The Cats were up by one with Karson’s goal, with only six minutes left in the third. NYU had plenty of time to score, but the Cats’ defense was playing hard. Lacey didn’t think they had a chance on scoring on the Cats’ goalie, who had a streak of four shutouts. Looking down at the bench where Coach was screaming and waving his arms, Lacey knew her father was pumping his players up.
“So what number is Grady?”
“Number twenty-one—it was my mom’s favorite number since she had him when she was twenty-one,” Lacey said with a smile. Her heart ached a little when she remembered that little tidbit about her mom. Sometimes, she felt like she was starting to forget everything about her. Like how she smelled, or what it felt like when she would run her fingers through Lacey’s hair. She remembered those things, but she used to be able to imagine her mom doing them… and it would feel like she were really there. It had been twelve years since her family had lost her mom to breast cancer and, to this day, Lacey didn’t think any of them would ever be the same.
Coach missed her constantly and smothered himself with his playbook, while Grady worked harder than ever to make it into the pros. He wanted to make her proud, and every time he scored a goal, he looked to the heavens and thanked her. It always brought the tears on when Lacey saw him do it, but it was nice that he did. Lacey, on the other hand, just missed her. The year before would have been so much easier if she’d had her mom around. She would have known how to comfort Lacey since her dad and Grady were completely at a loss. They both thought Lacey was next. Hell, Lacey had thought so, too.
“That’s nice. Your mom was so beautiful. You look so much like her. I love that picture you have of you two.”
Lacey nodded, her eyes suddenly stinging with tears. Lacey was seven in the picture Rachel spoke of, and they were at the beach. It was a beautiful day and, even though it was twelve years ago, she still remembered how much fun they had. It was a couple of months before she was diagnosed and, while Lacey hadn’t understood any of it then, she was kind of glad she didn’t. Cancer was such a scary thing. It had the power to gut you and take away the people you were supposed to have for a very long time. She believed that God had a plan for everyone. She believed that maybe she was supposed to go through her mom’s cancer so she would be strong through her own battle, but at the same time, why did that have to happen to her family? Why did they have to go through the same thing twice? It felt wrong but, for some crazy reason, her faith was still intact, and she planned to live the life He had blessed her with to the fullest.
Like her mom would have.
And if that meant going to a party and actually putting herself out there like the old Lacey would have before she got sick, then damn it, she was going to do it. Deciding this wasn’t the time to be sad about things she couldn’t change, she returned her attention to the game.
“Karson is number sixteen, right?”
Lacey’s face scrunched up. “Yeah, why?”
“He’s staring at you again.”
Following her gaze, Lacey found that Rachel was right. He was unabashedly staring at her, his mouth turned up in a grin as he leaned against the boards. He was supposed to be listening to her father yell, but instead he was watching her. Looking away quickly toward Rachel, her eyes went wide. “What in the world?”
Rachel giggled as her eyes matched Lacey’s. “He is really hot. You should jump on that.”
“No way,” she said quickly, shaking her head. “A guy like that would run the other way once he got a look at me.”
Rachel’s grin fell as she reached out to take Lacey’s hand, but she brushed her off. “Don’t. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just watch the game.”
Lacey could see that Rachel wanted to say more but, thankfully, she didn’t, turning her attention back to the game. Doing the same, Lacey found that Karson was setting up for the puck drop. She wanted to be a good sister and watch her brother, but there was no way when Karson was demanding her attention. He was so big, so strong, and commanded the respect as the best player on the ice. She knew that the scouts were there tonight. Grady was nervous and so was her dad, but she didn’t have any doubts that Grady would be in the draft that year. It was his year. What she was surprised about was that Karson hadn’t been in it yet. He was by far the greatest player in Chicago. He needed to be in the pros, where his talent could grow.
Watching as he sailed with confidence and determination on the ice, her eyes followed his every move. He was hell on the defense, but even more so when NYU had the puck and decided to come into the Cats’ zone. He poke checked, he hit, and he was on them like white on rice. He wasn’t playing around. Soon, he had the puck on a breakaway, rushing the net. Players tried to catch up to him, but there was no catching Karson King when he was off to score. Deking the goalie one way, he sent the puck into the back of the net, winning the game and leaving Lacey breathless.
Watching as the guys all jumped on Karson while the crowd went wild cheering, Lacey’s heart went nuts in her chest. From where she stood, she could see his grin through the cage of his helmet, and she knew the feelings that were bubbling in her chest were going to do nothing but cause havoc on her heart. She wasn’t kidding when she said that Karson would run the other way from her. The sad thing was she wished she had the confidence to believe he wouldn’t. That wasn’t reality though, so she would keep her distance and stay away from Karson King.