Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Companion to the first chapter of Leaving Stevie Unknown rookie spends a week with Stevie.
He still comes around to the rink every now and then. The veterans smile and pat him on the back. They make small talk and remember the olds days, back when they were rookies.
But mainly he just watches.
And I watch him.
He’s still as gorgeous as the day I first saw him.
Today is an optional practice. Most of the guys he used to play with aren’t here. The guys that are here are mainly rookies and we’re just fooling around. A couple of guys cut it up in the corner while I glide over to the bench. I sit down, taking a breather, and drink from the water bottle.
I’m consumed by their roughhousing, so I don’t notice when he comes up behind me. When I finally do, however, I’m pretty sure I stop breathing.
The next few minutes are marked by fervent glances between the ice and him.
Very nonchalant, I’m sure.
Thoughts are buzzing through my head and my heart should burst it’s pumping so fast. I don’t think he notices, though. Which makes me only wonder how can he not? Does he not see the rookie freaking out in his peripheral vision? Does he not notice how much I want him to notice me?
We end up just sitting in silence.
I wrack my brain for something to say, but everything sounds stupid. And I don’t want to sound like a crazy fan.
The guys in the corner take a break. They skate over to the bench laughing. They smile at Stevie and shake his hand. My fingers itch inside my glove and my face warms at the prospect of touching his hand. I remove my glove and smile, and he actually smiles back.
I put my hand out, but he’s already leaving. He waves over his shoulder and exits towards the locker room. The guys who haven’t returned to practice are gushing over having talked to him. Disappointed with myself and my blown opportunity, I jump back over the boards and join the rest of the guys.
I swear to God I’m cursed.
No, I’m just stupid.
Yeah, that’s it.
Over the past month I had several opportunities to talk to him, but had blown them all. Either my inner-self crept up and berated my self-confidence, or my mouth wouldn’t work, or my mind would go blank giving me nothing to say.
And I think he's beginning to notice.
I’d stare at him for as long as possible without getting into trouble and a few times I think I caught him smiling back at me.
At least tonight I'm safe. It's game night so I don’t have to worry about running into him. I actually relax enough to score a goal. Afterwards, when we’re all dressed in the locker room and a few guys are answering media questions, the object of my stupendous stupidity enters the room.
I want to crawl into the back of my locker because I still can’t think of a single thing to say to him.
Unfortunately he doesn’t realize my duress and walks towards me. “Hi,” he says.
Oh dear lord, please let my mouth work.
“Hey,” I manage to squeak back.
He smiles. “My daughter wanted to meet you.” He pushes Maria forward.
“Hi!” She practically bounces.
I smile. “Hi, nice to meet you.” We talk for a few minutes about the game. I glance over to see Stevie talking with someone else. He pats Stevie on the back. Stevie glances back over at the two of us and quickly I grab a random puck and hand it to his daughter. “Here. This is the one I got tonight.” She gushes and rambles and thanks me. Stevie notices and smiles and gives me a thumbs up.
I smile, relieved, and instantly feel cool. She giggles, and I have the dreaded realization that she has a crush on me and I could possibly have one on her dad.
He walks back and collects his daughter. She says goodbye and I wave. I stand up and pull my jacket on, smiling. I finally have something to talk to Stevie about.
After our next practice he approaches me. He thanks me for whatever I said to his daughter (I don’t remember what, but apparently it had its affects) and pulls out a jersey.
“Do you think you could sign this for her?”
“Sure. No problem.” My hand practically shakes as he hands me the pen. We talk about his daughter and I struggle to remember how to spell my name.
“Thanks, she’ll be thrilled.”
He walks away and I feel like smacking my forehead. Because I used my one conversation starter, and suddenly I have nothing to talk to him about.
Generally I’m the talkative type, but around Stevie…I feel like I’m in high school and he’s the cool older kid and I’m the scraggly underclassman. And whenever he’s around my tongue gets tied and I feel like the most uncool guy in the room.
And it doesn’t help that I have no idea what to talk to him about.
I had injured myself in a freak accident during a game against Tampa Bay. I was still expected to show up at practice, though, and watch in my street clothes. Not that I would have missed it.
He actually stands next to me while I watch the drills. Sometimes I wondered why he still showed up at practices, but I didn’t think about it often. I shift my weight from one foot to the other, and for once actually initiate a conversation.
“How are the girls?”
