Friday, April 30, 2010

80.) Mantra

What a game. What a goal by the leading man. One more period to go; keep it up, boys! Oh, and, to all of you who like to say I keep outdoing myself.... I can't outdo the last post. That was as close to perfect as I'll ever get, so don't keep your hopes up. :)

Soundtrack Song - Snow Patrol, Run

Just like a road trip.

I told myself that, over and over again, as I tried to will myself to stop crying as Kris held onto me as we lay naked on the uncomfortable, stripped bed. Of course I didn’t want Kris to go—not one bit—but he was traded. His contract, bought and sold like chattel. It was final, a done deal. Kicking, screaming, and crying weren’t going to make a difference. These tears and my begging would have no effect on Ray Shero or motivate him to undo his decision.

I’m not gonna lie, though: I did seriously consider tying Kris down to the bed and refusing to ever let him go, Misery-style. That is, until I realized that not only would that plan be really complicated and slightly selfish, but it would also be a felony. And I didn’t need a criminal charge on my record.

Kris calmly wiped away my tears, and I silently vowed that I wouldn’t let him see me cry again. Just like I had figured out last night, after my dream: you can’t control your feelings but you can control your reactions. So that’s what I was going to do, control what I could.

Besides, it wasn’t helping him for me to be upset. My tears couldn’t change the fact that he had to leave. Crying and raging against his inevitable, impending, certain departure would do nothing but make him feel worse about something he had no hand in or wanted no part of. I wasn’t going to make him feel bad—worse, rather—about something that he didn’t want for himself, either.

And I tried not to be sad for myself and wallow in my misery; sure, I was going to miss him with the remaining pieces of my bruised heart, but Kris was going to be missing more than just me. He was leaving more than just me. This change wasn’t just about our relationship to him, like it was only about him for me. No, see, he was not only leaving his girlfriend, but also leaving his home away from home, his professional team, his friends, and his life in Pittsburgh. I couldn’t imagine being in his hoes, having to start over, fresh, on my own.

He was leaving everything behind in Pittsburgh. But since Kris was my everything, and he was going away... I felt like I was losing everything, too. It was so selfish, and I struggled again to bury my hurt and tuck it away from him. I had to focus on my strength and being strong, for him. He needed that from me, right now, more than I needed anything from him. We were taking turns leaning on each other, and it was my turn to be the support he needed. He deserved that from me, and damn it—I’d give him anything.

I took one last deep breath and visualized all my fears and sadness and self-pity being expelled from my body.

“You all right?” he asked once my cheeks were dry.

My impulse was to tell him, No, everything’s all wrong, this wasn’t supposed to happen, but I reigned it in. Instead, I simply replied, “Yup.”

“That’s my girl,” he sighed, kissing my temple. It was painful to keep up this façade, especially since his romantic nature made me want to crumble in his arms and weep all over again, but I only had to remind myself that this was for Kris’s benefit and I was immediately determined again. As long as it was for Kris, I could do anything. “Shower?”

I agreed, and we stood under the hot spray together and shared wet kisses as we rinsed away the built-up sweat, messy bodily fluids, and residual condom lubrication. We didn’t do anything other than kiss, because our bodies were still humming from the crazy intense sex we’d just had. I don’t think either of us had the stamina to handle another round after that. It really had been a draining experience, mentally and emotionally as well as physically, but it was amazing and just... intense, that nothing would ever compare.

I’d always been the type of person to live for the moment. Every day had to top the day before in order to be worthwhile. But when Kris and I were making love, literally manifesting and conjuring love, I had really wanted to live in the moment, to pause time and stay in the present forever and ever. When he’d whispered the magic words, my body shot off like a rocket and I had felt lightheaded, faint, and out of breath like I had flown beyond the atmosphere, where there wasn’t any air. And when I’d finally sunk back into the troposphere, I was mad at myself for not having control over my body or my emotions. I guess the sex had been so incredible that it made me lose all my senses and rationale.

Kris and I let the water pour over us, knowing that this would be the last time we’d really be able to touch each other and enjoy it. His hands would occasionally roam over my back, to my sides, where his thumbs would subtly brush against the sides of my breasts. The sensations would send a painful jolt between my legs, warning me that I couldn’t let his actions progress too far; but just as quickly as performed that gentle action, he would stop. Like he knew, somehow.

My hands, likewise, cupped his face, cradled the back of his neck, massaged his scalp, grasped his shoulders, and squeezed his strong arms. I knew I’d miss these arms. We knew that each moment we spent in the shower was a moment wasted that should have been spent packing or doing something constructive to prepare for his departure. But emotionally, this was all necessary. We needed to be together, simply be, together, and we were procrastinating.

Upon the water changing temperature and pelting at us like icicles, we finally got out of the shower and got dressed. Facing the daunting task ahead of us, we both finished packing his clothes. He took care of his suits and dress clothes while I loaded his suitcases with his tee shirts and jeans. This would go a lot faster if we tag-teamed it, which meant we’d have more quality time together before he left. It really fucking sucked, but we made silent work of it.

I came across his Kasüal shirt, and I hesitated to add it to his things. I wore this shirt of his all the time, and I liked it so much. My favorite memory of this shirt was wearing it when I had tied him up. I had found it in his closet when I had searched for his ties, and I had thrown it on and kind of pilfered it from him.

Suddenly I felt his breath on my ear and his hands at my waist. “You can keep it.”

“Really?” My fingers dug into the fabric like I’d never let go of it, like I wouldn’t even give it up if he asked me to pack it for him.

He chuckled at my simple excitement. “Yeah. It’s practically yours anyway. I mean, you’ve commandeered it, and I don’t think I’ve worn it in months.”

I smiled at him and placed it back into the dresser, where it belonged. Where all his things belonged. I should have been throwing a fit, pulling his things out of his luggage instead of putting them into his bags. Prolonging his time here, not helping him leave me or making it easier for him to do so: showing him how much I wanted him to stay. With every piece of clothing I stuffed into his bags, I felt another piece of my heart break off. Each possession that got packed away brought us one step closer to Kris’s leaving. My heart was completely shattered by the time he was all packed up for his trip, but he looked so... broken and beaten that I didn’t even care how I felt.

Kris zipped up his suitcases and locked them, carrying the pieces of luggage and matching garment bag and placing them by the door. He clapped his hands together, to demonstrate that one task was finished. Personal things, packed up. Equipment, being taken care of. Ticket, done. Hotel, done. And he’d call his mother at the airport. What now?

He let out a puff of air, obviously contemplating the next step, too. It was only eleven or so, so we had a bit of time before he had to be at the airport. I tried to think of what he would want to do with his last two hours in Pittsburgh—or at least, his last free hours. It broke my heart, but I had to ask him, “Do you wanna say goodbye to the guys?”

Any semblance of a smile that he may have had disintegrated from his face as it fell. “No, uh, I’m sure they’ll call or send me texts or something. I think, I mean, it would be weird to show up at practice. I’m not a part of that team anymore.”

“They’re still your friends—”

Kris shrugged, and his nonchalance over this killed me. He’d spent years with them; wearing a sweater with a fucking penguin on the front versus a shark didn’t negate the time they’d spent together or their memories or their friendships. “It’s, just, different now,” he explained. “I don’t want to go and see the looks on their faces or hear them say they’re sorry, because they can’t be sorry since it wasn’t their fault. Someone was going, and it was either one of them, or me. They’re going to be glad it wasn’t them. I don’t need to remind them how lucky they are that they get to stay.”

I wanted to comfort him, but there was nothing I could possibly say to counter that. Moving to his side, I held his right hand with my left and squeezed his forearm with my right. Then I pressed my forehead against his shoulder. Desperately, I racked my brain for something reassuring to tell him. But they were lucky; I hoped that they all were all well aware of that.

“So, then, what do you wanna do? We could do something Pittsburgh-y, if you wanted. Primanti’s? The lookout from Mount Washington? The Point?” I listed those options, forgetting for a moment that it might be painful to do something distinctly Pittsburgh-related in his last few hours here. I quickly tried to backtrack. “Or we can just go out for a quiet lunch at the deli you like—”

“No,” he interrupted with an ever-so-soft chuckle. “Wow, I must really look depressed if you’re willing to let me stay stuck in my rut and order my usual.”

“Not at all. Just saying that a little comfort food may not be such a bad thing at a time like this. You just name whatever it is that you wanna do, and it’s done.”

“Hmm,” he hummed, obviously thinking it through. “I wanna stay in, eat here, and watch Ice Road Truckers with you.”

Any other day, I would have chastised him for being boring, lame, and utterly white bread. But at this moment in time, under the given circumstances, just the two of us eating in front of the TV sounded perfect. “All right, babe. You pop in the DVD, and I’ll see what’s in the fridge.”

It was nice to be able to do something today that felt ordinary and normal. I hated repetition and routines, but it felt good to be able to fall into this moment with Kris like we had on so many other occasions. We ate roast beef sandwiches and apples with peanut butter and pretzels, and Kris ate whatever I didn’t. Once he was finished eating, he lay down on his side and placed his head in my lap so he could still watch the screen intently.

He fell asleep as I soothingly played with his hair. I think he was exhausted from the emotional turmoil, so it didn’t take much to work as a catalyst to get him to rest. It probably wasn’t a good idea for him to sleep now when he could nap on the plane, but there wasn’t anything for us to do until we had to leave for the airport.

