Wild Ice

By: Rachelle Vaughn

Besides his mother, who had died when he was young, Darla was the only woman JD had ever loved. As much as Darla had tried to prepare him for her passing, it did nothing to prepare him for the gaping hole he now had to step around for fear of falling into. What used to feel like quicksand pulling him under was now just plain old cement holding him in place. His sorrow prevented him from taking a step forward and moving on.

It had been a year since Darla passed away and his memories of her were already starting to fade. That’s what scared him the most—losing her all over again. As a result, JD ended up hanging on tighter and tighter and that probably made things even worse.

After Darla’s death, JD stayed in Red Valley, but after a few months it was clear he needed to move somewhere else. Without hockey, there was nothing keeping him in there and he couldn’t bear to stay. The house they had lived in together was loaded with too many memories. As much as he hated to sell it, he couldn’t stay there. Not alone. And not with Darla’s essence embedded in every square foot. The move to Hayley’s Point had been a no-brainer.

He couldn’t bear to drive by the hospital when he was in town running errands. To think of all the time she’d spent there hooked up to machines that pumped poison needlessly into her veins. He didn’t want to see the restaurant on the river where they’d celebrated their first Valentine’s Day together. Or the bistro downtown where she liked to eat Sunday brunch. It was best to leave the city altogether.

Darla left behind so many friends and family members that he was always running into someone who knew her. He couldn’t even go to the grocery store without the stark reminder of how much he’d lost. They meant well with their sympathetic eyes and kind, reassuring words and sympathy cards, but it all made JD feel more like shit than he already did. He didn’t want to deal with their well-meaning questions and the looks of pity. They were like landmines just waiting for him to take a step forward and blow him backwards. They meant well but it was just too painful.

What made things worse was that they never knew exactly what to say—who would?—and he didn’t either. What was he supposed to tell them? How agonizing it was to wake up in bed all alone, the space next to him cold and empty? How hard it was to eat breakfast by himself with no one to discuss the morning news with? How, out of habit, he still made more coffee than he could ever drink by himself? How he didn’t have the heart to tell TiVo to stop recording her favorite shows, so he sat and watched them by himself in the dark? No, he kept those things to himself and did the only thing he could think of and moved away. He forked over the cash, signed on the dotted line, and began his life of solitude.

Luckily Teal Manor came furnished, because JD didn’t want his and Darla’s furniture as a reminder either. The mansion came complete with large opulent armoires and cabinets he had no use for and an ornate ten person mahogany dining set he never sat at. He ate all his meals in the recliner in front of the TV and had become an expert at balancing a bowl of cereal on one leg and the remote control on the other. The four other bathrooms, besides the one in the master, went unused as well. He kept the doors to the spare bedrooms closed. He didn’t go into any of those rooms and they just collected dust. Once a week his housekeeper Veronica—who drove in from Red Valley so he paid her double—cleaned and dusted them and that was the only activity they saw.

Frankly, he didn’t need all that space. It was eerie sometimes when the sound of Mel’s paws on the floor echoed throughout the massive house’s walls. It was a home meant for entertaining guests, throwing lavish parties, and showing off its magnificent grounds. Playing touch football on the manicured lawn, enjoying a glass of brandy in the library followed by a ten course meal in the formal dining room…

It was a shame for such a magnificent house to go mostly unused, but JD didn’t dwell on it. The reason he’d chosen this house was strictly for its remote location. If a smaller house on twenty acres had been for sale in the area, he would have purchased it instead. Fortunately, cost wasn’t an issue. He’d had a lucrative career playing hockey and could afford to throw his money around. And why not? You couldn’t take it with you.

Teal Manor lived up to JD’s expectations of it. It was secluded, quiet for the most part except for the birds, and so far off the beaten path that no one ever bothered him. Darla hadn’t been big on nature, so he knew it wouldn’t remind him of her. She was a city girl, right down to her French manicured toes.

JD kept all of the windows in the house closed tight. It was as if he was afraid to let any fresh air inside in case it brought with it new life. He kept the sunlight out too, and made sure the heavy drapes were always pulled shut. Once a week, Veronica would open them, babbling on about something in Spanish. He couldn’t understand what she said and didn’t really want to know. She was good at her job and saved JD from having to clean a 3500 square foot house himself.

A few months after the move, the phone calls from his agent and teammates tapered off. What could he say to them? Everyone wanted a piece of him and he had nothing left to give.