Hat Trick Overtime: Reunion by Jeff Adams

Alex and I were often at the Central High School rink. Since we lived in Pittsburgh, it was an easy drive to come watch the games. The twins loved the trip because it usually meant seeing the grandparents and they liked a good hockey game as much as we did.
Hat Trick Overtime: Reunion
Hat Trick Overtime: Reunion by Jeff Adams
The school had changed a lot in twenty years. It’d been expanded and remodeled twice. The rink, however, had only had a seating expansion. The rest of it had been maintained well and still looked like it did when I was in school. “Daddy, is Uncle Leo gonna be here?” Travis asked. “Yup,” said Alex, since he was Daddy and I was Papa. The boys assigned us those names a few years ago and they stuck. “Uncle Matt should be with him, too.” “Awesome,” the boys said together. We saw Matt and Leo often since they lived in Pittsburgh. They’d known the boys since they were babies. The parking around the school was jammed, just like it always was when the Falcons played. Since we were VIPs for this game, we got to park in the players’ lot, and that made it easier. I stole a look in the rearview mirror and saw the boys playing on their phones. They were dressed for the occasion, sporting retro Central jerseys that looked like the ones we’d played in. We splurged and got them especially for this celebration. I parked and before I could get out, Alex, my husband of nearly fifteen years, grabbed my arm. “You ready for this, Simon?” His gaze was intense as he looked for signs of hesitation. We’d talked about this game and the ceremony that would precede it for several weeks. We tended to steer clear of this post-Thanksgiving game because it was during this weekend, all those years ago, that we were outed and I was tossed out of my house. While everything was happily ever after in the long run, it wasn’t a part of our history we liked to revisit. This time it was special though. It was the twentieth anniversary of Central High breaking a fourteen year losing streak against County. It was also Coach Archer’s retirement year. Our teammates had cooked up some special things for the occasion, so we couldn’t miss out. “Yeah,” I said, smiling. “I am. I’m glad we’re here.” We got out of the car and the boys scrambled out, eager to not miss anything. Travis handed Alex his crutch, which had been on the floor of the backseat. “Papa, look, it’s Michael Jenkins,” Travis said, like he’d just seen Santa Claus. “What’s he doing here?” Michael, or Mike, as we knew him, turned at hearing his name and his face lit up, clearly happy to see old friends. He waited for us to catch up to him. Mike covered hockey for The Falconer back in the day, and as a result he reported on everything that went down in regard to Alex and me. These days we watched him during hockey season because he led the NHL Network’s broadcast team. “I’m sure he’s here for the celebration, too,” Alex said. “Simon, Alex, it’s good to see you.” Handshakes turned into hugs all around. “Mike, didn’t expect to see you, but it’s awesome that you’re here,” I said. “Shouldn’t you be covering a game somewhere?” Alex added. “You think I’d skip this? I’m a special reporter for Dawson Daily for the event. The pros can wait.” “Excuse me,” Travis said. Mike looked down at him. “I’m Travis and we watch you all the time.” Travis stuck out his fist. He grinned excitedly as Mike gave him a bump. “I’m Jack,” his brother said, nudging Travis out of the way as he went in for a fist bump of his own. Mike raised an eyebrow at us as he heard the name, before returning his attention to his young fans. “It’s nice to meet you two,” he said. “Did you play with our dads?” Jack asked. “I didn’t. I wrote about their games for the school paper.” “You didn’t tell us he wrote about you.” Travis looked at us. “We want to see.” “Yeah, we want to see,” Jack echoed. “We’ll find the papers this weekend,” Alex said. “I know your grandparents have them.” “Yes!” said Jack. “Hey, look,” Travis said as he pointed across the parking lot. “It’s Uncle Leo and Uncle Matt.” He tugged on Jack. “Come on.” They were off like a shot. “Jack? That’s kinda perfect.” Mike said as we made our way to the rink’s players’ entrance. “Jackson Carver Miller-Roberts,” I said. “We gave him a mouthful of a name, but it was important to us.” “And Travis?” “Just a name that we liked,” Alex said. “Well okay,” Mike said. He gestured at the crutch. “What’s up with this? Last