Danny was dressed in jeans and a sweater, toweling off his hair, contemplating the fear of losing Sara when he’d barely even gotten her. Claude came in from the trainer’s room.
“What are you going to do?” Giroux asked, flexing the wrist he’d been rehabbing.
“I have to go there.” Danny could barely wait the hour and a half for practice. He’d never make it through the rest of the day. By then, if not by now, Sara’s entire school would know about them. It felt dirty and underhanded, as if he or she or they were something to be kept secret. Something to be ashamed of. “I want to be with her. I want everyone to know that, not see some pictures like I’m sneaking around.”
“You sure that’s okay with school?” Claude looked genuinely concerned. Danny shrugged, swung up his bag, and left.
It seemed right, as he drove through town. Danny turned up the radio to keep from talking himself out of it. He looked quickly in the visor mirror and pushed his hair back. It wouldn’t do to wear a hat when you wanted everyone to notice your face.
Judging by the number of kids in the hallway without books, it was lunch time. He turned one corner, then another into her classroom. Empty. So was her office at the back. Danny reversed course and joined the flow of students headed for the cafeteria. He didn’t meet any of the eyes that turned toward him, though not many people noticed. One advantage of being on the small side. No teachers eating with the students, so he retraced his steps.
Sara walked into the teacher’s lounge with her lunch in hand and her brain full of competing thoughts. Where did they get all that information? How did they even know about me?
She’s been around the rink though, so often with the boys. If other WAGs had noticed her perhaps the press had too. It wouldn’t be a hard puzzle to put together. But to find those photos, and the school... she was completely lost in thought as she sat at an empty table, opened the lid on her pasta salad and began to eat without tasting.
She didn’t react. Her brain was showing an image of Danny because that’s what she was thinking about. He wasn’t there in the school, in front of everyone, just in case there was a soul left who didn’t know. No one else was looking. Right.
“You okay?” he dropped into the seat next to her. He seemed awfully heavy for a figment of her imagination. “Sara?”
Danny held his breath and stared into her eyes, willing her to hear his thoughts. Please don’t give up on me yet.
“Hi,” she finally managed. Of course he was real, and there, and damn it if he didn’t look so fucking sweet she wanted to cry. His hair was wet, he’d come right from the rink. That sweater looked soft enough to hide in. The embarrassment of being called into her boss’s office to see her love life splashed across the internet suddenly coalesced in the pit of her stomach. Hold it together! she admonished herself. His hand closed on her forearm.
“I’m so sorry,” Danny said in a low voice.
Sara’s senses all clicked on at once, like the power returning after a blackout. Everyone was watching. She would have been too. This was not the place for anything but a smile that said it was bound to happen sometime. A quick glance around the room confirmed her thought.
“Everyone,” she said on autopilot, getting to her feet, “this is Danny. Most of you know him. Most of you know now that we’re dating too.” She was relieved to see some of her closest co-workers among the twelve or so people in the room. They’d have her back.
“It’s, uh, nice to see you all again,” Danny gave them a little wave.
With a nod, Sara said, “Excuse us.”
Outside the hallway was still full of kids. It was the most anonymous Danny could ever be in a Philly-area crowd. He followed Sara’s quick steps toward her classroom, then her office at the back. She shut the door.
“I’m so sorry,” Danny repeated. The corners of his eyes creased with worry, his lips pinched.
“That was so fast,” Sara said at the same time, “how did they....”
Danny grabbed Sara’s shoulders and kissed her. She was stiff as a board. He held her still until, bit by bit, her frantic composure began to crack. He needed to have this conversation with his girlfriend, not a crisis-control robot. Sara’s mouth eventually softened beneath his and her posture relaxed. She even returned his kiss a little, which he let her carry on doing as long as she would. Finally their lips parted and he leaned his forehead to hers.
“Are you in trouble?”
“No,” her voice was thick with tears.
Inside, rage flowed through his veins. They could hurt him all they wanted. He’d long ago stopped caring if they hurt Sylvie, back when she started courting the attention. But Sara was his responsibility. “I’m so sorry, ma belle.”
“I knew,” she said in a quivering tone. “It’s not... I just didn’t expect... God.” She sighed, fighting back the knot in her chest. “I knew, Danny. I guess I wasn’t ready to see it though.”
He kissed her lips softly, for this time she was right there with him. “I’m so selfish. Even when I knew what would happen.” Danny was working himself up even as he tried to calm her. “I wanted to be with you so much.”
“Danny, I...,” but she couldn’t get a word in.
“Like I’m worth it. I made you do this. I convinced myself it wouldn’t that bad because I wanted you, Sara. But I lied to you. I knew.” He shook his head again all the bad memories, the worst of the lies almost as bad as the worst of the truth. It came tumbling out of some dark corner where he’d shoved it away. “I’m sorry.”
Sara was taken aback by the outpouring of emotion. Where she’d felt exposed and ambushed, Danny clearly felt a more personal blow had been dealt. She brushed his face but he shied away, her hand falling. He’d never resisted her touch before. Those dark brown eyes finally settled on hers.
“Please don’t leave,” he said.
