Nothing Gets Through Ch. 10
(C) 2009 All Rights Reserved
Lani curled up on the couch as she waited for Dom to come back with the wine. It was five days before Christmas, and the team's schedule was going to get hectic. Lani was flying back to Hawaii the next day, and so they had decided to have a small Christmas celebration early.
It was a good idea, Lani decided. By trading gifts early, it felt like so much of the pressure of the actual holiday was removed. They were both more relaxed--joking, teasing, and enjoying the season. I better enjoy it, Lani thought with a sigh, since the holidays at home won't be much fun. Her brother was going to be there, and that always made things awkward.
"What's on your mind?" Dom asked as he sat next to her. He held out one glass of red wine and she took it.
"Just family stuff." She stared at the wine.
"Tell me," he urged gently. He wanted to know. The more time he spent with her, or thinking about her when he was traveling, the more he wanted to know, the good and the bad.
"My brother will be there, that's all." She looked up. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
He wanted to say 'No,' but he couldn't look in those eyes and lie. So he settled for a loose version of the truth. "I have a few siblings. We're not close."
"Jason and I used to be close," Lani said, and Dom felt guilty at the relief that went through him when she didn't press him. "Now he can hardly stand to look at me."
"He must be stupid then." Dom kissed her forehead. "Any guy that can't look at someone as pretty as you has his wires crossed." As he'd hoped, that got a smile from her.
"It's just hard on my parents." She sighed. "I mean, we don't fight, or even argue. There's just . . . there's just this stiffness all the time. If you ever want to see a textbook demonstration of a stilted conversation, watch the two of us."
"So what happened?" he asked gently. Lani stared at her hands for a moment. It was a hard thing for her to tell people, not that there were many who needed to know. Dom, she decided, should be one of those people.
"My brother was a goalie, like I said," she began. He nodded and idly played with the ends of her hair. "I went to games when I could, but I was in college, too, and so sometimes his schedule clashed with mine. They were getting into the playoffs, but I was snowed under with work and didn't get to many games. The team was just flying, though, and Jason was doing better than he ever had before. He had consecutive shut outs, a low goals-against, all of that."
"Sounds good so far," Dom said.
"He joked that I was doing him a favor by staying away, that he'd never done so well when I'd attended," she said. "Then they got into the NCAA playoffs and made it to the final four. He'd been the year before, and lost in that round, but it was great--they'd never been that far before. I was able to get to the game, the final four game. It all happened fast and I didn't have time to tell him, so I thought I'd surprise him afterwards."
"Okay," said Dom. Obviously the story didn't end well, but he wanted her to tell it in her own time.
"It was a tight game and both sides were taking those subtle, cheap shots. You know what I mean?" He nodded. "Anyway, there was this big collision in front of him and when it was all over, his knee was injured and they had to pull him. They lost the game." Dom winced; he'd had close calls like that himself. "And," she continued, "when he found out I'd been there, he blamed it all on me."
Dom stared at her. "You can't be serious."
"Oh, I am." She gave him a sad smile. "He was furious. He yelled at me and said it was my fault; said I never should have come to the game. He wouldn't even see me for a few months until my mom told him it really hurt her and my father that Jason wouldn't be in the same room with me. So he conceded on that point, for their sake. Now we get together and . . . don't talk if we don't have to."
"Your brother's a jerk." Dom was furious at this man he'd never met. "I mean, I know about superstitions. I know about wearing the same shirt or the same socks or eating the same meal or whatever before a game. But it's never anyone's fault that wasn't on the team. If he couldn't learn that, he never would have made it in the majors, anyway."
"I guess." Lani was quiet for a moment. "Jason was good. Not as good as you, but better than most. He might have had a career at least as a backup, possibly a number one for the right team. Now we'll never know."
"You believe him," Dom said quietly, "don't you? You think it's your fault?"
"Not really," she said, "not intellectually. But for a long time I couldn't help but think it would have been different if I'd stayed home, or watched on TV."