I turned off our phones so we could spend these last few moments together in isolation; I assumed that his teammates would begin calling him once they were out of practice because then they’d all know. And I likewise figured that the girls like Kelsey and Heather would call me to express their shock and sympathy. That’s when I commiserated with Kris and realized why he didn’t care about seeing the guys one more time—I wasn’t looking forward to hearing from the girls because secretly, I’d know how thankful they were that their boyfriends weren’t the ones who were traded.

Even though they’d have the best of intentions, I didn’t want at all to deal with them and their sympathy. Not when I had the opportunity to spend these last few minutes here with Kris, enjoying these moments for what they were worth—which was a lot. These were invaluable, because I knew that soon, I wouldn’t be able to. Just like a road trip, I reminded myself, but it was going to be a long two weeks until my spring break rolled around, and I didn’t even want to think about what was gonna happen after that.

At twelve thirty, I gently nudged Kris and brought him out of his slumber. He wasn’t sleeping too deeply, but he was still hesitant to put himself into motion. Hell, I was hesitant to put him into motion, but we couldn’t avoid this. This was the beginning of our long goodbye.

“Come on, Kris. Up and at ’em, big boy.”

“Tell me it was a dream,” he sighed, awake but not yet opening his eyes. “Tell me my bags aren’t packed and by the door. Tell me I’m still a Pen.”

“I wish I could tell you those things. I really, really do,” I sighed, fighting the frog in my throat. I was so sad for him. “But we’ve gotta go.”

He held onto my legs and nestled against me again. “Not yet. I’ll just catch a later flight.”

As great as that sounded, I knew that wasn’t a solution to the problem. We’d be putting it off, but the time we’d buy ourselves would be even more strained and tense. “Kris....”

“I know.” He sighed again, looking up at the ceiling with a blank expression. “I know.”

“What are you gonna do about your car?” I asked, suddenly thinking about that. There were so many details that I was sure I wasn’t even thinking about now, that would come to light as time progressed. What else were we forgetting?

“No, you’re not allowed to drive it,” he told me with a grin, knowing that wasn’t what I was asking but teasing me anyway. As considerate of a person as Kris was, he was still a typical guy who didn’t like anyone touching his car, his baby. It was good to see him grin. “So don’t even ask.” He paused, then considering my real question. “I guess it’ll sit here. It’s not like I can drive it to California, with the time constraints.”

“I guess that means we’re taking my P.O.S. car?” He nodded his response. “Well, okay then, let’s load ’er up and get on the road.”

We carried his things down and loaded up the trunk, but before I could get behind the wheel, he kissed me slowly. It was a passionate yet chaste kiss, if such a kiss could exist. “If I haven’t said it yet, Jo, thanks.”

I was a little confused. “For driving you? I mean, of course. It gives us more time together, and like I told you, I only have comp and public speaking today—”

“No, not for that. But thanks for that, too. I mean for being so understanding.” His thumb rubbed against my cheek. I was going to especially miss these simple, romantic, meaningful gestures of his. I grabbed his hand and held it in mine to get him to stop; I’d lose all composure if he kept that up. “I know that this is hard on you, too. And after I told you my whole spiel about wanting to stay....”

“Well, you know, it sucks, but what else am I gonna do? Break up with you? Because that’s not happening. I’m a lot harder to get rid of than you think, and you’re gonna have to try a lot harder than moving thousands of miles away.” It was supposed to be a fun and reassuring joke, but it only highlighted the fact that he was really going to be that far away.

We let it slide and got into my car, puttering our way westwardly on I-376 toward the bustling airport. Every turn of the axle, every inch the vehicle carried us, and every step we took toward the check-in counter brought us closer to the separation that neither of us was looking forward to. Neither of us wanted this, but we were going through the motions, regardless.

Just like a road trip. I repeated my mantra in my head again. Except at the end of this “road trip,” he wouldn’t be coming back. I’d be going out to visit him. And I was hoping that he’d have his feet under him in San José by then so we could relax and enjoy our week together.

Once his bags were checked and his ticket was printed, we took the escalator down to the lower level, where he would be going through security. There was no line, since it was a Monday afternoon, so there was no need for us to rush through our goodbyes. But then I said to myself, just like a road trip. We wouldn’t be saying “goodbye.” We’d say “see you soon,” like we always did, because we both knew the importance and significance of a goodbye. And we weren’t leaving each other; we were just being temporarily separated.

Kris had his carry-on slung over his shoulder, his ticket and his passport with his work visa inside in his hand. This wasn’t final, but it was still a big deal. I tried to picture him in his new uniform, celebrating a goal during the game, to make this a little easier on me. Sure, California didn’t necessarily have the best hockey climate, but it was better than, say, Florida or Texas—where the only way they could lure fans into the arena was by employing fucking ice dancers to entertain men between periods.

“Does San José have ice girls?” I asked, pursing my lips angrily at the idea.

The inquiry pulled him out of his deep thoughts, and probably seemed very out of the blue to him. “Uh, I don’t think so.... At least, I don’t recall...” he mumbled, his eyes pointed up and to the left and he tried to remember. “Why?”

“Good. I fucking hope not. And if they do, you stay away from them. Ya hear?”

He laughed at me. “Really? You’re really going to warn me against hanging around ice girls?”

“Yes,” I hissed, narrowing my eyes at him and jabbing my index finger into his pec. “Stupid, skanky, scantily-clad figure skater wannabes. Stay. Away. From. Them,” I ordered, stabbing him with my finger with each of those last four words. “Better yet, no girls. Period. You’re only allowed to hang out with your teammates, and that’s it. Capisce?

“Yeah, ouch, I get it, I get it. Just stop poking me,” he replied with a smirk, batting my hand away and rubbing that spot on his chest where I prodded him into compliance. “It’s a good thing I think you’re kinda cute when you’re jealous.”

“I’m not jealous,” I huffed, crossing my arms across my front. “It’s just that you’re far too trusting, or too fucking oblivious when it comes to stupid bitches hitting on you. And stupid ice bitches are the ultimate jersey chasers. They just hang around and spread their legs quicker than you can say ‘Hi, I’m a Shark.’”

“Geez, Jo, have you even ever met an ice girl?”

“No.” I wasn’t backing down from this, and nothing he could say would make me change my mind. “But I don’t need to be around one to know what they’re like.”

“Well, besides the fact that I think you’re being a tiny bit judgmental, you don’t have anything to worry about. There will be no ‘hitting’ going on. I will tell them that I’ve got a girlfriend who I love very, very much. That I’d never do anything to hurt her,” he said, raising his eyebrows as he said as a way to inform me that he’d be true and faithful to me.

“Yeah, I know, Kris, and I trust you, but I don’t trust them. If you tell a girl that you’re a one-woman guy, that only makes them swoon even more. Loyalty is like a fucking turn on. Ugh, some bitches don’t understand boundaries and will do whatever they can, not even caring if you’re attached. They just wanna be able to say that they slept with you.” I looked him square in the eye, hoping that this was sinking in. If he wasn’t so attractive—if he looked like Ovechkin—this wouldn’t even be an issue. “You’re too damn good-looking for your own good. Damn it, I wish you were uglier.”

“Did you seriously just say, ‘I wish you were uglier’?” He shook his head, no doubt thinking I was crazy. “I thought the only reason you liked me at all was for my dashing good looks.”

“Well, believe it or not, it’s not the only reason,” I teased, smiling at him.

He smiled back, but in a serious way. When he spoke again, his tone was low but clear. “Jo, you know that I would never—”

“I know, I know. You aren’t like that, but you seem to assume that means other people have similar morals. Just, please, it’s easier if you avoid all females at all costs, ’kay?”

Kris laughed at me again, rubbing my upper arms and leaning his forehead against mine. “Okay. I promise, I will be suspicious of every girl I meet and believe that she wants to get into my pants—”

“Oh, stop it,” I warned, rolling my eyes. I wanted him to be more skeptical of girls’ motives, but then again, I didn’t want to change a thing about Kris’s outlook on life or personality, because that was one of the things I loved about him. It was one of the reasons we had met, connected on this deep level, and fallen in love with each other; how could I want to alter that part of him? Fucking hell, I was warning him to stay away from girls like me. I mean, if he hadn’t’ve wanted to bring out the best in me... if he had been able to walk away and not want to reach out and help... where would either of us be right now?

He’s the one who made me strong enough to endure this. He was the reason I knew I had to be strong, because he needed me to be. But he was also the reason I was struggling to be strong, because I was going to miss him. I still needed him. I flung my arms around his neck, standing on my tippy toes and burying my face against his strong, thick neck. “Take me with you,” I begged, my lips brushing against his flesh. I was half serious, half joking.

“I wish I could,” he sighed in response. His hands landed on my waist, his empty right hand sliding under my hoodie and resting on my bare skin to hold me in place. His hand felt so warm, and I wasn’t even cold. Or if I was cold, I didn’t realize it until he touched me.

“You can,” I mumbled, knowing that even though, theoretically, I could drop everything and follow him out to California, I wouldn’t be following him to San José.

“No I can’t,” he adamantly maintained, talking into my ear. “It’s not just that you’ve got class, Jo. But this is your first semester back. You’re already halfway through. It’s so important, and I’m so proud of you for how you’ve gone back to school and how well you’re doing. Jo, it’s just like you never missed a beat.”

