Part Fifty Five
A/N Sorry that Natasha is frustrating you so much, felt that this wasn't something you could rush, but hey, we're there now. Hope you enjoy this chapter more. Keep commenting, MZxx
Chapter Fifty Five
Natasha grimaced as she filled the coffee machine for the fourth time that morning. She wasn't ready to meet Bo's parents, not with everything being so upturned. But when he'd looked at her, so anxious, she had done the best that she could. She held him, told him he had nothing to be worried about, it was obvious his parents loved him, and that they were proud of him. He just seemed to have momentarily lost all confidence in himself. And she hated that, he was so strong, so confident usually, it hurt to see him so forlorn.
As they lay in bed he finally confided about how nervous he was about getting back to playing after this second injury, and the thought of his parents adding to that audience was terrifying him.
"But they love you," she reassured him. "They won't care if you aren't playing. They just want to see you."
"And all I want is to be on form. So they can see me at my best, that I'm not a disappointment."
She rolled to lie astride him, "you are always on form, Mr Holding." That made him smile, albeit coyly, which was extremely cute. "And, never a disappointment. Besides, I think your parents will be proud of how well you're doing, and how many people love you here in this town miles from home. And of the huge reception that you'll get from the fans as you return to the ice."
That made him open his eyes a little wider, "really?"
She turned serious for a moment, "don't do this, don't under estimate all you've done. You're inspiring others, spreading the love for what you do, all the while getting over a life changing injury. How can your parents be anything but proud?"
His grin was suddenly changing from one of wonder to one of lust as his eyes moved from her earnest face to the rest of her naked body, still sat above him. She rolled her eyes as he pulled her down to him, but she was powerless to resist his demands.
That morning he had headed off to training, anxious, but a little more excited, she was sure. He had called into Heaven and Hell for breakfast as he did most mornings, and wowed the punters with his dramatic good bye kiss, as he did on most mornings too.
She was busy, Tuesdays were a hectic day at the local university campus, and so the morning flew by. The hockey team were due in the following morning for their weekly breakfast meet, and that meant she had a lot of prep to fit in that morning. Fortunately she had two of her casual members of staff working, and one of them, Paul, was proving to be very reliable. Now that she'd had a taste for time off, trips, weekends away, she needed to prime someone to manage the place in her absence. He seemed like the perfect candidate.
That made her feel slightly happier, as her business was still all that she had, and she needed someone she could trust, and that wasn't something she did easily. Freya was keen, but she had three children and the demands that came with them. She'd help out on a casual basis, but she couldn't expect more than that.
Bo did send a few texts through the day, but there was a spate late afternoon, as he was going to collect his parents from the airport. They had a bizarre flight time, getting in early evening. She sent back a few reassuring texts, hoping that would ease his tension. Then took a deep breath, "meet the parents" had never felt so stressful.
She was closing later than usual, but it had to be done, and she convinced herself it had nothing to do with wanting to delay meeting Bo's parents. Because she didn't want to avoid them, it just all felt so very serious.
She poured herself a mug of coffee, ready to face the task of cleaning the display counters, when the door opened. Looking up, she smiled.
She loved that man like a big brother, that's how he felt to her, not that she had any brothers to compare to.
"Hey," she offered. And he smiled in return.
"I wanted to check that everything was OK for tomorrow."
The breakfast. He hadn't checked the day before in the past. She lifted an eyebrow in question and he sighed.
"OK, I'm not good at this, Frey suggested I come and talk to you."
Immediately Natasha felt her face flush, another person who knew. Obviously sensing her horror, Coop added quickly, "look, I don't know what has happened, what is happening. All I know, is that Frey asked me to talk to you, about my past. Said my story helps others out...and it worked with Bo. I think."
That intrigued her, "it did?"
Freya had told her that Coop could help, but she hadn't believed it, even now she wasn't sure. But Frey hadn't betrayed her confidence, it was up to her how much she disclosed.
"He was finding it hard to get back into hockey, I've been there."
Natasha filled the awkward silence, "Coffee?"
He nodded, locking the cafe door behind them, "good idea, it's a long story."
Sitting opposite, he smiled at her, "It gets easier every time I tell this story. Did Frey tell you anything about how we met?" When she shook her head, he sighed, "I inherited a bar, upstate New York. A bit of a dive, but it was enough to keep me interested after I walked out on hockey. Her brother is a good friend, and he came to live with me, and she visited. But it wasn't that easy."
She couldn't see where she fitted in, until he mentioned hiding his past.
"When I left the game, I hid in a house I'd bought on one of the lakes, miles from anywhere wallowing in self pity."
He explained how he hated himself, how he'd wanted to disappear off the earth, how he cared about nothing and no one. Then he had the bar gifted to him, and suddenly he had a purpose to do something. Then Freya came along.
"I loved her the minute I saw her, but I almost blew it. I mean properly blew it. Because I couldn't see what was in front of me, mainly cos I was stuck five years in the past. I existed, I didn't live. She made me see that."
He reached for his mug and downed a large mouthful.
"I was young, loving my game, never one for dating, too busy. But I had a girlfriend."
The story then changed dramatically as he described this convenient relationship, where his girlfriend got the status and invites to all the social events, he had company when he needed it. Sounded a lot like the relationship Bo had with his ex too.
"Then she announced she was pregnant." Natasha gulped, feeling the blood drain from her face, if he noticed he didn't comment, instead he continued, "I loved the thought of a baby, but never for a moment thought of more with her, Michelle."
