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

Saturday, August 4, 2012


For a moment, Sara was glad Danny could not see the look on her face.  She sat perfectly still, as if waiting for his words to come back to her like an echo.  As if she might have heard them wrong.

“Sara?”  Across the the flagstone plaza, Danny was already on his feet.  She heard him along the whispering wall as much as on the air.  His coat flapped against hurried steps.  His face was everything - worry and fear along the edges of intentional blankness.  

She knew that Danny always gave too much away.  He didn’t have it in his heart to do anything but what he felt.  Even after everything he’s been through.  Then he was next to her.

“That’s crazy,” she said, looking right into his bottomless brown eyes.  Her own bangs slipped in front of her vision and she wished she could hide behind them, hide the gut reaction she couldn’t stop.

“It’s true.”

“I...,” she flexed her fingers where he’d twined them between his own.  “It’s so soon.  A few months?”

“I know.   But I’ve put you through a lot already and I want you to know that I’m serious.  I’m sorry you had to read about it online before I could tell you myself.”

She chuckled, her eyes prickling with tears.  “Is this what it feels like?  Like I want to laugh and cry and throw up all at the same time?”

“Pretty much,” he nodded playfully, but she knew his words were true.  The tension in the air was disappearing with Danny’s words..  “I know it’s scary,” he put her hands together in one of his and covered it with the other.  “I haven’t felt this way since....”  He let the sentence trail off because they both knew he meant Sylvie, and that it was a long time ago, and her name wasn’t a word to be said now.  He slid two fingers under the sleeve of her coat and gently stroked the soft skin inside her wrist.  “I thought I might never feel it again.  That’s why I had to tell you.”

She was about to cry.  Danny had already given her so much - his trust, his family, his precious time.  Now he was giving her more.  “Danny, I....”

His lips pressed to hers, sealed tight, like he’d already locked away a promise.  “When you’re ready.  If you’re ready.”  Then he looked right at her, mere inches away.  “I hope someday you are.”

“I will,” Sara promised.  It was the best she could do right then, and she would not tell Danny anything but the absolute truth.  “I want to.”

“I can wait,” Danny said.  He would wait forever if she needed, so long as he could wrap his arms around her and keep her close.  He did that now, in the cold winter air of the empty plaza.  As much as he wanted Sara to feel the same way, he understand that it was a big step.  More than anyone, Danny knew not to take it lightly.  And he hadn’t.  He smiled and buried his face in the soft fall of her hair.

I can wait.

They walked quietly back to the car, swinging hands between them.  There was a little bit of time before the boys were done with school.  For the first time, Danny’s impulse didn’t run toward getting Sara alone in the house.  Too quiet, too much pressure.  Instead they needed a diversion.  He will himself to be confident as he drove toward the mall and pulled into the lot closest to the sports store.  On the wall to the right was a huge Flyers logo.

“Can you just walk in here?” Sara asked.  “Am I your bodyguard now?”

Danny just smiled and made for the racks of orange and black gear.  Sara cast her eyes around, looking for anyone that might recognize him.  On a weekday afternoon there were not many shoppers.  It only took him a moment to find what he wanted: a medium-sized women’s #48 jersey.

“The boys already gave me one!”

“You can’t wear that to a game after wearing it in bed,” Danny got right in her space, making her back up into another rack.  “How am I supposed to play when I’m thinking about you in that jersey and nothing else?”  His lips were an inch from hers, his body even less.  

“We’re probably being photographed,” she whispered, smiling.  Relief was there too.  A lot had happened in twenty minutes, her brain needed time to process it all.

“Me and a hot girl making out in Sports Authority while she holds my jersey?  I think there’s an award for that.”  Danny nuzzled her neck.  It was so out of character, Sara appreciated it even more.

The young girl at the counter didn’t recognize Danny as he paid for the jersey.  Just as well - the idea of more photos really wasn’t funny.  Not wanting to push their luck, he and Sara returned to the car.  She was laughing about something, seemingly at ease.  Danny decided to keep it that way.  He stopped at the grocery store and they decided on tacos for dinner.  The way she automatically included his kids - buying enough for five people, grabbing extra juice - was just another on the list of reasons he was glad for what he’d said.  At the checkout, she turned in line and suddenly kissed him squarely on the lips.  Then she just smiled and unloaded the cart.