“How can you say that? You didn’t know me back then.”

“You’re right, I didn’t, but I bet it’s like you picked up right where you left off. It feels like it, no?” I nodded. “This is so big for you. This is the first step to getting on track to accomplish your dreams. I can’t pull you out of that. I... I couldn’t bear to know that I was the reason you gave it up.”

“My dreams mean nothing if I can’t share them with you,” I told him, forcing myself to suppress my emotions. “I wouldn’t even be going back if it weren’t for you. And I wouldn’t be giving it up, just... pressing pause.”

“I would feel guilty.” The sadness in his eyes when he said that is what made me nod and yield. He already felt bad enough about leaving, so I couldn’t add on to that by making him feel like I had thrown away everything I’d worked so hard to gain back. “As much as I want to be with you... here, there, anywhere... I won’t do it at your expense. I promise you, Jo, this’ll work. We’ll make this work.”

“Of course we will. We have to,” I said, swearing and pledging to give this my all. I needed him too much to let some several thousand miles come between us. “I’d rather have you somehow rather than not at all. We’ll find a way.”

He hugged me tighter, and I placed my cheek against his chest so I could feel his chest heave with each of his deep breaths. “Don’t worry. The way the Sharks burn out, I’ll be done with my season before April’s over. Probably before you finish with your semester,” he sighed, and I pulled back to see a smile on his lips. But I could tell that smile was a cover.

Part of me wanted to grin at that notion: if San José choked in the first round like they were famous for doing, he could be done playing in less than two months. That would mean we wouldn’t have to be separated for that long. But I kicked myself for that wanting that—because I was supposed to want Kris to win another Cup this year. Even if that would mean he’d be in California for four months instead of the minimal two.

Staunch in my determination to be his support, I grabbed his wrists and tugged, showing him how serious I was. “No. Listen. Remember when we talked about this, on the drive back from Shippagan? I said back then that you had to do what was best for your career, above all else. Yeah, this move came as a shock to the both of us, and neither one of us wants this to be happening, but it is happening, we can’t change it, and the same logic applies here for a trade like an offer.

“You’ve got a real chance with the Sharks, Kris. It’s not that the Pens traded you away—don’t think of it like that. Think of it as the Sharks traded for you. They’re putting a lot of faith in you, to join their team and play your fucking hardest, to use your experience and skill to lead them well into the play-offs, as a real contender for the Cup. That’s a shit ton of responsibility to put on you, but they believe you can do it for them.” I squeezed his wrists, maintaining the pressure for several seconds so he knew that I was dead fucking serious. “And I believe in you, too, Kris. I’ve got all the faith of the world in you.”

“That makes one of us,” he answered jokingly. At least, I’m pretty sure it was a joke.

“I mean it. I so fucking mean it that I can’t even say how much I mean it.” I blinked back the tears. It wasn’t just about him leaving anymore. It was about showing him the confidence I had in him. “Go and play your fucking heart out. Show ’em what it takes to win, and then win it all with them. And I want you to lift that fucking Cup over your head again and rub it in Ray fucking Shero’s face when you do it.”

Kris chuckled; I wasn’t sure if he thought it was funny that I said that or if he really thought it was possible to accomplish. Or if he was thinking the exact same thing but just wouldn’t say it aloud. “Well, I won’t jinx me or my new team like you just did, but I will give it my all.”

“That’s my boy,” I sighed, mocking the way he had said something similar to me earlier. This was it, the time had come. We started the goodbye process, for real. “Have a safe flight. Text me when you land? I know you’ll be busy, but I just wanna know you got there safe. And call me tonight to let me know how it goes, I mean, I wanna know everything.”

“I will. I don’t know when I’ll have time or what’s gonna happen, but I’ll fill you in on all of it.” He paused and switched gears, once again becoming the caring Kris I knew so well. “And I know how strong you are, Jo. You’re as strong as I always thought you could be. But if you need anything, need to talk about anything or whatever, call me. You’re my girl, and I’ll always have time for you. You call and I’ll answer, as long as I’m not out on the ice. I’m at your disposal.”

Sighing, I whined, “Yeah, except you’ll be three hours behind.”

“Doesn’t matter. I mean it. Any time, day or night. Time difference be damned.”

That made me smile. “’Kay. God, I think I miss you already.” I peered into his eyes and hoped he felt it when I said, “I love you, Kris.”

He leaned down and kissed me softly, his thumb coming between our mouths so he could caress my bottom lip and get me to open up for him. I felt his tongue flick inside my mouth, and I had to push him away before this got too difficult to put a stop to. “I love you, too, Jo. But I’m not gonna miss you. I’m not gonna be sad that you’re not with me, because I’m gonna be too busy being excited for you to come out to Cali. I’m just gonna look forward to your visit.”

I smiled at that, still fighting back tears. That was Kris, always focused on the positive. “I’m going to book my ticket as soon as I get back home. I’ll let you know when I’m coming.”

“That’s what she said,” he laughed.

I reached up and cupped the back of his head, pulling him down to me so I could rest my forehead against his. “Since when did my boyfriend start telling ‘that’s what she said’ jokes? Jesus Christ.”

“Since when did my girlfriend lose her sense of humor? Come on, that was a good one, right? ‘I’ll let you know when I’m coming.’ Funny, right?”

Chuckling, I didn’t answer him. He didn’t need any encouragement. We kept delaying it and putting it on hold, finding things to distract us from the big goodbye. Then I closed my eyes and swallowed, bracing myself for my biggest test. “I love you. Lame jokes and all. But you gotta go, babe.”

“I know,” he whispered, grabbing me tight around my middle and hugging me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. Or maybe it was my emotions that were choking me. “Love you. See you soon.”

“See you,” I managed to get out, before he crashed his lips down on mine and crushed my mouth with his. And then, as abruptly as he kissed me, he let go and spun around and hurried into the now nonexistent line at the security gate. I carefully took in the sight of him walking away from me: his backwards black Pirates cap, the way his biceps bulged out of his tee shirt, and the way his hot skater ass filled out his jeans.

I wrapped my arms around myself, watching as he quickly handed his ticket and passport over to the guard, who scribbled on his paper and let him through. Kris toed out of his shoes, dumping them and his bag into a plastic tote before he walked through the metal detector. He went through without a problem, and I remained still and continued to watch as he stepped back into his shoes, slipped his ticket and identification into his pocket, and threw his bag over his shoulder.

Just when I thought he wouldn’t look back, he did. Kris didn’t just cast a look over his shoulder; he stopped, turned, and waved at me. I could see how sad he was. His face lacked the smile that usually lit up his face, and I could tell from this distance that his brown, puppy-dog eyes were dull. He only pursed his lips together and nodded. I kissed my fingers and wiggled them at him as I waved back. He acknowledged that gesture with another nod, and then he began heading back toward the people mover, jogging so he could slip into the awaiting cars rather than wait for the next one. He moved amongst the people until I lost sight of his black hat, and he was gone.

As soon as Kris was out of sight, I plopped down on the bench across from the departures and arrivals boards. I wasn’t going to move until I saw that his flight was boarded and gone. As long as he was at the airport, still in Pittsburgh, I was going to be here, too.

But I was wrong when I thought I felt alone upon my return from Montreal. This... this was feeling alone. As many times as I told myself that this was just like a road trip, it still felt different. And I felt empty.

I turned on my phone and ignored the messages that immediately appeared on my screen. I could answer the girls later; right now I wanted comfort and only one person could give it to me. I dialed a familiar number and waited for him to pick up. It only took two rings until I heard him greet me, “Hey, baby girl.”

I wanted to say something back, but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even make a sound; I was sobbing noiselessly, sucking in air that never made it into my lungs, hyperventilating. Everything that I had bottled up, wanting to hide from Kris, was escaping from me now. And it wasn’t pretty.

“Jesus Christ, Jo, what is it? What happened? Are you okay? What’s going on?” Tubby paused, giving me a chance to speak. A chance I couldn’t capitalize on. “Come on, Jo-Jo, talk to me. You’ve really got me worried.”

“Sorry,” I panted, barely able to squeak out the one word.

The concern in his voice was palpable. “What is it? Are you okay?”

I sniffed and inhaled, my chest burning and aching. One word was a struggle. This felt familiar, because I had already put Tubby through this many times during his first semester at Penn last year. Except before I was usually drunk. “Yeah.”

There was a pause on his end, and when his voice finally resounded again, there was a deep gruffness to it. “Does this have anything to do with your boy toy?”

I choked out another sob. Of course he would immediately jump to conclusions and assume Kris did something wrong. Typical Tubby; I found a bit of solace and comfort in that, how some things would always stay the same. All I could get out was, “Traded.”

Tubby was my best friend, and he often knew me better than I knew myself—but he wasn’t a mind reader. It took a few seconds before he could piece those three words together and figure out what I was so torn up about. “Oh. Oh. Oh no, Jo-Jo, I’m so sorry. Where’s he going?”

“San.... San,” I stuttered, trying to calm down enough to talk coherently. “San José.”

“Oh, man. Fuck. I’m sorry, Jo. When does he leave?”

“Two minutes ago.”

He was silent for a while. It didn’t bother me that he wasn’t talking, because I just wanted to be on the phone with him. It was soothing. Finally he said, “I got spring break next week. When’s yours?”

