The crown went wild – with both cheers and taunts – the moment our skates touched the ice. Their reactions weren’t all that surprising, considering the rivalry between us ran deep.
As deep as the sea of red along one side of the stadium and blue on the other.
The Fire Department versus the Police Department – Red versus Blue – the Battle of the Badges charity fundraisers were always spirited events.
Spirited, as in the majority of the crowd had started tying one on well before game time, so they were already feeling pretty loosened up.
And their liquor loosened lips were spewing hatred for the opposing team and love for their own, on either side of the rink.
This time a year ago I had positively reveled in it. The rivalry between our two departments was as real as the hockey sticks in our hands and the testosterone fueled environment we lived and worked in, only fed the heated arguments that popped up between us both on and off duty.
At times, I had both instigated it and borne the brunt of it.
So the only explanation I could come up with, for the change that had occurred between now and then, was karma had decided it’d had enough and stepped in to repay me in kind.
A chance encounter, a broken heel, and a red umbrella were all involved.
Each one on its own was benign enough, but the combination of the three…
Karma had knocked me on my ass.
But before I ended up on my ass on the ice, I forced myself to focus on the present instead of the past. While we loosened up our legs, getting used to being on the ice, as the team captain for the red team it was my duty to get our fans all riled up.
So keeping that in mind, I skated over to our side – the red side – and lifted my hockey stick over my head, growling at them like a caveman cornered by a T-Rex, but my crazed sneer morphed into a grin watching their arms and faces automatically mimicking my actions.
So maybe I still reveled in it a little bit.
In the next moment I saw someone in the crowd on our side toss something out onto the ice, but it wasn’t until it landed that I could make out what it was.
The severed head from a stuffed toy pig.
Not to be outdone, the other side of the rink was soon covered by the rainfall of red poppy flowers thrown out onto the ice.
‘Poppies’ was one of the nicer things the cops referred to us as.
Because we all wore red hats and came together in bunches.
More stuffed pigs – both with and without their bodies attached – flew out onto the ice in return and the decibel level only ratcheted up another ten notches, with both sides of the stadium going crazy.
Cheers and boos.
They could probably be heard two towns over.
I could feel it vibrating through the ice underneath my feet and the vibration only grew once the ice was cleaned up and the lights dimmed, with the sound of Guns N’ Roses Welcome to the Jungle now blaring through the sound system.
It was a mainstay of the Battle of the Badges events thanks to the nickname they’d spawned.
Guns N’ Hoses.
It took another twenty minutes for the introductions to be given and the causes named that would be benefiting from the night’s proceeds before the game actually started. But skating over to the center ice, I had to hide my dread seeing the opposing player I would be facing off against.
I took it as karma’s way of letting me know it wasn’t done with me yet.
Even if I’d been standing in front of him barefoot on the ice, I still would’ve had five inches on him in height, and yet I still felt apprehensive.
But it had nothing to do with his size.
“Glad to see ya could make it,” he grinned evilly. “Figured all you poppy pussies woulda been hard pressed to leave your beds, since ya get paid to sleep.”
It was a tried and literally true taunt the men in blue often used, seemingly sticking in their craw that we could sleep at work, if there wasn’t anything else going on. And had he been anyone else – anyone else to include Father O’Malley, our house priest – I wouldn’t have hesitated to make a quip about waking up with my dick in his mom’s mouth.
But he wasn’t anyone else.
Not that he had any clue he had any kind of hold on me.
He may have been trained to detect crime, but he hadn’t clued into that yet.
But knowing he might begin to suspect something was up if I didn’t say anything snide in return, I let my actual sincerity shine through when I offered, “You know, we’re not all that different.”
A true statement of fact.
The truth of which I had to keep to myself, so at his raised brow, I showed him the asshole he expected to see by following up with a smirked, “We both wanted to be a fireman when we grew up.”
The official calling a start to the game stopped any retort he could have made, but the heated glare he aimed my way told me he would be looking to get payback at some point in the night.
That point occurred in the third period.
We were down by a score of three to two and while there had been a few minor brush-ups, nothing major had gone down between our two teams.
The harmony lasted all the way up until I was blindsided from behind by a cross-check to the head.
I was only vaguely aware my attacker had been Stackhouse, hearing his shouted, “Timber!” on my way down, before I slammed face first into the ice.
That was when the brawl broke out.
Gloves and sticks fell to the ice, with both benches clearing, and once the stars cleared from behind my eyes, I joined in the ensuing fight.
Everyone was red by the time it was over.
But there hadn’t been much the refs could do other than wait for us to tire out.
Who were they gonna call?
The delay in game, both from the fight and the resulting first aid, lasted about thirty minutes. Stackhouse was ejected for game misconduct, as were a few other players as a result of the fight, but we got the last laugh by scoring the game winning goal, just as the buzzer sounded.
The guys – of course – wanted to celebrate our win, but all I wanted to do was climb into bed. So I begged off – blaming the headache I didn’t really have – and headed out, stopping by my place for a quick shower before leaving again.
I’d been sitting on her stoop for more than an hour by the time she showed up, feeling my black eye and split lip growing in size with each passing minute. I knew I should have grabbed an ice pack before I left, but I’d had enough ice for one night.
“They weren’t exaggerating,” she chuckled softly through pouting lips, when she was close enough to see my face.
I winced slightly when my lips automatically turned up in the corners seeing her and I sounded a little pouty myself when I asked, “What took you so long? You should’ve been home an hour ago.”
“Choir practice ran long,” she frowned, either from being held up at work or from getting a better look at my injuries, now that she’d taken a seat on my lap.
But it was finally having her in my arms that made the sigh escape through my lips and not out of any resentment she’d been forced to work late.
