But Cut was connected to other people from my life, and it was those that were giving me the bigger headache.
Cut was connected to Chad.
Chad was connected to Natalie and her new husband.
They were all connected to Hunter, Koala Boy.
Koala Boy was connected to Deek.
Deek and Hunter were connected to me, but Koala Boy more than Deek.
Everyone had moved here. Not all at the same time, but the migration was connected in some ways.
Cut came first. Chad went with him.
Three years later, I came. No one knew I was here.
Then two years ago, Natalie’s new husband got a job transfer here. I knew this because I liked to cyberstalk my little brother. And a year ago, Deek came because Hunter was here.
So, everyone left Pine Valley except (from what else my cyberstalking had uncovered) Cut’s family. They remained back in Oregon.
I didn’t have thoughts or feelings about Natalie, Deek, or Chad. I truly didn’t, but Hunter. My little brother was a different story. The problem was Natalie. Well, the problem was all of them, but mostly Natalie. She never approved of Donna, and that cloud of judgment extended to me.
Once my head got clear, I thought long and hard about when I lived with them, and after Donna died. It took a bit to understand it, but it was hard to explain it. Sasha got it. She met Chad, who ditched her after finding out that I was her roommate. I was the one who had to break that to her, and it hadn’t been pretty. She was hurting because of him, but she also wanted to rip his head off because of me. I loved my girl, but back to the whole shitbag of Natalie and Deek.
It was when I was trying to explain it to Melanie one night that I was starting to piece it together myself.
“Melanie. I lived on the streets.”
She’d been tipsy that night. It was martini night and she swung her martini to the left, her eyes rolling to the right. “So?”
“So.” We were talking about our families and she didn’t understand how I couldn’t have one.
Because I didn’t.
Donna told me her parents were dead. She had no siblings. She never talked about aunts or uncles. And well, with Deek…
“Your dad just abandoned you? He brought you in and then what? Paid for your college and you never talked to him again? That makes no sense.”
“Well.” From Sasha.
Melanie lifted her pinkie finger at her. “Don’t start with the one-word explanations. I’ve had way too many martinis to even start thinking that game is fun.”
And Melanie swung her head back to me. “Your dad’s rich. Why aren’t you rolling in dough yourself?”
Because that would make sense to Melanie, who came from a family where everyone shared everything. She moved to Kansas for school and fell in love with the city. She stayed so we got Melanie, but she lost her family life. They all lived in Texas, though they came up six times a year.
We were heading into winter so the next time they’d come up would be end of spring.
Their family was Italian so when her family visited, there were carbs. Lots and lots of carbs, and my stomach was shifting, growling, because apparently I needed some carbs today.
But I kept digressing and that was a normal thing for me, because well; because it’s me.
It’s how I’m programmed.
But back to Melanie who didn’t understand that sometimes people you share blood with could be strangers and I was trying to explain that. Sasha gave up long ago, but her family situation wasn’t much better. No. It was, but that was a whole other ordeal itself. Her family lived in Jersey and her mom did nails and her dad ran a pool hall.
Finally, I broke it down. “You know those assholes who look down on homeless people?”
Melanie took a sip of her martini. “Yeah?” Her eyes were narrowed. She knew I was going somewhere with this.
I did. “Natalie was one of those people. Me coming into her house didn’t change anything. As far as she figured, she was just housing a street teenager.”
Of course, I never considered myself someone who lived on the streets. It’s just where I hung out when Donna was on a bender or when she locked me out. And sometimes those times lasted longer than a day, or a week, or a month, but to someone like me, and how I was, I was just giving my mother space while she sorted her latest drug habit.
“That’s…” Melanie made a face, her cheeks stretching tight. She put her martini down. “…awful.”
That was my life. I wasn’t one to dwell, so I didn’t.
I moved on, like focusing on Cut Ryder.
But fast-forward to today and my mind was going in circles and my stomach was in my chest. My heart was beating through my bladder.
I didn’t dwell on my family, but coming to Cut’s hockey game and I couldn’t help but start dwelling.
I didn’t like to dwell.
It never led me anywhere good.
But I was here. At his game.
Maybe I shouldn’t have come?
Maybe so, but I was here. My season seats were a few rows above where the players came out. Normally I never worried about them looking up, which they did on occasion. But none of them knew who I was. At least not before Friday night. There was no reason for me to even care in the past. The only person I would’ve hid from was Chad, and he wasn’t on the team. So no worries then, but it was a bit different this game.
I beat myself up all day yesterday, going back and forth if I did the right thing.
I still didn’t know.
Ever been so scared that you were paralyzed? Where your mind and heart were conflicted? One saying stay and hide, be safe, and the other saying don’t be a weasel and grow a pair? I was both, but hockey was my thing. I loved the game ever since learning Cut was its star, so I was here, just like all the times before. It had become my tradition to come to their games, some of the few hours I stepped away from the kitchen no matter what time the games were. This time, I knew Dean was here. I didn’t know if he was in the stands or in the suites, but it didn’t matter.
My usual seatmates were starting to arrive, and I settled back because the players were coming out for warm-ups.
“Oh, dearie.” Maisie leaned over to me, nudging me with her elbow and a nod to the ice. “Your boy is in a mood today, isn’t he?”
Maisie, Otis, and JJ were the other ‘regular’ ticket holders who sat with me.
They fully knew I had a long-standing crush on Cut Ryder.
Maisie and Otis were married, a retired couple, and they were as religious about coming to these games as I was. JJ was younger than them, but older than me. She wasn’t as regular as we were, but she was a strong second runner-up.
“I know.” He hadn’t looked up when they came out to the ice, and I’d been worried. I didn’t know why. They never looked up, or rarely did. On occasion, if someone called out and it happened to be timed just right where the music and the announcer wasn’t as loud, they’d look up, but again, that was such a rarity.
But Maisie wasn’t wrong.
Cut was checking more forceful than other times. He was cutting across the ice. He was skating around the others in circles and doing it in a way that was almost humiliating to the other team. The enforcer had come out a few times against him, but it didn’t seem to bother Cut. He rushed right back at the enforcer, heading to the box, double his normal speed.