Read an Excerpt
"One more time, Big J, scrape that blade down your face and look into the camera like this is the greatest shave of your life," the enthusiastic director instructed him as though this was the first take of the shaving commercial and not the eighth.
Jarrad McBride experienced a flash of annoyance. He knew the guy was only doing his job, but he hated being called Big J. It was a hockey-player nickname, and he wasn't a hockey player anymore. What he was, was a guy who peddled shaving cream and toothpaste on TV. He had no idea why anybody would buy shaving cream 'cause a guy who used to shoot pucks down the ice appeared on their flat screen and told them to, but he'd long ago worked out that the world was a crazy place, and L.A. was the epicenter of crazy.
"If you keep him lathered up much longer he's going to get a rash," Lester Salisbury said. Lester was his manager and the reason for all these "promotional opportunities." He was smart and knew Jarrad well enough that he'd picked up on the annoyance, even if he'd misinterpreted the cause.
"That's okay, Les. If I got paid this much money every time I shaved, I'd be a wealthy man."
"You're already a wealthy man," Les reminded him as the young woman whose job it was to display the cream to best advantage on his face danced up and smoothed the edges with careful finger swirls as though she was icing a cake.
She was pretty, with flyaway blond hair and innocent blue eyes. Jarrad should hit on her, he knew that. Partly because of his reputation and also because of the way she'd shot a couple of half scared, half hopeful glances at him; she obviously expected it. He didn't want to let her down, but he really didn't have the energy.
Still, he didn't want to hurt her feelings. "Thanks, Jill," he said.
Her eyes widened. "You remembered my name?"
In fact, he had a great memory, he remembered the names of a lot of people he'd like to forget as well as his near and dear, and when people drifted in and out of his lifeas an astonishing number seemed to dohe tried to pay attention at least while they were in his orbit.
Jill seemed like a nice enough girl, but he could see she'd bore him in an evening. He suspected that if she didn't get hit on by a guy of his reputation, she'd take it the wrong way. "How could I forget someone who takes care of me so well," he said, smiling. Then, for the ninth time, he picked up the razor and stared into the movie camera.
Todd, the director, said, "And three, and two and one," and on cue Jarrad scraped the blade slowly down his face.
"Great," Todd said with as much enthusiasm as if he'd just played Hamlet on Broadway to a standing ovation. "Now, we'll get you shaved and then we'll do your speaking part." Jill toweled the white stuff off his face.
A professional barber was waiting for him in the film studio's dressing room. Personally, he thought it was cheating to pretend that one brand of shaving cream could give as good a look as a pro, but, as Les often reminded him, nobody paid him to think.
"Looking good, buddy," his manager said as he walked him down the hall.
Once he'd been shaved, moisturized and hair-styled, the makeup woman tried to dab makeup on his scar, but he put up a hand to stop her. "That scar's my trademark, honey. You cover that up, people'll wonder what else you're hiding."
Luckily, Todd sided with him, so he was allowed to finish the shoot looking at least a little bit like himself.
The enthusiasm was as thick as the shaving cream when the director prepared him for his pitch. "Remember, you believe in this product. When you say your lines, think about something that really excites you."
"Okay." Sounded easy enough to think of something that excited him. He searched. His mind was blank. He could think about sex but that only reminded him of the tabloid pictures of his ex-wife cavorting in Belize, letting the world know she'd traded up to the NBA.
He could think about his bank balance, but he knew he'd never be able to spend all his money no matter how long he lived, which for some reason made him wonder how old he'd be when he kicked it. Another uninspiring thought.
Most of his greatest moments had happened in hockey rinks, but his retirement was still too raw, too unexpected. His mind veered away.
Finally he moved back to childhood, settled on a memory of going to the pound and picking out a puppy when he was a kid. He and his sister both went, his baby brother not being thought of yet, and even though they argued about everything, they'd instantly agreed on the eager-looking young black Lab who'd squirmed and danced with excitement at their visit, licking their faces and making them all laugh. He'd wanted to call the dog Lucky, Samantha argued for Lucy and somehow they ended up calling the dog Fred.
