Shortly after the overdose, Bob decided to tell Jack the story of why he really got put in the Stanley Cup as a baby. It was Bob’s way of thanking the cup.
“After I won my first cup,” he told Jack, “I realized I’d achieved my dream, and I had married this amazing woman, but something still felt like it was missing. I wanted to be a father.” He told Jack how he and Alicia had tried to have a baby, but it just wasn’t happening. As the months dragged on with more of the same, they started to get worried.
“And even when you were worrying you’d never truly be happy you managed to win the cup again, yeah? That’s the moral of the story?” Jack snapped. Bob shook his head, reached out to run a hand over Jack’s back, like he could smooth down his son’s frayed nerves.
“Non, non, non, that would be a terrible moral. Actually my stats were worse that year than when I was a rookie. But my team was incredible, and we made it to the cup again. And here’s where the story gets good, you see, because I’d heard all kinds of wild legends through the league about ‘cup magic’ and how sometimes it would grant wishes”
“Or turn you into a fucking penguin,” Jack scoffed.
“Well I was playing for the Canadiens at the time, so I suppose there wasn’t much risk involved, but there was a whole lot of desperate hope.So on my cup day, after everyone else left, I sat down and had a chat with it,” he gestures to the table they’re sitting at. “Right at this kitchen table.”
“Please tell me that’s the only part of this story that happened at this table,” Jack groaned. Bob laughed.
“This story, yes.”
“Papaaaa,” Jack picked up his bowl of cereal and pointedly continued eating without letting his food touch the table.
“Oh for God’s sake, Jack, this table has been cleaned many times since, put your food down for a bit, I’m trying to have a moment with you here.”
“Alright, alright, fine.” Jack obediently set the bowl aside and faced his father.
“As I was saying…” Bob cleared his throat. “I talked to the cup. I told it I didn’t care if I ever won it again. All I wanted was a son. If it would give me that, I promised, I wouldn’t ask to win so much as a faceoff for the rest of my life. And I promised that I would love my son - that I would love you - unconditionally, more than anything in the world.”
“And you won a fuckton more awards anyway.”
“But,” Bob countered, “I didn’t win the cup again until after you were born when I was with the Pens. And so when your mother brought you onto the ice to see me, I wanted us to put you in the cup, but it wasn’t supposed to pass along some kind of hockey magic and ensure the Zimmermann dynasty or whatever the fuck ESPN likes to say, alright? We did it as a thank you. We wanted the cup to see what a beautiful baby we had, and to feel how incredibly loved you were.” Bob ran a hand over Jack’s newly-cropped hair, feeling the strands against his palm, almost as soft as when he used to sit next to Bob in his high chair smashing banana all over the tray. “I kept my promise too,” Bob said. “I love you. Unconditionally. More than anything in the world. And your mother and I just want to help you be happy, whatever that looks like.” He smiled warmly at his son, letting all the pride he usually kept a lid on to keep from embarrassing Jack bubble up to the surface. Jack looked down at his hands.
“How can you not be disappointed? Look at me.” Jack’s shoulders hunched in, shrinking him down, and Bob pressed his hand between Jack’s shoulder blades, rubbing circles in the way that always used to put him right to sleep as a child.
“I will always be proud of you, hockey or no. Because you know what?” Jack chanced a glance up at his father’s face and was held by his earnest expression. “Winning the Stanley Cup isn’t even in my top hundred favorite memories anymore. All of my best memories are with you and your mother.” Jack didn’t say anything in response, and Bob was learning when to give him space to process, so he stood up, bending back down to kiss his son’s forehead as he snagged the now-soggy bowl of raisin bran from in front of him.
It took a few days for Bob to get a real response from Jack, and in the meantime he just left everything to percolate. And then one night, Bob just couldn’t seem to fall asleep. His knee wasn’t quite hurting, but it was on that edge where it just didn’t feel settled, and Alicia had been snoring, and at the back of his head he could feel some kind of humming, like he could feel the tense air in Jack’s room. He’d gotten himself all worked up mulling that last one over until he had to get out of bed. He stood in front of Jack’s bedroom door, looking at the light peeking out from below the doorjamb for minutes, listening to the sounds of floorboards creaking occasionally, pages rustling, a keyboard clacking. After he’d gotten enough of the sounds of Jack just existing on the other side of the door to calm his racing heart, he went to the living room.
He settled into the couch with a box of crackers and a nature documentary when he heard footsteps creaking on the stairs. At first, he was expecting Alicia coming to call him back to bed, but the footfalls were too loud for her. Bob tried not to look surprised when Jack rounded the corner, keeping his eyes carefully trained on Animal Planet. He held up the crackers in greeting.
“Joining your old man for a midnight snack, eh?”
“Oh. Um, sure.” Jack padded over to the couch and made himself comfortable next to Bob, pulling down the afghan from the back of the sofa. They stare at the TV in silence for a long while before Jack speaks up again, quietly. “Papa?”
“So…what exactly was better than winning the cup?”