Blame it on the Wind Chill

Chapter 4

I polish off the last of the chocolate milk, dragging my tongue around the brim. I feel like some creep in the night, you know, one of those stupid robbers in urban legends about intruders who get a little too comfortable. Like a bed intruder, that’s it. Or kitchen, I should say. I rinse out my cup and watch the muggy water swivel down the drain. This one’s for you, sewer alligator.

The digital clock reads 6:59.

No way. The extreme RPG must’ve taken at least ten minutes.

I guess my mind’s just working in slow motion. It kind of becomes that way after you’ve been playing hockey for a while. Spectators see the game as a whole lot of fast-paced action, but when you’re in it, things slow down quite a bit. You think that we don’t have time in those few fractions of a second to make split decisions, but for us it feels like an eternity. For instance, if I’m tracking down a bounty in the attacking zone, internally, I’m debating whether or not I should check this guy into the boards, or leave him alone and go after the puck. Check. Leave. Check. Leave. A little back and forth before I go in for the kill. So when guys say that the headshot was an ‘accident’ and blames it on the speed of the game, don’t ever take that crap.

It’s called accidentally on purpose.

I decide to go for a run. Maybe I need a little bit of cold Canadian air to knock the California warm front out of my system. I can just make out the thermometer on the silver maple through the kitchen window. It’s too dark to read the numbers, but no self respecting northern kid waits for the mercury to rise before heading out.

The neighbourhood’s dark, save for the Christmas lights, and I wonder if this is what it’d feel like to make a drug run. Or something equally shady. Personally, I think I’m way too much of your typical health nut athlete to ever try something like that. When there’s already the prospect of tough guys like Zdeno Chara and assholes like Matt Cooke messing up my noggin’, I’d just rather not contribute to the degeneration of brain tissue.

I start off slow. An easy pace to fall into. The wind isn’t doing its best impression of a hurricane like earlier and brushes against my cheeks like a cold tickle. I make footprints in the snow; the pattern on the bottom of my shoes printed so crisp onto the fresh layer of snow. It’s like marking territory the way a dog or a bear would. At least I’d like to think so.

The tracks bring me back to the days of creating crop circles with my sneakers during recess and stamping heart prints with that hot chick missing her two front teeth. It’s picking-up-girls 101 for elementary school. Then you’d skip through a field of poison ivy straight to Booster Juice and the rest is history. Or until it’s homework time and you have to walk her back, to the bus stop.

I’m reminiscing too much.

A couple cars whiz past me—fast, and I unintentionally pick up speed. I do that pointless running-with-the-car thing for a couple seconds before I’m gassed and my challenger is out of sight. I stop to catch my breath, the glowing Christmas lights illuminating the side of my face in alternating red and green.

People always ask what your favourite holiday is, and for me it’s always been my birthday. Though, Christmas comes in a tight second. Like a photo finish at the end of a bitter, gravel-grounding sprint.

As a kid, there was nothing better than spending the winter holidays with relatives: drunken family dinners, decorating the big coil of artificial fir, and of course, gifts. Christmastime is such a remarkable season and you get to witness, first hand, the breakdown of intelligence and sensibility. Mature grown-ups like Aunt Helen and party, don ugly festive ponchos, while their responsible husbands attempt to put together a nativity scene with German instructions and staples. Meanwhile, children write grammatically incorrect letters to the big man on top of it all, begging for new elbow pads and gloves to replace the foul-smelling hand-me-down ones they’re currently stuck using.

I run past creepy reindeers, cascades of lights pouring over the edge of roofs, homemade wreaths of wire and sparkly pinecones, naked tree branches wrapped with strands of blinking fairy lights. I’m surprised Uncle Eric doesn’t have his decorations up, yet; I’ll make sure to get him on that as soon I see him. My breath fogs in front of me, serving as a headlight in a cave. I’m alone.

I turn another corner and see a dark figure in front of me. I squint as I make up ground between us. The person’s jogging like me, with decent form. It appears to be carrying a big bag under its arm. I don’t even want to think about what could be in there. Its frame looks too small to be a gang banger or a crook, but that’s like saying Montreal doesn’t look like a hockey club. And they’re doing alright. The Curious George in me wants to approach it and get a better view, but they say curiosity killed the cat.

It takes a bottle of some sort out of The Bag and takes a swig. Hm. I believe cocaine can be liquefied. I inch closer until there are just about eighty or so metres between us. It ducks under an unravelling garland of lights and I clearly see its bunned hair bouncing with each stride. A girl.

She’s wearing grey sweats with a light fleece jacket. Without breaking form, she hurdles over a snow-covered box, abandoned on the sidewalk, bleeding environmental unawareness. I want to know more about her, as creepy as it seems. The fact that it’s a girl relieves me a little bit. Even if she turns out to be a female terminator, I can probably take her. Then I’ll take her ninja moves to the NHL and crush a certain Slovak giant. Assumingly speaking.

