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My wife, my daughter and the incomprehensible.
Hayden's stomach clenched and he strained to hear more, hoping it was Anna.
"I watched the game last night, too," Riley said, his voice still hovering somewhere light years beyond excited. "You were awesome."
"Thanks, kiddo," Hayden replied. "I'm sorry we lost for you, though." He was sorry he lost for himself and the team. Even though everyone kept telling him he wasn't at fault, he sure felt like he was.
"It's OK," Riley told him. "You're still my favorite player."
Ah, from the mouths of babes. Hayden sat back in his seat with a ridiculously pleased smile spreading across his face. It did no end of good to know that some fans never lost faith in him. All his stress from the previous night and early morning just lifted away.
"I really liked when you knocked that one guy against the side and he fell and you skated off and almost scored but then they gave you the penalty and that was stupid because it's not like you hit him all that hard," Riley said, scarcely drawing breath between words.
"Oh, well, you know, refs have to do their jobs, Riley," Hayden said. "I probably shouldn't have hit that guy and I hope you don't go around hitting your opponents either."
"I don't," Riley replied and sounded terribly upset over that fact. "Mom says I shouldn't and anyway, we're not allowed in my level because we're too little and they don't teach you to hit until later when you're bigger."
"Well, that's good," Hayden said and grinned at Riley's conversation. For an eight-year old, he was remarkably verbose. "How is your team doing? Are you playing a lot?"
"Yeah!" Riley exclaimed. "My team is called the Flaming Dragons and we played last Saturday and I won the game. Well, my mom says I won because I scored like fifty goals and she says I'm the best player out there but I don't know because my friend Taylor, he's bigger than me and sometimes he's faster so he gets to the puck before me but I think that's just because his legs are so long..."
On it went for several minutes. Every so often, Hayden interjected with a comment but for the most part, Riley was content to ramble on about his team, and about his friends Nick, Taylor and Jimmy. Hayden didn't stop smiling the entire time. He had several young cousins back home in Sweden and many of the guys on the team had young kids so he had a bit of experience. Of course, being on the Red Wings meant they were involved in community events with different children's groups, schools and that sort of thing. For some reason, Riley struck him as such a good-natured kid that Hayden didn't mind listening as he talked about his birthday party that he was apparently already planning; even though his birthday wasn't until January 26th.
"Hey, you know who else's birthday is on that day?" Hayden asked when Riley paused to draw a breath.
"It's not yours," Riley answered.
Chuckling, Hayden nodded. "That's true. No, you've got the same birthday as Wayne Gretzky."
"That's what my mom told me," Riley said, his bored tone implying that it was old news to be linked to that player.
"Wayne Gretzky used to be my favorite player," Hayden confessed, wondering if the Great One would ever have held on through a conversation like this. From what he knew of Gretzky, Hayden figured he probably would have. He seemed like that kind of guy.
"My mom says she liked him too when she was a kid," Riley said.
"Oh yeah?" Hayden put one more mark in his mental 'pro' column. "Is your mom there with you now?"
"Yup," Riley replied. "She gave me your number and said I should call you to tell you about my game last Saturday."
Which he had. At great length. Hayden chuckled as he recalled Riley's account of his brilliant spinning goal. "Oh, she did, did she?" he said.
"Yeah and now she's telling me I have to get off the phone," Riley replied, sounding sulky.
"I don't mind talking with you, kiddo," Hayden replied and he meant it.
"See, Mom!" Riley cried. "Mr. Zimmerman wants to talk to me!"
Hayden listened for a response but heard only a muffled feminine tone, nothi