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Bitter Path

"I can't escape the weight of my mistakes
No matter what I do, they won't let me forget
Every step seems harder than the last
I am crushed under the hearts of callous men."

“I figured I would find you here.”

I stay reposeful as Craig sits next to me on the frigid curb right outside of the arena and folds his hands in his lap. It's a relatively serene day in the city of Pittsburgh...well, as serene as an ample city can be. Snowflakes fall from the sky aimlessly like diminutive fluffs of crisp powder, only melting when they hit the sidewalk or anything else that gets in their path. I wrap my pea coat tighter around my trembling body, I didn't want to be in the glacial weather, but I had to get away from that damn arena. Despite the magnitude of the large building, I always felt like I was suffocating in there.

This entire city is smothering me, along with its rotten people.

Out of my peripheral vision I can see Craig gazing at me with an irresolute expression. Maybe he was too frightened to say anything that my fragile mind would conceive in an erroneous way. We had always been precisely alike in that aspect of life; thinking about our words before actually speaking them.

“How did things get this way?” Craig asks slowly, his nimble fingers clench the strap on his dufflebag queasily, “I don't understand how you could just be perfectly fine one day, and the next day you're dead on the inside. Does this have to do with him?”

My head directly snaps up and I glower at him, Craig doesn't even have to say his first name and I already know who he is talking about. I perceive the look of aghast in his dark eyes when he sees the rage evident on my face. I immediately understand why; it's the only raw emotion that he has seen from me in months.

Besides sorrow and desperation, of course.

He nods, “I knew it. Jordan is still bitter about it too.”

“Jordan has nothing to do with this,” I snarl and hastily stand up, almost slipping on the icy sidewalk in the process, “I could care less about how he, or anyone else for that matter, feels about the situation I'm in.”

Craig's eyes bore into mine indignantly, “You still love him,” The revelation hits him like a freight train and he almost seems horror-struck by the fresh idea, “You just can't let go, can you? Even though he's dead and gone, you'll never be the same without him.”

My heart steadily sinks to the bottom of my stomach and my vision burns as I try to control my tears. I despised how omniscient Craig could be, he always seemed to have the mentality of an elder and was wise beyond his years of existence. I'm glad when my vision starts to blur, because the last thing I want to see is the immense quantity of pity that are apparent on his features. My derelict vision doesn't work at all though, and I can feel the ignominy radiating from his remorseful body.

He places a hand on my shoulder and tugs me into his frame so he's hugging me, but it does absolutely nothing to console the agony that burns profoundly from my soul. I mutely return the embrace, my fingers grasp at the fabric of his soft hoodie despairingly. I place my chin against his shoulder blade because he's so much taller than I am, and I gaze out lifelessly to the world in front of me. My saline tears roll down my cheeks, over my lips, and onto my chin where they stain the material of Craig's hoodie. His ample hand is abruptly on the base of my skull, and I realize he's comforting me like he would comfort Rhys if he fell on the ice and got a boo-boo, or if Francesca fell off her bike and scraped her knee.

I weep harder when the apprehension that someone genuinely cares about me hits me viciously. I peek over his shoulder, and I see a tiny flash of blonde hair out of the corner of my eyes. Jordan is exiting the arena, not a care in the world as he strides pompously to his extravagant car. He peers around the parking lot, probably looking for fans, but only finding me in the process.

He pauses in his tracks and his blue eyes take in my pathetic appearance; it's not the first time he's seen me cry so I don't really care that he is seeing me like this. The aquiline smirk he usually wears on his face has been entirely stripped away, and he seems sincerely dumbfounded to see me in such a conciliatory state.

Jordan and I always haven't hated each other so much, in fact we used to be able to tolerate each other. I guess we have both changed for the worst though, and our old relationship that we used to have would never be restored again.

Seeing the agile flash of inclination in his blue eyes brings me a miniscule splinter of hope, until the soft stare transitions into one of hatred and pure disgust.

I try to muster up a glare, but I just can't.

After everything that has happened in the last two years, Jordan Staal deserves to hate me.


Lunch seems to drag on for hours, when in reality it's only minutes.

Jordan, who is usually loud and obnoxious, is suddenly uncommunicative and fractious. I wonder if joining the guys for lunch was a good idea in the first place, but being the brand-new guy on the team I was trying urgently to be more active in the team's activities. Nisky and Paul had also agreed to go, which I was appreciative for. As of right now, they're the two main guys I actually trust on the team.