I heard you were doing okay.” Alex rolled his eyes. “Leg’s been pissy the last couple of weeks, so I’ve been stuck using it. I think it’s payback for too much travel last month.” We were very lucky that Alex’s multiple sclerosis hadn’t progressed much since his initial diagnosis. It stayed mostly rooted in his left leg, although in the past few months it was causing him more trouble. He had some bouts of fatigue and nasty headaches, but those were much less frequent than the leg flare ups. His doctors were adjusting his meds and his physical therapy to try and compensate. Mike nodded. “So what’s the surprise tonight?” “There’s the journalist we know,” Alex said, winking at Mike. “Aw, come on. You know I’m curious. All of a sudden it’s announced there’ll be additional presentations tonight. Care to give me a scoop?” “Nope,” I said, suppressing a snicker since I knew I was pressing Mike’s buttons. “But find us afterwards and we’ll give you an exclusive interview.” “I’ll take it. That was certainly easier than in high school.” Mike smirked and the three of us cracked up as we went inside the rink’s players’ entrance. Travis and Jack were with Leo and Matt. “I’m gonna go check in with the media crew,” Mike said. “I’ll catch you guys later.” “Papa, Daddy, we got your name tags.” Jack handed us stickers, which we affixed. Jack and Travis already had theirs, very crookedly, affixed to their jerseys. “Hey, guys,” Leo said, giving Alex and me bear hugs. Matt did the same. “No change, huh? You still planning to play?” Leo looked skeptical. “I’m gonna take at least a couple of shifts. No way I’m sitting this out completely.” I scowled at him. We’d disagreed about this. I knew he wanted to play for this occasion, but I wasn’t sure it was worth the risk. His parents weren’t going to like it either. So far he hadn’t told them his plans. His mom was upset anytime she saw him using the crutch so I was sure we’d get an earful about it if he played even a second of the game. “As long as you’re safe,” Leo said. “Shit,” I said under my breath. Chris walked in with his sixteen-year-old son, Connor. With Chris living in Atlanta, we hadn’t seen him in person in about five years, but we knew he was sick again. “Look at this,” Chris said, enthusiastically, “captain and star players greeting me at the door.” “Go say hello,” his son said as they got in the check-in line. “I’ll get our stuff.” Chris nodded at Connor, leaving him in line. Chris doled out hugs. I was a bit scared to touch him because he looked like he might break. He was gaunt and his suit looked a size too big. Even the cap on his head seemed oversized. “Glad you made it,” Leo said. Chris sighed and the sadness on his face stabbed at my heart. “Me, too. We drove up yesterday. Well, Connor drove us. I ended up sleeping a fair bit.” Connor joined us. He looked just like his dad did when we were in high school. It was spooky. “We had Thanksgiving with my mom.” There was a tug on my jacket and I looked down to find Jack, and right behind him Travis. I knelt down to find out what was wrong. “Papa,” Jack said, his eyes darting back and forth to Chris. “Is he a zombie?” “Jack,” I said, quietly admonishing him. “That’s not nice.” “Sorry, Papa, but…” “He’s scary!” Travis exclaimed. “Boys…” I pulled out my parental voice to quiet them. “It’s okay. He’s kinda right. I’m not going to eat you, I promise.” He continued with a growly, but comical, monster voice. “Maybe, Simon, but you two are safe.” The boys giggled, put at ease. Chris still had his great sense of humor. “Travis, Jack, this is Chris and his son Connor. Chris is one of our teammates.” “Wow, you’re big,” Travis said to Connor, who was more than twice Travis’ size. “He’s right,” I said, “you’ve had a hellvua growth spurt.” “Thank God,” he said. “I was beginning to think I was going to be short forever.” “You sure don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Alex said. Connor was even a couple inches taller than Alex and me. “So, Leo, I was wondering if Connor can sub in for me tomorrow? I’m not sure I’m gonna be able to pull out more than a shift.” “Absolutely.” Leo said. “Maybe he can sub for us both?” Alex said. “I’m probably only in for a shift or two.” “I’ll do whatever you guys need,” Connor said. “It’s almost time,” Matt spoke up. “We should grab seats and make sure we’ve got space for everyone. I’ll take Jack and Travis. Connor, you want to come along?” “I should probably stay here,” he