Christmas Day was a sombre affair. Tony remained in hospital; I visited him in the afternoon before going to my Mum and Dad’s for dinner and exchanging gifts. We had planned to get together in my flat in the evening to swap presents and have a few drinks while watching cheesy Christmas films. Instead, Tony was still under observation and I was sitting alone in my flat drinking by myself. I couldn’t really bring myself to appreciate any of the gifts that my family had bought me – the only thing I wanted was Tony to be healthy and back in my arms.
“Urgh, you’ve got it bad, pet.”
I closed my eyes, not believing that I was actually talking out loud to myself. In an attempt to take my mind off things, I switched on my computer. Without really thinking, I opened a blank word document and started to type. All the fears, feelings, hopes and problems I was currently experiencing flowed through my fingertips onto the screen. I blinked my stinging eyes and glanced at the time – I’d been typing for three hours and had written four thousand words. I read through what I’d put on the page and everything became so clear to me. My life would never be the same again – not due to Lisette’s attack on Tony, but due to so many other things and all of them snowballed from Danny giving me the hockey assignment just a few months ago.
In August, the prospect of reporting for a major publication and travelling all over the country excited me – it was my goal, my dream job. But now … now the thought of missing a Falcons game or not chatting to Mads and Caroline … not seeing Tony almost every day. It was like a knife through my heart. I located the email that Face Off magazine had sent to me and drafted a reply. I was polite but firm and, with that decision made, I felt lighter. I felt like I could really settle; really make plans for the future … really start building a life and relationships with people. I opened a new email to Danny Fowler and explained the offer that had been made to me and that I’d declined due to my desires to remain in the Carlisle area and build my experience with the Evening Times. He had a right to know when someone was trying to poach his staff and I wanted him to know that I wasn’t going anywhere.
Sighing, I turned off the computer and went to bed. I think about Tony and wonder if he’s thinking about me. I think about the stories I’ve read in magazines, about rape victims never regaining the same intimacy with their partners after an attack. In some cases, even sitting too close to them caused anxiety. Snuggling on the sofa was one of my favourite things to do with Tony, but if he wasn’t comfortable with it then we’d find a way. We’ll get through this, whether it takes months or years, we’ll get through it.
Tony got out of hospital on Boxing Day. His Dad picked him up and brought him over to my flat before going to Tony’s to pack some clothes for him. I noticed how tired Tony seemed after walking up the two flights of stairs to my home, he was still weak after everything – the attack, the drugs and the subsequent hospital treatments. I was unsure how to react to it when I saw him struggle across the living room to the sofa. Should I help him? Should I leave him to it? Would he be offended if I even offered to help him?
“Do you need anything?”
“A bit of help would be nice.”
I nod and rush to his side, supporting him until he slumped on the couch and took a deep breath. “I wasn’t sure if you’d get annoyed at me helping you like that.”
“I’m proud – but not pigheaded, love.” He sighs. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”
I go to the linen cupboard and get a blanket and pillow for him. Tony smiles as I get him comfy, sitting the remote controls on the arm of the sofa next to him. I’m just placing a mug of hot tea next to him when his Dad comes back with three big bags. Two regular back packs and Tony’s big Hockey equipment bag. Tony looks at the equipment bag and frowns.
“I won’t be needing that.”
Dave frowns right back at him. “You’ll get your energy back before you know it, you’ll be back on the ice before the New Year – just you wait and see.”
“No, Dad, I won’t. I’ve decided to retire from League Hockey – I’m not saying I’ll never skate again, but I won’t be playing for the Falcons. I’m an old man in Elite League terms, pushing thirty; I had to have my heart restarted with a defibrillator. I’m not fit for that level of play.”
Dave said nothing; he simply nodded and took the equipment bag back down to his car. Tony drank his tea, and I could see he was ready for a nap. I left him in the quiet while I unpacked his bags into the spaces I’d cleared in my wardrobe and drawers. He slept for almost an hour and you could see the good it had done him, he had more colour in his cheeks and seemed cheerier. Caroline had sent me a message asking if he was up to visitors, Tony thought about it for a while before nodding.
