“Did you see?” Beth asked over the phone.
“I saw.” How could I not? Eight people had called, texted or emailed. And Billy had even stopped by the library on his day off. Every one of them with the same story: Alex Tanguay returns to Calgary Flames.
I could blame everything on the spectacularly bad Alberta winter of 2006-2007. Power was going out all over town, even in the nicest neighborhoods.
“Can I help you?” I asked the thousandth person that day. I didn’t recognize him at first, hat pulled down and jacket collar turned up. Then I saw his bright blue eyes and there was no mistaking Alex Tanguay.
“Can I use the internet here?”
If he thought I was pretty or nice, if he even saw me at all, he didn’t show it. The library was full of people using the computers, hanging out in the electricity and warmth. None of the internet terminals were free, but hey. I’m a hockey fan.
“You can use the one in my office,” I said, leading him around the side of the main circulation desk. I said “my office” so he’d know I was doing him a favor. It didn’t register. He plopped down at my desk with a cursory thank you and went to work. I closed the door behind myself.
An hour later, he came out to the desk. “Thanks for letting me use your office,” he said, actually looking at me this time. He was paying attention now. “I was going to get a coffee. Can I come back and finish? Can I bring you something?”
“Umm, sure. I’d love a hot chocolate.” Surprise probably rang in my voice.
He came back fifteen minutes later, hands gratefully wrapped around the warm cups. I watched him stomp his boots in the entry way to knock the snow off. That’s nice. Most people don’t do that.
In fact, most people treated the library like a barn. Forget the rule about talking – that’s an old wives’ tale. But people yell, kids run, books are left everywhere but where they belong. And everyone touches everything, which is really gross when you think about it. An old man at the nearest computer blew is his nose as Alex handed me the cup. The honking lasted a good thirty seconds before the man wadded his soggy handkerchief and stuffed it back in his pocket.
Alex shuddered. “Really, thanks for letting me use your office.”
Thirty minutes later, the sheriff stopped in and announced the power had been restored to most of the area. I knocked on my door and told Alex. A few minutes later he came to all bundled up. He passed me a book – the new James Patterson novel – to sign out.
“Uh, I don’t have a library card. I didn’t think of that.”
“I can sign you up for one,” I almost laughed. “Or you can just borrow it. It’s not like we don’t know where to find you.”
He looked surprised. “Oh. Yeah. I guess. Well…” he stopped in mid-sentence. “I was only getting it so I’d have an excuse to ask you out anyway. If I borrow it, you have to give me your phone number or you might never get it back.”
Now I was really surprised. He’d barely looked at me twice. But he had brought me a treat. I should put all the cute guys in my office, I thought. I wrote my number on the back of a neon green bookmark and stuck it inside the front cover. I held it out to him, but didn’t let go.
“How will you call me if you don’t know my name?”
He pulled the book from my hand. “Call you later, Lauren.”
He’d called. We’d gone out. Instead of looking at me, Alex had looked at the photos in my office – there were many. And he’d seen my name on a million things lying on my desk. Still, I thought he was pretty clever.
That first season was magic. We were crazy about each other. Alex hit a career high in points. The playoffs were short-lived: the Flames went in seeded 8th and were knocked out in the first round. Alex took it hard, but all the guys did. We spent a lot of his off-season together – he stayed in Calgary for much of it, and I visited him in Quebec a few times. In August, he was back for good and we were strongly together. I’d missed him over the summer, and apparently he’d missed me too. I moved in with him two days before the 2008-2009 season began. Just before the first game, he told me he loved me.
Maybe we got in over our heads. Alex’s season started fine, but soon the games without points were piling up. He worked harder, as if laziness were keeping him off the board. He got moody. When he scored or had a good run of assists, we were like we’d been before. When he didn’t, he seemed to resent my presence in his house. I tried to operate like things were normal, but soon I was wishing for road trips. I began to resent the wives-and-girlfriends commitment, it was keeping me from my job at the library and it diminished me as a person. I was expected to have nothing to do but be his girl. Everything else was supposed to take a back seat to his job. At first, I found that exciting. When things started to fall apart, I didn’t even have myself to fall back on.
In March it became obvious the Flames were going into the playoffs with a low seed. Alex’s point production had been questioned all season, but now the media were turning up the heat. The harder he tried the less he scored. The harder I tried to be there for him, the more he pushed me away. At the end of March, I went to my parents’ house in BC for a week just to get away before the playoffs. I came back for the last home game of the regular season.
Alex should have been at the morning skate. I didn’t know it was optional. So I walked into the house and right into a nightmare.
“Who the fuck are you?” I asked. She was blonde, petite and in my kitchen with no pants on.
“Shit,” she said. “Alex!”
Then she continued to pour herself an iced tea. She opened the cabinet and got the sugar. She even put it away when she was done. I stood, silent and open-mouthed, while this half-naked stranger made herself a drink. He came out of the bathroom in boxer shorts, toweling off his hair. His eyes met mine and he froze.
I’m pretty sure I saw what a soldier sees in battle. Nothing but the blackness. I probably wasn’t fully conscious. A functioning person would have murdered them both with the nearest fork. Instead, I was oddly calm.
“Why does she know exactly where the sugar is in our kitchen?” My voice was completely devoid of emotion.
He just stared. She fucking sipped her drink.
“How long?” I asked her, not him.
“Since Christmas,” she answered. Her expression wasn’t gleeful, but it wasn’t scared. Four months. They were practically dating. And she certainly wasn’t worried about me.
I hadn’t even put my bag down. So I carried it right back out.
He chased me to the car. At least he did that. Maybe he called my name. Maybe he had something to say. I unlocked it with the remote, got in and peeled out without so much as a pause.
“He’s been here like 50 times,” Billy told me at work a week later. I didn’t care. He’d left a hundred voicemails and I hadn’t listened to one. The voicemail was full, so he just called and called, letting it ring endlessly. When I left the library that afternoon, he was sitting on the bumper of my car. The Flames were down 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs and just back from the trip to San Jose.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“You are a lot of things, Alex. Sorry barely even makes the list.” I didn’t approach the car. I knew he wouldn’t leave until he’d had his say. Better to get it over with and never have to see him again.
“I made a huge mistake. The whole season got to me so much, I fucked up. I love you. Please come home.” He looked sad and small, begging. He had beautiful eyes. But I was really over that.
“Are you kidding? Someplace where you sleep with another woman for four months is not my home. I will never set foot in that house again. I’d rather see it burned to the ground.”
“Too late, Alex. Way too late.”
When the team was in San Jose, I had Beth use my key to collect my stuff. She left it on his counter when she was done. Calgary got knocked out in seven games. Alex called another hundred times to no answer. I assume he went home for the summer. He asked for a trade and on June 8, the Flames sent him to Montreal. I drove by his house and saw a For Sale sign in the yard.
That was two years ago.