said, trying not to make a big deal of watching over Chris. “We got him,” I said. Connor thought about it for a moment then gave me a nod. The guy was shouldering a lot. I felt bad for him even though he seemed to be doing okay. The lobby of the players’ entrance filled up with more of our teammates, which made the small space feel pretty tight. It didn’t take long for Aaron, Doug, Max, and Marc to join us, rounding out the senior squad. “It’s so good to see you guys,” Chris said. “What’s the prognosis?” Aaron asked the question I’m sure the rest of us were thinking. Chris shrugged. “It’s aggressive. I’ve gone from remission to worse than I was when I was first diagnosed. Jen’s pissed. No, that’s not fair. She’s concerned I made this trip, but she gets why I needed to be here. It’s also a good trip for Connor and me because it may be our last. There’s a chance I’ll beat this back, but the odds are not in my favor.” Chris sounded at peace, which I found pretty amazing. He’d basically told us he was dying. “This weekend has to be epic,” I said. “Exactly,” Chris said. “Anyone know if the pond’s good?” “It is,” Leo said. “Matt and I skated on it yesterday.” “Can we…” Chris’ voice caught for a moment before he righted it. “Can we play there? Maybe Sunday since we’ve got the game here tomorrow? I really want Connor to play there.” Everyone said yes, practically before he’d finished asking. “Thanks.” We tightened our circle around him and either clapped him on the back or fist bumped him. “About time, Derek,” Leo said, looking towards the rink door as it opened. “I know,” he said, sounding harried, getting to the check-in table. “We landed late. But we’re here.” He carried a girl on his shoulders who looked younger than our boys. “FALCONS!” came a call from the locker room down the hall. Coach Archer must’ve just finished his pre-game talk. The cheer sent chills through me, as if I were still on the team. “Everyone,” Derek said, joining our group. He’d been a freshman but was good enough he’d played with the seniors often so it wasn’t surprising he greeted us first, “this is Anna.” She grinned and said, “Hello,” in a proper English accent. Derek lived in London with his wife Ariel. We hadn’t seen him since he moved right after he married her about ten years ago, but we kept up with him as best we could for a transatlantic friendship. “Hi everyone,” said a guy in a red Central sweatshirt with the hockey logo on it. He came up to our group and the rest of the team gathered around. “I’m Brian Penn, the booster club president. It’s exciting you’re all here. We’re just about ready to get started as the team will head to the ice shortly and, as you know, the presentations are up first. Once the team’s out, they’ll roll a carpet out and we’ll make our remarks from center ice.” “I need to get her somewhere,” Derek pointed up to Anna. “Ariel’s not coming until tomorrow.” “Matt can watch her,” Leo said. “He’s already in the stands with Jack and Travis.” “Oh, great. Let me get her settled. Be right back.” The buzz of activity was awesome between the current team getting ready to hit the ice and all of us queued up waiting for our moment. Loud dance music pumped from the rink and you could hear some of the crowd noise, too. Alex caught my eye and gave me a wink and a smile. I took his free hand and wrapped it in mine. We had a good life. We enjoyed our work. He’d formed his own environmental engineering firm and it was doing very well. I was director of counseling services for a network of youth community centers and also taught and advised doctoral students at University of Pittsburgh. We coached the boys’ hockey team and found time to play ourselves, too. Twenty years ago when we were getting ready to play this very game, we’d only been together about six weeks. Derek ran down the hall towards us and got himself situated. The entire team was here, except for one. We looked good, all dressed in suits for the occasion. I watched the current Falcons take the ice as Coach Archer went out with them. I couldn’t believe he was retiring. He looked great, virtually the same as when he coached us. “Okay, guys,” Brian said, “here we go. I’ll make remarks first. Leo you’ll go next and then Simon you’ve got the rest. I’ll wrap it up as you guys head off. We’ll give you about five minutes to get to your seats before the puck drops.” “Got it,” said Leo. As we approached the ice, the carpet was rolled out and a mic was set up on