“I don’t see what I can do to help” John slumped into a chair opposite his guest. “I was pretty wasted that night.”
“Tell me this then” Verity persisted “did you sample both drinks that Matt made up for Braylin and Trebor?”
Frowning he squirmed in his seat. “I tasted one. That’s for sure. It was blah.”
“Blah” she asked looking for more description.
“Yeah blah” he sat forward “it had no kick. It was straight coke.”
“Oh” she crossed her legs “it was nonalcoholic.”
“That’s what I said” he flopped back dramatically “Bray and I used to tear it up back in the day.”
Verity noted the bloodshot eyes and the slight tremor in the young man’s hands. “Looks like you’re still tearing it up” she observed.
“It’s not the same though” he groused “the night of the party I thought the old Bray was back. He was wasted but he….”
“He what” she prompted attempting to get him to continue to open up.
“All the years we played together and he never not once looked at me the way he looked at Trebor. That night I finally faced it. I realized he never would.” Lifting pain filled eyes to meet hers “Trebor is who he needs. Who he wants. He’s a better person with him than he ever would be with me. I just wish…”
“That you hadn’t encouraged him to continue drinking that night” she half guessed his role in Braylin’s demise that night.
Running a hand through his tangled blonde hair he nodded “not one of my proudest moments. I was just so scared.”
Nodding Verity could feel her sympathy rising for the boy. “You can still make things right,” she said.
Lifting his head to stare at her. “How” he demanded “I’m a terrible friend. I thought more of myself then I did him. I was so desperate to keep him in my life that I was willing to sacrifice his happiness so that I wouldn’t be alone. Who does that?”
“Someone who needs help. Someone who has hit rock bottom and needs to make a change” she gave him an encouraging smile. “Help me clear his name and get Matt to admit he spiked Braylin’s drink.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make up for what I did” he mumbled lost in his own thoughts. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong but now I can see what I did was the worst. He was never really happy doing all the party stuff we used to do.”
“You can still make amends” she patted his hand. “It’s never too late to make changes. Become the friend you think Braylin deserves and you wish to be.”
“But it wouldn’t do any good. He’ll never feel about me the way I do about him.” He pressed his hands to his head groaning. “He’s still going to be with Trebor and I’m going to be alone.”
“Let’s take things one step at a time” she suggested. “Help me clear Bray’s name then worry about what comes next.”
Blinking he inhaled deeply, making an effort to get a grip on his emotions. “Do you think it’s possible? I’ve fucked up a lot.”
“Have you learned anything from this?” she asked.
“I’ve been trying not to think about it too much” he sat up straight. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll worry about myself later. What’s important right now is helping Braylin. It’s the least I can do for the mess I caused.” He gave her a tearful twitch of the lips “he’s gotten me out of more than one mess. It’s my turn to return the favor.”
“Alright” she nodded, biting her bottom lip. There was so much more she wanted to ask him and why, she wondered wasn’t he reaching out to his parents when he obviously needed help. Giving herself a slight mental shake she forced concern for him back to concentrate on what she needed him to do. She just hoped when the time came he was sober enough to do it.
A few days later after a big game Matt was undressing in the locker room pleased with his performance. “That was a barnburner if I ever saw one. Did you see how many celly’s I made? Not to mention the breakaways. Man no one can touch me on the ice. I’m fucking fantastic.”
A low rumble of discontent rose among the other players. Terry, an older player tossed his mitts into his locker. “Hockey is a team sport not your personal one man show.”
Other players nodded in agreement. “We’re tired of you taking the biscuit regardless of whether you have a shot or not.”
“It’s not my fault that you’re benders and pylons on the ice” Matt laughed in their faces “you’re all jealous.”
“Jealous my ass” Terry scoffed “with your theatrics on the ice you make it look like we’re at the fucking ice capades instead of a hockey game. We’re the laughing stock of the NHL.”
“Who cares? We’re winning, they’re not” Matt said unconcerned. Smirking all around “we’re winning because of me. I told you I was good. I told you I was better than McGavin ever was.”
Terry slammed his locker shut. “We’re a team not your fucking one man show. No one person wins the game. It’s a group effort.”
