“Icing the Kicker,” Chapter One

Author’s Note: If you haven’t read Blindsided yet, don’t read Icing the Kicker any further. There are lots of spoilers in this chapter that will ruin the first book for you.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

This is not at all how I envisioned the earliest stages of my pregnancy to be progressing.

Instead of the maternal glow and serene outlook I keep expecting to miraculously happen overnight, I’m constantly blotchy, sweaty, bitchy, fungry — fucking hungry for those of you who need it spelled out — and horny. And not necessarily always in that order.

Even worse is waking up every single day with a severe case of the dry heaves, which is causing me to rethink this whole having a baby thing.

With our luck, there’s really a little monster growing inside of my womb who will make Godzilla and the creature from the Alien movie franchise seem tame in comparison. It probably ate our real baby and is chowing down on my innards as I retch over the open toilet seat in the master bathroom for what seems like the gazillionth damn time this week alone.

Our baby.

I can’t stop the smile that invades my lips at those two words, even though I feel like I’m about to spew all of my organs everywhere.

I still can’t believe how much my life has changed in the past year. I never thought this kind of happiness was even remotely possible for me to ever experience in this lifetime, my recent case of the gags notwithstanding.

And never, EVER in a million fucking years did I think I would find love with someone I used to loathe with the same passion I still do — and ALWAYS will — the Auburn Tigers, Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees combined.

Who knew I’d find love in the newsroom of the Bluegrass Daily Herald, and with my once-despised boss at that?! But that’s exactly what happened, believe it or not.

Daily Herald managing editor Richard Headrick came into my life about as quietly and subtly as an aggressive bull charging a moving object just over two years ago, turning my orderly little world as I once knew it into absolute chaos.

I wasted the entire first year of our, ahem, uneasy acquaintance trying to avoid the man formerly nicknamed Dickhead by yours truly at all costs and quarreling with him whenever I was forced to be around him at the office. Or whenever he backed me into a corner, which was far too often for my liking back in those days.

My outlook took a shocking 360-degree turn around this same time last year, however, when Bluegrass High School head football coach Lester Smith was murdered by my former sports editor and half-brother, Bob Gallant, at the behest of the diabolical Abigail Wellington-Smith. Both are serving consecutive life sentences for her husband’s murder, as well as that of Jane Gallant, Bob’s mom, who had a one-time fling with Coach Smith that produced a bastard son. Yep, you guessed it: Bob.

I am Coach Smith’s illegitimate daughter, courtesy of a long-ago affair that MY mom, Margaret “Meggy” Granger had with him when she was separated from the only man I’ll ever call my dad, William “Bill” Granger. I didn’t find out about any of this until after Coach Smith’s death and his crazy bitch of a wife tried to kill me in the sports office with all kinds of witnesses milling about the building — in broad daylight, to boot.

I have a nice little souvenir from that near-lethal encounter permanently etched into my left shoulder via a bullet wound and some faint scarring on my legs where she dug her deadly stilettos into them during our life-and-death struggle. But I try not to dwell on just how close she came to ending my life and my then-budding relationship with Richard that since has blossomed.

I initially was horrified at the thought of Richard acting as my protector while we were delving into the mystery surrounding Coach Smith’s murder, but we ended up forming an unlikely alliance that turned into something so much more than either of us ever could have imagined or hoped.

Richard eventually copped to intentionally putting my back up from the very beginning of our tumultuous association in hopes of keeping me at arm’s length because he had always been against getting personal, if you will, with his subordinates. He finally gave in to the feelings he’d been fighting all along, though, on the morning Coach Smith’s body was discovered and made me suffer his company as we embarked on a journey to solve the mystery behind it. And once I admitted to the same romantic feelings I’d been stifling for him, well, that was all she wrote.

Don’t believe for one second that we don’t still go round and round, because we do on a daily basis, but we made a pact early on never to go to bed mad at each other. After all, that would be rather counterproductive of us, don’t you think? In any case, our home and work lives never are dull, that’s for damn sure.

My name is Piccolo Granger-Headrick, by the way, and I’m the assistant sports editor at the Daily Herald in Bluegrass, Kentucky. I still use my maiden name on my bylines for stories so our readership doesn’t get confused into thinking that we have a new sports writer, although Piccolo isn’t exactly what you’d call a normal or common first name. Especially for a female.

