“We’ll pack up your things and send them along for you. Thank you for your years of dedication, Bryan. Good luck with your new team.” The general manager of the Tornadoes stretches out his hand, which I reluctantly shake. Then I shake my coach’s hand—well, my ex-coach’s hand. I can’t look either of them in the eye.
As I leave the GM’s office and head for the exit, the threshold from my old life to my new one, I run into a couple of my teammates. My former teammates now. They express their regrets regarding my trade and say they’re sorry to see me go. That they’ll miss me. But it’s not like that matters.
Soon after my conversation with my old GM, I get a call from my new GM of the Dallas Comets. He’s excited to bring me on board and talks a lot about how I’m going to fit in with their team and help them make the play-offs. He lets me know that they’re going to take care of everything for me and help arrange my move; that way, I only have to focus on my play.
I don’t want to go, but I don’t really have a choice. So I head home to my girlfriend Corinne to break the news to her. Somehow, though, she already knows. As soon as I walk through the door, she stands and asks, “Is it true? Are they sending you to Dallas?”
My shoulders fall. “Yeah. Just got the news.”
“How can they do that? How can the Tornadoes just give you away?”
“It’s the business side of hockey,” I explain to her. “The Tornadoes needed a forward, and the Comets needed a defenseman. Unfortunately, I’m the guy caught in the middle.”
Corinne frowns and crosses her arms over her chest. “Don’t be selfish, Bry. You’re not the only one involved in this. What am I supposed to do?”
“Come with me, of course. I’m flying out tonight.”
“I can’t! I have to pack everything up, arrange to move it all, get this place listed...” Her voice fades out as she thinks about all the things that need to be done.
“The Comets’ll take care of all that. Cory, baby,” I say, grabbing her hand and pulling her body into mine. I need the comfort more than ever now. “I just need you with me. Please come with me to Dallas.”
She takes a deep breath; I feel her body expand and then shrink back down. “I think I should stay, though. Oversee everything. And then I’ll follow you down.”
It makes sense, but that doesn’t mean I like it. I’m getting traded, and I could use the familiarity of a friendly face to keep me company in a new place. But what else am I supposed to say? I’m saddened that she won’t be joining me on my flight. “Okay.”
“Texas,” she spits out. “I can’t believe we’re going to Texas. Why couldn’t they have traded you to the Rangers? I would’ve loved New York City.”
I wish I had an answer for her—or yet, a better locale to take her to. Dallas is a great sports town in general but not necessarily a great market for hockey. Corinne doesn’t sound very pleased with it either. She and I met our freshman year at the University of North Dakota, where I had been playing with the Fighting Sioux. Once I went pro and started playing for the Tornadoes, she kept up with her studies and graduated with great grades. She wanted to move to New York to start her career, but I persuaded her to come with me to Raleigh by telling her that long-distance relationships don’t work. I don’t think she ever really adjusted to North Carolina.
Because of a freak snowstorm in Raleigh that lays down more snow than anyone expected, I’m stuck here until the following morning. I know I won’t have a chance to make it to the morning skate before the game they’re playing tonight, so I’ll have to play without getting a practice under my belt. It’s bad enough getting traded...but how am I supposed to make a good first impression when I have no practice and no chance to learn the new systems?
The flight feels both too short and too long. I want it to be over, but I want it to never end, either. But I can’t have it both ways. When I get off the plane and pick up my bag, I keep my head down and head toward the taxi stand. As I navigate through the crowd, though, I see my name scrawled on a poster board and tentatively head toward the holder of the sign. It’s got to be a joke, though. The person picking me up is a caricature of a Texan. She’s wearing dark jeans with a hole in the knee, a clingy white tank top, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. Or is it a cowgirl hat? Is there a difference?
“Hi, Bryan, I’m Georgiana Pierson. I’m from the Comets. Welcome to Dallas! We’re so excited to have you.” She has a southern drawl, but it’s anything but slow. The smile on her face is wide and genuine. She extends a well-manicured hand. I expect a weak handshake, but she surprises me with a firm grip and vigorous pump. “We’ve got housing set up for you, and I’m going to help you get settled in before tonight’s game. If you need anything as you get acclimated here—and I do mean anything—then I’m your girl. Let me help you with your bag.”
