Three years later
“Twenty-three, huh?” I ask Ryder as he walks out to the bench wearing his game jersey.
He shrugs it off like it’s no big deal, but I love that my little bro is carrying on the Rauthruss number.
“Are you ready for today?” I ask, taking a seat on the bench. It’s the Mighty Cubs first game of the season.
I get another lift and fall of his shoulders. I might be more nervous than any of my players. It’s my first time coaching and even though it’s just a bunch of local kids looking to have fun and play hockey, I feel the pressure like I did going into big college games.
“How much longer?” My brother stands impatiently near the gate ready to take the ice.
“They’re almost done,” I assure him and find my wife at the other end of the rink teaching a group of three and four-year-olds. They march forward toward a pile of toys in the center of the ice.
Sienna marches in front of them in tennis shoes, showing how it’s done and encouraging them to lift their legs higher. Her pregnant bump leads the way and pride, excitement, and more than a little nerves spreads through my chest. She’s thirty-six weeks and hasn’t been able to skate since we found out she was pregnant around nine weeks in, but she refused to give up teaching. She’s good at it too. Particularly with the younger kids. They love her.
She started coaching figure skating the summer after we graduated. It began as a way to make money while she built her yoga business, and now she splits her days between the rink and her studio.
“I came up with a few more names for the baby,” Ryder says, pulling my attention back to him.
“Let’s hear them.” I cross my arms over my chest.
“I was thinking Peter or Parker.”
The corner of my lips twitch with amusement. “Spider-Man?”
He grins and nods. “Or Bruce for the Hulk, Clark for Superman, there are so many good options and how cool would it be if the baby was named after someone awesome?”
Sienna’s class has finished, the kids clutch their toys in their hands, and she corrals them off the ice. “I’ll run them by the boss.”
“Okay.” He stands, anxious to get out there. “Cool.”
“Stay out of the way as dad cleans the ice, all right?” I head toward Sienna as he rushes out with his hockey stick and a handful of pucks.
“Hey, angel.” I palm her stomach and drop a kiss on her cheek.
She whimpers and places a hand on her lower back. “This kid of yours is misbehaving today.”
Smiling, I place my other hand on her stomach. “Don’t worry, little angel, I’ll protect you from your mom.”
I don’t know a lot about being a dad yet, but I know this kid already has me wrapped around its finger. Only two more weeks until I get to meet him. Because of her heart condition, the doctor recommended a C-section. And because my girl hates surprises, she was all for having a date on the calendar.
“Are you staying for the game?” I ask.
“Of course. I picked out a seat right next to the bench so I can heckle the hottie coach.”
“I’m nervous,” I admit.
“You’re going to be great. Ryder’s ready to carry you to victory.” She nods her head where he’s skating backward in front of the Zamboni like it’s a defender. I start to yell at him to move, but our dad’s grinning from the driver’s seat.
“Good luck, Coach.”
When the rest of our team arrives, I give the world’s worst pep talk while sweating bullets and then send them out to play. Some of these kids have been playing together since they were in preschool, which means they pick up the slack of my novice coaching. Ryder’s incredible. At eight he’s already a great hockey player.
By the start of the third period, I’ve relaxed. We’re up by five and I’m rotating my players through to give everyone a chance to play together.
A tug at my elbow makes my gaze snap to the left. Sienna stands outside of the bench in the walkway to the tunnel.
“Angel. Come to kiss the coach?” I lean against the half wall and stare out at my players.
“I’ve come to steal him away,” she says. “It’s time.”
“Time for what?” I’m still staring at the game as we talk.
I give her my attention and her words sink in. “It’s time?”
“Oh my gosh. It’s time!”
My dad’s right behind her and steps into the bench. He grabs my shoulder and squeezes. “I’ve got it from here, Coach. We’ll meet you at the hospital.”
“Thank you,” I rush out, taking Sienna’s hand.
I don’t remember the drive to the hospital or getting her signed in. It isn’t until they shoo me out of the room to administer the epidural that all of my worries and anxiety about being a dad and Sienna going through delivery hit me at once.
I pace the hallway. My mom arrives and tries to calm me down, but I don’t breathe easy until I’m back in the room.
I rush to her bed and let out a shaky breath.
“Easy there, Dad,” the nurse says as my knees buckle. “Would you like to sit down?”
