Part Thirty Six
Chapter Thirty Six
It had been a great game, a solid victory over the team that was top of the league. The atmosphere as the game ended was electric, it may be a small rink, but the fans gathered, combined to literally raise the roof. And that carried on into the bar afterwards.
Freya was excited, she'd organised an auction, some players shirts, and a few-'experiences' - VIP tickets, trips inside the locker room pre game, champagne receptions and meet and greets. It was a great line up of options for the avid fan, and Freya and Lizzie were hoping to make six figures for charity.
As the bar got busier, the atmosphere seemed to ramp even higher. Natasha watched as Freya jumped up on the small stage in the corner of the room, and tried to snag the attention of the masses. She failed, her quiet voice no match for the hundreds milling around in the room.
Then there was a buzz of excitement as the first of the team appeared, all eyes flicking to the door, and poor Freya really had no chance. Until the huge burly man that was her husband, leapt up beside her and with the single word, "order", gained the attention of the whole room. Immediately.
Freya met Natasha's eyes and rolled hers, it was typical. The man had presence.
And so the auction started.
She sat at the back of the room, on a stool, watching from a distance. And it wasn't long before she felt eyes on her, glancing towards the door from the rink, she couldn't miss the dark and almost moody presence of Bo Holding. Filling the doorway, his eyes on her as people clapped him on the back.
He moved into the room, accepting a beer from Blake, then stayed the opposite side of the room to her, eyes never leaving her, a hot, intense pressure. She bit her lip, suddenly anxious, when did things get so heightened, so tense?
Bo had played well, he'd scored two and assisted one, suddenly he was the team's top scorer and everyone was clapping him on the back as he made for the bar, and the auctions that the wives had organised, he was signing one of his shirts, but he'd managed to miss out on the meet and greet stuff Much to his relief, he ignored the way Freya looked at him, so pitiful and sad when she passed him over for that. Whatever her reasons, and he knew that it was her loyalty to Natasha, he was glad not to be so involved. He had new found enthusiasm for the team, for the sport, for it all, but that didn't mean that he was mentally in the right place to have to be more social than that. Saying hi, talking brief tactics in the bar was more than enough.
And it was true, he'd felt relaxed, until he stepped in to the bar. He hadn't been sure that Natasha was there, he'd been too scared to check during the game, but the second he walked into the bar he felt her, sensed her. And his eyes found her within a second. Sat on a bar stool at the back of the room, trying to be innocuous, whilst actually being the most vibrant and beautiful woman in the room. She had no idea. And that only added to her beauty.
He saw her bristle, knew she'd sensed him too. So he stayed where he was, across the room, lounging, waiting and most of all watching. Hopefully not too intently, he couldn't take his eyes off her, so there was no alternative.
Blake came over, handed him a beer.
"You're quiet, man!"
He took the beer and sank a long drink, then smiled at Blake, "ya think?"
If Blake spotted Natasha across the room, and saw the physical and emotional distance, he said nothing. Instead he clapped him on the back and moved away. Leaving him to stew in his own juices. This was unchartered territory for him, chasing a woman, being stonewalled, and backing off. He was trying to remember whether there was anything else he'd wanted in life that he didn't get, and was coming up blank. Instead of this putting him off Natasha, forcing him to move on, it only intrigued him more.
Her eyes lifted, met his properly, boldly, for the first time, and he raised his bottle, in a kind of 'cheers' gesture. With a demure smile, she responded with her glass, and his heart raced at that. He was in desperate need of some strength to get over this, over her.
Suddenly, there was a cheer and people were looking at him, glancing up he saw Freya and Coop on stage, pointing at him.
Groaning, he made his way slowly through the crowd gathered, then joined them on the stage. He held up his shirt as people in the room bid, first tens then hundreds of pounds for it, he was amazed. And as the bidding stopped, he met the business man who had purchased it and posed for photos, there were lots of fans grouping around the stage, and he was swamped.
When he had smiled, talked and charmed enough, people seemed to leave him alone for a moment, and that first moment to himself, he looked up at the stool, the last known place for Natasha, but it was empty. She'd gone.
Suddenly beaten, defeated, he made for the bar and ordered a whisky. They had another game the following day, unlike the NHL which had games every day of the week, the smaller, less supported league limited games to mainly weekends, so he shouldn't drink, but he wanted nothing more than to go home and finish the bottle of Jack that he knew sat temptingly on the side table in his lounge.
He downed his drink, then started to say his goodbyes, Blake had left as he was getting back to his pregnant wife, so he didn't feel quite so bad at deserting the rest of the team.
But getting out of the room felt like running through quicksand, people stopping him, talking to him, congratulating him, he could see the door, but couldn't seem to get there, he was about to lose his head, and he needed to be free of the place for that to happen.
Finally he almost threw himself out of the room, then escaped down the stairs. Hitting the cold night he turned to punch a fist against the wall in frustration.
"Shit, Bo. What the fuck?"
He wanted to smile at the voice that interrupted him, of all the people to see him lose it, Natasha did. Oh, the irony.
Rushing over to him, she grabbed his hand and looked at his knuckles, peppered with small cuts from the roughly rendered wall. Snatching it away, he looked up to the sky, avoiding her eyes and taking several long deep and calming breaths.
"Bo? What's wrong?"
He wanted to laugh in her face, "what's wrong? You!"
Before he did or said something stupid, he stormed away, ruing the fact he'd had a ride to the ground with Blake.
Out on the road there was no sign of a taxi, and it was a long walk in the cold with his huge kit bag.
He'd not got to the end of the road when a car pulled along side him, "it's too far to walk. Get in. I'll give you a ride."
