Science Fiction dogs sports caregivers hockey medical issues service dog

Number One Draft Pick

By Claire Humphrey
Sep 14, 2019 · 6,805 words · 25 minutes

Photo by Matthew Fournier via Unsplash.

From the author: Toronto hasn't won the Stanley Cup in 97 years, but newest star Ty Arthur could give the city some hope...if he can stay healthy enough to play hockey. His seizure disorder needs monitoring by a service dog whose trainer, Reshma, is the best in the business. Reshma has to protect Ty's privacy, even from his own team, and protect his health, even though Ty wants more than anything to play every game.


Reshma didn't find out who her client was until the third interview. She had to come to a different office for this one, downtown in a mirrored tower. Reshma had dressed Zuzu in her newest service-dog harness and herself in a coral blazer, but it was always a gamble trying to make a good impression when you didn't know who you were making it on.

Sayed, who'd conducted the previous interview, led Reshma into a conference room. A young guy sat alone by the window, one leg pistoning.

He sprang to his feet at their entrance. Dark-skinned, with dimples and brown eyes and hair fuzzed close to his skull. He jogged up and kneeled down on the floor, careless of his suit, putting his face up to Zuzu's.

"Ty," Sayed said. "Get up and meet Reshma."

"Who's a good pup?" Ty was ruffling Zuzu's ears, grinning. "Who's so good?"

Zuzu held politely still, tolerating the touch.

"I don't think he likes me," Ty said, looking up at Reshma, face tragic. He didn't look very old, despite the suit and the muscle bulking beneath it.

"Zuzu is trained not to socialize while she's working," Reshma explained.

"Can you tell her it's okay to, like, play with me?"

"We need to know if Reshma will be a good fit with you first," Sayed said, hand on Ty's shoulder urging him up from the ground.

Ty rose unsteadily, grounding himself on Sayed's arm. Once up though, he remembered his manners. He had a good strong handshake, palms and fingers callused.

"We keep hearing you're the best," Sayed said, gesturing for Reshma to be seated. "You've passed the reference checks and background scans as the top candidate."

"Thanks," Reshma said, smiling at him and then at Ty; it wasn't clear to her who was making the decisions here. "I love what I do."

"Your experience working with Delia Rahmanian at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is what impressed us the most," Sayed said.

"She died of Loewen's syndrome, right?" Ty said.

Reshma nodded, throat tightening a moment at the mention of Delia's passing. Delia, who had been given as long as anyone with Loewen's syndrome usually got; Delia, who had made more of her time than anyone could ask.

"I have that too," Ty said. He looked hard at Reshma's face as he spoke, defiant.

"That's our specialty, mine and Zuzu's," Reshma said. "If you decide to work with us, we'll help you manage your condition so that you can live fully for as long as possible."

"And I can get off these crappy-ass meds?" Ty burst out. He rubbed a palm over his forehead. "Sorry, Sayed, it's not your fault, I just... it's kind of like being buzzed, you know? Only not fun."

Sayed said, "Ty's on a seizure preventive right now, and it interferes with his work."

"I've got to get back in the show," Ty said. "Sayed, come on, you already did the legwork here, right?"

Reshma broke in, "You don't have any questions for me? If you retain me, I'll be a live-in caregiver; fit is important for both of us."

"I get along with everyone," Ty said. Sayed snorted.

"I was told you travel frequently, also," Reshma said, after a moment. "Where would we be going?"

"The usual places," Ty said. "You know, mostly the divisional cities, but we mix it up with a couple of longer road swings."

"I'm afraid I don't know what that means."

"Unless I do Worlds again, or the Olympics," Ty went on. "Wait..."

"The Olympics?" Reshma said. "That's exciting."

"You don't know who I am," Ty said. "Huh." His face looked blank, younger than ever, round eyes blinking in a fringe of lashes.

"I'm sorry," Reshma said. "For confidentiality reasons, we often don't find out much about our clients until we reach the final stages of the interview process."

"That's cool," Ty said. "It's kind of great, actually. I was worried you might be, like, a fan. So as long as Zuzu likes me--you can tell her to play with me now, right?"

"Release," Reshma said, clicking off the amplifier on Zuzu's collar, and Zuzu bounded to Ty, tail wagging.