Maybe if he thought hard enough about Fred he could forget that this shaving cream dialogue was butt-awful.
While Fred galloped through his memory, racing after a Frisbee, stick, ball, puck, rock, sock, pretty much anything that moved, Jarrad looked right into that big square camera, ignoring the camera operator, the beaming director, his hovering manager, the lighting guy, the sound guy and the gophers. He saw Fred leap into the air, teeth closing on a badly chewed and mangled red Frisbee, his black body wriggling in happiness and said, "A perfect shave is like a skating rink right before the action. Smooth, clean, cool. Like my shaving cream." As instructed he now glanced at the blue canister in his hand and back at the camera.
He'd refused to let them film him anywhere near a hockey rink or the equipment of a game he could no longer play. Instead, they'd hired a good-looking female model and shot the pair of them supposedly heading out for a night on the town. They'd already shot all that stuff earlier. Once Todd was happy with his one line, he'd be out of here.
It took two more tries, and Fred dragged rocks out of the creek down by their old house before Todd called it a wrap.
He shook hands with everybody, flirted with the shaving cream girl a little bit more, and finally he and Les were free. As they hit the pavement both pulled out similar black shades and slipped them on against the glare of an endlessly sunny L.A. day. "Two days to film a thirty-second commercial?" he complained, as though he'd never done one before.
"I should make your hourly wage," Les said.
"It was boring."
Les patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "I know it's tough now that you've had to hang up your skates. And stuff." A delicate silence hung in the air, but they both knew that and stuff referred to his ex making a fool of him in public. "You have to do something with your time," he reminded him.
And that was the problem.
He'd have countered with some smart-assed remark except that his new smart phone rang. And call display told him it was somebody he actually wanted to talk to. Unlike Les, on the subject of what he was going to do with his life.
"I was just thinking about Fred," he said into the phone, waving goodbye to his agent as he did so.
Greg Olsen, his oldest friend in the world laughed. "He was the greatest dog. Except that he ran off with all our baseballs."
Jarrad adjusted his shades against the neverending sunshine of L.A. He still missed real winters and, amazingly enough, he even missed the Vancouver rain. "So, what's up? How's cop business?"
Greg ignored the question. "I saw eChat Canada last night."
"Since when do you watch entertainment porn?"
"Since your ex is making a fool of you with some seven-foot-tall ball jockey. She flashed a big engagement rock on TV."
It wasn't sadness or grief that made his teeth clench on his expensive dental work, it was the humiliation of being reminded he'd been that stupid. Dumb enough to fall for the face and body that were as fake as the nice-girl routine. "Don't worry about it. I'm over her. And you never liked her."
"Dude, nobody liked her."
"Yeah, call it my L.A. phase, hang around movie stars, marry a swimsuit model, get a house with a pool, start"
"I'm glad you said that," his oldest friend interrupted. "L.A. was a phase. It's not you."
Even as he accepted that his friend was right, he wondered if he even knew what he was anymore. Or where he belonged.
"I need you to come home."
"What are you talking about? Is somebody sick? In trouble?"
"No. But here's the thing. I need you, man."
"What, you're gay now?"
"Funny. No. It's the big league game."
"Big league" only meant one thing to Jarrad. NHL. From which he was forever barred. He shook his head. His thinking was hardly ever muddled anymore. Mostly, the only effect of the career-ending hit he'd taken was that he'd lost his peripheral vision. He wasn't Big J anymore. He was an unemployed thirty-five-year-old man who had no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life apart from shaving in public on camera. "Big league?"
"The World Police and Firefighter Games hockey championship," Greg said in a "duh" tone, as though there could be no other league of any importance.
"Right. Sure. Ah, if you want a ringer, I can't play hockey anymore. You know that."
"You can't catch crooks or fight fires, either. I don't want you on the team."
"Then what do you want?"
Jarrad beeped open the doors of his overpriced luxury sports car.