Dinner was a hit.  The boys piled dishes in the sink and ran for the living room, arguing over what movie to start.  Danny collected glasses while Sara put away the sour cream and leftover cheese.  He was thinking it was another perfectly normal night, where Sara fit right into this family, when she spoke.

“No one’s ever said that to me before,” she said out of the blue.

It took a moment for Danny to realize what she meant.  “I love you?”

Sara shook her head like it shouldn’t be so hard for him to believe.  Her eyes dropped and her lips pressed flat.  The atmosphere in the kitchen changed like pressure rising before a storm.  Danny ditched the glasses on the counter and pulled her right into his arms.  He had not thought of that.  It was a big thing to say, certainly, but he hadn’t considered that he might be the first to do it.  Not with Sara.  Surely someone had beaten him to that prize.

“I love you,” he whispered, pressing his face to her hair, his mouth just above her ear.  It sounded louder than that, now that it carried twice the weight.  “I didn’t think... I don’t know.  I don’t know that much about you,” he admitted.

“Then how do you know you love me?”

An arrow through the heart, right on target.  Danny pulled back and looked into Sara’s eyes, feeling every one of the days he had over her as he gave hard-earned advice.  “You’ll never know everything about a person, that’s why you want to stay with them.”

Sara wanted to cry.  She wanted to curl up against Danny and let him shield her from everything, at the same time she’d never needed anyone to protect her.  Things had always been her way.  Suddenly finding that another person might be more important than herself was like standing on quicksand.  Danny had a world of experience that she didn’t, plus three other people to care deeply about.  He knew what love was and she believed him when he said he loved her.  It was only herself, and the differences between their lives, that kept her from making him the same promise.

“I’m not afraid,” she said. It was the only thing she was sure of.

Danny agreed.  “That much I do know.”

That night was not different between them.  If anything, it was the sureness in the way Sara made love that kept Danny at ease.  He had laid his heart bare, and in her own way Sara did the same.  She smiled as his hands tracked down her body, slipping between her legs.  A soft noise from her throat told him she was ready, and that tiny gasp as he pushed himself inside.  Sara kissed him fiercely as they moved together, and buried her cry in a pillow when she came.  Laying spent and silent in the darkness, she traced the muscles beneath his skin with delicate fingertips.  Danny let her hands do the talking, until her lips took over.  The soft, slow kisses they shared, wrapped in sheets and each other, let him believe they had forever for other things... and many long nights ahead.

Two weeks passed.  Danny went on the road for one of them and the boys stayed with their mother.  Sara saw Cameron at school - he was the same as always.  Caelan texted her every other day to talk about something unimportant, and she smiled to know it was his way of saying they hadn’t forgotten.  Danny called every night.  She knew he would.

“I miss you,” he always said.  The “L” word he kept to himself.  Sara couldn’t deny that it sent a thrill through her body like a bolt of lightning, but it also singed her nerves and left scorch marks  behind.  She was building up to it - no one needed reminding.

“I love you,” she told the mirror in the morning.  “I love you,” she said to the rear view mirror in her car.  Even twice when the phone showed Danny’s picture, before she picked it up.  “I love you.”  It was true.  Her heart thumped at the idea of him.  Three days, then four without touching him seemed like eternity.  His soft hair, the crinkle at the corner of his eyes, the smile he couldn’t fight when she did something clumsy.  But mostly it was the way he looked when he slept, and the way he paid attention to his kids.  “I love you,” she told her empty bed before she went to sleep at night.  

The last game of the road trip was in Pittsburgh. Even a novice hockey fan like Sara knew it was bad.  An unsportsmanlike, sloppy, dirty fight-fest, multiple fines and suspensions were coming.  The coaches stood on the boards, screaming at each other.  With just over a minute left, Sara’s heart stopped.

The Flyers had just gone up 6-3.  The game was over.  Why Danny was even out there, she would never know.  But one of the Penguins hit Danny in open ice - clean, hard, needless.  He never saw it coming; Danny went down like a ton of bricks.  Sara wasn’t the only one who screamed.  Mayhem erupted.  Fifty-nine minutes of pure hatred boiled over into a dish-ragging, punch-throwing bloodbath.  Right there in the middle was Danny, looking smaller than everyone but trading facewashes and swings with anyone in arm’s reach.

In the end, the Flyers won.  It was the ugliest game of the season, made worse by the fact they had one more game in Pittsburgh and were almost a lock to face them in the first round.  Sara made a call and  got a ride to the airport, waiting alongside Nora in her knee length coat.  When the door opened and the team poured out, she fought the urge to run to Danny.