I bite back a smirk when all of the guys groan at Kristopher Letang's girlfriend, Casey, who's talking about the Boston Bruins. Surprisingly enough, she knows a great quantity of information about hockey and though she could be loud at times, it's nearly impossible to not like her unique personality and knowledge for the sport we play. I'm also grateful for her presence, because without her dreadful humour this entire table would just be overflowing with hostility.

A loud 'ding!' resonates throughout the diner, signaling that someone has entered. I peer up in time to see Craig shaking the snow from his coat and Ariana trailing not far behind him. She pulls the grey toque off the top of her head and shakes the snow from it and I quickly turn back around right when Ariana catches my gaze. I hear the sound of snow crunching as Ariana's boots scrape against the monstrous yellowish tile of the floor. She runs a hand through her coffee coloured hair that falls past her shoulders and over her breasts. The long curls are lustrous, and I wonder if they feel as soft as they look. Max slides out from his seat next to me, and offers his seat to Ariana, who bashfully accepts. Max smirks at me, and I try to not roll my eyes at his antics.

Instead, I focus on acting as composed as I can as she slides into the booth next to me, her head lowered as she tries not to make eye contact with anybody at the table.

Casey has other ideas though, “Hello! I don't think we've met before, I'm Casey.”

Ariana forges a fake smile and reaches across the table to shake her hand, “Ariana.” Is all she says.

Casey grins, “Not much of a talker, eh?”

Jordan scoffs, “Understatement of the year.”

Casey narrows her eyes at Jordan, who merely disregards her, “Well, I would like to have a quiet friend who is polite and has manners, rather than a friend who doesn't know when to shut their loud, obnoxious mouth.” She says in a smart tone.

Max nearly chokes on his soda, and Ariana pats him on the back as he covers his mouth and tries to alleviate the burning sensation in his throat. I notice the stupor on her face, and I wonder if anyone has ever stood up for her.

“I have an idea,” Jordan starts slowly, “Why don't you go back to Boston and cheer for your shitty team, they're all a bunch of pussies anyways.”

She smirks, “You weren't saying that during the last game when Lucic hip-checked the shit out of you into the boards. I'm surprised he didn't crush ever fucking bone in your body.”

Jordan grunts in response, and takes a sip of his water. The table is pretty much untroubled afterwards, Ariana and Max talk quietly amongst themselves while Casey and Kristopher joke around. I can't stop the smile that tugs the corners of my lips upwards. It's peculiar seeing a man like Kris Letang making awful jokes and acting like a teenager when his customary personality consists of being introverted and solemn.

“How are you?” Ariana turns to me, and her cheeks turn ruddy when my eyes meet hers. She promptly drops her head, and plays with the nail polish on her thumbs.

“I'm good,” I say, “and yourself?”



“I saw the game last night, that was a great assist on the Kunitz goal.” She refers to the train wreck of a game (for Toronto) that we played last night. We had 'slaughtered' them as Talbot had said in the locker room after an 7-3 win.

“Thanks, it was a fun game to play, I thought Toronto was about to give up during that third period.” I say veraciously. There's a lot I have learned from hockey, one of them being that you don't give up until that timer goes out.

She finally makes eye contact with me, and I notice her lower eyelids are kind of puffy. It's evident that she has been crying, but all of the other guys are inattentive to that fact. I feel culpable for some reason unbeknownst to me, maybe it's because I realize that the majority of the team could care less about her. Her eyes finally break the eye contact, and she gazes across the table to meet Craig's stare. Her head drops and she directs her attention to her lap. She sucks in her lower lip and gnaws on it apprehensively as her eyes start to get hazy. I wonder what's going on between them, they couldn't possibly have gotten in a fight. When I glance at Craig's face his expression is hard and unreadable, it reminds me of Coach Dan's face when we start playing badly during a game.

Jordan abruptly stands up, “I'm going to head out, I don't have much of an appetite.” He throws a savage glare to Ariana, who pretends to not see it, but I know better than that.

The excruciation in her dispirited eyes give everything away, and I wonder what has happened in the past between Jordan and Ariana that has made him so enraged towards her. An invisible force clutches at my heart when her petite frame starts to quiver lightly as sorrow consumes her from the inside out.