"He was born, my son Milo, during play-offs, my team went all the way to the cup, But we lost to a great side...coming home after the last game, I couldn't find Michelle. I'd missed Milo...in honesty, not her, not really. But they came as a package..."
He ran a hand through his hair, "but she hated it, being a mother, probably had post natal depression." He dropped his eyes for a moment, when he finally looked up, his eyes were haunted. "She killed him, my son. Gassed them both in the car. She survived, he didn't. Twelve weeks old."
Natasha whimpered, the grief overwhelming, reaching out she squeezed his hand, aware that the tears rolling down her face were as much for her daughter as his son.
"And I ran away, left my team, abandoned all my commitments, friends, family...I literally buried my head, never thought about him, hid anything that reminded me of him away. I liked the persona, where I was playing the part of a grumpy man, a man who resented everyone. People would roll their eyes as I stomped around, but no one ever got close, no one ever wanted to know anything about me. So I carried on, half living, running the bar and pretending that I was a grumpy bastard...until Freya."
"She's a terrier."
He laughed sadly, "she is. She is the greatest thing that happened to me." He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, then turned it to face her, a picture of a happy, chubby baby smiled up at her. "Milo."
She took the phone and studied it for a moment, "he's beautiful."
He nodded, "and didn't deserve to be hidden, almost as though I was ashamed of him. I was ashamed of myself, my role in it all. But the one thing I know, he deserved to be seen."
She whimpered, that was exactly what she had done. Hidden her shameful secret. Poor Mia.
Swiping at a tear, she reached into her own pocket, and within a few seconds Mia was smiling up at her. With a deep breath, she turned the phone to her.
"This is Mia."
Coop looked genuinely shocked, "shit. She's gorgeous."
She tried to smile, but tears were coursing down her face, "she died, complications of heart surgery when she was ten days old."
He ran a thumb over the screen, and smiled, "no wonder Freya wanted me to tell you about Milo. I had no idea."
"And you still just came here, and spilled it all to me."
He sighed, "Milo is someone I should tell the world about, I love him, and I love people knowing about him."
"You're the fourth person I've told about Mia."
He gave a sad laugh, "you are me, about eight years ago. Shit," he ran a hand through his hair, then reached out for her hand. "You struggling with all this?"
When she nodded, he sighed, "telling Freya did change things, I wanted do what it took to save my relationship with her, but that on it's own wasn't enough. I had to confront my past, had to speak to Michelle, apologise."
"It wasn't your fault." She managed to whisper.
Shrugging he leaned back in his chair, "I didn't see the signs, I didn't pay attention. We wanted different things, and I was happy ignoring that fact. As long as I had hockey. She has to live with what she's done, but so do I."
"I told her father...I saw him in Helsinki, out of the blue, he abandoned me when I was pregnant..." it was more to it than that, but she shared what she had to. "But it doesn't feel better. I thought telling him, confronting him...I wanted him to scream abuse at him. But he was sad, he didn't know..."
He sighed, "you can't predict how people are going to act, when I went to Michelle I didn't know how she'd react to me, but for me it was my chance to say my piece. But you know the real thing that helped?"
She shook her head.
"Sharing him. Freya got a picture, put it up on the wall, and we looked at him, talked about him. Made him part of the family. Because he did exist, and it's my fault he was hidden away. Now the kids know they have a brother in heaven, and I see his image everyday. It hurts, to think he's not here, I don't think a day passes without me missing him, wondering what he'd be doing, how he'd be now. He'd be about fourteen, a teenager, and I wonder if he would like hockey...and then I look at my family and know that if I still had him, I probably wouldn't have them. Losing him changed my life, but I pulled it around and I love this alternative universe. I'm happy, and he's a huge part of that, but I can't go back, I can't get him back. So we embrace his memory."
She was openly crying now, not sobbing, loud, audible, but sad constant tears, pouring down her face.
"I always said I'd give everything for one more day with her."
He nodded, "and I would too. But I have four children, and losing one was hard enough. I don't choose them over Milo, I just know that life has made this path for me, and I want to embrace it, I want to love what I have, miss what I've lost...but I owe it Milo to have life, to use his memory to make me the best Dad I can be."
"I can't think about another child..."
He chuckled, "I thought that, until Frey told me she was pregnant, that happened before I'd told her about Milo. It was a whole shower of shit, and I nearly lost everything. But having a second chance at parenthood...the greatest gift anyone could give me."
She'd never imagined kids in her future, it was all too painful, but Bo would be a great Dad, he deserved that chance, that was part of the reason why she couldn't see them together long term. But seeing Coop, this big, bulky and hunky man, opening up to his second chance, being so honest, so open. She realised what a coward she was being.
His hand landed on her shoulder, "sorry, has this been too much?"
She shook her head, "not at all, I just wish I could be as strong as you."
"You already are. Look at what you've built, what you've achieved without her in your life. Opening that door, it hurts like hell, but it heals you, I promise."
Nodding she stood, "I can't thank you enough, for sharing this."
He laughed awkwardly, then stood pulling her into a hug, "it's nothing, I just hope it helps."
She clung to him for a long moment, burying her head into his chest, praying she could regain her control.
"More than you know." She finally managed, pushing herself away from him. "You are a great man, Coop."
"Aw shucks," he actually blushed at that. "I hate leaving you like this, but I gotta pick Elena up from dance class...you want Freya to call over?"
He was so perceptive, so understanding, but Natasha shook her head, "I'll be fine. Thank you though, so much."