“Mr. Miles, you asked to be informed when the young lady was here.”
“Thank you Dennis, have them escort her here please, and have everyone keep a look out for Mr. Updyke, he hasn’t missed an opening in five years, so have the Bar B Que ready to go.” I said to the young intern from Syracuse University.
“Yes sir, everyone is on the lookout.” He said laughing and walking back to the veranda.
I couldn’t remember when I was that young doing the same job here. Time flies, and then some. I was nervous, hell I was always nervous on opening night, but this was different. Cassie was coming. She agreed to be my guest for opening night.
The last few weeks had been going very well and we seemed to be getting closer. Maybe it was me, it probably was, but I thought we might be moving past the friend zone. I mean we hadn’t kissed or anything, but now we were giving each other hugs goodbye. Oh, the feeling of holding her in my arms, it was indescribable, and now she would be here tonight.
“Sir,” Dennis said behind me and I turned.
She was beautiful. She was always beautiful, but tonight she was my kind of beautiful. Her hair was in a ponytail hanging out of the back of the team hat that I gave her. The jersey was fitting nicely and she looked like a regular at these kind of things. Needless to say I was captivated.
“You look like a real fan,” I said before I could say anything stupid.
“I hope so. I still don’t know much about this sport, but I am learning, and I even watched the hockey channel the other night so I didn’t look like such a noob. I’m ready to be miss hockey for the night.” She said modeling her attire.
Dennis had the decency to smile and leave. Good boy Dennis. I showed Cassie around the luxury box, or rather, the team box with a mini fridge. That was enough luxury for anyone that usually sat here. There were two rows of five seats down toward the ice side and then a bar partition with a walkway behind that held the fridge and a sink. It wasn’t much, but it was like home to me. I spent every game here watching the action.
Taking her hand, I took her down to the first row of seats and got her comfortable and fished a beer out of the fridge for her and handed it to her. I went through explaining our bench and the visitors, and the other things she would need to know. I pointed out the penalty boxes and she started smiling.
“I know all about the sin bins,” she said with a wink and I just about lost it.
This was the Cassie I dreamed about. This was the woman I saw when I looked at her. This was my dream living in front of me.
“I hope you have a beer for me too?”
I turned and Mr. Updyke was smiling down at us from the entrance.
“Mr. Updyke, you made it?” I asked jumping up and working my way up to the landing.
He began looking around him and it took me just a second to figure out what he was doing.
“Thomas, I am glad you made it.” I said blushing. It still didn’t feel right calling the owner anything but his name and title, but I was still happy Cassie was here so I went with it.
“Much better, and I see it’s not just the two of us this year.” He said loud enough for Cassie to hear as well so she came up and I performed the introductions.
“Cassie, this is Thomas UpDyke, owner of the Tailwinds here in Syracuse and the NHL team Tornados, not to mention all his other businesses and holdings. Thomas this is Cassie, A very close friend of mine.”
“The pleasure is mine young lady. I see why Joe is hiding you up here, I wouldn’t want to share you either, but tonight he has no choice. If I knew someone could make our merchandise look that good, we would have arranged photo shoots.” Charles said taking her hand.
Cassie blushed and smiled. “Thank you, it was Joe’s idea, I hope I look like a real fan. To be honest I’m kind of new to the whole sport.”
“My dear, we will have all we can do to keep the camera’s focused on the game, and not up here on you.” Charles said letting her have her hand back. “My boy I’m starved; do we have anything to eat?”
I grabbed my radio and said one word into the receiver “Dennis.” Then I put it back down and Dennis came walking in with a giant foil wrapped serving platter. He removed the foil and there were about twenty sandwiches from the dinosaur bar b que waiting for us.
“Ah, Joe you are the best. Miss Cassie would you like a sandwich, we have about twenty minutes before the game begins.” He asked.
“I would be delighted Mr. Updyke.”