the center ice dot. Despite my speaking experience, I was nervous. I had things to say and I wanted it to be perfect. “Good afternoon,” Brian said into the mic as we filed in behind him. “I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Welcome to the forty-second Thanksgiving weekend matchup between Central and County High. This is also the twentieth anniversary of a win that broke a fourteen-year losing streak for Central. Lined up behind me are players from that winning team who’ve returned to pay tribute to James Archer during his final year as coach. His arrival at Central marked a turning point in our hockey program and that started with the eight seniors who were on this team.” The seniors stepped forward as planned. “They were freshmen in Coach Archer’s first year.” The audience, which packed the stands, cheered. “Collectively this team has made a ten thousand dollar donation to the booster club to rename this rink as “Archer Rink.” A member of the current team skated over and handed Brian a bronze plaque, which he held up. “This is an example of the new name plates that will go up on all the doors Monday.” The crowd cheered again. We all turned and applauded in the direction of Coach Archer, who was on the bench behind us. It was obvious how proud he was. He nodded and tipped his cap at us. “I want to turn things over now to team captain, Leo Morris, who has a few words.” Leo stepped up, taking his phone from his pocket to read his remarks. “I can’t tell you how proud I am to stand here with this group. We don’t see each other nearly enough, so it’s incredible to gather for this occasion. We all have great memories here because of Coach Archer’s leadership and we’re glad that future players will play at his rink. We do have another presentation to make tonight and for that I call Simon Miller-Roberts up to the mic.” We traded fist bumps as I came forward. “It’s great to be here this afternoon,” I said reading from my typewritten page, “sharing this event with not only my teammates but my family. My husband and I met playing here and our twins, who’ve seen many games here, are in the stands. When the seniors heard this event was happening, beyond renaming the rink we wanted to pay tribute to the teammate who is no longer with us. As you may know, five weeks after the game we’re celebrating was played, Jackson Carver was killed right outside this rink.” “Hey, that’s my name.” I was embarrassed and yet amused that Jack spoke up. He knew he was named for a very good friend who’d died, but neither of us told him he was going to hear that name here. Oops. I laughed along with some of the crowd. I was grateful for the moment of humor. “Jackson was my best friend, and, as you now know, one of our sons is named after him. Jackson was a friend to everyone on this team and in many ways he was the team’s heart and soul, too. Always looking out for his teammates. Someone who could be depended on both on the ice and off. Not a day goes by, even after two decades, that I don’t miss him. We…” Suddenly I was stuck as my emotions welled up, even though I’d practiced this speech many times in order to keep my emotions at bay. I took a breath. “We, as the senior class, came together to create the Jackson Carver Scholarship. When we reached out to let Jackson’s parents know of our plan, not only did they support it, they made a significant contribution. Jackson’s college fund…hadn’t…” I tried to keep going as tears started to fall. “His college fund hadn’t…” A hand was on my shoulder and Alex was next to me. He took the paper from my hand and gave me a nod. I stepped back, next to Leo, who gave me a handkerchief. It was a relief that I wasn’t the only one struggling. Several others were crying, too. “Jackson’s college fund hadn’t been touched in twenty years,” Alex said, reading my text exactly. His voice was strained, but he was getting through it. “His parents donated the significant amount of money it had grown into. Because of their generosity, the scholarship is able to fund a complete college education. The scholarship will be awarded each season to one Central High hockey player who exemplifies great sportsmanship and selflessness as voted on by the coaches and players. We expect this scholarship to be funded in perpetuity, through a foundation that’s been set up in Jackson’s name.” Jackson’s parents were in the stands, next to my mom and stepdad as well as Alex’s parents. They all had tissues