I have my parents to thank for that. They named me after Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo.

All three of us are rabid Bears fans — bless our pathetic little hearts for willingly torturing ourselves year after year by rooting for a hopeless team quarterbacked by the absolutely craptastic Jay Cutler, the Grinch who ironically hails from Santa Claus, Indiana, and is the destroyer of all things good. Thank fuck he finally retired after the 2016 season, although that doesn’t mean the Bears suddenly are going to have a superstar at the QB position. Regardless, ANYONE will be a marked improvement over Cutler’s propensity to stink it up on the gridiron every week. Well, except MAYBE Mark Sanchez … who, it just so happens, signed a one-year contract with Chicago back in March. SIGH.

Sorry. My mind wanders. Often.

People tend to get accustomed to the way reporters write once they develop a sort of familiarity for our different styles and approaches to the stories we tell, so we try not to upset the masses by throwing them a curve like an abrupt name change. I’ll be the first to admit that routine can be an extremely bad thing in a competitive industry like ours, but not when it comes to keeping a daily circulation of more than 20,000 happy with something that may seem minuscule to us but isn’t to them. Our readers prefer names they recognize as they begin to develop a sense of trust integral to true journalism that sorely is lacking in the so-called media as a whole in this day and age of technology, but this is an ongoing argument I will save for another day.

Richard and I were married on my 34th birthday, which is Star Wars Day  — May the Fourth be with you! — and we apparently conceived the baby I’m carrying that very same night, according to my OB/GYN’s calculations.

We were wed in a small ceremony before a justice of the peace on a Thursday afternoon following our newspaper’s 11:30 a.m. deadline, much to the horror of our parents, because neither of us is into that whole big-ass wedding scene. We deal with enough stress in our daily work lives as it is, and a large wedding would have pushed us both right over the proverbial edge.

My hat goes off to anyone who can plan an elaborate event like that because I just don’t have the time or patience for any of it. Richard would have agreed to a huge ceremony and reception had I desired them, but I was quite vehement about my stance on the matter. It was a good thing, too, because his relief was as transparent as looking through a clear glass window.

We’re a lot alike in that aspect, not wanting to make a big production out of our lives and our love for one another for all the world to see. I’m not knocking or making fun of weddings at all, no matter how big or small, but I just don’t like being thrust into the spotlight in any way.

I’m used to telling people’s stories, not being the story itself like I was in Coach Smith’s case. But it seems everybody on the planet knows all about my sordid family history now, which is why I much prefer staying in the shadows even more so these days than I ever did in the past. Others are welcome to absorb all the attention they can handle from center stage as long as it deflects the limelight far, far, FAR away from me. I’m perfectly OK with that, as is Richard. We’ve certainly endured enough notoriety in the past year to last us a lifetime.

I guess what I’m trying to say in a VERY roundabout way is that weddings should be a reflection of the couple’s personalities and not so much about what other people think or want. It’s their special day to celebrate their love for each other in whatever fashion they see fit. I’ve been to some incredibly beautiful celebrations of love — this is how I personally like to refer to weddings — in my lifetime and each has fit the respective couple to a T, which is the way it always should be.

The one thing we HAD to do that we really didn’t want to — under strict instructions by the powers that be at the Daily Herald, no less — was put a wedding announcement in the newspaper, which generated a shitload of congratulatory phone calls, texts, e-mails, cards and notes from family, friends, coaches, athletes, parents, reporters, editors, executives, readers and various other people across the great state of Kentucky and beyond. For a while there, it felt as if we were being subjected to a never-ending cross-examination by a rabid pack of defense attorneys led by Johnnie Cochran. So it came as a great relief to us when all the buzz regarding our private nuptials finally DID die down, which took way too damn long for our comfort.

My coworkers still think I’ve lost my ever-lovin’ mind for marrying Richard, but they’re also grateful to their, uh, willing human sacrifice because he’s mellowed somewhat in the past year. Not much, mind you, but he’s less volatile than he used to be. And with our tiny bun in the oven now, he’s been far more obsessed with reading every fucking baby book ever written when he isn’t driving me batshit crazy fussing over me about every little piddly thing. I know he means well, but DAYUM. Settle the hell down, will ya?! It’s not like I’m made of fine China that’s going to break easily.