“Week after yours,” I told him. My voice was hoarse, but at least my ability to speak was returning as I regained my facilities. “I’m going out to Cali to see him for my break.”

“Well, I’m coming home next week.”

“I thought you were going to Myrtle Beach or something like that?”

Tubby sighed. “No. Roger bailed on me, so I was just gonna stay in Philly. But now I’m coming home.”

“No, Tubs, I want you to have fun. I’m okay, I promise, I just needed to talk to you.”

“I’m not leaving school. It’s just for break. Imagine it, baby girl, if I come home, it’ll just be me and you for the whole week. We haven’t hung out just us for a long time. I’ll be home Sunday, but I’m sure I’ll talk to you before then.”

“Yeah, okay,” I sighed. “It’ll be good to see you again. I have missed you.”

“Missed ya, too, Jo-Jo. Talk to you soon.”

I hung up and sat quietly, staring at the boards until on time switched to boarding, and then to departed. Pushing off the bench, I headed back to my car in the short-term lot and answered the next call that came through to my phone. “Hey, Kels.”

“Hi, Jo,” she said tentatively. It was obvious that she wasn’t sure what to say. “Um, so, how... how are you holding up?”

“Okay, I guess. He’s in the air now,” I replied.

“Do you wanna come over? Heather and Véro are here, too. We can have a girl’s afternoon. Ice cream and chick flicks.”

“Uh, no chick flicks, please,” I begged. No way could I watch some sappy movie where the girl gets the cute, perfect man at the end. Not when my cute, perfect man was on his way to California for the rest of the hockey season.

“Okay, that’s fine,” she replied softly. “We’re gonna buy the junk food. What do you want?”

“Turkey Hill birthday cake ice cream,” I told her, getting into my car and heading for her place. I was so thankful for the girls who were going to help me get through the second worst day of my life.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

79.) Fed to the Sharks

I'm gonna let this speak for itself, rather than address your comments at the moment. But I loved your reaction and shock, and I'm glad to know some of you are excited about this twist. Even if you're not thrilled about what happened in the post, I hope you'll still read.

Yes, I'm now creating my own reality. See Author's Note.

Also, if you never listen to the songs, do yourself a favor and give this one a shot. It pretty much encapsulates the current situation in a way that, as a writer, I just can't.

Soundtrack Song - Civil Twilight, Letters from the Sky

I waited for Jo’s reaction, having no reaction myself. Ray had been nice enough on the phone, but I felt numb. It hurt to be traded, used like a pawn in Shero’s quest for the Cup—but it hurt worse that I was considered to be disposable and not a useful piece of the puzzle or an important player for his team. Shero thought his team could win it all without me. Ouch.

“But... why?” she asked, squeezing my arm. There wasn’t an accusing tone to her voice, but the question still smarted. Why?

Exhaling a long, slow breath, I thought about what Ray’d said to me on the phone. He said he had to make a decision, and he didn’t really want to trade me. He said he would have liked to keep me and see me through as I developed and matured as a player, because my best years were still ahead of me. That was, he said, why they drafted me in the first place. Because they saw my “potential.”

But I guess they were just putting my “potential” out on display for other teams. That’s why I was moved up to shut down with Orpik—so the other teams could see the defensive side of my game, the physicality of my game, to make me that much more of a bargaining chip. I thought they were giving me a chance to spread my wings and show the team what I could do; but in reality I had been showing other teams what I could do.

The Pens were a team built to win now, this season, Shero told me. They had to do whatever it took to help them fill in the blanks and holes to present a full, dangerous team to any possible opponent. That meant more offense, a scoring winger. We needed—the Pens needed—someone to complement Geno to spark that second line, and we—they—were willing to give up a top-four defenseman in order to get it. That was how desperate they were. It had nothing to do with how I was playing or whether I had fit in with the team; it wasn’t personal, he said. But, fuck, I was taking this personally.

The team had heard rumors that Shero was in negotiations with the Leafs, but that they were reaching a dead-end because he wasn’t willing to give up the prospect Burke wanted. I hoped Caputi knew how lucky he was, knowing that Ray favored him enough to want to keep him over me. Maybe that was my bitterness or resentment talking, but it truly felt like a stab in the back to be traded when we were having another successful season. I hadn’t hit any of my season objectives, which I had set for myself over the summer, and I wasn’t exactly on track to reach them either. I wanted ten goals, but had only scored three; I wanted thirty-five points, but so far I only had twenty-two. Sure, it wasn’t stellar, and obviously everyone (including myself) had expected more, but was it worth trading me over?

I didn’t go into all that detail to Jo, though. Because even though it royally sucked to be traded, the decision was made and it was final. I wasn’t a Pen anymore, I wasn’t going to be donning black and gold again, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it except whine—and whining was pointless and would get me nowhere. So I merely explained, “They could get a better winger if they traded me rather than a prospect and some draft picks.”

Her voice was shaky as she pressed me for more answers. “Who’d they trade you for?”

“Um, Ryane Clowe? He’s a left wing. He’ll be going on Geno’s line, hopefully.”

“I don’t care where he’s playing, Kris, or where he’s gonna fit. Fuck him, for all I care, and fuck the Penguins. I wanna know where you’re going.” There was an edge of panic in her voice. That was the big question. I was leaving, but how far away was I going?

“Clowe’s from the Sharks.”

Her grip on me tightened. “San José? California?!

I closed my eyes and nodded. The Sharks. The infamous choke artists. As if it weren’t bad enough to be traded, going to San José was just adding insult to injury. It really was like being fed to the sharks. They were a good team, I guess, because they were one of the top teams in the West; but I was less than thrilled to play for a team that historically faded out a round or two into the postseason. But I couldn’t help but think that that was why they wanted me: I had experience as a Stanley Cup winner. I could help lead their team to victory. Oh, who the hell was I kidding? I was doomed to be playing golf by the end of April.

Jo’s hand slid down my arm to my hand, and she laced her fingers with mine. She spoke very tentatively. “Well, I guess I know where I’m vacationing for spring break, at least.”

Looking up at her, I surprised by her response. I hadn’t expected her to say that. Not when she had that anxious look in her eyes that she got when she was worried about something. I expected more incredulity, or anger or sadness or some other emotion. “Really?”

“Orange County, here I come. Well, I mean, as long as you’ll let me come visit,” she clarified with a blush.

“Yeah, Jo, of course I’d let you.” I reached over to her with my right hand, my free hand, and cupped her face, allowing my thumb to trace the line of her cheek bone. As unsure as I was feeling, her support was welcome. I really needed that. “I expect you to. And I can’t wait for it, actually.”

“Good, because I’m already looking forward to it.” She sighed briefly, with a smile so faint it was almost unnoticeable. It was barely there, but I could detect it because I knew the shape of her face so well. “You know, it’s a good thing you look good in teal.”

I chuckled, feeling reassured—albeit only slightly—by her humor. I knew then that we’d make it through this, somehow, doing whatever it took to get over this hurdle. If she could crack a joke at a time like this, if she was choosing to lighten the mood in the room instead of fight and get upset, then we could definitely work this out. She was electing to support me during this transition instead of focus on how much it would suck. Trying to be positive when we were surrounded by negatives.

I was moved by my love for her, and I felt like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes. I was so proud of her for how she was dealing with the news. For a moment, I forgot about my disappointment as I celebrated her attitude. She was dealing with this much better than I was, and that was going to help me deal with this, too. Jo was going to offer her support so I could rely on her and lean on her while I was feeling like the ground had caved in from under where I was standing. She was going to hold onto my hand and pull me up from the depths of the pit I was about to fall into, and she was going to be strong enough for the both of us until I could emotionally get back on my feet.

Every moment in our relationship had been building us up to handle this appropriately. Every previous second had been giving us the tools necessary to create a solid foundation upon which our love could be erected. No earthquake could shake or crack this.

I was so thankful for Jo at this moment, because I couldn’t imagine having to go through this transition without her. Even though she’d still be here in Pittsburgh, attending her classes and working and living here without me, while I was moving away to San José to play and completely start over all by myself, she was still going to be there for me. It didn’t matter that we weren’t going to be physically together, even though it would blow, because a bond like this transcends distance.

“And, I suppose, it’s a good thing that you look good in teal, too. I expect you to become a Sharks fan,” I told her, leaning my forehead against her temple and closing my eyes. Since Jo was taking this in stride, it was going to be a lot easier for me to go through with it and leave her.

“Well, I’m a Tanger fan, first and foremost. Doesn’t matter what team you play for.” I could feel the way the skin of her face crinkled as she smiled. “Well, except Philly. Then I draw the line.”

“Then let’s hope it never comes to that. Besides, neither of us looks good in orange.”

Jo laughed and turned her head, so now my forehead was against hers. We needed to get back to business, and she knew that. “So, what happens? When do you leave?”

I groaned, thinking about it. There was so much that needed to be done. “Like, now. As soon as possible. I’ve gotta call my agent, my mom, book a flight, pack, figure out where I’m gonna stay, what the hell I’m supposed to do—” My phone went off, and I stopped talking to read the screen. “This is Kent now.”