out. The crowd broke into applause and stood. Alex, a good public speaker himself, honed from years of presentations he’d made for work, waited it out so he could finish. “In addition,” Alex said as people sat down, “Jackson’s number, twenty-three, is officially retired. We present this plaque, containing one of his game jerseys, to be hung here so, as with Coach Archer, Jackson will continue to be a presence in this rink.” Another member from the current team skated up, and Doug and Leo took the framed jersey and held it over their heads. The crowd once again stood and applauded. I came back to the mic and Alex moved aside. “There are many times,” I said, my voice recovering, “that I’ve felt Jackson’s presence. My wedding day. The day we brought our twins home. And often when I’m playing. I think he’s here today, probably embarrassed we’re honoring him like this, but proud nonetheless to be remembered. Thank you.” Alex and I stepped back, and Brian took the mic to talk about tomorrow’s alumni scrimmage between our team and a team of mixed Falcons’ alums. Instead of heading directly off ice, Leo led us to the Falcons’ bench. I stayed next to Alex for extra support since his crutch wasn’t the best on icy surfaces. We each shook hands with Coach Archer. I loved seeing him this happy. * * * * Central won the game two-to-one in overtime. After the post-game reception, it was nice to relax with only my favorite guys: Alex and our sons. Travis and Jack were plowing their way through pancakes, while Alex and I were having the large IHOP meal we’d always enjoyed. “This was a great day,” Alex said. “Seeing everyone, honoring Coach and Jackson. I don’t know how it could’ve been more perfect.” I nodded, and drank down some cocoa. “We should only do reunions around hockey. Our classmates are nice, but it’s those guys I love hanging out with. I can’t wait to play tomorrow. We haven’t had that many of us on the ice at the same time since our wedding scrimmage.” “Seeing Chris, man, that was something. I hadn’t expected him to be so frail.” “Yeah. I was shocked.” “We ended up talking for a bit, just the two of us,” Alex said between bites. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in his shoes. Even when I first got the M.S. diagnosis, we knew it wasn’t a death sentence. I’m thankful I was only dealt the cards I was, you know.” “Papa,” Jack, who sat next to me, said, “is your friend going to die?” “He’s very sick,” I said, “so it’s possible.” Jack didn’t say anything, but quietly went back to his pancakes. Travis had never stopped eating, as if Jack hadn’t said anything. The boys understood death, having been to the funeral for Alex’s grandmother a couple of years ago. “We’re going to make it so he and Connor can skate at least a shift tomorrow,” Alex said. “We haven’t figured it all out yet, but it’s going to happen.” “That’s cool. I think Connor’ll like that. We talked for a while tonight.” “Is that where you went off to?” “Yeah, we talked privately for a few minutes. He asked if I could hook him up with someone to talk to in Atlanta. His school counselor only deals in academics, so without worrying his parents, he’s been trying to find someone to talk to about all that’s going on with his dad. I’ve got connections, so I told him I’d take care of it. I told him he could always call me, too.” Alex nodded. “Good. I imagine it’s not easy for him right now.” I looked at Alex. His grey eyes as bright as ever, set off even more now that he had bits of grey hair appearing at his temples. I could already tell the salt and pepper look was going to be hot on him. He wasn’t the only one with grey, either. I had some in my beard. We weren’t as lean since we weren’t on a stringent training program, but we were fit. Alex, I suspected, was in better shape than me because of the exercises he did to try and keep the M.S. in check. Twenty years and he was just as sexy as he’d been in the hotel room that night we’d figured each other out. “Papa!” Travis said way too loud and it snapped me back as Alex cracked up. “I asked you if you were going to have ice cream.” “Um, sure. Yeah.” I said, embarrassed I’d zoned out. “Didn’t you hear me?” Travis said. “He was thinking,” Alex chimed in. “About what?” Jack asked. Jack and Travis looked at Alex like he’d lost his mind. “You’ll understand when you’re older.” Travis rolled his eyes and sopped up syrup with a biscuit Alex hadn’t eaten. Jack went back to his food since there was