“Yeah … but just a couple of folks – I don’t want the whole fucking team trooping in here.”
“Gotcha, I think it’ll just be Mads, Caroline and Miro.”
“Miro and Caroline – those two are joined at the pelvis!” He chuckled and shook his head. “C’mere, I want a cuddle before they all arrive.”
I moved slowly, worried that when I got close to him he’d change his mind. Tony’s arm curled around me as he pulled me into his side and kissed my hair. I tried to stay relaxed and not push him to be more intimate than he already was. My heart was thumping as he used two fingers to raise my chin and place his lips on mine.
“I know you’re being careful around me because of what she did – but I don’t remember any of it. Whatever she did to me, I was so out of it I didn’t know it was happening. You don’t need to hold back, pet.”
I nod and just as I’m about to kiss him, the buzzer for my door goes. I sigh and rest my head on his shoulder for a second before getting up and letting Tony’s visitors into the building. Mads was quick to update Tony on what she’d been told by the police – Lisette was being charged with stalking, sexual assault, forcible entry and attempted manslaughter. She should be put in prison for a lengthy amount of time, but Mads was worried she would plead diminished responsibility and just get some time in a mental hospital instead. Tony agreed with her and suggested arranging a restraining order if she ever gets back on the streets. Everyone agreed that would be a good course of action. Then, Tony told them about his retirement. It was, pretty much, a conversation stopper.
“It’s not just about my health, it’s the interaction with the fans, the women that look at me and just see someone to tick off on their list – I’m a bit sickened of it all.”
Miro nods. “I understand, but Falcons will never be the same without Captain Tony.”
“I’ll still be at the games, just not on the ice for them. Keep it to yourselves for now, I haven’t told coach yet.”
Now that all the serious topics were out of the way, we got round to chatting about other things. Before we knew where we were, it was almost midnight and Tony was struggling to stay awake. I ushered everyone out of the door and took a deep breath when I closed it behind them.
“I’m knackered, pet, let’s get some shut eye.”
Tony wrapped an arm around my shoulder and led me into my bedroom. Once we were in our night clothes, I lie on my side and felt Tony curl around me. It felt safe and natural, my hand found his in the dark and that’s how we fell asleep. His arms were holding me tightly when I woke up and I had to wriggle around a bit, as well as tapping his forearms, to wake him up enough so I could go to the loo. It was only six o’clock in the morning, but I felt wide awake. I went back to my computer and opened the word document I’d started a couple of nights ago. I only looked away from the screen when I heard Tony shuffling through from the bedroom, it was nine o’clock and I’d been writing non-stop for almost three hours.
“You look engrossed in whatever you’re doing!” Tony smiled at me as he appeared from the kitchen with a cup of coffee.
“To be honest, I’m not even sure what it is I’m doing. On Christmas Eve I just started writing everything that I felt and everything that had happened to us and now there’s ten thousand words of bollocks to wade through.”
He put his mug down and took both my hands in his. “You always think its bollocks until you sit down, read it through and tweak it a little. Trust me.”
Tony winked at me and I gave him a watery smile in return, I’m not an author, I’m a journalist. Tony is the writer in this relationship. “Do you want to go over to your place and pack up your writing stuff? Y’know – just in case you want to work while you’re staying here?”
“Sounds good … but where will we put it?”
I blow out a breath and look around. He had a point, I’d seen the size of his desk and the pile of notebooks he had in his office. My flat hadn’t seemed this small before, it was always big enough for me but for two … it wasn’t big enough for two. It’s something I had never had to consider before, sharing my space with someone else and having someone else’s thing amongst my own. Earlier this year I would have balked at the idea but now I was freely considering looking for something bigger.
“I was actually considering selling my place and getting something else, maybe a little house away from the town centre.” Tony picked up his mug and sipped, waiting for my reaction.