Jo nodded, letting go of me and standing up so I could take this call. I watched as she walked back into the bedroom, and then I clicked the “accept call” button and answered my phone. “Hey, Kent—”

“Don’t worry, Kris, I’m taking care of it all. I bought your ticket for San José, and you leave this afternoon. You’ll be staying at the Alameda, which is about a block away from HP Pavilion, and it’s the closest hotel to the arena. I’m in the process of getting a hold of Doug Wilson, that’s the GM of the Sharks, to see when you can meet with the team and coaches and management. Your equipment’s being packed and shipped, so it’ll be there by the time you get there. I’ve got everything under control for you, Kris.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled. He may have had the details organized, but he hadn’t taken care of everything. I was still having trouble wrapping my head around the idea of being traded and having to start over with a new team, midseason. Even though I was comforted by knowing Jo would back me up, it was still difficult to process what was going on and the fact that I had been dumped by my team. I wondered if this was how it would feel to find out your girlfriend had been cheating on you. Like the Pens had been seeing someone else and had chosen the other person over me. Maybe this was overreacting, but I’d been with the organization for five years, which made bouncing between juniors, the minors, and then the NHL and going from team to team a little bit easier. But now the Pens and I were breaking up. This was going to be awkward, and I was making myself anxious just thinking about it.

“I e-mailed you your ticket confirmation for your flight and your room confirmation also, so that’s all sorted out. As soon as I set up a meeting with Sharks management, I’ll forward you that information also. You’re all set, and if you need anything else, then you just say the word and it’s done. I want to make this transition as easy as possible on you.” Kent paused, which was odd for him. He usually just talked a mile a minute until you cut him off. “I know you said you wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, Kris, but we’re gonna make the best of this.”

“We’re gonna try, at least,” I sighed. “Thanks, Kent, I appreciate you taking care of much as you could. I guess I’ll talk to you next from California.”

I hung up, knowing that I should have called Mom immediately after I found out to tell her about what was going on before she heard about it otherwise, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that yet. It would probably take a few hours for the news to get out, so I had some time. Checking my flight itinerary, I saw that I wouldn’t have to be at the airport yet for a few hours; my flight didn’t take off until quarter to three. Since I didn’t have to worry about my arrangements or equipment, Kent had bought me some valuable hours to spend how I wanted for my remaining time in Pittsburgh—and I knew just how I wanted to pass the time.

Pushing off the couch, I followed the path that Jo had taken into our bedroom. While I had been on the phone, she had pulled out my luggage from the closet and placed the pieces on the stripped, bare bed, the bags open and already half-filled with my things. That sight brought me back down to Earth, and the weight of what was happening was beginning to sink in. Seeing my belongings in my suitcases, it just made it feel so real. I was really leaving.

My shampoo, conditioner, soap, razor, and the rest of my toiletries were packed up, just like how I’d do it when I was going away on a road trip with the team. But the dresser drawers were empty, their contents piled neatly in my luggage. She must have seen the look on my face, because she quickly explained, “I just figured you didn’t have time to dilly-dally. I figured I’d get a head start, to help you out.”

I nodded, knowing in my head that her words made sense, but it didn’t feel right in my heart to see her packing up my things. “Wow. I can’t believe this is happening.”

It was Jo’s turn to nod, and her gesture was slow and subtle. “I can’t believe it either. I feel... I feel like this is my fault,” she sighed quietly, and I had to replay her statement in my head three times before I fully understood it.

Even once I understood what she said, I still didn’t understand her meaning. “How is this at all your fault? How could any of it be your fault? You couldn’t possibly have made this happen.”

“Well, yeah, I know it’s not actually my fault, but I feel guilty. I was just thinking to myself that a change would be nice, you know? That’s why I wanted to go do something tonight, to do something different and have some fun.” Jo shrugged sadly. “And this is definitely a change, but not at all what I had in mind. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.”

“You know as well as I do that you don’t have that kind of power over anything,” I told her, making her smirk. She grabbed a few more shirts and laid them flat, pressing and trying to fit as much as she could in my bag. I sat on the bed and waved her over. “Stop for a second?”

“But there’s so much to do—”

“We’ve got time,” I assured her. I just wanted some quiet time with her, to soak her essence up so I could take it with me when I left. “Please, come sit with me, just for a little.”

She nodded and joined me, silently looking around the room. Finally she said, “Whatever doesn’t fit or whatever you can’t carry with you, I can pack up and ship it to you.” I nodded, putting an arm around her shoulder. Jo was trying to be so focused on doing what needed to be done, but I just wanted to be in the present moment with her. She leaned her head against my shoulder and stared down at the floor. “Or I can put it into storage if that’s what you want. And I’ll just need a few days before I can find a place and be out.”

“Find a place? And what do you mean, ‘out’? Where are you going?”

“Well, I don’t know. But I can’t stay here. This was your apartment, Kris, from the start.” I opened my mouth to argue with her, but she held up her hand to shut me up. She continued, “When you asked me to move in with you, I was afraid to do it, and really, I never did agree and say ‘yes’ to make it permanent. But even so, this place felt like ours. But if you’re not here, it’s not our place anymore. And it’s certainly not mine. I can’t afford it, my name’s not on it—”

This time, I didn’t let her stop me from interrupting. “You’re not going anywhere. Where would you go? Not back to your house. No. You’re staying here. You’re not going anywhere.”

“I could apply for emergency room and board at CMU. I don’t have to go back home—”

“No, this is your home.” I had to let my blood pressure settle back down before I could rationalize this to her. “Besides, when I came back to start the season, I had to a re-sign a one-year lease here. I’d still be paying, if I were here or not. It’s fine.”

“No, Kris. I can’t accept this from you. It’s like I’m your mistress or something, and you’re putting me up. I can’t.”

“So you’d just let the place sit here, unused? Let my stuff gather dust? I’d rather this place be used somehow than pay for it to be empty. Just stay here.”

“Don’t try to guilt me into it or anything,” she replied with a lighthearted snort. “I just don’t know. I feel weird about it. Like I’m physically taking something from you, and I don’t need to take anything from you. I don’t want anything other than you. You, babe. Nothing else.”

I squeezed her shoulders in a one-armed hug. “I know, and I wish I could stay here, to give you me. But if I can’t, then I still want to make sure you got what you need. I’m perfectly fine with this. I want you here, I want to know you’re here... please.”

She paused for a moment, obviously debating her decision. “’Kay.”

“Good,” I breathed with relief. If I couldn’t be here physically, whenever she needed me, at least I could do this for her and make sure that she had a sanctuary. That’s why I gave her my key back in December. Even though I was going away on a road trip back then, I wanted to be able to do something to help her when she had that run-in with her dad on the anniversary of James’s death. And that “something” was giving her a sanctuary, a place to escape. I still wanted to give that to her.

I turned my body toward her and cupped her chin when she looked up at me. Looking deep into her eyes, I told her the reason I came back into this room in the first place. “Jo, I wanna make love.”

She gave me kind of a crazy look. Well, the look wasn’t crazy, but it was like she thought I was crazy. “You say that like we haven’t been doing that all along.”

Shaking my head, I tried to explain it as best as I could. “I want to make ‘love,’ make enough to last you until I see you and get to love you again.” I kissed her neck, right over her carotid, feeling with my lips and tongue how her heart rate jumped and accelerated. Then I placed my right hand over her heart on her chest. “This time, I wanna make love for you. I wanna make enough so you can store it right here and have it when you need it, until I see you again and get to replenish it.”

Jo placed her palms against my chest and pushed me down to the bed, slipping between my legs as she laid herself on top of me. “We make ‘love’ every time you kiss me,” she whispered, placing a line of kisses along my jaw. “Every time you look at me and your brown eyes sparkle. Every time you say my name. Every time you think of me and smile, you’re making ‘love’ for me.” She pulled back enough to look down at my face. “Every time you do something like that, it’s like you leave a deposit of love that never fades away, like building a bird’s nest. It doesn’t get depleted, so I don’t need you to make love for me. Make love to me.”

We took turns peeling each other out of our clothes, mouths kissing and hands groping all the while. We were proceeding slowly, wanting to reach the ultimate climax eventually, but not rushing to get there. This was going to be the last time we’d have the chance to do this until she visited for spring break, whenever that was. We wanted this to last forever.

When I slipped inside of Jo, I made myself push in and pull out with long, slow strokes. Even when I wanted to go faster, I focused on my pace to make sure we took our time. It took all my self-control and self-discipline to maintain this speed, and my muscles were screaming at me to increase my tempo and finish, to get off and lie down—but I resisted.

I hovered over her, feeling her back bow and arch as she fought against her pleasure, wanting to keep this going for as long as we could. Lowering my face until it was mere inches above hers, I kept my weight off her with my right hand as I reached with my left and made her make eye contact with me. Her eyes weren’t hazel anymore; the gold was completely gone. Now her eyes were dark, dark brown as she looked back at me intensely.

The hot, humid pants leaving my mouth immediately became her gasps. The air she breathed was my breath. My hair was falling across her forehead, my sweat dripping onto her skin. Her fingers dug into the skin of my back, and I could feel her short nails leaving their imprints. Not enough to break the skin, but I knew I’d have marks. I didn’t care about that; and if there was pain, I didn’t feel it.

At one point, Jo closed her eyes as she struggled to prevent the inevitable orgasm. But I wouldn’t let her. My whole body rebelled as I mustered the additional effort needed to speak. “Look at me, Jo,” I ordered her. Reluctantly, her eyelids fluttered open. I couldn’t believe the words leaving my mouth. “Come for me.”

