Monday, September 3, 2012


Sara knew it would be hard to talk to Sylvie.  She hadn’t expected that it would be hard to handle afterward.  Sylvie had spoken to her like an adult, with respect, and told Sara what she probably needed to hear.  It was still a heavy stone resting on her heart when she pulled up at Danny’s house.

Our house, soon enough.  Not for the first time that thought scared her a little.

Danny had been nervous, inventing things to do and failing.  Sylvie was so unpredictable.  But the best and worst thing she could do would be to talk - really talk - with Sara.  As much as he loved her, Danny knew Sara was less experienced with relationships.  It’s hard to have more experience than someone married over a decade and horribly divorced.  His goal would be to make sure she never felt the things he and Sylvie had felt.  But he couldn’t hide their existence.

Sara opened the front door.  Danny had waited for that moment to walk into the room so it wouldn’t look like he’d been pacing a cage.  She took one look at him and burst into tears.

“Oh God, cherie, what?”  He wrapped his arms around her, leading her toward the sofa.  

Sara laughed through her tears.  “I love you.”

“I love you too, so much.  Why are you crying?”

“Because I have no idea how to do this right and I’m really scared of getting it wrong.”  She felt a little better just saying something so terrifying out loud.  Danny and Sylvie had been in love.  They had been married, had kids, had everything and BAM.  It didn’t just crumble.  It exploded.  Sara had climbed through a web of scars to get here and the idea that she could someday cause that, or have it done to her, sent panic trilling through her veins.

Danny hugged tightly and whispered in French until Sara quieted a little and curled her legs underneath.  He leaned back, holding her to his chest.  “Does it help if you know I’m scared too?”

Against his chest he felt her nod.

“Sylvie and I were great once, for a long time.  I still don’t know how we lost it.  But,” he tilted her face up, “I made sure we couldn’t get it back.  I know what I did wrong and I promise that I would never, ever do that to you.  Or to myself.  Never again.”

Sara kissed him on the mouth.  It hurt her to think badly about him, or say anything, or worry at all that someone who made her so happy could ever hurt her.  But it was rational, practical and she was glad Sylvie had reminded her that Danny wasn’t perfect.  Because Sara knew she wanted him anyway.

“Promise me something,” she said.

“Anything,” Danny’s heart was pounding with fear, both of the past and for the future.

“If you ever... if we ever fall apart, you’ll leave me.  No cheating.”

“No cheating.  God no,” Danny agreed.

Sara let her head fall to his shoulder.  “Because I’d never be able to go for revenge like she did, and I’d hate myself for being so weak.”

Danny all but lifted Sara to her feet, led her upstairs and slowly undressed them both.  There were tears in her eyes as they made love, as gently as they ever had.  No one said a word.

A week had never gone by so quickly for Sara.  School was nearing the end and her students were working on papers and tests.  it was only fifth grade of course, but Cameron gave her the evil eye across the dinner table and asked why on Earth anyone would need to know how to diagram and sentence.  Except he did it in French, knowing Sara couldn’t understand, and so she stuck out her tongue in reply.  Not a very mature move by Dad’s future live-in girlfriend.

Game One of the second round was at three on a Sunday afternoon.  Sara drove the boys to the rink,  all of them in matching Briere jerseys.  They were pretty damned adorable if she did say so herself.  Danny had been calm and even all morning, a marvel of veteran player.  Sara did her best to hide her nerves.

Once the puck dropped, all bets were off.  The Devils scored first and held it to the midway point of the game,  when Danny scored his 6th goal in 7 games.  Sara nearly burst into tears, which would have looked very silly considering she and the boys were instantly on the Jumbotron.  She looked away, hugged Caelan and breathed a sigh of relief.  The Flyers got another thirty seconds later, while some of the crowd were still on their feet.  But it was never easy.  The Devils tied it, lost the lead to Claude’s quick hands in the third, then tied it again.  One final buzzer sent it to overtime.

“He’ll get it,” a man sitting behind them promised.  Sara knew he meant Danny because Danny was scoring like crazy - he really was Mr. Playoffs.  She desperately wanted it to be him, of course, but any goal would do.

Two minutes into OT, it was him.  Carson jumped on her like a flying squirrel.  A moment later the din was silenced by a play under review.  Video ran overhead three times... and Sara hated to admit that it did look like Danny had kicked the puck into the net.  The fans and players protested admirably, but as quickly as Danny had ended the game, it was back on.

On the ice, Danny was furious.  He knew he’d kicked it.  He also knew he could have taken a split second and put it in another way, made an extra inch of room, and ended this game for real.  Furious with himself and frustrated with the Devils’ refusal to show any cracks, Danny took a full minute on the bench to shake it off.  Then Coach cuffed him on the shoulder and he knew his line would be up shortly.

When it came, he was nowhere near the net.  He cycled out above the circle, got a strange pass back to the blueline.  From there he couldn’t have kicked it in if he were David Beckham.  But he could shoot it, which he did, through a seam in the Devils defense.  It was a long way to go without being touched but the puck somehow found the back of the net.

Sara didn’t even scream.  She was on her feet, one hand over her pounding heart, before Danny’s teammates could reach him on the ice.  Three kids hung off her like monkey bars, twenty thousand people were losing their minds and she was just stapled to the floor by how much she loved that little guy with the pointy ears.

She couldn’t say how they got to the lounge, but the minute they were inside people were hugging her as if she’d been the one to score two goals in a single sudden-death OT period.  She hoped the players were hurrying through their media appearances, knowing Danny would be the biggest draw.  Like a little mind reader, Cameron brought her a cookie so she’d have something to do with her hands.

Claude came in and made right for Sara, picked her up without a word and swung her around.  

“You are completely orange out there, head to toe,” she rubbed his bushy, neon-colored beard.  “I can’t tell where you jersey stops and your face starts.”

“Nora is calling me ‘Elmo’ these days.  What kind of name is that for your boyfriend?”

“Elmo’s cute.  He’s everyone’s favorite character, you know.  Are you...?” And she tried to tickle him.  Claude got her in a headlock, dragged her over the Caelan and presented her like a prisoner transfer.  They were all spastic with excess energy.

The lounge was so crowded, everyone was waiting for Danny.  Players came in but no one left.  Finally, after two cookies and what seemed like two hours, the door opened and Sara couldn’t see anyone over all the tall bodies.  That could only be Danny.  A cheer went up, she bobbed and weaved her way to the front pushing Carson ahead of her.  He ran smack into his dad and she was right behind.  With Carson sandwiched between then, Sara kissed Danny because she couldn’t think of anything to say.

When they left the arena, it was barely dinnertime.  Claude turned up with Nora under one arm, Caelan under the other and suggested they all go out.  “Can we go to Dave & Buster’s?” Caelan asked.  

It was the perfect choice.  Some of the guys came along - Scott, Wayne, Max - and they stopped traffic on their way in the door.  The game had just been on every screen in the place.  Danny got a nice cheer from the remaining fans and a few autographs were signed.  He was relieved when they were shown to a table as far as possible from the bar.  Sara dropped in next to him, sliding right up to his side.

