The Good Luck Charm Page 32

She’d been chattering about the dance and costumes, hands flailing wildly, eyes alight with excitement. She’d asked if I was going to go, and when I shrugged, I’d wiped the joy right off her face. I wanted to put it back, so I suggested we go together. She’d stopped, hope quickly overshadowed by uncertainty. And I saw, for the first time, that this love I’d had for her all these years had morphed into something deeper for both of us. So I’d kissed her.

It changed everything.

“I’m going to be traveling a lot starting tomorrow. Luke brought back a lot of memories, and with them, insecurities. I want this with you, Lilah. I want this feeling, your fire; I want us to work this time, and I’m worried that not being here as often is going to make that difficult. So I acted like a jealous jerk, because I am one.”

Lilah drops her head, but a smile and a soft laugh follow. “Your apologies are always so elaborate.”

“I think my behavior required an elaborate apology. I don’t want to leave tomorrow with you misunderstanding my reaction. I won’t make the same mistakes I did last time, Lilah—I promise.”

I pull her closer and wrap my arm around her waist. She comes willingly at first, but she puts a hand on my chest and pushes away, wearing a grimace. “Oh my God. My dress is crunchy. I really need to get out of these clothes.”

“I would be more than willing to help with that.”

She laughs, her anger having abated. “Of course you would.”

“We could consider it penance.”

She rolls her eyes but takes my hand, tugging me toward the stairs.

chapter fourteen




I feel like I’m standing in a minefield, when what I should be doing is celebrating. With Lilah. Naked. We won our exhibition game against Colorado.

Unfortunately, when I arrived in Minneapolis, I had a message from Lilah that she was at my parents’ house babysitting my dad while my mom went out for dinner with a friend.

He’s in a shit mood and he’s watching a recording of the exhibition game. I’m on edge. I don’t want him to pick apart my performance. I scored a goal. I should be happy about that, but now all I can do is brace for some snide comment I’m sure is coming.

I jam a pair of jeans, boxers, and a T-shirt into my duffel, throw in my toiletries bag—I have duplicates of most things at Lilah’s, but I like to have it just in case—and toss the duffel over my shoulder. We won’t leave until my mom gets back, so I figure I can get in a quick swim before we go, since the summer weather seems to be holding for a while longer. I’m sure Lilah would be more than happy to escape Eeyore moping in the lounger.

I climb the stairs, dressed in a pair of board shorts, pausing at the top when the game goes to a commercial and my dad looks to Lilah, who’s stretched out on the couch, a pen tucked behind her ear, tapping her lip with a yellow highlighter. She’s wearing a gauzy skirt and a pale tank with wide straps.

“What’re you doing?” my dad asks in his slow, garbled speech. He has to work on fine motor control to fast-forward through commercials, or wait for the show to come back on. Apparently he’s not in the mood for TV remote physio.

It takes her a second or two before she looks up and smiles. “Statistics homework. Remember I told you I’m taking a course?”

My dad nods, then taps on the arm of his chair as he clears his throat. “You should’ve been a doctor.”

I step into the living room, the floorboard under my foot creaking. “Dad!”

He glances over his shoulder at me, face ticking as his mouth tries to catch up with his brain. “’S true.” He motions from Lilah to me. “Botha you.”

This has been the hardest part to get used to since the stroke. My dad has always felt free to speak his mind, but now, in addition to his lack of censor, he’s also tactless, and sometimes the things he says are unnecessarily hurtful.

“I enjoy nursing. I like that I get time with the patients and their families,” Lilah replies, an edge in her otherwise serene tone.

My dad taps his temple, then points at me, while still focused on Lilah. “This one wasted his brain.”

“That’s enough, Martin,” Lilah snaps. “That’s not even remotely true. Just because Ethan didn’t follow in your footsteps doesn’t mean he wasted anything. You’re being cruel for no other reason than you’re in a bad mood. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

“He should’ve stayed.” My dad jabs at the couch with a finger, still focused on Lilah, mouth moving as he fights to string the syllables together. “Stay. For you.”

I bark out a laugh. “Well, that’s rich, considering you’re the one who told me to break up with Lilah in the first place, or don’t you remember that conversation?”

“So you stay!” he shouts.

“What? You’re not even making sense, Dad. You’re the one who pushed me to end things. You said it would be selfish for me to leave her here and keep her tied to me.”

He slaps the arm of his lounger, more agitated than I’ve seen him in a long time. “No! I-I-I … ” He blinks furiously, struggling harder because he’s so upset. “Th-thought you would stay. For DJ. Not go.”

The shock of this revelation is a punch in the chest. “You told me to do one thing and expected me to do the opposite?”

“You ne’er listened to me!”

My father and I had always been at odds with each other, especially when I was a teenager. I spent all my time at the hockey rink, and he pushed me toward a career in medicine. When I made the NHL, instead of sharing my excitement, he wanted to know what I was going to do afterward, since I’d likely be retired by my midthirties. We’re very much alike, and because of that we argued a lot. But this is … more than I can handle, especially with how good things have been with me and Lilah recently. “Well, that was a pretty shitty fucking gamble, wasn’t it?”

“It cost you eight years.” It’s the clearest sentence my dad has spoken in the weeks since his stroke.

I glance at Lilah’s wide eyes and pale face. I feel the weight of this admission in my bones. All the time I lost with her because I listened to my father the one time I shouldn’t have, and then I did it again when I had the chance to come back for her. I don’t understand why he would chance something like that.

“Time wasn’t the only thing it cost me.” If I stay in here, I’m going to go off on him, say things I can’t take back, so I look to Lilah. “It’s been a long day. I’m going down to the lake for a quick swim. When my mom gets back, we can go.” I punch through the screen door. It slams roughly behind me, the hinges rattling. The porch boards shake beneath my feet, and guilt at leaving Lilah in there to deal with him makes me pause when I reach the grass.

“Why, Martin? Why say that to him with me here? We’re trying to figure things out. He just got home from an away game where he scored a goal. The least you could do is be supportive instead of tearing him down with your black mood.”

When he replies, his tone is broken, distressed, apologetic even. “You get one soul mate. I don’t want him to lose his again.”

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