None of the guys, not even Craig, notices anything when my fingers gently wrap around her tiny wrist underneath the table. I'm not sure why I do it, out of all the ways I could comfort her and I merely grab her wrist? My fingertips brush against one of the opalescent scars on the sensitive flesh, and I wonder what could have possibly drove her to the brink of desperation in which she had resorted into harming herself. Her skin is astonishingly warm, and when she cringes from the initial contact I fear that she's going to pull away from me, but she doesn't.

Instead, she takes the tiniest bit of comfort from the small gesture.


"What's wrong with me?"

Well, there's a lot of ways I can answer that, possibly hundreds of ways. All of those reasons flew out the window as I thought about James at lunch today, and how he had comforted me after Jordan made a scene at the table. I thought about how large and warm his fingers had felt against my skin; almost like a bear's paw, ready to defend me from anything that tried to harm me. The initial contact had shocked me of course, but the gesture had calmed me down, and I instantly forgot about Jordan's abominable stare. This is all a terrible idea though, I've known this man for a few weeks and he's already closer to me than any of the other guys on the team are, with the exception of Craig and Max.

You're letting him get to you... this is dangerous.

I wish my brain would shut up so I could fall asleep already. All of these overwhelming thoughts about James, Craig, and Jordan had consumed my mind from the second I laid down in bed and pulled the sheets over my frail body. I am exhausted both physically and mentally, but my brain wouldn't give me the peace I deserved. That's how my brain works though, always arguing with my soul about pointless shit that has no relevancy to my choices in life at all.
The scarred flesh of my wrist tingles when James pops into my mind again. I scowl petulantly and trace the skin with the tips of my fingers, wanting the unaccustomed sensation to dissipate.

I won't let him get close enough to hurt me.

I refuse to let anyone into my heart, including Craig. What's the point if they're either going to leave you, hurt you, or die in the end? I'm not ignorant, and I'm sure as hell not blind as to how inhumane people can be. I used to be a naïve little girl who let everyone in, and look where that got me in life. No, there is not one person who can earn my trust, not Craig nor James. I don't care if I end up a dejected old woman who's never been loved by a man, I couldn't give a shit about love anyways. I have too much hatred and sorrow in my body to love someone, and that will never change.

Can you really miss a time that never existed?

I always wish that I could be happy, just like when I was a little kid. Now that I think about it, I was never even happy as a kid. My parents were pieces of shit, my friends all lied to me, and everyone I have ever felt affection for either left me or died. I know I'm perfectly capable of being happy, but I refuse to let it happen. Why? Because I'm fucking terrified of feeling any emotion other than depression and anger, it's all I have felt for the past two years and I'm not about to change that. It's not like I deserved to have the privilege of being happy, especially after all of the people I have hurt in the past two years.

Tears shamelessly leak out of the corners of my eyes as I think about the situation I have created with Jordan and how he could never forgive me after everything I have done. I think about Craig, who is just trying to help me get better, and yet I just shut him out of my life.
Yeah, that's just how my life is; always hurting people.

I'm a fucking hypocrite and I know it. I hate getting close to people out of fear that they're going to leave me, when in reality I'm the one hurting people.

Maybe that's why I'm so scared to even look at James, he's too sweet and kind for his own good, and I'm just... me.

The thought of ever hurting someone like James literally makes me sick to my stomach, and I hastily throw out all distressing thoughts that devour my mentality.

It's not like he wants you anyways.


“How have you been liking Pittsburgh?”

My eyes broaden when I realize who's talking to me, and I immediately stop unlacing my ice skates. It's the first time Jordan Staal has even attempted to start a conversation with me, and when I look up I see Craig's and Max's eyes shoot up in confusion and uncertainty.

“I-uh, I've been really enjoying it,” I bite back the impulse to ask him all of these questions that are shoved to the front of my tongue, “the team is really great, and the people are nice.”
He smirks, “What, did Shero pay you to say that? I'm not a reporter, so you don't have to talk to me like one.”

Is this man always in a fussy mood?

“I mean it, I really like it here. The team is really supportive.” I say truthfully. Sure, it got quite lonely in my temporary house that my agent had found on short notice, but the people here were actually pretty friendly. It was definitely strange going from a city like Dallas to the hockey obsessed 'Burgh.

