then again, you’re not just any old girl.”

She giggled as I climbed right on top of her, pushing her down onto the mattress and not giving her any say in the matter. I pushed her shirt up just below her breasts, and then I kissed her mouth, her neck, and then the delicate skin above her navel. Jo had a line of very soft, thin, blonde hair there on her tummy, and I traced that line lightly with my finger. She laughed again while halfheartedly swatting at my hand. “That tickles, Kris. Stop it.”

“Sorry. I’ll try a little lower.” I unfastened her jeans and lowered the zipper, dragging my lips down past her bellybutton to the very top of her cotton, floral panties.

“But Kris,” she said, stopping my progress and interrupting me. “Your mom’s downstairs.”

“I know. She’s gonna bake some cookies. She’ll be busy for a while.” Sitting up, I grabbed the material of her pant legs and tugged them down over her hips.

“She’ll hear, just like last time. She knows, like, mother’s intuition or something. And I think that maybe she’s just beginning to like me.” When I kissed the inside of her thigh, I felt the muscle underneath her skin quiver. Her next words sounded strained. “I don’t want to, uh, ruin, um, that.”

I chuckled. “Wow. You know, I wanted you two to get along, but not if that meant I can’t make love to my own girlfriend when I want to.” Then I kissed the juncture between her legs over her panties. I pressed my tongue against the cotton fabric and found her clit; I knew I hit the spot when her body shuddered. “Is there anything I can do to convince you?”

“You’re sure? I mean, it’s the Finals....”

“I’m very sure,” I told her. I moved up along her body and rubbed myself against her, simulating sex with our clothes still on. The firm texture of my denim jeans against her sensitive skin put a spark of lust in her eyes. There’d be no more dissension from her on this matter.

This was definitely what I wanted to do. Right now, my life felt like utter and complete chaos. Nothing was going right, and I felt like I was out to sea with tired legs, barely managing to tread water to keep my head above crashing waves around me. But there was one thing that wouldn’t ever change: the perfect way I fit and meshed with Jo. Whenever I was inside her, it felt like I was meant to be there. I really wanted that feeling at that moment.

Jo must’ve recognized that emotion on my face, because she said, “Let me take care of you, babe. You’re so stressed, so let me make you feel good.”

“No.” I pushed her shirt up the rest of the way, taking it off completely. Then I pulled down the straps of her bra over her shoulders, just enough so I could scoop her breasts out of the cups. Her nipples were hard as diamonds already. I kissed around her chest, never getting too close to those little pink nubs. Jo twisted and writhed, anxious for me to finish teasing her and start the more pleasing foreplay—just the reaction I had been expecting.

I always knew what to expect from Jo; I knew how she’d react to every little thing I did to her body. I controlled her, and it was nice to be able to control something in my life—especially when that something was an act that would bring pleasure. When I flicked my tongue over the pert tip of her breast, she bit her bottom lip and exhaled loudly. Her fingers threaded through my hair and tugged gently. When I kissed it softly, she slid her hands over my shoulders and reached down to begin opening my pants. As soon as the button popped, the pressure off my erection helped me to concentrate on the task at hand. I sucked on her other nipple as she pushed my jeans over my ass and pulled my dick out of my boxers.

She licked her hand and circled her fingers at the base of my penis; not wanting to give her any advantage over me, I hooked the crotch of her panties to the side. I pinched her clit and made her back bow before inserting my index and pointer fingers into her sweet, hot entrance. Jo pumped her hand up and down, and I matched her thrust for thrust as I fucked her with my fingers. If Jo sped up her pace, so did I. If she clamped her muscles down around my hand, she squeezed her hand around my dick. It was just like we were having intercourse without the full-body contact.

But that didn’t last for long. Her hips moved in time with my hand, my hips were in sync with hers, and soon we couldn’t take it anymore. I knew Jo would cave first if I could hold out, so I waited until she spoke up—just like I knew she would. Her free hand tucked a few strands of hair behind my ear, slid to the back of my neck, and quietly moaned in my ear. “Kris.” She licked her lips, and her tongue accidentally, or maybe not accidentally, brushed the shell of my ear. “I need you inside me, Kris.”

I didn’t need her to ask again. I rolled my body to the side, and Jo spread her legs farther apart to make room and accommodate me and then tilted her pelvis. She made it easy for me to drive home, but I probably wouldn’t have needed her help; our bodies could find each other like magnets. It was a force of nature that neither of us could resist.

As I sunk into her awaiting body, Jo made this sound that was like a growl, a moan, and a coo all at once. Whatever it was, it was a sound of pure, unadulterated satisfaction. I placed my elbows on the mattress just above her shoulders, which put me in the best position over her. My body barely hovered over hers, and I could anchor her in one spot so she didn’t move so much as I rocked my pelvis against hers. Jo gyrated against me. I kissed her mouth and neck, sucking and nibbling on her thin flesh. One of her hands cupped the back of my head, keeping my mouth in place against her skin; the other was digging her nails into my ass, making sure that I kept moving.

The bed was creaking, the springs in my old mattress squeaking as they compressed and extended. “You feel so good. You make me feel so good,” she purred quietly. “I love the way you fit in me.”

I took a break from kissing her so I could reply, “Me, too.” I stopped rocking and began to plunge in and out of her. Jo’s eyes fluttered shut, and she wrapped her arms around my shoulders and her legs likewise around my butt. Her mouth was right by my ear, and her breath hit my skin as she panted. Her breath would periodically hitch.

My body hurt. Every muscle ached. It felt like I couldn’t even remember a time in my life when I felt healthy and rested, but that didn’t mean that I could stop or that I even wanted to. As my body yelled and screamed at me to stop, to rest, I kept going. The need to feel Jo come around my dick was greater than my need for respite. I think Jo knew that, so even though I had full intentions of going as long as she wanted, she was speeding things up for me. She tightened around me, bringing me closer to the edge of oblivion faster than I would have liked. I had to make her climax first and make myself hold off until then. I tried to slow down to make things less intense, but that only made it worse—thankfully, though, it had the same effect on her, too. She groaned, and if I hadn’t’ve known better, I would have thought she was in pain.

Even though I was getting closer to the brink, I at least had my wits about me to keep my voice low. I sighed her name. “Jo.”

Her fingers kneaded my back and the heels of her bare feet did the same to the backs of my thighs. “Kris, I love you.” Her back arched again, which pressed her soft breasts into my chest. I could feel her hard nipples against my torso. Suddenly, her body went slack and she fell back onto the mattress. Her breathing became more rhythmic and deep as she recovered, but I was just beginning to reach the end. My balls tightened and twitched, and I felt the familiar yet always gratifying rush of pleasure leave my body.

When I was empty, I fell on top of Jo and nestled back into her arms. My head was empty, too, which was a wonderful feeling. I wasn’t thinking about hockey or the Finals, and I wasn’t thinking about Mom or about Marcel either. At that moment, I was just a man, lying in bed with his girlfriend after a quick but no less enjoyable session between the sheets, soaking up the simple moment.

“Thank you,” I murmured into her hair as I pressed my face into the crook between her shoulder and her neck. She didn’t ask What for? or say You’re welcome before I fell asleep.

I woke up to the scent of warm chocolate. Jo wasn’t lying down with me; she was fully dressed again and sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed, eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Rolling over until I was on my back, I watched as she nibbled on the cookies and got crumbs all over my bed. I adjusted the pillow beneath my head. “Hey.”

“Well, well, well, it’s about time you woke up. I think your mom was going crazy, trying to decide whether to hold off dinner or wake you up.”

“Why didn’t you just wake me up? What time is it?”

“Six.” She shrugged, like it was no big deal that I had been asleep for hours. “I figured you were pretty exhausted and could use the rest. If you’re hungry, I can go tell her that you’re up now.”

“Is everyone waiting on me?” I asked, pushing myself up into a sitting position. The sheet fell back and exposed my bare chest. I began reaching for my clothes that had been strewn across the small room.

Again, Jo shrugged. “Kind of. Henrí’s back from work, Mamie’s here, and your mom put dinner in the oven to keep warm. Everyone understands, Kris. Your mom told them what happened yesterday.”

I exhaled, making my hair fly away from my face. I wasn’t sure that I wanted everyone to know. It made me seem weak—made me feel weak—if they thought that I was having trouble dealing with this. Just because I was having trouble dealing with this didn’t mean that I wanted them to know that. I wanted to have the appearance at least of being strong, even if I was struggling on the inside.

Jo stood up, popped the last bit of cookie in her mouth, licked her fingers, and then picked up my shirt and handed it to me. “It’s okay. It would have been a shock to anyone. Your family just wants to be there for you and support you, Kris. It’s what families do.”

I wanted to call her out on that line of bullshit, because I knew that she couldn’t believe it. Her family wasn’t her support system. I was. Tubby was. Right now, I knew that I could depend on her for anything, and I wasn’t afraid to depend on her like I had once been scared to do. Jo was a part of me now, and I had transitioned from relying on my mother—a momma’s boy is what I had heard some of my former teammates call me—to relying on Jo for comfort and reassurance.

Tossing my shirt over my head and pulling it down my body, I grabbed her hand and squeezed it and tugged on it until Jo was standing in front of me and looking up at me expectantly. “Hey. I just want you to know that I love you.”

She reached up and cupped my chin and cheek. Her thumb caressed my face through my beard, which was so itchy. “I know.” Then she pushed up on her toes and gently kissed my lips. I tried to kiss her back, but she pulled away. “I love you, too, babe. Now let’s go eat.”