Great, there goes my one line. Weather. Hockey. I make a mental list run down, but still come up with nothing. I bite my lip and go back to watching the drills. I feel him move, feel my chance slipping away, and before I know it I’m following him down the hallway.
He stops when he hears my footsteps, but doesn’t turn around. I stop as well, standing behind him.
A moment passes and he rubs the back of his neck. His shoulders seem to slump and he sighs. “Well. Go ahead and ask it.”
“Why do you still show up?” My lips move, but I don’t correlate the words with my voice.
He turns around, forehead wrinkled. “What?”
“I, oh.” Yep, that was me talking. I feel my cheeks flush. “Oh, well, I just was wondering…and I…”
He almost laughs. “No, don’t worry about it. I just wasn’t expecting that question.”
“What were you expecting me to say?”
“What every guy asks me, but doesn’t really want to know the answer to. Or rather, doesn’t want to hear.”
“I, uh…don‘t know what you‘re talking about,” I admit a bit sheepishly.
He stares at me for a bit, as if trying to figure out if I’m telling the truth. “Let’s go get some lunch.”
He turns around as my eyes widen. He walks at a fast clip and soon I find myself far behind him having not moved, still dumbstruck. Eventually my brain kicks in and I run after him.
He drives and we end up in a neighborhood I’ve never been to. He parks and I follow him into a small deli.
“Hi, Steve,” a woman calls from behind the counter.
“Hi. I’ll have my usual to go. What do you want, kid?”
“Uh.” I stare up at the menu and feel myself flushing under their scrutiny.
“He’ll have the same as me, Beth.” She rings our food up and as Stevie pays, I fumble for my wallet. He shakes his head, a wry grin playing on his lips. “I think I can afford a couple of bucks, kid.”
He smiles again. Everything I say seems to amuse him.
Minutes later Beth hands him a brown paper bag and two sodas. “Sorry to hear about you and Lisa, Steve.”
“Yeah,” he mumbles. He hands me a soda and we quickly leave the delicatessen.
We cross the street and settle down at a bench in the park. He opens the bag and hands me a sandwich and napkin. He pulls out the other one and we eat in silence. Once I’m finished, I chew on my straw with nothing to say.
Eventually he speaks up. “How long are you out for?”
He nods his head and stands up. He drives me back to the rink so I can pick up my car. We ride in silence, but as I’m stepping out of his car he stops me. “I show up because it gives me something to do before I have to go pick up the girls from school.”
I smile and shut the car door.
The next day the team heads off on the road trip. I don’t go with them as I’m not expected to play until they return home for our home stand. The coach suggested I stay home and focus on resting. I’d been known to get into trouble on road trips with nothing to do.
I had decided to use the time as a mini-vacation. I was going to sleep in and lounge around in bed.
A knock on the door interrupts my plans. I’m half tempted to ignore it, but decide to answer it despite the fact I’m still in my boxers.
I peer through the peephole and get the shock of a lifetime.
Stevie’s standing outside my door.
I quickly unlock it and practically whip the thing open. “Hey.”
“Want to go get some breakfast?”
Questions zoom through my head: why are you here? How did you find my apartment? You do know who you are, right? You do know who I am, right?
But instead of asking any of them, I nod my head and practically run back to my bedroom to get dressed.
He waits patiently on my couch and then offers to drive when I reappear from the bedroom.
We end up at another restaurant I’ve never seen. We order breakfast and I can tell already it’s going to be a quiet one. He doesn’t look like he wants to talk and we’ve already established that I can barely stammer a sentence around him.
“Good food, huh?” he asks once we’re done.
“Yeah. I’ve, uh, never been here before.”
He nods and stares out the window, finishing his coffee.
“It was only supposed to be a short separation.”
I don’t know what to say and soon the moment passes me by and I don’t have to say anything.
The bill comes and he pays again.
He drives me home and drops me off. And I’m struck with the thought that I’ve just been allowed privy to something important and private…and real. And something to which I don’t know a clue about. And I wonder why he chose me.
He shows up the next day and this time I’m ready. I open the door after the first knock and then follow him down the stairs and to his car. This time we arrive at the grocery store.
He pulls a list out of his pants pocket and we travel up and down the aisles with a cart grabbing various items.
I push the cart out to his car and help him unload the groceries. We still haven’t spoken a word as he drives back to his house, but surprisingly the silence is a comfortable one. I’m no longer wracking my brain for the right thing to say.
