The Not-Outcast

Page 37

I just grinned, reaching for my water. “Yes, he does.”

Maisie’s eyes got big. “Then go and be with him. Text him. Right now.”

I felt JJ shifting. And I reached down, grabbing my phone just as she was going for it.

It came alive in that instant.

Cut calling.

I swore, at the same time JJ shouted, “The universe just spoke!” She snatched the phone from me, hitting accept, and had the phone to her ear in a split second. “Hi! This is Cheyenne’s friend.” Annnnd she was off and babbling to him. “We sit with her at every game, and we’re at The Way Station right now. Come and get your girl. Right now.” Then she hung up and put my phone in her pocket. “Sorry, dear, but I can read you better than you think. I know it’s an invasion of privacy, but I care about you. We’ve been watching hockey games with you for a long time, and you tried to feed us both some bullshit. The guy called you at the perfect time. If you believe in the Almighty, maybe believe there was a reason for that timing. I’ll give you your phone back when he shows up. Can’t have you calling him to back out or have you running away again now, can we?”

Otis chose that moment to come back. He stood at the end of the table, a rosy glow on his cheeks, and he held his hands up. “What’d I miss?”



We were asked to do random ‘pop ins’ at The Way Station throughout the season. Management had a deal worked out. We got free catering at events. In exchange, we showed up at the bar every now and then. Never long, but enough to be seen. Enough to have our pictures taken.

Because of that rumor, it was always the place for the hockey fans to go after the home games. And because of that, I was surprised Cheyenne would be here, but I donned a baseball cap and headed inside. After the game we had, I knew there was no hope of getting in there (even through the back) and not get recognized so I wasn’t surprised when the first guy did a double-take after I stepped through the door.

“Whaaaat is happening? That’s Cut Ryder!”

He came forward, shook my hand, asked for a selfie.

He was the first in line.

Five minutes in, and there was a good enough crowd that the night manager came to my side. “Cut.” He shook my hand and leaned in. “We didn’t know you’d be coming tonight, or we could’ve been more on top of that.”

I said, leaning close, “I got a friend here. I’m trying to find her.”

He nodded, clapping my back. “Can we help?”

I gave him the description of Cheyenne, and who her seatmates were, or what I remembered about how they looked, and he headed off. “We’ll find her. We’ll get it set up. You want to stay a bit or head out?”

I had no intention of leaving without Cheyenne, but I also had no faith in her either. “Can stay a bit. Maybe in the back?”

“We’ll get it taken care of. Just wait. I’ll put you upstairs? You want to be seen or total privacy?”

“Privacy would be nice.”

“Got it.” He gave me a nod and a thumbs-up. “Be right back. You keep doing your thing.”

I signed napkins, a few arms, a forehead, a couple hats. Some shirts. A woman wanted me to sign her bra strap. It was a few minutes later when the manager reappeared and tapped my back. He motioned for me to follow him, and we headed through the bar, around to the stairs and up. It was roped off, with a bouncer standing by the side. He was talking to a few women, but gave me a nod as we went past.

Once upstairs, I saw we were totally alone.

“Here you go.” He held his hand out toward one of the back booths. The upstairs was sort of a loft with some tables set near the railing. There was a line of booths behind them, and another row of booths behind those. He indicated the second row. “I’ll send Dee to take care of you guys.”

He headed back down, and I went to the second row.

She was sitting in the farthest corner booth, also the biggest, and I had to smile for a second.

Cheyenne looked up at me. “What?”

I shook my head, sliding in to sit across from her. The table was big enough that I almost could’ve laid out on it. “We could pull another table over to add to this one. Would that make you feel more comfortable?”

Her eyes latched onto mine, staring, and then her mouth twerked. “I just wanted privacy.”

I nodded, glancing around. We could hear the sounds below, but they were muted from how far back we were. “This is definitely that.”

We heard footsteps, and Dee came over. Two napkins were placed in front of us, and she put waters on both. Giving us a professional smile, she never reacted at the space between Cheyenne and myself. “Can I start you off with appetizers?”

I knew Dee. She’d worked at The Way Station for a long time. She was a worker at Bresko’s as well, and she knew I was an investor there.

“Hey, Dee.”

“Heya, Cut. Good game tonight. I caught it on the TV.” But Dee knew if I was sticking around, I didn’t want to chit-chat with her. She turned back to Cheyenne right away. “How about you, sweetie? I talked to your server downstairs. She said it was mostly water for you. Want anything else? Coffee? Or—”

“Coffee. I’ll do coffee.” Cheyenne gave me a little look.

Her meds. She wasn’t drinking because she was on them.

“I’ll just do water. Maybe some lettuce wraps?”

She nodded. “I can do that, but Oscar was mentioning you might want a board he can put together. Healthy snacks for the athletes when they come in.”

“How about both?”

“Will do.” She knocked on the booth. “Give me a holler if you need anything else?”

Once she was gone, I focused back on Cheyenne.

She was looking at me, but looking around at the same time, and she had her hands in her lap. Outward appearance, she seemed fine. Inward feeling, she was skittish as hell. Or that’s what I was getting from her.

“You glad you came to the game tonight?”

Her eyes danced back to mine. She swallowed, reaching for her water. Her hand shook a tiny bit. “Yeah, I’m always glad to be at the games.”

This sucked.

All of it.

I was remembering the first time I saw her. Damn. I had wanted her so bad. I still felt that way, but she was the scared one.

She admitted, “I couldn’t stay away.”

That felt good, though I knew it was more about hockey. Not about me.

But I was going to pretend it was about me.

“You played really well tonight.”

I nodded. “Hockey’s been my outlet in life. No matter what’s going on off the ice, that’s where I’m in control. Some guys, if they’ve got shit going down in their personal lives, they get distracted. Head’s not in the game. Not me. It’s like the ice is the only place that makes sense to me.” I gave her a rueful grin. “But I pushed a little too hard. Got too aggressive, I guess. Coach called me in, asked what the fuck was going on with me.”


“Yeah.” It hadn’t felt good going through that talk. “I gotta scale shit back a bit.”

She nodded again, and we stared at each other.

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