We headed down the stairs, Jo leading the way. Everyone stopped talking when we reached the first floor and turned to look at us. Jo just smiled and said she was hungry as she headed into the kitchen. I immediately followed her and avoided talking to anyone in depth. When we were all congregated in the kitchen and getting ready to eat, I hugged Mamie and kissed her cheeks. She patted my cheek and looked at me carefully, of course knowing I had seen Marcel and also knowing that I wouldn’t want to talk about it either.

Mom talked over dinner like nothing happened, chatting away with Mamie about the recipe for dinner and asking Henrí about his day at work. Jo ate without once saying anything to me about being poisoned or there being any arsenic in her food. I held her hand under the table, tracing the lines in her palm with my fingers.

After dinner, I left. I kissed Mom and Mamie and they wished me luck for the next day’s game. Jo walked out to the sidewalk as we waited for the cab to come and get me. Mom had offered to drive me back to the hotel, but I wanted to take a taxi. I wanted the alone time, and generally just time away from her. I still had a lot to think about, considering the rug had just been pulled out from under me and I still wasn’t sure what was the truth and what was lies.

Jo kissed me as the cab rolled up and sent me off with strict orders to call her sometime before the game, or if I just needed to talk at all. I held onto her hips and kissed her good and hard until I finally made myself let go of her to leave.

I had wanted the alone time to think, but I found that once I was alone, I didn’t want to be. I hung out with the guys all evening. We watched movies in Couture’s room until Coach walked by and forced us into our individual rooms. Husky and I talked strategy until he insisted that we get some sleep in preparation for game four.

The next day, I had practice to distract me. I kept my feet moving on the ice and dedicated myself to ever drill and run-through that Coach McLellan lined up for us. I ate my pre-game meal at the hotel with the team and napped for a solid two hours, calling Jo in between like she had instructed me to. I was pretty tired, so we didn’t stay on the phone long. Jo just wanted to hear my voice to make sure things were okay. She was coddling me without trying to be obvious about it, and I knew that. Under normal circumstances, I would have been irritated by it, because I wanted Jo to be looking out for herself, and not for me. With so much going on in my life right now, though, it felt nice to be taken care of and watched out for.

During the game, I was a step behind—or stride behind rather—for all three periods. I was making all kinds of mistakes: I pinched too deep, I coughed up the puck, and I was shooting wide. My mind was preoccupied, and every time I sat on the bench, I was scanning on the crowd for a familiar face. Was Marcel here, watching me? And what was going to happen after the game? Would he be waiting again?

I was getting ahead of myself, and I knew that. But still, I couldn’t stop my mind from drifting to what would go down later. Not being able to keep my head in the game was detrimental to our team, and we dropped game four when Montréal scored. Cammalleri deked past me and scored top shelf on Nabby in the second, and we were never able to even it up to give our team a chance to win.

In the locker room, I apologized to my teammates. If I had been sharper on the ice, that goal wouldn’t have happened. Everyone was pretty bummed about it, because now the series was tied at two games apiece, and now it was like a best of three. We had the chance to go up three to one, and I had blown it and let them all down. None of them blamed me; at least not to my face. But still, I had known what I had done. I couldn’t separate my personal emotions from the game. Sex the day before probably didn’t help, but I knew it would be stupid to place the blame on that. My mind wasn’t in it, and neither was my heart.

We were leaving for San José right after the game, and I couldn’t have been more excited to go home. It was odd for me to think of California as home, but it was a safe place for me right now. I would be able to focus there rather than here, where I was surrounded simultaneously by pressure to succeed by my family and hope of failure by the rest of Montréal as well as the overwhelming concern of seeing my father.

I showered quickly and dressed, but I chose to wait until a big group of my teammates was leaving for the bus that would take us to the airport. I couldn’t get passes this time around, so no one I wanted to see would be waiting for me. There was no reason for me to linger, so I didn’t. Amongst a group of my completely oblivious friends, I sneaked off for the bus. I pretended to keep my eyes trained on the floor, but I used my peripherals to look for the last person I wanted to see.

He wasn’t there.

It felt like everything I had feared was all for naught. Marcel wasn’t waiting for me. He probably hadn’t even showed up for the game. For a split second, I even entertained the thought that I had imagined or dreamed the entire encounter from two days ago and that my mind was just playing tricks on me, but I knew that couldn’t possibly be true since Jo had been a witness to it, too. I shook my head and kept up with the guys as we boarded the bus and departed for the airport, headed to home sweet home.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

124.) Paternal Mess

Soundtrack Song - Yellowcard, Light Up the Sky

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. Kris was obviously in so much emotional pain, and I wanted to take that away—but I didn’t know how. Even though I had listened to their entire conversation, Kris and Marlene spoke in French. For all I knew, Kris could have been telling the truth, but Marlene doted on her son too much to think of him as the reason her life didn’t turn out the way she had originally planned.

“Kris, you are not the reason your parents broke up. Your father was.”

“How do you know?” he bit back at me. “You have no idea what she just said.”

I did my best to ignore that. Kris was hurting in a way that I had never seen before, and a wound that deep would cause anyone—even someone like Kris—to lash out unwarrantedly. “I see the way she looks at you, does everything for you. She loves you more than anyone, more than herself, more than your father, more than whatever other lifestyle she could have had without you. You are her entire world. If she resented you, she wouldn’t have gone through all this. She’s your mother.”

“So? You say that like it means something.”

“It does,” I replied, cocking my head to the side and looking at him carefully. “Mothers love their children no matter what.”

“Like your mother?”

His words stung me. Again, I knew that he didn’t mean to hurt me like that. “My mom’s different. She abandoned me... but your mother, she saved you.”

“You say she saved me, but according to her, you’d think we didn’t need saving. She defends him as a good guy, but he’s not. How could he be? We wouldn’t have had to leave if he was the man she makes him out to be. It doesn’t fucking make any sense. She’s lying about him. She has to be.”

“Why would she lie?”

“She said that she doesn’t want me to hate him, never wanted me to hate him. She’s making it all up so he doesn’t come out looking that bad.” He inhaled and exhaled slowly. His hands balled into fists, and I could see his bicep muscles bunching under the sleeves of his tee shirt, like he was getting ready to fight. “But I hate him. I do. Everything he put her through, and she still defends him.”

I wiggled my toes underneath his thick thigh. There was so much dissonance about whatever it is that his mother told him, which was what was bothering him so much. He didn’t know what to believe, because he couldn’t piece this new information together with what his preconceived notions had been. My voice was soft as I tried to reason aloud. “Well, he is your dad and her ex-husband. I think that she wants you to know that she wouldn’t purposely get involved with someone she didn’t love or trust, and wouldn’t bring someone into your life that wasn’t worthy. She thought things would work out and you guys would be a happy family. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. She doesn’t want to think of him as anything other than a good guy, and you don’t want to think of him as anything other than bad.”

He didn’t like that explanation, I guess, because he didn’t even try to work with it. “Why do you keep defending her anyway? I thought you didn’t like her.”

“Kris, she’s your mom. She practically raised you singlehandedly. She did an amazing job of that. And I respect her for leaving your father. She probably should have left sooner, but you know, some women never leave. Some women think that it’s better to stay, even if that means subjecting themselves and their children to that kind of life. They’re scared of how tough it’s going to be to start over, but your mom did it for you.”

“Well, she should have done it for herself.”

“Does it really matter why? What happened has happened. That’s the past, and you can’t dwell on it. Kris, move forward.”

“I can’t. Not when my past is coming back to haunt me.”

“Just let it go. Put it behind you, and stop looking back.”

“Like you did?” he asked, not bothering to look over at me. “You’re practically estranged from your family. You don’t have any ties to them like I have with mine. You don’t understand what I’m going through right now.”

My lower lip jutted out in a pout. I was getting frustrated with him, but I was trying to be even-keeled and understanding. “Our circumstances are different.”

“You can say that again. Your dad started drinking because he lost a son. Mine started because he got one.”

Kris shook his head, his hair falling down around his face. His eyes were glistening with tears yet flashing with red-hot anger, and his jaw was ticking from clenching it shut so tightly. It broke my heart to see how much this was upsetting him. I knew this wouldn’t be easy for him because this was so personal, but I hadn’t expected it to affect him this much. I reached over to hug him or hold him, whatever he’d let me do to comfort him. He put his big hands on my shoulders; he wasn’t forceful and he didn’t push me, but he kept me from being able to put my arms around him. Kris kept me at bay. “Don’t.”

“No,” I told him firmly, grabbing his hands and moving them so he couldn’t hold me back. I wasn’t going to let him stop me from comforting him. Repositioning myself, I straddled his lap and cradled his face. “Don’t fight me.” I kissed his nose, his cheeks, and his forehead. When I kissed his closed eyes, I felt as the tears spilled down his cheeks and into his thick, dark beard. Kris hid his face in the crook of my neck and wrapped his arms tightly around me and held on for dear life as his body shook.

Marlene was standing at the front door, watching us and checking up on her son; I saw her as I rocked Kris back and forth and rubbed his back. The pain on her face was unmistakable, and I knew that she wanted to be the one who was soothing Kris and calming him down. Before, when Kris had stormed out of the living room, Marlene had started crying as soon as the screen door slammed shut. I had gone over to her and placed my hand on her shoulder—Kris was upset, but I think that he didn’t see how upset she was, too.

When I had squeezed her shoulder, she told me between her sobs, “He’s my son. My only son. My beautiful boy. I forget that he is twenty-three. He is a man, living on his own, far away. But to me, he will always be my little boy who needs protecting and sheltering.”

