Home Ice

By: Catherine Gayle

The oldest of the daughters looked like she was about to pass out, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from 501. One of the others was having the opposite reaction to being near him, nearly bursting out of her skin with the sort of exuberance and overabundance of energy that could only come from teenage hormones.

But even though her girls certainly drew my eye momentarily, it was Paige who held my attention. She had the most amazing long hair that fell straight down her back, almost pure black in color and as thick and luxurious as I’d ever seen. She was petite and fit, and she seemed to know that she was gorgeous exactly as she was, not bothering with more than a light dusting of makeup.

Her uneasiness over the current situation appeared to be getting the best of her, as she shifted from foot to foot and reached up to resituate the strap of her purse over her shoulder. That action drew my eye to her hand. More specifically, to her ring finger. Which was bare. I wasn’t sure why I’d bothered to notice that, but I had. And she saw the recognition hit my face, too, if her sudden blinking was any indication.

But then she shook her head, as if that would be enough to brush whatever was bothering her aside. Her expression was as apologetic as I’d ever seen, which was saying something. My own mother had spent years apologizing for Linnea, even though there’d been no damned good reason to apologize, before she’d finally broken the habit. Something told me Paige hadn’t managed that feat yet. She opened her mouth, but I cut her off before she could tell me she was sorry. That was the last thing she needed to say, and I definitely didn’t need to hear it.

“My sister has Down syndrome,” I said.

I wasn’t sure why I told her that other than it was the first thing that came to mind and the only thing that came to my lips in time to stop her apology. And it worked. She snapped her mouth closed, and everything about her appearance changed in an instant. Her hazel eyes softened, and she dropped her hand to her side instead of attempting to force Sophie to release 501’s arm.

“Does she?” Paige asked.

Sophie lit up. “You have a sister, Bergy? Where is she? I want to meet her.”

I chuckled. “She’s in Sweden. I don’t think you’ll be able to meet her today.”

“Okay. Maybe tomorrow.”

“I don’t know about that,” Paige said. “You have to go back to school on Monday.”

“Can Levi come to school with me? I want to show him to my friends.”

With that, 501 tensed up.

“I bet we can get some pictures to show your friends,” I said, and he started breathing again. I glanced at my watch. “But for you, I think you should go have some fun with him.”

“Okay,” Sophie said. She took off walking in the wrong direction, dragging 501 alongside her. The rest of the Calhouns followed in their wake.

Somehow, 501 must have convinced Sophie that he knew a better way of getting to their ultimate destination, because they turned around and shuffled past me heading in the appropriate direction.

“Give me twenty minutes,” I called out as they passed me by.

501 nodded, wide-eyed, but it was Paige’s expression that once again drew my eye. She seemed completely and utterly perplexed as her head swiveled so she could take me in.

And now, whether it was a good idea or not, I really wanted to get to know her.

IT WASN’T MUCH longer before we were given the royal treatment ten times over. Levi took us up a private elevator and led us through a series of halls we never would have been able to see otherwise. Every now and then, a security guard would ask to see our badges, which Sophie would lift up high in the air and wave around for them, but then they would wave us through. We stopped at a concession stand and Levi bought the girls drinks and snacks—despite my attempt to pay for them myself—before showing us around the press box. He introduced us to the Storm’s television crew as well as Axel Johansson and Jiri Dvorak, a couple of other players who, like Levi, were currently injured and ineligible to participate on the ice today.

Now he’d found us all seats together near the front of the box. Axel and Jiri joined us, spreading out between my girls, who giggled and tittered nervously. Well, all of them but Sophie. I’d never seen my youngest so confident. She hadn’t released Levi’s hand once since she’d first latched on to him, and I was positive I would have to pry her fingers loose later. The poor guy would have to go to the bathroom sometime, at the very least, and she couldn’t very well follow him in there. Not that she wouldn’t try. I knew her better than to think she would voluntarily release him any time in the next decade. He’d be lucky to find his freedom within a century or two.

I sat down a couple of rows behind them all, close enough to be certain that none of my girls did anything they shouldn’t—always a concern, considering the sheer number of hormones wreaking havoc on my household these days—but giving them enough distance so they wouldn’t feel as if I were breathing down their necks.

The lights in the arena dimmed, the music cranked up, and the stage lights started to flash. A video came up on the Jumbotron overhead at the same time as I felt someone take a seat next to me.

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