Friday, May 4, 2012
Chapter 1-There Goes My Future
Matt sighed as he looked around the locker room, so many unfamiliar faces except the one that he had called a friend and teammate throughout his time in the Stars organization.
“We’re going with 18, 71, 14, 2, and 58 and Flower is in the cage,” Dan Bylsma spoke before the game. James and Matt were starting the game with the best center, defenseman, and goaltender in the league along side of one of the best wingers. It was their first game in a Penguins uniform after being traded to Pittsburgh from Dallas for Alex Goligoski.
“Look alive,” James said as Matt focused on the announcer telling the crowd to get on their feet and welcome their Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Pittsburgh Penguins,” the word repeated itself in Matt’s mind. He wished Kelsey was there to see him. Sighing as he took the ice, Matt looked into the crowd for his parents but couldn't see them among the crowd surrounding the rink.
The buzzer blared signaling warm-ups were over; and Matt headed off down the runway of his new home arena more confident than he had ever felt before. As Matt listened to the buzz around the locker room, he reached behind him and pulled out the picture he had grown accustomed to looking at before every game.
Matt smiled as he ran his thumb over the picture of the small boy who looked like him when he was little. Matt remembered the day he was born and how scared he was. Matt felt the guilt wash over him as he realized that his son was no longer the newborn baby that he remembered. Jace Matthew Niskanen was born December 19, 2008 and was the spitting image of his father.
Matt told Kelsey he wasn't ready to be a father and she went back to Minnesota. Her parents disowned her and she was a single mother struggling to provide for their son. Matt sent money but each time he sent it, he'd receive the checks back in the mail.
James tapped him in the shin with a stick, "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine," Matt lied as he shoved the picture back into his wallet,
James smiled slightly at his friend before Matt stood up and they hit the ice. Matt took his place next to James on the blue line and bowed his head as Jeff Jimerson sang "The Star Spangled Banner."
The game was delayed after the second intermission due to a brief power outage. The Penguins lost 3-2 and Matt felt as if he could have played better. He had big shoes to fill on the blueline and he felt he needed to show the fans that he was a good player.
Matt went to the family room where his parents were and he smiled at the two of them.
"You played great, honey," Linda Niskanen said. "Powder blue is definitely your color."
"We don't always wear those," Matt laughed as he hugged her. Matt shook his dad's hand and sat down on the couch next to them.
Matt and his family fell into conversation when he heard giggles from a small child. Matt smiled figuring it was one of the guys' children when he heard her voice.
"Jace, slow down before you fall," Matt froze as the small boy approached him and his family.
"We wanted to surprise you," Chuck said. "We knew you would want to meet him."
Kelsey stood by Chuck, her gaze never leaving Matt, "Hi Kelsey," he said awkwardly. "Thanks for coming, it really means a lot to me that you are here."
Kelsey nodded her head before Matt stood up, Jace was behind Kelsey's legs hiding from the stranger that was his father. Kelsey leaned down to pick him up and he buried his face in her neck. Matt felt his heart swell at her kissing Jace's forehead before whispering something in his ear.
Jace turned towards Matt and Matt gasped at the resemblance. He saw it in pictures but now that Jace was in front of him, there was no denying it.
Jace lifted his head and smiled at Matt before reaching his arms out to be held, "May I," he asked Kelsey.
"He's your son too," she said as he lifted Jace from her arms. Jace wrapped his arms around Matt's neck and Matt felt his eyes well up with tears.
"Can you give us a minute," he asked causing his parents and Kelsey to nod their heads.
Kelsey was reluctant leaving her son with his father but Matt really needed some alone time. Matt held Jace to his chest and rubbed his back. He had already missed so much of his life and he felt terrible.
"You sad," Jace asked pulling away from him.
"No," Matt smiled at his son's concern. "I'm happy that you're here."
"Who are you?"
Matt smiled, "I'm your daddy."
Matt shook his head and Jace kissed his cheek before laying his head on Matt's shoulder giving him a hug. Matt stood up from the couch and walked out into the hall when he felt the emotions getting the best of him.
"Let's go to dinner," he said above a whisper. "Kelsey, is that ok? He doesn't have a bed time, does he?"
“He's fine," she said. "You guys go to dinner, I'll catch a cab back to the hotel."
"How can you expect me just to forget everything and have dinner with you like nothing happened? I am not going, Jace can go if you want him to but I am not going to sit there and watch you act like father of the year when you aren't. You changed your number, so I wouldn't contact you and now you expect me to forgive everything and act like nothing ever happened."
Matt sighed, "He's asleep anyways," he said handing Jace to Kelsey. "You know what, forget it! I got to go. Mom, dad, do you guys have a way back to the hotel?"
"We're right next door at the Cambria Suites."
"I'll see you guys tomorrow," he said before kissing Jace's forehead.
Matt drove to his hotel in silence. He was staying at the Marriott right next to the arena but he didn't want to be recognized in the crowd of Penguins fans and drove the short distance to his new home arena.
Matt stripped out of his suit and took another shower before crawling into bed. Reaching over on the nightstand, Matt grabbed his wallet. He opened it and looked down at the picture no one knew he had. It was him and Kelsey with Jace in the hospital after he was born. His mom had taken the picture and Matt printed it after coming across it on his laptop.
They both looked scared in the picture, they were 22 and 23 years old with a baby who came into the worl unexpectedly. Matt had given Jace up to focus on his career; never once thinking about how Kelsey gave up law school to take care of their child.
Matt leaned the picture against the lamp where he stared at it for what seemed like forever, before he grabbed his phone off the charger. Climbing out of bed, Matt walked over to the table by the window that overlooked the now vacant Mellon Arena and dialed the number he knew like 911.
"Hello," she asked sleepily.
"Kelsey," Matt whispered. " It's me."
"What do you want?"
"I called to tell you that I'm sorry. It's been eating away at me ever since I saw you guys at the arena. You didn't deserve me not being there for you and neither did Jace. I'm really, really sorry. If I could go back and change things, I would. I love my son, I never once hated him. I still care about you a lot, but I know we'll never be like we were; and I'm ok with that as long as we can be friends and raise Jace together."
Matt had to stop talking before the tears fell from his eyes. Silence fell over the two of them and neither one knew what to say.
"Matt, it's late," Kelsey said. "Get some sleep."
"Can I come see him tomorrow?"
"He'd like that. I'll text you when he wakes up."
"Ok," Matt replied. "Goodnight!"
"Bye," she said hanging up the phone. Matt looked at the picture one last time before falling asleep and dreaming of the world where he made up for missing the first to years of his son's life.