I remembered her words from mere minutes ago as I was the one who comforted Kris, like that right and privileged had been bequeathed to me. Marlene was choosing to hang back and let me be the one that Kris turned to in his time of need. It was like this deep, meaningful passing on of responsibility, a ceremony without all the hullaballoo. So I smiled sadly at her, to let her know that I was handling this as best as I possibly could. She nodded and dabbed her eyes with a tissue before she disappeared into the house.

I whispered things in Kris’s ear, over and over. “It wasn’t your fault. Shh. It’s okay. Let it out. That’s it. You didn’t do anything wrong. Let it all out, babe. It’s okay. You’re okay.” I wish that there was more that I could say to reassure him, but I didn’t know what else to tell him. He didn’t know what to believe or if any of it was true; his mother could have been telling the truth, or she could have been sugarcoating it so Kris wouldn’t have as much of a reason to hate Marcel. I didn’t know the full story and I probably never would, and I doubted Kris would either.

When he calmed down some more, I kissed his face again. I could taste the salt from his tears. “I mean it. It wasn’t your fault. You were three, and you didn’t do anything wrong. What happened between your parents was their issue that had nothing to do with you. I think sometimes we forget that parents are adults with their own problems that involve their kids but don’t, too, you know? Yours, and mine, too. Those problems get more complicated when kids are factored into the equation. And you know your mom loves you, don’t you?”

Kris nodded and sniffed, answering sheepishly, like he was embarrassed at his outburst. “Yeah. I know.”

Gently, I wiped his cheeks; by diffusing the streams of tears, it was like he had never been crying. As sensitive as Kris was, he didn’t cry often—only when he was confronted with unpleasant emotions from his past. “I love you, too, Kris,” I said, softly placing my lips over his. Just in case he needed that reminder. “Because you’re such a good man.”

He sighed. “Apparently, so was he.”

That made me sad. Kris was always comparing himself to his father—truth was, though, that Kris didn’t really know his father. What can a three year old know? What Kris knew was just like a cardboard cut-out of his father, something one dimensional and flat. When you’re that young, everything’s black and white. People are evil or good, and there’s no in between. But as adults, we know, or at least most of us do, that it’s not as simple as that. Things are multifaceted and gray, different hues and tints and shades, and never ever just black or only white.

Not only was he comparing himself to the shadow of his father, but he was automatically assuming the blame for things he had no hand in. His conception may have been a stressor on his parents’ relationship, but there was no way he was a cause. He was just another kid, caught up in the middle of his parents’ break up, feeling like he was the one to blame. That was exacerbated by Kris’s nature to take on the responsibility for other people’s happiness.

He saw himself as some kind of Great Protector, in charge of all the people around him: his team, the fans, his mom and grandmother, and me, too. When something bad happened, he wanted to fix it. If he couldn’t fix it, he then thought that something was wrong with him for not being able to fix it.

Which is why we were back to square one. Even though he had not been the cause of his parents’ split—and he was only three—he still wished that there was something he could have done to prevent that from happening. Maybe be a better son that his father loved so much that he wouldn’t have ever touched a drop of alcohol. Have “papa” be his first word. Anything that would have been impossible for a three year old to do, because a toddler doesn’t know any better.

“Your mom loved him. There had to have been some good in him. Don’t you think?”

Kris gave me a glaring look that screamed, you’ve got to be kidding me. I pushed on. “Don’t you think that there was a reason your mom fell in love with him?”

“She said he was handsome. Charming. Obviously manipulative, if he was able to wrangle her into marrying him.”

I sighed and hugged Kris again. If I was getting so frustrated, maybe it was because I couldn’t quite see his point of view. After all, his father did nothing to me. In fact, I was kind of grateful to him for helping to shape Kris into the person he was—as horrible as that has to sound, it’s true. If Kris wanted to be hurt and offended, I could support that, even if I wanted him to be the bigger man. Sometimes, we need to take time to be hurt and steep in the pain for a while before we can be mentally prepared to put it behind us. I’d been there for almost two years; I could afford to cut Kris some slack and let him idle in this mood of his.

A door slam pulled us out of our embrace. We both turned toward the source of the noise, which was the neighbor’s house. The same girl who I had seen returning home yesterday was heading out. She flipped her shiny, dirty blonde hair over her shoulder, inadvertently glancing at Kris’s porch and us. The neighbor girl wiggled her fingers as she waved. “Hé, Kristopher.” She kept walking down the driveway toward her car, but she paused after a few steps and called back to him, “Bonne chance demain.”

Kris nodded at her, but didn’t otherwise respond. I did my best to remind myself that she was just his neighbor and that she was just being friendly. Kris didn’t notice anything amiss, of course, because he was oblivious on the best of days, and right now there was so much on his mind that demanded all his mental capacity. He had no clue that she was flirting with him while he had another girl—his girlfriend—in his lap.

For a few more minutes, I stayed there and rubbed his back and shoulders. Kris slipped one of his strong arms underneath me and swept my legs to one side as he moved me, so I was sitting beside him with my legs in his lap. At first, I was a little concerned that he didn’t want me to be close to him anymore, but his hands lingered on my legs.

It took him a while to articulate what was on his mind. “I don’t want my mother to be a liar, but I want her to be lying about this.”

I put my elbow on the back of the bench and then rested my head against his hand. “I really don’t want you to blame this on your mother. You just said that he was manipulative, so it wasn’t her fault.”

“What if it’s the truth?” he asked, once again ignoring what I had to say. He was trying to work it all out in his head though, so I didn’t get offended. “What if everything she just said is the truth?”

“Would it really be that bad if it was?”

“Yes. Even if I can accept what happened, Mom said that she wanted him to come after her—after us. But he didn’t. She went to Mamie’s knowing that he’d know that that’s where we were.” I had a little trouble following his sentence. The deeper in thought he got, the faster he spoke; the faster he spoke, the thicker his accent was. “He never came for us. He never cared enough to come to Mamie’s. He didn’t want us back. He didn’t want his family.”

“Then his family is better off without him. You said that your parents didn’t want to have kids yet. But look at your mom. She got ready. She prepared herself because she had to, and she turned out to be a really great mother for you because she wanted to. Your father didn’t because he wouldn’t, not because he couldn’t. I’ve seen enough episodes of Teen Mom to know the difference,” I told him, reaching over to tuck his hair behind his ears.

“You watch too much TV,” he quipped. Kris turned his head, nuzzling into my hand. I cupped his cheek and rubbed it with my thumb. That’s when he leaned over to kiss me. For him to make a sweet gesture toward me was very reassuring to me that he was slowly getting over the shock of this huge paternal mess. I made him lean all the way over in order to press his lips to mine.

When we separated, I tried one more time to reason with him. “It doesn’t matter, Kris. I want you to know that. This whole thing sucks, it does, and I’m not saying that it doesn’t, but what I am saying is that it doesn’t fucking matter. It doesn’t matter why your mom left or what kind of person your father was, because what happened, happened, and we can’t change it. You’re who you are because of it, and who you are is wonderful. I love you.”

With his forehead pressed against mine, he replied. “Mmm. I love you, too.” He kissed me softly again, keeping it chaste. Then he hit me with a bombshell. “So... what do I do? What do I do tomorrow at the Bell Centre if he’s there again? And I run into him again?”

I asked him carefully, “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t want it to happen at all.” Kris closed his eyes. “There’s so much going on right now. I can’t deal with this right now. It’s the Finals.”

Nodding, I thought out my own game plan. “Then you go out there and you play your game. You focus hard because it’s game four of the Stanley Cup Finals, and your team is relying on you and I want to watch you play your heart out like you did last time. Hell, maybe even score another goal.”

He smiled briefly. “Okay, yeah, but what if he’s there again? What if I see him again?”

“He may be there watching your game. He may not. He may be there waiting for you afterward. He may not. But what he does or where he is shouldn’t affect you or your game. He doesn’t matter, and he never did. If he wasn’t able to be the kind of father who could be there for you or the kind of husband who could be there for his wife, then fuck him. If he’s there, you tell him to fuck off. If you don’t want him in your life, tell him that.”

Kris sat there quietly for a while, mulling that thought and mentally chewing and digesting it. “Okay, so, what do I do in the meantime?”

“I think you should go give your mother hug. I think she really needs it.”

He smiled at me, and it was the sweetest sight I’d ever seen. I felt warm inside, relieved even. If I’d have gone blind at that very moment, that would have been all right with me. “It’s like you’ve become her biggest champion.”

I shrugged and stood, holding out my hands to help him up, too. “Come on. Let’s go back inside.” Kris took my hands, but I didn’t help him get to his feet; even if I had tried with all my might, I wouldn’t have been able to get him to budge anyway. He stood and put an arm around my waist, leading me toward the front door.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

123.) The Untold History

Soundtrack Song - Anberlin, True Faith

Sometimes, you can say things and buffer the effect of those words. You can stutter and stammer, apologize profusely, maybe say, “That’s not what I meant; you know that’s not what I meant,” and pretend that you mean it. And because people don’t want to hear bad things and believe them, they’ll nod and accept your new, revised statement. No one likes to be insulted.

What I said to my mother was not an insult. It had no bearing on who she was as a mother or what she did as a wife. I knew that she left and took me with her because she wanted to protect me from my father’s drunken wrath. Which she had done. But now, twenty years after the fact, he was back in my—our—life, if only for a few seconds outside of the locker room. Just like that, twenty years of strategic separation went down the drain, and everything my mom had sacrificed and worked for meant absolutely nothing.

I wanted to take back what I had just told her, if only to spare myself the sight of the misery on her face. Even if it wasn’t because of something I had done, I had caused that. I was just the messenger, but it hurt as much as if I had been the one to cross her. And I didn’t like it.

“Je suis désolé,” I muttered, leaning forward and sitting on the edge of the couch. Jo had to sit up to adjust to my new position. “I’m sorry, Maman.”

