Keeping Ice On The WoundbyMugsyB©
Special thanks of course goes out to my friend PennLady for her help with editing this one. You rock!
And, although it was anonymous - and a comment from PennLady's last story - there was at least one person out there who wanted this gentleman to be featured in a story. So here he is, #52, all for you, whoever you are!
Unsure of why he'd come all this way when he knew they weren't here, Mark Gaines stood outside the main entrance to the Verizon Center, leaning on his crutches. He scowled at the building as though he could make his team reappear and his injury vanish. Then he felt the dull throb in his right ankle and it all came back to him.
It had all happened so quickly. Hockey was fast and injuries happened even faster sometimes and he wanted to kick himself for not doing what he should have to avoid this. Or at least, he wished he could kick himself. Having one injured ankle was enough to keep him out of the arena and off the ice for four weeks, if not longer.
With a sigh, he turned and walked away from the arena. All the staring and scowling in the world wouldn't make his injury go away. He paused at the end of the block and looked around. The day was bright but cool as the sun was lower in the sky already. People were bustling along the sidewalk on their way to or from work or school, or whatever else was the focus of their lives. The throb in his ankle increased for a moment and he figured he couldn't really go far like this. When he'd taken the Metro to the Verizon Center he hadn't put much thought into what he'd do from that point on.
Turning, he headed back towards the entrance to the Metro. As he hobbled along the sidewalk, he didn't pay much attention to the people passing him. He made his way below street level and got on the train. He switched to the orange line after two stops and plunked himself into the nearest empty seat, leaning his crutches against his legs.
Man, Coach would be pissed if he saw me getting around like this, he thought with a smirk. He'd been told to stay off his feet for a few days at least. That had lasted two whole days before he ended up so bored he'd considered taking up knitting. When that thought had crossed his mind, he'd grabbed his crutches and left his apartment.
He supposed he should just be glad that it wasn't more serious. The trainers and doctors agreed that it was a mild sprain and that he shouldn't be skating for at least three weeks. After that, he would be reassessed and hopefully he could get back to practicing with the team. He wouldn't be ready for games for probably four to five weeks but he was going to do his best to get back into the line-up before that.
Sighing, he tilted his head back and shut his eyes. The throbbing in his ankle subsided slightly and he let his mind wander. Everything came back to the incident at the game three nights ago.
It hadn't been something he'd done. It hadn't even been because of someone on the other team coming after him. He'd gone after the puck along the boards and turned to follow as the small black disc had shot out along the ice. Whatever he did, something in his move had twisted his ankle and the second he'd put weight on it, he'd gone down.
The team was supportive and assured him that they wouldn't be the same without him. He believed them and was grateful for their attitude. More than anything though, he hated being left behind. It was already late in November and the team was doing really well so far. He didn't want to miss out on anything at this point. Not that he thought his absence would be a terrible loss to the team but he just wanted to be there for all the wins.
While his mind rolled over all he'd be missing, Mark glanced around the train. A new thought occurred to him and he quickly checked what the next stop was. As gracefully as he could, he rose and tucked his crutches underneath his arms. Off the train, he made his way above ground and down the street. A block and a half over was a pub he remembered visiting not long after he'd hit the legal age.
He narrowed his eyes at the red brick building with its black awning reaching out to cover the small outdoor seating area. At the moment, the tables and chairs outside were stacked against the main building; it was too cold now most days to sit outside.
Exhaling slowly, he moved past the railing and walked inside, grateful for the immediate wash of noise and fried food smells that greeted him. His face eased and the scowl disappeared. He picked his way through the small crowd and sat down at the main bar. It wasn't terribly busy; a few people sitting at tables and the pool tables were all surrounded by players and spectators. Music poured out of the sound system and Mark could feel himself relax further as he propped his crutches against his thigh while he perched on a stool.
"What can I get you?" the bartender asked as he stopped in front of Mark, wiping his hands on a towel.
"Can I get a Red Stripe?" Mark asked.
The bartender nodded and moved away. Mark glanced around at the bar and watched some of the people for a few seconds until the bartender returned. Thanking him, Mark lifted the dark bottle to his lips and drank deeply. He set it down and looked around again, but not really registering what he saw inside the pub.
