“Okay,” she said quietly.

“Are you okay?”

“No,” she squeaked out before soft sobs filled the phone.

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“It’s just that you got hit, then you slid into the boards. It was like Mike and—I couldn’t breathe,” she rushed out in between sobs.

“I know, baby. Where are you? Are you alone?”

There was shuffling for a second and then I heard another woman’s voice. “Hey, Viper. It’s Kacie.”

“Oh! Hey! Is she okay?”

“No, but she will be. Watching that obviously scared the crap out of her, but I think now that she’s talked to you, she’ll be better. I took the phone so she could get a drink of water and catch her breath for a minute.”

“Thanks. Are you at her house?”

“Nope, her and the kids came here to swim and hang out. They’re gonna sleep over, too.”

I nodded. “Okay, good. I was hoping that she wasn’t going to drive home tonight.”

“Nope, I got her. Hang on . . . here she is.”

Their low voices spoke to each other for a minute before she came back on the line. “Hi. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” I said. “I know this must be horrible for you—”

Pete’s head popped into the room. “Hey! Ambulance is here. Sit tight. We’ll come get you in one second.”

“Okay,” I called back with another nod.

“Huh?”

“Nothing. That was Pete telling me the ambulance is here. I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okay,” she said sadly. “Please do. I’m not gonna be able to sleep tonight anyway, so it doesn’t matter what time it is.”

“All right. I’ll call you as soon as I can. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She sniffed. “A lot. Viper, I love you a whole hell of a lot.”

“Back atcha, babe.”

We hung up just as the EMTs got there. They hurried into the room and moved fast, talking to Pete and sliding me carefully off the table onto a stretcher. Before I knew it, they were rolling me down the concourse and out to the back parking lot.

 

Once we got to the ER, everything moved in hyper speed. The doctor came in, examined my knee for about ten minutes, and sent me off to X-ray. Those came back quickly and confirmed what Pete already knew. Nothing was broken. The doctors and nurses stabilized my knee and the Wild front office put me on the first plane back to Minnesota, where I could see our team doctor the next morning.

It was a long, exhausting night and my plane didn’t land until about two o’clock in the morning. I was groggy from pain meds and beyond thankful when Samantha, who handles most things for the Wild, texted me that she’d arranged a car to drive me home since driving was obviously out of the question for at least the next few days.

I exited the plane last, slowly making my way up the cold, quiet hallway from the plane to the airport on my crutches. It had only been a couple of hours and I was already sick of those fucking things. They annoyed me more than they helped me. I was constantly getting them caught on the ground or banging them against things, like the leg of the guy sitting next to me on the plane. I swear if he glared at me one more time, I was going to shove my crutch so far up his ass that it would knock out all of his teeth from the inside.

I finally reached the desk at the end of the concourse and a woman in a navy blue suit greeted me with a smile.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” she said cheerfully.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “Takes me a while with these things.”

She reached out and touched my arm. “No worries. We’ve actually arranged a ride for you the rest of the way.”

“A ride?”

“Yep,” she said as she stepped back and waved toward a small man who looked to be in his mid-forties, smiling at me from behind a wheelchair.

“Uh, thanks, but that’s not really necessary.” I shook my head.

I didn’t think Tiny over there would be able to push me anyway.

The woman gave me a tight-lipped smile and clasped her hands together. Something told me I wasn’t going to win that argument. “I know it’s not really ideal, but we think it’s best that you not walk the entire airport in this condition.”

Condition? I fucking tweaked my knee and will be back up in a couple days. I’m not in a condition.

“And we spoke with Samantha Lester, who coordinated all of this, and she let us know that you would most likely argue but that we shouldn’t take no for an answer, so come on.” Before I could say anything else, she reached over and took my duffel bag off my shoulder and pointed toward the chair. “Have a seat.”

I took a deep breath in through my nose, fully aware that my nostrils were flaring and my jaw was tense. Without a word, I limped over and plopped down in the wheelchair, beyond pissed that I was being treated like a child.

“You hang on to this”—she dropped my bag in my lap—“and Carl here will have you down to your next stop in no time.”

“Thanks.” I looked up at her and tried to offer a smile, but I just couldn’t do it. It had been a long, horrible day and if I couldn’t have answers right away, I just wanted my bed.

Carl tried to make chitchat as we weaved through the halls of the mostly deserted airport.

“You play for the Wild, huh? That’s cool. I used to play hockey back when I was younger. I was pretty good, too, but I never thought about playing professionally. How did you get into that anyway? Are there open tryouts or do you need to be invited? Do you have an agent? Can he maybe get me into a tryout?”

I pulled my Wild ball cap lower and ignored him. He seemed like a nice guy and all, but I could not have been less in the mood to hand out advice on how to make it big in the NHL. Not to mention he was about twenty years too late to make that dream a reality. He must have gotten the hint because eventually he stopped asking questions and started whistling instead. Just as annoying but at least I wasn’t expected to respond.

The air grew colder as we neared the door that lets out to the transportation area. It was only October but there was a familiar crispness to the late-night Minnesota air that comforted me, oddly enough.

Carl wheeled me over and parked the chair off to the side of the door. He pulled a pair of gloves out of his pockets and quickly put them on, his arms shivering.