“How do you even know his name?”
she asked, eyeing me like I had done something wrong. It made me feel like I had done something wrong, knowing something I shouldn’t have known.

“I heard things. You and Mamie talking,” I confessed, leaving out that I had purposely stayed up past my bedtime to eavesdrop on conversations that were not for children’s ears.

“You don’t need to apologize, Kristopher. I’ve been waiting for this day for two decades,” she sighed, looking defeated and worn and exhausted, like twenty years worth of looking over her shoulder had finally caught up to her. “What happened?”

“Jo and I were standing outside the dressing room,”
I explained to her, wondering how she could seem so worried yet so calm all at once. “You had left, it was just me and her and... him.”

Now she started to get a little wound up. “But what happened? Did he talk to you? Touch you? Say anything to you?”

Shrugging, I told the truth. “Just said my name. I had to go, had to leave, I was in such shock that I couldn’t even react to it at the time.”

Mom let out a loud exhale of relief. “Well, that wasn’t so bad.” She got up and collected the bowls and plates from the coffee table, where Jo and I had left them when we had finished with lunch. “Did you eat enough? Would you like me to make you something else?”

“But Maman....”
I looked over at Jo like she could somehow interject and make my mother understand the weight of this situation. Just because I saw him once didn’t mean that this was over; far from it. Despite my subtle protest, she walked away into the kitchen. I couldn’t believe it, how she was dismissing this. Seeing my father had rocked my world, cracked my foundation, shaking me more than any earthquake. Just because nothing bad happened during our encounter didn’t mean that I didn’t feel uncomfortable about it.

To make it even worse, that wasn’t the reaction I had expected from my mother either. I had thought she’d be overprotective, like always, wanting to make sure that I was safe and tucked away from the cruel, unforgiving world. Check the door and make sure it was locked behind her. Draw the curtains and peek out from behind them to see if maybe he had found out where we lived. I had expected her to be scared for herself, too, and worry for her own safety as well as mine. But none of that had happened.

I turned and looked at Jo, staring at her with my mouth open. She was concerned for me, obviously unable to understand our conversation and wanting to know what had just been discussed. “What is it, babe?”

“That’s it. I told her what happened, and... that’s it. She walked away.”

“Oh,” she replied quietly, pouting in thought. “Avoiding the subject.”

“Like she always does. She always does,” I huffed. But not this time. I called her, “Maman!”

Mom appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. “Oui?”

“I want to talk about this.”

“Talk about what, Kristopher? There’s nothing to talk about. What’s done is done.”

“There’s a lot to talk about. I want to know why he showed up.”

“I don’t know. Why would I know?”

“You were married to him! If anyone would know, you would. I want to know why he was there to see me, and what I’m so fucking scared of.”
I could feel the emotion choking me as I admitted everything that had been running through my head. “Because I’m scared. Scared to see him again, scared of what he wants from me. Scared of what would have happened if I had stayed there in the hallway with him, and what’s going to happen if I run into him again.”

She walked back into the living room and sat back down on the chair, drying her hands on the towel and then draping it over her shoulder, like she had done so many times. Her voice was calm and cool as she spoke authoritatively. “You don’t have to be scared of him.”

I muttered, rolling my eyes.

“Would I lie to you? No, I wouldn’t,” she said, asking a question and then providing her own answer. “If he showed up at your game and was able to get down to the players’ area, then you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Why? So if the circumstances of running into him were different, then I should be afraid?”
I didn’t want to come right out and say that he beat her, because it felt so disrespectful to say that when she tried so hard to keep that from me. Instead, I said, “I know what he’s done, and what he’s capable of doing, too.”

Mom pursed her lips and leaned back in the chair. She gripped the armrests until her fingers turned right, and then she let go and clasped her hands together. “Kristopher, don’t talk like that. You didn’t know him. He wasn’t that bad.”

“Then why did we leave? Why haven’t I seen him since I was three, and why won’t you even talk about him to me?”
Two decades’ worth of questions poured from me, and I couldn’t hold back this time. “And if he’s not such a bad man, then why did he beat you? Why did you have to take me away and never turn back?”

Mom sucked in a breath, puffing out her chest and rolling back her shoulders. “You shouldn’t question your mother, Kristopher. We are not having this talk now.” She cast a look over at Jo and then focused back on me.

And with that one glance, Jo could piece together exactly what was going. She stood, her eyes pointed at the ground. “I can go. It’s okay. This is private—”

“No,” I declared firmly, reaching out and grabbing her wrist. I didn’t grab her roughly, but it was strong enough to let both her and my mother know that this was what was going to happen: Mom was going to tell me everything I wanted to know about my father, and Jo was going to sit there beside me because I wanted her to be here for me. Even though she couldn’t understand, her presence was enough. “Stay.”

Jo looked between the two of us, unsure about what to do. She wanted to be there for me, of course, but she didn’t want to go against my mother either; she was still seeking approval. In the end, her loyalty to me won out, and she sat back down beside me. “If you’re sure,” she acquiesced.

I nodded, and then I turned back to Mom. “I want to have this talk now. I told you that I saw him because Jo convinced me that you needed to know. Well, now I think I need to know the whole story.” Mom looked at Jo again, but I countered, “She can’t even understand us. Please, Maman, I want to know everything.”

My girlfriend slid her hand against the flesh of my nape, playing with the ends of my hair and caressing my skin. It was soothing; not too heavy of a touch to be distracting, but not light enough to be an annoyance.

Mom looked like she was chewing her words before she carefully said them. “I want you to know that I have thought every day about how to talk to you about your fa—about Marcel.” Even now, Mom couldn’t call him my father. She acted like Henrí was my father and had been all along, even though I hadn’t met him until I was sixteen.

She cleared her throat and kept going. “It’s important to me that you don’t hate him, but obviously, this is... complicated. So, it was always easier to not even bother rather than say something that doesn’t make you understand.”

“Maman, I was three, not dumb. I may have been hidden away in my room, but I knew that something was wrong. And I figured it out.”

“You’re only thinking of the bad,”
Mom said quietly. “Marcel was not always the man that you think he was. There were times, even toward the end, when I would watch the way he played with you, interacted with you, and it was all I could do to stop from crying, it was so sweet. You were his spitting image, from the day you were born, and to see the two of you sitting on the floor, stacking blocks into towers before you’d knock them down, and you babbling away....

“And it wasn’t always like that. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with him if he had always acted that way. When we met, he was so charming and handsome. He was in grade twelve, and I was in grade ten. He asked me to his prom, and I was the envy of every girl in school. Marcel and I dated as he attended university, and he was prelaw. We got married when I was twenty and he was twenty-two. He’d finished his undergraduate program and was about to attend Université de Montréal for his law degree. He had big dreams. He was not unlike you, Kristopher.”

Her words sucked the breath out of my lungs. That’s what I had always been worried about. I had heard Mamie say that we were similar, but I couldn’t remember enough about him to figure out how or why we were alike—and I never asked. Now, I was. “How?”

“Such ambitions. Sure, he didn’t want to play professional ice hockey, but when he set his mind to something, he was tenacious, relentless. And his goal was to provide for his family. That’s why he wanted to get such a good job. But then... I got pregnant, and we were given the gift of a beautiful, healthy boy. You arrived a few years earlier than we had planned for, since Marcel wanted to graduate and get a good job before we started our family, but we were so excited for you that we didn’t mind it.

“When you were born, though, it was clear that something had to change. No one had told us how difficult—how expensive—having a baby would be. Marcel insisted that I stay at home, that I not work, but he couldn’t work and go to school at the same time. He was barely making enough working part time to make the rent and pay the bills we had, and we couldn’t afford formula or diapers or clothes or any of the necessities. Mamie helped, she bought us things, but it wasn’t enough.

“Marcel still had two years of law school. We couldn’t live like that for two more years, until he graduated and could start work at a firm. So he dropped out. It was only going to be temporary, for one year, so we could save and he could go back.

“That wasn’t what happened. Because he wasn’t going to school, he had to start paying back his loans, which took out a chunk of his income. We were getting by just fine, but there was no way that we could go back to him working part time and going back to school. It would take us years to save enough to get to that point. Marcel still insisted that I stay home and be a full-time mother, that maybe I could work again once you were of school age, but definitely not before.”

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes before she could go on. “He loved us, you know. He wanted to give us everything. But he hated that that meant he couldn’t pursue his own dreams of being a lawyer. It wasn’t the life that he had seen for us. So he drank and swallowed his big dreams like horse pills. When it still hurt him, he drank some more. And when he drank that much, he was not the man I married. He wasn’t the man I loved. And he was not the father who loved you so much and wanted only the very, very best for you.”

I shook my head. I didn’t believe it—I couldn’t believe it. None of that could be true. Mom wouldn’t lie to be, but I still couldn’t believe it. Good men aren’t driven to do bad things just because they drink. There’s something inside of them that brings them to commit violent acts. That couldn’t be the whole story. Jo’s fingers continued to draw imaginary circles on the back of my neck as my breathing got heavy. “Non. That can’t be.”

“Oui. A lot of nights, it wasn’t so bad. He’d sit in front of the television with his drink in his hands, and I would tuck you in soon after dinner so you would be safe, then I’d do the dishes, clean up the kitchen, and go to bed. Some nights, he’d apologize to me for not being the man he thought he would be, for not being able to give me all the things that he promised he would. At first, I would argue with him and say that it didn’t matter to me, but that made him angry. I thought it was because he thought I was lying, but later, I think I figured out that it was because I didn’t care about his dreams as much as he did.”

“But that night....”

