Hold On Tight
[Twelve] I Never Told You
He was nervous, that was obvious to everyone who looked at him as he sat alone at the table that was in the middle of the room. He kept fidgeting with his cloth napkin, moving it from his lap to the table and then back over and over again. He felt as if he couldn’t breathe. Checking his watch for what felt like the hundredth time, he sighed. 6:15.
They had agreed to meet at the restaurant he chose at 6:30, but he had been so on edge all day that by the time 5:45 had come around, he had to get out of his house before he changed. Again. For the third time. He put his head in his hands as his elbows rested on the table. He was pathetic. It was just dinner – he’d eaten with her before – but, of course, that was the reason he was so jittery.
He tried to remember the last dinner they had together, but like all of his memories of those last months together, he could never find any happy ones. They were a twinged with an edge of sadness. He had taken her for granted and he wouldn’t be surprised if the last time he had taken her to dinner was for his own birthday, months before she left him in that bar.
He gulped as he thought about how much of an ass he’d been and knew he had a long way to go to even attempt to make up for everything he had done to her. He wasn’t proud of who he was in Boston, of what everything thought he was in Boston. It hadn’t been until he got to Dallas, til he found himself having to prove himself against the low expectations of everyone around him, that he actually started to understand what he had done to himself. What he had done to his career. What he had done to her.
He was jarred out of his thoughts when the chair across from him moved away from the table and the beautiful blonde he had been waiting for sat down in it. He was stunned for a second, his heart not wanting to fully believe his eyes just in case they were deceiving him.
She was keeping himself distanced from him. She never greeted anyone with a ‘hello,’ not unless she didn’t like you. He had noticed it when they hung out with his teammates in Boston – practically everyone he had associated with had gotten the stiff ‘hello’ he got now.
“Hi, Haley.” Damn, she was beautiful. More beautiful than she was when she was 21.
She didn’t look at him, just picked up the menu that was in front of her and studied the words, her lips moving as she bit at them. He quirked a small smile – she was nervous. A memory flashed of her bite ridden lips after the final World Championship game in 2012 and a kiss that tasted faintly like blood.
He cleared his throat when he realized he had just been staring at her with a stupid smile on his face. “So, how have you been? Brayden mentioned that you went to New York a couple weeks ago.”
A flinched crossed her face before he found himself looking into her blue eyes. She put down the menu, still open and ready for when she wanted to avoid looking at him again. “I’ve been good. New York was a business trip, I usually have to go a once every couple of months and then whenever I have events to schedule for the authors I work with.”
Tyler nodded his head. “What do you do? I remember you had wanted to work in publishing.”
The small surprised smile that tugged at her mouth didn’t go unnoticed by him. “Yeah, actually. I’m an editor. I have a remote job with a publishing company stationed in New York, but I also do some freelance stuff for a handful of published authors I’ve met throughout the years. Sometimes I work directly with their publishers to make sure everything is going smoothly, mostly because I become close with the writer during the editing process and they trust me with their work – most authors have a particular vision for how they want things to be done.”
“Wow, how’d you get into it all? In Boston, it seemed as if you were having trouble getting internships.”
Tyler knew she was shocked that he seemed to remember details that he had learned about her years ago. He couldn’t help but picture how she would react when she found out that he remembered pretty much everything about their time together. It was the one thing he was able to hold on to when he lost her – the memory of her.
“A friend of mine is a writer and I edited his stuff throughout grad school. He helped me land a position at the local newspaper in Dallas, and when he moved to New York with a book contract, he told them he had an editor already. They asked for samples and tested me out, then offered me a remote position so that I could stay with him.” Haley gave him a little shrug. “It’s been a good gig. I make my own hours and take clients as I want them.”
“That’s really great, Haley.” He smiled warmly at her. “I know it doesn’t mean much, but I’m happy for you – for the life you made here."
She didn’t get a chance to respond before the waiter appeared beside their table to ask about what drinks they wanted. Tyler couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed at the interruption and wished he had suggested something a little more private than a crowded restaurant.
He felt even worse when he saw the eyes the waiter was making in Haley’s direction.
It wasn’t a new feeling to him – when they were dating, he had to deal with men flirting with her almost as often as she had to deal with his female fans. She was beautiful and everyone seemed to know it. The only consolation he had was that she was his. He was the one she would be going home with after a night out, his hands were the only that were constantly on her waist when they were in public. Now, he didn’t have that guarantee. She could decide at any moment that she wanted to see someone, and he didn’t have any pull to stop her. She was free to do what, and who, she pleased while he was so captivated by her that no girl could ever tempt him into more than a conversation.
He wasn’t used to this. This wasn’t him. He wasn’t the person to pine after someone he didn’t know he had a chance with – but that was what made everything go wrong in the first place. The new Tyler, the one he became after he realized she was never coming back, the one that coming to Dallas had forced him to be, he knew that she was the one he wanted to be with, the one he would love for the rest of his life if she let him.