Working in her father’s bar – a cop bar, owned and run by her retired cop father, with her being a descendant of a long line of men in blue – I knew Sookie couldn’t claim injured-fireman-boyfriend and just up and leave.
Especially since we’d won the game.
Choir practice – the telling of war stories between fellow men in uniform – would have been the only way for them to soothe their bruised egos.
The liquor would soothe their bruised bodies.
But our year long relationship was a secret from everyone but us.
Ever since the night a chance encounter, a broken heel, and a red umbrella turned my life upside down.
As much as I wanted us to move forward – I’d proposed to her countless times already – I understood her reticence. Her brother’s attitude was the same one held by all of her family.
She’d grown up with the rivalry between our two sides existing as though it had a corporeal form.
And while I admired her loyalty to some extent and understood her fear at telling her family about us, that didn’t mean I’d given up hope.
I knew she was already mine.
It was the rest of the world that just didn’t know it yet.
Gently cupping my face in her hands, she leaned forward and peppered tiny kisses over every injury she could see.
The amount of kisses I received told me I probably looked a lot worse off than I knew, so I didn’t argue when she stood up from my lap and took my hand, saying, “Let’s go inside and get some ice for your face.”
Following behind her, my eyes appreciated the curve of her ass in the jeans she was wearing, while I told her, “Your brother had the same idea tonight, but I prefer your method of delivery.”
“He’s such an ass,” she huffed, making me smile hearing her taking my side. And my smile only grew wider – and hurt my face more – when she came at me with an ice pack now in her hand and said, “And his ass is probably exploding right now. I slipped a heaping dose of castor oil into his beer when I heard him bragging about what he did to you.”
Taking the ice pack from her hand, I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her body closer to mine before pressing a soft kiss against her lips and said, “You really do love me.”
“To the moon and back,” she smiled.
Figuring now was as good a time as any, my words sounded more rhetorical than questioning, when I said for the umpteenth time, “When are you going to marry me.”
I knew she loved me.
I knew she wanted to marry me.
I knew I was wearing her down by not giving up on asking her to.
I just didn’t know when she would finally agree.
Back when this thing between us first started, I’d had no idea we would come this far. I knew she hadn’t either, with both of us thinking it would be a one night stand.
Which then morphed into a late night booty call/friends with benefits type of relationship.
I only figured out it was more than that for me when – three months in – it dawned on me I hadn’t even looked at another woman since the night we’d first hooked up.
I’d known who she was that first night. I’d seen her at her family’s side at various Guns N’ Hoses events. And maybe – initially – a part of my attraction stemmed from the fact a part of me viewed her as forbidden fruit.
She was a Blue Blood.
My blood was red.
Being with her was akin to committing adultery, without the horrible reality of being married to other people.
Now, being with her, was the only time I felt whole.
We were right together.
But I could already tell from the sadness behind her eyes that tonight wouldn’t be the night she would accept my proposal.
That was okay though.
I’d inevitably ask again.
The ring I’d taken to carrying around in my pocket wasn’t going anywhere until it ended up on her left hand.
But I had to give her an ‘A’ for effort when she tried to soften the blow by teasing, “Well, I started a rumor around the bar that I was a lesbian to keep the guys away, so if we got married now, you’d have to dress up in drag.”
“Okay,” I smiled, calling her bluff.
I’d do it in a heartbeat if I thought she would actually follow through with marrying me.
But feeling the need to act like she didn’t have my balls on a leash – even though we both knew she did – I stipulated, “But I draw the line at shaving my pits. It itches like hell growing back.”
A fact I learned the hard way, during my time on my high school’s swim team.
“That’s a line I won’t draw,” she laughed. “But I will draw the line at you looking prettier than me in a dress.”
An impossible feat in my eyes.
In my eyes, no one was more beautiful than her.
“But we’ll have to come up with something better than Erica to call you,” she grinned. “My family will see right through that.”
“We can use my stage name,” I smiled, playing along. And seeing the same raised brow her brother had shown me a few hours earlier, I tossed my imaginary long locks over my shoulder and added effeminately, “Lady Libido Lushbody.”
Her face lit up, with her laughter lighting up every part of me.
God, I loved her laugh.
I loved to be the cause of her laughter.
I loved her.
It was the only thing that made the secrecy shrouding our relationship bearable.
We did what we could to have a normal relationship, as much as keeping it hidden from everyone we knew could be described as normal. But we went on dates. We’d even taken a few stolen weekends together, but any relationship we maintained outside the confines of our apartments took place out of town.
Way out of town.
At first I hadn’t been too keen on anyone in the firehouse finding out I was fucking Sookie on a pretty regular basis. I didn’t want to be subjected to the disapproving looks I knew I would get for being viewed as a traitor of sorts.
Even worse, I didn’t want to hear any of them making any kind of remarks – disparaging, speculative, or appreciative – about what she was like in the sack.
That was for me to know.
And for them to never find out what she looked or sounded like, lost in the throes of ecstasy.
Even when we ‘came out’ that would still be my secret.
“Well then, Lady Libido Lushbody,” she purred, rubbing her lush body against mine, which informed me her lady libido was in high gear. “What do you say we hit the sack and we’ll see if you live up to your name, while we scratch each other’s itches?”
Keeping her body pressed against mine, I slowly shuffled us back to her bedroom and teasingly smiled, “This is why I love you. You accept all of me.”
“Just wait until I get your pants off,” she grinned, with a promise in her voice and a waggle of her brows. “Then you’ll see just how much of you I can accept.”
I already knew the answer to that of course.
And despite the ache in my abused body, I was still more than willing to find out all over again.
Just like I was more than willing to wait until she was ready to take on her family’s scorn and disapproval by telling them about us.
Sookie was worth the wait.