Lani and Dee walked into the arena with about ten minutes to spare before the game started.
"Wow, this place is huge!" Dee took in the all the seats with wide eyes. "They must fit a million people in here."
"Oh, probably around eighteen thousand," Lani said as they walked through the portal.
"I hope there's not a fire or anything," Deanne muttered. Lani laughed and her friend glared. "Fine, when there's a stampede for the exits, you're on your own."
"Holy cow, Dee." Lani looked at the tickets. "These seats are lower level. They're not cheap."
"As long as it's near an exit."
Lani shook her head and handed their tickets to the usher. He smiled and led them down to the seats. Lani whistled in appreciation.
"I know people who would kill for seats like these." They were about fifteen rows up, behind the team benches.
"They're comfy," Dee agreed. "So, what's the etiquette here, anyway?"
"Wait until they blow the whistle and stop play before you get up," Lani told her. "That's half the battle right there. Don't boo the home team. Don't cheer for the visiting team very loudly, at least not here." She looked around and saw lots people in jerseys for the home team. She hadn’t heard that the crowds here were too raucous, but no sense taking chances.
"Which ones are our guys?" Dee wanted to know.
"They'll be wearing the dark shirts—jerseys." Lani pointed at the players on the ice. "The other guys will be in white."
"Wow, we were just in time." Dee looked up as the lights went down and the music came up. She frowned and leaned over. "Wish I'd brought some ear plugs!" she shouted at Lani.
Lani grinned and leaned forward in her seat, excited almost despite herself. There was a certain electric quality in an arena when you attended a game, she always found. She wasn’t sure quite what it was—everyone getting behind one group of guys, or the music played loud to amp up the crowd—but it never failed to get the blood pumping.
The referees came out for a few pre-game laps to loosen up, and then the announcer introduced the visiting team. There was a healthy chorus of boos. When the home team came out, and the roar of approval sent vibrations through Lani. I need to get to more games
, she thought as she clapped. She wondered if Dee would go for a partial-season ticket plan.
The music still blasted but the applause lessened as the players took their warm up skate. A few slid to stops by the boards and stretched. Lani looked over at Dee, who was staring at the game program in shock. She was about to ask if anything was wrong when the announcer began to introduce the home team's starting line up. Dee grabbed her hand. Lani gave her a questioning look, but her friend only gestured at the jumbo screen.
Lani had only been in town a couple of months and hadn't had a chance to get as familiar as she would have liked with any of the local teams, but she recognized a couple of names from the sports section. Her jaw dropped when the first defenseman was introduced. "Starting at defense, number twenty-four, Kaaaaaarl Jonnnnnsson!"
The women stared up at the screen and the picture of the tall blond man they'd met that morning. They were too surprised to even clap; Lani missed the second defenseman's introduction. "And in goal tonight, number thirty-one, Dominic Baaad-danooooo!"
Lani blinked at the picture on screen. It was Dom from the coffee shop. There was the straight brown hair and the piercing gray eyes, just as she remembered.
The applause faded and the lights came up on the ice. Dee was practically jumping out of her seat. "I knew it!" she exclaimed. "I knew he looked familiar!"
"How can you tell when they wear helmets?"
"Look, look!" Dee squealed and pointed at the ice.
Lani followed her gaze down to the ice and saw Karl looking up at them, waving. Another player skated up to him. They watched as Karl said something and gestured, and then the other guy waved, too. Lani couldn't help but laugh and wave back; Dee did the same, bouncing with excitement.
"I wonder why Dom doesn't wave." Dee watched as he stood by the team bench, then skated over to his net.
Lani shrugged. Her brother had played goal for his college team, so she knew how temperamental they could be. "He's probably getting his head in the game," she told Dee. "Goalies tend to be a little . . . different. I wouldn't want to distract him, anyway." She watched as Dom roughed up the ice in front of his net and loosened his arms by swinging his stick against the posts. This should be an interesting game
, she thought.
Karl skated over and tapped Dom's leg pads three times on each side. It was his own odd little superstition, but Dom didn’t mind.
"They're here," he said as he straightened up and leaned on the net.
"Okay." Dom's thoughts were elsewhere as he stared down the ice at the opposing net. He said, as he always did before a game, "Nothing gets through."
Karl nodded. "Nothing gets through." He skated back to the bench when the siren sounded, stood for the anthem, then took his place for the opening face off.
The third period started and Lani's stomach had never been so full of butterflies. Butterflies swinging hockey sticks
, she thought as she twisted her fingers together. She couldn't remember being so invested in a game—not even when her brother was in goal and his team made it to the NCAA Frozen Four. You are certifiable,
she told herself. You must be, to be so concerned over a guy you've known for all of twenty minutes.
She looked over at Dee and decided perhaps she wasn’t so bad after all; Dee was positively ashen. Taking pity on her friend, she touched her arm as the ref whistled an icing.
"Dee," she said, and her friend jumped. "It's a hockey game, not open-heart surgery."