Ty grabbed Zuzu's ears in his hands and scrubbed them back and forth while Zuzu panted happily. "Awesome! Sayed, I want to say yes. Can we say yes?"

Sayed smiled, nodded. "How about you, Reshma? Think you'll get along all right with King Arthur here?"

"I think we'll do just fine," Reshma said, smiling her professional smile. Ty made kissy noises while Zuzu licked him on the mouth.

"Someone will drop off the contract for you in the next few days," Sayed said, reaching out to shake Reshma's hand again.

"Two days," Ty corrected, looking up. "I want to be back in when we play the Habs."

"That's going to be up to Reshma," Sayed said, laying a hand on Ty's shoulder. "And Zuzu, of course..."

Reshma didn't hear what else Sayed was saying.

King Arthur. Her brain finally connected the dots.

Holy crap. She'd just accepted a job with Ty Arthur.

Reshma didn't follow hockey much, but you didn't need to follow hockey to know Ty Arthur's name. He was supposed to bring hockey glory back to Toronto, to a team that hadn't won the Cup in ninety-seven years.

He was also apparently keeping his diagnosis under wraps, probably to keep opposing teams from doing anything to trigger him. No wonder the agency had insisted on an NDA before this interview, Reshma thought.

And no wonder the offer was so lucrative.

Reshma snapped back to attention to hear Sayed finishing, "... Think of her like your coach, only just for your syndrome."

"Coach" looked like the magic word as far as Ty was concerned: the slight frown cleared from his face, to be replaced with a look of pure determination.

"I'm ready," he said. "I'll look forward to working with you, Reshma."

Instead of shaking her hand again, he raised his, palm out. Reshma blinked at him for a moment.

"High five," Ty said. "Come on, don't leave me hanging."

Reshma belatedly slapped her palm to his.

"That's right," Ty said. "Welcome to Team Me."

And he laughed with such open delight that Reshma couldn't help but smile too.

 

 

Reshma woke in the middle of the night, tears on her face, as she had done many nights since Delia's passing.

She got up. Wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. The bedside lamp slowly brightened as it sensed her motion.

"Delia's favourite," she said: the shortcut Reshma had given to the Camille Saint-Saëns piece because she couldn't quite wrap her Anglophone tongue around the name of the composer, especially in the middle of the night, when she was thick-voiced with sleep and grief.

The piece was called "The Swan", and Reshma had listened to a few other versions of it, besides Delia's. Even after five years as Delia's nearly round-the-clock caregiver, Reshma hadn't learned quite enough about music to understand why Delia's version sounded so much better to her than the others, sweeter, more emotional. She couldn't remember if she'd always felt that way about it, or if she'd just come to understand it with time, the way she'd come to understand Delia: prickly, particular Delia, who needed her toast done exactly the same way at exactly the same time each morning. Who needed to wear an identical black skirt when she played, such that she had ten different copies of it in her closet. Who always entered Koerner Hall through the same door.

Delia's dedication had always impressed Reshma, but it had taken her a while to see the passion behind it. Delia hadn't made it easy. Had resented the presence of Reshma and her service dog Lola at first, as threats to her obsessive routine, and to her deeply-held privacy.

Reshma didn't remember a breakthrough. Only a gradual thaw. Giving Delia her meds went from painful to just awkward to finally routine. Delia began to let Lola sleep on her bed. Delia and Reshma each learned what items of news might interest the other, and began talking more over breakfast, and in the car.

Lola had made it only a month past Delia's death, going silently in her sleep: a loss less important to the world, but for Reshma, a blow almost as deep as the first.

Reshma had shocked herself with the depth of her own devotion, both to Delia's soul-stirring music, and to Delia herself, the person inextricable from the art. She'd expected to respect and value her client; she hadn't expected to miss her so much at the inevitable end.

Now Reshma was crying again.

"Off," she said to the lights, thick-voiced, and they obediently dimmed.

The music, recognizing it had not been commanded, played on in the darkness.

 

 

Ty, Reshma found, lived in a condo in one of the forty-story towers on the lakeshore.

"It's convenient to the airport," Ty offered, gesturing at the view of Billy Bishop International, a dozen landing strips extending out into the lake. "It will only take us a few minutes to get there tomorrow."

"You're serious about joining the team for this trip," Reshma observed.

"Sayed didn't rule it out," Ty said.