“Just like last time we were here,” she smiled, moving her hand up his thigh.  It had only been a few months since their first non-date right in that room.

“Because I’m still thinking about taking you home,” he said so only she could hear.

A spot of color formed high in her cheek.  Sara had taken off her Briere jersey - with Giroux and Hartnell around, the Flyers hardly needed to be announced.  Now she wore a simple long-sleeved white t-shirt with a v-neck.  Danny was glad to see he could still make her blush.

“I was thinking the same thing that day.”  She kissed his cheek softly.  It was intoxicating to know that she could touch him now, kiss him any time.  That first day she’d been so busy telling herself no.

Danny got her back with a kiss on the lips.  “I recall you’re pretty good at air hockey.”

They played and ate.  Sara insisted on designated driving because everyone wanted to buy Danny a drink.  He stopped after two - games left him dehydrated despite all the Gatorade in the world.  By the bottom of the second pint he was feeling a little fuzzy.  Sara and Cameron were engaged in a pinball duel, Danny leaning against the wall as if he wasn’t watching his girlfriend and his son act like best friends.

Danny was thinking about what might have been if he’d never brought Sara out that first night.  If Cam had never gotten in that fight.  He’d probably be in the same place, with all the same people, minus Sara.  Even having scored a career-highlight goal hours before, he knew the day would have paled in comparison to what he was getting now.  Claude appeared with two glasses and handed on to Danny; they were both water.  He followed Danny’s gaze toward the arcade game.

“I’m going to ask her to marry me,” Danny didn’t even know he was going to say it until it was out there.  His younger friend was surprisingly insightful and Claude had been a close ally during the worst of the divorce.  There were few opinions that Danny valued more.  Of course that neon beard broke into a huge smile.  

“Do you think she’ll be surprised?” Claude asked.

Danny caught him off guard with another question.  “Do you think she’ll say yes?”

“Of course she will.  Sara loves you, Danny.”

Danny knew that was true.  She’d shown it in a million ways - a million and one, as she took on Caelan as reigning pinball champ.  “She talked to Sylvie the other day.  I don’t know exactly what they said but Sara came home and cried.  I...,” he looked for the right phrasing and failed, “I think it scared her to know what I did.”

Claude frowned.  Danny had always been honest about his transgressions, albeit after the fact.  He’d done the right thing in ending his marriage, but did it the wrong way.  Danny admitted mistakes as a way to punish himself, though Claude thought that Sylvie punished him plenty.  He put an arm around Danny’s shoulders.

“Danny.  She put her career on the line for you.  She’s been in the press, been with your kids, even confronted your ex-wife.  I don’t know what else you need to see, but I know that Sara doesn’t scare easily.”

Danny thought about it after they lost Game Two, with Sara asleep against his side.  He thought about it in his hotel room, after scoring the tying goal in Game Three but being unable to repeat his overtime miracle.  Maybe if Sara were here, Danny said to himself, as if she were some kind of magic.  After another loss in Game Four, the world was on the brink.  Every trick they’d used in the first round was failing the Flyers.  The Devils refused to take any bait, played with a control and determination that Philly couldn’t match.  Instead the Flyers were like marbles - scattered around the ice, rolling along with no set course. He couldn’t get home fast enough.

That night, as Sara lay in his arms, Danny dreamed his arms were tired.  They were heavy and weak, getting more useless every moment.  Then when he couldn’t hold on, Sara slipped free.  As she fell she turned into the Stanley Cup, then back into Sara.  He didn’t have the strength to reach for either of them.

“Hey.” Again the sound came.  “Hey, Danny, you okay?”

He blinked into darkness, not sure if his eyes were open or closed.  Something shifted next to him.

“Honey?  You were having a nightmare, I think.”

Sara was still there, still almost naked and tangled in Danny’s arms and bedsheets and his heart and life.  He gathered her in close - promising himself he would not lose to one prize he already had.

It happened in a way she couldn’t have imagined.  

Sara knew it was bad luck to think about losing, but she couldn’t help herself.  With a heart full of worry for Danny and the other guys, Sara had envisioned every scenario that ended with the Flyers losing in the second round.  She wanted to practice being the strong one if the need arose.

Game Five in Philly should have been a lock.  After taking the one-nothing lead on Danny’s two overtime goals, the Flyers had dropped three games in a row.  They looked scattered and skittish.  It was not the team that had played in the previous series against Pittsburgh.  Surely there was still time for things to turn around.

That time ran out in the first period of Game Five.  The Devils took a 2-1 lead and the Flyers could not recover.  Sara watched the last two periods like she was looking up into the eye of a hurricane, waiting for the house to fall on her.  Even the boys were quiet, without a piece of food between them.

Please please please, she prayed.  No one answered.  Now she knew why the guys were superstitious.

The final buzzer closed a game that had been over for some time.  She stood with the rest of the fans and watched her team shake hands with the victors.  They raised their sticks to the crowd in appreciation.  Her voice was lost in the huge cheer of support, almost as loud as the noise for any goal they’d scored since the playoffs began.

Cameron slipped his hand into Sara’s and said, “Let’s go home.”

Back at Danny’s house, the kids got themselves ready for bed.  She made their lunches for the next day and lined them up carefully in the fridge.  It only took ten minutes.  After that she had no idea what to do, how long Danny would be or what would happen when he got home.  Sara wondered if she should have stayed at her own place that night, though she hardly ever did anymore.  Danny had left her in charge of the kids, right?  Perhaps he’d been that confident of a win.

She found herself sitting on the couch, fully dressed, waiting.  But the first set of footsteps came from behind her.  Carson padded in, sat down and curled right up into her lap.  Hot tears burned in Sara’s eyes.  He didn’t say anything, just lay there and let her pet his hair.

He was asleep when Danny came home.  Sara couldn’t move without disturbing him and was grateful for it, because she had no idea what to do anyway.  She sat very still, telling herself that she could hold it together for Danny, for all of them.

Danny came in, shrugging off his suit coat.  He felt as if he’d been wrung out and had no energy, no emotion left to give.  It was the worst kind of heartbreak - a desire so one-sided but full of teasing and the promise of another chance.  He knew it would heal and that he would chase that promise all the way to another chance at crushing defeat.

Sara met his eyes bravely, tears glittering in her lashes.  Her hands rested protectively over his sleeping son.  Danny brushed Sara’s hair back and kissed her forehead.  Then he gently woke Carson and they went silently upstairs.

Danny thought he should know better.  After so many seasons of hockey, he should be prepared for another chapter ending.  Instead it was like he spent the season walking across a frozen lake, knowing there was a 29-out-of-30 chance he would fall through the ice.  Yet every time he hit that frigid water, it still knocked the breath right out of him.

He put sleepy Carson in bed with a hug and checked on the other boys.  Back in his room, Sara was already under the covers.   Everything seemed sharp - he’d brought her into this, made her care, and delivered a disappointment.  Yet another thing to feel shitty about.  Danny dropped his suit into a pile on the floor, climbed into bed and closed his eyes against the rush of everything at once.  Even breathing was difficult when you’ve been completely flattened by defeat.  

