Game five back in Washington was even more tightly-contested than game four in Montréal.
Brody saw the puck sliding to the corner and charged after it. He caught a flash of white out of the corner of his eye, knew he had a step on the defenseman, and sped up as he focused on the puck. A few feet out from the boards he felt something slam into his back and then he crashed into the boards. He dropped face down to the ice.
"Brody, you okay?" He could hear an accented voice above him. "Don’t move. Lou coming."
Brody tried to say something but was not sure if he did. Tolya sounded like he was talking over a bad phone line, distant and tinny. Brody took a breath and tried to get his hands and knees under him; he could not.
"Hold on, Langer. Take it easy." He heard Lou's voice. "Can you hear me?"
Brody took a breath and at last managed to prop himself up on his elbows. "Yeah."
"Just take it easy. Breathe."
"Don't move too fast."
"Okay. Yeah, okay." Brody closed his eyes against the dizziness that swept over him. He took more deep breaths at Lou's urging.
"Ready to try getting up? Just get up on your knees."
"Sure." He was not sure he was ready, but he did not want to stay on the ice. With Lou's help he got on all fours, then up on his knees. His head was reeling. After another few minutes, Tolya came to his other side to help Lou get him to his feet.
"Careful, Langer," Tolya cautioned. "Not rush. You hit hard."
He let Tolya and Lou guide him to the bench, dimly registering the applause from the Washington fans. Once he was off the ice, Lou and an assistant led him back to the quiet room, as required by NHL rules for any player suspected of having a concussion. The team doctor came in as well. Brody squinted against the lights and realized he had a monster headache.
"Hey, Lou, got some aspirin?" He winced at the sound of his own voice.
Lou gave him a grim look. "I think you're going to need more than an aspirin, pal."
Ryan clapped her hands over her mouth as she watched Brody go down. The band had decided to relax and splurge a little on an off-night, going for a decent meal at a sports bar across from their hotel to catch the game. This was not what she had hoped to see.
She watched, speechless, as the camera pulled back so that she could see both Brody lying on the ice and his teammates charging over to take the Canadiens to task. Bax was the first one in and grabbed one guy by the shoulders. Another Canadien tried to break that up but another Cap jumped in and soon all the players save Brody, Strelkov and the goalies were in a huge scrum.
"Shit, oh shit. Did you see that?" She wrung her hands. "That guy was moving like a freight train. Brody went down like a ton of bricks. Shit."
Lara rubbed her shoulder. "Relax, Ry. He'll be okay. Sometimes they just get the wind knocked out of them, you know that. Brody's a tough guy."
Ryan covered her eyes and took a deep breath. When she looked up, she stole glances at her friends, all of whom looked concerned since Brody was still lying on the ice. She watched the TV as they showed a replay. In slow motion, Brody went after the puck. Knowing what was coming made it hard to watch, but she could not turn away either. A Montréal player came into the picture and slammed Brody in the back, sending him rocketing into the boards head first, and he crashed to the ice. The slow motion did not make it look any better; Ryan dropped her head into her hands.
"He's getting up, that's good," Mitch said after the replay finished.
Nate nodded. "Yeah. And he wasn't unconscious. He won't need a stretcher or anything."
Ryan's shoulders slumped. "Jesus, Nate. Thanks a lot."
They watched as Brody was led off and Ryan did not know if she was relieved or not. It was good he was on his feet, but he was obviously unable to skate on his own. She wanted to call him, but knew he would not be able to talk for a while. She settled for sending a text. Saw the hit. Hope you are okay. Call when you can. Worried about you. She felt a little better for having sent the message; this way he would know she knew what had happened, but he could reply whenever he had a chance.
The game resumed but Ryan did not have the heart to watch it. "I'm going back to the hotel, guys."
"Want me to come with you?" Lara asked.
"No, it's okay. I just can't watch anymore." The Caps were up by two goals, but there was still a period and a half left and Ryan knew injuries like that could affect the players. She did not think she could take watching them lose.
"Okay, we'll see you later. Call if you need anything."
"He'll be okay, Ryan." Mitch looked over, all sincerity. "We'll let you know what they say."
She left and walked across the parking lot to the hotel, not sure what to do. In a crisis, she usually called Lara or Brody. But Lara had been there, so there was little else she could say, and Brody was a non-starter. Her mom was not an option and she did not want to bother Evan while he was finishing up his exams. It occurred to her that she had a pretty small circle of close friends, and tonight underscored how alone she was when the circle was messed up.
Not exactly alone, she reminded herself. She did
have Brody and the band. She had been lonely at times, but she knew she was not alone. In fact, she realized that even with Brody in the playoffs, she was less lonely than she would have been if he wasn't in her life at all.
"I have spent years trying to get away from sports, and it would just figure I'd fall for an athlete," she muttered to herself as she went into the elevator.
She pushed the button for her floor and stared at the panel as she realized what she had said. Fallen for him? She groaned and slumped back against the wall. When had that happened? And why figure it out now, when she could not do anything about it?
"You know, I could wish for better timing." She stalked down the hall to her room, then turned on the TV and found the channel for the game to see if there was any news on Brody.
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