Author's Note: This is my first "published" original work. I have multiple fan-fictions that I have started and stopped many times over the last several years. Writing is my life passion. I may walk away, but I always come back. If society's current condition has taught me anything it is this "Life is short, grab hold of your dreams, and hold on tight." This story – these characters have become as near and dear to me as if they are my own children. I hope that enjoy reading-watching their story unfold as much as I do. Please, if this story touches you, you like it, you hate it…whatever you feel or don't please leave a comment. Your thoughts and comments are most welcome.

Prologue

Bryson ~ 21 years old.

Copious amounts of tequila the night before your best friend's funeral is never a good idea. I groan as the early morning sunrise dances with the dust motes silently watching the chaotic remnants of the night before. The heel of my hand pushes hard between my eyes as if I can keep my brain from throbbing right out of my skull. The small movement of my hand against my face is enough to feel the alcohol sloshing around in my empty stomach. My body telegraphs aching waves of nausea and pain throughout as I struggle to sit up; the black cotton sheet slipping from bare chest. Taking a long beat, I wait for the worst of the nausea to pass before swinging my legs over the edge of the bed. My feet hitting the cold floor sends a much needed shock to my sluggish system. Standing, I look back at the rumpled warm bed. The pretty young puck bunny un-phased by my slipping from the king sized bed. I should wake her ass up and send her on her way. Shaking my head I opt for an ice cold shower instead.

A groan bubbles up – burning my throat as the ice cold water works to loosen the previous night's debauchery from my body. My brain knows that I need to sober my ass up quick. My heart wants to walk back into my disastrous bedroom, find whatever tequila is left and bury my pain in the willing pussy warm within my rumpled sheets. Whatever relief I found last night at the bottom of a tequila bottle and women is gone as I continue to sober piece by piece. As the cobwebs ease the anger returns the pressure feels like a nuclear explosion just waiting to blow. My body rebels against the raw anger; my gut knots, the cramping doubling me over. Desperate for relief my body shakes. Pushing my hands against my abdomen the sound escaping me feels like broken glass shredding my throat. Unable to stay upright I double over at the waist emptying my stomach all over the shower floor. I'm broken, here alone in the shower I can let the sad depressing thought escape from behind the dead bolted door inside my

head.

My fingers clench. Working my fingers, rolling my shoulders, my neck...anything to release all of the tension creeping up and down my spine. Doubling my fist, I slam my fist once then twice against the tiled shower wall. I welcome the instantaneous throbbing burning ache in my hand. The thought briefly crosses my mind that if I do it again I'll get lucky and break something. The sobering powers of the cold water - has done all I can expect. Shutting off the water I slip silently from the shower. Reentering the bedroom, the sun shining through the window pissing me off. Storm clouds, heavy rain, thunder, and lighting that's what Mother Nature should be giving the world today not fucking sunshine.

Dropping the towel, I'd knotted loosely at my hips. I reach for the offensive black suit hanging from the back of the closet door. Dressing quickly, I decided against the hideous black and cream tie that my mother dropped off yesterday morning. Pitching the tie to the dresser I turn to face the bed once more. Plopping my ass down none too gently on the foot of the bed I reach for my shoes. I forgo the quiet pleasantries. It's time for little ms. puck bunny to go. Smiling with no real joy, I shout "Hey!" Scrambling for her name, I come up empty, Karie, Kate, Krissy, Kayla maybe. Kayla that's it, briefly proud of myself that I can even remember that much about last night. "Hey Kayla, sweetheart it's time to go." I urge without any real emotion - just a sad distasteful truth "Hey babe, I got somewhere to be. It's time for you to go."

My brief pride was misplaced. Turns out even puck bunnies expect you to get their names right. Kayla - Karly, I was close. The open handed slap across my right check proved that close wasn't close enough.

Twenty minutes. That's how long it takes me to drive my place just outside of town to the small funeral home where everyone I know is waiting - gathering to say goodbye to my best friend. Twenty minutes isn't long enough to remember the non-eventful drive. Twenty minutes is just long enough to remember the night one week ago today. A night I wish never was.