We bring the bags inside and dump them on the kitchen table. I sit down while I watch him put them all away. He closes the door and wipes his hands once he’s finished.
“She said she was unhappy.” He pauses. “I used to think it was because of me.”
I don’t say anything. What could I say?
He whistles and grabs a leash from a closet. “I’m going to walk Magee. Want to come?”
“Sure.” Like I would say no.
We walk up and down the block. Eventually he hands me the leash. He places his own inside his pockets. I let Magee lead us around the block again.
“I can’t really talk to any of my friends. I don’t think they get it.” He gives me a sideways glance, but I remain silent. “It’s like what I was talking about before. People ask you how you’re doing, but they really don’t want to know. They just want to feel like they’re saying the right things.
“And they always get it wrong. They tell you that you’re better off without her. They tell you that she’ll eventually come to her senses. They want to set you up on blind dates.”
Magee barks at a terrier across the street. This seems to make Stevie realize he’s talking about his personal problems to a complete stranger and he clams up.
We walk back to the house and I feel…I feel linked, connected somehow to him. Because now I know the few sentences he’s said to me are ten fold the amount he’s spoken to anyone else on the subject of his failed marriage.
He drops me off at my apartment and speeds off before I get the chance to say goodbye.
I get up early the next day, but he doesn’t come around. Reading the paper, I notice that we won the night before and just by chance see the article about his daughter, and seven other kids, receiving an award in an assembly at her school that day.
Lunch time rolls around and I’ve pretty much convinced myself that whatever link I thought I had with Stevie doesn’t exist and I’d probably never talk to him again.
At five o’clock though, against all odds, my phone rings and it’s him. I don’t bother asking him how he managed to get my unlisted number. He invites me over to his house for dinner and double checks my directions before I hang up.
I arrive an hour later and he shuffles me into his kitchen. He drains a pot and asks me to open a bottle of wine. I make the mistake of opening my mouth and telling him that I’m not twenty one yet. He laughs and tells me there’s lemonade and milk in the fridge. “You like chicken and pasta, right?”
I smile while pouring myself a drink. “Pretty much a staple in my diet.”
“I figured. Not much has changed.”
We sit down at the table and that’s when I notice that there are only two place settings. He notices my recognition and shrugs his shoulders.
“Isabella is over at a friend’s house spending the night. Lisa took Maria out to celebrate and Sophia went with them.”
“You didn’t go?”
He smiles and I feel like smacking my forehead. Obviously not, idiot. “No.”
I inspect the chicken and poke it with my fork. “You made this?”
“Don’t worry. It’s edible,” he says while digging in.
I follow suit and it’s surprisingly good. I don’t normally trust food made by any of my teammates, or hockey players in general. Although, most of the ones that I did know were bachelors.
Half way through the meal I can’t stand the silence anymore. It presses up against me so I blurt out, “This is good.”
Oh boy, I’m doing real well with this talking thing.
He drops his fork and starts laughing.
But then he doesn’t stop and his chuckles turn to sobs, and suddenly I find myself at a table in my favorite hockey player’s house sitting across from said weepy player.
I really shouldn’t have opened my mouth.
“Seriously, Stevie, it’s good. Just add a little bit of salt…”
And the sobs get louder.
I scratch the back of my neck, unsure of what to say or do. I don’t usually find myself in these kind of situations. I tend to hang out with the rock ‘em, sock ’em kind of jocks and stay away from the real emotional guys.
So I finish my dinner and Stevie calms down on his own.
“She showed up at the assembly.” His voice is low and laden with emotion.
“Well, she is her mother. What did you expect?” Stevie snaps his head up; I think he’s surprised I responded.
“Thanks for dinner, Stevie.” I stand up and take my plate over to the sink.
His eyes widen as he whips his head around to watch me. “You’re leaving?”
He sounds so pitiful, that I want to bite my tongue, but I don’t. “Dude, I didn’t come over here for a pity party.”
“I--” he stops and coughs, offended.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s been great eating with you. You’re like my hero. But I don’t think I can listen to your problems and stay silent for much longer. And that seems to be pretty much what you want.”
The stuff is spewing from my mouth, but I swear to God, it’s not originating from my brain. I mean, this can’t be me talking. I could barely stutter a sentence around him two days ago. Not even! More like yesterday. If I hadn’t poured the drink myself, I would’ve sworn I was drunk.