Mom nodded. “I know. That was a particularly bad night. I couldn’t have you around that. We couldn’t wait anymore for you to go off to school so I could start working and Marcel could finally go back to law school and finish his coursework to graduate. So we left and went to Mamie’s. I thought maybe we could still ride it out, that maybe he would see how much his drinking was hurting his family—which he never, ever would have wanted to do—if his family left, but I never heard from him.” She sighed. “I expected that he would come to Mamie’s the very next day and apologize and say that he wanted us to come home and talk about how he would change and things would be different... but he never did. And I never went back. We did it without him.”

I puckered my mouth, not liking anything I was hearing. My father, Marcel, was not a good person, no matter what she could possibly say about him now. Just because his life didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to did not give him the right to lash out toward the people he supposedly loved so much. Choosing to ignore all that new information, I focused on the matter at hand. “Okay, so, why would he show up now?”

“Isn’t it obvious? He loves you, you’re his son, and he just wanted to see you—”

“No. No, I don’t want to hear that. If he loved me, or you, he wouldn’t have done the things that he did. I don’t care if you say that it’s because he didn’t get to fulfill his dreams. Things happen. Things happen all the time that disrupt our lives,
” I lividly explained, gesturing wildly with my hands. It had happened to me. So many things had happened in my life, and each time, my dreams had to evolve and change to fit my current circumstances. I didn’t drink or take it out on my loved ones. “That doesn’t excuse his behavior, and you shouldn’t be trying to find excuses for him, either.”

“I’m not fishing for reasons, Kristopher, I’m telling you exactly what happened.”

“No, it’s not true. If he wasn’t so bad, we wouldn’t have had to leave.”

“I did it to protect you, because I love you, and because Marcel loved you, too, and I wanted to take you away from that before you might call that into question.”

“Then I guess you waited too long.”
I didn’t want to hear any more, so I pushed up from the couch and walked out of the living room. There weren’t a lot of places for me to go, and I ended up out on the front porch.

I sat on the porch swing and looked out onto the street, which I had played road hockey on so many times. Jo followed me out onto the porch after I had had a few minutes of solitude, joining me on the swinging bench. She pulled her knees up to her chest, planted her feet on the bench seat, and sat so she was facing me, not the street. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see as she bit her lip, scooted down closer to me, and pushed her toes underneath my thigh, presumably to keep them warm. She watched me as I flexed and relaxed my feet, rocking us back and forth in silence.

Finally, I disrupted the quietness with my words. “I just wish that I could go back to how I could pretend that he didn’t exist. In my head, he was as good as dead. But now, I can’t think that. I mean, I saw him with my own two eyes. It had to have been him. And he knew my name.

“I used to walk around these streets sometimes,” I sighed, looking up at the ceiling of the porch. “I’d walk by a house and wonder if he was inside. Or pass someone on the street and wonder if that was him, if that was my dad. But when it actually happened, when I actually saw him, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind, you know? I recognized him. I saw me in him, or saw the resemblance.”

“Yeah, I could tell that you two were related. You almost looked like the same person.”

I rocked us back and forth a few times before I spoke up again. “Mom’s trying to paint him as someone... I don’t know. But I know he’s a horrible man, a horrible excuse for a human being, because otherwise he wouldn’t’ve acted the way he did. Even now, I could hear in her voice that she loves the man he was. A decent person would never hurt someone who loved them so much. I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t. That’s all the proof I need.”

Jo nodded, keeping quiet. I kept going. “It didn’t have to end up that way.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, they were happy and living their dreams together.” I cleared my throat. “That is, until I came along and ruined it for them.”

“Kris, babe—”

Shaking my head, I cut her off. “Don’t. Please, don’t. She told me. She said that they didn’t want to have kids yet, that I was a surprise. They weren’t ready for kids, unprepared, and it ruined their lives. I ruined their lives.”

“No,” Jo replied defiantly, reaching out to touch me. She cupped my hairy cheek and tried to turn my head toward her. “Your mother loves you so much. Maybe you were a surprise, but you didn’t ruin her life. You are her life. Parents love their children unconditionally, and nothing you could ever do would ruin any aspect of her life.”

“That’s bullshit. Flat out bullshit. I broke up my parents’ marriage. I’m the reason he drank, the reason my mom and dad didn’t have the kind of life they wanted, and the reason why my mom had to leave him. Me.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

122.) Marcel

“Are you going to be okay?” I asked Kris quietly, rubbing his arm. I wasn’t going to leave him or let him go anywhere until I knew that he was going to be able to handle this or cope without me. Not that there was much that I could do to soothe his turbulent mind, but with Rob looking at us carefully, I knew that we couldn’t just sit here anymore. Pain was visibly scrawled across his face. If I hadn’t’ve known any better when I saw him with this expression, I would have thought that he had hurt himself on the ice.

“Yeah, I just.... God,” he mumbled, shaking his head. I could always tell when Kris was especially carried away with emotion, because otherwise he’d never take the Lord’s name in vain.

“If you’re hurt, we can get a trainer here to look at you. You can’t cover up an injury, Letang.”

“No, no, I’m fine. I am,” he protested, standing and smoothing out the pant legs of his slacks. “I was just, you know... tired... from the game....”

It was the lamest excuse ever, but Rob seemed to buy it. “Well, it was a tough game. We’ve gotta head back to the hotel now.”

Kris nodded, and I walked with him toward the door of the dressing room. He hesitated before he headed out into the hallway, and I could tell that he was worried about seeing his father out there again. I went first, to make sure that Mr. Letang was gone; when I saw that he was, I smiled at Kris to let him know the coast was clear. Kris’s dad really was like a ghost, since he had disappeared into thin air.

I grabbed his arm and tugged on it to get him to look at me before he went off toward the bus with his captain. Squeezing tight to make him pay attention, I told him, “You call me tonight if you need to, you hear? Anytime, whatever reason. Okay?”

He just tried to nod in response, but I squeezed him again until he gave me a clear, verbal answer. I needed that reassurance from him. “Yeah, okay.” Then Kris kissed my cheek. “Thank you.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I replied, saying goodbye without actually saying goodbye.

Once Kris was out of sight, I hurried back up to the main concourse to meet up with Marlene, Henrí, and Kris’s Mamie. I still didn’t know his grandmother’s name, first or surname, but she seemed like a really sweet lady who didn’t mind the fact that the only way I knew how to address her as was Mamie. She giggled when I had called her that to get her attention in the stands, but she spoke no English so I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she thought it was funny. I vowed to take French this summer as one of my classes so the next time I came up here, maybe I could talk to her. It was weird because Marlene spoke some English and Mamie spoke none, but I got along better with Mamie than Marlene.

I didn’t mention anything to anyone when I met up with Kris’s family; Charlene and Suzanne had headed home immediately after the game. By the time we made our way out into the parking lot, all the spectators had gone home, so we didn’t have to wait to get on the road. Henrí, who was driving, dropped Mamie off at her house first, and then the three of us all headed back to Marlene’s. It nagged at me, what had just happened to affect Kris down into the core of his being, but it really wasn’t my place to say anything. But I thought that Marlene should have known that Kris’s dad had just showed up out of the blue. It was like Kris had to physically and literally confront his inner demon. And if it happened once, it could happen again. That scared me for him.

Back at the house, Marlene talked happily as she putzed around. Even though it was in French and all directed at Henrí, I knew it was all about Kris and the game. She was bursting with pride. I was proud of him, too, but I was more worried about him at this point. Since she wasn’t talking to me, I slinked into the kitchen and peeled the foil back from the pan of brownies that I had baked earlier in the day. Chocolate would make me feel a little better.

Henrí followed behind me and dug into the pan, scooping out an iced square and shoving the whole thing in his mouth. I giggled, and he winked at me, showing his appreciation wordlessly. It made me feel like I had him on my side, which in turn made me feel good. I had an ally. Food really can win a guy over.

Kris’s parents headed off for bed shortly after that. For a few hours, I forced myself to stay up, since I totally expected Kris to call me. In fact, I stayed up until three waiting for a call that never came in. When I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, I thought that it was surprising that he didn’t call me. I was prepared to support him in any way that he needed and take care of him however he required, and I knew he’d come to me since there really wasn’t anyone else for him to turn to at a moment like this. No one else understood. Luc would have, but he unfortunately wasn’t around.

In the morning, I was gently awoken when Kris had pulled back the covers and slipped underneath them with me. I had been sleeping so soundly that I was slow to realize what was going on. “Hey,” I moaned, wishing I were still asleep.


I woke up a little more, and I moved over to accommodate him, but he didn’t let me get too far. Kris pulled our bodies together, and our legs tangled together naturally. “What are you doing in my bed?” he asked, closing his eyes.

“Sleeping...” I yawned.

“Yeah, but I mean, my bed? I’ve never had a girl in my bed before.”

“What? Really?”

“Not this bed,” he replied, and then let out a loud yawn of his own. Must’ve been contagious. “Any girl who’s stayed over slept in the family room. And even when I brought girls over, we were never alone, especially not up here.”

“Wow,” I said, wondering how that applied to me now. Either Marlene thought she didn’t have anything to worry about with me, or maybe... no, that had to be it. She didn’t worry about me, because there was no way she respected our relationship or trusted me enough to be alone with him.

“You say that like it surprises you. Did you really think she’d leave me alone with,” he paused to gasp, “girls?”

I giggled. “What would she say if she saw this then?”

“Hmm. Well, we’d better not let her see, and then we won’t have to find out.”

