No Place I'd Rather Be

Chapter Nine

Rebecca Neal took a liking to Jo within the three days she had visited them. She seeked Jo's advice and wanted to vent as much as she could whenever she wasn't hogged by her own brothers. It was hard living in a house full of testosterone with no one to share her issues being the youngest female in the family. Rebecca noticed how much her whole family liked Jo. She guessed it was because James never brought home such a wholesome girl. On Twitter, there were dozens of photos of her brother at bars with girls she knew their parents wouldn't be so ecstatic to meet.

The youngest Neal finally had her time with Jo and even dragged her to her bedroom so that her brothers wouldn't bother them. For the past hour, Jo listened to what Rebecca had to say and tried her best to give her the advice she needed.

"Thank God James found you," Rebecca spoke. "You're like the sister I've always wanted!"

Jo grinned, "I'm pretty sure I found him. Did he tell you how we met?"

"No! He didn't tell me a thing about you! I had to find out from Nick!" She hollered.

Jo proceeded to tell Rebecca a play by play on how they met. From the moment where she had a stranger spill their drink all over her tank top to the moment where she lost her friends. She recalled wanting to get a better view of the band playing by pushing her way through the mass of people and standing next to an incredibly tall guy. She explained to Rebecca how she didn't know what came over her when she started to talk to James.

"It's fate," Rebecca sighed dreamily. "You guys are so in love and perfect for each other."

"In love?" Had James told her already?

"Yup," she nodded, seeing the look on Jo's face. "You two don't have to tell me a thing. I could tell by the way you two look at each other."

Jo did her best to hide her smile but failed.

"I knew it! You guys totally confessed your love to each other already!" Rebecca shrieked.

"Draft is starting!" One of the Neal boys yelled from downstairs. The girls rolled their eyes and headed down to the living room.

The whole family was gathered around, bowls of chips and drinks on coasters sat on the coffee table.

"Have you ever watched the draft, Jo?" Deborah asked to which Jo said no. She gave her a rundown of what the draft is and what happens during. She shared James' draft story and voiced her wish to see all the Neal boys to be in the NHL.

"We didn't really get to watch the first day so we're just catching up," Peter Sr. said after drinking his can of beer.

An hour of passed, no one was really paying attention to the tv anymore. Everyone engaged in their own mini conversations but was immediately halted when Jo saw a man stand on a podium and announced that a trade was to be made. Suddenly, the whole room got silent and everyone turned their attention to the tv to see who the next victim of the trade would be.

"Nashville trades Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to Pittsburgh in exchange..."

Every Neal held their breath. No one had a clue on who would be a possible candidate for a trade in Pittsburgh.

"...for James Neal." Gary Bettman finished before moving the draft along.

No one uttered a word. They all stared at the tv like it had announced that the world was ending. Little did Jo know, that's exactly how they all felt. The Neals knew how much James enjoyed being a Penguin after the lack of recognition he got back in Dallas. Now, he's headed back exactly where he started.

"Wh-what does that mean?" Jo mumbled, more to herself but James had heard her before anyone did.

"It means I'm moving to Nashville."

The Neals gathered around, including Jo, and expressed how sorry they were and showed him the bright side of the trade.

"You could be your own superstar in Nash," Mike said.

"You could meet Carrie Underwood!" Nick followed to lighten up the mood of everyone.

"Thanks," James thanked them solemnly. "I guess I better call the guys to let them know."

He exited the room, clutching his phone in his hand.

Rebecca sighed loudly. "You'd think the trade to Pittsburgh was the worst."

Everyone nodded in agreement. Mr. Neal turned off the tv and everyone started to clean up the food off the table. Jo helped and quietly observed the family around her. The once cheerful room turned gloomy. She wanted to understand why it was such a big deal to get traded. She understood the part where he has to move to a completely different state, but why was everyone acting like he was moving out of the country forever?

James entered the kitchen to help out as well after his phone call. He washed a few of the dishes while Jo wiped them dry.

Side by side, Jo asked, "How'd your teammates take the news?"

James carelessly cleaned the dishes with the sponge, "It's nothing new to them. Just said they'd miss me."

"How are you?" Jo said warily, hesitant to even ask how he was feeling.

James put the plate he was working on down and turned to her. He saw the worried look in her eyes. She was so damn beautiful. He couldn't bear the thought that he'd put the frown upon her lips when his trade wasn't her problem in the first place.

He wiped his wet hands on his jeans and moved the pieces of hair falling down out of her bun out of her face.

"Don't worry about me, I'll be fine." He wasn't lying either. Being traded once was enough experience for him to know how to deal with the feeling of rejection. The only faith he had was the hope to succeed in Nashville without being overshadowed by guys like Crosby or Malkin.

"Please help me understand," Jo softly pleaded. "I don't really know what I could do to help and I really want to help you."

James gave her a sad smile. "You being here with me is enough help."

"You've helped me so much. I only want to do the same." Jo looked down at her feet.

James tilted her face up, "You're already helping me by being here with my family. This means a lot for them and for me. They can see how much you care about me and how much you support me."

"Does the trade mean I won't get to see you anymore? Does it mean I won't get to meet Geno?

That got a laugh out of James.

"How do you know about Geno?"

"I may or may not have watched a video of you two on youtube..." She admitted shyly.

"I love you so much," He said out loud.

"Pussy!" Peter Jr. yelled out causing their mom to scold him.

"I love you too," Jo said in return. "Thank you so much for this trip."

"Thank you for being here." Mrs. Neal chimed in and couldn't help but give the couple a hug. She saw how much her son adored Jo and saw the passion in their eyes. She felt nothing but happiness that her eldest boy finally found the one for him. The mom in her started to kick in and started planning out their wedding. She was that confident that they'll stay together for a long time.
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