“Holy shit!” I jumped up and covered my mouth.
Hard hits were nothing new in hockey, but that one was brutal, and it was obvious by the way his body flew that Viper had no idea Ricky was even near him.
“He’s okay. He’s totally fine,” Kacie tried to reassure me, taking a step closer as she put her hand on my arm.
But . . . he wasn’t okay.
Within a couple of seconds, the station cut to a commercial break and fear exploded inside of my chest.
Not again. Oh God, please not again.
“Fuck!” I rolled around on the ice, trying desperately to give my knee some relief. Any relief. The burning sensation was overwhelming. Within seconds, half of the team and the ref stood over me.
“You okay?” a bunch of them called out and a few knelt down next to me, but I was in too much pain to answer.
Within seconds Pete, our trainer, was by my side.
“What’s going on? Talk to me.”
“My knee. I hit the board and felt a huge fucking pop,” I growled.
“Your knee actually hit the wall?”
“No,” I shook my head. “My leg was straight but that leg went straight into the wall.”
His eyes widened and he quickly wiped sweat from his brow. “Okay, we have to get you off the ice.”
The look on his face ignited a fear inside of me that spread like wildfire through my body, every nerve prickling with anxiety.
“Okay,” I answered gruffly, trying to stand.
“Wait, wait. Just wait. I need you to move slow and not put any pressure on that leg. Got it? No pressure.”
I nodded, grimacing as I tried to stand. Once I was upright, the audience started clapping. Ignoring the pain the best I could, I took off one of my gloves and gave them a thumbs-up. The clapping grew into a thunderous roar that shook the whole building. Choked up that they cared more about me than the away jersey I was wearing, I gave another wave as I slung one arm around Pete’s neck and the other around my teammate Rex Craig’s. They skated slowly off the ice and I was careful to keep my right leg just above the ice, practically dangling along behind me. As I got to the doorway of the bench, one of Pete’s men stood waiting for me with a wheelchair.
“Seriously?” I groaned toward Pete.
“Shut up and sit,” he answered without looking back at me.
With Pete’s hand tucked under my armpit, I carefully turned and sat in the wheelchair. He quickly unlocked the wheels and hurried back to the small medical clinic within the arena. Dr. Houston, the St. Louis Blues team doctor, was already in the room waiting for us.
“Do you need help lifting him?” he asked as Pete wheeled me over to the exam table.
“No, I’m fine,” I answered before Pete could.
Pete’s eyes slid from the doc’s to mine and back again. “This one is a live wire. I can handle him. If you don’t mind, I’m also going to be the one to examine him.”
“Of course,” he said with a nod as he took a step back and folded his hands in front of him. “I do have to stay in the room because of liability, but do your thing.”
The next several minutes consisted of Pete doing an assessment of my knee, asking things like “Does this hurt here? What about here? How about now?” as he touched different places. Some of the movements made me cringe in pain. Others didn’t hurt at all. His eyes darted up and down my leg as his jaw clenched.
“What are you thinking?” I asked, not really sure I wanted to hear the answer.
His nostrils flared as he inhaled slowly, still looking at my leg. “It’s gonna swell fast. I wanna get an X-ray. Now.”
The enormous knot in my stomach hurt way worse than my knee, and the way Pete was avoiding eye contact with me didn’t help. He took his phone out of his pocket and stepped into the hallway.
Lying on that table, staring up at the fluorescent lights in the ceiling, I took a slow, deep breath in through my nose and did something I hadn’t done in a very long time.
Hello, up there. It’s me, Viper . . . Lawrence . . . whatever. You and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, and I know I’ve done a lot of shi—stuff that has probably made you roll your eyes, but I’m desperate here. If you help me out, I promise to quit sending pictures of my junk to Michelle and no more Icy Hot in Brody’s underwear. In all seriousness, please, please, please do this for me. Hockey is my life. I’m nothing if I can’t play. I’m begging you to make this a minor little tweak and let me back on the ice in a day or two. I can’t not play hockey. I don’t know how. Amen.
“What are you looking at?”
My head snapped quickly to my right where Pete stood again, staring up at the ceiling. “Oh, sorry.” I cleared my throat. “I didn’t hear you come back in.”
“Obviously,” he said sarcastically. “Ambulance will be here in a minute. How are you feeling?”
“I can tell. You’ve never been injured on the ice before, have you?”
“Nothing major.” I shook my head. “A busted lip here and there, lots of stitches, but nothing like this.”
“This might be nothing major, too. Let’s wait and see what the X-ray shows, okay?”
I nodded but didn’t say anything.
“And while we wait, use this,” he said, handing me his phone.
“Trust me. I’ve been doing this a long time. There are people watching that game on TV who love you and are worried sick right now. Call them.”
I was such an ass. Calling Michelle hadn’t even crossed my mind yet. I’d been so wrapped up with myself that I totally forgot that she might be freaking out. I quickly dialed her cell number as Pete and Dr. Houston stepped out of the room.
“Hello?” she answered quickly in a shaky voice, obviously not recognizing Pete’s number.
“Hey, baby. It’s me.”
“Viper!” she called out, her voice cracking. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”
“I’m okay. I got hit and slid into the wall. It’s my knee.”
“Is it broken?”
“No, I don’t think so. I can move it a little, but it hurts, so I’m gonna head to the hospital just so they can take a closer look.”