As it is, I lock the door to the master bathroom to keep Richard out, although I’m pretty sure he’s hovering on the other side of it. I feel bad and more than a little guilty for being such a snarky superbitch only 15 weeks into this pregnancy, but my raging hormones seem to have a mind of their own.

Once my stomach settles, I soak for a bit in our luxurious clawfoot bathtub before clumsily exiting it to brush my teeth and the previously unruly carrot-orange hair I recently had chopped off into a super short pixie style with a side part. That done, I unlock the door to find Richard pacing an invisible hole into the oak flooring of our master bedroom. He immediately comes to a halt to examine me with those eagle eyes of his, opens his mouth to begin yet another of his lectures on the state of my well-being and then stops himself in time when he sees the exhaustion all of that heaving is causing me.

“This isn’t good for you or the baby at all, Piccolo,” he says in that oh-so-proper English way of his, briefly touching my bare belly as I brush past him wearing nothing but my birthday suit to enter the walk-in closet in search of something loose and comfortable to wear in yet another brutal August heat wave. “We need to set up another appointment for you to see the obstetrician. Have you taken your prenatal vitamins yet? You need to eat something before we leave for work, too.”

I pick out a roomy blue sleeveless full-length V-neck maternity maxi dress with an empire waist that’s made of rayon and spandex, which have a nice cooling effect on my already too-sweaty body. My ankles and feet have been swelling like mad lately, so I slip on a pair of men’s black flip-flops with memory foam to complete the comfortable ensemble.

Ahhh, better. MUCH better.

Thank fuck my barely-there baby bump isn’t noticeable in the flowy dress because I prefer loose clothing that isn’t plastered to my belly like a second skin. I get that some people like to show off their bodies when they’re preggers, but I sure as hell am not one of them. It does, unfortunately, further accentuate my already-too-large chest that forever has been a sore spot with me due to my self-consciousness from men continually ogling me since I was at an early age. Not all men, mind you, but more than anyone ever should have to endure.

And don’t even think about touching my stomach or coming anywhere near it. The only people who are allowed to do that are Richard and me. Not my parents, not my friends and certainly not perfect strangers. I’m not an animal at a fucking petting zoo, thank you very much, and I will beat the holy living shit out of anyone who dares to assume otherwise.

We’ve only informed a handful of people about our expanding family, including my nosy newsroom cohorts, although it’s not like this pregnancy is some big hush-hush state secret we’re trying to keep under wraps. If people ask, we tell them the truth because 1. I’m the shittiest liar you’ll ever meet and 2. See No. 1. But even when it becomes too obvious to conceal, the no-touching rule still applies. Forever.

I emerge from the closet in lighter spirits, stopping to give Richard a good morning kiss to make up for my increasingly snappy behavior toward him these past several weeks. I know he’s simply excited about the baby and that he’s going to be such a wonderful dad to our child, despite having grown up without his own unknown father in the picture when his mom uprooted the two of them from London to rinky-dink Walkerton, Indiana — or BFE, as we like to call it — when he was just a young boy.

“Whatever you think is best, honey,” I say to placate my worried husband, knowing good and damn well that I will respect his wishes to see the doctor if for no other reason than to ease his growing concerns. “I’m sorry I’ve been so horrible to be around lately. I just wish this fucking morning sickness would stop already. I know I’m taking my frustrations out on you, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I feel like shit, I look like a beached whale and I feel so damn ugly! What’s wrong with me?! I’m supposed to be happy, gawddammit!”

To my dismay, I start blubbering as he gently leads me to the kitchen table, pulls out a chair and helps me sit down. He scooches a heaping bowl of fruit in front of me along with a fresh box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts that he must have picked up from the nearest convenience store at some ungodly hour this morning while I still was sleeping. They deliver doughnuts to supermarkets and convenience stores every day, so this is quite an unexpected treat for me.

I immediately stop crying as I push aside the fruit and greedily rip open the red, white and green box filled with my all-time favorite Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts. The heavenly aroma of my impending multiple doughnutgasms wafts through our house, miraculously curing my upset stomach as I unabashedly shovel one down in no time flat.