"We're the worst team in the league. It's humiliating. We have this big rivalry going with Portland and what we need is a coach. They told me I was crazy to try, but me and the boys, well, we want you to coach us."
Jarrad damned near dropped his fancy new phone. He'd thought shooting shaving cream commercials was as low as he was going to fall. But coaching a bunch of cops and firefighters for an amateur hockey league?
"I don't know how to coach," he said, playing for time.
"Sure you do. You can play, can't you? So practice your coaching skills on us. We're not paying you, so we can't complain."
"I don't know. I'm pretty busy."
"No, you're not. You're sitting around feeling sorry for yourself."
He could argue the point, but Greg wouldn't be fooled.
"I need to think about it."
"Come home, do a good thing. Get your life back."
"Think about it."
"I'm heading out into traffic," he lied. "Gotta go." And he flipped shut the phone. Then he got slowly into the car, let the hum of the engine and the air-conditioning systemwhich constantly adjusted itself to his preferred temperaturesoothe him.
As if he'd go home to his rain-soaked town and coach a bunch of amateurs. Home. He wasn't sure if it was the images of Fred or the call from Greg, but suddenly he felt a twinge of homesickness. Which was weird. He used to go back a lot when his dad was alive, but Art McBride had died a couple of years back from a sudden heart attack. Shortly after that, his mom had moved to Vancouver Island. A nurse, she'd taken a demanding hospital position, which all the family understood was her way of dealing with the grief and loneliness.
Vancouver in February was cold, rainy and dreary, he reminded himself as the sun beat against his expensive shades and the engine purred obediently beneath him.
He headed out the coast road to his Malibu home. He'd grab a swim, call up a nice woman and go get some dinner. Enjoy the riches life had so generously given him. So he couldn't play hockey anymore. Big deal. He'd figure out something to do with the time hanging heavy on his hands.
Sam, his younger sister by three years, was busy with her law practice. Even though she bugged him all the time to leave L.A. and move back home, she had a full life. It wasn't as if she needed him.
And Taylor, the youngest McBride, was too busy trying to take the McBride spot in the NHL to have much time for his older, washed-up brother.
Be great to see them, though. Maybe he'd fly up for a quick weekend. See the family and a few old friends. Maybe when the weather was better.
But as his house came into view, he realized that his old buddy, Greg, wasn't the only one who wondered how he was doing now that his ex-wife was engaged to a new victim.
Paparazzi clogged the gated entrance to his home like rats packing a sewer.
He swore under his breath. Didn't stop to think. He swung the car around in a tight U and sped away from his own house cursing aloud.
A couple of miles down the road, he pulled over. Even in the perfectly controlled air-conditioning he was sweating. He knew from experience that for the few days he and his ex and her new guy were the love triangle du jour, he'd get no peace.
He didn't want to answer questions.
He didn't want to pretend everything was okay.
He didn't want to find himself stalked by cameras as he tried to go about his business.
Damn it, and damn Greg for knowing him so well. He wanted to go home.
He called his assistant to book him a flight to Vancouver and then he called Greg.
"I'll be there Monday. Where do you practice and what time?"
"Come on, it'll be fun," Tamson insisted as Sierra Jans-sen hesitated on the brink of the ice rink.
"Fun for you, watching me fall on my butt in the cold. It's seven in the morning on a Saturday, my day off. I should be sleeping in."
"None of us are great skaters. Who cares? We get some exercise, laugh a lot and it turns out that there's a team of firefighters and cops practicing in the next rink. Being here is much better than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself."
But Sierra wasn't sure that sitting around feeling sorry for herself wouldn't, in fact, be more fun than attempting to play hockey when she hadn't skated in years. It was cold in here and smelled like old sweat socks. Colorful pennants hung from the impossibly high rafters boasting of wins and league championships. She'd passed a glass case of trophies telling similar stories. For some reason the word league only reminded her of Michael, who had been so far out of her league she'd never had a chance. What had a successful, handsome brain surgeon wanted with a grade-two schoolteacher who, on her best days, could only be termed cute.