"He didn't recommend it," she said.

"He didn't not recommend it," Ty said. "He said it was fine to travel. Just wasn't sure about playing. Come on, you're the best, right? You'll be able to tell if I shouldn't play."

Reshma pretty much had to agree with that. "But will you listen?"

Ty's mulish look was all the tell Reshma needed.

"See this?" Reshma said, pulling out the folded contract from her purse. It was printed on polymer so it rolled open neatly, barely creased. "This says I have the right to pull you from any game against your own wishes and your coach's. It's my professional reputation on the line. If I let you play and you have a seizure and get hurt, I'll lose my job."

Ty didn't look like he was about to waver. "I'm an adult. I have a right to decide if I want to take risks."

"You signed a contract," Reshma said. "Your job isn't just to play this game, or any one game. It's to be the face of your team for years to come. Your team has a big investment in you, and they want to protect it."

She watched it sink in. Wasn't sure if it was relief or defeat or something of both that changed the lines of Ty's face.

"So I have to stay home?" he said.

Reshma waited a moment. "Nope."

"Seriously?" The light came back on, the shoulders drew back, the chin lifted.

"We'll go with the team," Reshma said. "You'll do as much as you can. As long as you're willing to pull out if I say, you let me worry about the rest."

Ty fist-pumped and danced in a circle around his kitchen island, singing, "Baby, baby, baby, sayin' maybe, maybe, maybe, sayin' yes, yes, yes..."

Reshma didn't know the song. Five years of living with a classical music performer would do that to a person. So would being forty, probably.

Ty stopped singing, and tapped his ear to answer his phone. "Yeah!" he said, turning away to face the lake, where the evening shone bright with the headlights of jets on their inbound flight paths. "Yeah, man, you know it. What'd I tell you? See you at, like, zero dark thirty. Save me my seat!"

 

 

Reshma, Zuzu and Ty were among the first to arrive in the private lounge at Billy Bishop. Zuzu looked restless, Reshma thought: now and then rising to circle and sit again. Her bed and her toys had been handed over to the private airline attendants; she'd travelled before, as part of her training with Reshma, but this was her first duty assignment and she could probably tell that the stakes were higher.

She was doing really well with Ty so far: willing to accept the casual affection he couldn't seem to help giving her, but not allowing it to distract her unless she was given the release command, at which point her natural enthusiasm would surface and she'd wrestle with Ty's sock or chase one of the old pucks he'd throw for her.

"Oh my God, what kind of dog?!" someone shouted, tearing through the lounge to throw himself down in front of Zuzu.

"She's a Golden Retriever," Reshma said. "She's working right now, so please let her do her job."

"Sorry! Sorry!" the young man said, jumping up and backing off, hands up. "It's just, she's so cute."

His accent was Russian, maybe: a tall lanky kid with teeth too big for his mouth and blond hair slicked back haphazardly.

Ty got up and backslapped him. "Like I'd have a dog that wasn't totally the best."

"Your dog?" the Russian kid said. "But she is doing a job?"

"Oh. Yeah," Ty said, and stopped. He glanced over his shoulder at Reshma.

"Zuzu is training," Reshma said smoothly. She'd done the same thing for Delia in the early days. It had stopped surprising her how, when one of her clients wanted privacy about something, they could avoid thinking about it so thoroughly that they didn't have a lie prepared.

 

 

Reshma watched the game-day skate from a seat just beside the bench. She'd met Sully, the coach; Goldie, the equipment guy; Chris, the other medic, junior to Sayed. She'd taken the trouble earlier in the week to learn Ty's number so that she could easily spot him on the ice, but it turned out that the practice jerseys didn't have numbers on the backs, and the helmet numbers were too small to read at a distance.

Still, Reshma found, it was easy to recognize Ty. His height didn't stand out, nor did his colouring, but there was something extra-visible about his skating style, fluid and darting. When he sped by close to her seat, she could see his face: his tongue tucked out to one side in concentration as he slid the puck from his skate to his stick, spun around to keep it out of his teammate's reach, and roofed it into the goal. That was joy, even before he pumped his arm in celebration. That was why Reshma was here: to keep Ty on this ice, in his element.

Zuzu perched with her hind feet on a seat and her forefeet on the edge of the boards, swiveling her head to follow the action. The amplifier on her collar blinked steadily, once per second, letting her sense Ty at up to one hundred meters.

