I awake to the sound of crying. I glance at the bedside clock. It’s 3:07 a.m.. I elbow the lump next to me. “Guy,” I whisper. He’s sound asleep. Typical. I read somewhere that women’s brains are designed to recognize their child’s cries and awake immediately, while a man is more prone to sleep right through. I guess I can’t blame him for being a man. It’s not far anyway, just a couple steps across the small dorm room designed for two, which now holds three. I pick up my baby girl, bring her back to the bed and nurse her. “She’s so tiny,” I think for the millionth time in the past three months. In the sudden quiet, I can hear her tiny sighs and I struggle to keep from falling asleep. Someone knocks softly at the door.
“Come in,” I whisper. Charlie enters the dark room slowly.
“Anything I can do?” he asks.
“Could you come back in fifteen minutes and make sure I don’t fall asleep with her in my arms?”
“No problem.” He leaves silently.
“So much for my theory, Becky,” I whisper to the mass in my arms, “if Charlie can wake up so can your daddy.” Right now, I’m enjoying the fact that my baby has 11 dads and 2 moms. I didn’t think most of the guys would help, even after they said they would. When word got out about me being pregnant, I didn’t expect the team to rally around us the way they did. I was prepared to drop out of school, but the Ducks said no and made sure the board let me keep my scholarship. When the dean said a baby can’t live in the dorms because of the noise, the team insisted that they were the only ones within earshot, and they didn’t care. They even found examples of similar schools which allowed for an exception when a child was involved. They let me stay, and they let Becky stay. Of course, last year I didn’t get to finish the hockey season because I was pregnant, but this year I only missed the first couple of weeks. The school has free daycare for employees, so Emma spends the school day with the babies and toddlers of my teachers. The Ducks table is easily recognizable in the cafeteria. It’s the only one with a high chair. I take her to practice with me. She sits in her carrier on the bench. It’s hard, but the guys really do want to help look after her. I’ll always remember, a couple weeks before she was born I went to see everyone in the locker room after a game. I was talking to Guy when Portman approached me.
“Um, Connie,” he began kind of nervously, “can I?” He put his hand out toward my beach ball sized stomach. I smiled and placed his hand near the bottom of my belly.
“Feel that?” I asked, “That’s her head, and her body runs along here . . .” as I moved his hand upwards, the baby kicked inside me.
“Whoa,” he jumped back. Guy smiled, that was exactly what he had done the first time he felt our creation move.
“It’s O.K. She’s just moving around in there.” He put his hand back with a bit more confidence and kneeled in front of me.
“Hello in there, little Duck,” he said to my stomach, “I’m Dean Portman, I play left wing offence, and when you come out I’m gonna help your Mom and Dad look after you.” He looked up at me, “if that’s okay,” he added quickly. I nodded, knowing that if I spoke I would start to cry. Guy put his arm around me. Fulton came up behind Portman and took Portman’s place, kneeling and touching my stomach.
“I’m Fulton Reed,” he explained, “and I’m going to look after you too.” By this time my eyes were beginning to water. Guy kissed me on the cheek as, one by one, the entire team introduced themselves to the baby inside me.
“Julie Gaffney, us girls have to stick together, you know.” She hugged me.
“Les Averman, I don’t do diapers.” I laughed
“Russ Tyler, I’ll teach you the secret to my knucklepuck”
“I’m Dwayne Robertson, how ya’ll doin’ in there li’l fillie . . .” They continued. Charlie waited until the end.
“and I’m Charlie Conway, welcome to the Ducks.” Guy wiped the tears from my face, held me and kissed my forehead. Since that day, the ducks have been on Emma’s side in everything. They look out for her, they even look after her (within a week we found out Averman does, in fact, do diapers, along with most of the team).
So, here I am in a dorm room with my baby and her father, not worrying about dozing off because I know Charlie keeps his word. I wonder how other teenage girls do this alone, usually without even the baby’s father around. I glance over at Guy. Surprisingly, he is awake, staring at me and the infant nursing in my arms. “I’m so lucky,” he says, “I love you.” I pass him Becky, and he picks her up and walks around the room rubbing her back. I watch him until I fall asleep.
I walk back and forth across the small room as my daughter drifts off to sleep. I hear a soft knocking on the door. I answer it and find Charlie standing there, and he is genuinely surprised that I am awake. I walk into the hall and close the door behind me, not wanting to disturb Connie. Charlie and I talk for a while about Becky, school, and hockey. Strangely enough, the hall seems fairly active at 3:30 in the morning on a Tuesday. Fulton and Portman are just getting back from wherever they go when they break curfew. They join our conversation. A door opens down the hall. Luis kisses a blonde girl goodnight and winks at us. The girl coos over the half-asleep Becky as she passes by. I smile and the four of us laugh a little when she leaves.
“Hey Luis,” Charlie yells, “you’d better watch out, I think she wants one of these.”
“Yea, right,” he answers, retreating back into his room. I say goodnight and go back into my room, put Becky in her crib and climb into bed. I snuggle up close to the sleeping Connie and put my arm around her. She’s so strong. I wonder how she does it, I mean, she was back on the ice less than two months after Becky was born and she barely missed a day of school the entire time.
“That’s just because the timing was right,” she told me once, “she was born in the middle of the summer.” Connie’s amazing. Most of the Ducks don’t realize what poverty the original team came from. There’s only Connie, me, Charlie, Averman and Goldburg left that actually ever played a game as “District 5.” I know Charlie lived alone with his mother then. She’s a waitress, I’ve seen her at the diner, they were pretty poor, all right. Goldburg and Averman are upper lower class, I guess. They didn’t have a lot back then, but they had enough. I was probably the richest guy on the team before Banks came. That makes me laugh, because my family is not rich. Not by a long shot. Still, next to Connie’s family, yeah you could say the Germaines are rich. I don’t like to think about how Connie grew up, and neither does she. Their father left when she and her three younger sisters were small. Her mother was only 17 when she got married, when Connie was born. She was only 23 when her husband left. She remarried. He was an alcoholic. Her mother died about 3 years later after having two boys. That’s when things got bad at her house. I don’t know how bad it was - Connie never really talked about the details. All I know is that there long, criss-crossing scars on her back that she told Julie she got from hockey. Julie didn’t believe her, but she knows not to ask again.
Most of the team knows why I joined hockey - because I had a crush on Connie. No one on the team, except me, knows why Connie started playing hockey. She needed to get out of that house. She chose the activity that would consume the most of her time, that would get her out of their small trailer. The activity which would allow her to hurt people, because she couldn’t hurt her stepfather back and would account for her black eyes and bruises. I know Connie practically raised 5 children. I know she used the money from her after-school job to buy food for her family all through junior high. I know how much the ducks have given her. I know, because it was all almost taken from her. Because of me. I watch her smile in her sleep. She deserves a happy dream.