Hold On Tight
Haley sighed, wrapping her arms around herself as she watched the city lights dance in the dark outside the window of her apartment. Behind her, her friends laughed freely with one another while Noah and Brayden got everything ready for her show later that night. It all seemed so crazy to her, that she had managed to survive in Dallas for five years. She had lived and loved Boston for so long that when she first left, she left as if she couldn’t breathe – like she was constantly holding her breath, just waiting for the walls to close in on her and force her to submit defeat and run back to her home city with a tail between her legs, a certain brown-eyed boy be damned.
Staying would mess her up more than leaving ever did. Seeing him all over the city, hearing about his hook-ups. She was able to distance herself in Dallas. No one had cared about Tyler Seguin in Dallas.
She hadn’t thought she could do it. Not when she first confirmed her acceptance to the University of Dallas – not when she boarded the plan after saying goodbye to parents and her brother – and definitely not when she entered her first, empty apartment. She had taken a chance, coming here. It was the farthest from Boston she was willing to go, and a place she felt her brother Dylan would be excited to visit, what with his love for the Dallas Stars hockey team.
She scoffed. The Dallas Stars. Of course, he would be traded here. Of all the freaking places that had hockey teams, it just had to be her brothers favorite and in the same city she had come to love.
Haley could still remember that call. The urge to run again. The panic that she would run into him at some bar her friends would drag her too. The pain at seeing him be happy with other girls.
Flashback – July 4, 2013
She laughed at Juliet’s imitation of her boyfriend, Jake, who was trying to put out a fire that broke out on the grill, ruining all the food he had been trying to cook for their fourth of July celebration. It was the first one she wouldn’t be spending in Boston, wanting to spend the whole summer in Dallas so that she could get used to it all before school started in August. Never mind the fact she was scared that if she went back to Boston so soon, she was scared she would never leave again – and that she didn’t think she was strong enough for.
She didn’t regret it. She had hit it off with two girls her during her May orientation at UD, Juliet and Bek, who were in her same graduate program. Bound together by the impending doom their English Master’s courses and all of them being relatively new to the city, they became fast friends and eventually made plans for a backyard barbecue for the holiday – complete with food, beer, and fireworks. She had friends, something she was sure wouldn’t happen for months, if at all. Friends she got along with, even more so than the ones she had in Boston, and ones she could see in her life for years to come. They made Dallas not so scary and they made it fun. And fun was something she needed.
“Jules, stop crackling over there and help me, dammit!” Jake yelledd in panic.
“You see who the men go to when there’s trouble, girls? The women. Whoever thought that men were supposed to handle intense situations was obviously single.” Juliet walked to the side of the grill, grabbing the fire extinguisher and sprayed the white foam over the flames.
The look on Jake’s face made the Bek and Haley laugh even harder.
“He – didn’t – “ Bek gasped out, bending over in her chair so far that her head was practically touching the ground.
Haley shook her head and tried to take a deep breath. “There was a fire extinguisher there the whole time?!”
Juliet smiled smugly at the bearded blonde man. “I got it after he bought the grill. When it comes to Jake and fire, it’s better to be safe.”
Jake glared at her. “It was one other time, and I have apologized about your eyebrows more times than I can count.”
There was a pause as Bek and Haley looked at each other, before breaking into another round of gut bursting laugher.
“Eyebrows!” Haley shouted in between breaths, causing Juliet to giggle at her.
Jake shook his head and muttered under his breath, his voice raising a little on the words “crazy”, “lunatics”, and “women” so that Bek, Haley, and Juliet could hear him before he walked into the house.
“Call for pizza!” Juliet called after him.
Haley wiped the tears from her eyes and held her stomach, trying to breathe through the aches she felt. Before she could ask Juliet about the eyebrows, her phone started to ring and she rushed to grab it.
“Whoa, girl, where’s the fire?” Juliet joked, rolling her eyes when Bek started to laugh again. “I walked right into that one.”
Haley smiled excitedly down at her phone as she read the name of the caller. “It’s my brother – I have to take this.”
She half-ran into the house, yelling a quick ‘sorry’ behind her as she bumped into Jake, who was on his way outside with a pizza take-out menu. Clicking the accept button one ring before the call was sent to voicemail, she laughed into the phone. “Dylan!”
“Hey sis,” her brother murmured. “How’s your fourth going?”
Sitting on the mustard yellow couch she’s heard Juliet complain about more than once, she smiled. “It’s great, actually! I mean, asides from a little fire, it’s been really fun so far. How about yours? How’s mom and dad? How crazy is the block party this year?”
“Fire? Do I even wanna ask?” Dylan chuckled. “It’s alright, I guess. Not the same without you here. Got no one to get drunk with this year.”
Haley scoffed. “Please, like dad isn’t a couple beers in already.”
“Not this year – apparently you were the beer pusher, little sis. We never realized how often you were giving us bottle until this year.”