She didn't give any alerts at all. Not when Ty kissed her on the nose on his way to the bench. Not while the players elbowed each other toward the locker room, swearing happily. Not while Reshma and Zuzu waited just outside as the team showered and changed.

They boarded a bus after that, all the players in suits again, half of them topped with toques, which Reshma privately thought hilarious. Ty seemed like he might be the youngest of the group, or close to it; the oldest-looking guy had a bit of grey in his stubble, but was still probably a few years younger than Reshma. That guy caught her looking at him and grinned, like he might've been looking at her too.

Reshma looked away, and busied herself settling Zuzu in the front seat of the bus.

When she looked back, though, the guy was still watching, and smiling.

She was a bit afraid he was going to ruin it by sticking out his tongue, or something. These were hockey players, after all. But he didn't. Just smiled, until someone hit him in the head with a rolled up sock.

 

 

The game went by Reshma in a blur. She sat just outside the bench; on her other side were a group of fans all wearing copies of Ty's jersey, one of many little islands of white and blue in the general sea of Habs red. Sometimes they cheered at things Reshma didn't get: plays that turned the tide somehow. Thundering hits that shook the glass.

She got it when Ty scored, of course, surprising herself by jumping up and raising her arms.

Zuzu didn't flinch, and Reshma was so proud. Zuzu was young but already steadier than Reshma's previous dog Lola had been: a product of the continent's best breeding and training program, combined with Reshma's expert handling.

If Reshma felt more professional pride than actual joy in her new contract, well, it had only been a few days; and Delia had been special, had been peerless.

Reshma had worked with clients who weren't famous, of course. All of them, no matter how they spent their time, were worthy. Reshma's work was worthy. She knew this.

Still, the part she'd had in bringing Delia's music to the world... that was something.

She shook off the thoughts as a buzzer sounded and the players filed off the ice. The game wasn't over; Sayed said it was an intermission. He led her down the tunnel to the locker room.

The players gulped electrolyte drinks, squirted water over their faces, shook out hair pressed down into sweaty swirls by their anti-concussion helmets, and listened to Coach Sully exhort them to keep up the pressure. They were outshooting the Habs, apparently, forcing the play into the offensive zone, and some other things that didn't mean much to Reshma but apparently meant they had a chance of winning.

Ty looked pretty thrilled. He had missed eight games, following a seizure on the bench during overtime a few weeks ago; an absence seizure, fortunately, which wouldn't have looked like much to the cameras. Sayed had recognized it and pulled Ty from play.

Missing games, to Ty, was about the worst thing imaginable. Reshma could see his delight at his return in every chirp he threw at a teammate, every thirsty swallow of his bright-orange sports drink, every excited look he turned on his coach.

It made her heart sink for him, then, when Zuzu turned to her and laid a paw on her knee. The lights on Zuzu's collar blinked faster, shifting from green to amber.

Reshma sighed. Gave Zuzu a formal pat. "Good girl."

Zuzu's tail wagged once.

Reshma beckoned discreetly to Sayed. "Ty needs to take his prevention dose," she whispered. She didn't have to worry too much about noise, though, in the chatter of excited guys rehashing plays.

Sayed looked at Zuzu, at her posture and the amber collar, and shook his head. "He's not going to want to do that. It slows him down."

"I know," Reshma said. She did know. Delia had had the same reluctance; she couldn't perform once medicated, not to her own exacting standard anyway. Having a predictive service dog meant she could go unmedicated much of the time, only taking a dose when she was positive a seizure was coming on, instead of living on constant medication as some seizure sufferers did. "But he's fully in the yellow zone. There's an outside chance it could come on while he's still on the ice. That's the risk I'm here to prevent."

Sayed was good: Reshma barely noticed him sidling up to Ty and getting his attention. A moment later Ty left his stall and went to an adjoining room. He spent hardly any time there; he didn't look particularly different on his return, and his teammates didn't seem to register anything.

Zuzu noticed, though. She withdrew her paw from Reshma's knee and the lights on her collar blinked slower again, alternating amber and green. Which meant Ty had taken a partial dose, enough to get him out of the yellow zone and through the game, but not enough to keep him from seizing later that night.