“What’s your problem?” Matt demanded getting into the bigger man’s face. “Are you afraid I’m making you look bad? Sorry I’m not the duster you all expected me to be.”
Terry’s hands clenched at his sides “you’re that good ….”
“If Bray was still here you’d be a duster” John pointed out to the rising snickers of the others. “He was all about playing as a team.”
“Yeah I suppose he would be” Matt scoffed, looking the blonde up and down “especially if he let a grinder like you have the biscuit.”
The tension rose as another player joined John in saying “Bray had his faults but he was one of the best.”
Matt’s mouth gaped “you’ve got to be joking. McGavin let you all down. Let the team down. You’re a better team without him.”
“”We’d rather lose as a team than win with you” Terry asserted, frowning heavily at him.
“Oh come on” Matt grabbed the older man’s arm. “What does it matter how you win as long as you do?”
Jerking his arm away scowling. “It matters because everyone has a role to play. Everyone works hard. Everyone deserves the credit for the part they played on the team whether they are the best or grinder. No one wants to ride the skirts of someone like you.”
Watching the man stride away towards the showers Matt scoffed. “He’s jealous. I’m younger and better than him. He’d be better off quitting before he becomes just another has been.” Turning towards the others he found them all resolutely standing with their backs to him. “The way you’re treating me you’d think I was the bad guy. I’m the guy leading us to the championships, not McGavin. I’m not the guy who decided to get high. Maybe you should think about that instead of complaining.”
Slamming his locker shot Mike brushed past Matt. “Even on Bray’s worst days he was a better player than you ever will be.”
His mouth dropping open he turned to Joseph. “I don’t get it. We’re a better team without McGavin.”
Joseph exchanged a worried look with Rory before turning to face Matt. “You’re the only one who shares that opinion.”
“What” he demanded shocked “I thought you were on my side. Didn’t McGavin hurt your cousin? As I recall McGavin pushed him down a flight of stairs. I mean you don’t want to play with someone who does that do you?”
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happened that night” Joseph tossed his jersey into his locker. Reaching for his towel he moved towards the showers “I don’t think Braylin intentionally tried to hurt Trebor that night.”
“Who cares about intentions” Matt snapped “he was wasted. He was to blame regardless of his intentions.”
“Yeah I wonder” Joseph mumbled, pushing past him.
“He killed my sister” he called after him “doesn’t that tell you something about the guy?”
Rory turned to face him “if I were you I’d be careful. People can still sue for defamation of character. We only have your word that he killed her. Where’s the proof? Why isn’t he in jail?” He quickly turned, avoiding Matt’s attempt to grab him.
Turning in circles Matt could see the other’s walking away shaking their heads at him. “You need me. I’m the best you have. I can skate circles around all of you.”
“Give it a rest” John advised him moving towards the locker room door. “They all know you’re just in it for the glory not the game. That’s the difference between you and Bray. Bray loves the game. You can see it in his eyes the moment his blades hit the ice. He shared the limelight with everyone because it was for the game. It wasn’t about him.”
“Yeah like I’m going to believe anything you say” Matt sneered his face twisting in disgust “you’re just another junkie.”
“Things seem to be going well between you and your hockey player” Geoffrey observed from where he sat cross legged on the floor.
“They are,” Trebor sighed, closing his eyes, a soft smile crossing his lips.
“I think Lia and I are done for” he said as the quiet lengthened between them.
“What” Trebor cried, sitting up shaken from his daydream of being surrounded by kids with pink hair, all wanting to know when daddy was coming home.
Drawing circles on the floor with his index finger Geoffrey refused to meet his cousin’s gaze. “Yeah things haven’t been good for a while. Not that comes as a surprise to anyone who knows how volatile our relationship has become.”
“I’m sorry” he murmured. Trebor felt bad for him but Lia was a force to be reckoned with on the best of days. On the worst of days she could stomp all over your feelings without a second thought. Probably a good quality to have for a lawyer not so good in a relationship. “Want to talk about it” he offered, cringing a little inside as the words came out.
Geoffrey’s shoulders rose and fell “not really.”