“Oh, okay, because that explains all the drunk fourth of July’s before I was even allowed to drink.”
“Yeah. Just not feeling it this year, I guess.” Her brow furrowed when she heard his downtrodden sigh.
“Dyl? I’m sorry, you know? I just wanted to settle in here, I didn’t mean to-“
Dylan interrupted her. “It’s not that, Hal. I know you stayed because you thought it was best. For more reasons that what you’ve been trying to sell to us. I’m not- I understand. That’s not why I called. I just wanted to tell you before you saw- I wanted to be the one who told you.”
Her stomach clenched hard, her mind shooting straight to all the things that could have him hesitating like he was. “Is dad’s heart alright? It is the AF? Should I-“
“No, no, no. I’m sorry, Hal, everyone here is fine.” He rushed out. “Dad is good, mom is good, I’m good. It’s Tyler – He’s been traded, Haley. He’s leaving Boston.”
Haley froze. The last thing she expected Dylan to called her about was something dealing with Tyler. Though he didn’t know exactly how they broke up, he was the one that held her when she cried, and hadn’t held back is anger towards the center. After she pulled herself back together, she thought they had an unvoiced agreement not to talk about him anymore.
“That means you can come home, Haley. Come back home.”
She frowned. “I can’t! Classes start next month, Dylan, and I’m finally being happy here – I have friends! I have a place here!”
“But you’re only there because of him!” Haley flinched as his voice rose. “And he’s gone now! There’s nothing to hide from anymore. Just cancel your classes – you can go to Boston, just like you planned.”
Her shoulders dropped. “I can’t, Dylan. Their enrollment deadline has passed. I would have to until the application opened again. I wouldn’t be able to attend for another year.”
“Okay, then somewhere else. You had a whole list of schools, and you picked the last one on it. Pittsburg. New York. Connecticut.” He stressed, his voice on the verge of panic. “Hell, even Tennessee. Just get out of Dallas.”
“What? Why? You love Dallas! The Stars, remember? They’re going to be our thing! You’re going to visit, and we’re going to go to the games decked out in Victory Green! Benn jerseys! Sibs reping the sibs!” I exclaimed. “I got the jersey’s a month ago!”
Dylan sounded like he growled. “Dammit, Haley, we can pick a different team. Fuck the Stars. We can follow the rest of the world and go for Crosby. They have Neal, who’s better than the Benn’s anyways, and he was Dallas in 2010. He can be our Dallas. Just–“ He sighed, and even from more than 1,000 miles away, Haley knew he was running his hands through his shaggy brown hair in frustration. “He’s there, Hal. That’s where he was traded. He’s going to be in Dallas come September – he’s probably there now.”
Haley’s felt like her heart dropped out of her chest as her mind tried to understand what her older brother was trying to tell her. “What?”
“Tyler,” Dylan said softly. “Tyler got traded to Dallas.”
She didn’t hate him, despite the fact that she tried to avoid him and anything concerning him like the plague. She never did. Was never even really mad at him. She was only ever mad at herself for falling for him too hard. She had known who he was when she started to date him – had known his reputation. She’d even known some of his one-night stands before her. He hinted at their future together, but she was the one who believed him and took it to heart. A twenty-one-year-old NHL superstar wasn’t actually going to settle down with some brainy college student that carried a book around with her everywhere she went.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t called, either. Because it did. For months. Left tons of voicemails and hundreds of text messages – all about how he was sorry. That’s all he would say, every single time. I’m sorry. Two words. Two empty words that did nothing to stop the pain.
She had forgiven him, not that he knew that, but she had. Almost immediately. It didn’t mean, however, that she was okay. She felt broken after she left that bar, knowing that at the end of the night, she would be crying over him, and he would be in bed with someone else. And so she left. For a fresh start. For distance. For her.
“Allie!” A small voice called from across the room, pulling her back into the present, back to the room filled with her friends, and the reason she didn’t leave when her brother begged her too.
Haley turned around with a grin, holding her arms wide open for the little boy who collided into her. “Lovebug! You’re here!”
“You sing!” The two year old giggled, squishing her cheeks in between his hands.
She laughed and grabbed his little arms in her hand. “That’s right! You’re going to come watch me sing! Are you excited?”
James, the son of one of her best friends, Juliet, and her husband Jake, nodded his head rapidly, before he squirmed out of her arms. Haley followed him as he ran into the kitchen, where his parents and the rest of her friends were gathered around the island talking about her set tonight. Juliet, Jake, Bek, Eric, Noah, Emma, and Brayden all looked at her when she entered.
“There’s the woman of the hour!” Jake bellowed while everyone else cheered.
Eric looked up from where James was waving his hands excitedly to grinned at her. “About time you joined us. We were wondering how long we should let you do your tortured artist thing before we got you to leave.”
Haley rolled her eyes Bek’s husband. “Ha. Ha. I was just getting some last-minute things for the show, not being a tortured artist, or whatever you call it.”