Reshma could pull him. She almost did. But their working relationship felt too young, still; and Ty had kept the letter of the law, if not the spirit. Reshma was responsible for keeping him safe during play, not for legislating how he managed his condition at other times.

She followed Sayed back up the tunnel, and watched as the players came out a moment later, onto the bench, milling and jostling like unruly pups, and if Ty didn't look quite as bright-faced as he had before, at least the lights on Zuzu's collar held steady, amber and green, amber and green.

 

 

Ty wouldn't speak to anyone on the bus.

"He's always like that after we lose," Sayed said to Reshma, in an undertone. "Young enough to take it all on himself. And this time he's probably right."

"His disorder isn't his fault."

"That turnover was," Sayed said. "Maybe he was off his game because of his meds, but he handed the Habs the game winning goal."

Reshma rolled her eyes. That kind of thing wasn't going to make her job any easier.

Once the bus rolled up to the hotel--a landmark historic one in the heart of the old city, all scrolled stonework and wrought iron--Reshma gave Ty fifteen minutes to himself while she took Zuzu for a walk, but she couldn't in conscience leave him any longer than that.

She tapped on the door of his room, belatedly hoping he'd been smart enough to stay put.

He had. He let her in, still sullen, turning away to flop face-down on the bed.

Reshma didn't need Zuzu's alert to tell her the medication was already wearing off.

"Would you rather take your preventive orally, or shall I give you a quickprick?" she asked.

"Whatever," Ty mumbled into his pillow. "It doesn't matter any more."

"Sure, it does," Reshma said. "It matters how you feel."

"How do you think I feel?" Ty snapped. "I'm supposed to be there to play the full sixty minutes, not crap the bed after the first period."

"You didn't get that choice today, and that sucks," Reshma said. "But you can choose some other stuff. Like how you take your dose. You tell me what's going to be most comfortable for you."

"What if I want to go out with the guys?"

"Then it's my job to make sure you take your dose first," Reshma said. "And make sure you don't drink anything that would counteract it." She didn't know if she could realistically stop him--a middle-aged couch potato wasn't going to be able to physically restrain an eighteen-year-old pro athlete--but she could embarrass the hell out of him by calling in his coach or something.

She thought Ty had a better idea of the threat than she did, for he simmered down right away, sullenly pushing his face into his pillow.

"I wouldn't," he finally said. "I don't like it when people can see me. When I'm... like that. I know I look weird."

Reshma didn't contradict him, just gave him space while she took out the kit from Ty's luggage and prepped a dose for him.

He sat up, held out his arm and took the quickprick without a flinch. Reshma watched the tension in his face soften and melt.

After a moment he flopped on his back and sighed.

"I'm just gonna go to sleep," he said. "Will you help me wake up in time for the flight tomorrow?"

"Sure thing," Reshma promised, but Ty's eyelids were already half-mast and sinking. He hadn't even taken off most of his game-day suit.

Reshma folded the comforter over until it covered most of Ty, and made to leave.

"Wait," Ty mumbled. "Can Zuzu stay?"

"If she wants to," Reshma said. She checked Zuzu's collar: green lights all round, now that the medication had been administered. She clicked it off and said, "Release."

Zuzu panted happily, and jumped up onto the bed, where she lay down against Ty's back.

"Mm," he said, and smiled, not opening his eyes.

So that was that.

Reshma sat down in the arm chair to wait until Zuzu was ready to leave; opened an eyescreen and caught up on the daily news. The game headline was the first to pop up: 'KING' ARTHUR OVERTHROWN BY HABS IN FIRST GAME BACK.

So. That was that.

 

 

The guy who always watched Reshma--the oldest guy on the team, with the greying stubble that didn't match his light brown hair--was called Matty, short for Matić.

"So Kovy," Reshma said. "That's short for Kovalev?" She'd seen the name on the back of Ty's linemate's jersey often enough, now that she'd been to a dozen games.

"Yep," Matty confirmed, on a pained grunt; he was lying on his stomach on Sayed's examination table, while the medic iced a contusion on his calf.

