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.
“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.
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