Sienna smirks, but then another contraction hits and her face contorts with the pain.
“No, I’m good.” I take Sienna’s hand and let her squeeze it until the bones feel like they’ll break. “I’m here, angel. Just breathe.”
Her pain gives me something to focus on. “I thought the epidural stopped the pain.”
“It’ll take a few minutes to kick in,” the nurse says while Sienna continues to crush my fingers.
When it’s time, I’m given scrubs to put on over my clothes and a hairnet and little booties. I stay right by the side of her bed as they wheel her into the surgical room.
She looks over to me with tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong? Does it still hurt?” I’m ready to throw down in here until I find someone who can stop the pain.
“What if something goes wrong?”
I swallow thickly. “Everything is going to be fine.”
“What if I’m a terrible mother?”
“No chance, angel.”
“I’m so scared. Distract me.”
I lean over her until my mouth hovers next to her ear. Then I sing. The same song I sang the first time she dragged me to a real karaoke night and the same song I sang to her as we had our first dance at our wedding. Mister Bryan Adams has come through for me in some clutch moments.
She closes her eyes and smiles as I sing “Heaven”. That’s exactly what she is. My heaven. My angel.
“Here he is,” the nurse says with a soft smile as our baby cries out.
We look up as they place our son on Sienna’s chest briefly. He’s got her dark hair, but the rest I don’t make out through the tears in my eyes. My heart swells and I feel more pride and love than I ever have.
“He’s perfect.” Sienna puts her nose to his head and inhales.
I kiss her temple. “Absolutely perfect.”
* * *
The next morning we’re bleary-eyed from lack of sleep but deliriously happy. Mom stayed most of the night with us, but had to leave to see to the rink. Dad brings Ryder by just as the baby is waking up.
He walks in with slow, hesitant steps.
“Do you want to meet your nephew?” Sienna asks him.
Dad takes a seat next to me, and Ryder goes to stand next to the hospital bed.
“Mom wouldn’t tell me what you named him. Did you go with one of my suggestions?”
“About that.” I stand and step up beside him. “We talked about it, and Sienna and I decided you were right. He should be named after someone awesome.”
“Which is why we named him after you,” Sienna says. “Meet Ryan Ryder Rauthruss.”
My brother’s eyes widen and his mouth pulls up into a smile. “Cool.”
The four of us chuckle and stare at Ryan. Dad hands me a little blue teddy bear. “From Cory and Cam.”
I take the soft stuffed animal in my hands and feel a twinge of sadness for all the moments like this that they won’t have. I’ve done my best to keep my promise to Carrie. I talked Cam into helping with our middle school hockey camps in the summer and I have coffee with Cory every Sunday morning. It doesn’t change anything. I get that. Somewhere along the line, my promise to look after them became a way to remember her instead.
Ryder grins from ear to ear as he sits on the bed next to Sienna and she carefully places Ryan in his arms.
“I can’t wait to teach him to play hockey.”
“Maybe he wants to be a figure skater.” Sienna nudges him playfully.
Ryder scrunches up his nose.
Sienna’s phone rings from the table and she lifts it with a smile. I know that smile. It’s reserved for Elias. They still talk almost every day and a few months ago he and Taylor spent a month with us while they prepared for a competition.
The day continues with family and friends calling and stopping by to see us. Adam calls and I give him every detail from Ryan’s dark hair to his tiny, perfect toes. Maverick texts congrats and makes plans to come see us as soon as he can. Even Heath gets the news and sends congratulations and best wishes from him and Ginny.
When night falls and the hospital quietens, it’s just the three of us. My little family. I crowd in next to Sienna on her small bed and Ryan sleeps in the bassinet beside us. The TV is on mute as we watch the Wildcats game.
“Maverick’s having a great game,” Sienna whispers with her head resting on my chest.
“He asked if he could be Ryan’s godfather if he got a hat trick tonight.”
She lifts her head an inch. “What did you say?”
“I said hell yes.”
She laughs quietly and then yawns. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired. Or so happy.”
“Me either, angel.” I close my eyes. “Get some sleep.”
“He’ll be up again soon.”
“Mhmmm.” I think it’s the first time I’ve ever looked forward to being woken up by someone crying or screaming. I probably won’t even sleep long enough to dream. Doesn’t matter. Even the wildest dreams couldn’t compare with this.