"Being drafted to the NHL is a big damned deal." declared Charlotte. I argued that a party wasn't necessary. But Charlotte wasn't hearing it. She was proud of my accomplishments and she made sure everyone knew it. Wanting to make sure everything was to her satisfaction Charlotte planned everything herself. Never one for fancy or over the top, she made sure everything was simple and low-key. With the help of her mother and mine my kitchen counters were overflowing with food. Jamison and the boys from my college hockey team supplied the liquor. Charlotte raided every dollar store within a ten mile radius to find streamers and balloons in red and black - team colors of course. I repeatedly told Charlotte and Jamison both that celebrating with them and the guys from the team was all I needed. As the old expression goes my words fell on deaf ears. Creating multiple party playlists on my Spotify account Charlotte deemed us ready to party. Turning around in the center of my kitchen, I realize that Charlotte single handedly invited everyone I know and at least a dozen folks I don't over to celebrate my success. Sure the party was a little over the top, but the food was delicious, the drinks were flowing, the music was pulsing, people were dancing, and the smile that Charlotte couldn't seem to wipe from her face made it a night I didn't want to end. Everywhere I turned someone was stopping me with words of congratulations and pats on the back. I would have to admit to Charlotte later that this party was exactly what I needed.

I'd known Jamison and Charlotte my entire life. Our mothers were the very best friends. Rosanna Walker and Monica Donovan had been through everything together. They were Maids of honor in each other's weddings. One month and fourteen days was all that separated me and Jamison. I was older of course. He used to love telling "Age before beauty, old man." While I had "Aunt" Rosanna as my Godmother; Jamison and Charlotte had "Aunt" Monica. There were never any secrets between Jamison and me. He knew everything. He knew all the inside jokes - he knew all my darkest secrets. At sixteen, he rode with Aunt Rosanna and Uncle Dean when momma finally took my younger sisters and me and left my deadbeat father for the last time. Jamison was in every sense of the word my brother. Brothers from other mothers we would joke. If Jamison was my brother then Charlotte was my best friend.

I couldn't put my finger on what it was. It's not like it was any one event I could point to. I just knew that something between Charlotte and I was changing. The three years between us was nothing. There wasn't anything we couldn't share with each other. Charlotte saw sides of me I couldn't share with anyone else not even her brother. Charlotte knew the scars I pretended had healed where nothing more than glorified scabs. The last several months something about our relationship had become awkward. Yes we still talked everyday. I teased her about the jocks who sniffed around her like a dog searching for a bone. She busted my chops about the puck bunnies she said were never good enough for me. Her laughter still came easy, it just stopped reaching her eyes. Whenever she thought I was preoccupied I would find her watching me - studying me. I asked her about it once. Her denial, her straight up "I don't know what you're talking about" was convincing enough I dropped the subject. I told myself that she wasn't slipping away. I told myself that the myriad of emotions I saw dancing in her luminous green eyes didn't mean what it meant in other girls.

About two hours in, Charlotte was waiting for me as I exited the bathroom. With both hands on my chest she pushed me back inside, shutting and locking the door behind us. If only I'd listened, really listened to what she was trying to tell me. I watched curious as she stood nervously with her back against the bathroom door. Her nerves evident in the way she clasped her fingers to hide the slight tremble that coursed through her. She whispered how proud she was of me. I smiled briefly, kissing her cheek by way of thank you. Her sweet coconut vanilla scent filled all my senses as I slowly pulled back. Her eyes raked over my face searching for something I wasn't sure she would find. I used the long silent beat to take in her appearance. No fancy heels or party dress for my Charlotte. Instead she wore the black chuck sneakers with rainbow laces that I'd given her two months back for her birthday. Her jeans were worn thin with love and age. The holes at her knees showing more about her personality than I think she knew. It was top that grabbed my attention and wouldn't let ago. My college home game jersey had gone missing right after the NHL draft. I figured it was buried at the bottom of my laundry hamper or something. It never crossed my mind that maybe Charlotte had taken it. Charlotte had confided in me once or twice about her insecurities regarding her thick curves. I smiled as her fingers twisted in the ends of my jersey. At six foot four Charlotte was lucky to clear my shoulders. No matter how thick, curvy, skinny, or fat she thought she was my jersey was going to be big on her. Seeing her thick luscious curves under my blue and gold jersey was like a sucker punch to the gut. My name spelled out across her back sucked the air from the room.

At eighteen, Charlotte was a forever kind of girl. Her future was full of a church, traditional white dress, flowers, a husband, white picket fence, and children. It wasn't with me. It wasn't with a hockey player who like to party, drink, and hang out with a different beautiful woman every night.