“What happened here?” asked the first guy who got to us.
“He fell,” Brody interrupted me. “We were playing a game of one on one and he got checked. I think it knocked him out, because when he slid into the boards, he was already pretty limp.”
“Okay. Move back, please,” he ordered.
The three of us backed up enough to allow them to circle around Mike and do what they needed to do. He still hadn’t moved. Why the fuck wasn’t he moving? I covered my face with my hands as my head spun.
Wake up, Mike. Please, wake the fuck up.
Brody put a hand on my shoulder and leaned in close. “Relax. He’ll be okay.”
The loud clank of the wheels of a stretcher hitting the ice echoed through the arena and pulled me out of my own head and back to reality. One paramedic was pushing it while another carried a neck brace and a backboard.
A neck brace.
Please, God, don’t let him be paralyzed. Holy fuck. Please.
They worked quickly but carefully, placing the brace around Mike’s neck and rolling him onto the backboard, where they secured him tightly.
“On three… one, two, three.” The paramedics worked together to lift him onto the stretcher and made their way across the ice, toward the tunnel.
Pete turned to the three of us and sighed, running his hands through his hair. “I’m gonna follow the ambulance to the hospital. Does anyone know how to get ahold of his wife?”
“I’ll call Michelle,” Brody announced before turning to me. “Are you going to the hospital?”
I bit down hard, clenching my jaw.
Do. Not. Cry.
“That’s the stupidest fucking thing you’ve ever asked me,” I snapped and skated ahead of them toward the exit.
My vision was blurry, everything just slightly out of focus. My mind was racing with the worst scenarios possible, and a permanent lump that I couldn’t swallow was lodged in my throat as I made my way across the ice toward the tunnel. Only one thing was bright and in focus.
That fucking pink tutu.
BRODY AND I drove the whole way to the hospital in silence. I stared out the window at nothing in particular, but my peripheral vision kept catching Brody look over at me.
Finally, as we pulled into the hospital parking lot, he sighed. “Listen, obviously this whole situation sucks, but let’s not freak out until we know there’s something to freak out about, okay?”
“Yep,” I answered coldly.
We walked into the emergency room, and Pete was already there.
“Hey,” Brody said to him stiffly as we walked up. It was clear none of us wanted to be there. “Any news?”
Pete grabbed a tissue from a box on the desk and wiped his eyes. My heart sank again.
Why is he crying? What the fuck is going on?
“Not really.” He shook his head. “They’re prepping him for surgery right now. Did you call his wife?”
“Surgery?” Brody panicked. “What kind of surgery?”
Pete cleared his throat and took a deep breath, looking back and forth between Brody and me. “Apparently he had a seizure and started puking uncontrollably in the ambulance, so they did a CT scan immediately, and he has bleeding around his brain.”
“Holy shit.” Brody barely got the words out, sounding like he’d just had the wind knocked out of him. My head spun again. I felt like I might pass out, so I hurried over to the nearest chair, where I plopped down and rested my head in my hands. What the fuck happened? Two hours ago, we were heckling each other in the weight room about whose ass was going to look better in the tutu, and now they were rushing him into surgery with bleeding in his brain. I desperately wanted to switch places with him. I had no kids, no family other than Gam, no life. I should have been the one with a bleeding brain on my way into surgery. I looked around for the nearest trash can as my stomach rolled.
“Where is he?” A panicked voice grabbed my attention. I looked up just as the sliding glass doors were closing behind Michelle. Pete was filling her in on what the doctor had told him as I walked over to them.
“What the hell happened?” Her eyes filled with tears as she bit her bottom lip to keep it from trembling.
“We were on the ice, doing what we do, and he slid into the boards,” Brody answered as he stared at the ground, deliberately not looking at me.
She wiped her eyes with the tissue Pete gave her and shook her head incredulously. “That doesn’t make sense. He’s fallen a million times before. Was he wearing his helmet?”
Brody nodded and I couldn’t keep quiet anymore.
I cleared my throat. “It’s my fault. We were playing one on one. The game got intense and I checked him.”
Her eyes went from sad to angry faster than I’d ever seen. “You did this?” she hissed through clenched teeth.
I wanted to tell her it was an accident, that I didn’t mean to hit him that hard, but nothing I could say at that moment would have taken away her anger. To be honest, I wanted her mad. I wanted her to take her fury and hate out on me, so I just nodded.
“Michelle, it was an accident—”
The words weren’t even out of Brody’s mouth before the side of my face stung with heat. I never saw her hand coming. She reeled back to hit me again, but Brody wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her back. “Michelle! Stop! It was an accident!”
“You motherfucker!” she screamed at me, flailing like a wild animal in Brody’s arms as tears rolled down her face. “How dare you? How dare you hit him like that? He’s your friend!”
Brody struggled to hold her back. “He didn’t mean to. We were just playing a game.”
“Some fucking game it turned out to be, huh?” she continued yelling through her sobs. “You’re standing here just fine, and my husband is in surgery! I hate you. Even when he’s better, I’ll still hate you! You don’t deserve him!” Ouch.
I couldn’t defend myself against anything she said. She was right, and if Brody had let her loose, I would’ve let her hit me. Over and over. I deserved it.
A security guard walked up to us. “Is everything okay over here, folks?”
“Clearly not,” Pete said, “but we’ll keep it down. Sorry.”
Michelle had finally stopped kicking, but Brody was still holding her. “I’m gonna put you down, okay?” he said softly. “Don’t do that again or they’re gonna kick you out, and you won’t be here when Mike wakes up.”
She covered her face with her hands and started sobbing. Her shoulders bounced up and down and her legs started to give out as she turned toward Brody and wailed into his chest. Once again, he wrapped his arms around her, only this time it was to hold her up.
I walked quietly to the other side of the waiting room, knowing space for Michelle was the most important thing right now. After a couple hours, Kacie showed up and immediately went over to Michelle. They hugged and cried for a solid three minutes while Brody came over and sat by me.
The back of my head rested against the wall behind me as I stared straight ahead, refusing to look at him. “Where’s Pete?”
“He left a while ago. He asked us to please keep him posted,” he said quietly. “Viper, listen, about before—”