Chapter no 31 – Hannah

Bagging the Blueliner

NEVER LET IT BE said that a championship hangover wasn’t real. Days of partying on end, then a parade, more partying, and finally, season goodbyes before everyone scattered for the summer. You went from being surrounded by people with constant activities and celebrations to being alone with nothing quite as exciting to occupy your time.

The adrenaline drop after being on the highest of highs was jarring. Most days, I couldn’t make it off the couch, too tired to do much else besides ordering takeout.

Winning meant the off-season was short. The team would get barely three months off before pre-season kicked off, but they’d need to begin training before then. The players’ bodies were shot with the grind it had taken to make it all the way to the Finals. Those with more significant injuries would still be nursing them when it came time to ramp up again. The front office barely had a few weeks to scout new talent coming up in the draft and eligible players for free agency.

All of this while each player and coach were granted their individual day with the trophy. Those boys would be partying all summer long, hopping across this country and others, celebrating with their teammates and their families.

Even with the hustle and bustle, I’d never felt more alone. Lucy had had her baby girl, Hazel, a week ago, and immediately after, everyone departed

for their summer destinations. Natalie, Jaxon, and the kids headed to Minnesota and their lake house. Amy and Liam would be spending their summer days in the cool mountain air of the Alps, serving the people of Belleston before Amy went on maternity leave.

All alone, the silence was deafening, and the walls of my tiny apartment were closing in on me.

When the first email came in from my boss with the league schedule, asking me to start looking into pre-season away game accommodations, I didn’t think; I just acted.

Typing furiously on my computer, I let the words flow through my fingers as tears ran down my face. This was the hardest decision I’d ever had to make, but I knew it had to be done.

It was time to carve a new future for myself.



Letting myself into my parents’ home, I found my dad working in his office. Three computer monitors took up all the space on his desk as he tried to cram in as much scouting work as possible before the draft.

Noticing my entry into the room, he sat back in his desk chair and smiled. “Hey, Hanny. What brings you by? I could really use some help scouring these scouting reports. You’ve always had such a great eye for underrated talent.”

Swallowing, not trusting myself not to cry, I placed a manilla envelope on his desk.

Frowning, Dad looked at the envelope and then back to me. “What’s this?”

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. I couldn’t back down now. I’d made my decision, and I was sticking by it.

Forcing myself to look at the man who’d taught me to love the game of hockey, I replied, “I’m resigning from my positions with the Comets. Both as the travel coordinator and as anthem singer. Effective immediately.”

A softness entered Dad’s eyes, and he sighed. “Oh, Hanny. You don’t have to do this. He retired. He won’t be there anymore.”

Looking skyward, I blinked back the tears. Despite my efforts, my voice wavered. “I get it now. Why you tried to keep them away from me. You

knew that one of them would eventually break my heart and ruin my love for the game. And stubborn me, I had to learn that the hard way. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the building; I can see him everywhere. It hurts too much. I can’t do it anymore.”

Dad began to stand, but I backed away, holding my hands up. “Don’t. You won’t convince me to stay. I’m letting the lease on my apartment go next month, and I’m moving to Nashville. It’s time to stand on my own two feet and find out what makes me happy.”

“You’re leaving?” he asked in disbelief. “I can’t stay here. That’s all I know.”

Running a hand down his face, Dad dropped back into his chair. “Hannah, I have to tell you something.”

I knew him too well. I knew he would try to convince me to stay. And I knew if I let him try, I might cave. Being a daddy’s girl my whole life, I wanted to please him. So, I turned around and hurried toward the open door to the office, nearly shouting, “I don’t want to hear it!”

“I told him to end things with you!” Dad’s voice boomed, causing me to stop dead in my tracks.

As his words sank in—making so much sense that I wanted to scream at myself for being so stupid to believe Cal when he’d told me he didn’t want me anymore—I spun around to face my traitor of a father.

“You did WHAT?” I screamed.

Seeing the fury on my face combined with the high pitch of my voice, Dad at least had the good sense to look ashamed. “Hanny, please—”

“Oh, no. Don’t you fucking ‘Hanny’ me.” Yeah, I was swearing at my dad; I was that pissed.

“Please, don’t be upset. I was only trying to protect you,” he begged. “No.” I shook my head. “You were trying to protect yourself.”

His flinch told me I hit the nail on the head. The sadness in his eyes was almost enough for me to backtrack and try to make this okay for him. But then, I remembered everything he had taken from me. I would never get back the days I’d spent crying over Cal, thinking he didn’t love me, watching almost robotically as the team I loved had won a championship tainted by my broken heart.

“I need you to understand, sweetheart,” Dad began. “The day Cal took that hit, I watched my baby girl fall apart. It ripped my heart to shreds. I would have done anything to ensure you never felt that kind of pain again.”

I scoffed. “So, ripping my heart out of my chest was the better option?” His shoulders sagged. “I thought, in time, you’d heal and move on.”

Narrowing my eyes, I went in for the kill. “I wasn’t just fucking him, Dad. For the first time in my life, I’d found someone who brought out the best parts of me. He was always there, making me feel whole and loved. Until you decided to play God, we were living together for months. We talked about our future together. I fell in love with him, and I’m pretty sure he was in love with me, too. He just never got the chance to say it.”

“I know.” The words were barely above a whisper.

“You know?” I accused. “And you pushed forward anyway? What kind of person does that to their own daughter?”

His eyes dropped to the floor. “I was in the room when he woke up that night. As soon as he realized where he was and what had happened, he immediately asked to see you.”

Even through my anger, tears spilled down my cheeks. I should have fought harder. He should have told me the truth.

“Unbelievable,” I forced out.

“He told me he loved you.” Hearing those words—confirmation of Cal’s feelings—sent a fresh wave of pain crashing over my heart. “He offered to retire at the end of the season, but I told him that wasn’t enough. The way you unraveled in Jaxon’s arms was too fresh in my mind. I couldn’t allow him to put you in that kind of situation again, even if the season was nearly over.”

Hands on my hips, I asked, “So, what if the injury never happened? What if we came to you after the season like we fully intended to and came clean about our relationship? You’d have accepted it?” Dad opened his mouth to respond, but I cut him off, adding through gritted teeth, “Don’t you dare lie to me.”

Sighing, Dad rubbed his jaw. “I wouldn’t have been pleased about it. I made it exceedingly clear to my players that you girls were off-limits for nearly two decades. I should have known better. You never were one for the rules. I guess I thought my players valued their careers enough to keep their hands off.”

Venturing closer, I took a seat on the edge of his desk. “Dad, when will you realize I’m a grown woman? I should be allowed to make my own mistakes. But I can tell you this: Cal wasn’t a mistake.”

Staring up at me, he smiled slightly. “You know the truth now. What are you going to do about it?”

For starters? Wring Cal’s neck for letting my dad call the shots in our life. Standing, Dad pulled me into a hug, smoothing my hair like he’d done when I was a little girl. When he pulled back, tears were swimming in his own eyes. “If you love him the way you say you do, go get him. Life is too short to spend one more day apart. Live your life the way that makes you

happy, and I will support you however I can.”

Wiping away the moisture from my face, I tested his sincerity. “Even if that means moving to his family’s ranch in Alberta?”

He looked like he’d swallowed something that didn’t agree with him, but he nodded anyway. “Just so long as I can visit when the Comets roll through town.”

I kissed him on the cheek, whispering, “Always, Daddy.”

Rushing out of the office, I pulled out my phone and headed for my car.

There was only one person I knew I could call to help me with this.

Letting it ring a few times, words rushed the second I heard the call connect. “Nat, I need a favor.”

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