Tonight's game had been a win; the crowd of press around Ty had required Reshma and Zuzu to retreat to the medic's room adjoining the locker room. Matty had blocked a shot with his leg toward the end of the third. He'd stayed on the bench, but Reshma didn't know if he'd taken another shift; the bruise looked ghastly to her, brilliant crimson and swollen, blooming in bursts beneath Matty's pale skin and coarse leg hair. She took a moment to notice that Matty was just wearing briefs; the locker room culture meant she was seeing a lot more of the guys than she'd expected. Not a bad view, other than the hideous bruise.

"Does Ty have a nickname? I don't think I've heard it," Reshma said, trying to distract Matty as Sayed lined up a painkiller in the quickprick.

"Sure you have. Just Ty," Matty said. "Short for Tyrod."

"Of course."

"It's, like, anyone who doesn't have a nickname, they're the ones you have to worry about. Not part of the team," Matty said. "I was with the Flyers for six years, and there was this rookie one year and he just, like, everyone called him Kevin all the time, not to be mean or anything, but he just..."

"Didn't fit?" Reshma said.

"He was okay. Good guy, okay player," Matty said. "It just felt like he wasn't really there, you know? Wasn't all in."

"Being all in is really important for you guys," Reshma observed.

"It is for you, too," Matty said, gesturing to Zuzu. "I can tell."

Reshma might've looked alarmed. She saw Sayed twitch a little, saw him glance at her, ready to intervene.

"I don't know anything," Matty hastened to say. "Wouldn't say anything even if I did. Team, you know?" He yawned, sinking into the exam table as the painkiller kicked in.

Reshma gave Sayed an anxious glance over Matty's tousled head. She'd been relying on the players being too oblivious, too absorbed in the requirements of their rigorous schedule, to think about her presence, but she was starting to get that however inarticulate and juvenile they seemed, it didn't mean they weren't smart.

Sayed was shaking his head. Did he mean she didn't need to worry? Or just that she should drop the subject?

She didn't get to ask right then, though, because the door burst open to admit Ty, Kovy, and their other winger Josh, showered and dressed and carrying Matty's suit.

"Time to go out," Ty shouted, dumping Matty's pants on his head.

"I'mma sit this one out," Matty mumbled.

"Come on, old man."

Matty groaned as Ty rolled him over and dragged him upright. "Too old," he said.

"No such thing. Resh and Zooz are coming, right? Right?" Ty said, looking brightly over his shoulder.

The laugh that bubbled up in Reshma's chest surprised her. "Yeah, I guess we are."

And if Matty leaned on her on the way out to the cars, favouring his bruised leg, well, she was in a nurturing profession, right? She couldn't just turn it off.

Reshma never drank except on her rare days off, and Matty didn't want to mix with the painkiller he'd just taken, but the two of them took a booth in the corner of the bar and watched the younger guys spread out on the dance floor, high-fiving each other and doing shots. Ty kept himself to one; Reshma had never needed to remind him what a poor combination drinking made with his condition. He didn't look like he missed it, chatting up a couple of young women in fish-scale dresses and then leading them out to dance with him and Kovy.

Ty came back to the booth after not too long, though. He slid in beside Reshma and gave her his best pleading look. "Zooz doesn't have to hide down there, does she?"

Zuzu was nearly invisible under the table, it was true, except for the slow blink of the green lights on her collar. She cocked her head up at Ty's attention.

Reshma couldn't help but laugh at her face. She patted the seat between herself and Ty, and Zuzu jumped up and settled herself in an unwieldy tuck.

"You have only yourself to blame if we get kicked out of this club for having a dog on the seat," she said.

"Or I can blame Kovy for drinking ten shots and hitting on the bouncer," Ty said, rolling his eyes.

Just then Zuzu extended her paw, and the cycle of lights on her collar shifted to amber.

"Hey, Matty," Ty said breezily. "We gotta go. You mind peeling Kovy off the floor and getting him into a cab?"

"Sure, bud," Matty said, tapping Ty's fist with his own. "See you tomorrow. See you, Resh."

Outside the club, they waited for the car service in comfort; this block of downtown Toronto was climate-controlled so that clubgoers didn't have to worry about bringing coats. Reshma thought Ty didn't look too upset about how his evening was ending; a win made most things better. She said, "I'm starting to get how this works for you guys. Like, there are things everyone knows, but no one talks about, right?"

Ty nodded, shrugged. "I guess. So let's not talk about it."

"No need to bite," Reshma said mildly. "It's just new to me, and I'm curious."