“Sorry, baby,” she whispered.

It had been a few years since Danny had brought a playoff loss home to friendly territory.  His last with Sylvie had been the Stanley Cup Final loss - by far the worst because he was losing his marriage too.  That night she’d been kind, they’d been close despite everything.  She understood.  The next year he wasn’t really alone because Claude lived with them, but he had been alone in the proverbial sense.  The loss had been bad and his behavior around that time was no better.

Now the arms around him felt cathartic.  After a few minutes, his breathing eased a bit.  Sara put her face into his neck and lay still, as if she could soak up some of the blood pouring from his open wound.  Danny feared the end of each season as he feared the eventual end of his career - one season closer now: that it might come without success.  For all his accomplishments, a king with no crown.    But now it was different.  He had Sara.  He had his kids, as always, and plenty to look forward to over the summer and beyond. Even if he was closer to his last season than his first, he was starting something new.  Something he hoped would last forever.  It helped a little and that was all Danny could ask for at a time like this.

“I love you,” he said.

“Love you too, Danny.”

EPILOGUE - Three and a half months later

“Ready?” he asked.  The boys were running around, getting into their spots and straightening their shirts.  It was late August, they’d been back in New Jersey just a few days.  The long, sun-soaked summer had been full of visits to grandparents and days at the lake, the five of them together like a family.  Sara was due back at school in a week, the boys in two.  But first, the moment Danny had been planning all summer.

Sara had spent the day back-to-school shopping with Nora.  It was common for teachers to buy some of their own materials - the schools never seemed to have enough - and Danny had insisted she get whatever she wanted for the coming year, even though she’d taught the last of his sons.  Nora offered to make it fun by including some clothes and cocktails.  They’d been gone for hours.

In that time, the Briere backyard had been transformed.  Fairy lights were strung overhead, twinkling in the dusk.  The sky was streaked with pink and blue.  A table was set in the middle of the deck, complete with candles and white linen and a bottle of champagne on ice.  The boys wore nice shirts and ties they’d insisted on knotting themselves, with varying degrees of success.  Danny took one last look over the scene and turned back inside.  The living room looked as it always did, save for the huge arrangement of two dozen red roses on the coffee table.

“They’re almost here,” Claude said.  “You ready?”

Danny’s smile trembled a little, but Cameron shouted, “Yes!” loudly from behind the couch.  

Nora’s tired rolled into the driveway.  Claude gave Danny a silent hug and went out.  They heard him pass Sara, say he couldn’t stay and goodnight.  Then the front door was opening.   She swept in as she had a million times - long hair swinging over one shoulder, bangs tucked behind her ear.  The perfect size of her and the way Danny knew exactly how it fit against him.  In jeans and short-sleeves, she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

“Hey, sweetie, how are....”  Sara’s eyes moved along Danny’s nicer-than-a-Wednesday-night shirt and slacks outfit, then over to the flowers on the table.  “What’s this?”

Danny wiped his damp palms and reached for her hand.  “We’re having a family meeting,” he said, the first words a little shaky.  “And we wanted to ask you something.”

Sara raised her eyebrows.  “Where are the....”  On cue, the boys all stood up from behind the couch, wearing ear to ear grins.  Danny took his place at the end of the line.  Waiting for him, facedown, was a piece of white paper.

“We’ve been talking about it for a long time, and we wanted to know...,” Danny began.

Caelan held up his piece of paper and said, “Will....”

Carson was next, quickly. “You....”

Sara’s purse slipped from her fingers landed on the floor.  Her eyes got wide but didn’t move from the signs.  Cameron looked fit to burst.  

“Marry...,” he said.

Danny went last.  He turned his word and read it out loud.  “Us?”

One hand came up to cover her mouth.  Danny picked up the tiny black box that had been underneath his sign, stepped forward and got down on one knee.  She breathed so hard he could see her chest move.  It was an emerald cut diamond on a white gold band, with two smaller square diamonds on each side.

“I love you so much, Sara.  Will you marry me?” he said.  Then smiled.  “Marry us?”

“Yes.”  Sara felt her mouth form the word but barely heard it over her thundering heart.  It was a surprise - a wonderful, amazing surprise - and the perfect proposal.  Danny slipped the ring onto her finger.  She pressed the palm to his cheek as he stood up, then bear-hugged him as hard as she could.  Tears came.  The boys whooped and hollered and latched on until they were all clinging together like a little boat in a storm.

“Do you like it?” Carson asked, tugging her hand.

“Of course, it’s beautiful.  God,” she titled her hand side to side.  “It’s really beautiful.  Danny, I....”

“We picked it out!  There’s one diamond for each of us, and the big one is for you!” Cameron said.  

Danny had tears in his eyes too.  He couldn’t stop smiling.  He and Sara were a matching pair, all love-struck and blushing while the boys fizzed like shaken cans of soda.  He pulled her in and kissed her, square and sure.  Her ringed left hand dropped down and squeezed his ass.  They were laughing when Caelan started dragging them outside.

Sara gasped again at the yard - it was straight out of a movie.  Tiny white points of light seemed to float like stars in a low sky.  There were a lot of candles - on railings and stairs and everywhere.  At the center sat a table with five chairs.

The boys dashed back inside the get the first course of the dinner that was part of the grand plan.  Danny and Sara were alone for a moment.  

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” he looked her straight in the eye.  “I didn’t think I’d ever get to fall in love again.”

She knitted her fingers behind his neck, catching two together over her new ring.  “Lucky me.  I fell in love four times all at once.”

Thanks for all your comments on this story, everyone. It took by far the longest of any story I've ever written and I really appreciate those who stuck it through to the end! I'm going to try something new for my next story - write it most of the way through before posting. I think it will speed up the process and also allow me to do more with it. I haven't chosen the leading man yet, so suggestions are welcome!  

Love, Juliet

Thursday, August 23, 2012


For the first time, Sara was already in her seat at the rink when the boys arrived.  It seemed most of the place had filled up for the early afternoon game in hopes of seeing the Flyers put away their interstate rivals and move on to the next round.  Sara’s stomach had been turning constantly since the series began - she was almost used to it now.

Instead her new feeling came when she looked at the boys piling into their seats.  She would be moving with them, living with them.   She hadn’t seen them in a few days and in that short time, they had become a family.  The boys didn’t even know yet.  It was huge, even life-changing, and it made her so freaking happy she pulled Cameron into a bear hug.

“Missed you too,” he said casually, hugging her back.  Sara willed herself not to cry.

But the game had other ideas.  The Flyers took an easy 3-0 lead.  Still Philly had blown two such margins so far in the series and the comfort felt deceptive, as if a guillotine were hanging just out of sight overhead.  Halfway through the third, Malkin scored for Pittsburgh.  A collective groan went up from the crowd: Here we go again.

This time, no.  Thirty seconds later, Danny led an up-ice charge.  He looked so small out there, Sara always thought, but played like he was ten feet tall.  His shot was blocked; Danny circled behind the net in time to tap home his own rebound.  He was celebrating before the refs knew the puck was in the net.