“You’re full of big decisions the last couple of days … but I can understand why.” I looked at the huge potted fern I had in the corner of the living room. “We can move that out into the landing, it’ll brighten up the stairwell and make a bit of space for a desk if I put the side table in the bedroom.”
Tony nods. “It’ll be a tight squeeze but it’s not permanent, so I can work with that.”
We get showered and dressed after breakfast and head over to Tony’s. His flat is a wreck from Lisette trashing it in spite; his study had been turned over too. Tony’s notebooks were scattered over the floor, some of them ripped to shreds, he stared at the mess and I saw his jaw tighten in anger. I helped him pick everything up and started to disconnect his computer while he sorted out the loose pages that had been torn from the books filled with his tiny scrawl. It took us almost two hours but we eventually got everything into the boot of Tony’s car. We drove back separately and I helped him carry everything up stairs. Rather than bringing the full size desk from Tony’s study, he brought a smaller table that would fit nicely into the corner we’d cleared. But all the lifting and carrying, and the trauma of seeing what Lisette had done to his home, had Tony plain tuckered out. By the time he woke up from his nap, I’d connected his computer and dinner was ready.
“I could get used to this, don’t spoil me too much.”
I stopped with the plates still in my hands and realised – I wanted to spoil him. I wanted him to get used to this. All these little moments, like eating together or helping one another when we’ve done too much – I wanted it so badly.
It was the last home game of the season, and Falwaite Ice Arena was bursting at the seams. This game would decide if the Falcons made it into the Elite League play-offs. Even Danny was there – apparently my recent match reports and articles had interested a lot of people. I’d noticed the crowd swell over the season, but wasn’t sure if it was fair weather fans who only come to see a tam when they’re doing well. It turns out that a fair few of them were people who had never seen a hockey match before but had been interested in it after reading my column. With that in mind, Danny had increased the amount of page space hockey was given. Now, rather than a quarter page, I had half a page to fill up and also had my name in big letters with a photo next to it at the top.
Tony managed to tear himself away from writing the latest Antionette Hooking novel to come to the game – he’d been holed up in his new home office for the last week working on it. Only coming out for food, drink and sleep. I didn’t mind – it was his job after all, and when it was done, edited and published – I’d be able to read it. He’d moved into a small house in North Falwaite just after Valentine’s day, it’s a work in progress but it’s big enough for all of his belongings and, as Tony had subtly pointed out, mine too when the time came. Right at this moment I was quite happy having my own space again. Caroline also had a new address – the same one as Miro’s. They revealed they had moved in together on New Year’s eve, Caroline’s parents were not happy – to say the least – but you could see how much they loved each other.
The game was close; the Falcons were tied with the Harbourmen going into third period but with twenty seconds to go Sunderland went one up. The reaction from some of the Falcons fans and players was close to riotous but, thankfully, no fights broke out. The same might not have been said if it was Millerpool we had been playing. Everyone stood and clapped as the players lined up and shook each other’s hands. The announcer was involved in a very serious discussion with Miro as we all stood around waiting to find out who was man of the match. Usually, the man of the match is announced, they pick up their crate of beer and they all skate off again. But there was far more chattering between the people on the ice this time. Finally, the announcer did his bit but rather than skate away, all of the players turned to the stand where we were all sitting.
“Before everyone disappears to drown their sorrows or celebrate – depending on which side of the rink you’re on – one of the players has something to say.”
As Miro took the microphone from the announcer, Caroline gripped my hand tightly enough to interrupt the blood flow.
“My Caroline – first we met it was only fun but I knew from that first time that it would never be enough. I am here, putting my feelings out in public, to ask if you will be my wife. Caroline Foster, will you marry me?”
When I turned to Caroline her face was beet red and her lips were drawn so tight they looked like a white line under the flushed tone of her cheeks. I nudged her and whispered. “I think he needs an answer right now, pet.”
She looked at me like she just noticed I was there and blinked before taking a breath and leaning over the barrier. “Yes!”
The crowd went wild and Tony nudged me. “It’s a lovely story – bet it would make a great romance novel!”