The Barracudas made it to the semifinals of the Pacific Conference, but by the time Tim had rehabilitated his leg and his concussion symptoms had completely disappeared, it was too late for him to participate. Sadly, they lost to the Blackhawks. While disappointed, the team felt satisfied that they’d done their best. They all agreed if Tim had played, things might have come out differently. Erin saw that Tim hated himself for not being there for his team. He’d confessed to her how his selfish quest for another hat trick had contributed to the circumstances around his injury. He vowed that would never happen again and that from then on, his individual stats would be important only in relation to furthering the team’s standings.
It only made her admire him more.
They had the summer ahead of them and spent it doing three main things. They found and bought a large home in Coronado, literally across the street from the beach. Tim insisted on a four-car garage, half of which he converted into a place he eventually named the MTC, Mini-Training Center. Tim spent hours there working out with machines and weights and shooting pucks. With no windows and questionable circulation, Erin called it the Sweatbox and rarely went farther than two feet inside. The rest of the house was magnificent but homey, everything she’d ever dreamed of, including lots of bedrooms. Claire, whose divorce was almost final, had helped Erin decorate and furnish it but their decorating time was limited because of the second summer project—the wedding.
Tim had wanted a big wedding, something Erin found endearing. He told Erin in private that when he’d married Waverly, the occasion had been elegantly staid and subdued. The smiles had felt forced, the toasts, perfunctory.
“So I want something completely different,” he declared. “Something that reflects how much I love you.” He spread his arms wide for emphasis.
“I am not getting married at the Mesa Arena,” she said immediately.
His eyes widened. “I didn’t think about having it there…”
“No. Absolutely no,” she said when he got a thoughtful look on his face.
He grinned. “Really? After our success with the proposal video?”
Erin sighed. Tim had gotten a couple of cameramen at the United Center to film and edit the proposal. Somehow it ended up on YouTube and went viral within a day. When a foremost wedding blogger declared it a frontrunner for “The Best Proposal Video of the Year,” Tim’s competitive streak reared its ugly head. He had a no-holds-barred plan to, when the time came to vote, call upon all his Twitter followers and those of all of his teammates to decimate the other videos that made the cut.
As a result, they hired a high-end event planner with ideas that matched Tim’s visions of grandeur, but with an eye for taste. The wedding went gone off without a hitch. The guest list included dozens of NHL players, coaches and staff. It did not include Vic. Their honeymoon was a compromise. Erin got her wish to visit Europe. She’d never ventured out of the country before meeting Tim, but they cruised to ten ports of call. Tim still needed rehab and exercise and cruise ships always had plenty of options. He hired a personal trainer and physical therapist to come along.
“I can’t believe you have an entourage. On our honeymoon.”
“I’m sorry. I know it’s a pain, but I can’t afford to show up at training camp in bad shape. I can’t even show up in good shape. I have to be in exceptional shape.”
It hadn’t been that bad. They’d gotten a huge suite with a private balcony and a butler. Erin had joined Tim on his workouts. She, of course, didn’t work nearly as long or as hard, but his trainers designed a nice routine for her that took advantage of all the options on the ship so she didn’t get bored.
She’d thought she couldn’t be any happier until on their wedding night Tim announced that he thought she should go off the pill. Apparently, after a lot of thought, he decided he wanted his kids to have seen him play in the NHL. He didn’t want his career to be something they only experienced via DVD.
“You’re absolutely right,” she’d said. “Our kids should get the chance to see you play in person.”
“So, I brought some condoms. I heard you aren’t supposed to try to get pregnant until after being off the pill for a month or so.”
Smiling, she’d taken the box from him and dropped it in the trash. At his confused look, she said, “It’s actually been proven that there is no increased chance of miscarriage if you get pregnant coming right off the pill.”
Every night, sometimes twice or three times a night, they’d tried to make a baby. In typical Tim fashion, once he’d made up his mind, he was all go-go-go “let’s do this” action. She didn’t mind. The sooner she got pregnant, the better, as far as she was concerned. Plus, Tim was as good in bed as he was on the ice.
They must have done something right, because Erin suspected she was pregnant in August, shortly after they’d returned from their honeymoon. She’d been tempted to tell Tim the moment she seen the positive test stick, but ended up keeping the information to herself for a couple of weeks. At first, it had been because he was exhausted from training camp, which really was no camp at all, at least not in the way Erin had always thought of camp. There had been a flurry of PR events to build excitement in the fans and stimulate season ticket sales, and she hadn’t come up with a way to break the news to him. She didn’t want to just blurt it out over the breakfast table.
“Please pass the orange juice, and by the way, I’m pregnant.”
No. The news was too precious to drop in regular conversation.
That’s when the light bulb went on. It was crazy, but fitting. It would require planning, begging and a little luck. But once she’d thought of it, she couldn’t imagine any other way to tell him he was going to be a father.
Like almost everyone else in the building, Erin was on her feet, shouting and applauding as the game clock counted down the final two minutes of the Barracuda season opener. The noise was almost deafening. Tim had told her the guys fed off the energy of the crowd, but personally she wondered how the players could even think, let alone focus on the game.
Because the ‘Cudas lead by only one point, tension was sky high. If the Canucks tied the score, the game would go into sudden death overtime.
Erin regretted munching on the caramel corn earlier knowing that the sugar was contributing to her off-the-charts jitters right now. Bent low to the ice, legs wide apart, Tim squared off against his opponent in the face-off. Determination hardened his jaw. The puck dropped. Tim swooped in like a hawk, but was a millisecond too slow and the Canucks headed toward the Barracuda zone.
The large video screen showed the Canucks’ goalie skating toward the bench. This allowed them to put one more man on the ice in hopes of scoring that tying goal. Erin had seen this strategy many times before. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it went horribly wrong because it left their net wide open. Temptingly, beautifully open.