"Not biting," Ty said thickly. "Just got to stop talking."

Crap. One of those low-odds events where the seizure was coming on in the earliest possible window. Zuzu whined, circling restlessly at Ty's feet, the lights on her collar brightening to steady red.

"We missed the window for a preventive," Reshma said. "Look, here's our car. Let's get you in it and then I'll give you the anticonvulsant."

Ty didn't answer, just moved his mouth as if he was trying to sound out a word; Reshma saw his left hand clench and release, clench and release, on the hem of his suit jacket.

The limo pulled up in front of them and the door slid open soundlessly. It was one of the nicest ones Reshma had seen; the team spared no expense for their star player. Inside, blue lights streamed in a pattern that would've looked soothing to most people but was absolutely the wrong thing for Ty right now.

"Off," Reshma snapped. "Quarter brightness, warm tone." The lights obeyed as she helped Ty into the car; he followed her direction mechanically, eyes glazed. The door slid itself shut. Reshma guided Ty to lie down on the carpeted floor, on his side, in the recovery position. At her command the windows darkened themselves to full opacity. The car started off on its programmed route, back toward Ty's condo.

Zuzu wouldn't settle, standing with her head as close to Ty's face as Reshma would let her. It was the first time she'd seen Ty seize, Reshma realized.

Ty's treatment came first: Reshma had the kit in her purse, and she administered the anticonvulsant quickly. No reaction from Ty; his hand just kept clenching rhythmically. Reshma started the timer.

Then she soothed and reassured Zuzu. The amplifier lights held steady red; Reshma watched her timer tick onward. One minute; two.

It was the first time Reshma herself had seen Ty seize, too, she realized belatedly. It wasn't a particularly bad one. It was still normal that she'd be a bit worried. She took stock of herself: pulse a bit elevated, hands shaking a little. Nothing she couldn't handle.

Approaching three minutes, Ty began to blink and breathe more normally. Zuzu nudged his face as the lights on her collar shifted back to green.

Reshma watched as Ty slowly came back to himself, eyes hazy but focusing, movements slow. She handed him a tissue to wipe the drool from his chin and cheek.

"Any other cleanup you need?" she asked.

He shook his head slowly. Winced.

"Headache?" Reshma guessed.

"Yeah," Ty breathed, shutting his eyes. "Where are we?"

"Almost to your place," Reshma said. "We can stay in the car until you're good to move. No rush."

"Okay," he said. "Can I have a..." He rubbed his fingertips together, searching for the word.

"Painkiller?"

"Yeah."

Reshma gave him the quickest-acting one she had in the kit.

Ten or fifteen minutes passed; the car slowed, asked Reshma for the condo's entry code, and took them into the private garage. Ty said again, "Where are we?"

"Home," Reshma said. And surprised herself with how much she meant it, how much it felt like home already.

Ty was okay to get himself into the elevator after a few more minutes. He leaned on Reshma, blurry and off-balance, while Zuzu pressed up against his legs. Reshma got him mostly stripped out of his suit and settled in bed, then posted herself in the chair in the corner; she hadn't had to use it much at all, but it felt comfortable anyway. She'd done the same for Delia often enough.

The thought didn't hurt the way it had, she realized. Not that the loss was gone, but it had receded, somehow, drowned out not by any particular thing but by the normal press of living.

Ty turned in his sleep, in the dim ten-percent light. His t-shirt rucked up over his bicep; his breathing snored and then evened out. He looked tired, but strong. He was going to be fine.

Reshma waited up anyway, reading on her eyescreen a series of posts about today's win.

 

 

Late March, and the team's record had improved: they were second in their division now. Ty had missed a handful of games, pulled out early from a few more, but he was one of the top rookies in the league in points, and in contention for some trophy which Reshma kept forgetting the name of.

Reshma had seen her family a few times on her days off, including a spirited discussion of hockey with her brother Jagdish, who followed the Canucks and was clearly in the wrong.

She'd gone on a couple of dates with Matty, after vetting it with both the team and her placement service to make sure they didn't see it as a conflict. She found out that while he was okay with being called Matty, his first name was Jiri and he liked it when she used that, too. He also liked Vietnamese coffee, though it was too sweet for the team nutritionists' approval. He liked old things like vinyl records and paper books, which he could usually get away with browsing incognito, because he was one of the lowest-paid and least-known members of the team. And he liked Reshma, which was pretty great.