"It wouldn't have made a difference," Dom argued softly.
"I know, I know," she said with a sigh. "It's just . . . he lost something he wanted so much, and he blames me for it. I wish I knew how to make it up to him. I apologized for a long time until I realized it wasn't helping. In some ways I'm mad at him, but I'm past that, too. I just want to put it aside so we can be a family again."
"Well, Christmas is supposed to help things like that." Dom didn't believe it, but it wasn't a bad idea, and she needed the comfort of it. "Maybe this year things will change."
"Nice thought." Lani changed the subject. "What will you do on Christmas? I hate to think of you sitting here by yourself."
"I won't be," he assured her. "Greg and his wife are having a big thing for anybody who can't get home for the day. If I don't go, they'll hunt me down and drag me over, so I'll go and save them the trouble." He gave her a grin. "Karl's bringing Dee."
"That little sneak!" Lani said with a smile of her own. "She didn't tell me. I'll have to give her a hard time about that."
"He really likes her, you know," Dom said, slipping an arm around her and pulling her close.
"I know," she said. "Now we just have to convince Dee."
"You mean she doesn't know?" Dom asked in surprise.
Lani considered. "It's more that she won't let herself think that. She won't get her hopes up." She tilted her head to look up at him. "It's a weird self-esteem thing, I guess, but Dee doesn't think she's good enough for him."
Dom snorted. "Well, she's wrong. He's not good enough for her." It was a cardinal rule to harass one's teammates off the ice, even if they weren't around to appreciate it, Dom thought. He was only adhering to the code.
"No one is," Lani said in stout defense of her friend.
"So, will you miss me?" Dom kept his voice light, but his stomach tightened slightly as he waited for her answer.
"Nope," she said, but he saw the twitch of her lips. "I'll be on the beach with palm trees. I won't miss a damn thing about this place. Hey!" She managed to put her glass down without spilling anything as Dom tickled her.
"Say you'll miss me and I'll stop," he promised, but she didn't believe him.
"No way," she said between giggles. "I'll be drinking piÃ±a coladas and lying on a towel on the beach in a bikini. I'll forget there's anything on the other side of the ocean." She could barely talk as Dom kept up his assault. Then he changed tactics.
Lani was breathless when he stopped tickling her and instead wrapped his arms around her waist and found her lips for a kiss. She drew back slightly and gasped, giving Dom the opportunity to slip his tongue in against hers. Lani felt her thoughts poof away as he deepened the kiss and she wrapped her arms around his neck.
After a long time that wasn't long enough, he pulled his lips from hers. "So," he said, gray eyes glinting, "will you miss me?"
"Yes, I'll miss you." She laughed at the triumphant expression on Dom's face. The phone rang and he frowned.
"I knew I should have taken that off the hook," he said with a sigh. Reluctantly, he got up and answered the phone.
"Hello?" Lani watched over the back of the couch as Dom went very still.
"Yes, I'm here," he said. His fist clenched at his side. "No. No, I don't." Pause. "I don't care. I have nothing to say." He hung up but stayed there, staring out the window. Damn him, Dom thought angrily. Damn him for calling. I didn't want to hear from him and he knows it. He started when he felt Lani slide an arm around him.
"Are you all right?"
He turned to face her, draping his arms around her and pulling her close. "Yeah, I'm fine. It was just . . . family stuff."
"Want to talk about it?" Lani offered gently.
"No," he said, shaking his head. Lani was disappointed, but didn't say anything. She had shared her feelings about her brother, and if Dom wanted to vent, it was only fair. But he looked upset and she didn't want to add to it.
"All right," she said, leaning into him. "But I'm here if you ever do."
"Are you sure I should go?" Dee asked Karl. She fidgeted with the hem of her sweater until he took her hand in his.
"Of course," he said. "Why shouldn't you?"
"Well, I mean, I don't want to intrude . . . I'm not really anybody . . . " Dee trailed off, not sure what she was saying, or why. She wanted to go, and she wanted to be with Karl. It just didn't seem real that the reverse would be true.