I take my Krispy Kremes very seriously, and I will rip your face off if you so much as even dare to THINK about looking at them. Because they’re all mine, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the stingiest bitch on the planet when it comes to my Krispy Kremes. Even if I could end world hunger for good by sharing them, I honestly don’t know if I could go through with it. Sure, I’d give it some serious consideration as I throw down on an entire box of glazed doughnuts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’d end up doing the right thing.

Hell fuckin’ yeah, I’m a selfish bitch about my beloved Krispy Kremes! What about it?! I’ve been called a lot worse, but I don’t give two shits. At least I’m not a liar. Particularly when it comes to my or-fucking-gasmic Krispy Kremes.

OK, OK, so MAYBE I would share them if doing so really DID end world hunger. But I know it won’t, so it ain’t happening. Uh Uh, no fucking way.

Richard stops me after I inhale a fourth Krispy Kreme, once more pushing the bowl of fruit in front of me alongside my prenatal vitamins and a glass or water in an unspoken request. I comply, downing the vitamins and gobbling up the fruit with nearly the same relish as I did my Krispy Kremes. By the time I finish, I’m sated and quite ready for my first nap of the day.

But that’s merely wishful thinking on my part. I have a full day ahead of me, starting off with today’s early morning interview for a feature story that will run in tomorrow’s edition of the Daily Herald. It’s going to be on Ruffian County High School senior Scott Ericsson, an all-state football and soccer player who has attracted the attention of several NCAA Division I schools. He’s a midfielder on the soccer team and handles the placekicking and punting duties on the varsity football squad.

He’s also the first openly gay high school athlete in our coverage area.

Coming out to his teammates, classmates, teachers and coaches took a great deal of courage for this brave young man, but he told me that he wanted to be true to himself in his final year of high school, that he had grown weary of hiding the real Scott Ericsson from everyone except his same-sex parents. So he decided to go public when the new school year started Monday, although his parents at first were against it out of fear that he could become a possible target of a hate crime.

Scott’s parents — Joyce, his biological mother via artificial insemination, and Jill Ericsson, his adoptive mom — are an incredibly nice, loving, well-to-do lesbian couple. They finally were able to wed in their home state of Kentucky after being together for nearly three decades when the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2015, that same-sex couples have the right to get married anywhere they want in the United States.

Kentucky was among the states that did not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the historic ruling by the nation’s highest federal court, which also opened the door for Jill to at long last adopt their beloved son as his step-parent after she and her wife jointly petitioned to do so. Jill was forced to sue Joyce in court many moons ago, albeit amicably, just to obtain guardianship of their son after he was born since Kentucky only allows individuals and married couples to adopt. Thankfully, same-sex couples who since have wed under the ruling that was made more than two years ago now are able to adopt once they are married.

What a fucked up world we live in, huh? But at least they beat the state’s system at its own game to give their story the happy ending it so rightly deserves.

“Piccolo, you’re doing it again,” Richard — sporting his usual penguin getup that consists of a white long-sleeve button-down shirt, black tie, black slacks and shiny black dress shoes — teasingly brings me back to reality. “Lost in your own thoughts again, eh, love?”

Busted.

He knows me so well, and I love him all the more for putting up with my quirkiness.

“Sorry,” I give him an apologetic smile as I gingerly reach down to pet our calico cat, Stinky, who’s just finished polishing off a can of tuna that Richard has been giving her every morning since we, uh, temporarily moved in with him last August purely for safety reasons and ended up staying for keeps. “I’m just really revved for the interview with Scott Ericsson. I’d better get going soon, else I’ll be wasting a trip to Ruffian County.”

He gives me his most stern look then, and I know exactly what he’s going to say before the words even leave his mouth.

“I expect you to be on your best behavior when you talk to Wayne Thomas,” he reminds me for the umpteenth time, his thin lips now displaying his trademark smirk, which he damn sure knows only serves to irk me further. “You will do well to remember that you’re representing the Daily Herald like the professional I know you ARE while conducting this interview, and NOT going there like some uncivilized hooligan attending an Alabama-Auburn football game for no other reason than the sheer enjoyment of hurling insults at the opposition.”

Well, shit.