She was kissing him before she knew it. Tears spilled from her brimming eyes, wetting her cheeks and his. Danny didn’t flinch this time when she cupped his cheeks and held him fast. Sara could taste her heart breaking in the salt that reached their lips.
“I wouldn’t, Danny. No,” she whispered.
He took her hands and held them, as if waiting for permission to feel her touch again. “It will happen again. Even when they have nothing to say, Sara. Especially then.”
The thought of seeing herself splashed across another blog churned bile in her stomach. Those pictures were meant for her, those stories for people that she knew. Not strangers. But so many of the players had girlfriends or wives - even Claude, and people seemed to care far more about the Flyers’ young stud than their veteran guys. Still, the scent of scandal lingered on Danny and gossip writers followed it like bloodhounds. Sara could only think of one thing to do.
“Then we’ll have to give them something to talk about.”
Danny went home and straight to bed. He fell into a dreamless, heavy sleep and woke battered and slow. His heart was bruised, like he’d taken a jab to the chest. But it was still beating since Sara had said the words and kissed his lips and promised that she wouldn’t leave - not now, not for this.
Someday though, Danny couldn’t help predicting. He’d felt that way about himself since this marriage fell apart - if more than a decade with someone could implode, what good were a few months or a few years? Just seconds ticking off a bomb. He lay flat feeling sorry for himself and increasingly more lonely every time he pictured Sara. He’d have her and lose her and suffer more for that someday.
Downstairs, the door opened. Numerous feet shuffled into the house - sneakers squeaking, followed by the double click of high-heels. Danny counted the steps by the noise they made, exactly as many as it took to reach his door.
“Hey,” Sara let herself in.
“They give you any problems?”
“No.” Across the room she stepped free of the heels and hung her autumn yellow cardigan over a chair. In just a white tank top and brown trousers, she sat next to him on the bed. Danny lifted one hand to the center of her back and smoothed the ends of her long hair.
He’d stopped in the main office, then called the other school where Caelan and Carson were students. Without question, each one added Sara Cardenne to the list of people allowed to retrieve his sons. None mentioned the website, but Danny wondered.
Sara lay down heavily alongside Danny, also looking up. Side by side they were silent awhile. Sara knew he had something to say, Danny was trying to make the words seem less horrible.
Finally he gave up. “It was Sylvie. She told them who you were.”
Without glancing over, he felt Sara close her eyes. To make something public was one thing, to be found out another. But for someone to deliberately expose was another form of attack entirely - one Danny had weathered many times. Sara was a rookie in her first fight.
“That’s horrible,” she said in a small voice.
“She hates me,” Danny sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“I think she hates that she lost you. That you two fell out of love. I’d be furious, Danny. I know that it happens but I wouldn’t want it to happen to me.”
He rolled onto his side. In profile Sara looked younger than her 28 years, even if her words sounded much wiser. It was the worst part of breaking up - not the loss or the pain, but the humiliation. Finding out you’d been wrong all along, that your words and promises, though honestly said, in the end meant nothing.
But you said them anyway, because you wanted them to be true.
“It won’t,” Danny said. He felt so sure, despite his past mistakes. “No one could ever fall out of love with you.”
He turned her face, rising onto an elbow so he could press his mouth down to hers. It was the only way to stop the next three words from coming to his lips. Quickly and quietly they shed clothing below the waist. They looked at each other instead of the doorknob, which was unlocked. Some risks had to be taken. Sara wrapped her legs around Danny’s waist and bit down on that tiny gasp when he pushed inside her. For him it was like falling asleep again - good sleep, and restful. His body sought the same comfort she had given his heart, as if he were the one most wronged. Danny resigned to be the best damned boyfriend in the world if only he could take this one time to assure himself that Sara was really his and they were strong enough to try.
Her mouth broke from his as she came, head falling back with a soundless cry. Danny was right there with her, the orgasm taking so much stress and tension with it that he slumped on top of her prone body, chest heaving. Sara ran her fingers gently through his hair.
This three words rose again. Danny told them silently to the pillow beneath her head.
Sara and the boys were halfway through cooking burgers when Danny came downstairs, sleepily rubbing the back of his head. Caelan was manning the stove, spatula in hand. Carson set the places while Cameron lined up every condiment from the fridge. Sara pulled a tray of buns from the oven.
“You guys are awesome,” Danny smiled.
They ate at the kitchen counter, all perched on stools with their elbows on the table. Without speaking about it, Sara and Danny were both waiting for the same thing. Eventually it was Caelan who brought it up. “We saw the internet thing,” he said. Cameron and Carson looked at each other.
“And?” Danny prompted.
“Is that how come you picked us up today?” Carson said.
“Can Sara come to my hockey game?” Caelan asked.
“They were mean to Mom,” Cameron reminded everyone in a sad voice. Sara winced. No kid should have to read that. She ruffled his hair and he leaned against her.
“I’m sorry they said that. They’ll probably say mean things about me too, and your dad. But we don’t have to read them.”
“You should get someone to say good things,” Carson suggested. Danny lifted an eyebrow at the surprisingly astute observation from his son, but Sara was one step ahead of him.
“Just what I was thinking,” she smiled.