Sara stayed still in her seat as the crowd went nuts around her.  Caelan swung Carson down in an excited headlock, people screamed and it seemed everyone was pounding on the glass.  She took a deep breath - it was over.  Yes there was half a game to play, maybe she didn’t know enough not to jinx it.  But everything changed - she felt sure and calm for the first time ever at a hockey game.

Against her hip, the phone in her coat pocket vibrated.  She whipped it free.

Nora: Yeah baby! Fucking right!

Sara craned her head around - Nora must have been there somewhere.  No way she’d miss this.

The Flyers did win.  The noise was deafening for the last ten minutes of play, and ear-splitting for the last two.  Sara was sure it could be heard in Pittsburgh.  They stayed in their seats for the handshakes then joined in the standing ovation.  There was no hurry now.

In the hallway outside the lounge, Nora dropped off mid-sentence with another WAG and charged at them.  The boys jumped on her and Sara joined right in the group hug, laughing on the verge of tears again.  Nora, normally so sassy, looked a bit overcome as well.  She swiped her short dark hair back from her face and beamed.

“Feel better?”

“God yes,” Sara admitted.  “This series was...”

“I meant about them,” Nora pointed to where the boys were fist-bumping with other kids and family.  Sara grabbed her arm and turned her away, speaking quietly.

“How do you already know?! They don’t even know!”

“Claude’s been bugging Danny about it forever already.  He worries about the kids.  He misses them, you know.”  She smiled over her shoulder, where Carson was re-enacting his dad’s rebound goal.  He and Caelan chest-thumped like football players.  Nora turned back to Sara.  “God knows they have enough men in their lives.  They need you.”

That did it.  Sara hugged Nora fiercely and darted into the hallway, choosing a bathroom down the hall.  Inside the empty room, she let go and cried.  She gave herself five minutes, but only needed three.  Relief,  excitement, happiness, stress - it all came out and drained away.  She fixed her face the best she could with a cool paper towel.  In the mirror was the same person she’d been a few short months ago when Danny walked into that parent-teacher conference.  She wondered what he’d seen that day, and if he still saw it now.

Danny was well aware he was smiling like a madman.  He didn’t care.  He hugged every single one of his sweaty, foul-smelling teammates on the ice, then did it again in the locker room.  The media waited as politely as they knew how. After that chore, Danny stood beneath the hot spray of the shower for a few extra minutes, water pouring down and steam rising up.  He let it block out the noise, cover his ears and give him a precious moment of peace.

Thank God.

Every time they made the playoffs and every time they advanced, Danny said a little prayer of thanks.  Thanks for another chance, thanks for meeting some expectations, thanks for still being there in the fight.  And he said please - please this year.  Please just once.  

In the lounge, the boys piled on their dad like puppies.  Sara came back into the room, straightening her #48 jersey, in time to see the Briere family hug.  Danny opened his arms wider and she joined right in.  Only then did he think it felt complete.  Two seconds later, Claude tackled them so hard he nearly took six people to the floor.

Sean helped Sara out of the heap and put an arm around her shoulders.  “It’s so early, we’re going out.  You coming?”

“You’re not old enough.”

“Note from my teacher?” he smiled without any of his front teeth in.

Danny and Sara rounded up the boys and headed for the car.  Without a word, he drove straight to their usual pizza place.  They got the same table, ordered a different pizza, and the boys took of to unleash their energy on the crane game.  Danny scooted over into the seat next to Sara and put his hand comfortably high on her leg.  

“Do you remember the first time we came here?”

“The one I spent wishing you would kiss me?” she smiled.  “Oh wait, that was both times.”

“I wanted to,” he said.  It had seemed impossible, like seeing a unicorn or winning the lottery.  Now it was easy.  They’d done it a hundred times.  Sara pressed her lips to his - an easy, simple kiss.  

A hundred and one.

“Ah, back when you were taking things slowly....,” Sara mused.

The corners of Danny’s mouth curled into that perfect grin, like he’d gotten caught for break-in but not the robbery.  For all the doubt and worry over their relationship, Danny finally felt confident.  She loved him.  She was his.  And they were happy.

“Pizza!”  The boys stormed the table like a Viking horde.  Danny let them get halfway through the first piece before speaking.

“Family meeting, guys.”

Three pairs of eyes zeroed in but no mouths stopped chewing.  They looked at Danny, then at once all shifted to Sara.  Family meetings were for pretty big things.  And only for family.  Sara was a little surprised herself.

“You know that Sara and I are... well, we’re serious.”  Danny felt a little blush rising in his cheeks - it was stupid, he wasn’t nervous.  Still it came.  He wanted to simply say that he loved Sara, but didn’t think that would make sense to kids.  Not kids with divorced parents who knew that love sometimes ended, or wasn’t enough.  It was practical and honest knowledge, but also terrible: like finding out Santa isn’t real.  A bit of the magic revealed before they ever had a chance to believe in it.  Or maybe not.

“You’re in love,” Carson said rather matter-of-factly, like he knew all about it.  

Sara’s heart cracked like an egg.  The boys had been through a lot, but she knew that kids had amazing resilience.  Throughout teaching, she’d seen kids handle things a hundred times better than some adults, with more grace and maturity.  Carson understood family love, which wasn’t the same as romantic love, but that’s where they were now.

“I love your dad,” Sara jumped in, eager to be part of this family.  “And I love you guys.  Is it okay if I come with you for the summer?”

“Yes,” Caelan answered.  At the same time Cameron said, “We love you, too.”  

His words, hung in the air as if weightless.  They didn’t zip toward the ceiling like a popped balloon, nor did they drop to the ground like bombs.  Neutral buoyancy, the perfect balance.  

Just like when I told her, Danny thought.

Just like when I told him, Sara thought.  

Carson put down his pizza and came around to hug Sara.  The other boys joined in.  It was the second Briere family hug of the night to involve Sara.  And the second time she cried.

Danny stood in his kitchen, looking at the car keys in his left hand.  The series had ended the day before, and he’d slept better that night than any in recent memory.  Sara’s silky top glided against his bare chest with every breath.  He silently promised to make up for falling asleep so fast.  Now it was morning and he had something to do.  She walked in carrying a pile of empty cereal bowls.

“Since we’ve got a few days, the boys are going to their mom’s house.  She’s supposed to get more time - we try to keep it flexible in the playoffs.  I owe her a few.”  He glanced back toward the keys.  “And I should tell her you’re coming with us, before they do.  I’ll come right back.”  It was Sunday, a true off day, and Danny was looking forward to spending it with Sara, doing nothing and wearing less.

She put her hand over his, the one with the keys.  “Let me.”

“I’ll just be....”

“Let me take them,” Sara gently twisted the key free of his palm.  “Let me tell her.  I... she’s their mom, Danny.  I’d like to at least try.”

Danny’s heart thumped - a mix of admiration and fear.  That Sara would be so kind to extend an olive branch after Sylvie had sold her out to the press was impressive.  That Sara would endure a possible firefight just to say that she tried made Danny love her a little bit more.  