Something’s wrong, was her first thought.  He was a little slow, a little heavy.  Not injured per se but Danny was hurting.  Nora squeezed her arm - she knew Danny well enough to sense it too.

“You’re here,” he said , bleary from half-sleeping on the short flight.

“Are you okay?”

Danny smiled, leaning in to kiss her.  She read him so easily.  All he wanted was to curl up in her arms and sleep for a week, but Sara had other ideas.  She kissed him for all she was worth right there in front of everyone.  Wayne Simmonds whooped.  Sara dropped Danny and hugged Wayne too.

“Thanks for sticking up for him,” she said.  

Wayne laughed.  “He scores.  I scrap.  We’re cool.”

“You scored too,” she reminded him.  The only reply was a million dollar smile.  

Danny stood at the mirror in just his shorts, brushing his teeth and watching the reflection of Sara moving around his room.  It was very late, and a school night.  He would have been surprised to see her waiting on the tarmac in the wee hours any day of the week.  Not all the WAGs did that.  Some never did.  And he was so, so exhausted; far too tired to wonder if she loved him back, if she’d ever say it.  It was the first time in weeks he put the thought away.  If she didn’t love him, she wouldn’t have come.  She wouldn’t have known to come.

Finally Sara undressed down to her panties - a new pair he’d never seen - and sat on the edge of the bed.  Danny hurried to finish; it almost looked like Sara had something to say.

Instead she just reached for him.  He tipped back till they were laying down and let her snuggle into his side.  A week was a long time to be gone from family and home.  It was even longer to be gone from this.  He pulled the comforter over the half of the bed they occupied.  Sara draped across his chest.  As the extra warmth settled around them, Danny’s fatigue surged back with a vengeance.  It had been a long trip full of tough games, and he’d really taken a beating in Pittsburgh.  

But she waited up...

“I bought new underwear,” she mumbled.
“I noticed.” The smile was audible in his voice.  “I’ve been waiting all week to see them.”

She burrowed her face and her hair tickled his skin.  She smelled of something warm and floral, like a sunny day.  One long, smooth leg was hooked over his and her delicate fingers tucked beneath his side.  “Can you wait one more day?”

“I can wait,” Danny said, knowing he’d promised that before.

He didn’t have to wait long, not for the physical part.  Sara’s phone alarm chimed too soon, signalling another day of school.  Before he could roll over, she was hitting snooze and folding back into him.  The rest took care of itself.  An small kiss turned into a big one and minutes later her new panties were lost beneath the sheets.  Sara lay on her side with Danny behind, his face pressed to her neck as she shimmied back against his lap and he angled himself inside.  It was like sinking back to sleep, the ultimate relaxation, even as everything below his waist gathered tension.  Sara rocked against him, doing half the work, always giving something.  He closed one hand on her breast and rolled the taut nipple against his sensitive palm.  They breathed heavily together until she bucked hard against him, body clenching, and Danny gave in too.  They lay gasping before her alarm even rang again.

“I love you,” Danny said very quietly, for the first time since the kitchen the day of the whispering wall.  He’d thought it a hundred times since leaving a week ago.  Letting the words out eased the remaining tension from his muscles.

Sara turned her head so she could see his elfin smile.  “Lucky me.”

Ten days passed.  Danny did not play or travel with the team.  The game in Pittsburgh had been just another blow in the physical toll of the season, but a good excuse for some much-needed rest.  Instead he and Sara played house.  She stayed over every night and after the first few, he felt like she was part of the family.  In theory, Danny wanted to pull the boys aside and ask if it was okay with them.  Then he saw Sara at the table helping Carson with his homework, just as Cameron spread out his textbook next to them.  Even Sean was grateful for a woman’s touch around the house - and in the fridge.  He ate at least a pound of fresh fruit every day.

No question.

Sara and Danny watched their first ever Flyers game together, the last game of the season live from  Pittsburgh.  In the end it was an unremarkable game.  Like two lions circling, the Pens and Flyers ignored the food between them because they’d rather kill and eat each other.  Danny was still sore but optimistic and raring to meet the Penguins again in the first round.  