“Charles my dear, any friend of Joe’s has to call me Charles, except that Mamma woman, she calls me something different.” He said snorting.
“You know Mamma Jade?” Cassie asked surprised.
“Let me tell you how I met her.” He said taking her hand and leading her toward the food.
Well shit, I lost my date. I thought to myself and laughed and followed the two of them toward the food.
The first period was over and we were up one to nothing and Charles excused himself to go check on a few things. That left me and Cassie alone to discuss the game and refine some of her ideas about it.
“It’s very fast paced,” she said relaxing in the nice padded seats.
“It can be. This is the first game and most of the young guys are excited. The veterans will calm them down and you will see more strategies play out, but when you have a chance for a breakaway, you take it.”
“I can see why you like this game. It just never occurred to me how all this worked.” Cassie said.
“I do, and what I really enjoy is helping young guys from here transition to the main team. Every time one of the kids make it, I feel a sense of pride that we had something to do with it. It gives me chills to know how many guys have gone on to the NHL from here. Would you like another drink?” I asked feeling a little overwhelmed at all the things I was confessing to her.
“That would be great.” She said smiling at me.
I got butterflies every time she did that, and this time was no different. I grabbed a beer for her and took it back. She looked at me funny when I didn’t come back with one.
“I like to keep my head during games you never know when something might need my attention. Besides I’m working on my Pepsi fix right now, I’ll have a beer when everything is over for the night.” I explained and she smiled with understanding.
“Joe, we have a problem, Teller went down with hamstring injury, who can I steal to replace him and still have a quality player?” Charles said coming back into the room.
“Offense or defense? Teller was a left wing but on the third line. Move Dubisk up from the fourth and then either one of the two guys I have will fit in on the fourth. I would go with Henry, he plays hard and works great on the penalty kill, and that’s what you want from the fourth line anyway.”
“Get him on a plane. I need him for tomorrow night.” Charles said just agreeing to my recommendation. It wasn’t unusual, and in this situation I had no doubts I was right.
“I’ll be back,” I said to Cassie as I headed down to the bench. I needed to get him out of here before something on the ice changed, which things like that happened.
“Good man, our Joe, He is all anyone could ever ask for.” Charles remarked.
“He seems to really love his work. He told me what a thrill it was to watch players transform into NHL players. It looks like he has another one on the way.” I answered.
“Henry? He has been up before. He will never be a full-timer, but in an emergency like this, Joe is right. He fits in with the guys on the main club, and he does do well on the penalty kill. He’s the right choice till we see what we have to work with down here.”
“Oh, I guess I assumed when a player went up, he stayed up?” I thought. Then again I had never thought about these things before.
“I’m afraid not. We do have a lot of rookies on this team that will one day go to the main team, but most the time we pull up to cover injuries. We took three kids from here and added them to the main club during training camp, so Joe is doing well. Anytime you can add players to a championship team you have done your job at the farm level.” Charles said sitting next to me getting comfortable.
“So, um, you and Joe?” He asked a little nervously.
“We are best friends. He is great. I can’t imagine a day without him.” I answered smiling.
“I see,” he said a little disappointed. I seemed to have that effect on men. “Joe is a great guy. He deserves a great girl. He had never asked anyone to come to a game before, so I was hoping you two were more than friends.”
I felt my face flush. How could I tell another man that I didn’t look at Joe that way. “Um, we are close, and he means the world to me, but, we are just friends.”
“I understand,” he said patting my hand. Then he gestured down to the team bench and I could see Joe talking to a guy in a suit.
That must be the Coach of the team. They exchanged a few words and the coach seemed upset, and then joe said a few more things, and the coach started laughing. That was Joe, he could make anyone feel better.
Joe left and a few seconds later one of the players went back to the locker room. I had to assume that it was Henry, the guy that was being moved to the other team. I smiled thinking Joe would still be happy one of the kids was going to the main club.