They didn’t continue their conversation after the waiter had left with their two orders of water. Instead, Haley began to look around the restaurant, her eyes studying every piece of art that lined the dark walls. In turn, he studied her, his mind trying to remember everything about her in case she decided to disappear from his life again. It amazed him how much of her remained the same, even as he could see everything that had changed. Her attention to paintings on the wall, for one, was something she had done everywhere he had taken her. She loved to look at art, whether they were pictures or paintings, and his stomach dropped at the fact that he never took her to any of the museums or art exhibits he had promised all those years ago. That was something he could change this time around.
She had always kept her hair short, her blonde locks barely ever brushing her shoulder. She had once told him it was because long hair was difficult to deal with and she hated finding hair everywhere around her dorm. Now, it was until just past her boobs, with bangs that fell just at her eyebrows. Part of him was amazed she hadn’t messed with them once – she was always frustrated when her hair fell in her face. It was lighter, too, something he hadn’t noticed before in the poor lighting of the bar. Though most of it was still her natural hair color of dirty blonde, it looked as if she now had white highlights. A familiar thought flashed through his mind every time he looked at her. God, she’s beautiful.
He noticed the slight lines around her eyes, a sign that the years between they had last seen one another brought her a lot of laughter. She had been happy without him, and he couldn’t help the edge of panic that built up with that observation. She didn’t need him, not like he seemed to need her, and he couldn’t help but fret about her realizing just how good she had it without him.
His eyes trailed over her shoulders, moving up and down the visible parts of her body that wasn’t hidden by the table. She was thinner than he remembered, her arms with more muscle as if she had started working out. She used to hate it. He remembered how much begging he would have to do to get her to run with him, it was never easy and sometimes he wished he would’ve just let it go with the amount of complaining she would do throughout the route. It had always annoyed the shit out of him and its something he clung too when he tried to convince herself that he didn’t want her – that he didn’t need her.
Looking at her know, he couldn’t believe he ever thought he didn’t need her.
Waters were set on the table, an order for a chicken parmigiana and sausage tortellini were put in, and Tyler continued to fight the urge to tell her he loved her.
Because he did love her. That certainly hasn’t changed in the five years he didn’t have her, no matter how many times he tried to tell himself that she had changed in their time apart. She was harder, with a barrier around her heart that she didn’t have before, and though it seemed as if there were only cosmetic changes about her, he knew the differences ran deeper. But that was fine because he had changed too. He wasn’t the baby-faced boy that didn’t know what he had. He had more facial hair and a lot more tattoos, but more importantly, everything about him changed. He was scared anymore – not of what life with her could be like. He understood, now, that there was a life to live outside of hockey. It was still important, but so was his family and his friends. He realized that beer tasted the same at home as it did at a club, and sex with someone you loved was way better than a casual fuck.
Haley cleared her throat and he realized just how awkward he must have been making her. “So, how’s Dallas? I never thought you would leave Boston.”
Tyler let out a harsh laugh, knowing that although he knew how much he had changed he would have to jump through flaming hoops in order to convince her of it. “I honestly didn’t either, but I’m glad I got traded. Boston was… it wasn’t good. I got caught up in the life of an NHL player on one of the best teams in the league. I fucked up.” He shrugged when he saw her eyebrows raise. “I know I did, I just didn’t really care a whole lot back then. I was a Stanley Cup champion, I was playing good, and I lost you. I was a cocky bastard and it caught up to me. But Dallas – Dallas has been everything I never knew I needed, and when I realized just how much of a shitty reputation I made for myself, I told myself I wouldn’t make the same mistakes and I would do everything I could to make up for the ones I made before.”
“Is that what this is?” She gestured between them. “Making up for a mistake?”
He stared at her, trying to decipher what exactly was flashing in her eyes. Another change about her, she learned to hide. A little bit of fear looked back at him and he modified his thought – she learned to hide some things.
“No.” He flinched at the lie. “Yes.” But that wasn’t all that it was. “Not really.” The closest he could get without pushing herself farther than she would allow him to go.
He changed his mind when she started to shut herself down. Leaning forward, placed both hands on the table. “Fine, Haley. But don’t get mad at me when I go to a place you don’t want me to go.”
She opened her mouth to interrupt him, but he glared at her. Too late now, sweetcheeks.
“I fucked up. Yeah, with my team and with my career, but I didn’t care about that shit. What I cared about was that I fucked up with you. I didn’t know, okay? I didn’t know that you leaving would fuck me up. I thought I would be fine. I thought that once you left that bar, I would be able to go back to who I was before I met you. And I did, but not because I fucking wanted to. I did because I was so fucking lost that I couldn’t fucking breathe without you.” He shook his head. “I listened to my teammates. I shouldn’t have, but I did. That was my first mistake. My second was everything I did after you. But my worst, God Hal, my worst mistake is that I never fucking told you that I loved you.”
Her eyes went wide and her jaw slack.
“So yes, I’m trying to make up for my mistakes with you.” He kept his eyes on hers. He wanted her to see the truth when he told her. “I love you.
It's short, but it's pretty heavy! Comment and Subscribe! The next chapter picks up where this one leaves off.