He knew drinking probably wasn't the best thing to be doing at the moment. Being off the ice for a couple weeks wouldn't help him stay in shape and drinking certainly wouldn't help either.
Screw it, he thought and took another swig of his Red Stripe. I can drink for one night.
"Are you sure you don't want to go out for a movie, Hil?" Lena asked as she pulled on her jacket.
Hilary looked over at her friend and smiled. "No, thanks," she replied. "You go ahead. Tell Jane I said 'hi.'"
Lena stood by the front door to their shared apartment and watched her roommate move around the kitchen. "You're just going to stay in and eat popcorn? And chocolate?" she asked incredulously.
Turning a scowl on her roommate, Hilary shook her head even as she was sliding a bag of buttery flavor popcorn into the microwave. "It's not like I eat junk food all the time, Lena," she said.
Lena laughed and shook her head. "That's true. I just don't understand why you don't want to come out to the theater. You could have popcorn there!"
"I could also put on my sweats and eat it here," Hilary replied, lifting her long, golden hair over her shoulder. She pasted a sweet smile on her face and looked over at her friend. "You go. Enjoy the crowded theater and sticky floors."
"I just don't want to leave you alone," Lena said.
Hilary sighed and turned away again. "I'm fine," she insisted but there was no strength behind her tone.
"Sure you are," Lena replied sarcastically. "You're perfectly all right with the fact that you just found out your ex-boyfriend got married. And is having a baby."
Hilary glared at Lena and fought for something snarky to say. She had nothing.
"Oh, and this is my favorite part, the woman is only nineteen," Lena said as she adjusted her purse on her shoulder. "Scott told you he liked older women and younger women were too needy and immature."
Scoffing, Hilary crossed her arms over her chest. "I was hardly older than him," she replied. "It was a difference of six months."
"Well, now he's got six years on his darling wife," Lena said. "He's not worth your time, Hil. You need to stop wallowing and come out with me and Jane."
Hilary glared at her roommate and wanted to tell her to take a hike. But everything she'd just said was true. Scott was married to a younger woman and Hilary was wallowing because he'd chosen the nineteen-year-old over her.
"Fine," she snapped and stalked past Lena, heading for her bedroom.
"Yay!" Lena cheered. "You'll have fun, Hil! I know it."
In her room, Hilary huffed out an annoyed sigh. She went to her closet and pulled out the first two items she laid eyes on; a pair of faded and worn jeans and a snug neon pink T-shirt with a purple butterfly across the front. After grabbing socks and her purse, she rejoined Lena in the front hall.
"Oh come on," Lena said to her with a smile. She nudged Hilary's shoulder. "Give me a smile."
"If I end up having fun tonight, then I'll smile," Hilary replied. She pulled her high-heeled boots on and shrugged into her jacket. Then she led the way out of their apartment.
Lena tried to get her talking as they walked towards the Metro station. Hilary gave her one word answers and tried to sink into her jacket. The air was cool but not terribly so. Fall was just about gone and Hilary wished she was back home for Thanksgiving again. She knew Lena was trying to improve her mood but her roommate was so cheerful these days that Hilary had a hard time being around her sometimes.
I guess being in a stable relationship with the same man for nearly a year could do that to a person, Hilary thought, calling to mind an image of her roommate's impressive boyfriend, Capitals forward Anatoli Oborotenski.
At the Metro station they met up with their friend Jane and together the three of them caught a train to the nearest theater. Hilary tried to enjoy the movie but could not get behind the heroine of the romantic comedy. She spent most of her time rolling her eyes or looking around the darkened theater. Finally, the credits started to roll up the screen and the three of them were heading back out. The air was cooler outside with the sun down and Hilary pulled her jacket closed, yanking the zipper up.
"So what do you ladies want to do now?" Jane asked as they loitered out front of the theater, throngs of people moving around them.
"I think I'm done," Hilary said, desperately wanting to go home and get into her comfy pajamas.
Lena scoffed at her and threw an arm around her shoulders. "You're not done," she said firmly. "You're coming with us for a drink."
"Oh, yeah, that sounds fun!" Jane exclaimed and clapped her hands. "I haven't been out for drinks in ages."
Hilary narrowed her eyes at Jane. "You went out with Henry last Friday."