She closed her eyes and groaned, her grip on my flesh tightening. “No,” she breathed, biting her lip and continuing to fight against the sensations.

“Yes,” I hissed, thrusting with more force but not speeding up.

“I don’t. Want this. To end. Ever,” she eked out, pinching her eyes shut. I felt as all her muscles began to tense, her body’s grip around my dick tightening unbearably. I wouldn’t be able to last much longer, and I knew she wouldn’t either.

With her face turned away from me, my mouth was right over her ear. I coaxed her again, “Come.” That was enough to push her over the edge, and a tremor ripped through her body. The feel of her warmth spasming around me was like experiencing paradise, and I let out a raw, primal howl as I felt my body finally give in and surrender itself to the sublime.

“Kris?” Jo asked, pressing against my shoulder.

I looked down at her. “Hmm?”

“I think you blacked out for a second there. Are you okay?” she giggled.

“I’m sorry,” I said, pulling out of her and flopping onto my back on the rough, scratchy mattress. I rested my sweaty hands on my chest, palms down. “But that was....”

“I know,” she purred, curling up next to me and hooking a leg over mine. Her fingers played with mine, lifting my hand from its place. “Beyond words. I just wish it wasn’t over.” Our hands were now pressed palm-to-palm, and her face contorted. Her eyes got glassy and she blinked furiously as her lips pursed into a tight frown, desperately trying not to cry.

“Joey,” I started, trying to think of something to say that would quell her tears.

“I’m sorry,” it was her turn to say. “I don’t wanna cry, but I can’t believe we wasted this week. I let my stupid emotions get in the way, and I wasted our time together, when I should know that you have to take advantage of every second. And now you’re going....”

“But it’s not for forever. I’ll see you in what, a few weeks?” I asked, wrapping her up in my arms and holding her tightly to me. Our bodies were slick and sticky, but neither of us cared. She nodded. “It’ll just be like I’m going away on a long road trip. That’s all. That’s how we have to think about it.”

“I guess,” she sniffed.

“Our relationship is like a hockey season,” I reasoned aloud. “You don’t start off by playing for the Cup. There’s training camp, then the preseason, and then there are eighty-two regular games that prepare you for the play-offs. And then in the postseason, there are four rounds, and you need four wins in each round. But you don’t and can’t win it all in September or October. You’ve gotta take it game by game. Gotta play period to period, shift to shift, never getting ahead of yourself. Focusing on what you can do, right now. And that’s what we gotta do now. We get through each day until your spring break. Let’s worry about what happens later when ‘later’ finally rolls around.”

“You make it sound easy,” she pouted.

“No, it won’t be easy. I’m gonna miss you like crazy, but it’s like I said to you in the fall: the things worth doing in life—”

“Are always the hardest,” she finished my sentence. “I hate it when you’re right.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

78.) Taking Turns

A/N: I want to preface this post, but I don't know what to say.

Soundtrack Song - Breaking Benjamin, Give Me a Sign (Acoustic)

The day’s bright and sunny, and I want nothing more than to be doing anything but studying. But I’m taking the SATs again on Saturday, and I need to up my verbal score if CMU is gonna accept me. I did really great in the math portion the first time around, but fuck... I just suck at analogies, plain and simple.

Because the weather’s so nice, I decide to sit outside underneath the tree in the shade as I flip through my flashcards and work on my vocab. But I’m startled out of my concentration when a hard rubber ball whips by my head, causing me to jump and gasp, and my flashcards to go flying every which way.

“James! What the hell!” I look over at him, and he’s laughing at me from the street as he leans on his stick.

“Come on,” he says, jerking his head and gesturing for me to join him.

“Ugh, no. Some of us have to study, Mr. 1480. Just because you already got early admission into college doesn’t mean that all of us get to slack off.”

“You can’t cram for a standardized test, Jo-Jo. Stop freaking out about it and relax.”

“Easy for you to say,” I huff, gathering up the cards before the wind blows them away. Of course James doesn’t care; he definitely got the highest score in the history of our school. He walked in with me that morning cool as a freakin’ cucumber with no preparation, and couldn’t get any closer to a perfect score of 1600 if he had tried. Actually, if he had tried, he probably would have.

“You need to chill out and not worry about it so much. Take a break and come play with me.”

“We’re not five anymore, Jimmy. I can’t drop what I’m doing and ‘play’ with you just because you want me to. I gotta study.”

He jabs me with the blade of his stick as he stands a safe distance away from me. “Seriously, the more you stress out, the worse you’re gonna do.”

“Seriously, if you poke me one more time—”

I don’t even get the chance to finish my warning, because he thrusts the stick against my hands and something in me snaps. Carrying through with my threat, I drop the cards completely and wrap my fingers around his hockey stick, yanking it out of his hands and then winding up with it like it’s a baseball bat. He winces as I whack his side with the stick, which then breaks in two.

“What the fuck was that for?!” he hollers, and I hope Mom or Dad hears him and grounds him for his language.

“I tried to warn you.” I drop the broken stick and begin, again, to pick up my flashcards. I have to learn these Greek and Latin word parts.

“I’m telling,” he taunts, rubbing his ribs on his left side, just where my tattoo is on my side. “You’re buying me a new stick!”

“Go ahead, ya big baby,” I say, being encouraging in a smug way. “Go tell on me. See if Mom cares. She’ll tell you it was your own damn fault.”

“Screw that, I’m telling Tanger,” he pouts, waiting for that to evoke a response from me. But it doesn’t. In fact, I don’t even look up from what I’m doing as he skulks away into the house. Flipping through the cards, I begin to quiz myself: dict, to say; vert, to turn; chron, time....

Gasping for air, I sat straight up in bed, the sheet falling away and exposing my naked body. I pulled the sheet up over my chest, curling my hands and tucking it under my chin as the tears instantly pooled in my eyes. It was the same dream again, the exact same one I’d had during the drive up to Shippagan.

It shouldn’t have bothered me as much as it did, because it wasn’t that terrifying of a nightmare; not in comparison to the ones where James would be trapped inside our burning house and I was helpless to stop him or save him from certain death. There were no shocking or traumatic events in this one, but it was still incredibly upsetting to me. It wasn’t what happened; rather, it was how I had acted. Like a bitch. I should have gone and played with him, spent time with him while I still had the chance, because now I didn’t have that opportunity. If I’d have known then what I knew now....

My sudden movements brought Kris out of his slumber, and he jerked awake and looked around with surprise, like he was expecting an intruder or some other external stimulus. He obviously wasn’t sure what had jolted him awake. Since I had gathered the fabric of the covers around me, like a security blanket, I had pulled the sheet off him; the faint moonlight shining through the window lit the room enough so I could see the definition of the muscles of his taut and sexy body, the dark outline of his tattoo, his knotted hair, and his concerned expression. The light not only caused his eyes to sparkle, but it also reflected off the tiny flecks of glitter that had transferred from my body to his. His voice was thick and groggy as he quickly asked, “What is it? What happened?”

I turned my body slightly in his direction, my lip trembling and giving me away. I didn’t have to explain anything to him—he instantly knew—but I still told him, “I had a dream....”

Kris didn’t know what to say immediately. I knew that he was unsure of himself because this wasn’t how it usually happened. When I had the nightmares before, I had always woken up to Kris cradling and rocking me as he whispered soft, soothing, and comforting words. He’d always been prepared, like he knew it was happening even in his sleep. But this time, it hadn’t disturbed him, so he didn’t know how to help me cope or deal with it. Because something had changed.

“It’s okay, Jo. It was just a dream. It’s over now,” he cooed smoothly, pushing himself up from his supine position and rubbing my back. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he wasn’t exactly sure about what he should do. I wasn’t in hysterics like before, but I was still visibly distressed. “Do you wanna tell me about it?”

No, I didn’t want to tell him about it; I didn’t want this to be happening period. Things had been going so well. Yesterday, Kris and I had re-consummated our relationship after he shared his past with me. We had moved to a new place, a relaxed comfort zone, and then when we had finally had sex again, it had been amazing. It was just like after my accident, when we hadn’t seen each other in a while, let alone been together—it was absolutely explosive. And hot. And intense. All that pent-up emotion and passion boiled over and we went at it like rabbits. Or more like Energizer bunnies, that just kept going, and going, and going....

This was an interesting dynamic that our relationship had developed over its course. We were taking turns leaning on each other when we needed support. Not that that in itself was weird, because every once in a while, everyone needed a shoulder to cry on. But Kris and I, it almost seemed like it was always either him or me needing that shoulder. At first, it was pretty much just me: my birthday, James’s death day, the drugging incident, my accident, starting school again, the pregnancy scare. But Kris was relying on me, too: the injury to his shoulder, Luc’s birthday, confessing his need for honesty, revealing his uncomfortable past, showing me his well-hidden vulnerability.

I always thought that romantic relationships wouldn’t be like this, and that I wouldn’t open up like this to a boyfriend. Friends were the ones who would be with through anything. Boyfriends only supplied love and affection, not this type of emotional support. But Kris was everything, a friend and a lover. He was all-encompassing, transcending any one label.

There wasn’t anything wrong with that; I mean, this relationship was incredibly life-altering and meaningful to me. But I just wished that we spent less time being vulnerable and more time having fun. Although this will probably sound conceited and selfish—if there ever were two people who deserved to have a little bit of fun, those two people were me and Kris. Bringing up the dream now—having the dream—was distracting from the direction we had been heading in, which had been fun and laid-back.