Erin hoped for one of several favorable outcomes. One, that the Canucks failed to score. Two, that the Barracudas would score on that empty net, a sort of in-your-face parting shot from the winners, a last bit of macho dominance. And while Tim had vowed not to focus on his individual stats, especially hat tricks, Erin had made no such promise. She kept track of his accomplishments, proud of his skill and proud of him. Even though she knew the baby was only about the size of an apple seed, she found herself having silent conversations with him during the game. (She wanted a boy, but would be ecstatic to have a girl as well.)
Daddy just scored a goal.
Daddy just smashed number ten into the boards.
Daddy just made a perfect pass to his friend, Griff, and now they have the lead.
So, three, she really wanted him to get a hat trick. She actually needed him to get the hat trick. In order for her plan to go smoothly, he had to perform with brilliance, above and beyond the other players.
He didn’t let her or his team down that night.
Two men fought for the puck in the corner. It scooted out, free of the tangle of skates and blades. With incredible reflexes or maybe instinct, Tim took it and took off. He deked left and darted around the one man in position to stop him. The roar of the crowd shook the building as he broke away toward the empty goal, aimed, shot and scored with less than twenty seconds left in the game. Hats flew onto the ice, spinning like Frisbees, sailing over the heads of the people in the lower level.
Directly behind the San Diego bench, Erin cheered, her fists in the air. Claire did the exact same thing next to her before they turned to each other and jump-hugged. Scads of ice crew members efficiently scooped up the hats that littered the ice and tossed them willy-nilly the rolling bins they used for the snow that built up during the game. Erin smirked.
They’d had a lot of practice.
The two teams played the final fifteen seconds, but Tim’s goal had virtually secured the win. After the horn blew, the Barracudas acknowledged their goalie one at a time and bumped fists with each other before leaving the ice. The defeated Vancouver team retreated to their dressing room to lick their wounds.
Soon, triumphant techno music blasted from the speakers. The white lights dimmed and the blue ones came on.
AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME AS VOTED ON BY MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA.
Erin gasped. In all the excitement of the win and the hat trick, she’d almost forgotten her plan. Her phone vibrated in her front pocket. She checked the text, looked across the ice to the penalty box area and gave two thumbs up.
THE THIRD STAR OF THE GAME, WITH ONE GOAL AND ONE ASSIST, NUMBER 20, GiiiiiiillllLLL CaaaaaAARPENTER!
Carps skated out, a humble tilt to his head as he approached the glass and tipped a hockey stick over the top and into the hands of a little boy who had been hoisted by his father. Erin pulled off the number twenty-five jersey she always wore. Underneath, she had a t-shirt on that she’d had specially made for the occasion. A Mesa Arena staff member brought her a microphone which she stuck in her back pocket.
“Switch it on to speak,” the guy said.
YOUR SECOND STAR OF THE GAME, WITH 39 SAVES, NUMBER 41, BOOoooooOOTH MACDONALD!
Helmetless and sweaty, Booth gave away a stick as well, waving at the crowd with his giant gloves.
Erin held her breath.
AND THE FIRST STAR OF THE GAME, WITH THREE GOALS AND ONE ASSIST, NUMBER 25, TIiiiiiIIIIM HOLLANDER!
After giving his stick to an older lady, Tim skated back to Josh Kennedy, the Fox guy who always interviewed the First Star of the Game, and a man she now owed a favor to. Kennedy looked camera-ready while Tim’s hair was dripping with sweat and his forehead had symmetrical red marks from his helmet.
“Tim, your first game back after the concussion and broken tibia way back in March, and you score a hat trick. How does that feel?”
Tim spoke into the microphone. “Obviously it feels good to have scored three for the team. I didn’t do it alone though. Sully and Dev are great at finding me. Any win is definitely a team effort.”
“What did Marchand expect of you tonight?”
“He expected me to play hard. Do my best. Find opportunities, make myself available, and hit the back of the net. Same as any game.”
“You hit it three times again. The fans are going broke buying hats.”
Tim chuckled and looked up at the stands. “Sorry about that, guys.”
“Tim, last season you had five hat tricks. You’re starting this season with one under your belt. How intense is the pressure right now?”
Shrugging, Tim replied, “You know, it’s the beginning of the season. Everyone is still getting back into the swing of things. Obviously having made the Semifinals last season, we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. We want to go all the way this year.”
“This win is a great start. One more question, Tim. How does it feel knowing you’re going to be a father in about seven months?”
Tim stared at Kennedy for a beat, thrown for a loop. Then the meaning of the question sunk in and Tim’s eyes went straight to Erin. He knew where she was sitting. His eyes widened as he took in her shirt, which said, “Barracuda on Board” with an arrow pointing down. The big video monitors showed a split screen of Erin and her t-shirt and Tim looking stunned, his mouth open but no words coming out and they started playing a song, “We’re Having a Baby” from the old TV show I Love Lucy. Erin had listened to it on her computer when they’d started planning this a week ago and deemed it appropriate, even though it was older than an oldie.
Tim stood up and went to her even though the glass stood between them. Kennedy followed. He managed to keep the mic close enough to Tim’s mouth.
Erin nodded and she saw tears welling in his eyes. He planted his hands on the glass, and she did the same. Camera flashes went off all around them. Kennedy jabbed his index finger toward his mic and then to her. Shoot! She’d forgotten she had one, too.
She held it up to her mouth. “We’re going to have a baby, a little Barracuda. In the spring.”
Even though his face dripped with sweat from the game, Erin could discern where the tears had streaked down. Contentment and joy washed over her as he smiled.
Tim turned around and thrust his fists into the air. “I’m going to be a dad!”
The crowd cheered.