Part Thirty One
Chapter Thirty One
Half of his old team. More. That was how many people had contacted since he'd reopened the social media door. Bo was both stunned, and overwhelmed. His old captain, the goalie, his line mates, all asking how he was, where he was, and 'where the fuck have you been?'. That was the exact verbatim message from Anders Johansen, his often road roomie.
Laughing, he sat at his small dining table and replied to everyone of them. Explaining his head had been in the wrong place, that he had a lot to deal with, but that he was playing, in England of all places. And they had all replied almost immediately.
He'd thought that no one cared, that no one wanted to know him now that he was a has-been, but that wasn't the case, it really wasn't.
Suddenly they were all linked in a group chat, and Andreas – nicknamed Animal due to his wild ways, was planning a trip over to visit him. It'd be in the close season, as they were all half way into a really busy season. But as the comments flashed on his phone, the sheer love.
Well it was more than he could take.
After skipping out on breakfast, he'd met the team at the rink for more drills, there really was no substitute for skating, but practising actual drills on the ice. Gym gave strength, running endurance, but actual practice was what made him buzz. And he was on fire, his knee felt better than it had in ages, and he was on fire, running, or rather, skating rings around his teammates. Every time Coop caught his eye, he was beaming.
In reality, he was no different to a week ago. But he was appreciating everything, having fun. And it was all thanks to Natasha. Even if she didn't want to see him, he had to tell her, thank her. For the first time since his injury, he didn't feel as though he had the world on his shoulders, that he wasn't weighed down by his own inadequacies.
Skating for several hours was hard work, and when they'd finished the drills Coop had planned, they all took pucks and popped them at the keeper, cycling around the ice in an organised fashion, passing the puck, moving it, hitting the back of the net. Vaughn was in show-off mood, but Bo managed to turn his head an ignore him. He didn't want to upset the apple cart, and the guy was already pissing off half the team. Coop, as always, was right. Give him enough rope and he'd hang himself...already was.
Practice ended and he stayed around, giving a few casual interviews to the local tv news provider, local newspaper. Light-hearted chat, but as he left the rink, the reality that it was Wednesday and he'd be leaving for the capital for two games in less than forty eight hours made him realise just how volatile things were. He had no plans, time spent alone until then. He couldn't force Natasha to see him.
There were a few more messages from back in the US, mainly personal as oppose to the group message. Three of his friends were now married, and four had had a new kid. He had missed so much.
As the evening moved on, he became more and more despondent. He didn't know what to do, and despite the fact that he'd had a good week at the club, inside he was restless, unsettled...and lonely. No amount of messages, generic, "how are you?" ones, didn't help, and neither did hearing that life had moved on so much in his absence, he had so little to show for his own life over the last few years.
Changing into shorts and a training top, he found his running shoes and headed out into the cold evening. Nothing like striving for oxygen to clear the mind, but that didn't work either, he was at this cross roads where he suddenly knew what he had, what he wanted and how to get it were another thing.
In his head Natasha had started to represent everything, the present, maybe the future, but to commit to that, to her, he had to give up on the things that were ingrained in him. He'd lived his dream live for years, he had no plan B, could he see himself living here in England for the rests of his life? All he knew was the US, and there were college positions, coaching, agents...that was what he knew. If he stayed here...he wasn't even sure he could stay here.
He hadn't finished school, he hadn't built the back career that everyone encouraged him to. He had been drafted as a teenager and the rest, education-wise, was history.
The dark streets spread out ahead of him, and he was none the wiser, then he realised where he was, and taking a right, he saw Coop's house on the horizon.
Slowing, he stretched out a little, then made his way up the driveway.
The door opened within seconds and his coach was stood there.
"Hey, Pen. Come in."
There was no surprise or question in his voice. Just a half smile and a welcome.
It was Friday, five days since Natasha had last seen Bo, four days since she'd stood him up, and two days since his last text message. It had arrived very late on Wednesday, after him avoiding breakfast at the cafe.
I'm giving you some space, this isn't me backing off or running away. I'm in London on the weekend. But will be back on Monday. I want to talk to you, just talk. That's it.
Neutral territory, I've booked a table in The Willow House, hear it's good.
Hope you can make it this time.
Her heart pounded at the thought. She was desperate to hear what he had to say, but equally terrified. The fact that he hadn't given up on her meant something, but since he hurt her, all that had happened with Torrie was front and central in her mind. She had sworn she'd never get involved with another man, not emotionally. But Bo, she sighed, he was so all encompassing, when he was charming, he could charm the most difficult person, he was enthusiastic, romantic, in snapshots she'd seen the perfect man, all wrapped up in a self centred shell that she wasn't sure he'd ever shed.
So she had three days to decide what she did. Whether she opened that door to him, or turned away completely.
Steph called around that evening, and dragged her off to the local pub, and karaoke.
Natasha woke with a pounding head the next day, she'd drank far too much, but for the first time in what seemed like ages, she had relaxed and completely switched off, and for that she was grateful to Steph, the hangover was almost worth it.
Having one of her casual workers open up on a Saturday was a great thing, but In reality, the success of the coffee shop was throwing up some questions. She'd barely had a day off in almost fifteen months. The shop was getting busier, and she was struggling to do everything. Taking on a manager was going to be a difficult decision, her overheads would increase and she would have to tighten various purse strings.