However, now that I knew about Kris and his past, I knew that it would help him to “help” me. He had to be caring because it made him feel like he was in control. I wanted to be mad and not comforted or babied, but I knew Kris wouldn’t understand that because it wasn’t how he would deal with it. So I relented.

“I didn’t care. He went into the house, and I didn’t give a flying fuck. I just went back to what I was doing,” I mumbled, bringing my knees up to my chest, tilting my head, and resting my cheek on my knees.

“Was it...?” He tried to pose the question, but he couldn’t manifest the words to ask if the house was on fire in this dream.

“I don’t know. I didn’t even look behind me. I told him to go, to leave me alone, and even when he said your name, it didn’t... I mean, I didn’t even think twice about it. I was too focused on studying to care about him, my brother, or what was gonna happen to him....”

“Oh, Joey, honey,” he soothed, moving even closer to me. He had assessed the situation and formulated a plan. “It’s dream logic, it’s not how you really feel. It’s like how weird stuff happens in a dream, but it makes sense at the time even though once you’re awake, you realize how it’s all screwed up. You and I both know that you care about him and never wanted anything bad to happen to your brother.”

I shook my head and then looked away. “I know what you’re saying, Kris, I do, but I just... in the dream, I felt so mad at him. Like, I just wanted him to leave me alone. And even though he was pissing me off in my dream, I’d trade a real-life moment like that to have him here with me. I’m so mad at myself for letting him leave. Not just letting him leave, but yelling at him to go away.”

“Aw, Jo, but that’s not how you really feel. It’s okay—”

“It’s not fuckin’ okay!” I hollered, instantly regretting it as I watched him tense. He reacted like my words had been a verbal slap to the face. Leaning toward him, I pressed my forehead against the side of his jaw and kissed his neck softly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I know you’re just helping. God, I hate how things got all fucked up again.” I clenched my hands into fists, wanting nothing more than to punch something and lash out in anger. “I’m sick of things getting ruined. I’m sick of dreaming these dreams. I mean, yesterday was so much fun, well besides losing, and now this? Why can’t things just go right for once? Why can’t we just catch a goddamn break? Aren’t things supposed to start getting easier? Because, really, I can’t take much more of this. It’s too much.”

Kris eased his posture a bit, reaching out for my hands and opening them, weaving his fingers in between mine. “I understand. You’re frustrated. It’s not fun, but you’re not given anything more than you can handle.”

Please don’t feed me lines, okay? I know you wanna help, but that’s not helping. I want to be upset about this. I can’t take this lying down. I need to do something about it.”

“What good will come out of being upset? How is that doing something about it?” He paused, giving me time to think of an answer but none came to mind. “What can you do to stave off a dream? It’s not your fault, and there’s nothing you can change about this. I know it sucks to hear that you can’t do anything about it, but it’s just a dream.”

“A stupid, crappy, mind-fuck of a dream,” I sighed, slumping against him. Kris didn’t, or just couldn’t, understand; it’s just the way his mind worked. So I changed subjects. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.” I knew that he especially needed a good night of rest. There was one more hard, demanding practice on Monday before their game against Buffalo on Tuesday, which would be the first game since the break. Plus, with the trade deadline approaching, everyone was anxious to see how the line-up would change.

“Then let’s go back to bed.” He wrapped us back up in the sheet, like we were before I woke up, and then he draped the comforter over me. Kris never slept with more covers than just the sheet, because he was always so warm, but I always needed the extra blanket. Once I was properly cocooned, he held onto me with his strong arms and kissed the top of my head.

But I couldn’t sleep. I was still bothered by everything: the way I felt about the dream, having the dream itself, not being able to do anything to stop the dreams or the way I felt about them, and how this was all ruining the good thing that Kris and I had going. I tried to keep still and not fidget, because I didn’t want to disturb Kris—but the more I forced myself to lie there and just relax, the more impossible it became. It’s like telling yourself not to think of a pink elephant; once you try to make yourself not think about it, all you can think about is a pink elephant. Finally, once I heard his breathing even out into a rhythmic cadence, I ducked under his arm and unrolled myself from the covers.

“Where are you going?” he breathed, too tired to open his yes.

“I can’t lie down,” I whispered as I slid away from him, not wanting to make a loud noise that would bring him further out of his drowsy state. “Don’t worry, babe. You need to sleep.”

“Come back to bed.”

I sat back on the bed, leaned over him, and kissed the space between his sideburn and ear. “Go to sleep,” I commanded softly, waiting again until this time I knew for sure that he was out before I slipped into shorts and a tank top and left the bedroom. Closing the door carefully, I padded into the kitchen and paced back and forth in front of the fridge.

Frustrated with the sea of torment that raged within me, I clenched my hands into fists and then flexed my fingers. I kept telling myself, over and over again in my head, that I wasn’t going to be upset over this. I thought that if I said it enough times, I could make it so. It was just a stupid dream, I told myself; a stupid representation of my feelings that didn’t actually represent my feelings how I really felt them. It was supposed to be symbolic: being okay with his leaving, not looking back, it meant that I was coming to grips with his irreversible departure from this planet and moving on from it. It was a good thing, so why did it have to feel so shitty?

I felt like screaming or crying, somehow rebelling against the sinking, empty feeling in my chest. But I wasn’t going to do either of those things. Despite my recent behavior, that was not who I was. Those were passive, pathetic, pointless actions. I used to deal in other ways, like doing something, anything, that I had a say in. I would dye my hair, or make use of my fake I.D. at the state store, or smoke a bowl with Tubby, and once I even pierced my eyebrow. Pierced it myself. But I had to take it out, or else Bob would have fired me.

As I continued to pace, it just sort of struck me, out of the blue, that those were my own twisted versions of a very Kris-like thing to do. It was my own, personal way of controlling my world. Kris chose non-action, static, and avoidance; I chose action, change, and indulgence—but these were essentially decisions made in response to feeling helpless and impotent.

That realization sucked the wind out of my sails, and I stopped pacing. In fact, I felt drained of all energy. I felt foolish, like King Lear as he raged against the tempest. You can’t fight against the inevitable. You can’t go back and change what happened. And neither can you change the way you feel. It’s all about how you react. Being angry wasn’t helpful; I needed to find a constructive way to channel my emotions. I still didn’t know how that to do that, but it could wait until the morning because I was feeling mentally exhausted.

I quietly tip-toed back into the bedroom and crawled into bed next to Kris, slipping underneath the covers and curling up against his chest. In his sleep, he mumbled something and flung an arm over me, instantly making me feel loved and cared for. His breath puffed against my forehead, but it was soothing and helped me fall asleep.

In the morning, I woke up to Kris trying to get dressed without making a lot of noise. He almost succeeded, but his phone was in his pants pocket, and it rang. Loudly. I groaned as he fumbled around and tried to shut off the sound. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“What are you even doing up this early?” I moaned, glancing at the clock. “It’s not a game day. Just practice.”

His face turned a little pink. “Sid’s bringing in his gold medal, so we can see it before practice.”

Nodding, I tried not to let my residual bitterness show. Kris was being so good about not bragging, not like his teammates had acted. Those guys always took everything too far, getting too competitive about a game they weren’t even playing in. But Kris had kept his pride in check, and I tried to be happy for him. I smiled at him. “That’s cool. Is it like the Cup?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can you touch an Olympic medal if you haven’t won one?”

Kris laughed. “No, it doesn’t work like that. When you win a medal, it’s yours. No one else’s. But the Cup, it’s no one’s because it’s everyone’s. You don’t get to keep it. So it’s different.” He shook his head, still laughing at me, and I noticed a glint on his cheek. I crooked my finger at him and he approached the bed, sitting beside me, so I could brush it away.

“Glitter,” I told him, showing the fleck of red now on my finger.

“Did you know that I showered twice trying to get all that stuff off me? Never, and I seriously mean never, are you allowed to use that stuff again,” he ordered, a playful growl in his tone.

“You think you can tell me what to do?” I mocked him just as teasingly, cocking my eyebrow. But I knew he had a point. I was going to have to vacuum, strip the bed, and wash yesterday’s clothes to try to eradicate this glitter.

“I know I can. I know how to get you to do whatever I want,” he whispered, leaning in for a kiss.

Our lips met, and I reached up and pulled his silly hat off his head. It’s not that it was a silly hat; but let’s face it, Kris Letang should never wear a hat. I never understood why he’d grow his gorgeous hair so long only to cover it up.

His phone went off again. I pulled back and groaned. Not like we’d have sex before he had practice, but I had been enjoying our moment together. “Geez, Kris, aren’t you popular this morning.”

He looked down at the phone and pressed a couple of buttons, not really paying any attention to me. “Hmm.”

“‘Hmm’ what, babe?” I asked, trying to figure out what was going on.

“Apparently, uh,” he told me before he paused for a couple seconds, “the team acquired another defenseman. Jordan Leopold, from the Panthers.”

I glanced down at his phone even though I couldn’t see the screen, but looking at it like it would magically reveal the answers. I may not have been in on the wheelings and dealings of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I didn’t think that this could be good. There were only so many defensive positions, and someone had to go. “Man, I’m gonna miss Gogo, my American ally. I can’t believe they’re sending him down. I mean, he hasn’t been playing that great, but they’re not giving him much of a chance either.”