Sara never failed to notice how at home she felt with Danny, day in and day out, not having to make plans or think about when she would see him next.  It scared her how good that felt.  Sara knew that under his patience and kindness, he was waiting for her to say out loud that she loved him back.  Until then they couldn’t really move forward  When it was time for him to leave again, Sara lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling.  Going back on the team schedule felt like they were taking a step backward in their relationship too.  Plus she was nervous about the playoffs.

Danny came alongside and stood over her.  “I’ll be fine,” he said.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep,” Sara grimaced, shaking her head.  Her heart pounded at the thought - excitement, fear, anxiety.  She had been paying attention to hockey for less than two months and the very mention of endless overtimes and best-of-sevens made her want to throw up.  Danny hadn’t been injured and she couldn’t think of him as fragile, but she was nervous.

“You’re awfully worried,” Danny leaned close, ditching the shirt he was folding.   He couldn’t resist.   “Someone would think your boyfriend’s playing or something.”

Sara grabbed and pulled him down.  Danny was keyed up too.  Bruises and battery from a season of combat suddenly stopped aching when the post-season arrived.  His veteran status made the playoffs harder.  He’d tastes success and failure; he’d lost at every level, even in the Final.  There were only so many chances.  His optimism was tempered with a big dose of that memory.  Sara didn’t have any baggage to keep her down and the energy was infectious.   

“I hear they call you Mr. Playoffs,” she said.

“Who told you that?”

“Cam.  And Google.  And the gym teacher at school.  Also Claude.  Apparently you’re a really big deal,” she rolled onto one elbow.  “But I already knew that.”

He kissed her for as long as he could before he risked missing the flight.

When the time came, the boys insisted on carrying their dad’s stuff to the car.  He hugged each boy, then hugged and kissed Sara right in front of them and they didn’t even make faces.  Danny paused for a second, thinking Sara might send him off with three special words.  She just smiled and kissed him twice.  The nanny would be over soon - Danny wasn’t comfortable yet asking Sara to babysit.  But as he drove away, with Sara and his sons waving the driveway, he hoped it wouldn’t be long before he could expect to come home to the same sight.

“Dying. I’m dying.”  Sara had gone to the Briere’s house to watch Game One with the boys.  She wore the girls’ jersey Danny had bought her.  The nanny insisted on making them dinner, as if Sara were a visiting cousin.  One whose plans for the night involved hanging out with her pre-teen pals.  At the end of the first period, the Penguins were up three nothing.  The Flyers weren’t a disaster, but Sara didn’t relish watching forty more minutes of onslaught.

“Plenty of time,” Caelan said like a perfectly reasonable little grown up.  Cameron pushed over on the couch till Sara put her arm around him.  They sat together on the edge of the cushion.  The second period had a more promising start and by the four minute mark Sara was feeling noticeably better.  But it didn’t matter how they looked, it only mattered if they...

“Aaaagggghhhh!” They all screamed and jumped to their feet.  Braden Schenn capitalized on a turnover and pushed the puck between the Penguins defenders to Danny, who had a jump on them.  He skated in and scored.  The boys did goal-scoring dances while Sara tried not to have a heart attack.

It gave the Flyers life.  The rest of the second and the start of the third period were the same tight matchup as the Flyers played against the Penguins and clock.  Nearing the halfway mark, Sara was strangling a couch pillow between two hands when Danny scored again.  It was even quicker than the first - he spun around from along the board and just tossed it on net.  Somehow it went in.  More screaming.  

“See? I told you, Mr. Playoffs!” Cam shouted.  Sara laughed weakly and collapsed back into her seat.

If they can’t win, at least let Danny play well, she thought.  It wouldn’t make Danny happy, but Sara would feel better.  Until Braden scored to tie the game just four minutes later.

“OhmyGodpleasewin!” Sara and everyone else shouted.  The Flyers, or the hockey gods, heard and answered.  Two minutes into overtime, Jakub Vorachek scored.  Game one to Philly.  Sara ended up on the bottom of a literal Briere dogpile on the couch, complete with Zoe and Zora barking and snorting.  The speed with which celebratory milkshakes arrived made Sara think the nanny had more faith in the Flyers than anyone else.

Later that night, Danny called.  “OH MY GOD,”she hollered into the hone.  Home in her room there was no one to see her bouncing off the walls.  “I can’t take this! That was awesome!  You are awesome!”