"Oh, I know, but—" Dee waved her hands in a gesture of both confusion and excitement "—I've just never been to a game before. And I've never known a professional athlete. It's just so . . . I don't know. I feel like I'm going to barf." She tugged at her hair. "When Karl hit that guy earlier, I thought I'd faint."
Lani laughed. "Toughen up, kiddo. It's a hard game. He'll be fine," she assured Dee. "They wear tons of padding and he's in great shape."
"So what was the whistle for this time?" Dee had been peppering Lani all night with questions about the rules.
"Icing," Lani told her.
"That's the one . . . the one about who gets to the puck first, right?"
"Close enough." Lani had tried her best to explain things, and Dee had picked it up pretty quickly, but a few concepts gave her trouble. Lani figured it would be easier to explain them when they weren't being assaulted with snippets of pop songs at high volume.
Play resumed and they both went silent. Lani's heart climbed into her throat any time the opposing players crossed the blue line, and tried to jump out with each shot taken.
Dom was unflappable, she saw. He had that quality—the elusive "it" that some athletes and celebrities had—that her brother had not. The "it" that separated the pros from the amateurs, and the elite from the very good.
Her heart almost stopped when Dom, who'd gone to slow the puck down for his defense, was caught out of a position when the puck caromed off the boards at an odd angle. Number 16 in white streaked in, grabbed the puck and took a shot. Dom launched himself towards the crease, leading with his stick, and knocked it aside inches from the goal line. Relief flooded through her as she and Dee both jumped up to cheer.
She glanced up at the clock and saw just over half the period remained to be played. I'll never make it,
Dom rose from his crouch as the light went on for a television time-out. He dropped his glove on top of the net, grabbed his water bottle and squeezed, drenching himself and catching whatever happened to make it into his mouth. He glanced up at the scoreboard but didn't take anything in besides the time, and even that hardly registered.
Karl skated over, tapped his pads, and swapped him two full bottles for the empties. He said nothing—no one but the coach spoke to Dom during games, especially games like this—and skated back.
Dom stared up into the stands, noting the crowd but not seeing individuals. As his gaze traveled up the rows in the lower bowl, a splash of red drew his attention and he recognized the taller woman from the coffee shop. He couldn't see if Lani was there, and was surprised to find himself hoping that she was. Then the couple in front of the red-head—Deanne, he recalled—got up and there she was.
She was leaning forward in her seat and staring up at the scoreboard. For just a moment, Dom was transfixed. He chuckled when he saw Lani clap a hand over Deanne's mouth and wondered what had happened. Then the horn sounded. He put on his glove, dropped his mask into place and forgot about everything on the other side of the glass.
"Wow, Lani," said Dee. "Dom's been great. No one on the other team has sc—" She gave a muffled yelp when Lani clamped a hand over her mouth. Further protests were stifled when she saw the steely look in Lani's eyes.
"Don't say it," Lani warned. "I know what you're thinking, but you don't say anything about it until the game's over. Got it? Completely over." Dee nodded. "Okay." Lani removed her hand.
"You are nuts." Dee informed her.
"I'm sorry," Lani said. "I'll explain it later. Lots of superstitions with hockey, and that's one of them."
"Warn me before I mess up another one, okay?"
"You got it." Lani took a deep breath as the players lined up at the face-off circle. Ten minutes,
she told herself. You can make it for ten minutes.
Ten turned into twenty with stoppages, but when it was over, Lani and Dee were shouting themselves hoarse along with the rest of the crowd. The home team won, three-zip, and Dom was awarded first star of the game. Karl was the third star with a goal and an assist.
"That was amazing,
" Dee said as she all but floated down the escalator. Lani thought about wrapping something around her wrist to make sure she didn't get too far. "Lani, we need to do this again. Seriously. I'm going to learn all the rules—all
of them. Plus the numbers of all the players."
Lani laughed. "No need to rush, Dee. It's a long season. We'll get more tickets, and I'll help you learn all the rules." Dee would learn, Lani knew. Whenever Dee got into something, she jumped in with both feet, reading whatever she could find. Lani was willing to bet that within a month, Dee would be able to reel off every Stanley Cup winner since the creation of the NHL. Two months, and she could recite the losers as well.
Lani hadn't realized just how serious Dee was about the tickets until her friend dragged her to a sales window. Before she knew it, they both had a partial season plan. The seats were higher up, but that was fine. Lani preferred the distance; it let her see the plays develop. She'd always sat high for her brother's games.
"Ready for the restaurant?" Lani asked as they stepped out. It was the end of November and very cold, but there was no wind so they decided to walk.
After they were seated, Dee seemed to get a case of nerves. Her hands weren’t still and she fidgeted with her clothes. "These pants make my butt look big, don't they?" she asked. "I knew I should have worn the other ones, the blue ones."
Lani rolled her eyes and sighed. "Dee, you're fine. You also have many fine attributes aside from your derriere. And, let me point out, you're sitting
on it, so it isn't like anyone has the opportunity to look at the moment."