At the next stoplight, Karl turned to Dee and cupped her chin, forcing her too look at him. "You shouldn't say things like that." His tone was calm, but she could hear the steel underneath it. He sounded very much like Lani.
"I'm sorry," she said, dropping her eyes. "It's just . . . " she sighed. "No one's ever been as nice to me as you have."
"Well, then, people are stupid," Karl said, and removed his hand as the light turned green. "You won't be intruding, not at all. Greg's been on me to make sure you would come."
"Really?" Dee asked, disbelieving.
"You bet." He smiled. Did she honestly not know how people responded to her? Karl wondered. She still looked nervous, so he tried to distract her. "You sure your parents don't mind that you're not with them?"
She shook her head. "No, they went to Florida to visit my brother," she said. "I didn't have the time to do that, or the money for the flight. Lani's been planning her trip for months. You have to with that distance."
"I've never been to Hawaii," Karl said.
"It's beautiful." Dee sighed wistfully. "I've only been twice, and it's so pretty. Parts of it, anyway. I mean, Honolulu is a big city like pretty much any other city, but the sky is so blue. Lani took me to the beach a lot and the water is just incredible. Her real name is Leilani, you know. Isn't that just lovely?"
"I think Deanne is just as nice." He chuckled to himself when she blushed and looked away. "Perhaps sometime we can both go."
"Once I was there for Christmas," Dee said, willing herself not to be so nervous and ignoring the implications of his last remark. "It was strange to be in a place like that, where it's warm over Christmas. Before that I'd spent all my Christmases in Chicago, and believe me, it was plenty cold."
"I've spent the holidays in lots of places," he said. "It's interesting to see what different people and places do. I would have gone back to Sweden if I'd had more time. This Russian player I know, Anatoli, he flew back for Christmas. All the way to Moscow, can you believe it? He'll have jet lag until after New Year's."
Dee was exceedingly glad Karl hadn't gone back to Sweden, but didn't know if she should say so. She was relieved when he pointed out Greg's house and the conversation switched to the party.
Greg and Bobby greeted her warmly, and Greg's wife, Anne, took her to mingle and meet some of the other wives and girlfriends. Dee's apprehension dissipated as everyone made her feel welcome.
"Merry Christmas, Dom," Karl told him. They clinked beer bottles together in a toast.
"Merry Christmas," Dom said absently. He was missing Lani and found himself frequently musing on how she might look in a bikini.
"How's it going?" Karl asked. "Missing Lani?"
"Yeah," Dom admitted. "Can't seem to help it." He scowled. "She said she was going to lie on the beach in a bikini. That's hardly fair." Karl murmured something in agreement and suddenly found himself having similar thoughts about Dee.
"Dee told me her real name is Leilani," Karl said in an effort to distract himself.
"Yep." Dom nodded. "I talked her into letting me see her driver's license." He grinned. "She hates the picture." Karl laughed.
"Hi, Dom!" Dee came up and kissed him on the cheek. "Heard from Lani?"
"Not today," he said. "I'm figuring she's busy with family, or with jet lag. She called me after she got there and sounded exhausted."
"She will," Dee assured him. "I can't imagine she wouldn't call you on Christmas. When you do talk to her, take it easy, okay? She's probably having a tough time with her family."
"She told me about her brother," Dom said. "It's crazy. You've told her that, right?" Dee nodded.
"Countless times," she said. "And she does know it, that Jason's wrong and she's not to blame. It's just hard to shake it when you think you've hurt someone." She studied Dom. "She must trust you a lot to tell you about it. She hasn't told many people besides me."
"Oh." Dom's stomach made a quick tumble. He had known it was hard for Lani to tell him, but he hadn't realized just how much until Dee said that. Lani had trusted him with something very important to her; she'd let him see how it upset her, trusting that he would understand. It was a little disconcerting to realize how close she had let him get.
To be continued . . .