“I…no,” he responds resolutely.
He looks fairly angry, and I’m pretty much frozen in place. Fear, perhaps--waiting for him to yell at me and tell me to get out of his house. Or maybe I’m just stupefied by my actions.
His face softens. “Do you want to watch a movie?”
We find one on t.v relatively easily. He has like a millions channels. We fall into the silence that seems to define whatever relationship we may have.
The movie ends and he turns the t.v. off.
“I don’t know what I was expecting.”
I leave the house as Lisa pulls into the driveway with the girls.
Stevie doesn’t call me or come over to my house the next day.
Or the day after that.
The following day I return from the doctor’s office, cleared to play, to find Stevie waiting on the steps outside my door. I try to invite him in, but he shakes his head and says that he’ll be leaving in a few minutes anyway to pick up the girls.
I sit down next to him. We stare at the cars speeding up and down the street until he stands up to leave.
And that’s how my sixth day with Stevie ends.
On the seventh the team returns home, three and one, and I get my roommate back. He asks what I did, but if I told him, I doubt he would believe me. I tell him I just stayed home and mooched on the couch, which is mostly what I did anyway.
He goes out for dinner with his girlfriend, leaving me alone for all of fifteen minutes before there’s a knock at my door.
It’s Stevie and I really should stop acting surprised to see him standing outside my door. Old habits die hard though, but I manage to invite him inside to watch the Rangers game.
“I signed the papers today,” he says during the second intermission. “It’s official now.”
He starts to shake slightly and at first I think he’s having a seizure because he isn’t making any noise, but I realize soon enough that he’s crying. Tears aren’t running down his face though, so either he’s run out or is too exhausted to exert the effort. I reach around and sort of pat him on the opposite shoulder. Probably not very comforting, but at least I’m trying. He leans to the left and rests his head on my shoulder.
By the time the third period starts, he stops crying or sobbing or whatever it was. He moves his head and sits upright after the first stoppage in play. And by the time the period ends, he’s no longer watching the game, but rather his hand, which is entwined with my own.
I’m not sure who grabbed whose hand first, but neither of us makes the effort to move away.
He rubs the back of my hand with his thumb. “Thank you,” he says softly. “For the week.”
I smile. My face is warm and my heart is warm, and my hand is probably clammy. And to think that months ago I couldn’t even speak to him (not much had changed in that area) and was berating myself for the missed chance to shake his hand. Yet here I am, holding his hand, and knowing far more about Stevie than I ever thought I would.
Stevie leaves just as my roommate returns.
“Dude, you know Steve Yzerman?” I roll my eyes. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
I go back to my room, ignoring his questions.
The next day at practice I don’t see Stevie standing in the wings.
I’m glad to be back on the ice the following day. The crunch of the ice, the roar of the crowd…just to be back doing what I love is unbelievable. Even a week was too long. I don’t know what I’ll do during the off season.
My ice time is down, but it was to be expected because of my recent return.
After the game I hear talk in the locker room that Stevie was up in the stands with his daughter, but the two don’t come downstairs. My roommate hears this and makes a comment about the two of us being buddy-buddy. A couple of the guys make a few jokes, but I don’t really pay attention. After all, they don’t know Stevie.
The rest of the season passes without incident. I have no more freak accidents, but my ice time still goes down because of my failure to produce. I probably would have been sent down to the minors if not for my work effort.
The season also passes without another conversation with Stevie.
He still came around, only more and more sporadically, and even then he didn’t stop to talk. I think he waved once.
I thought with our one week of brief conversations that I somehow knew Stevie. That we had connected somehow.
I don’t think I ever really knew him.
But I hope for that one week that I helped.
It strikes me funny now that I never thought to talk to him about my own experiences. About how my parents had gotten a divorce when I was twelve.
I think we all wish we have it before...well, before we have it. I think we all want a crystal ball and someone to tell us everything will be all right in the future. Someone to explain to us events in our lifetimes where we meet extraordinary people in ordinary places. People who touch our lives. People who confuse us with their actions. People who can take comfort in silence.
I’m still not exactly sure what my week with Stevie was. If it was anything at all.
But it was a week. Seven days. One hundred and sixty eight hours. One thousand eighty minutes. Six hundred and four thousand, eight hundred seconds.
A lifetime, almost, when you break it down.
And something I’ll soon forget.
But hope I won’t.