Who says chivalry is dead? Well, it’s probably on life support now that my Knight in Coke-bottle Glasses got beat up. But it’s nice to know he’s out there. Somewhere.
Dad was asleep in his recliner in front of the TV when I walked into the house so I tried to tiptoe past him into to my room. He always waited up for me, though, and I heard the creaking of his chair as he shifted.
“You’re late, sweetie,” he said quietly. “I was getting worried.”
I sighed, taking a deep breath before turning around. I had the beginnings of a black eye so I knew there would be a thousand questions.
I hesitated. “I had a long night.”
“What happened?” Dad asked, squinting in the semi-darkness.
“I got jumped at the arena—but I’m fine.”
“What?” He got up and flipped on the lights, coming over to me and lifting my chin with one of his big, weathered hands. “Who the fuck did this to you?”
“Some jerks I work with—but they’ve probably already been arrested, so don’t worry.”
“Probably? Those motherfuckers better be in jail or I’ll be waiting for them after the next game. Tell me their names.”
“It’s all right, Daddy.” I smiled. “A nice guy came to my rescue long enough for me to get help and then Ben Whitmer and a few other guys on the team got involved. I also managed to kick one of them so hard he’s still choking on his dick.”
Dad sputtered out a laugh, before leaning over to kiss my forehead. “That’s my girl.”
He listened as I told him the whole story, a tic in his jaw the only visible sign of annoyance on his part. I knew him, though, and he was pissed. Hopefully, he wouldn’t show up at the arena this weekend and do something to get me fired. We needed the extra money.
“We have bigger problems than this, though, Dad,” I said, trying to deflect the conversation. “They’re going to turn off the electricity if we don’t come up with some money. I have two hundred put away for a rainy day, but that’s not enough.”
“I’ve got some overtime coming to me,” Dad said, scratching his chin. “But I don’t get paid until Friday and it’s probably only an extra hundred bucks or so.”
“Dad, you have to tell me when we run short. You didn’t pay the electric bill for four months!”
“It wasn’t on purpose,” he protested. “You put everything on that bill pay stuff online and I forget about it.”
“I set it up to pay automatically,” I said in frustration.
“But we don’t always have the money so I had to change it back to manual. Sometimes I have to wait until payday, you know? But don’t you worry, I’ll figure it out. Maybe Mr. Kiplinger can float me a loan.” Mr. Kiplinger was Dad’s jerk of a boss, and though I didn’t say it out loud, I knew the old fart wouldn’t loan him anything.
“Let me know one way or the other because we can’t be without electricity.”
“Leave it to me, honey. You want me to get you an ice pack for that eye?”
I wanted to say no but I was so tired.
“Thanks, Dad. Would you mind leaving it in my room? I’m gonna jump in the shower and then lie down.”
I didn’t sleep well that night, between how sore I was and the intermittent nightmares about the attack. Even though I hadn’t been hurt, the doctor at the hospital said to take it easy for a couple of days. I didn’t want to take off work, but it would be hard to ‘take it easy’ at the library. I was always carrying books or loading carts with books, climbing ladders to put books away, squatting down to do the same thing. There was nothing easy about my job at the library, but I didn’t want to just hang out at home with nothing to do, either.
I padded into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee from our old machine, wondering what I was going to do about the electric bill. Could I dance at a strip club for one night? Just enough to pay the electric bill? I probably could, but I didn’t want to. God, I was so tired of being broke. Even with Dad working full-time and me working two jobs, there never seemed to be enough money. It was exhausting.
I took a sip of coffee and sat down at the old linoleum kitchen table where I’d been having breakfast since I was a kid. We’d lived in houses and apartments when I was younger, but had been in this double-wide trailer for five years. I wished I knew what Dad did with all his money since on paper, we should have been okay. But we were always short, every damn month, no matter how much I contributed.
Dad was one of my favorite people in the whole world. Strong, kind, gentle, and hard-working, he was one of those men you could rely on. He just couldn’t figure out a budget to save his life.
“Morning, Sunshine.” He came into the kitchen smiling.
“How’s your eye?”
“Ugly.” I glanced up at him.
He shook his head. “You’re always beautiful.”
My phone rang and I was surprised to see the number for the Mavericks on the screen.
“Nova? Hi, this is Amber from Rosa Romano’s office.”
Rosa Romano? As in the owner of the Mavericks? What on earth could she want?
“What can I do for you?”
“Mrs. Romano would like to invite you to sit in her private box during the next Mavericks game. You and a guest.”
“But I work during the Mavericks games,” I protested.
“Not this week, you don’t. Mrs. Romano said you’re to have the night off, with pay, and she would sincerely enjoy the pleasure of your company.”
I squinted at the phone. “Oh, um, sure. What do I have to do?”
“There will be special passes waiting at the will call window for you. Just pick them up and they’ll direct you where to go.”