Jordan grins and elbows me in the ribs, “Just a helpful tip, the women here are crazy, so I would be careful if I were you.” I could have sworn that he threw a momentaneous glance at Craig Adams who sits across from us in the locker room, incognizant of our conversation as his thumbs smash against the keyboard on his cell phone.

“I'll keep that in mind,” I lie and continue on my task of getting my skates off of my aching feet.
The warm ups are completely different here than they are in Dallas, and by different I mean more brutal. I look to my left, only a few feet away from where I'm sitting Matt Niskanen is slumped forward on the bench and I try my hardest not to laugh at how ridiculous he looks. His clenched fist is pressed to the side of his cheek, his mouth is completely hanging open, and his eyes are shut snugly as he snores. Pascal is trying to wake him up with no prevail and after a while he just gives up and walks away. I thought I had been tired from practice, but I guess it's evident that Nisky is just entirely wiped out from the torturous exercises.

I grab my hockey stick and forcefully tap his skate, causing him to instantly jump, his arms flail around for a few seconds. Some of the guys stare at me surprised, but I know the only way to wake up Matt Niskanen from a deep sleep is to hurt him physically, or scare the living daylights out of him.

He promptly wipes at the corners of his mouth and chin where a stream of drool has been piling up, “Thanks Nealer,” he murmurs blearily.

“You think that was bad?!” Flower exclaims, “You should see Coach Dan when we really piss him off!” Flower laughs, and I can almost hear a hint of evil mixed in with his blissful chuckles.
With the way he and Max act together sometimes, I wouldn't be stunned if they got in trouble with the coach a lot.

“Hey Nealer, you coming over to Mario's house for the team breakfast tomorrow?” Paul asks, and my first impulse is to politely decline, but then I remember that I'm trying to involve myself in team activities so I don't seem like a complete loser

“Sure, it starts at 9, right?” Paul nods and confirms my suspicions.

“Too bad Ariana isn't going to be there,” Max says with a shit eating grin on his face, and makes kissing noises like a 5 year old who's teasing his best friend.

I ignore Craig's hard stare and shove all of my equipment into my dufflebag. My fingertips involuntarily tingle as I recall that moment in the diner and I quickly wipe my fingers on the front of my t-shirt, but it does nothing to alleviate the peculiar sensation. The guys leisurely exit the locker room, and I try to disregard the realization that only Craig and I are left in the room. The spacious locker room which usually feels so astronomic, suddenly suffocates me when Craig decides to speak up.

“Don't even bother.” Is all he says.

“What?” I try not to sound idiotic, but the Harvard graduate has that same effect on everyone.

“With Ariana,” his eyes bore into my heatedly, “I can already tell that you're trying to be friends with her, it's not going to work.”

Instead of backing down, my stubborn side speaks up for me, “And why is that?”

I'm genuinely curious as to what he has to say.

“Because,” he starts slowly, “She won't let you, no matter how hard you try. She's always been like that, she's stubborn... more stubborn than you are. I get it, you're the new guy and you probably think she's pretty or whatever, but you need to stay away from her. She hurts people, that's just how she is and there's absolutely nothing you can do to change that.”

His harsh words surprise me, "Your lack of faith in her is very reassuring."

He glares at me, evidently detecting the sarcasm in my voice, "Stay away from her Neal, or you both will end up in a shit ton of pain. It has happened before, it will definitely happen again."

“Maybe it's different this time.” I suggest, trying to sound strong, but my diminished voice gives away my facade.

Craig scoffs, “Trust me, she won't let anyone close enough to even think about hurting her.”


Hope you guys enjoyed this chapter!

I haven't been getting any comments and it's kind of harder for me to update when I don't know how you guys feel about this story. Plus when I do get comments, it motivates me to update :)

So leave a comment if you can and I promise I'll update very soon <3


This story really hits home for me. As someone who has suffered from depression/postpartum depression, I totally relate to Ariana. I really want to see where this goes. Please update.

MaattaMia3 MaattaMia3
I'm really enjoying this story! It's so well written, descriptive, emotional. I always look forward to more chapters to see what's going to happen!
Your story is perfect, and you absolutely need to update more! I love it, and I'm 99.9% sure everyone else who reads it loves it too. Update next as soon as possible please! :)
So I follow this story on the regular mibba site, and just let me say. I can't handle the feels.
Bugalouie Bugalouie