Glove Save and a Beauty
K.R. Collins © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Gabrielle catches the puck safely in her glove, and the stadium falls silent. Quiet has always meant a job well done, whether it’s the disbelief of an away stadium or the awe of a friendly one. Before hockey, silence marked the end of a figure-skating routine or a ballet recital, the moment between when the music ended and the applause began. And even before that, silence meant her dad emerging from the kitchen with a platter of desserts in his hands at Thanksgiving.
The whole table, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, everyone hushed as pies and cookies were handed out. They stayed quiet as they ate, nothing allowed to disturb the first bite of apple pie. Or the second, or third.
Some people think silence is an absence, a hole they have to fill. Right now, the opposing forward blusters, jawing at her as if the save she made was a fluke. One of her d-men steps between them. He raises his voice, adding to the noise.
Gabrielle extends her glove to the official so he can take the puck. The other officials swarm, and now they’re talking too. Gabrielle leaves her crease, skates to the glass where angry parents bang on the barrier. They shout as if their words will affect her. She completes her circuit.
The officials have cleared the chaos from her crease. The two teams are set up at the left faceoff dot. She settles back into the blue paint, poised and ready for the faceoff.
Juniors marks her first Thanksgiving away from home. She lives with a billet family, because her team is too far to make the commute from her house. It’s close enough to Quebec to drive home for the holiday, because it’s a long weekend, but she doesn’t have a car, and Coach made it clear he expected them to celebrate together.
“Team is family,” he said and that was it, no discussion required.
She calls home to break the news as gently as she can. When she first left for this next stage in her hockey career, her mom cried. Her dad’s eyes grew misty. Gabrielle, uncomfortable with open displays of emotion, doesn’t want a repeat.
There isn’t one. She talks to her dad who says he understands and, later, after she’s hung up, she wonders if maybe he does understand and that’s why he was upset when she left. He knew it was a long-term departure. She won’t be home for holidays, and when she’s home in the summer, her days will be filled with training for next season.
And, provided everything goes well, when she’s finished with Junior hockey, there will be another level, one which will demand more of her time. She isn’t sure what level it will be yet. Playing Junior hockey meant giving up her college eligibility. The boys all have their sights set on the North American Hockey League.
There’s never been a woman in the NAHL before but, as people are beginning to whisper, there are no rules saying they can’t play. The whispers grow louder with every year Sophie Fournier plays, setting records and forcing people to think maybe. Sophie is only a year older than Gabrielle, and while she is making strides, they’re still a few years away from the NAHL being a consideration.
Gabrielle keeps her focus on the present. She shares the net with Dirk Trevens who resents her for being younger than him and for being a girl. He thinks those two things should make her worse than she is. Technically, she’s his backup, but she plays almost half of their games. They’re teammates, but he sees her as a threat.
By nature of their position, they spend almost all of their time together at practice, but she has a reputation for not speaking much, and their goalie coach doesn’t care if they get along as long as they listen when he tells them to do a drill.
Dirk will be easy to avoid at the Thanksgiving celebration with all their other teammates there. They celebrate on Sunday, so they can be with their billet families on Monday for the actual holiday. It means Gabrielle spends almost all of Saturday in the kitchen, baking both for her team and her billet family.
She closes the door to the kitchen, puts on her playlist—quiet and classical—and then opens her recipe binder. Each recipe is tucked inside a page protector in case of errant batter or other mess. They’re written in her neat script, and she can hear her father’s voice as she looks at the ingredient lists and steps. She ties her apron on. She’s outgrown the first one her dad gifted her, but like all the others before it, this one has a butterfly on it. It has three across the hem.
She’s never done Thanksgiving baking on her own. She misses her father’s steady presence, how she always knew he was there and paying attention even if they weren’t talking. He used to do the baking on his own before he invited her into the kitchen with him. Does he miss her, too, or is he glad for the return to his original routine?
She slices apples for pie and sugars strawberries for shortcake, and she makes chocolate chip cookies because they’re easy. Her playlist changes songs, and this one is familiar, from a ballet recital before she had to choose between ballet and hockey. She moves through the kitchen and occasionally goes up on her toes when a string of notes reminds her of a performance from years ago.
She was a figure skater and a ballerina long before she was a hockey player. She gave them both up to pursue hockey, because dedicated commitment is the only way to reach her goals. It doesn’t mean she loves either of them any less.
While baking is her Thanksgiving tradition with her dad, she and her mom would shop for Gabrielle’s holiday outfit. Well, when Gabrielle was young, her mom would buy it on her own. Three years after Gabrielle learned how to bake, her mom started taking Gabrielle on her annual shopping trip.
She doesn’t miss her mom while she peruses the mall for this year’s Thanksgiving outfit. Gabrielle’s always had a strong sense of her own style, and it didn’t often line up with her mom’s. She buys a forest-green jersey dress, because the fabric is soft and comfortable, and today’s get-together isn’t anything formal.
There are brown leather tassels on the short sleeves and a matching belt, wide and made to be worn just under the rib cage. She wears a long gold necklace with a circular pendant, a pair of ballet flats, and enough makeup to be noticeable. She pulls the top half of her hair back and braids it to keep it out of her face. She lets the rest hang down.
It’s a softer look than her teammates are used to seeing. She wears skirts and dresses to practice, but she doesn’t see her teammates before she slips into her locker room to change. They haven’t had their first game which means they haven’t seen any of her game-day dresses either.
