The Good Luck Charm Page 21

I don’t want to do that to her again. And I don’t know where I’ll be next year with a one-year contract and no certainty of renewal.


Once we leave the Hoffman estate, I drive to the local florist, but it’s late, so everything is closed downtown apart from the bars. I stand in front of the shop’s darkened window and consider my options. I’m not planning on pushing Lilah any more than I already have tonight. I want to leave something for her so tomorrow morning my apology is the first thing she gets when she walks out her door.

There’s a convenience store down the street, one we used to ride our bikes to when we were kids. With my allowance, I used to splurge on bags of bulk candies for me and DJ—something she couldn’t afford.

I’m pleased to see the store still has them available, although the boxes I remember, with their tiny plastic tongs, have been replaced by a bank of clear plastic bins with lids and little scoops. I grab a bag and browse the selection of gummies and candies. I layer it with all of Lilah’s favorites; Hot Lips seem rather appropriate, all things considered. I add Watermelon Slices, Fuzzy Peaches, a gummy snake, bears, Wine Gums, black licorice—she was the only kid I knew who ate it and liked it—jawbreakers, and top it off with more Hot Lips. It’s an apology rainbow of sugar.

A teen sits behind the cash register, tapping away on his phone, probably updating the world on his boredom. I drop the bag on the counter and slide my wallet out of my back pocket.

He glances up and his eyes go wide, his phone clattering to the floor. “Oh, man!” He fumbles in his chair, almost tipping it over as he tries to retrieve his phone and still keep his eyes on me. He pops back up, slapping the device on the counter. “You’re Ethan Kase!”

I can’t say the recognition or the excitement is bad for my ego these days. “That’s me.”

He shakes his head. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

“Well, I live here, so it kind of makes sense, right?” I’m grinning. I’m not at the top of the league, so normally I go under the radar, unlike Alex Waters or Randy Ballistic back in Chicago. They couldn’t go to a bar without at least half a dozen selfie shots. Although, I think all the endorsements Waters has scored along the way—particularly the ones for prophylactics—have made him that much more recognizable outside of the hockey world.

But here, in a place like Forest Lake, I’m more likely to get this kind of reaction. It’s novel for now because it’s so new. But I don’t ever want to take it for granted.

“My dad was talking about you at dinner, saying you were a good trade for Minnesota. You used to go to my high school. Your pictures are in the gym hallway. You won the most valuable player award all four years. Man, the guys aren’t gonna believe this. Can I get a picture? Can I take a selfie? Will you sign something for me? I wish I had my Minnesota jersey.”

I laugh at his enthusiasm, and his face goes red. “Come on out and we can get a picture; then I’ll sign whatever you want.”

He’s so bouncy it’s hard to take a decent picture. When he does, he posts immediately to every social media platform he’s intravenously hooked into.

“Got what you need?” I ask, after I sign a Minnesota team flag the store sells.

“Yeah. For sure. Thanks so much.”

“No problem. You wanna ring me through?” I tap the bag of candy.

“Oh, right!” He drops it on the weigh scale. “You’re allowed to eat all this stuff when you’re training?”

I laugh. “Not a chance. It’s for a friend.”

“Right. Yeah. Exhibition games start soon, too. Me and my dad have tickets for when you play against Colorado.”

“That’ll be a good game.”

“Yeah. It’s super cool. Do you know if you’ll be starting yet? Or is it, like, too soon to know that?”

“Depends on how preseason training goes.”

“It’s good so far, though, right? I saw somewhere that you’re, like, kicking ass.” He’s still bouncing with excitement.

I smile at his enthusiasm. My performance at practices so far has been on point, so it’s nice to know other people are seeing it, too. “Well, that’s good to hear.”

“I can’t wait to see you play.”

“You bring a jersey and I’ll sign it for you—sound good?”

“Cool. Awesome.” He keeps nodding and grinning, his face still red.

The candy ends up costing twenty-five bucks, which my new friend Matt seems to think is totally crazy. I add a card so I can write a note to go with the candy. Once I’m back in my truck, I put the address Carmen gave me into my GPS. Lilah’s house is in a small subdivision away from the water, where homes are more affordable.

Carmen’s car is parked in the driveway behind Lilah’s. It’s a quaint little row house. The front garden is neatly tended, as I’d expect from Lilah.

I park my truck on the street and search for a pen in the glove box. All I come up with is a blue colored pencil. I can’t erase anything I put down, so I chew on the end, debating what I want to write. I decide the best way to go is direct with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, so to speak. I sign the card, slip it into the envelope, and leave the engine running because I don’t plan to stick around. I finger the dog tags hanging from the rearview mirror for a second before I open the door and hop out of the cab.

My hands are stupidly sweaty for dropping off a bag of peace-apology candies. I can see inside the house since the door is open, and the screen provides a clear view through to the backyard. To the left is a living room, simply furnished, to the right a staircase. Beyond that is the kitchen, and straight ahead is a set of sliding glass doors that lead to an outdoor patio. A pair of bare feet are visible, as is the edge of an Adirondack chair.

What I don’t account for is the presence of Lilah’s dog, lying beside her outside. She’s brought him by my parents’ house a couple of times. He’s too friendly to be an actual guard dog, but he’s far more effective than a doorbell. I cringe as his ears perk and his head pops up. He jumps to his feet and barks a couple of times, then presses his nose against the screen, tail wagging.

“What’s up, Merk?” Lilah leans forward.

She can see through to where I’m standing under the porch light. I lift a hand and wave.

“Give me a minute.” I can hear the wryness in her voice.

If I wasn’t holding a bag of candy and a card, I’d shove my hands in my pockets, but that’s not an option, so I rock back on my heels and wait as she opens the sliding glass door. Merk tears across the kitchen and through the living room, running in a circle and stopping at the door with a single bark. He likes me. Possibly more than Lilah currently does. Probably is more like it.

“Merk, sit,” Lilah orders before flicking the lock and opening the door just enough that her body fits in the opening. When Merk makes a move to stand, she snaps her fingers. “Stay.” He whines but obeys. She turns her attention to me, eyes shifting to where my hands are clasped behind my back.

“How’d you get my address?”

“My parents have it in their address book because they’re old-school.” It’s a lie, but I don’t want to get Carmen in more trouble with Lilah than she already is. Although I’m sure it is in the book my parents keep by the phone.

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