Jane laughed and waved her hand dismissively at Hilary. "Yeah, but that was with Henry," she said. "I haven't been out with the girls in forever."
Laughing, Lena reached out for Jane, linking arms with her. Then she started walking, dragging Hilary behind her as Jane chattered excitedly on her other side. Sighing, Hilary went along with them, deciding it was easier than arguing at the moment. They walked for a few blocks before getting back on the Metro.
"Where are we going?" Hilary asked as they boarded the blue line.
"There's this great pub and restaurant near GWU called Froggy Bottom," Jane answered. "I used to go there all the time."
"It's not that far from our place," Lena added as she sat down.
Shrugging, Hilary plunked down next to Lena. At this point, she figured she could use a drink. She was still smarting over Scott dumping her six months ago for a younger woman and she had to admit that if she'd stayed home tonight, she'd have wallowed, big time. Lena was a great friend to get her out and she didn't appreciate it. A small smile touching her lips now, Hilary leaned close to her friend and thanked her.
"For what?" Lena asked.
"For getting me out of the apartment," Hilary replied. "I would have much rather stayed in but thanks for not letting me."
"Hil, you need to forget about that loser," Jane piped up. "There are thousands of other men out there who are better for you than Scott could ever be."
"She's right," Lena agreed with a grin.
Hilary laughed at them and shook her head. "You guys are impossible," she said. "But I love you anyway."
"And don't worry," Jane went on. "We'll get you good and drunk tonight. Maybe even get you hooked up with someone at the bar."
Hilary lifted her eyebrows and smirked. "Oh, good. Just what I need. A drunk loser at a bar."
Her two friend laughed and a minute later they all began chatting easily about what was going on in their lives. Hilary listened with half an ear and stared out the window as the train moved. She wondered if she did need to cut loose and get drunk as Jane suggested. Maybe even find some drunk guy in the bar to have a good time with.
Mark downed the last of his fourth beer - or was it his fifth? - and set the glass back on the bar. He rubbed his chin as the bartender wandered back in his direction.
"Another?" The bartender asked.
Nodding, Mark sat up straight and stretched his back. He rubbed his chin, rough with two day old stubble and stared down towards the end of the bar. There were a few more people in the small pub now than when he'd first arrived. A lot of younger people, college students he figured, seeing as how the bar was so close to George Washington University. Several were even wearing GWU sweatshirts. Smirking, Mark turned back to the bartender just as the other man set a fresh beer in front of him.
"You got a way to get home?" the bartender asked as Mark took his first sip of the new beer.
Looking up, Mark met the disapproving gaze of the other man and smiled. "Sure. I have a bus pass."
Rolling his eyes, the bartender moved away, leaving Mark alone with his beer and his wounded foot. A blast of cold air from outside washed against Mark's side and he turned his head to see three women stroll into the bar. Three very attractive women. One was dark-haired with a wide smile and she looked familiar. He squinted his eyes as he tried to place her.
"Lena?" he said as she walked closer, her two companions close by her side.
She paused and turned to meet his gaze with a curious look. Then her face split into another grin and she walked over to him. "Hey, Mark! What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be on your way to Atlanta right now?"
Mark winced at her question but smiled ruefully to mask it. "I had a bad fall the other night," he replied and gestured at his companions; the two stiff crutches propped up beside him.
Lena's smile drooped and she bit her lip as a flush swept over her cheeks. "Oh man, I'm so sorry," she said. "I should have known."
He chuckled and shook his head. "It's all right. I know you only pay attention to one guy out there."
Her blush deepened and she laughed unselfconsciously. "Yeah, Obie's pretty great."
Mark had to agree, no matter how miserable he might be at the moment because of his current state. Anatoli Oborotenski had been dating Lena since the holidays last year. She'd gotten to know most of the guys on the team fairly well and Mark liked her. She was a friendly person and genuinely cared about Anatoli.
"What brings you here tonight?" he asked, hoping she wouldn't be able to tell how many beers he'd had. What was he up to now? Seven? Oh, Christ, he thought and shook his head. It's bad if I can't even remember. He was almost afraid to stand up again. He might end up making himself look like an idiot.