She checks her appearance one last time, because she has an important impression to make today. She is their teammate, but she holds herself to a higher standard than wrinkled polos and thick clouds of cologne. She likes soft fabrics and fitted dresses and finding the perfect pair of shoes. Being feminine doesn’t mean she can’t stop pucks. Some of them will assume that after seeing her today, but she’ll set them to rights at their next practice.
Her billet parents pull up to the curb, but her billet dad doesn’t unlock the car yet. He twists in his seat so he can look at her directly rather than through the mirror. “This is your first team event. You have your cell phone and our numbers. If anything makes you uncomfortable, call us, and we’ll pick you up.”
“Thank you.” She knows they care—billet programs are competitive and coveted—but she figured they cared about their reputation. They care about her, and she offers them a genuine smile. “The Donnellys will be in the guest house.”
The Donnellys, today’s hosts, are a legacy billet family. They’ve hosted a player every year for the past fifteen years. Gabrielle’s never been to someone’s home where they have a main house and a guest house, but there’s a first time for everything. Her billet dad frowns at the reminder of minimum supervision, so she scoots out of the car before he can fumble his way through another well-meaning talk.
Once she’s out of the car, she can hear the music and laughter of a party already in half, if not full swing. She’s always early to practice and late to social gatherings. The former shows dedication, and the latter helps her avoid awkward misunderstandings.
Of course, being the last one to arrive means she makes an entrance, and everyone’s gaze swings toward her as she joins her teammates in the spacious backyard.
“You’re a girl!” Justin blurts. His face flames red, but his embarrassment turns to stubbornness as their teammates chirp him. “I mean, you look like one.”
“I always look like a girl.” She knows what he means—she’s in a dress rather than her hockey pads—but being a hockey player doesn’t make her less of a girl. And her dress, as much as she loves it, doesn’t make her more of one. She’s a girl because she’s a girl. The rest is presentation.
On the ice, she presents herself as a goalie. Her padding makes her bigger, helps her fill the net and intimidate the opposition before she makes her first move. Off the ice, she gravitates toward dresses and fitted blouses, in part because she likes them and, yes, in part because her teammates need the reminder.
Gabrielle intends to live a full life. She loves being on the ice, and she’ll make a name for herself in net. But she won’t spend all her time off the ice longing to be back on it. She’ll bake and shop and do yoga. She’ll paint her nails, look up new hairstyles to try, and read when she has the time.
“You brought pie.” It’s Mrs. Donnelly who looks past the dress and the makeup and sees what Gabrielle holds in her hands. “Did Cathy help you make them?”
“I made them myself. My dad taught me how.”
Mrs. Donnelly looks from the pies to Gabrielle and then back to the pies. Her disbelief is obvious, but she smiles as if willing to indulge Gabrielle’s fantasy. Gabrielle is reluctant to hand her offering over, but Mrs. Donnelly doesn’t give her much choice, taking the box of baked goods and bringing them into the house.
“You can bake?” It’s Justin again, right up in Gabrielle’s space, close enough for his cologne to choke out her subtle perfume. She fixes him with her best goalie stare, and he takes a step back. Unfortunately, it doesn’t deter him completely. “Sorry. But like, is there anything you can’t do?”
Because their teammates are assholes, there’s an immediate dogpile on Justin as they chirp him again.
“Oh, Gabrielle, you’re perfect,” Claude coos in a high-pitched impression of Justin’s voice.
“Gabrielle, will you bake me something?” Russ asks.
Gabrielle rolls her eyes at their antics and fares much better than Justin who turns an alarming shade of red. As if to prove he doesn’t have a crush on Gabrielle, Justin avoids her for the rest of the party. He sits at the opposite end of the table, and he carefully doesn’t look at her when they bring out the dessert.
Mark, who hadn’t been one of the more vicious mockers, takes his first bite of blueberry pie and gasps. He quickly takes another slice and deposits the piece on Justin’s plate. “You have to try this, dude. Life. Changer.”
There’s a mad scramble for dessert, and without any adults to mediate, there’s a chance it will end in broken dishes and blueberry filling smeared on people’s shirts. Instead, everyone manages at least two desserts on their plate, and Gabrielle finally earns her silence.
For a few minutes, there’s no talking. Whatever magic her dad works in the kitchen, she’s inherited it. The pie goes quickly, but the cookies disappear just as fast once her teammates realize she brought those as well.
“I’m doing this again next weekend,” Claude says, the first to break the silence. “With Bella and her family.”
“The pie won’t be as good,” Mark says.
Claude doesn’t defend his girlfriend, but he doesn’t agree either. He looks longingly at the empty pie pan and sighs.
“I can’t believe you have a girlfriend. Is she going to sit in the stands for all our games? Wear your spare jersey?”
“Nah, that thing reeks. She has her own.” Claude smiles and ducks his head, a little bashful, even as half of their teammates stare at him enviously.
“What about you?” Mark asks Gabrielle.
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Gabrielle answers. And then, as Mark splutters, she adds, “I don’t have a boyfriend either.”
And she doesn’t have any interest in dating. Like baking, dating follows a predictable recipe. Only, instead of sift flour and chop apples and beat eggs, it’s go out to dinner for the first date, hold hands at the movies for the second, kiss on the third. She doesn’t want to do any of those things, especially as the recipe continues. If date five means having some guy try to stick his tongue in her mouth, she won’t go out with the same person five times. She isn’t sure she’ll ever make it to a second date.
It’s comforting, in a way, to know the pattern, because it means she won’t be caught off guard.