PHILLIP ANDERSON never thought it would be easy, but this was f**king ridiculous. Driving through downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, he let out an annoyed breath as he searched the streets for his sixteen-year-old niece. After a very heated conversation with Phillip’s great aunt, Alice, he not only got cussed out, but he also inherited a very angry teenager. How did this happen? Everything seemed like it would work out after the death of his older sister, Rochelle, three months before. Claire would stay with Alice, and she would make sure Claire had a good life until she went off to college, or whatever the hell she wanted to do. Phillip didn’t know what that was, but not from lack of trying. Claire wouldn’t talk to him, all she did was glare, and he was sure she was planning his early death. However, who could blame her? After Rochelle had been killed, Claire was supposed to come to him, but when Alice offered, saying that a twenty-nine-year-old man couldn’t properly raise a teenage girl, Phillip jumped at the offer.
But now, he realized that it was a mistake. Maybe he would have been a better guardian than his seventy-three-year-old great aunt was. After only two months, Claire had run away four times, been found drunk in the back ally with a bunch of guys, found in bed with one of those guys, and then tried to physically fight Alice. She refused to go to therapy, she refused to talk to him, and he was at his wits’ end. He was tired of the angry phone calls from Alice, and that’s why he decided to fly out to Minnesota. He thought he might be able to talk some sense into Claire but, when he got there, Alice informed him that Claire had took off again.
Thankfully, he had taken a leave of absence from playing hockey with the Nashville Assassins. He had never taken a leave but, thankfully, the owner and close friend, Elli Adler, completely understood and granted him the time off. This was good because he now knew this wasn’t going to be a quick trip. He was going to have to figure out how he was going to raise a sixteen-year-old girl and play in the National Hockey League. Not an easy feat. He was hoping it would be easy and he’d figure it out quickly, because he missed playing, but above all, he had to help Claire.
He had already lost his sister and mother; he couldn’t lose Claire, too.
Phillip understood that she needed help, and that she was acting out. She hadn’t had the easiest life. Rochelle was just like his mother, a strung-out stripper that cared more about her next fix than her child. Phillip got out of the situation early, but Claire wasn’t that lucky. Not that Phillip hadn’t tried. He tried plenty of times to get Rochelle to clean up, to let him take Claire until she was, but like they said, you can’t help someone that doesn’t want to be helped. So instead, Claire went through hell, and he hated that. That’s why he was driving around trying to find her. He couldn’t just give up or turn his cheek the other way, not like his mom had when he was growing up. He’d be damned if the only piece left of his sister would run around alone.
Something needed to be done; Phillip wouldn’t let Claire live the life his sister had. He hadn’t been close to Rochelle, but that was more her fault than his. She was ten years older than he was, and she resented him because he got his life under control, and didn’t follow in the path that she did. The only time they talked was when she needed money, and even though he knew she would just spend it on drugs, he sent it to her, for Claire, but it soon got old fast. Deciding that he wasn’t going to help again until she got help, he didn’t send the money she needed. The next thing he knew, he was receiving a phone call saying his sister was found raped and killed in an alley.
Even though everyone said it wasn’t his fault, he still blamed himself. He should have just sent the money, gave her what she needed. Not only for her but for Claire, too. Because of his stubbornness, his sister was dead, and now he had his hands full with a teenage hellion. Wasn’t the ideal situation for him, but it was his reality. As he took a turn onto Lyndale Avenue, because Alice said that Claire liked going to the Sculpture Garden, Phillip shook his head. This was insane. It was snowing so hard that he couldn’t see the road. It was colder than a witch’s tit, and he was cranky. He knew his life was about to change drastically, and it scared the living shit out of him. How was this going to work?
Deciding he would figure that out later, Phillip looked out the windshield, wishing it wasn’t snowing. He loved downtown Minneapolis. He had grown up there, and even though the apartment he lived in with his mom and sister never had heat and there was never enough food, he still loved his life outside of the apartment. He, too, loved going to the Sculpture Garden. There was a great pond out beside it that he used to play hockey on with his greatly used hockey stick and pads. That was where he learned to play, and it was also the place that Howie Dranning saw him play a pick-up game with a couple of kids. Howie saw something in Phillip, something that Phillip didn’t even know he had in him.
The next thing he knew, Howie was convincing Phillip’s mom that she needed to let him live with him so that he could train him. Phillip smiled at the memory of his mom freaking out and saying no, but somehow, Howie convinced her. Soon, Phillip was living in a big, three-story house with heat and food. He was surrounded by a good family and playing the greatest game ever. He had fallen in love with Howie’s daughter and life was good but, unfortunately, he f**ked it up, losing the only family he ever had.
Shaking his head to get rid of those memories, Phillip pulled his rental truck into a parking spot, his eyes scanning the park for a sign of Claire. He didn’t see her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t there. Hopping out of the truck, he locked it up and bundled up in his jacket as he trekked through the snow. He entered the first exhibit, but didn’t see anything. When he came back out, he heard faint music playing. It was nine o’clock at night, and the park was deserted except for the occasional bum here and there, so he knew it had to be her.