“Are you sure?  She’s not, well, she needs me, Sara.  Money and stuff. She’s a bitch but she can only go so far.  With you though...,” he shrugged.  He didn’t know what Sylvie was capable of except a new low.

“I’ll be fine,” Sara insisted.  “Girl talk.”

She was not entirely convinced, but had been thinking about Sylvie since agreeing to move in with Danny.  Her role in the boys’ life would be completely uncharted, with Sylvie lurking like a continent in the middle of the map, surrounded by jagged reefs just waiting to cause a shipwreck.  Even if she couldn’t win this one, Sara thought she could at least try to handle it well.

The closer she got to Sylvie’s house, the more she began to doubt it.  It was a nice part of town - well-kept two story homes and cul-de-sacs, gardens that would come alive with the spring.  Still it wasn’t Danny’s neighborhood.  No one here made $7 million a year.  Both parents probably worked, worried about college, refinanced their houses.  Life here was good but it wasn’t easy.

Caelan seemed to sense that Sara was doing something brave, and sat up front navigating.  They rolled into the drive of a red brick and eggshell sided home with a neat yard.  While Carson and Cameron beat feet toward the front door, Caelan waited for Sara to get out of the car and walked with her up the flagstone pathway.

Sylvie had come to the door at the sound of the boys’ arrival.  Perhaps she had something to say to Danny.  But when she looked out for her last son, she saw her ex-husband’s new girlfriend instead.

Sara stood beyond the doorstep for a moment, considering the woman who was considering her.   She looked a few years older than Danny.  She was still fairly trim, though no so much as the photos Sara had seen.  Of course, she’d had three kids and a bad divorce and a new life.  Sara wondered if all Sylvie saw was someone young and insubstantial, unworthy of a place in her sons’ lives. For a long moment they were two boxers weighing in for a fight.  Finally Sylvie held the door open.  

“Want some coffee?’

The boys had disappeared deeper into the house while Sara followed Danny’s ex to the kitchen.  She briefly considered if Sylvie had time to poison anything between hearing the car and opening the door.  Probably not.  She took a mug from the older woman’s hand, and a seat on a stool at the granite-topped island.  Sylvie leaned against the far counter.

“You’re here to tell me you’re moving in,” she said without asking.  Sara nodded.  Sylvie took a long sip, then said, “Smart move, keep an eye on him.” Sara shook her head slightly.  Sylvie had reasons to be mad and her accusations were not, in this case, false.  Danny had admitted as much.  But Sara would not allow this conversation to be all about anger.

“At least you’re pretty,” Sylvie went on.  “Some of the women he..., well.  Danny always liked brunettes anyway.  You’re what, twenty-eight?”


Sylvie shrugged.  “Ever been married?”


“Want your own kids?”

Sara tilted her head.  “Maybe.”

“With Danny?”  There is was, the million-dollar question.  Sylvie got alimony from Danny because she had not officially remarried.  Danny had the money, he didn’t fight it, and a lot of it went to provide for the kids.  He’d have given her the money anyway if she asked.  But with another woman in the picture, Sylvie was aware her place in the arrangement might change.

“Yes,” Sara answered.  “We’ve talked about it.”

“They’re amazing.” Sylvie’s words and almost wistful tone surprised Sara.  She was expecting an argument.  “It changes everything, but those boys are the most important thing in my life.”  

Sylvie’s voice got a little harder.  “I will not lose them.”

Sara knew there was fear at the heart of what Sylvie felt.  Fear of everything changing, again, and completely beyond her control.  Knowing that a tornado is coming and hoping it doesn’t pick your house to touch down on.

“Not to me,” Sara assured her.  “I love them, Sylvie.  I really do.  But they’re your sons.  Danny knows that and I certainly do.  Believe me, I’ve been helping raise a lot of other people’s kids for a while now.”

“They adore you,” Sylvie confessed with a more sour tone.  “Talk about you all the time.”

“I’m just new.  Bet they talked about Claude the same way.”

“Still do.” Sylvie smiled tightly.  She paused for a moment, and Sara let her decide what she wanted to say next.  “I can’t compete with Danny.  I can’t compete with the fun things and the money and the famous friends.  I can’t compete with you.”

“I can’t compete with you,” Sara countered.  Sylvie stopped mid-speech, surprised.  “You’re their mother.  I am going to be terrified of teaching them something wrong, of disciplining them.  I have no right to do any of that.  But when we’re living together....”

“You’ll have to,” Sylvie finished for her.  They stood for a moment, like intermission between overtime periods, still tied.

“I’m glad it’s you,” Sylvie eventually said.  “You’re like Danny.  He dated some women who were - well, we got married young.  I was always it, until I wasn’t anymore.  Then he went in a totally different direction. I don’t know what I would have done if it had been one of those girls.  But I never would have let it stand.”  She took another long sip of her coffee.  “I really laid into Giroux’s girlfriend, first time I saw her.  You probably heard.”

Sara nodded, wincing.

“She’s so edgy, she’d be an awful fit for Danny, yet there she was in the goddamned emergency room with my son!  But she gave it right back to me - then I knew she wasn’t with Danny.   He had enough of that attitude with me.  You seem nice enough.”

“Thanks,” Sara said, feeling dumb for wanting that compliment so badly.  But she needed to say something as well.  “Do I have to worry about you talking to the press about me again?”

Sylvie looked suitably embarrassed.  “No.  I’m sorry I did that.  It won’t happen again.”

Sara believed her.  Whether because the bloggers had torn Sylvie apart and made Sara look good, or because she was truly sorry didn’t matter.  Sylvie wouldn’t be dishing again unless there was a real story, and Sara didn’t plan to give her one.  Now that they’d had a real adult conversation, she was confident about moving forward under the ever-present shadow of Danny’s ex-wife.  That’s what the new girl got, and Sara was trying to get used to the weight of it.

“He can hurt you,” Sylvie’s words shook Sara from her thoughts.  A few moments had passed, she hadn’t realized.  Sylvie put her empty mug down and stood up straight. “I know what everyone sees.  He’s so nice, thoughtful - I bet you think he’s like the prince in some fairytale.  And you’re not wrong.”  She pushed a hand through her hair, looking suddenly younger and a bit lost.  “We fell apart, both of us.  But Danny and I loved each other for a long time, and it wasn’t enough to keep up from trying to destroy each other.  I made plenty of mistakes.  But he really lost it - cheating and lying and, I swear, Sara, that porn star thing you think isn’t true, it is.  At least most of it.  I didn’t even know him by the end.  So I got my revenge by talking to anyone who would listen, and didn’t even feel better in the end.  Let that be a lesson to you.”  

Sylvie took a deep breath, like a lawyer organizing her closing argument.  “Right now, he’s serious.  He’ll ask you to marry him before the year’s out, I guarantee it.  But that self-destructive part - well, I hope he got it out of his system.  Everyone told me it was understandable, but only said that because he’s rich and famous.  They expected me to just take it.  Fuck that.”  She laughed bitterly.  