But she needed a life. Getting up at six am with a hangover and baking in a warm kitchen was a bad combination, but she was thirty one, she needed to have a life too.
By lunchtime she wanted to cry, she was exhausted, but there had been a steady crowd all day, she had two teenagers, local kids who were brilliant, but she couldn't walk out, leave them and sleep.
"You look exhausted!"
She was starting to empty the display fridge of the sandwich toppings, a sign that the worst of the lunch rush had passed, when the voice disturbed her.
Looking up she smiled to see Freya opposite her, Benji on her hip, both grinning.
"Working life!" She replied, "have to stop partying on a school night."
Freya laughed, "Lizzie's on her way with the kids, we promised them cupcakes..."
Natasha glanced to the other display case, "I have five left...it's been really busy today."
"We'll take them," she added a couple of coffees and juices for the kids to the order, and was just settling at a large table when Lizzie appeared pushing her pram, the four older children literally hanging on her coattails.
Abandoning the youngsters with Freya, Lizzie rushed across to hug Natasha, "how are you? I hear your cakes were a hit last weekend."
Hmm, she thought, last weekend when she was breaking up with Bo. She'd almost forgotten the success of the weekend up until then.
"It was chaos, but everyone seemed to love it."
She grinned, "great. Let me grab those coffees..."
Natasha was intending to carry the tray across the room to the Cooper/Wicker family, but was glad of the help. "Freya already has the cakes..."
They both looked at her, then chuckled as all five children had their cupcake almost completely rammed into their mouths.
"Bloody kids," Lizzie laughed, "I better go."
The kids had pulled out some sticker books and were engrossed in them when Freya came to the counter requesting another coffee.
"I was wondering if you wanted to come over and watch the game tonight? We've got the web feed being sent to us.."
Her heart wanted to shout yes, that she'd love have the chance to stare at Bo without him realising, wanted to get her fix of that man, but her head pointed at him hurting her, and the hiatus that was occurring in her relationship with him...and the fatigue. She needed her bed.
"I'm a bit tired..."
Freya nodded, almost knowingly, "I can see that, but it's not until seven. I will be watching in my pyjamas, I'll make something hearty to eat, and we'll just have soft drinks, you can be home in bed by ten."
It sounded like a compromise, and someone making her dinner, that was a true treat.
"Can I let you know? See how it goes until closing?"
Freya grinned, "of course. Text or phone...or just turn up! There'll be enough of everything."
At four thirty she collapsed on her bed and fell asleep immediately. But she woke at six feeling a ton better. Tomorrow was a day off, she could stay in bed until late, and as she stood and changed into some yoga pants and a long sleeve t-shirt, she knew that she couldn't resist going to watch the game. She loved watching hockey anyway, even though she'd ignored it for many years, but now this team, local, they were creeping under her skin.
Freya answered, as predicted, in her pyjamas and welcomed her in, and they drank tea and ate a delicious chicken casserole as the game started. Bo played a blinder, scoring two in the first period. Every time he had a good stint on the ice, Freya nudged her.
Eventually she turned to her, "we broke up."
Freya nodded, "I got that, he was here the other night looking like death, I presumed as much, doesn't mean you can't ogle the shit out of him!"
Natasha eyeballed her, "ogle the shit?"
Freya shrugged, "it's the sort of thing that Lizzie would say. You OK?" She added serious.
Natasha nodded, "as I can be. He's kind of a whirlwind...and leaves chaos in his wake."
"He reminds me so much of Coop, a reluctant hero."
"Hero?" He was many things, but never that.
Freya grinned, "he's the lynchpin of the team, I can tell that already, he's going to be a captain, he's that kind of player."
Scoffing, Natasha replied, "you think? The man can't commit to doing anything more than the end of this season, so unless something happens to Blake, he'll never be a captain here."
"He wouldn't stay here?"
She shook her head, "he's stuck in the past, hates it here...I hate the things he says, the way be brushes off this town, the team...me. We're all just a means to an end."
"That's not true," Freya scooted across the sofa to her, "the team and the town maybe, but not you. I've seen how he looks at you, he is besotted with you. How rough he looked when he was here... he was a man struggling."
Natasha wasn't about to be sucked into that, "you might think that, but it's not like that. And I'm no one's transient bloody lover. I'm not a scratch for an itch, you know? That isn't me."
Freya sighed, "I think he cares, I think he is more than that, but as usual with men, particularly sports men, they have their heads shoved up their self important arses. I wish I could help you more."
She bit her lip, then gave an awkward smile, "I was going to ask, about whether you'd consider selling me some cakes? The cafe is busy, I am there so much, and I'm still struggling to keep on top of things, I want home mad cakes in the shop, I'm not interested in buying from a commercial sources. I know you're busy, with the kids."
She shook her head, suddenly her eyes lighting up, "I don't do enough baking. This..." she grinned. "This is great. Coop rarely eats sweet things, he's too close to forty to indulge and play sport. Or so he tells me, and you can't feed the under tens too much cake. So I have stopped baking."
She leaned back against the counter, deep in thought.
"Benji is starting nursery soon, he'll be there every morning. I could come to your shop a couple of times a week? I mean you've got better equipment than my own kitchen. You could pay me for coming in?"
She wasn't exactly drowning in spare cash, but you had to speculate to accumulate, and it might mean that she had a couple of easier mornings in the week. "You want to become an employee of sorts?"
Freya's grin was beaming off her face, "I would love it!"