Me, in an NHL locker room? I did not see that coming. And the worst part? I could hardly see anything because my eyes were swelling shut. It was okay, though, because even though I felt like I’d been run over by a Zamboni, for that half hour in the locker room, I was one of the guys.
“Bro, your glasses are trashed,” Ben Whitmer said as he helped me up from the floor. “I’ll make sure the team gets you some new ones.”
I groaned in frustration. “I can’t see anything without my glasses. You may have witnessed that tonight on the ice.”
“On the ice?”
“Yeah. I’m the new mascot.”
“No shit? You were the one in that ridiculous getup?”
I reached up to my cheek, which was wet, and cringed from the pain.
“Hey man, don’t touch it, okay?” Ben said. “I’m going to take you to the locker room and have our trainers clean you up and check you out.”
“Is Nova okay?”
“Yeah, one of our trainers is with her. She’s okay.”
I could hardly see without my glasses, and what little sight I did have was diminishing from my eyes swelling shut. I’d been sure that guy was going to beat me to death until Ben came in.
“Mr. Whitmer, we’re gonna need to talk to him about what happened,” a voice said.
“Sure, but first we’re going to get him cleaned up.”
“Of course. And the St. Louis PD will be sending an officer, too.”
“You guys can wait for him outside the locker room,” Ben said.
“Which locker room?”
“The main one—ours.” There was a hint of aggravation in Ben’s tone.
“Yeah, of course. I’ll let you guys get going.”
Ben put an arm around my shoulders to steer me, and we started walking.
“Who was that?” I asked him.
“Security guy for the arena. He can wait.”
I stopped, frustrated I couldn’t see anything. “Are you sure Nova’s okay? Someone needs to get her a shirt. I don’t want to just leave without knowing–”
“Hey, I’m looking at her right now. She’s okay. Someone gave her a jacket to wear and one of our trainers is with her. Her name’s Angie. She’s great. There’s no way she’ll leave without making sure she’s okay. We have to get you looked at, man, you’re dripping blood on the floor.”
I nodded, and Ben put his arm back around me.
“What’s going on?” another male voice asked. “Who’s this?”
“This is…sorry, man, I haven’t asked your name yet,” Ben said.
“This is Seth,” Ben said. “He’s the badass who jumped in and took on both of those guys to save that woman.”
“Just one,” I clarified. “The other one was already on the floor.”
“Still. You took a beating for her. Is she your girlfriend?”
I laughed, and then groaned, because it hurt. “No. She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and I’m…an astrophysics grad student slash gaming nerd slash mascot.”
“Astrophysics?” Ben asked. “That’s badass, man. Are you like a genius?”
“No. A genius level IQ is widely considered to be anything over 140, and my IQ is 140. So that’s not over.”
“Can you believe this guy?” Ben said, laughing. “Our mascot’s a genius.”
“Holy shit, what happened to him?” a new male voice asked.
“Long story,” Ben said. “This is Seth, our new mascot. He jumped in to save a woman who was being attacked in the old weight room.”
“A woman? What was she doing in there?”
“She’s an ice dancer,” I responded.
“Oh, hell. Is she okay?”
“Yeah, I think so. But I’m not sure this guy is. Let’s get him into the locker room so you can look at him.”
“Seth, I’m Jake, one of the trainers here. We’re gonna get you taken care of.” He gingerly put a hand on my shoulder. “Wes, can you grab a couple of ice packs for me?”
I was led into the locker room and helped onto a table that felt like one in a doctor’s exam room. Jake poked, prodded, medicated, and iced me, and once the swelling around my eyes started going down, I could at least make out the shapes of people around me again.
“Has anyone seen my phone?” I asked. “I’m going to call my roommate to come pick me up.”
The voice of a first line Mavericks winger named Wes Kirby responded. “We found a phone on the floor of the old locker room, I assume it’s yours.”
“Does it have an anime screensaver?” I asked.
“Hang on, I’ll check.” After a few seconds, he said, “A cartoon looking woman? Is that it?”
“Yes, that’s it. Is it damaged? My phone?”
“Nope, it looks good.”
I sighed with relief, because I’d just bought that phone, and with my meager grad student bank account, I couldn’t have replaced it with a new one.