I’m just about caught up, making sure to stay quiet so that at least I’ll have the upper hand in the event of a street brawl. She’s even shorter than I imagined, but probably still taller than Gerbe. On skates. Her hair looks messy, like one of those hairdos girls don’t want their boyfriends to see them in. I’ve always thought they were sexy in a drunken ballerina kind of way. Girls are most attractive when they don’t try half as hard.

She’s listening to music and hums a Beach Boys song, running to the beat. Her body sways and she has a bit of a hop in her stop. I smile. She reminds me of Road Runner from the cartoons.

“Hey,” I whisper to her back in a false deep voice, “I’ll take some of that.” I tug on her bag strap.

“What the hell—” She whips around and jumps back, dropping The Bag. I catch it in the nick of time, before her drugs or stolen silver touches the trampled snow.

“Fucking prick,” she says, as I try to take a peak. Before I can register what’s going on, she’s stepping forward and twisting my arm behind me with surprising brutality and force.

“Oww,” I groan. My arm. My toe. My back. What else is new?

“What are you thinking? Are you trying to make me go into cardiac arrest?” Her eyes are wild beneath her dark bangs and her cheeks, red from the wind. Wisps of hair stick to her jaw, lined with iridescent beads of sweat. It’d be kind of appealing if she didn’t have me in this distorted straightjacket several sizes too small. One of her hands is locked around my wrist, cold, holding it behind my back. The other arm has me in a headlock. My knees are bent as she tightens her grip. I’m being dragged down.

“Look, I’m sorry. I didn't mean to.” Despite her elfish strength, I manage to wiggle out of her hold, easily. She stomps on my foot and I swallow a yelp, making an odd choking sound. I’ll never skate again at this rate. There’s a minor struggle with light cursing until I’ve got one arm wrapped around her waist, holding her down. This must be what’s it’s like to spar with a leprechaun, or joust a Chihuahua, at least. “I just wanted to see if you were okay. You know, there are rapists and serial killers out there at night; you better be careful,”

“Ha, ha.” She rolls her eyes in dramatic fashion. The corners of her mouth curl upwards slightly, as she notices me rubbing at the constellation of purplish half moons and pink crescents around my wrist. “I used to do Taekwondo. Better not try anything on me, you freak.” She reaches for The Bag still in my hand, but I face wash her, holding it up to heights she’ll never reach. “You little shit! Who made you a fucking Mountie?”

“Gary Bettman. And that’s not nice to say.”

“Whoever said I was nice. If you were looking for a friendly chat, you’ve jumped the wrong girl.” A hand tenses around my hold, sending a muscle spasm creeping up my neck, and making a vein in my arm throb sporadically. Her eyes flash to mine momentarily, as if we are connected through the pulsating. Her hands are icy cold and it makes me wonder how long she’s been out here, all by herself. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I sense her relaxing her grip on me, warming her hands on mine as if it were a hot plate.

“Oh relax. I didn’t jump you.”

“Right. Because if you did, I’d have fistfuls of your pretty goldilocks to show my grandchildren one day.” I try to imagine my head all patchy and cringe at the thought. I inadvertently reach for my hair and smooth down a curl. She raises her eyebrow as if she made a valid point.

“Here’s a tip: don’t piss off someone who has your shit hostage.” She narrows her eyes and frowns. “What do you have in here, anyways, sex toys?”

“No, I just robbed Zellers and I’ve got to report back to Al Capone, but you’re holding me up.” She sneers sarcastically. “Why don’t you just see for yourself?” I tentatively stick my hand in and pull out a Ziploc container with…Belgian waffles.

She sees the confusion on my face. “Not what you expected?” There’s more; finely decorated shortbread cookies, oozing cinnamon buns, breakfast wraps, and pancakes. There’s a brown paper bag and in it are little packets of what I assume to be icing sugar for the waffles, among other condiments.

“What are you? A breakfast genie?”

“Fuck off,” she says. She snatches The Bag out of my hands and continues running down the pavement, as if she never stopped. I stand there stupidly until I realize she’s got a lead on me again and I have to play catch up.

“Wait up!” I call. She doesn’t slow. Suit yourself, I think, taking in large strides and coming up beside her. I catch her eyes briefly flicker towards me and look away. We run like this for a few seconds and neither of us says a thing. I match her pace easily and the sunrise is voiced over by the breathy noises she makes. The sky looks like a nebula of oranges and blues, while unnatural lights turn off with every house we past, like a Christmas factory shutting down.

“Do you want to, like, go away?” she finally breaths, popping a bud out of her ear. She doesn’t seem pissed. Annoyed, maybe, but that’s never offended me before. With the guys that we have in the NHL, I’ve become trash-talk immune. You know how vaccinations work; you have to get a dose of the disease in order to become insusceptible. You grow over it with a thicker skin.

“Doyou want to, like, tell me why you have a grocery store in your bag?” I mock, feeling pretty pleased with myself.

“Why does it matter? What do you think I’m pushing, pixie dust?”

“I think we’ve already established you’re not a hustler.”