ice cream to be had. Alex bumped his leg against mine and I smiled. Exactly the move he’d done the first time we’d been here, back when we were a secret. “I know what you were thinking about,” he said in a sing-song voice. “Of course you do,” I said. We reached across the table at the same time and interlocked our fingers. “Did you think we’d last this long the first time we sat here?” Alex asked. “Back then I wasn’t sure there could really be an us.” “I knew it was for real at the Penguins game, when that waiter knew we were on a date. I suspected we were forever the night we skated under the Christmas lights after the game at Comerica. I knew I never wanted to be without you.” “The night of the Penguins game was a sign for me, too. When we saw Craig and Kyle at the club. There was another couple, just like us, so I knew it was possible. The forever part came on our second anniversary. I wanted forever with the man who created one of the most romantic surprises ever.” “You two aren’t going to be gross and kiss are you?” Jack piped up after we sat staring at each other too long. “Maybe we are,” I turned to him and grinned. “Or maybe I’m going to unleash a tickle monster on you.” I turned in the booth and readied an attack. He laughed and backed closer to the wall. “No. No. No.” He put up his hands, as if to shield himself. I laughed, too, and simply tussled his hair. “Finish up and we’ll get ice cream and refill the cocoa. Then we need to get home to sleep. It’s a big day tomorrow.” Our phones buzzed at the same time, which almost never happened. Alex pulled his out before I could get mine. A huge smile spread across his face as he read. He handed the phone over to me. Yes! “We got it!” I said. “I figured we’d have to wait until at least Monday to hear anything.” I handed his phone back. As he took it he grabbed my hand and kissed it, getting an “ooooh” from the boys. “Let me find out what’s next.” “What’d we get?” Jack asked. “Tell them,” Alex said, “while I make the call.” “You know how you’ve always wanted to live closer to your grandparents?” “Yeah!” Travis said, already sounding breathless from anticipation. “Are we?” Jack asked. I nodded. “Yay!” they said with Travis throwing his arms up in the air as if signaling a touchdown. Alex grinned while he was on the phone with our real estate agent. “We’re getting a house just a few blocks away from Daddy’s parents so you’ll see all your grandparents anytime you want.” That was true because while my mom didn’t live in the same neighborhood, she wasn’t more than a mile away. Uncle Zack would also be nearby. “You’ll have your own bedrooms, too.” “Yay!” they shouted again. “Plus, you’ll be able to skate on the pond every winter.” “Awesome,” said Jack. His tone gave the pond a reverence that I liked. Meanwhile, Travis looked like he might explode from excitement. “When do we move?” Travis asked, his mouth full of food. “Hopefully Daddy’s figuring that out right now.” Alex spoke so quietly I couldn’t make out what he was saying while I was talking to the boys. “When do we get to see it?” Jack asked. “We can drive by the house tomorrow. But we can’t go inside. There’re still people living there.” “They need to get out of our house,” Travis said, looking like he was ready for a fight. I had to hold back my laughter. “So,” Alex said, dropping his phone in his jacket pocket. “We’ll close right after Christmas and can move in the first week of the new year.” “Great timing,” I said. “What about school?” Jack asked. “We can probably make arrangements to keep you where you are for the rest of this year. Next fall you’ll start school here.” They both looked thoughtful for a moment, which was adorable on their ten-year-old faces. Hopefully the school switch wasn’t going to be a big deal. “When can we skate on the pond?” Travis asked. “We’ve got a game there on Sunday, I bet we can skate on it then.” That was a good idea. It’d be kinda awesome to get everyone’s kids out on the ice together. We could talk about that tomorrow. The waitress came and we ordered ice cream and more cocoa. Jack and Travis were chatterboxes about the new house. Luckily Alex had pictures on his phone so we could show them. The house was the perfect cap for the day. While it was still four years away, I hoped at least one of the boys would play hockey at Central. I’d love to be in the stands with Alex watching them skate at Archer Rink.

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