“We were supposed to work, me and Danny.  To be wrong after so many years is one thing.  But to have that person throw it in your face, that’s something else.  I love Danny but I can never forgive him for that.”

Sara closed her eyes.  Sylvie’s version of the story matched the bare-bones confession Danny had made on one of their firsts nights together.  He admitted to having been awful.  He promised he wouldn’t do it again.  Sara had made the choice to believe him and she would have to make it again if Sylvie’s predictions about a proposal were true.

“I understand,” Sara said.

Sylvie gave her a sad, tight-lipped smile with the wisdom of a fifteen year relationship and a broken family in the creases.  “You don’t.  I honestly hope you never do.”

They walked to the door.  Sara felt shell-shocked and sympathetic, she saw now that Sylvie had her side of the fight and she’d paid dearly to stand her ground.  Sylvie put a hand on her shoulder.  “Keep a good eye on my kids, eh?”

“I will,” Sara promised.

I was really sad to hear that Danny's mom passed away last week, very suddenly. Everyone send some good thoughts their way, this must be a terribly hard time. - Juliet

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Sara wanted to cover her face, but she could not look away.  Also Nora was clutching her arm hard enough to draw bruise.  Moments before, Danny had scored his second goal of the game to put the Flyers up 3-1, and it was barely halfway through the first.  Being inside a washing machine would have felt more calm.  Sara had screamed herself hoarse and now she had no voice for the wildest show on Earth.

Tension was not the word for this game.  From the opening faceoff, it was more like throwing a few bottles and waiting for the full riot to break out. At the twelve minute mark, everything exploded.  It started with a tag-team hit on Crosby, then a scrum, then Crosby and Claude standing face to face saying nothing worse that what Nora was yelling from the seat next to her.

“You fucking pussy!” Nora shouted.  “I’ll fucking kill you myself!”

One the other side of Sara, all three of the boys were standing on their chairs.  Caelan cracked a smile at Nora’s tirade but didn’t turn.  For a moment it looked like things would break up as Claude skated away.  Then Crosby bumped Timmonen, or Timmonen grabbed him - it didn’t matter which.  Every player stalking the area dove in.  And Claude came up with Crosby.

“Oh shit!” Sara and Nora said at the same time.

“Pound him!” Cameron hollered.

“Get it, baby!” Nora roared.

Claude’s helmet was off, red hair flying as they tussled for an angle.  The ref got between them but neither guy cared - Crosby threw a punch, Claude threw another.  Nora fingernails broke the skin at Sara’s wrist.  Claude and Sidney each got one or two more short, jerky swings in before two refs tackled them to the ground.  Can’t have the superstars duking it out, getting hurt.  At the same moment, Letang started swinging at Timmonen and a real fight ensued - one the Penguins defenseman won easily.  Sara was breathless, heart pounding.  Players were dragged toward the boxes or sent off the ice.  Sticks, helmets and gloves were everywhere like equipment confetti.  

From their seats behind the bench, Sara, Nora and the boys watched Crosby and Claude jaw at each other all the way to the penalty box.  Then they were on the Jumbrotron, obviously shouting at each other from their cells.  The crowd roared again.  Claude flipped his hair back and actually kind of smiled, like the coolest guy in school.  Every woman in the arena ovulated on cue.

“Fuck, he’s so hot,” Nora said and slumped against Sara’s side.  

As the referees and the official scorer calculated the damage, Danny skated over represent the Flyers as alternate captain and the only player left without a penalty.  Sara felt wired from all the adrenaline and just said a silent thank you that Danny had not been out there during the fight.  It was contagious tonight.

The fighting subsided but the game did not - the wild second period ended with the Flyers on top 6-4.  It was impossible to keep up.  Then less than thirty seconds into the third, Claude scored.  Nora, who never took her eyes of Claude for a moment, was on her feet before the puck hit the twine.  Sara thought the roof would come off the building.  The three goal lead felt precarious though and the Penguins never stopped coming.  Even the boys didn’t go for snacks, so Sara flagged down every vendor that passed to keep them from missing anything.  She had an almost sick feeling in her gut that the game wasn’t over yet.

With five and a half minutes left, it happened.  Or it started.  James Neal caught Sean turning at speed and laid him out.  Sara screamed.  Sean went down and stayed there, face to the ice.  It was a playground moment, when one of her students fell in slow-motion and everything went from normal to horrible in a split second.  She didn’t even know Sean that well, except that he’d made her feel welcome in what was his home too.  The boys were silent, all wearing the same look of dread.  It took a minute, but the trainer and another player helped Sean up and off the ice.  Sara put a hand over her fluttering heart.  

“He’s okay. He’s like sixteen years old,” Nora seemed to shake it off as well as Sean had.

“Sean doesn’t have any teeth anyway,” Carson pointed out.  They all settled back into their seats - they’d seen a million players down, dust off and get up.  Sara would ever get used to bouncing back so easily.  But when the scoreboard showed the hit again, and no penalty on Neal, Nora tore right back into it.  

“Are you fucking kidding me?!  What’re you, from Pittsburgh, ref?  Hot for Crosby?  Fucking moron!”

Sara was watching Danny, again on the ice negotiating with the referee.  He was the only person out of twenty thousand-plus keeping his cool.  His expression was stern, like he was talking to the stupidest person in the world.  Quite possible.  But he didn’t yell or gesture or do anything other demand an explanation.  Without question he was the most responsible Flyer, this rationality was part of his job.  Sara knew he was a good at hockey.  Since the Flyers and Penguins had started Fight Club, she was realizing he meant a lot more to his team.

“Why isn’t your dad the captain?” she asked Caelan.  The thought had never crossed her mind.

“Chris Pronger is the captain.  He’s been out since before Christmas, got post-concussion syndrome.  It’s bad, Dad says. He might not come back.”

That made Sara shudder.  A career-ending injury, especially a head injury - it was becoming one of her many nightmares since meeting Danny.  She wondered if he’d intentionally not introduced her to this captain guy, so as not to scare her.  “What happens if he doesn’t?”

Caelan shrugged.  “New captain, I guess.  I think they’d pick Dad.  He’s so....”

“Dad-like,” she finished.

“Yeah.  Exactly.” he nodded.

The game resumed with a few good chances for the Pens, riveting everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand.  As James Neal skated the length of the ice, Sara, Nora and apparently everyone else watched him.  Everyone except Claude.  He was at the hash mark all alone when Neal caught him from behind.  It was awkward, almost a brush-past.  Claude spun away and fell clumsily to the ice.  Claude was never clumsy.  Nora gasped so hard Sara felt it kick her in the chest.  Play continued for a moment, players coming together in front of the bench.  New scrums were erupting.  Claude ignored the fights and went right onto the bench.  

“Oh God,” Nora said.  It wasn’t for Claude - he was on the bench, rolling his shoulders and shaking it off.  On the ice, chaos continued - extra men, people tackling each other, players screaming from the benches.  When they were separated, Danny and one of the Penguins once again spoke to the referee.  They started announcing penalties.  Sara didn’t know why but they were obviously doing it wrong.