"I'm here with my friends," she replied and turned to lift a hand towards her two companions. "We just saw a movie. Mark, this is my roommate Hilary, and this is our friend Jane."
Mark lifted his eyes to take in the two women standing with her. The one she called Jane was slightly taller than Lena with short, light brown hair and dark brown eyes. The other, Hilary, was a few inches shorter than Lena and had a long mane of dark honey-colored hair. She was dressed plainly in jeans and a T-shirt, though the neon pink shirt hugged sinful curves, leaving little to his imagination. Her eyes were bright, even in the dim interior of the pub and when she lifted her gaze to his, they shone a startling blue. Mark swallowed, feeling as though someone had just slapped him in the back of the head.
"Ladies, this is Mark Gaines," Lena introduced him. "He plays with Anatoli."
"Nice to meet you," Jane spoke first and held a hand out towards him.
Mark automatically raised his hand to shake hers but his eyes didn't move from Hilary's face. After Jane released his hand, he moved it towards Hilary but she merely cocked one dark eyebrow at him and looked away. Blinking in surprise, Mark's eyes flicked to Lena, who was glaring at her friend. He didn't know what was going on and maybe if he hadn't consumed... ten beers, he'd be able to sort it out.
"You want to sit down? Join me?" he offered, gesturing to the unoccupied bar stools alongside his.
Lena glanced at her friends for confirmation but only Jane responded with an enthusiastic nod. So the three of them sat down with him; Lena on his left, Jane on his right and Hilary on the far side of Jane.
"So you play hockey?" Jane asked as she leaned close to him, a friendly smile on her pretty face.
Mark nodded. "Yup. At least I did, until two days ago."
"Oh, please," Lena spoke up from his other side. "You're only injured. You make it sound as though you've been forced into retirement."
"Yeah, can I get a Jamieson and Coke, please?" Hilary asked as the bartender stopped in front of them. Her sharp voice drew Mark's and the other two women's attention.
"Sure," the bartender replied. "And for you two ladies?" he asked Lena and Jane.
"I'll have a Bud Light," Jane replied.
"You have any coolers?" Lena asked and listened as the bartender listed their selections. Lena picked a berry cooler and the bartender moved away to fill their orders.
"What were you saying, Mark?" Jane asked a second later.
He blinked and rubbed his stubbly chin. "Was I saying anything?"
"You were going to tell me about playing hockey," Jane offered, still smiling that friendly smile at him.
"OK," he agreed and told her about his time with the Washington Capitals. Lena added a comment here and there; after nearly a year with Anatoli, she knew a few things.
The three of them talked for a while, downing their drinks and laughing together. With the two women on either side of him, Mark found himself drinking less and slowly proper thought returned to his mind. The cool air wafted in through the main door every time someone came or went and that helped as well. Mark couldn't help but notice the silence on the other side of Jane and felt himself leaning forward or back just to catch a glimpse of Hilary.
He wondered what her deal was. She certainly hadn't looked pleased to be there and she hadn't been thrilled to meet him. Not that he was hurt by her dismissal but he was more than used to getting attention from pretty ladies. His career choice afforded him a certain advantage in that department.
"Hilary?" Lena turned her attention to her friend for a moment when a silence descended over them all. "Are you doing all right down there?"
"Oh yeah," came Hilary's flat reply. "I've got my whiskey and some peanuts and all is well."
Mark snickered at her tone before he could stop himself and smiled apologetically at Lena who just looked annoyed. She sighed and shook her head. Mark didn't have anything to say but he shrugged and smiled at Lena, as though to say, 'what's up with her?'
"So what did you injure anyway, Mark?" Jane asked, breaking the silence. Clearly, she didn't care about her friend's mood or was just more interested in Mark than he'd initially suspected.
"I twisted my ankle," he replied, ignoring the snort of laughter he thought he heard from Jane's other side. "I'm not allowed back on the ice for a few weeks. That's why I'm carting around these crutches."
"Should you even be out on crutches?" At last, a question from the withdrawn Hilary. A snarky question, to boot.
Leaning forward against the bar, Mark turned his head to meet her narrow gaze. "I should be at home doing nothing but after two days of that, I needed to get out."
"And a bar was your best option?"
"Hilary!" Lena snapped at her friend but Mark shook his head.