"So, I can say it now, right? Dom got a shut out." Dee beamed.
"Yes," agreed Lani, "you can say that now. You just can't during a game. You'll jinx the goalie."
"How can I do that?" Dee demanded. "It's not like he could hear me."
"The hockey gods can. They don’t like people to count on something before it's done." She sipped her wine.
Dee stared at her as though she had three heads. "You are kidding me. What is in that wine?"
"I was at a ball game once," Lani said, "a baseball game. The pitcher had a perfect game going—no one had been on base. Someone in front of me, round about the fourth inning, told his son about the perfect game. Another guy leans in, says you shouldn't say that until it's over."
"No way." Dee's eyes were wide despite her skepticism.
"Way," said Lani, taking another drink. "Game's perfect until the eighth inning. The pitcher gets the first out. Next batter comes up, hits into right field but the fielder gets it, makes the play. But the next one . . . " Lani shook her head. "Batter steps in, hits the first pitch down the middle. No more perfect game, not even a no-hitter."
Dee was silent, then shook her head. "You can't seriously be telling me you think that some random guy in the stands cost the pitcher a perfect game."
Lani raised an eyebrow. "The guy said it, then later, there's a hit." She shrugged. "That's sports for you."
"You are completely crazy," Dee said.
"About which one of us?" The women looked up to see Karl and Dom. Lani smiled a greeting, but Dee jumped up from the table.
"Oh, wow!" She hugged and kissed each of them again before they knew what hit them. "That was fantastic! I had so much fun! You were both terrific!"
"Dee," Lani said, "let them sit down."
Dom flashed a grin at Lani and took the seat next to her. Karl took the open chair by Dee. The two fell into conversation and their own little world.
"I take it she enjoyed herself?" Dom said.
"More than I expected." Lani studied him as the men ordered drinks. His hair was brushed back and still damp, and she quelled an urge to ruffle it.
"What?" Dom raised an eyebrow. "Do I have something in my teeth?"
"He said you would be 'entertaining clients' during the game." Lani raised an eyebrow, but Dom saw the corners of her mouth twitch.
"Yes, well. Karl has a way with words. And he wasn't entirely inaccurate," Dom pointed out.
"True enough." Lani grinned. "Although I doubt the other team sees it that way."
"Well, we do have to keep the home crowd happy," Dom said. The drinks came and food was ordered.
"You made lots of them happy." Lani laughed. "It was so loud at the end I couldn't hear my own voice. You were terrific out there."
"Thanks." Dom never knew quite what to say when people complimented him like that. It was just his job
, he thought. He went out and did his job, which was to prevent little frozen black circles from getting past him and into the net. It wasn't a terribly important job in the grand scheme, but he was good at it.
"My brother played for a while, through college," Lani said. "So I know a little about what goalies go through. He was always hyper before games. How about you?"
"He's completely irritable," Karl spoke up. Dom glared but Karl ignored him. "But it's okay," Karl went on, "because it seems the angrier he is, the more pucks he stops."
"Whatever works." Lani clinked her glass against Dom's. "That’s what my brother always said."
"What's he do now?" Dom asked.
"He's an assistant coach with a minor league team." She studied Dom again.
"You keep doing that," he said, "and I keep feeling like I'm on a microscope slide."
"Sorry." Lani blushed. Dom smiled on the inside as she averted her eyes and took a sip of her wine. "I don't mean to. I was just thinking . . . oh, never mind."
"What? Tell me." Dom leaned forward, curious. It was interesting to see Lani a bit unsettled like this. She'd been so calm at the coffee shop, had caught on to Karl without missing a beat, and although surprised when offered the tickets, she'd composed herself. He liked her like this, when he could see her eyes darting around, her fingers tapping the table as she sorted her thoughts.
"No, it's silly." She shook her head and Dom had the unexpected urge to run his fingers through that wavy black hair. He stilled it, for the moment.
"Oh, come on." He nodded his head at Dee and Karl. "They're practically on another planet. Your secret's safe with me."
"All right." Lani looked at him, then away, and then her eyes stayed on him. "I was just thinking during the game—I forget exactly when—that you have whatever my brother didn't have. I mean . . . oh, damn, I don't know how to say this."
"You're doing fine." Dom patted her hand and almost jumped at the shock that raced up his arm.
"You've got something special, Dom." Her tone was sincere. "I saw you move out there. Some people would call it being in the zone, or something like that, and it's true. Even with your mask on, I could see the intensity. You weren't going to let anything through, at least not easily." She grabbed her wine glass and took a huge gulp. "Okay, you can forget I said that. Little heavy for this time of night."
Dom sat back and tilted his head, this time studying her. Lani squirmed, feeling like a specimen herself. His eyes were as intense as she remembered from the morning.
"No," he said, "I don't think I'll forget that."
Nothing Gets Through Ch. 03
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