Danny beamed with pride a few hundred miles away.  He loved to win and contribute and even better if it came against Pittsburgh during the playoffs.  But they were a long way from done.  He talked to Sara about it, knowing she’d listen even to the hockey-nuanced parts that maybe she didn’t understand yet.  Just going through it out loud helped Danny relax.  By the time fifteen minutes passed, he was sprawled out on his hotel bed.

“I miss you,” he said.  After ten days with her, it was cruel to be near a bed alone.

“I miss you.  And I’m sorry if I underestimated you, but I wasn’t expecting you to turn the whole game around by yourself.”

“It wasn’t just me.”

“Okay, Braden too.  I’ll get him a hot date with one of the teaching interns at school.  They’re nineteen or twenty.  One of them asked me for Claude’s number, actually.  Too late for that.”

Game two started out the same - the Flyers down a few goals.  Then the roof came off like nothing even the boys had seen.  Non-stop scoring at both ends.  At least four goals per period.  Claude had two in the second period, and just before the buzzer, Sean scored to tie the game.  Screaming ensued.  Caelan ran upstairs at full speed and re-appeared in a Coutourier jersey that he had to hold up around his waist to keep from falling on the way back.  One minute into the third, the Pens took the lead.  Seventeen seconds later, Sean scored again.  The Briere house was chaos.  Cameron and Carson tore into his room - Carson came back in a “Property of Philadelphia Flyers” practice shirt with Sean’s number on it.  All Cameron could find was a beat-up hat.  The Flyers took the lead and held it down to the wee minutes.  Sara thought she might pee her pants from flinching so hard every time the Penguins touched the puck.

“No!  No!  You jerk!” she hollered at the TV, making the boys laugh.

With less than two minutes left and Sara’s heart in her throat, Sean scored again.  It was the next best thing to Danny scoring.  They all cheered for their roommate like he was family too.  Not to be outdone, Claude scored an empty-netter with seconds left.  
“Hat tricks for everyone!” Sara yelled.  The celebratory milkshakes showed up even more quickly this time.  Feeling overjoyed, Sara sent the nanny home.  The Flyers were up two games to none and there was no way she was leaving now.  

Two hours later, Danny came in through the garage.  He threw his keys on the counter and bag on the floor.  Elated despite having zero points in the game, it  did not make up for exhaustion.  Danny shrugged out of his coat and opened the fridge.


Tied around the handle of the Brita pitcher was a black ponytail holder, the kind Sara always had around her wrist.  A piece of paper had been punched through and secured like a tag.  He’d only ever seen her handwriting on homework.  He flipped it over.

Everybody else scored tonight.  Now it’s your turn.

“You’re fucking kidding,” he said out loud.  Spinning on a heel, he took the stairs two at a time and jogged right past his sleeping sons’ doors.  Sara had heard him come in downstairs.  She counted the moments, figuring he’d go for the fridge first.  Two minutes total before he barged into his own bedroom.

“Mon dieu,” he said as he pushed the door shut and dove onto the bed.  She lay atop the folded back blanket, once again wearing nothing but his jersey.  The vision would forever be seared in Danny’s memory.  He landed on top, already moving and kissing as she fumbled with his belt.  The button down shirt went sailing across the room.  Shoes thudded to the carpet, a zipper opened.  Shorts were gone and they were twisted in the blanket and the jersey and each other.

“Fuck, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” Danny groaned as the underside of his cock slipped along the groove between her legs.  Her skin was smooth and endless, his hands underneath the hockey sweater where only he got to go.  She breathed heavily as he pushed himself against her clit.  Danny’s mind tumbled - she was so hot and bothered and perfect and here and it was all for him.  All of her.  He was beyond hard, surprised to have the energy after such a wild game.  Then Sara hitched her leg over his hip and the head of his dick found her tight slit, catching for just a moment before slipping free.  He could have roared.  Of course he had the energy for this.

“Danny,” Sara whispered.  On the next stroke, just as his tip found the spot, she nipped his earlobe.  He got the hint and pushed his cock right into her.  “Fuck,” she gasped.  He felt so good, her body was throwing a welcome home parade.  His usually slow and gentle style lasted thirty seconds.  Danny guided Sara’s legs up, knees to her shoulders, and grunted as he drove back in.  Before her eyes fluttered closed, Sara saw the same look of concentration as when he took a faceoff.  