“This is very kind,” I said automatically. “But truly unnecessary.”
“That’s between you and her. We’ll see you Saturday night.” She disconnected and I stared at the phone for a few seconds. “Hey, Dad, wanna go see a Mavericks game from the owner’s box?”
Watching a hockey game from the owner’s private box was a completely different experience for me. There was a small buffet set up along one wall, waiters that walked around bringing you drinks, and nice, comfortable chairs. We’d also been gifted jerseys autographed by the whole team, collectible programs, and a handful of other things in the swag bag they’d given us.
“This is fucking awesome,” Dad murmured as we waited for the game to start. Mrs. Romano hadn’t arrived yet, so it was just me and Dad, and a local television personality who’d also been invited. He’d been on the phone the whole time, though, so we hadn’t talked to him.
“Hi, you must be Nova. I’m Rosa Romano.” A tall, slender woman who had to be sixty but looked closer to forty, approached us with her hand extended. “Thank you for coming tonight.”
“Mrs. Romano.” I quickly stood up. “Thank you so much for inviting us. I’m Nova Paulsen and this is my father, Duke.”
“Hello, Nova. Duke.” Rosa inclined her head at me, but when she and my father shook hands, they locked eyes.
Rosa’s gaze moved up and down my father’s six-foot-two-inch body, an appreciative smile playing on her lips.
Ew, gross. Was Mrs. Romano checking out my dad?
Of course, I was probably biased in a negative way because he was my dad. In all fairness, he was tall and stocky and stayed in shape. He ran regularly and was a decent looking guy. It was just, you know, he was my father.
Dad and Mrs. Romano were still staring at each other and I had to resist the urge to elbow him.
“Duke, I feel personally responsible for your daughter’s attack last week,” Mrs. Romano said. “I pride myself on stringent hiring protocols, and that two people like that managed to get on my staff infuriates me.”
“You couldn’t have known,” I said quietly. “None of this was your fault, Mrs. Romano.”
“Please. Call me Rosa.” She smiled at me and while I was a little intimidated by her shrewd, no-nonsense tone, Dad had no such qualms.
“I just hope those punks get what’s coming to them,” Dad said firmly. “No one messes with my little girl.”
Rosa smiled. “Neither of them is employed here any longer, and they were arrested.”
“Damn good thing.” Dad nodded. “I don’t understand how this even happened. Shouldn’t there be a buddy system or something, for women leaving the arena?”
“Dad.” I gave him a look. “I’m an adult. I don’t need a buddy.”
“That’s not a bad idea, though,” Rosa said thoughtfully.
“I’d also like to thank the young man who saved her,” Dad said.
“I’d like to thank him too,” I said quickly. “Do you know who it is?”
Rosa peered at me curiously. “He’s a new hire. You didn’t get to see him that night?”
I shook my head. “No. I barely saw him and then I ran to get help.”
“Oh! Well, then let’s get him up here.”
Before I could say anything, she picked up her phone and started texting someone. Then she looked up with a smile. “There we go. I’ll have him up here in a jiffy and we can all say hello.”
“So, what do you do, Rosa?” Dad asked her casually, as if she were some random woman in a bar.
“I own a hockey team,” she replied without missing a beat. “I’m also an Aries and I like romantic walks on the beach and frozen margaritas.”
Dad chuckled, giving her a little wink. “Well, I have no idea what my sign is, haven’t been to a beach in years, and Bud Light’s my drink of choice. However, I’m rebuilding the engine on a 1967 Harley that’ll make for great rides at sunset when it’s done, and I’m a big hockey fan.”
“I think there’s some middle ground here,” she said, giving him a girlish smile.
Holy shit, was Rosa Romano flirting with my dad?
If so, I didn’t want to listen to it, so I moved to a spot where I could see the game out of their earshot.
The game had just started and the Mavericks were on fire. I loved watching them play, especially when Ben Whitmer and Lars Jansson were on the ice. Ben was fast and sneaky; Lars was a massive force of nature. Nothing got in his way, he just barreled through everyone like a good defenseman should, and I was often mesmerized when I watched.
There was a slight commotion as someone came into the room and I turned just as my Knight in Coke-bottle Glasses walked in, wearing his Ricky the Raven suit and holding a new, smaller headpiece against one hip. Our eyes met and he gave me a nervous smile.
“You must be Seth!” Rosa turned and extended a hand to him. “Thank you for coming. I’m Rosa Romano.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded politely as he shook her hand. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
“Likewise. Now, there are two people who’ve been dying to thank you. Duke and Nova Paulsen—this is Seth Parr.”
I stared up at him and before I could think of what to say, everything stopped for a second.
His big green eyes met mine, I unconsciously licked my lips, and neither of us said a word. It was like there was no one else in the room. Seth looked like he was trying to think of something to say, but before either of us could speak, Dad jumped between us and started pumping Seth’s hand.