Brayden grinned at her. “Are you ready to go? There’s supposed to be a big crowd tonight and they want you there a little early.”
She stuck her tongue out at the group of people staring at her. “I’m ready, just waiting for you guys.”
Bek snorted. “Get your ass out the door already.”
Haley saluted her, before grabbing her purse.
Noah sent her a secret smile as he picked up his guitar case and followed her out the door. “Ready for the new songs?”
She shrugged, making her way down the hall of her apartment building, leaving the shutting and locking of her front door to the last person out. “I’m nervous for everyone to hear them, because they are so personal, and about a time in my life that you guys don’t really know. I don’t think I’m ready for the questions. But I love them, and I’m confident that they are gonna be received well.”
“Well of course.” He smirked at her. “I helped write them.”
Haley giggled. “Oh. My. Gawd. When did my quite Noah become so cocky?”
“Probably the same time he got his girlfriend pregnant!” Brayden called out from the back of the line heading toward the elevator.
Emma laughed. “Fiancé.”
Everyone squeezed into the small elevator at the end of the hall and Haley cursed herself for not thinking about taking the stairs. Though their group of friends were the tightest anyone could be, she still didn’t want to be pressed up against every inch of the front of Brayden’s body.
“Good Lord, Bray. Why did you have to come in facing me?”
He gave her a wolfish smile. “Like what you feel?”
“Dude!” Jake whined. “Don’t be gross.”
Brayden’s jaw dropped. “Why does everyone think I’m gross? First Hal with my dick-“
Bek reached around Eric to slap her. “Haley! You weren’t supposed to tell him we thought his penis was gross.”
“What?! Why are you talking about my dick?!”
Emma tried to twist around to look at him but gave up when she couldn’t more move than an inch. She sighed, “Who hasn’t talked about your dick. Or rode it.”
Noah let out a surprised laugh and high fived her. “That’s my fiancé.”
Haley laughed at the offended look on Brayden’s face and patted his cheek. “We still love you. No matter how gross we think you are.”
He glared at her. “Now I don’t feel bad about what I did.”
Her heart thudded with dread. “What did you do, Bray?”
“It’s a surprise.”
Everyone groaned, both in relief as the elevator finally opened to let them breath again, and in unease about his surprise.
Eric was the first to speak. “If your surprise is a man that you think she might be interest in, I will save her the trouble and punch you myself.”
Haley agreed. “I swear, Bray, if you invited guys to this show, I will kill you. I am perfectly happy being single right now. We’ve already had this conversation.”
Brayden laughed and helped her into Eric’s truck and motioned for her to shoot over. “I didn’t invite them for you to date.” He nodded to where the rest of their friends were figuring out which cars they would take to the bar. “Besides, its more for our benefit anyways, but one of them is very attractive, and I think if you want too, you should go for it.”
“Stop trying to hook me up.” Haley looked at Bek as she got into the front seat. “Bek, tell him to stop trying to hook me up.”
She just shrugged and reached over to put the key in the ignition. “I’ve already told him it was a bad idea, don’t know what power you think I have on him.”
The crazy blonde looked at her with a smug smile. “She thinks you should start dating again, too.”
Bek laughed. “Yes, I do. However, unlike this dip, I think you should date Eric’s brother, not some random guy he just wants to be friends with.”
Haley looked between them with a raised eyebrow. “First of all, I’m not ever going to date Mitch, so get over it. Second, I am dating! I went on a date last week!”
“One date in five months doesn’t mean your dating, Hals.” Eric, the traitor, murmured as he got behind the wheel and waved at Emma’s car to go ahead of him.
She rolled her eyes turned away from them, letting her eyes watch the people crowding the sidewalks of downtown Dallas. She was trying. She accepted dates when she was asked. She tried to open her mind, and her heart, to something happening. Yet every time, it just didn’t seem right. They were either too interested in her, or not interested enough. They always talked too much about themselves, without asking any questions about her life – and as soon as she brought up that she sang in bars for fun, they subtly started motioning for the check.
Her last boyfriend didn’t like that she didn’t have a job she went to everyday, even though she made more than enough to support herself as a freelance editor. She always had jobs lined up, all with authors she had worked for over the span of years, and when they weren’t writing, which was rare, she had an independent contract with a big publishing house in New York. She was able to work from home – able to go on vacations whenever she wanted, and sing when she wanted too – and she loved it. Apparently, however, no matter how much you make, it wasn’t a job if you didn’t have to go in.
She let out a small sigh, quiet enough that it didn’t draw attention from the other three people in the car. Maybe she was trying too hard, wishing for something to happen that obviously wasn’t ever going too. She could live with being a cool aunt. With being the best friend.
Her mind flashed to the yellow and black jersey hanging in her closet at her parent’s in Boston.
Maybe it was for the best.
**AF = Atrial Fibrillation | a common type of irregular heart rhythm that causes poor blood flow to the body.