“That bad? Huh.” As I imagined her possible, but always livid, reactions, Kris held onto me tighter. He nestled his head against my chest, with his cheek adjacent my sternum. I wrapped one arm around his bare shoulders and then cradled his head with the other, holding him to me like I could tell he wanted. I was squished up against him, but not because there wasn’t enough space on his twin mattress—he just wouldn’t give me any space. I ran my fingers through his hair and then planted a soft kiss along his hairline. He got quiet, and I knew he was lost in thought. Which, with Kris, usually wasn’t a good thing. “Are you okay?”

His reply was soft and unconvincing. “Yeah.”

He didn’t move out of that position. Kris didn’t usually let me hold him; he was a holder, not a holdee. Kris only acted like this when he needed comfort—again, which was something rare for Kris and a sign that something was most definitely wrong. He wasn’t okay, not at all, and I could see the scared little boy inside of him again emerging from the depths of his soul, where he’d been suppressed. I kissed him again and tried to coax it out of him. “Sure, babe?”

“I just wanted to be close to you.”

“Well, I’d say this is pretty close,” I replied, teasing him slightly and trying to keep the mood light. It was obvious that he was still very upset, and Kris didn’t do so well with communicating when he was this wound up. I knew that it would be best to just let him take his time and get this off his chest when he was ready. So I continued to hold him close to me and play with his hair. I was almost back in dreamland when he spoke up again.

It was a very simple statement that could have been taken to mean several things, but I knew what he really meant when he said, “I don’t know what to do.”

Kris was talking about his father. Puckering my lips, I thought hard about what to say back to that. My response was just as simple. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I want to do, or what I should do, or.... I just don’t know.” Kris sighed. “I still don’t know why he was there. How he got there. What he wanted.”

“Are you going to try to find out?”

“How would I find out? I don’t know if that was an accident, if I’ll ever see him again. I mean, it’s been twenty years. If he wanted to find me, he could have done it a long time ago. I’ve played in Montreal plenty of times against the Habs. And if he wanted money or recognition or whatever, then he could have done it last year after the Pens won the Cup.”

“You’re right. So maybe he doesn’t want that. I think it’s just as possible that... he only wanted to see you.”

That agitated him. “He wanted to see me? If he wanted to see me, then he could have been the father that I needed growing up. Then he would have been around, and he could have seen me all the time.”

“I know, babe, I know,” I said. “But maybe this means he regrets not being there like he should have been. He’s making an effort—”

“Effort now doesn’t fucking matter to me,” he spat out.

“I know,” I repeated. “I’m not saying that showing up once makes it better or takes back what he did. But wouldn’t it be nice if wanted to show remorse for his horrible behavior? That doesn’t mean you have to forgive him, and I’m not saying you should either.”

“What would you do, Jo?” he asked, very point blank. He pulled back out of my hold and pushed up on his hands, so he was poised above me and looking down at me. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he wasn’t being accusing or trying to catch me doling out advice that I wouldn’t myself take; after all, he knew that I strove to not be a hypocrite. He wanted my honest assessment. “If your mom showed up out of the blue, how would you feel? What would you do?”

So many times, I had asked him for advice to get his perspective on a situation, and now, he was doing the same. “I don’t know,” I admitted honestly. “I know that I’d be upset, furious, pissed at her. But it’s also a different situation.”

“Different? How is this different?”

“It’s very different. First of all, my mom, she’s the one who left our family and abandoned me. It’s the opposite of what happened with your dad. Your mom took you out of that abusive situation, and my mom left me with my useless, drunk father instead of taking me away from that. Your mom rescued you from him and kept you safe from him. Your mom loves you so much. I think you need to tell her about this.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t tell her about this. Tell her about the man she cried over for years? The man she had to leave for me, and for all I know, she still loves? We don’t talk about him. We never did. Remember? Everything I know about him, I learned from eavesdropping. She avoids my questions, never mentions him, and all of a sudden, I’m supposed to tell her I saw him?”

“Well, yeah. Obviously, she didn’t want you to be around him. That’s why she saved you from him. Don’t you wanna know why he was there? Maybe your mom, well, I’m not saying that she knows why, but she might be able to help you figure it out. She was married to him, she loved him, and she would best be able to figure out his motivations.”

“If she didn’t want me to be around him, then it’s going to upset her to hear that I ran into him. If this was on purpose, she’ll... I don’t know. She’ll think she failed,” he explained, peering at me with sad eyes. “I can’t do that to her. Not after everything she sacrificed for me. I can’t let her think that was a waste.”

“It wasn’t all a waste. She did that so she could raise you properly, and she did. Trust me, she did the best damn job she could under the circumstances—which is better than a lot of people who have a more resources at their disposal. She did not fail, and it was not a waste.”

“But she will think so. How can I do that to her?”

“But doesn’t she have the right to know? If she wants to be the one to protect you for him, then she needs to know that the conditions have changed.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” he sighed, pulling back the covers and sitting up. “I still need to think about it. I mean, it still could have been an accident.”

I sat up, too. The more I thought about it, the more I knew it wasn’t mere coincidence. The world works in strange, weird ways, but the universe doesn’t just do something like this by sheer happenstance. But I didn’t think Kris wanted to hear that; he was still in such shock that he couldn’t accept the weight of the situation. “Well, I guess you don’t have to have it figured out yet.”

Kris changed the subject to something much lighter. “So, do you think you’re ever gonna get up, little miss sleepyhead?”

“What time is it?”

“Like, noon. Actually, more like half past.”

“What? Noon thirty!” I hurried out of bed and got to my feet. “Your mom said she was going to be home early! She could be back at any minute!”

“Did you really just say ‘noon thirty’?” he laughed, watching me hurry to get dressed and look presentable.

“Yes, I did. Sorry, I wasn’t thinking, and you know, the last thing I want right now is for your mom to come home and think we were doing something that’s going to make her hate me.” I dug through my bag and pulled out my pair of comfortable but worn and ripped jeans, and then a black tee shirt with Carnegie Mellon University written in white across the front. I shed my pajamas and shimmied quickly into clean underwear and my chosen outfit.

“I thought that you thought my mom hated you already?” he questioned, following me down the stairs.

“Don’t twist my words around,” I warned him as I headed into the kitchen. “Are you hungry?”

He shrugged halfheartedly. “Eh.”

I began to root through the cupboards for something to make for us. “Did you already eat?”

“No,” he sighed. “I just don’t really have an appetite.”

“You have to eat.” I was only slightly aware of the role reversal taking place; a few months ago, he was the one that practically force-fed me soup in this very house when I wasn’t feeling well. “If you expect to play tomorrow—and play well—then you’ve got to eat and keep your energy up.” I pulled down a can of soup, deciding on this and sandwiches for our lunch.

“But I’m not—”

“I don’t care,” I told him, giving him a look that let him know that I wasn’t going to accept that answer from him. He was so worked up over seeing his dad that he had worried away his appetite, but he needed to keep his body fine-tuned for the rest of the series. He was going to eat, and he was going to like it. Setting the can down on the counter, I began to search for a can opener. I pulled open one drawer, and then closed it and tried another.

“Here,” he sighed loudly, audibly letting me know that he still was less than happy with me as he grabbed the can opener from its station in the far drawer and handing it to me.

“Thank you.” I removed the lid of the can; before I could begin my next search, this time for a pot, Kris pulled one out from underneath the counter and put it on the stove for me. “Thanks,” I repeated, nodding at him. He raised his eyebrows but kept quiet, walking away into the living room. Seconds after, the sounds from the television began to echo off the walls.

I went about my business in the kitchen, warming up the soup on the stove and pulling some ham and cheese out of the fridge to make sandwiches. I also cut up some carrots and celery stalks to make it a little healthier for Kris. If this were lunch for me, I just would’ve eaten some brownies.

Once our meals were prepared, I made two trips in from the kitchen, first with the plates with our sandwiches, and then I went back to get our bowls of soup. Kris ate reluctantly, but apparently he still did have an appetite because he ate my food, too, like he usually did. When we were finished, I turned off the TV and tried to talk to him again. “Do you feel better after eating?”

“I guess.” He sighed again, and he stretched out on the couch, rubbing his stomach. “Nothing like a can of Chunky to make a man feel at home.”

“Oh, shut up. You should be happy I cooked for you at all,” I yawned, curling up against him and rest my head on his shoulder. I wrapped my arms around his middle, using him like a big body pillow.

“You can’t tell me you’re still tired,” he groaned, putting an arm around me. Kris was transferring his body heat to me, making me even more tired.

“I was up late last night. I thought my boyfriend was going to call, but nope.” That was true; I was still tired, but this was more than me looking to catnap. It was a comforting gesture to be close to him and hold him during his time of stress.

He whispered to me, “Maybe he just had a lot on his mind. Maybe he just wanted to figure it all out for himself before he dragged you into this, too.”

“I’m already in this, though.” Just then, we heard keys jingling outside the door. Marlene was home. “So, what are you gonna do? You gonna talk to her about it?”

“No, I told you, I can’t! It’ll hurt her.”

“But you’re still upset about it. What are you going to do? Worry about it and make yourself sick? What happens tomorrow when you’ve gotta play? When you’re back in the Bell Centre and you’re worried he might be there again, maybe watching you play or even waiting for you outside the locker room?” I could tell that Kris hadn’t thought about that yet; he was still thrown off just by seeing his dad yesterday, so he hadn’t even thought about the following day and what it would be like to have to go back to the place where he had seen him. Thinking that he might encounter him again. And then what would he do?

Marlene walked in, surprised to see us cuddling on the couch. Good thing she hadn’t showed up half an hour earlier, or else she would have seen us under the covers in bed in a compromising position—even though we hadn’t been doing anything. I could see a bit of surprise on her face. She said something to Kris, and I think it was something about being glad that he came over so early. But her face revealed a little of something else, too. Like she suspected something was up.

