It’s too bad the brain isn’t a muscle. If I could flex my brain, women would at least take notice of me. I couldn’t even give away tickets to my gun show. But biceps or not, if someone needs help, I’m all in.
It took me a second to start breathing again. That second crash landing had hurt more than the first one. This time, I’d slammed into the boards. The crowd was roaring with delight, probably thinking this was part of the show.
I might have just set a St. Louis Mavericks record—for shortest tenure as a team mascot. Because if this job required me to ice skate in front of thousands of people without being able to see, I was out. Maybe they had other jobs in the area I could do, preferably not while dressed as a blind raven.
“Hey, are you okay?” a female voice asked.
She got down on the ice, leaning closer so I could hear her over the cheering crowd.
“Do you need a doctor?”
I sat up, straightened my costume head, and took a deep breath.
“That wasn’t on purpose, was it?” she asked knowingly.
Her voice was sweet and sympathetic. I wished I could see the face that went with it.
“No, definitely not. And I’m not supposed to talk while I’m in this suit.”
“I won’t tell if you don’t,” she said, a smile in her tone. “Here, let me help you up.”
“Do you know how to ice skate?”
“I do, but I can’t see a thing,” I admitted as she helped me get to my feet. “They made me take off my glasses, and the eye holes in this suit are so far in front of my face, I just see two small specks of light.”
“Oh, geez. Let’s see one of those PR people give that a try. You could really get hurt ice skating when you can’t see.” She kept ahold of my arm. “I’ll steer you around. You can fire the t-shirt cannon and dance around a little bit.”
She kept her arm linked around mine to steer me and we skated together.
“We need to stop in about ten feet,” she said, and we both slowed to stop.
Another female voice cried, “Did you see that catch? Nice one, kid!”
“Hey, Ricky!” a jubilant male voice called out. “Let’s see your moves!”
“He can’t see anything, guys,” the sweet-voiced woman said.
“No shit? That’s a genius idea from the PR department,” a woman said sarcastically.
“Hey, give me a big hug for rescuing you,” the woman holding on to me said a playful tone. “The crowd will love it.”
I turned toward her, reaching out.
“I’m right in front of you,” she said, throwing herself into my arms.
I felt her warmth, even through the costume. How long had it been since someone gave me a hug? Quite a while, I realized. Probably since my mom and grandma hugged me when I went home for Christmas.
This hug was different, though. The woman hugging me for show right now smelled soft and sweet, like a flower. The crowd cheered us on as I wrapped my feather-covered arms around her waist and lifted her up. She had to be small, because she felt light, even in my less than muscular arms.
I was careful setting her back down, not wanting one or both of us to slip and fall. It was all I could do not to take off the costume head so I could see her face. Quitting this job sounded less appealing now that I had hugged a woman who made my heart race with just her voice and flowery scent.
“Here dude, just hold the shirt canon in this hand and fire it like this,” a male voice said, putting something in my hands.
I fired it and the crowd erupted in laughter.
“You shot the shirt into the boards,” the man said, also laughing. “Here, I’ll reload it and you can fire again.”
When he was finished, I waved to the crowd and then put a hand behind one ear, like I was listening for the sound of their cheering. Then I did the same on the other side of the arena. When I did it for the second time, the cheers got increasingly louder.
I raised an arm to declare the second side the winners, and I fired the cannon in their direction. There was a loud celebration as someone caught it.
This job might not be so bad. Maybe I could rig up a way to wear my glasses inside the costume head so I could keep being Ricky the Raven.
“I’m Nova, by the way.” She took my arm again, talking right next to the costume head so I could hear her over the thousands of loud hockey fans. “It’s almost time for us to dance. You can stay out here and dance, too, or I can help you off the ice. Since you’re not supposed to talk, why don’t you just raise your arm up if you want to stay out here?”
I threw my arm in the air, not even needing to think about it. Not only did she have the prettiest voice I’d ever heard, her name was Nova? I’d never met anyone by that name, though I’d studied the phenomena of nova and supernova in classes.
“Okay, I’m taking you over to a safe space where you can dance. We won’t be in this area. And the worse you dance, the more the crowd will love it, so break out your cheesiest stuff.”
Inside the costume, I laughed, because cheesy stuff was all I had when it came to dancing. I wasn’t about to tell Nova that, though.
“You’re good right here,” Nova said, coming to a stop. “I’ll come get you when we finish.”
I wished I could see her dance. I was pretty much in the dark, though, just seeing the same two specks of light I’d been seeing since putting on the costume head earlier.
When the music started playing, I broke out every move I’d ever seen, though it was incredibly hard to dance—even badly—on ice skates. I fake lassoed, shimmied, and did the wave, only falling down once.
The Mavericks crowd was fired up. It was early in the season, and the team was off to an incredible start. I’d been hoping to catch a little bit of the games when I was working, but I was going to have to settle for listening to them unless I could figure out a way to wear the costume and see.
“Good job,” Nova said, breathless when she came over to get me after the music ended. “Time for us to go.”
She helped me off the ice, where Kelsey was waiting.
“Hey, great job!” Kelsey said. “As soon as you can get changed out of the skates, we’re going up to the VIP boxes for you to meet some kids.”
“He can’t see anything,” Nova told her.
“It’s okay, I’ll be with him,” Kelsey said brightly.
“He needs to be able to see,” Nova argued. “It’s not safe to make him walk up and down stairs and ice skate when he can’t see.”
“We’ll have to figure it out later,” Kelsey said dismissively. “It’s almost game time, we need to get out of the way.”
I wanted to thank Nova, but before I could, she was gone. It was just me and Kelsey again.
“Here are some skate guards,” she said. “I’ll take you to a place you can get back into your shoes.”
“I can’t see,” I said, losing my cool with Kelsey. “I can’t see the skate guards or get them onto the skates. You don’t seem to get how impossible it is to do this job without being able to see. Do you have a supervisor I can talk to about this?”
After a couple beats of silence, she said, “Sorry. You can sit down over here and I’ll put the guards on for you. I guess I’m going to have to get a different costume head for you. But for tonight, we have to make the best of this. I promise I’ll help you with everything and I won’t let you fall.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. But for the next game, I have to be able to wear my glasses and see out of the costume, or I’m not doing this again.”
“Okay. I understand.”
The game started soon, and Kelsey stayed with me the whole time. I was sweating from head to toe by the time it was over. Once we were back in the little changing room, Kelsey had to pry the costume head off of my head, which wasn’t fun for either of us.
I sighed with relief as I slid my glasses back onto my face and I could see again.
“You can shower in the dance team’s locker room,” Kelsey said. “There are a couple of men on the team, so we have a separate area for them. I’ll take you.”
The team had all showered and left by the time I got there, but the smells of soap and shampoo lingered.
“Towels are over there,” Kelsey said, gesturing. “And you can put the towel in the basket when you’re done. And then…see you for the next game? Unless you want me to stay and show you the way to the exit?”
“No, I’ll be fine. Thanks.”
She smiled. “Thanks, Seth. Great job tonight. I know it was less than ideal circumstances, thanks for everything.”
“Sure, no problem.”
The soreness I’d be feeling for days from crashing into the boards was a slight problem, but since Kelsey was going to work on getting a different costume head, I decided to move on.
I took a shower and dressed in a clean t-shirt and shorts, dropping my towel in the basket and making my way for the locker room exit.
A noise made me stop. It had sounded like a woman screaming. My heart pounded as I waited, and I heard it again. It sounded like she was terrified of something—or someone.
I dropped my duffel bag and ran in the direction the scream had come from.