Sitting in silence neither one knew what to say to the other. The door opened before things became too awkward. Braylin’s voice was loud as he called out “look who I found outside.”
“He’s not here,” a woman’s voice said, low and anxious.
“You said his car was parked outside” Braylin said “they have to be here. Let’s try outside by the pool.”
Getting to his feet Trebor sheepishly waved at them. Braylin smiled moving to his side. Leaning into the kiss Braylin pressed to his cheek Trebor said “hi Lia. What brings you here?”
“I’m hoping Geoffrey was here” as she spoke, her eyes swept the room, searching.
“I don’t know if he wants to talk to you,” Trebor said, measuring his words carefully.
Her face paled a little beneath her bright green hair. “Please, I need to tell him something. Then if he still doesn’t want me here I’ll go.”
Getting to his feet Geoffrey leaned against the wall trying to pull off a nonchalant attitude. “Say it and go,” he said.
Looking in his direction, her eyes were almost painful to see. Nudging Braylin in the side Trebor said “we’ll be in the other room if you need us.”
“No” Geoffrey cried “don’t go.”
The desperation in his eyes and voice made them stop. Turning towards Lia she too nodded wanting them to stay.
“I’m sorry” she began licking her lips like she was nervous.
“Is that it” he demanded incredulously “you can do better than that. Where’s the eloquent speech?”
Hugging herself tightly she half turned away “I shouldn’t have said the things I said to your parents.” She blurted the words out quickly as if she were afraid if she didn’t say them at once they’d never come out at all.
“It wasn’t just what you said” he said taking a step towards her “It was the way you said it.”
“I know” her voice quivered as her calm exterior slipped. “I just wanted to help” she gave him a beseeching look, her hands reaching out to him.
“You called them idiots” his voice was stiff, accusing.
Her hands fell limp to her sides. “That’s the way it looked to me. Refusing my help” She glanced towards Trebor “you agreed with me when Trebor refused to listen to me about his issues at the hospital. I thought you would, with your parents too.”
“I never said you didn’t have good ideas,” he said, relenting a little. “I said you never listen to anyone once you’ve made up your mind what they ought to do.” He glared at her, his anger just below the surface. “You don’t seem to realize that other people have good ideas too. If you want others to take you seriously you need to listen to them and their concerns otherwise you’ll never be able to help them effectively.”
“I do,” she protested.
They all looked at her as if she had lost her mind. It was Geoffrey who broke the stunned silence. “You only listen when it suits you or the agenda you have. Did it even occur to you that my parents had already consulted with a lawyer? Thanks to you and your big mouth they have to start over. The property dispute was close to being resolved but now …. Who knows.” He glared at her temporarily at a loss for words. “They’re going to have to pay for another surveyor, additional lawyer fees and hope the asshole neighbors won’t be able to fight it.” He took a deep breath “that’s all thanks to you not being able to keep your big mouth shut.”
“But I…” she hung her head “I just wanted to help.”
“You made things worse” he said “you’re not a lawyer yet. I know you’re learning all kinds of things about the law. Things you want to apply but you’re not there yet.” Pausing he took steps towards her “you need to learn, to listen and occasionally keep your mouth shut.”
Nodding, she turned away tears rolling down her cheeks “I really am sorry.” As they stood and watched she turned and slipped through the door.
Trebor broke their shocked daze. “Go after her,” he urged, turning to his cousin.
Geoffrey nodded, moving towards the door, his movements stiff and disjointed. Pulling the door open he called out “Lia wait.”
Moving to the door left open by their guests Braylin asked “do you think they’ll be able to work things out?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “everyone deserves a second chance. Lia is a lot of things but she’s passionate about things and she cares about Geoffrey.”
“Yeah you’re right” he agreed, closing the door. “What’s for supper?” he asked, changing the subject.
“I thought maybe we could go out for seafood,” Trebor suggested.
“Sounds good to me,” Braylin agreed. “Maybe over dinner you’ll tell me what your mom had to say when she called this morning.”
“Maybe,” Trebor said with a sigh. He was enjoying being home. He wasn’t in any hurry to go back to the old grind but soon they’d have to.