The second period was over and the Tailwinds were up by two and Joe and Charles both seemed happy with what they were seeing. They talked names and places and I was a little left out, but it was ok, this was Joe’s world, not mine.
“Joe tells me congratulations are in order?” Charles said coming to take his seat next to me again.
“Um, Joe?” I asked scared what he might have told the man that was hoping Joe and I were more than friends.
“Your promotion, it wasn’t a secret was it?” Joe asked confused.
I visibly let out the breath I was holding. “No it wasn’t a secret. Thank you Mr. Updyke, I think I am going to love it. It’s a lot more work, but it’s nice being able to look after all the people on my floor.”
“It’s nice that you care about your people Cassie, but always remember, you have to care about you first, in order to care about them.” Charles said in that fatherly way.
“I will remember that sir.” I said being totally honest. When a man like Mr. Updyke gives you advice, you take it.
“Oh shit,” Joe said jumping from his seat and running out of the box. I watched him go and then turned to the ice and saw a player laying there with blood coating the ice underneath him. Instinctively my hand went to my mouth and I felt nauseous. I looked at Charles but he seemed riveted to the ice.
A trainer was out on the ice and one of the coaches. I didn’t know how long I was staring but the next thing I know Joe was out on the ice as well. He had rubber gloves on, and was helping the trainer do something to the player. He went back to the bench and came back with a large towel. They helped the player up while Joe draped the towel over his head to keep people from seeing anything.
I looked at Charles again and he looked down to me. “We won’t know till Joe comes back.”
We both sat there quiet watching them clean the ice up. I was a little shaken after it happened but the fans seemed to go right back to what they were doing. I wondered if this was normal at a hockey game. I heard a noise behind me and turned to see Joe walking in with his phone in his ear.
“I know Gracie, I will call you as soon as the doctor tells me. From what I can see he will be ok, but he may have a scar.” He looked thoughtful as he listened to the response. “Ok, talk to you soon, let me get going and I’ll call you soon.”
“Tommy took a slash to the face just under his visor. I need to go with him to the hospital to let his mom know what’s going on. Cassie, I’m sorry to leave you like this.” He said with pleading eyes.
“You go Joe, don’t worry about me, I will be fine.” I said almost crying with the pain that was on his face.
“I’ll make sure she gets home Joe. That’s the kid we grabbed in the second round. How bad is it Joe?” Charles asked.
“Bad enough. I wish they all wore the full protection.” He said.
“I pushed for it at the owners meeting, but I was shot down. Let me know when you do?” Charles finished and Joe nodded and looked at me one last time.
He wanted to say something but he couldn’t seem to find the words. I could tell he was struggling and I finally grabbed his hands and looked him in the eyes and said “go Joe, you have a player who needs you.”
He nodded and ran from the box. I watched him go and hoped everything would be alright.
“It will be fine. Joe takes every injury personally, he always has. He is like the unofficial big brother of the team and he keeps the families in the loop. I don’t know what I would do with-out Joe.” Charles said. “That’s the thing about special people in your life, you never really realize how perfect they are until they aren’t there anymore. I learned that when my wife passed, and every day I try to remember that. Joe is very special to me for what he’s doing now and what he has always done. He is the greatest human being I have ever met. If I could be anyone else in the world, I would choose to be Joe.” Charles said and the intensity in his eyes made me believe everything he said.
Why was he telling me this? I already knew how great Joe was. He was my best guy friend. I didn’t understand why he was so insistent. “I know Joe is great, sir.”
“I know you do sweetheart, but you don’t what it would be like without him. I hope you never find out, but if you do, and your life feels like it is over, see me.” He finished. “The game is about over and I want to get you out of here, so let’s head out and get you to your car.”
“Oh sir, I can manage.” I said. I was big girl I could get to my car in the parking garage without help.
“I made a promise to Joe, so please humor me, and let me do this.” He said with that same kind of intensity that he showed earlier. How could I argue with that?
“Thank you,” I said letting him lead me away.