At ten o’clock the next morning, Sara was standing on the stage in an elementary school - but not her school. Danny and Claude were at center, leaning on their sticks in their orange jerseys, talking to sixty assembled students. Adults ringed the room, riveted themselves on the two Flyers stars. Nora whispered from next to her, “Danny has a big ass for a little guy.”
Sara snort-laughed so loud she had to turn her back. Smacking Nora’s arm was useless, the short-haired girl was already three steps away, trying not to crack up. When she was done giggling, Sara was going to hug her.
It had taken three phone calls. After dinner, Sara called Mr. Hargrove and laid out her plan. He gave her the next day off. Then she called Claude, who rang Kevin in Communications and then called her back. Just like that, they had usurped a hockey school appearance designated to Matt Carle and JVR. The guys had not complained.
“It’s not something the WAGs usually do,” Claude pointed out.
“All the more reason to write about it,” Sara said.
Sara and Nora helped divide the kids into squads and set their teams in rotation. Danny always played on one, Claude on the other. Each team had colored mesh pullover jerseys and played to three goals. Danny was patient and kind, showing kids how to hold the stick and how to aim a pass. Rambunctious Claude picked up a little girl and ran her and the ball right into the goal to win the game. From the sidelines, Nora and Sara whooped.
“Okay, this time we have goalies!” Danny waved the girls out, but Nora ran down the be on Danny’s team. Sara gave Claude a fist-bump, then everyone on her team. Danny sized them up.
“She’s a teacher, that’s cheating!” Danny shouted. It was easy to play his part in this - he just had to have fun and look crazy about his girlfriend. Done and done.
Sara called back, “Afterward, I’m doing everyone’s homework!” The kids all cheered.
Team Giroux won a few games, Team Briere a few others. In the end, the kids lined up to have photos signed by the players. Throughout the event, the Flyers team photographer and at least one other shot endless pictures.
“I like this,” Kevin sidled up next to them, arms crossed over his chest. “This was a good idea.”
Mostly Sara thought he was relieved not to be putting out another potential fire. Good publicity was good business. Bad publicity - well, Kevin had seen enough of that.
“Let’s hope it works,” Sara said.
“Darling, they love you,” Nora purred dramatically. She was watching the guys, and Danny looked over to where Sara was standing. “And they are not the only ones.”
Danny grabbed Sara around the waist and spun her. She shrieked in surprise and nearly toppled into a row of metal lockers in the school hallway. The hockey clinic had been a success, and some very favorable photos would be appearing online in hours. It was easy, effective and best of all, it had been Sara’s idea. The same way he’d been upset the day before, like being buried alive, he felt now like he might burst into sunshine and rainbows. Such highs and lows were terrifying. They bid Nora and Claude goodbye and climbed into Danny’s SUV with nothing to do for a long, glorious day.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” he said.
It was clear and cold outside, and as expected the parking lot near the Japanese Garden in Fairmount Park was empty because the museum was closed in winter. Sara took Danny’s hand and let him lead her across the expanse of grass to a stone monument that sat divided by the roadway. On either side it reached high above the street, with an archway in each wall.
“Please let me you’ve never been here,” he said. Sara shook her head no and Danny smiled. Surprise would be on his side. Passing through one arch he stopped in front of a long, low bench, made of stone and curved into a semicircle. The back of the bench ran unbroken along it’s length, so no matter where you sat you could lean against the stone support that extended overhead. Danny sat Sara down at one end, then walked across the semi-circle and sat down at the far end, forty feet away.
“What are you doing?” she called.
“Talking to you.”
The voice was so close and quiet that Sara jumped right out of her seat. She spun but of course there was nothing to see. Danny laughed and again she heard it as clearly as if he were next to her.
“What the hell?” she said, sitting back down. “How is....”
“Turn and talk against the wall,” his disembodied voice said. “It’s a whispering wall.”
She matched how Danny was sitting and spoke so that he couldn’t hear her naturally across the distance. “This is crazy! How does it work?”
“The shape carries the sound. In summer there are tons of tourists here.”
Sure enough, but it was weird to see him so far away and hear him so closely. She laughed again. “I guess no one else is skipping work today.”
“Thank you for doing that,” Danny’s voice said. “You were incredible today. I wouldn’t have thought you’d want to do something public.”
“Danny,” Sara sighed. She wanted to say this to his face, but more than that she wanted not to have to say it at all. He had so many doubts. “I should have handled the blog thing better, it just surprised me. That won’t happen again. And we can do things like today, we can do it our way.”
Forty feet away, Danny smiled. He had brought Sara there because it was cool and unique, and also romantic. Plus he thought it would be easier to be brave from a distance, knowing the effect she had on him. “You’re incredible,” he said.
“I want to be with you.” Sara sent it off like a message in a bottle, trusting the stone to carry them to Danny’s ears. Even at the distance she could feel his hurt. “Please don’t be afraid of me, Danny,” her voice was so soft the words might not make it. But a sound came back, strong and true.
“I’m not just afraid of you,” he said. “I’m in love with you.”
A/N: The Whispering Bench is a real place, though there's not a great website for it. See info here and photos here. There are a number of whispering galleries around the world - list.