The cafe was warm and cozy, and a glass of red wine was going a long way toward calming Sara’s nerves. Despite the wintry temperatures, sunlight poured in through the windows and skylights. She had ditched her coat and scarf, snuggling into a corner a full thirty minutes before meeting a friend. She just needed some time to think and get her heard around all this... nothing, all this nothing. Spending so much time with the Brieres over the last few days had overwhelmed her ability to reason.
She obviously had a crush on Danny. Part of it was his sweet kind personality. Part of it was his kids, of course. Sara was enamoured of them just as badly. As a teacher, students sometimes seemed like all work. Even though Cam was in her class, the time she’d spent with the Briere boys was all fun.
And more tonight. Which is why she needed this sit-down with her inner monologue.
Technically, Sara could date a student’s father. There were no written rules against it, provided she graded the student fairly. Some kids even had parents who worked in the school. It was fifth grade. No one was going to college based on a primary school report card.
There were plenty of other sticking points, though. Danny was older. He was divorced, with custody of three adolescent kids. He was also famous, or infamous, depending on why you asked. He was extremely rich. He traveled for work, sometimes weeks at a time, in an environment so high-pressure that Sara was tired just thinking about it. The physical toll must be high too.
On paper, Sara was no match for that. It sounded like a lopsided relationship. She didn’t own a house, owed money on her car and student loans. She wasn’t ready to be a mother - not that she had to marry the guy, but spending time with kids carried powerful influence that must be wielded carefully. With no current boyfriend, someone being away a lot didn’t sound so bad. In reality she knew it would be harder, and lonely. Add all the temptations hockey players must have on the road... she pictured Claude and that smile and all the trouble he could get into.
Danny was already divorced. Sara had few long-term relationships to speak of and only one had ended badly. Thinking of it still hurt, and it was barely a drop in what he must have gone through.
It would be no kindness to get in over her head. Danny was a grown man, and though Sara felt protective of him it was nothing compared to the way she felt about his sons. In her classes, she’d seen countless kids bounce-back from family trouble that would crush an adult. Danny’s sons were getting on very well - she considered them strong, and Danny lucky.
She thought of the Danny’s small, strangely perfect scars. Just the ones she could see. And everything that sounded like a no felt more like a yes.
“Dad!” Carson shouted from the top of the stairs. “I can’t find the shirt for Sara!”
“I already got it,” Cameron hollered back. This was how roaring gorillas communicated. Cam had the womens’ black hoodie tied around his waist.
Danny was glad he wouldn’t see Sara until after the game. It would give them plenty to talk about. Hopefully it would keep him from doing anything bizarre like touching her hair again. That one time had kept him up past curfew last night, thinking.
Dating after a divorce is scary. At first he’d been very casual, running a little wild. Anti-commitment, he thought. But he’d been married his entire adult life and part of Danny missed the stability. Or wanted to miss it, when it wasn’t drowned under the terrible insecurity that came with a failed marriage. Long after the marriage part was gone, the failed part stuck around.
He still thought of himself as married. Not to Sylvie, God no. But the “married type.” The kids were a big part of that - he knew that his actions affected them. With a big bank account and a high-profile name, some women saw Danny as an easy mark. He’d gotten away with a few bad choices. That was no excuse to take unnecessary risks.
Still, he didn’t think of Sara as a risk. She seemed happy and grounded - she didn’t need him. He’d figured out early on that was one of the things he liked so much about her. Another woman in her place might take the opportunity and... well, many had tried. Few had succeeded, none had lasted.
“Dad,” Carson had apparently been talking to him for a while with no response.
“You look nice,” the little boy said, sounding like a little man. “She’ll like it.”
Danny laughed. He could never hide anything good from his kids.
Sara stepped away from the will call window with an envelope and gift bag in hand. She was wearing the black top they’d given her - the last game had been five days before, surely she could do laundry. Then she realized a house full of boys might not get to the washing that often. So they’d bought her another present.
“Damn it, Danny,” she said under her breath. Using a shuttered window as a counter, she unzipped her coat and pulled the Flyers hoodie over her Flyers shirt. It was really nice and really soft, it fit perfectly.
This time, she found the boys devouring a bag of popcorn. They all stood and hugged her in turn.
“Don’t get your buttery fingers on my new sweatshirt!”
The arena was busier during pre-game than it had been on a weeknight, and nearly every person wore Flyers gear. No business suits or leftover work clothes tonight. When the beer guy ran past hauling a blue tub, she flagged him down.
“You guys want a beer?” she asked the boys.