I glanced up at Kris, trying to gauge what he was going to do. If it were up to me, I’d want him to face his past so he could move on for the future. I had to do that, and it was hard, but I was now better for it. You can’t escape the past, because it always comes back to bite you on the ass if do that. You’ll always run from it. The best thing, in my opinion, is to confront it head on. That’s something Kris taught me, but apparently he forgot it. It’s kind of funny, because I couldn’t be strong enough for myself when my life was all crazy and messed up, but I was going to be strong enough to help Kris. I wanted to do that for him.

Speaking in his ear so only he could hear, I tried one more time. “Kris, I think you should tell her. Maybe that’ll help you figure out what you wanna do about it.”

His jaw ticked, but he nodded and slowly looked up at his mother. I glanced at her and could see that she definitely was on edge now, but I felt like an intruder in this situation. This really didn’t have anything to do with me; it had everything to do with the Letang family. My only connection was my deep for Kris’s mental and emotional well being. I looked down at the floor and swallowed as Kris cleared his throat. “Maman, I have to talk to you. I have something to tell you.”

A little noise came from her throat, which made me look up at her again. I think I only thought this because it lightened my mood for a second, but it looked like she was worried that Kris was going to tell her that we were getting married. But that all changed when Kris told her, “I saw my father yesterday.”

Her face twitched. “Of course you did. You saw Henrí before the game.”

“No, Maman. Not Henrí. My father. Papa.” He paused, carefully mulling over the next word before he deliberately enunciated it. “Marcel.”

Mon Dieu,” she replied, slumping down on the La-Z-Boy as the color washed out of her face.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, but it was too late now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

121.) Ghost

Soundtrack Song - Mumford and Sons, Little Lion Man

I only had time to drop off the extra tickets I had secured for tonight’s game as well as the passes to get them down to the visiting locker room. In fact, I was supposed to be napping right now, but I couldn’t sleep. My body was three hours behind, so even though I was adhering to my routine by practicing and eating with the guys, I wasn’t tired. Plus, I was so worked up over this game that I couldn’t calm my mind down; it was racing, and nothing I could do would work to allow me to relax.

Jo was waiting for me on the front porch when the taxi pulled up. I asked the driver to wait, since I was only dropping something off. When I got up to the porch, Jo hugged me tightly and for a long time. When I tried to let her go, she wouldn’t loosen her grip. “Okay, what’s wrong?” I asked, rubbing her back.

She frowned, trying to hide it from me. “I just miss you.”

When she still didn’t let go, I figured she wasn’t coming clean and telling me the whole truth. “Are you sure that’s it?”

It took a few minutes to answer, like she was seriously considering what she wanted to say. Finally, she sighed, “Yeah, that’s all. I mean, I’ve been alone all day. And I don’t have anything to do.”

“My mom’ll be back soon. She gets off work at three.”

If I didn’t know Jo so well, I wouldn’t have seen the slight twitch on her face to give away her frustration. She didn’t want me to see it, because if she wanted to, then it would have been more obvious. Still, I could see that something wasn’t right, and it had to do with Mom. However, just because she didn’t want me to know about it didn’t mean that we shouldn’t address it. “What is it?” I asked her. “What happened?”

“Nothing. It’s just that....” She shook her head. “No, it’s okay. You have your game to focus on, and I can handle this.”

“Tell me. What is it?” Sure, it was a little frustrating that I had to try to play mediator, but I had to help them get along.

Jo sighed again. “I tried to be nice to your mom, Kris, I really truly did, but I don’t feel like she’s reciprocating and trying, too. She won’t even give me a chance.”

“She’s letting you stay here with her. Isn’t that trying?”

“Is she letting me stay here so she can get to know me and see why I make such a good girlfriend for you, or did she just agree because you asked her to?”

“Both. I asked her if it would be okay, and I told her that it would be a great opportunity for you two to get to know each other,” I explained. I cupped her chin and made her look up at me as I smiled down at her. “Just don’t give up yet. She’s my mother, and she’s done so much for me.”

“I know, babe. I know that she’s a good woman and a great mother because I can see that reflected in the man that you are. But she’s not showing me that.”

“She’s not being mean to you, is she?”

“No, not mean. Just... not nice.”

“She’s probably as nervous about this as you are, and she’s waiting for you to make the first move.”

“Do you think I should do something to show her that I’m trying?” Jo bit her lip as she thought about it. “I don’t what though.”

The taxi honked behind me, the driver getting impatient. I remembered my mission and pulled the envelope from my pocket. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. But listen, I’m just here to give you these.”

“You can’t even hang out for a while? You were only here for a minute.”

“Nah, I should be sleeping right now, but I couldn’t. I got a few more tickets, for Henrí, Suzanne, and Charlene. Only two locker room passes though, I figure for you and my mom. I wanted to bring these, since will call is going to be crazy busy.”

“Charlene’s coming down?”

“Yeah. Next game, it’s Big Luc and Maryse’s turn for game four. It’s kind of last minute, but I got Nabby to order extra tickets and give them to me for these games, since he doesn’t have family coming up for them.”

“Oh, I’m excited! It’ll be fun to catch up.”

“Okay, so I’ve gotta get back and try to nap some.” I touched her cheek. “You’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll just keep trying. That’s all I can do.”

“Thatta girl. You’ll see, it won’t be so bad.” I kissed her cheek and then her mouth. “I’ll see you after the game.”

“Good luck, Kris. You’ll do great!” she replied, having all the confidence of the world in me. As I left her standing on the porch and got back into the cab, I knew I wasn’t so sure of myself. I was very nervous to be playing at the Bell Centre in front of my friends and family. This was probably the most nervous I felt over anything in my life, and my thoughts weighed on me until it was time to take the team bus to the arena.

I took more time meditating and thinking as we started to get ready for the game. Before I got dressed, I always like to sit at my stall and remember why I play and for who I play. Jo wanted me to play this series for myself, but I knew that that could never be the case. There were too many people who helped me get to this place that I felt I owed it to them. I was playing for Luc, of course, because I owed that to him as his best friend. And I played for his family, who had all been so nice to me, because they deserved to have someone out there, dedicating the game to them, for all the sacrifices they had made for Luc. But I was also playing for my mom and for Mamie, for all that they helped with and did for me so I could play the game I loved since I was four years old. And I was also playing for Jo, because I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t be in this position without her. She eased my transition from one team to another, being the only familiar thing that was the same from when I was a Penguin to when I was a Shark. And, by rule of association, I was playing for James, because Jo would not be who she was if it was not for him.

The arena was so loud when skated out on the ice, raining boos down upon us. We were expecting this, because we knew the atmosphere of the crowd in Montréal. Nothing about this series was going to be easy, and playing these away games were going to be the worst part. Even though we knew how intense it was going to be, we couldn’t be prepared until we had to go through it.

Cammalleri scored a fluky goal early in the first, and the Habs fans went wild. You’d think they’d won the game. We gathered around the bench as the players in red huddled together on the ice, patting themselves on the helmets and butts before they knocked gloves through the line. We told ourselves that it was just a fluke, and that we’d get it back. Everyone on D said that we needed to buckle down on defense, and all the forwards said that they needed to come harder at Halak. He may have been impersonating a brick wall, but he was not infallible.

However, all through the rest of the game, the score remained zero to one. With one and a half minutes left in the third, Nabby was pulled, and Pavelski joined me, Boyle, Heatley, Marleau, and Thornton. We were the last line of offense that would decide the outcome of this game. We would either fail the team and make us lose this game, or we could net a goal and tie the score, forcing the game into overtime.

We were pushing ourselves, desperate for a goal. We needed to lay it all on the line now instead of losing this game and simply telling ourselves that we were going to try harder next time. We needed to try harder now.

There was less than a minute left on the clock, but I refused to look up at the time again. I had to keep pressing on, keeping my eye on the puck. If I so much as looked away for a split second, something could happen that would affect me—and I needed to be ready for anything. Subban tried to clear the puck, a desperate move by their defense to relent our attack. I stretched out my stick and stopped the puck from crossing the blue line, keeping it onside. Heater was slamming his stick against the ice, hollering for the puck. But he was on the half wall, and there wasn’t enough time.

I aimed for the net. I knew that I would never make it from where I was, but I hoped that getting the puck to the net would result in a goal, somehow. First, I saw Pavelski throw his hands in the air, and then Thornton did it, too. Next, the red light behind Halak lit up, and the crowd let out a collective moan. We did it; we had scored the tying goal. Only then did I allow myself to look up the clock. Eleven seconds left.

In the dressing room between the third period and overtime, I learned that I had been credited with that goal. The puck had apparently deflected off Gorges and Halak’s glove, and even though Pavs thought that the change in angle had been his doing, a replay showed he never touched it. It was a fluky goal for me, which made up for Cammalleri’s fluky goal. We were even now.

We won in overtime, with Pavelski rifling a shot past Halak, finally getting the goal he thought he had already scored. It was a beauty of a shot and such a relief to everyone in a teal uniform. We were back in the lead, and we had won in one of the toughest buildings to play in. Even though we knew that we shouldn’t celebrate this win, since we still had to win two more games in the scheme of things, we were relieved to win in this building; that was one of our most difficult challenges in this series. We proved that we could do it. The only thing to do now was to channel our energy to do it again in two days’ time.

I was swamped by reporters in the locker room, and Emmert sent me out in the postgame interview room for the Sharks press conference when I was finished with my shower and dressed back in my suit. I sat a table with Pavelski since we were the goal scorers, and I drank from the provided water bottle as I was peppered with questions. It was fun to get interviewed in French by the Québécois media. This was one of the reasons why I loved Montréal. It was home, and I fit in here.

