He assumed the call would be about the last season. The usual, “What could we have done better? What can we do for next year?” Except, Eric’s opinion on the Wild’s teamwork doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?
The call was brief, formal, and to the point.
Eric was alone, at home, and it was a perfectly fine, normal afternoon before he got the news.
It was a shock.
He loved Minnesota and they loved him back. He found himself again. He was just one of the guys, doing what he loved.
It’s been a long time since something threw him for a loop like this.
He heard his phone go off, text after text, most likely from his (now) former teammates, but they were the last thing on his mind.
While being traded always hurt, it was where he was going that really got to him. Who he was going to.
He was told, “You’re going to Buffalo”, but what he heard was, “You’re going to Jeff.”
His traitorous heart skipped a beat.
Four years. Eight games. No words spoken between them.
But Eric could never really could stop himself from looking for Jeff on the ice. (There are certain habits you never learn to outgrow.)
Two games a year and all he looked for were those big, brown eyes and that smile. That smile that everyone loved to talk about and tease Jeff for.
But that smile, those eyes, they haven’t been pointed towards him in a long time.
Sometimes, if he’s lucky, for a second, and just one second, they’re eyes will meet, and it all comes rushing back.
Four years, but it feels like yesterday.
Jeff’s loud laugh, his ridiculous dancing, his love of Disney, his impatience, his temper. The teasing, the play-making, the long nights, the leaving, the silence.
It’s summer so Jeff’s probably at his parents, hanging out with his sisters and brother while he can.
Does he know yet?
Eric finally checks his phone.
There are so many texts, a couple missed calls from his mom and brothers, but nothing from Jeff.
Will he be happy? Mad? Both?
Five years ago he could tell you exactly what Jeff was thinking. Now he doesn’t have a clue, and that hurts too.
Honestly, he’s not even sure of everything he’s feeling.
Shock. Anger. Frustration.
But then he thinks of Jeff again.
He thinks about making him smile again. Looking at him as much as he wants. Getting to crush him in a hug after they score together again. Hearing his voice. Just being in the same room as him.
The most dangerous emotion of all.
He shouldn’t hope for anything. He really shouldn’t. He’s not sure if he even deserves a second chance leaving the way he did, but God, he wants it so much.
Jeff in his life, in his arms, in his bed. Everywhere, all the time.
The possibility, no matter how small it may be, makes him restless.
Because, no matter how much he’s lied to himself all this time, when you love someone, you give some of yourself to them, and Jeff has always had a piece of him.
(And he always will.)
He still hasn’t gotten anything from Jeff and he’s feeling too many mixed emotions about making the first move.
What would he say first anyway?
I’ve missed you.
I never stopped thinking about you.
So, he stays busy. He has to sell or rent his house and find a new place and pack all his stuff and move over nine-hundred miles away.
When he’s asked about Jeff in his press conference a few days later, after the initial shock has worn off a bit, he tries to keep his answer as neutral and non-specific as possible. He doesn’t want to give himself away.
“He's a unique talent, elite…he's strong, committed to his craft, fun to watch, entertaining…I’m looking forward to seeing and playing with Skins again."
The whole interview was less than half an hour but it felt so long.
Finally, not too long after, he gets the text from Jeff.
It’s a link.
He opens it, stares at the picture of the two of them for too long, and then reads:
Jeff Skinner was in his parents' pool Wednesday when he learned the Buffalo Sabres had traded for Eric Staal, his longtime teammate with the Carolina Hurricanes.
"They actually told me because I obviously wasn't on my phone," Skinner said. "I thought they were joking at first."
Few people know what the Sabres are getting in Staal better than Skinner, who joined the Hurricanes as an 18-year-old rookie in 2010. He was assigned the locker next to Staal, who by then was already captain of the team, a Stanley Cup champion, and an Olympic gold medalist.
In other words, when Skinner says that veterans and young players alike will benefit from Staal's presence in the Buffalo dressing room, he's speaking from experience.
"Just sort of watching him compete is probably the biggest thing," Skinner said. "He was the captain and sort of the face of the franchise and we were sort of always on the bubble and didn't quite have the success we would like as a team, but he was always a driving force and always competing every night.
"I think that's what separates the best players in the league too, is being able to bring it every night. That's why he's had the success he had, and he's been on the successful teams he's been on and he's been the leader he's been throughout his career is he brings it every night. To be able to bring it every night and compete that hard for that long is probably the most unique thing about him, I guess."
The rest of the article is based off his interview, so he doesn’t finish it, he just rereads Jeff’s bit a few more times.
Again, he doesn’t know how to respond, where to begin the long road of rebuilding their relationship.
He types, backspaces, types, backspaces, types, and backspaces until he gives up.
Then, he thinks, “Fuck it”, and hits call.
What if he doesn’t answer?
Should I leave a message?
What am I doing?
It’s the best thing he’s ever heard.
He lets out a deep breath he didn’t know he was holding.
[Call Ended at 4:53 pm]
2 hrs 37 mins