I’m kind of overwhelmed by her. She talks fast and moves even faster; before I can tell her that I’m more than capable of handling my own stuff, she takes the duffel bag of mine and hoists it over her shoulder. The sight is reminiscent of something out of a rodeo, the way she manhandles it. She’s solidly built, but not in a masculine kind of way. No, she’s all woman, with curves and dark brown curly hair that spills out of her hat almost like a wig. Her brown eyes smile just like her mouth. It’s kind of catching, except I don’t feel like smiling. As we head for the door, I wonder if she’s picking me up from the airport on a horse.
* * * * *
I may not be a hockey player, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know how hard trades are. When I said goodbye to winger Tim Fletcher, it was like I was losing a brother. I may not be a player on the Comets, but the players have always made me feel like I was a part of the team. Like I was one of them. I care about them, and I try to make sure they’re all taken care of. Sure, it’s a part of my job, but Lord knows I don’t just do it because I’m paid to do it; I do it because I want to. I’m like a mother hen keeping her chicks in check. I’m polite and kind, but I can get feisty and sassy if I need to in order to get things done.
So when I meet our newest star at the airport, Bryan Comstock, I can immediately tell that he’s wary about this new city and his new team. I can see it in his slumped posture. He’s a big man—or at least that’s what his bio says. He’s six feet tall and 195 pounds, but he looks smaller as he walks toward me. Of course I’m sad to see Tim go, but he’s not under my wing anymore—so my allegiance stays with the Comets. Now, everything in me is telling me to take care of Bryan and help him adjust to Dallas. My maternal side comes out, and I want to fix whatever’s wrong. After all, I’m a problem solver. I make things better.
Bryan never smiles at me, even though I try my best to make him feel as welcome as he should. We’re all hoping that he’ll lift us out of the slump caused by injuries and fatigue, as well as by a little bit of complacency. As I drive him into the city, I do what I can to break through to him, always by talking about Dallas and the promise of the future of the team as well as his bright potential here—and never talking about the past or Carolina. None of those things matters anymore. I do most of the talking as we cruise down the highway with the windows down; it’s hotter than a goat’s behind in a pepper patch. Before coming to the airport, I had been making sure everything was set up and ready for Bryan’s temporary housing, until he is able to find something of his own, and I am hot, sweaty, and dehydrated from working in this heat.
I really didn’t know who this guy was before the trade. We played the Tornadoes months ago and won, but I don’t remember much out of that game. Especially Bryan Comstock, who I wouldn’t have recognized if I hadn’t been shown his picture before being sent to the airport by management to pick him up. Physically, there’s not much that makes him stand out. He has brownish hair cropped close to his head, brown eyes, and thin pink lips. He’d be handsome if he smiled, but he doesn’t look like he does much of that.
Bryan looks stoic but also a little queasy, I think. It had been a big day for him, with getting the news and all. I know that Tim was taken aback, too. It’s hard to start over in a new city alone, but that’s why I’m helping: to ease the transition. When we get to the small townhouse where he’ll be staying—bought by the Comets for instances just like this, conveniently complete with a car in the driveway for him to use—I help him bring his bag inside and give him a brief tour before telling him that directions to the American Airlines Center are printed out and on the passenger seat of the car.
“And the keys are on the counter. So you’re all set,” I tell him. “Coach said not to worry about trying to figure out our system yet—we’re just gonna let you play your game, and we’ll see what you’ve got. I know I’m excited to see how it goes.”
He nods, but he doesn’t look excited. I wish I could make him see that this is going to be good for him. I want to tell him that he’s going to fit in well here. I want to tell him that he’s a top-four defenseman, and that’s where he’ll be put here in Dallas. He was on the third pairing in Carolina, always held back by the bigger names on the Tornadoes’ roster. He wouldn’t have been able to show off his skills like he can here in Dallas. He’ll get more minutes, he’ll get more chances, and he’ll make a bigger splash.
But I feel like even if I tell him all that, he won’t believe me. So I don’t bother to say those things. Instead, I reach out and touch his arm. I make sure he has my card so he can call if he has any questions about the team’s routine or about Dallas in general, but he doesn’t even glance at it before he shoves it in his pocket and just nods at me. So I then tell him that I’ll see him around the rink and leave him there for the afternoon to get acclimated to his new, albeit temporary, home in Texas.
Lord knows I’ve got my hands full of stuff to do back at the arena, so I leave Bryan and head back home so I can shower and change into appropriate work attire before going back into the office. It’s a lot of work, taking care of my Comets, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.