Once I was finished with my interview, I saw Jo and Mom hanging out quietly in the hallway. Jo was playing with the lanyard and pass around her neck, looking down at it. Mom spotted me and rushed over to greet me. She reached up and cupped my face, pulling me down so she should place a kiss on each of my cheeks. “Kristopher, you played so well! A goal in the Bell Centre, in front of all your family! I’m so proud. Could you hear me cheering for you? You should have heard me, Kristopher, because I told everyone around us that that was my son who scored.

Merci, Maman,” I laughed. “I’m sure that everyone was glad to hear that your son scored against their team.”

They are happy to see a hometown boy be so successful in the Stanley Cup Finals,” she informed me smugly. I wasn’t so sure of that, because I bet that they’d rather see their team score and win than a boy from Montréal.

I looked back at Jo, who was smiling broadly at me. She gave me a look to let me know that I should take my time with Mom—but she, too, was filled with pride, and couldn’t wait to hug me and tell me so. I said to Mom, “We have an off day tomorrow. I can come over in the afternoon, if that’s okay?

You don’t have to ask! I’ll tell Mamie, and we’ll have everyone over. How does that sound?” Mom went on for a little longer as she talked about what she would plan, and I let her go on even though I wasn’t really listening. It made her happy, so she could do whatever she wanted. I was just happy to have some time to spend with them while I was in town, since I didn’t think I’d be doing this until the summer, before Jo started her summer session of classes. As I thought of her, I glanced over at her as she hung back and let Mom have her time with me. Jo understood the doting mother she was, so she gave us space. Mom noticed that I was looking over at my girlfriend instead of paying attention to her, so she said, “Okay, okay, I get it. You’ve had enough of your mother. Come over tomorrow whenever you get the chance. I will try to get off work as soon as possible, since it shouldn’t be busy at the library on a Thursday afternoon.

She kissed my cheeks again and retreated to the main concourse to meet up with Henrí and Mamie, where they would wait for Jo. As soon as I was all hers, Jo squealed and wrapped me up in big hug. “Kris! Oh my God, I’m so happy for you! Not just a goal, the tying goal, seconds left in the third! I swear the people around us were about to dump their beers on us, we were cheering our heads off for you!”

I chuckled as I squeezed her back. “You’d better be careful. Habs fans can be ruthless.”

“Nothin’ I can’t handle. I’m not gonna shut up for anyone. I’m your biggest fan!” She kissed me and held me hand as we stood in the hallway.

“So? You and my mom? How’d that go?”

Jo sighed. “I had the great idea to make a pan of brownies. I figured, who doesn’t like brownies?”

“Mom doesn’t like brownies,” I replied, trying to suppress my grin. That was just Jo’s luck, I guess.

“Right. Not only that, but she had to rewash the mixing bowl, like I didn’t do a good enough job. It was spotless! Like, Kris, seriously, I’m trying.”

“I’m sure she appreciates the effort. Henrí likes brownies. What’s that saying? The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

Jo giggled and dragged her fingers from my sternum, past my stomach, and down to my belt buckle. “Really? I thought it was a little lower than that....”

I grabbed her hand before it got too low, and I pulled her farther down the hallway where there was a bit more privacy. “Jo, you’re killing me here.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” she whispered as we walked down the corridor. “I’ll remember to keep my hands to myself.”

“Well, not all to yourself,” I mumbled, pulling her in front of me and placing my hands at her waist. She put her hands on my shoulders and pushed up onto her toes to kiss me. Her lips were soft and plush. When I pulled back, I could taste her spearmint Chapstick. “Mmm,” I hummed, pressing my lips together and distributing the balm. “Minty.”

She turned around and tried to lead us a little farther down, but she suddenly stopped. I had been busy watching her walk, admiring my name and number on her back since she was wearing my jersey, but when I crashed into her, I grabbed a hold of her to steady her so she didn’t fall. And then I looked up and saw why she stopped.

It was uncanny. It was like looking into a mirror that aged me twenty-some years. It was me; I looked just like him. He had brown hair that was graying at the temples, long but not too long and slicked back. There were wrinkles around his eyes. He was my height, with shoulders as broad as mine, but a slight paunch pulling his shirt tight around his middle. He had a pass around his neck, but I didn’t know how he got it. Out of all the times I had played here and been in this city, I’d never seen him before—but I’d recognize him anywhere. How could I not? He was my father.

Seeing him knocked me off my feet. It was a shock, a jolt to my core. The hair all over my body began to stand on end, and my heart started to race. It was the fight or flight reflex kicking in, but I couldn’t move to do either. I didn’t know what to do.

Jo recognized him, too. If I were to look back on this, it might seem funny that we both able to figure out who he was without knowing him, but the resemblance was so strong that anyone could have made the connection. She reacted, too, tightening her hold on my hand and grabbing my arm with her other hand, taking a step in between us like she was protecting me. Like she could have. Her lungs sucked in a sharp, loud breath like she had just been cut or hurt. Her words were barely loud enough to be heard. “Oh my God.”

“Kristopher.” Even though I heard him say my name, I prayed that this was all a strange coincidence.

Blake called me from the other direction. “Letang, come on, we’re starting to board the bus.”

Still, I couldn’t move. I was so taken aback that I was rooted to the spot on the floor, and all my energy was sucked out of me. Jo tugged on my arm and kept her voice low. “Come on, Kris. Come on.” Letting her take control, she pulled me in the direction of the visiting locker room. I didn’t have the ability to think or react, and it felt like I wasn’t in my body. Like I was looking down on this from somewhere else. Somehow, though, I knew that I could trust the girl beside me to help me do the right thing.

Jo guided me down the hallway, slowly walking beside me as I turned around and left that man behind. She led me into the locker room. The room was pretty empty, since the players were getting on the bus and there was no need for the equipment managers to pack up our things because we were playing here again. I sat down at my stall. Jo got down on her knees in front of me, and she reached up and held my face in her hands. “Kris, babe, say something, please.”

I shook my head, struggling with what just happened. How could this happen? Why? He just showed up, out of nowhere, the last thing on my mind as I concentrated on the Finals. I never thought I’d have to face him and confront this fear of meeting him; it was easier to pretend that he didn’t exist and that whatever interaction I’d ever have with him would never go past what happened in my early childhood. He’d effectively disappeared from my life, and I liked that. I didn’t want to be around someone like that, because I always thought I was so angry toward him. But right now, I wasn’t angry. I was shaken.

“Kris, please,” she pleaded, getting off the floor and sitting beside me on the bench. She forced me to look at her, but I knew I had a vacant expression on my face. “Are you okay?”

“What was he doing here?”

“I don’t know,” she said quietly, once again taking my hand in hers, covering it with her right hand, too. “That was weird.”

“I feel sick.”

“Shh, it’s okay now. He’s gone. Not here anymore.”

“Are you sure? He had a pass.” I wiped my free hand over my face, trying to take even breaths. My stomach was in knots, and I thought I was going to throw up. I was so upset that I was physically reacting. I never thought that I’d see him again or have to deal with this. Did he come back here on purpose? It couldn’t be that hard to find me, but I never thought he’d look. He didn’t love his family, and when we left, he didn’t care enough to chase after us with the promises to change.

“He didn’t follow us.”

“Why?” I asked, knowing she didn’t have the answer but needed to vocalize my internal torment. “Why now? What does he want from me?”

“I don’t know, babe. I wish I knew,” she replied softly, rubbing my arm. Jo leaned forward and pressed her forehead against mine. Her eyes were closed, and a tear streamed from the corner of her eye.

“Maybe it was an accident. It could have been an accident, right?” That had to be it. I hadn’t seen him for twenty years, and he never bothered before to try to be a part of my life. So he must have been here for some other reason. And seeing him was a coincidence—a horrible, mistimed coincidence.

“I don’t know. He knew this was where the visiting team was going to be. He would have known to stay away if he didn’t want to risk it.”

I groaned and leaned forward, my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands. Jo reached around me and hugged me, her cheek against my back. “How did he get a pass? Those things are hard to come by. I had to beg for two for you guys. How did he manage to get one?” Jo didn’t bother to repeat herself since she didn’t have a clue. I didn’t either. “I don’t know a thing about him, except he’s an asshole dickbag. I hoped to never have to see him again, to never have to think about him, and all of a sudden he’s here. And it’s fucking up everything.”

“You know you’d never forget about him, because he’s exactly what you’re not. And you remind yourself of that every day, don’t you? That you are a thousand times the man he is. I know it’s crazy to see him again, but don’t let it upset you like this, Kris. Please. He’s just like a stranger to you, a no one.”

“But he’s not a no one,” I explained. “Next to Mom, he’s one of the greatest influences on my life. You’re right—he’s what I don’t want to be. But... he looks like me. He looks... normal.”

“What did you think he was going to look like?”

I shrugged. I didn’t know what to expect because I wasn’t expecting it, but I would have pictured him as something more evil, devious even. A monster, because that’s what I had made him out to be. I remembered him from when I was just a kid, but the actual memories had faded; I had blocked him out as best as I could.

Now that the initial confrontation was over, I felt the anger boil up inside of me. When it happened, I had been a coward. Now my courage was returning to me, and I wanted to fight it out. I wanted to take out all the years of anguish and mental struggles on his face. Now, I was frustrated at myself for being so timid and scared when I had had the perfect opportunity to show my father that he couldn’t fuck around with my family. The family he did everything to sabotage.

“Letang! Come on, let’s go,” Blake called, poking his head in the room. “Everyone’s already—wait, hey, you all right, man?” he asked, looking very concerned at me. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

He couldn’t have been more right.