“You’re not calling anyone for a ride, bro, I’ll take you home,” Wes said. “Ben’s got a little girl waiting up to say goodnight to him.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna take off if you’re good, Seth,” Ben said.
I nodded. “I’ve got an extra pair of glasses at home. As soon as I can see again, I’ll be fine.”
Ben’s note of laughter holds no amusement. “You’re gonna be sore as hell tomorrow, man. He did a number on your ribs when you were on the ground and he was kicking you.”
“Yeah, the bruises are already pretty wicked,” Wes said.
“We’re gonna send our team doctor to look in on you at home tomorrow,” Ben said. “Her name’s Dr. Andie Stevens.”
“Tomorrow? I’m teaching a class in the morning.”
Ben and Wes both laughed.
“You aren’t going to feel like doing shit tomorrow, dude,” Wes said. “Probably not the next day, either.”
I exhaled heavily. I’d never missed a day of teaching, and I’d only missed a total of two days of classes in all my years as a college student. They were right, though—I was pretty sore.
“I’ve been there,” Ben said sympathetically.
I scoffed, not believing him. “You’ve had your ass kicked?”
“Yeah, I have, bro. On and off the ice.”
I hung my head, thinking about Nova seeing me lying on the floor, getting pummeled by the human trash that had attacked her. Now that I knew she was the woman whose screams I’d been responding to, I wished I’d at least thrown a decent punch.
“Hey,” Wes said, his tone so firm I looked over at the blurry shape I knew was him. “Chin up, dude. You ran into a fight with a guy who had a knife, not even thinking about yourself. You took every one of those punches and kicks so she wouldn’t have to. You are one badass motherfucker, you got it?”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
“He’s right,” Ben said. “The only man in that fight was you. I’m proud of you, Seth. Our owner is going to take care of paying you any lost wages while you recover.”
“Are you sure he’ll be okay with that?”
He laughed. “It’s a she, bro. Rosa Romano. And she’ll be more than okay with it. Go home and take it easy, okay? And if you’ve got reporters calling and you need security, let one of us know. Wes, will you put my number and yours into his phone?”
“Okay, I’m out. See you guys later.”
I put a hand up, waving at his retreating shape. What a surreal night my first foray as Ricky the Raven had been.
Wes helped me out to his vehicle and I gave him my address. I’d have to send my roommate Dean to get my car tomorrow, but he wouldn’t mind.
“So Ben has a daughter?” I asked as Wes drove.
“Yeah, Annalise.” I heard a smile in his voice. “Three years old. She’s a doll. And he has a baby boy, too. Benny. His wife Lauren is amazing with them.”
“Do you have a family?”
He scoffed. “Nah, I’m not even thinking about all that yet.”
I couldn’t imagine the life of a pro athlete. Women looked right past me, but Wes likely had his choice of any single woman he wanted. Probably some non-single ones, too.
“Okay, we’re at your building,” he said. “I’m just going to park, put those numbers into your phone, and then I’ll help you in.”
“You don’t need to–”
“I’m helping you in,” he said firmly, cutting me off.
I nodded. Once he got me to the front door of my small basement level apartment, I rang the doorbell instead of getting my keys out, and Dean answered, a PS5 controller in his free hand.
“Dude, what the fuck?” he said when he saw me. “Are you okay?”
“My glasses got broken, so I can’t see,” I explained. “Will you help me get in?”
He tossed the controller, probably onto the couch. “Yeah, of course.”
“Thanks, Wes,” I said. “For everything.”
“No problem, man. I’ll text you in the morning. And let me know if you need anything before then.”
As soon as the door was closed, Dean laughed in disbelief. “Okay…what just happened? That was Wes Kirby, wasn’t it? One of the Mavericks players?”
I sighed, suddenly exhausted. “Can I explain tomorrow? I’m really tired.”
“I’m gonna need like a two-sentence explanation on the way back to your room, man. Something. Cause I’m kinda pissing my pants here over Wes Kirby bringing you home, saying he’ll text you in the morning, and you looking like you just lost to Conor McGregor.”
I told him about my night in as few words as possible. Then I found my spare glasses, put them on my bedside table, and went to sleep.