Carson persuaded Sara to move down closer to the glass to watch the pre-game skate. With all the fans, they had to get a good spot to see much of anything. She thought of how many people near her would have died to be at the bowling alley the night before, watching Giroux shovel down pizza or Hartnell try to find a bowling ball big enough for his hand. At least this time she recognized more of the names and faces on the ice. Carson explained what some of the drills were for, and admitted when he thought some were just for the chance to hit each other and horse around.
“Oh yeah?” she hip-checked him right into a seat.
Danny took the pre-game skate with no helmet on. Sara did her best not to watch him, because she knew Carson was watching her.
For the game, Sara sat between Caelan and Cameron. They talked about the opposing team - the Tampa Bay Lightning - as she carefully followed the puck around the ice. When she lost it along the near boards, she kept her eyes on the bodies instead. Her nerves were a bit steadier this time, but her heart still leapt when anyone was crunched hard enough to shake the glass. The Flyers scored two in the first and one in the second, looking comfortable with their game. Sara breathed more easily with a lead.
During the third period, Danny stepped onto the bench just as a TV timeout was beginning. He swigged some water and hung his head, catching his breath after a long shift. At a reaction from the crowd, he looked up to see a couple on the Kiss Cam. They smooched, then a pair of silver-haired fans in Flyers jerseys got a big round of applause for their kiss. Danny flipped off his helmet and reached for a towel, just as a stick tapped his arm and a big cheer went up.
“Danny!” Sean was a few bodies down the bench, reaching over with one hand and pointing with the other.
Briere’s eyes shot up - sure enough, it was Cameron and Sara. The little boy was scowling and shaking his head in embarrassment. The crowd roared. Sara shrugged - every male in the audience hollered their offer to kiss her instead. The camera didn’t move. So she grabbed Cam and kissed his cheek and the whole place cheered.
Claude skated by and biffed Danny with his glove.
“Hey Cam!” Hartnell picked Cameron up under one arm like a football. “Or should we call you Kiss Cam now?!”
Caelan and Carson about died. That would be the joke for ages. The rest of the families in the lounge were laughing, but Sara caught more and more looks cutting her way. No one had really noticed her after the last game. And she hadn’t really noticed the stilettos and blow-outs and expensive purses on the wives and girlfriends. Maybe they got more dressed up for Saturday night games. More likely she’d been overwhelmed and exhausted by the tight game. Tonight, she was seeing more of everything, including the way they looked at her.
They think I’m the nanny, she assumed. Scott hugged her hello as a few players she hadn’t met filed into the room. He introduced he as “Cameron’s kissing teacher” to anyone that would listen, oblivious to the extra eyebrows that raised around the room. It only got worse.
“Sara, you’re making everyone jealous!” Claude reached an arm around her neck and pulled her into his side very familiarly. Considering he drank half her Twizzler Coke before introducing himself, she guessed he was always like this. But none of the other women in the room were getting the Giroux treatment, and a few looked like they really wanted it. Razor-edged glares raked over her, and Sara shifted her weight right into Claude’s chest.
“Cam’s a lucky guy,” she said. The little boy stuck out his tongue.
“That’s grown up kissing, Cam. Give her a few years,” Claude joked. Sara smacked him.
Danny turned up as Sara was giggling, Claude’s arm over her shoulders. It struck him as the kind of place she belonged - with a younger guy, no commitments, nothing but an incredibly bright future that she could make even better. Sara was a few years older than Claude but he could use that steadying influence. Danny had once played that role, Sara would do just as well.
Then she stepped free from Claude and, still laughing, hugged Danny. She just reached out and looped her arms around his neck, giving him a squeeze the same way she had greeted Scott. He was so clean and scrubbed in his suit, hair pushed back, looking at her like he could never in a million years hope to understand a thing about her. The embrace was nothing suggestive or possessive - just seeing his face right then, all Sara wanted to do was hug him.
Haha, the nanny. Screw you guys! she thought. Danny’s hands rested at the small of her back, almost tentatively.
“If you can win every game by three goals, I will live a lot longer,” she said.
“I think Cam had a better game than we did,” Danny said loudly, though it was no longer true. The hug trumped the Kiss Cam. Cameron groaned and shoved away from Scott, disappearing deeper into the room. Danny let go of Sara a little reluctantly, remembering what happened the last time he forgot to focus around her. “Are you hungry?”
Sara didn’t know what was into her. She felt giggly and silly: leftover adrenaline from being on the Kiss Cam and watching the Flyers win, mixed with the strange defensiveness that prickled her skin under the harsh looks from the other women in the lounge. As if she were somehow not good enough, and at just a glance. Granted she had held both Danny and Claude’s attention.... then left with Danny, almost sad to miss the looks being shot at her back. Sara just snickered and settled back into his passenger seat.