That just takes all the damn fun right out of it for me. I admittedly had some good-natured ribbing planned for Coach Thomas, who played football for — UGH! — the hated Auburn Tigers. Coach Thomas and I both hail from Tideville, Alabama, but I grew up a devout University of Alabama Crimson Tide fan, which makes us sworn enemies for life when it comes to college football.

THIS right here also is one of the MANY reasons WHY I nicknamed him Dickhead in the first place, but those days are over. For the most part.

He’s lucky I love him as much as I do, else I’d tell him to take a long walk off a short pier, sexy physique and all.

Funny enough, Richard also is an Auburn alum. But he isn’t into American football at all, so I can overlook the fact that he went to Cow College.

I take in his inexplicably handsome, angular face then as I’m apt to do countless times every day, lingering on his strong, square jawline before moving up to his aquiline nose and then to those knowing ebony eyes of his. He still slicks back his short, straight, nearly black hair with that fucking gel I despise, but I’ve learned to live with it because he doesn’t bother with it whenever we’re not out and about. It’s surprisingly baby soft to the touch without that shit caking it, and I never tire of running my fingers through his thick hair whenever the opportunity arises.

And if I don’t stop gawking at him like some hot and bothered schoolgirl with her first real crush, he’ll soon be strutting around like a damn rooster in a henhouse flexing those muscles of his that he knows I just can’t resist.

I roll my eyes to TRY to detract his attention from the telltale blush creeping up my neck and straight into a heart-shaped face that sports a cleft at the bottom of it, still not understanding what it is he sees in me yet unwilling to question my good fortune too closely. We’re about as different as two people possibly can be, but it works for us.

I give him a double-dimpled smile as I carefully lean forward to smooch him goodbye until I return to the office following the 7 a.m. interview. It’s already 6 a.m. and it takes me roughly 40 minutes to get from our house in Oaksville to Bourbon, the county seat for Ruffian. School doesn’t start until 8 a.m., but I pride myself on being punctual for interviews and athletic events.

“Whatever you say, boss,” I tell him cheekily, getting up from my chair a little wobbly to go pee one more time before leaving the house so I don’t chance having an accident in the car.

My bladder isn’t what it used to be since I got pregnant. I literally feel like I have to piss every five minutes, sometimes far less than that.

Once that bothersome but very necessary task is completed, I take the keys to my piece-of-shit, two-tone 1994 Ford Tempo from the hand Richard is holding out to me and we head toward the garage, stopping briefly so he can set the alarm system from “stay mode” to “away mode.” Before parting ways, he tilts my chin to plant a lingering kiss that succeeds in making me weak in the knees.

“Did you charge your mobile phone and put it in your purse like I requested?” Richard inquires, reluctantly releasing me.

“Yes,” I grumble halfheartedly, still unhappy about having to tote around a cell phone I  didn’t want in the first place and rarely use in protest to that fact.

He gives my car his routine contemptuous once-over, shaking his head while muttering about, and I quote, “taking that unsightly piece of rubbish to the nearest scrapyard.” It still rankles him that I refuse to get rid of my car, but I’m determined to keep driving the damn thing until it falls apart. Unless, of course, he makes good on his threat to do away with it first, which will inevitably start World War III in the Granger-Headrick household.

“Ring me if you need anything,” he tells me, opening the driver’s side door for me and then closing it once I’m seated before making his way to his own vehicle, “and please DO drive carefully in that antiquated Sherman tank of yours.”

I start my reliable eyesore of a car, pushing the garage-door opener clipped onto the driver’s side visor out of habit as I pull out into the gravel driveway of our brick ranch-style home to begin the 40-minute-ish trek to Bourbon. I cheekily blow Richard a kiss prior to him getting into his much newer Honda Accord as I make it to the empty country road and take off down it.

I miss smoking the most when I go on long drives like this, but I quit cold turkey when we found out I was pregnant at the end of May. And it’s probably THE No. 1 reason why I’m so fucking bitchy all the damn time. Richard still smokes, but he won’t do it around me and barks at me if I come anywhere near him while he’s puffing away on a cigarette. But I love the smell of it, still have an intense craving for those nice, long, calming drags after a particularly stressful deadline — or day in general.

So I fiddle around with the radio dial to quash my longing for a smoke until I reach a classic rock station playing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones and commence singing along word for word.

How i-damn-ronically fitting.

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