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.
“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.
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.
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