They went to the same pizza place and ordered the same pizza. The boys had another go at the claw crane game, leaving Danny and Sara alone again. If she got shy and quiet, Danny would too and they’d be stuck, staring at each other awkwardly and wishing for this night to end. Sara definitely didn’t want it to end. She asked about the game, a few specific things, and that lead to more conversation.
Danny told her anything and everything. The only thing he was careful about was not bragging. She could look up his stats or his salary. What she couldn’t find was how they spent their free time, what he missed about home, how he made the boys send him their homework so he’d know what they were up to.
“Cam tells you what we’re reading?”
“Yeah, and you’re good. I’ve never read most of the stuff from this year, not even when the others were in grade five. I usually get the books online - they’re short, for Cam. Caelen’s I just read the Cliffs Notes,” he admitted. They didn’t have unlimited time and some of the seventh grade stuff was tiresome.
Sara thought she might die - a parent this involved was music to a teacher’s ears. She leaned forward in her chair and put her hand on his forearm, skin-to-skin where he’d rolled up his sleeve. They both looked at her hand for a moment but Sara was resolved not to let go. For every argument she’d had against this, Danny had a million good reasons.
“Danny, all my students should be lucky enough to have a dad like you.”
Kiss me, he willed her for the first time to make the move he couldn’t.
God, I want to kiss him, her mind screamed in silence.
“Pizza!” the boys stormed the table like an enemy beach.
Saved by that fucking pizza. Again! Danny and Sara thought at the same time.
The food didn’t last long. Sara polished off a slice and pushed her plate away. Danny wondered if she’d meet friends after this, maybe go out dancing or to a bar full of guys her own age with no one waiting for them at home. It was barely eleven o’clock. The night was young.
“If you are going out, you could call Claude. I think they went to a club,” Danny suggested. It made him feel hopelessly old but at least he’d know she was in good hands.
“I don’t know how they can even stand up after a game. I’m beat,” she said. “These guys wore me out.”
“Can we watch a movie when we get home?” Carson asked with his mouth full of cheese, looking right at Caelan.
“It’s the middle of the night!” Danny answered.
“Just till we fall asleep. It won’t take long. Sara could come,” Caelan picked up the idea.
It was the worst best idea Danny had ever heard. He’d surely lose his mind with her in the house, late at night, curled on his couch watching a movie. The vision of Cameron asleep with his head in her lap flashed through his mind. Danny felt weak, as tired as Sara had said he should be.
“Another night, guys. Let Sara have a life.”
“Her boyfriend is on the space station,” Cam said conversationally, as if that obviously left her free for midnight movie marathons.
Danny gave her a wry look. “The space station?”
“I broke up with the astronaut, Cam. Try to keep up,” she mussed his hair. “My new boyfriend is a treasure hunter, he’s scuba diving on a pirate ship right now.”
“Right now?” Cameron asked sarcastically. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“Not in Australia.”
Sara smiled at Danny, who managed to compose his face into a smile. For a second there, at the word boyfriend, he was sure he’d looked quite horrified.
“Let’s get Sara home, guys.”
For all their requests, the boys were mostly asleep before Danny turned onto Sara’s street.
“A treasure hunter, eh?”
She smiled out the window. “Last time it was a lion tamer. He didn’t blink at that one. Or the astronaut.”
Danny willed her to say the words out loud - words he already knew, thanks to Claude. Sara doesn’t have a boyfriend. The moment would be too perfect to pass up, like she was inviting the question. Danny would swallow his fear, Sara would practically be begging him to ask her out. Just say it!
“What’s next?” he asked cautiously..
“Maybe a fighter pilot,” she shrugged. Or a hockey player.
At her door, politeness was the only reason for Danny to get out. He started to unbuckle and she stopped him, saying he didn’t have to, thanking him again for another great night and impressive win. He couldn’t kiss her from the driver’s seat, couldn’t even get close enough for a proper hug. And Danny was feeling it, at least for the moment. Maybe he could do what he couldn’t say. The boys were groggy enough that he might get the chance.
Sara had no idea what to do. She couldn’t kiss him in a car full of his kids, and she couldn’t be near his mouth without kissing him. Cheeks didn’t stand a chance tonight. Even outside - if she got near him, she’d crack. The idea of cuddling on his couch - with him, a kid, heck maybe they even had a dog - refused to leave her mind. So she had to leave this car.
But not without something.
Sara slipped her hand into Danny’s where it lay on the center console. His fingers twined between hers like a reflex. Before he could really react, she squeezed once and let go.
Danny waited until she was inside before pulling away - partly to make sure she got in okay, partly hoping she’d come running back. He was two blocks away before Caelan stirred, and his brothers followed suit. They hadn’t been asleep at all.
“Fakers,” Danny said under his breath.
Caelan was more serious. He patted Danny’s arm. “Maybe next time, Dad.”