“Why is he...,” she said as James Neal stopped halfway to the penalty box.  Wayne Simmonds skated up, started shoving.  They parted as Crosby and Hartnell got into it along the glass.  Sara stood on tiptoe.  They fell to the ice, revealing Danny being shoved by Pittsburgh’s gigantic #4.  Danny wasn’t backing down but he wasn’t pushing  either.  Another shove.  Danny came up to the guy’s chin.

“Fight someone your own size, you piece of shit!” Sara screamed without thinking.  Cameron stopped and turned, mouth hanging open.  Hartnell and some other guy were wrestling and the other pairs gave up.  Danny skated away, just like that.  Sara biffed Cam on the back of the head.  “See?! He knows what to do,” she said.

Eventually the game started again, hundreds of penalty minutes were announced, Max scored and it was finally over.  Sara loaded the kids into the car and they gave Nora a ride home.  This would not be a game for waiting in the lounge.  Back at the house, she paced the kitchen listening for tires on the driveway.

Danny worked a long time.  He was practically the only player without a penalty, along with being alternate captain.  No one with a potential suspension in the offing would be made available.  Danny was really the only one left.  He answered questions as diplomatically as he could, considering he’d just played in one of the ugliest games of his career.  And they had to do it again in three days.  All he wanted was to go home.

Sara came into the garage as he was pulling in.  Her hair was tossed back over the #48 jersey he’d bought her - she looked beautiful, and upset.  The moment he was out she threw her arms around him.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, ma belle. I’m fine.”

“Good,” she glared at him.  “Now don’t ever do that to me again.”

“Do what?” he laughed.

“Make me curse in front of your kids!”

A short time later, Danny lay sprawled on the bed.  The boys were still up but he was exhausted.  Every part of him, including his mind, ached.  Sara came in and lay next to him, head propped up and one arm across his body.  She was so beautiful his heart hurt too.

“Please tell me that’s the worst of it,” she said.

“That was pretty bad,” he admitted.  “The only thing worse is losing.  Getting eliminated.”

Sara was quiet.  With only a few months of hockey under her belt it would be hard to understand the crushing blow of being knocked out of the playoffs.  Still, anything that hurt him, hurt her.  He’d seen it a million times - she worried about him when it came to the media, to Sylvie, to anything.  More than she worried about herself.  She put his kids first too.

“I love you,” he said.  It still felt new in his mouth, like a language he was re-learning.

“I love you too.  Win or lose.”

And lose they did.  The next game was a rout - Sara’s first in person.  The arena was quiet, then booing, and it made her heart sick for the guys to have to hear it.  The ravenous dream of sweeping their rivals in the first round crashed to pieces.  That game couldn’t end quickly enough.

Game Five on TV was better, but also just as bad.  For the second half of the game, no one scored.  The Flyers had thirty minutes to get one and they couldn’t do it.  They came home in foul tempers.  Danny arrived very late on the Friday night, crawled into his empty bed and lay fuming.  He wanted Sara there.  But he was glad she didn’t have to deal with him in this mood.  Still, it defeated the purpose to only show her the good things in his life.  This losing and frustration and fury were all part of it.  If she was going to sign up, she should get to read the fine print.  But it was far too late to do anything at the moment.  Danny flopped around for a while before finally passing out.

In the morning, he remembered why he hadn’t invited her over before leaving.

“Morning,” Sylvie said when he opened the front door.  It always surprised him how much older she looked - they were perpetually twenty three in his memory.  Her new man wasn’t wealthy so she no longer dressed like a WAG.  In fact, Sylvie had gotten more normal since the divorce.  Didn’t stop her from hating him, but Danny could see that in hindsight it had been a good thing for them both.  Of course it still stung that she had been the one to leave him.  Every time someone said women only wanted Danny for his money, an extra hidden knife twisted in his gut.  Even with the money he couldn’t keep Sylvie.  Not that he’d really wanted too, but it still hurt.

That doesn’t forgive her.  Sylvie was unaware that Danny and everyone else knew she’d sold Sara out to the press.

“Morning,” he snapped.  

“Where’s Sara?”

“Surprised you don’t know, since you had all kinds of information to share about her.”

Surprise flashed briefly across her face, then her brow creased a little at the memory of getting burned by the very people she tipped off.  They had said some nasty things about her.  “They asked me,” she shrugged.  “Could have found out themselves.  And everything they wrote was true.”

“RIght down to what they said about you,” Danny gave her the flattest, hardest stare he could manage.  “Hate me all you want, Sylvie, but leave Sara alone.  She’s better than you or me.”

Sylvie turned her scowl into a sneer.  “Not smarter though, or she’d be living here.  She hasn’t learned to keep a close eye on you.  Yet.”  She pushed past him into the kitchen.  The boys were excited to see their mom.  Danny knew that Sylvie’s new boyfriend was waiting outside in the car to take his family out for the day.  He would never begrudge them time with their mother, no matter how bad things had been.  And it did mean he had the entire day and night to himself.

“Drop them at the rink by eleven thirty, eh?” Danny said.  Game Five was at noon the next day.

“Try to win. I’d like a whole weekend with my kids once in awhile.”  

Sylvie had barely pulled out of the driveway before Danny was on the phone.  Something had occurred to him on the way back from Pittsburgh and been waiting at him ever since.  Twenty five minutes later, he opened his front door to an entirely better sightthat the last time.  Sara walked right into his embrace and Danny briefly forgot he’d lost back-to-back games and had a fight with his ex-wife.

“Sorry about the game,” she said into his shoulder.

“I wanted to to be over already, so we could rest up and hope the other teams go seven games.”

Sara pulled back and made a face.  “Jeez.  One week off and you turn into an old man!”

Danny laughed too, though  he never felt older than late in the season.  His thirty-four year old body did not recover the way his twenty-four year old self once had.  It was the harshest reminder that time was ticking against his hockey career.  Hence the reason he wanted to talk to Sara now.  But she had other ideas.

“You know what you need?” Sara asked.  “Follow me.”  She led him through the house into the living room, then opened the sliding glass door at the back of the house.  The early April day was sunny but crisp, hints of the longer winter clinging to the air.  They stepped onto the porch.  Danny examined the bare lawn and curtain of trees that would start budding soon.  It was the quietest moment he’d had in days.  He took a deep breath and  rolled his shoulders to stretch.

“You know I....”  He didn’t get to finish.  Sara ducked under his arm, ran three steps and closed herself inside the glass door.  Danny heard it lock.

“What are you doing?”

She pointed to the right.  “Get in the hot tub.”

“What?”  Danny’s hot tub was always on - the kids loved to use it while it was snowing outside.  “I don’t have my swimsuit.”