“You’re sure about that? I could be a midget drug lord dealing marijuana waffles to crackhead children, raising my eight month old on welfare.”


“No. My son’s two.”

“Okay. Wait—what?” She takes the opportunity to pull ahead of me in this race thing we’re doing. “You’re joking, right?” She shoots me a what-do-you-think type of look. “Well if you are, you should stop supplying the Leafs; they play like they’ve eaten thousands of those.” She laughs. I made her laugh.

“Actually,” she says, “I do morning breakfast deliveries. It’s for kids whose parents go to work early in the morning. I don’t usually do it on weekends, but it’s the holidays and for some kids, it sure beats burnt toast and cold eggs.”

“Wow,” I breathe after a beat. “That’ll make you a saint. Oh my God. You’re one of those people who make smiley face breakfasts, aren’t you? And cut sandwiches into shapes?” She tips her head back and smiles. “Who died and made you Gandhi?”

“No one, curly; I’m paid. I’m actually thinking about bringing my business to Dragon’s Den. Call me a ‘Good Samaritan’, but I’m not a fairy god parent, Cam.”

Hold on. I reach for her arm. “You know my name?” She shakes me off, unfazed.

“Stop thinking of yourself as an elusive moose. We’re in Toronto, baby: hockey capital of the world.” I’m taken aback. I get recognized, but not as much as the Crosbys or Ovechkins of the hockey world. I’d go out with Bobby and Corey and I’m just their picture-taking escort. We’ve always thought it was hilarious. I wouldn’t even expect to be recognized by Samueli, and certainly not her.

“So? Just because you’ve heard of me doesn’t mean you know who I am.” She probably has brothers or a boyfriend who watched the draft.

“Sure I do. And no, I didn’t just hear about you from one of my guy friends.” I scrunch my eyebrows. That was a little too Aunt Helen for me.

“Go for it.”

“You’re Cam Fowler, born in Windsor, Ontario. You have two sisters. You pissed off the Rangers by making commitments to the NCAA, and then pissed off the NCAA by playing for the Spitfires. Last year you pissed off Canada by winning gold in the World Juniors with the United States. You’re currently playing for the Anaheim Ducks, but are here, for some reason.”

“Wow, you’re good. That’s almost Wikipedia good.” It’s strange hearing someone talk about your life; it seems people know your skills and weaknesses better than you. “Looks like someone read the scouting reports.”

“Don’t be stupid, Cam. You really don’t remember?” Remember what? I shake my head. “I wasn't sure if it were you at first, but clearly I'm right. I’ve known you since we were kids. I used to date Tim. You and me—we were friends. Well, sort of.” One of Tim’s exes. I rack my brain, trying to remember her face. I got nothing. “First impressions are important,” she begins. I nod, wondering what she’s alluding to. I’ve forgotten that we’ve been running this whole time. She’s got great lung capacity. If she skates, she can probably get a place on our third line. “If this how you meet with GMs, I’m not surprised you went much later than projected in the draft.” I glare. “ I remember the first time we met you drove our toboggan into a tree and I broke my arm.” I try to remember. “Look, I even have a scar to prove it.” She slows and briefly lifts up the hem of her shirt. There’s a faint jagged pink line running from the left of her navel to God-knows-where. “That was a branch, by the way.”

“Jesus. I don’t remember this.” I laugh awkwardly.

“I told you not to forget me when you become famous.” A spacey look glosses over her eyes. “I’m just kidding,” she nudges me, “that was when you were nine, I think. I dated Tim in, what, grade five? I’m not surprised he didn’t tell you about me. We never knew each other that well. I don’t expect you to remember.”

“I’m sorry, I honestly don’t recall,” I say. “Maybe we should hang out sometime. You can refresh my memory.”

“Maybe. But probably not. Just because we have somewhat of a history doesn’t mean I like you. I don’t remember liking you then and I guess that hasn’t changed,” she smiles sweetly, brushing the snow off a link fence we pass with her fingertips. “If this is how you pick up chicks on the road, I’m guessing your success rate is slim to none.”

“Just like a Leafs home game, huh?”

“Yes. Now I really have to start making some deliveries—don’t follow me.” We stop at an intersection. The streets are busy with cars now and there’s a sidewalk snow plow gaining on us.

“Now how do you know I’m following you? Maybe I’m just headed in the same direction.”

She rests a hand on her hip. “Which way?” she asks, challenging me. I look around. I don’t see anything I recognize. It dawns on me that I’m pretty far from the house and should probably start on the homebound journey if I want to make it back in time for a hot breakfast.

“That way?” I point back to the direction we came from.

“That’s what I thought.” She claps me on the back and bounces off in the opposite direction. I stand there and watch her until she’s just a speck of dust in the universe.

It just got colder.

Wiping the sweat off my brow, I blame it on the windchill.
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I realized that the dates are totally off, so just ignore that. I was going to write this story in December, which is why it's taking place over the holidays. Comments? Critique? Suggestions? You know what to do.