She'd been to all the games, home and away. She'd got Sayed to find her a staff jersey, blazoned with the team logo but no one's name, so that she would blend in on the bench or in the staff seating. She'd paid a ridiculous sum for a jersey for Zuzu, which was the cutest thing ever, of course.

And she'd tracked the team's course toward the playoffs, point by point. It had been a few years since the last run, which had ended in the first round at the hands of Las Vegas. It had been ninety-seven years since the last victory, a number most Torontonians knew in the core of their sad hearts.

Tonight, with a win, the team would clinch a playoff spot. The first step on the road to the next big chance.

You couldn't guarantee a win: if you could, it wouldn't matter so much. But you could show up, night after night, and be your best.

Reshma found herself trying not to bite her freshly laminated team-blue nails all through warmups. Home ice, and the ACC was sold out, the crowd seated early to watch the players stretch and circle and fire pucks on the goalie. Zuzu was calm, attentive, professional. Lights green.

Anthems: everyone rose, and some sang. The players on the ice stood restlessly, shifting their weight from skate to skate.

Puck drop. Ty's line started. They didn't win the faceoff but they took possession off a sloppy turnover, streaked into the o-zone for a shot on goal. Ty hit a post. The crowd shouted. Play went back the other way.

Ty came off, went on again, came off. Scored on his fourth shift, and Reshma fist-pumped the air, shouting with everyone else in the ACC as the goal horn blared. By now she knew the song Ty liked to sing: it was the team's goal song, and the chorus went "yes, yes, yes".

The other team responded fast. By the end of the period they were tied 1-1 and battling hard.

Still green, though. Reshma and Sayed hung together near the doorway as Coach Sully gave the team their notes and everyone hydrated as much as possible.

Second period went scoreless: a few big hits, a near-fight, one scary moment where an opposing player went shoulder-first into the boards and play was stopped, but he got up under his own power and was back on the bench within a few minutes.

Still green.

This time at intermission, Reshma caught Ty looking over at her more than once, looking at Zuzu, checking in. He was keyed up tonight, faster than she'd ever seen him: five shots on goal already, and a whole period left to play.

And he was going to get to play it. Still green.

Reshma bit her lip as the period ticked down. With seven minutes left on the clock, it was unlikely she'd have to pull Ty even if Zuzu alerted; he caught her eye as he went over the boards for a power play, and she gave him an encouraging grin.

He didn't score. He banged his stick on the bench in frustration. Then Kovy took a stupid penalty and it was the other team's turn on the power play.

Matty went out for the penalty kill: it was his specialty, being one of the older and steadier players, not too fast but experienced at reading plays and willing to sacrifice his body to block shots.

When he managed to steal the puck Reshma thought he'd dump it out of his zone. But he handled it and broke away, pushing hard up ice, trailed by a defender and a forward. The forward caught up with him easily enough but Matty deked a little, took a long shot...

...and scored.

Reshma screamed. The bench erupted. The ACC throbbed with noise.

And as the last three minutes of the game wound up, the goal went unanswered, and the team clinched their spot in the playoffs.

Reshma knew, by now, to give the players some time to change and be available to the press. It was a good time to be discreet, and a safe time to take Zuzu out of Ty's radius too, with Sayed right there. Zuzu needed a break after the intensity of the game.

Reshma took her outside onto a patch of grass and let her do her business, basking in the fresh-scented air off the lake: not warm, not yet, but not as cold as it had been.

The city was loud tonight. Reshma realized it was the nineteen thousand eight hundred fans streaming from the ACC and up the street, shouting and chanting, arm in arm in blue and white.

There was joy, there. Unity. It wasn't anything like Delia's music, but it didn't have to be.

Reshma ran her palm down her jersey: team logo, no name. She'd felt anonymous in it, at first. Now she felt proud.

"Hey," she heard, from behind her. Zuzu snapped to attention. "Hey, Resh, Zooz, you ready? Team night out."

It was Sayed, smiling wide.

"Do you need to get changed or anything?" he added.

Reshma fingered the heavy stitching around the logo, and patted herself over the heart.

"Nope," she said. "We're all good."

This story originally appeared in The Sum of Us (Laksa Media).