As good as she felt from above, Danny could only spend a few minutes so far away.  Eventually he pushed Sara’s legs to the left, so she was almost on her side.  The new angle was so tight that he had to push harder, slowly screwing himself into her core.  Her lips fell away in a moan as her pussy quivered all around him.  The feeling snapped back like a rubber band: amplified, magnified, echoing.  Danny’s cock throbbed so hard he felt a tiny spill.  Then another drop.  He tried to fight it but Sara was on her own path.  Trapped against the bed she could only twist again, and it worked.  She gasped as she came, suddenly pushing herself down hard against the sensation.  The orgasm was torn right out of Danny’s body.  He groaned loud enough to wake the kids as he burst hot and drained himself inside Sara.  

Finally spent, Danny lay panting.  Sara’s chest heaved, trying to catch her breath.  He shifted his weight toward her back, sliding against her skin and pulling his flagging erection partway free.

Danny froze.  “Holy shit.”  At that moment, Sara went perfectly still.  A long, slow moment passed.

“I’m not...,” he said.

“You’re not...,” Sara realized at the same time.

Danny eased himself the rest of the way out of her body.  Sure enough, no condom.

“I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I, I just got so caught up that I...,” he babbled uselessly. A warm drop of their mixed fluids pooled against his thigh.

Sara rolled.  It was more of a flip, so she was facing him instantly.  Her heart pounded.  She’d just done something foolish and dangerous and completely fucking amazing.  Danny was about to launch another apology.  Concern creased his brow and the wrinkles at the corners of his soft brown eyes made him seem older than his thirty-four years.

“I love you,” she said.  

He stopped.  And stared.  Until Sara kissed his parted lips and stopped whatever he’d been about to say.  Because she wasn’t sorry.  “I love you,” she repeated.  It felt even better than sex.  “We’re okay.”

Danny was stunned.  A crashing, embarrassing, potentially catastrophic mistake had just occurred - what if Sara got pregnant?  How could he have been so careless with something so important?  If she was having second thoughts before, this would make them all reality.

Instead she was saying something else entirely.

“You do?”

Even as the question came from his mouth, Danny wanted it back.  He trusted Sara to tell the truth.  Especially a truth he was so desperate to hear and believe.  But at the heart of everything was the fear of being hurt again.  Danny had put himself out there because that was his way.  It didn’t mean he’d forgotten what it could bring.  He was scared shitless that Sara wouldn’t love him, or that she would, and that they’d make it, or they wouldn’t.  That they’d get pregnant or traded or hurt or live happily ever after.  He had put his faith in that fairy tale before.  Even since meeting Sara, Danny had his doubts about happily ever after.

“I do,” she answered.

For a split second they both thought about her saying that again, in a white dress, in front of a lot more people.

“I love you,” he said.  Then he kissed her and rolled on top of the scene of the accident they’d just had.  Sara tasted sweeter for having said those three little words.

She kissed him back, deliriously overwhelmed.  Sara loved Danny.  Of course she did.  The fear was still there, but saying the words gave them some kind of magic, like casting a spell on a feather and making it fly.  It was still, in the end, a feather.  Only now it was special.  The feel of his lips and tongue and hands and body was electric.  Before long they fell back, holding each other.  Sara traced her fingers over the scars on Danny’s jaw.

“If you get pregnant, I want to keep it,” he said.

She blinked slowly, the words taking the scenic route to her brain.  Right, pregnant. Because I just had unprotected sex for the first time in my life, and with a man who has no problem making babies.  Right.  Focus.

“I’m on the pill,” Sara did a little mental math, “and it’s not the right time anyway.  We’ll be okay.”

He insisted.  “But if you did.  Or if you do.  I want to have kids with you someday, if you want them.  If you want it to be me.  If you don’t, that’s okay too.”

“Danny,” she put her fingers to his lips.  His slightly wild-eyed look dimmed as his words caught up with his brain.

“You’d be a great mom,” he said because he needed to say it.

Sara’s heart was going to explode in a shower of glittery rainbows any second.  Too much was happening and she would never get the right words around the tears in her throat.  One slipped from her lashes; Danny laughed and wiped it away with a thumb.  Then he kissed her again, gently, and closed his eyes.

Thanks for sticking out the wait on this, everyone! I don't plan my stories in advance - I only ever have a beginning, and no idea where the story will go. It helps hold my interest but sometimes I hit a block. Lately I've been too busy to devote enough time to the direction of this story. Since I really like it, I didn't want it to start getting sloppy because I was rushing. I hope it was worth the wait. And it's not over yet. - Juliet