He wanted to shake his head, dwell in his misery, but he was an adult. Opening the back door of the car, he threw his kitbag in, then climbed in beside her.
They were both silent as she drove along the quiet street, the radio too low to make out the tune. Bo wanted to chew his nail to try and absolve some of the anxiety washing through him, but he didn't, instead he turned towards the window.
"You're not going to speak to me?"
He shrugged, watching the buildings pass.
"Bo?" When he didn't answer, she pulled the car over. "What's going on?"
Finally he turned back to her, "it's nothing. Don't worry about it."
She reached out and touched him, and it all felt too much, he was almost tempted to get out of the car and walk home.
"Bo, talk to me?"
He shook his head, "look, I thought this was something, I was wrong. Just didn't expect it to feel this difficult." When she sighed, he added, "I don't know where I stand and that confuses me."
"Always in control, hey?"
He didn't take those words harshly, thought he could have, she knew that much about him, more than anyone else. "I have been known to be a control freak!"
That made her chuckle, "you don't say."
As she took a deep breath, he watched her chest rise and fall, dreading the words she was building up to.
"I do think we need a little space, I've told you I can't do this, and being friends...well that isn't helping anyone, is it?"
That was the truth, a friendship had fluid boundaries, and he wasn't coping with that. He needed firmer lines, or maybe even no links at all. Because he wasn't sure that he could be just friends with Natasha Ingram.
Instead of telling her that, that it was all or nothing, he merely nodded, then made the smallest of small talk as she drove him the rest of the way home.
His building had an underground garage, and Natasha pulled into it, then stopped the car.
"Thanks for the ride, we haven't passed a single cab."
Her smile was dazzling, "not a problem, it was my pleasure...and you're right, you'd still be walking."
He studied her bright eyes, full lips, the freckles that had appeared over the last few months across her nose. He swore he could draw each feature from memory, he hated that it was all he had left, memory of how she looked, how she tasted, how she smelled. He wanted to take her in his arms, breath her in, instead, all he could do was smile wryly.
"See you around?" Such a bland, general nondescript goodbye, but there was noting more to say, no promises of anything more.
When she bit her lip, he wanted to lean forward and kiss her, instead he watched her nod, then slipped out of the car.
All she could see the next few days whenever she closed her eyes, was his face as he looked at her. The disappointment, the longing, she knew that he still wanted her, and his humility, which only served to make him seem even more attractive. His full lips, angled jaw, those hazel eyes were only accentuated by his broad shoulders...add in the romance, the sides of him he had shown her more recently, and she was starting to hate the distance that she was creating.
As she iced two dozen cupcakes, she couldn't help but imagine how it would feel to be with him once more. But the sticking point was the temporary nature of this all, he was leaving, there was no future, and despite all his efforts, Natasha wasn't about to give her heart to someone who wouldn't love her back. She'd done that too often and despite everything that Steph said, she knew that she couldn't let go, not again. It was too hard.
So she worked.
A week passed with no contact, other than the team breakfast on Wednesday, and Natasha stayed in the kitchen, not wanting to have to hide her feelings, or deal with seeing Bo. It was too hard. As the weekend approached, she dreaded it. She knew that the Hornets were playing away Saturday, but would be home for a Sunday game. She had no idea what to do, her heart said go to the game, her head shouted that down, but not being there meant she'd wallow in self pity. She was due to meet her college cooking buddies for lunch on Sunday, but other than that, she had nothing.
After her brief flirtation with Bo's teammate Jaz, Steph was back into her relationship with Ethan, so whilst they spoke on the phone, and caught up over breakfast a couple of times a week, they didn't spend as much time together as they had, and Natasha hated having no one to sound off too. Even though she knew that Steph would constantly question her actions and motives.
And time alone with no one to talk to just made her feel as though she was going insane. Freya text her as Friday evening came to an end, she was having the game streamed on Saturday, and invited her over, but Natasha needed to make a break from it all. Dragging herself there, acting like she belonged with the glamorous other wives, it was all too much. This was all part of the problem, the perpetual feeling of never being good enough, of waiting for the dust to settle and being abandoned...again. She wasn't a glamorous WAG, she never could be, and there was no point hanging out and pretending that she could fit in. Even though in her heart of hearts she knew that the wives she'd met were genuine people, not like the girls who'd hung on Torrie and his teams' every word.
Instead, she declined the invitation, and spent the weekend working, the cafe shut early Saturday afternoon, and she had nothing to do, but sit and dwell. So she went shopping. She wasn't a shopper, hating busy department stores, changing rooms, all that. But it was a long time since she'd bought herself anything, she worked hard, she deserved it.
The out of town shopping mall a few miles away was open until eight pm, that would take her past the afternoon face off, and any temptation to go and watch the game.
Within an hour she'd had great success. A new lamp, a print of the beach at her favourite part of the local coast, and a pair of shoes, ideally she wanted jeans, some sweaters, and something sexy. She wasn't sure what, but she was hoping for something hat would make her smile. Forcing this distance from where her subconscious wanted to be was hard.
When she finally stopped for coffee, in a small cafe at the exit, she finally relaxed. Some sexy-ish underwear and a new dress were the only things that met her brief, but she'd spent money, and switched off for the first time in weeks.
Searching for her car keys as she finished her coffee, she spotted her phone flashing. Pulling it out she was shocked to see she had eight missed calls and a dozen messages. Mainly from Freya.
Did you see that? It looked bad. Hope Bo is OK.
Suddenly her heart was in her mouth and she plugged in her earphones to listen to the messages whilst she scrolled through the messages. All anxious. All about Bo. Finally she opened a link to an internet page titled Hornets' NHL star's serious injury.
With her heart in her mouth, she started to read.