Sara rolled her eyes, then hooked her fingers into the hem of her sweater and started pulling it up.   That creamy pale skin of her stomach was revealed until she was standing in a dark green bra.  Danny looked over his shoulder, though he knew the yard was completely screened by the woods.  Time seemed to slow as she shimmied out of her jeans, leaving just a pair of green and white striped panties.  Sara flicked her bra open and drew the straps down until she was holding just the cups against her breasts.  She threw it toward him; it hit the window barrier and slid to the floor.  With one thumb under each side, her panties quickly joined the pile.  Stark naked and absolutely gorgeous, Sara stood inside Danny’s house.

“Now will you get in the hot tub?” she asked.

Danny flipped off the lid - though it had been a while since anyone had taken a dip, he knew that beneath the padded cover it was steaming.  The jets made the tub whirr to life.  He was out of his sweater and jeans in under a minute.  It was tough to feel old when a beautiful young woman was giving you a striptease and demanding you dress to match.

Sara shamelessly watched Danny ditch his clothes at speed to be with her.  She enjoyed the quick flex of every muscle in order - hands, arms, shoulders, back as he removed his shirt.  Waist, thigh, calf, foot as his jeans were dropped to the deck.  Then of course there was him climbing into the tub and lowering himself slowly beneath the bubbling water.  She waited until he was sitting, up to his collarbone, before sliding the door open.

The hot water was bliss.  Aches began to ease as the heat soaked through his skin, like peeling back the years.  It seemed the tension in his body was flowing away, only to be redirected between his legs when Sara stepped out into the daylight.  Her fair skin caught the light as if she’d been dipped in gold.

Danny enjoyed watching her climb in, knowing she had watched him.  He’d been flexing.

She pushed through the water without a word and straddled his lap.  Her backside rested against his knees - far enough away to tease him.  Danny ran his hands up her sides and over her breasts, spreading hot water across her skin.  It beaded where he’d touched her and round, happy drops rolled down over her nipples.  With his hands at the back of her neck, Danny pulled Sara down for a kiss.  The rest was automatic.  He moved to the edge of the seat, she pushed her feet into the empty space behind his back.  Her ass slid along his thighs until she bumped against his erection.  The second time was right on target.

“Mmmmm,” she murmured, tilting her head back and pushing deeper into his lap.  Danny held her at the waist and worked against her weight.  The heat and wet of her body were so different from the pool, it was so obvious that she wanted him.  Again, there was no condom but he simply took it as a good sign.  He’d meant what he’d said about wanting her to have his kids someday.  Danny kissed her deeply, her tongue sparking against his.  Electricity so close to water was supposed to be dangerous.

Sara gripped the edges of the tub behind Danny’s back and used them for leverage.  She had missed him, she’d been scared for him.  Disappointed and frustrated too.  But mostly she’d been proud of him, even when they lost.  She rolled her hips forward and listened to him moan softly.  Then she smiled and did it again.  His fingers dug into the flesh along her hips, urging her to keep going.   Crossing her ankles, she pulled herself in as far as she could go.  The extra inch planted Danny so deep that she grunted on impact.  Her ankles dropped, giving her room to move, but always back to the same spot flat against his chest.

Danny breathed out hard.  Making love to Sara was as emotional as physical and he could feel her need, her desire to protect him and comfort him, pulsing through her body.  Gratitude didn’t describe his feeling, only because he knew he could never really repay the debt.  So he used whatever energy he could find, whatever he’d recovered since the game, and gave it to her.  Danny pulled and she pushed so he bottomed out on every stroke.  

“Fuck,” she said softly.  When Danny chuckled at the teacher cursing, Sara just threaded her fingers through his hair and covered his mouth with her own.

He stood, lifting her with the help of the water, and pulled himself free of her body.  She raised one eyebrow.  Danny turned her around, pushing one had over her ass, until her back was against his chest.  Then he pulled her down, pushing his cock deep at the same time.

Sara gasped.  Being on top was one thing, being reverse another.  Even more so because Danny was sitting up, capable of engaging those strong thighs.  She was helpless.  Gloriously helpless.  He thrust upward and she groaned.

“You feel so good,” he breathed.  One of this hands was at her chin, turning her head sideways and holding her ear to his lips.  The other pushed almost roughly between her legs.

“Danny,” she whimpered.  He found her clit: just one long, hard stroke.  “Oh God.”  Again: up and then down before flicking his wrist side to side.  She squirmed, trying to buck against him.  “Harder, baby.”

He bucked his hips, driving his dick in hard.  A slow circle with his fingers this time.  Sara twitched in his arms, unable to keep her feet planted on the ground.  She was too busy trying to fuck his hand as thoroughly as he was fucking her body.  Danny was  methodical and paced, not the kind of guy to have furniture-breaking sex.  But he was giving it to her now in broad daylight.

Danny didn’t usually talk during sex.  He and Sylvie had run out of things to say long before it ended.  With girls since then, it all seemed too cheesy - bad enough they were one-night stands, he didn’t have to narrate it like a porn.  A few women he’d dated liked it, so he muttered dirty things and tried not to let it distract him from the pleasure at hand.  But with Sara, he had things to say.

“Harder, hmmm?” he teased, face still close to her ear.  “I like harder.”  He did as she asked, both from the bottom and the top.  Each shove of his hips drove her slit into his hand and Sara was moaning.  It wouldn’t be long before she broke and Danny began racing for the finish line.  Her peach was bare and smooth beneath his fingers as he chased her orgasm.  Finally, when she was shaking and all but silent, he said,  “I want to feel you come.”

Ohgodyessss, she thought.  And it was.  Like a bubble rising, a whole long journey just to burst open, Sara let the combination of Danny’s work push her to the surface.  He was playing it perfectly and when he hit the crescendo, she cried out.  His jerking fingers nailed her to the heft of his cock and held her still as the release roared through her body.

Danny grunted.  He tried to ride it out but the clench of Sara’s pussy was too much.  He let his face fall into her neck and came hard, pulsing three huge loads into that dark, perfect space.  When he regained his sense, Sara’s head was tossed back and he’d left a mark along her neck in the shape of his teeth.  His chest heaved.

“Wow,” she said weakly.

Danny lifted her gently, and hissed as his dick pulled free.  Then he placed her on his thigh and turned her to face him more completely.  Her long brown hair was a mess - tousled and curling with the ends dipping into the water of the tub.

Sara put her hand to Danny’s face.  He looked tired and worn, but rugged and capable, like he’d known hard work and this wasn’t even close.  Every year and scar on his face just told her she hadn’t seen anything yet.

“I love you,” she said.  It encompassed everything else.

“When the summer comes and the boys are done with school, will you go with us to Canada?” He said it all at once like blocks of ice tumbling off an igloo.  That morning’s encounter with Sylvie had spurred him - not that he needed to be watched, but that Sara might feel less at home than he intended. That people might take this for something casual, when really it was moving alarmingly fast.

“Will you live with us?” he repeated, loud and clear.

Tears sprang to Sara’s eyes, hotter than the water still bubbling around them.  “Of course, Danny.  Of course.”  

Danny kissed the tear that slipped down her keep.  “Good thing you’re a teacher, because this family is all about summer vacation.”

I'm off on vacation till the 20th! Didn't want to you to think I'd abandoned this story because it's not quite over yet. - Juliet