“I don’t think he’s going anywhere,” he muttered, slipping his phone back into his pocket.

“Are they shopping Skoula? He hasn’t played in ages as the seventh d-man. I mean, I remember when Lovejoy got called up and played while he was still benched.”

Kris sighed. “I don’t know.”

“Well, it’s either one of those two options. McKee’s too much of a bargain to dump him now. I mean, you’re shutting down with Orpik, Gonch is essential on the PP, and Eaton’s been solid.”

“Can we not talk shop? Practice is going to be weird now. We heard talk about wingers, this time for Geno, but not this. Guys are gonna be a little on edge.”

“Sorry, babe,” I apologized, lightly stroking his arm, up and down. “Hey. You wanna do something? After practice?” I asked him tentatively, watching and waiting for his reaction. I knew he’d be tired after another hard, draining skate with the team, but I thought it would do him some good to do something out of the ordinary to get his mind off this. It’s never easy to adjust to changes in chemistry in the locker room; until the deadline passed, there was going to be a lot of tension. And not to sound selfish, but it would do me good, too, to break out of the monotony that my life had begun to assume. We could use a change.

“Don’t you have class today?”

“Blech, yes,” I moaned. “But I can skip it. Today’s Monday, so I just have comp and public speaking. No biggie.”

He gave me a pointed glance, and I rolled my eyes. “Fine, I’ll go. But we’ll do something after my classes?”

“Dinner?” Kris shrugged, which made me wince. That was not something out of the ordinary; going out for dinner would just be a change in pace. I wanted to do something spontaneous and fun. “Okay, what did you have in mind?”

“Something different for once. Let’s go bowling or—oh, I know! Let’s go to the Carnegie Science Center! Whadya say?”

Kris chuckled at me. “Whatever you want. As long as it’ll make you happy—”

“No, I want it to make you happy,” I told him, finding another speck of glitter on his neck. I brushed it away. He would go along with this merely on my suggestion, not seeing that this would be fun for him, too. “It’s good for you to get out of your shell. We’ll go when I’m out of class, ’kay?”

His phone went off again, and he glanced at the screen with a grimace. “Hold on, gotta take this,” he mumbled, standing up and answering the call and walking out into the living room.

There was a little hop to my step as I threw off the covers and began to strip off the sheets. There was so much glitter everywhere. I gathered up the blankets and dumped them into a laundry basket, thinking that I’d have time to wash them before class. Then I pulled on a pair of sweats and a long-sleeved shirt, and fished out the roll of quarters from the top drawer of the dresser so I could do laundry in the washroom of the apartment complex.

I was really looking forward to this evening. If I couldn’t control my emotions and could only control my reactions, then this was definitely a positive reaction. I wanted Kris and me to keep heading in that good direction, and this would get us on the right path. Him, me, some laughs, a good time out and about, and maybe call it another early evening to make love between the sheets again. Sounded perfect to me.

When I stepped into the living room, I noticed Kris had finished his phone call, but was sitting stoically on the couch. The TV wasn’t on, but he was staring at the blank screen. He was just sitting there, doing nothing, hardly even moving other than to breathe. I rested the basket against my hip and tilted my head to the side. “Aren’t you going to be late for being early to practice?” I teased him.

“I’m not going to practice,” he told me, his voice sounding void and empty.

“Why not?”

“I don’t play for them anymore.”

“What? Kris?” I couldn’t compute the information. It didn’t make sense. Well, actually it did make sense, but I didn’t want to believe it. Dropping the basket, I moved to the other side of the coffee table and sat beside him. Our legs were pressed together, and I hooked my arm around his. Not wanting to let him go. He couldn’t go. No. This wasn’t happening. Not now.

“That was Shero.” He finally looked up at me, the sadness in his eyes piercing through me. His throat was dry, but he tried to swallow anyway. The unsure, vulnerable little boy was back. I knew the words before he said them, but I was surprised to find that it still hurt this bad to hear them. “I’ve been traded.”

Saturday, April 24, 2010

77.) Glitter

A break from the tension, in honor of his birthday, as well as tonight's win and advancement to the second round. Bonne Fête, Kristopher.

Soundtrack Song - Beastie Boys, She's Crafty

“I just... I still can’t believe you’re wearing that,” I sighed, rolling my eyes as we got out of the car. I had laughed at her when she put on that ridiculous outfit this morning, especially that tacky shirt, and every time I looked at her since then, I just had to repeat my disbelief that she’d actually go out in public while wearing it. I was almost ashamed to be seen with her.

“Well, believe it, mister! Because I am wearing it, and I look pretty damn good, if I do say so myself,” she quipped, flipping her hair over her shoulder with just enough attitude to tell me that she was playing around but still a tiny bit serious.

“But it’s so... patriotic,” I told her, shaking my head as we made our way up to Staalsy’s front door.

“You say that like love for my country is a bad thing. You play in the good ole U S of A, so don’t disrespect it, ya fool!”

I knocked on the front door but turned the knob to let us in without waiting for someone to greet us. We were expected, and it looked like a lot of the other guests were already here and inside. Holding the door open for her, I motioned for Jo to walk in ahead of me. She did so smugly, her nose high in the air as she carried in the cheese and meat tray she insisted on bringing.

I couldn’t resist the urge to tease her some more. “Yeah, but... you know you’re going to lose, right? I mean, I’m all for supporting your country, being proud of where you come from... but I just don’t want to see your hopes and dreams get squashed when the Canadian team steam-rolls the Americans. Really, you guys don’t have a chance against us, and I don’t want you to drown me in your tears when you’re a sore loser.”

Jo scoffed, squinting her eyes at me with a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Might I remind you, Mr. Letang, that the U.S. team is currently undefeated? And, might I also remind you that your precious Canadian team is not? And while I’m at it, might I add that the one team that beat the Canadians during the round robin was the Americans. So if I were you, I wouldn’t be so damn cocky.”

“You tell ’im, Jo!” Goligoski called from the other room, walking in to join us in the foyer. “God, I’m so sick of all these Canadian braggarts. I can’t wait for the U.S. to win so I can laugh in their faces. Man, I love a good underdog story.”

Heather and Jordan walked in; the former took the tray from Jo, and the latter loudly disagreed. “The Americans are not underdogs. Your team consists of professional NHLers, just like the Canadian team does. You’re not underdogs.”

“Um, sorry to break it to you, Jord-o, but yes we are,” Jo countered. “We’re underdogs because everyone has been saying since the summer Olympic camps about how the gold medal game was going to be played between the Canadians and the Russians. Never was there mention about the U.S., except that maybe we’d get bronze. But the Canadians and Russians both blew it, and the Americans have taken this tournament by storm!”

That comment earned a scowl from everyone in the room, except for Goose, who high-fived Jo. I shook my head and took off my jacket.

“Exactly,” Gogo said, throwing in his two cents. “We weren’t supposed to make it this far, but we did. We beat the Canadians once already, and we’re gonna do it again!”

Jo slipped out of her puffy black ski jacket, and I shook my head again. It almost hurt to look at her. She’d stayed up late the night before, making that damn shirt. She had put so much work into it, and that’s why I had such pleasure in ragging her about it. It had started out as one of my plain white tee shirts, but now it was utterly ruined. She’d decorated it with Sharpie markers, writing Orpik’s name and number across the back like a jersey. Her left sleeve was decorated with blue stars, and the right with red stripes. Worst of all was the front, though. USA was spelled out across her chest in obnoxious glitter: the U was red, the S was silver, and the A was blue.

Add that shirt to navy blue sweatpants and red, white, and blue striped knee socks, and it was seriously the most horrendous outfit I’d ever seen anyone wear. Perhaps that was my own patriotic bias talking, but it almost hurt to look at her.

Staalsy groaned and held his hand up in front of his eyes, like he was blinded by her horribly tacky shirt. “Jesus Christ, it’s painful to behold. Tanger, how could you let your woman wear that?”

“Oh please,” Jo huffed. “Like Kris has any say in what I wear.”

“He should,” Staalsy laughed. “I shouldn’t even let you in my house wearing that. God, it looks like something Talbo would wear.”

Mon Dieu, even I would not wear something like that,” Max commented, meeting us in the foyer. Everyone was starting to congregate here, and it was getting crowded and loud.

“Oh, Jesus. You guys are just taking your nervousness about the game out on my shirt,” Jo cracked. “I know you’re really all secretly jealous and you all want one.”

“Ugh, please,” TK groaned, he and Kelsey appearing behind Talbot. “Tanger, dude, you shouldn’t have let her leave your place looking like that.”

Jo crossed her arms over her chest, some of the glitter falling off onto her skin. That glitter was all over our apartment, all over my car, and now it was going to be all over Staal’s house. She was leaving a trail of it wherever she went. “And was Kelsey’s outfit ‘approved’ before you ‘let’ her leave your place today?” Jo bit out at him.

They spoke at the same time; Kelsey said, “No,” while TK replied, “Yes.” Then Kelsey punched him, sending us all into fits of laughter.

We all dispersed, since the game wasn’t supposed to start for another half an hour or so. Jo teamed up with Goligoski, since they were the only two Americans here watching the game, and bantered back and forth with Max, Jordan, and TK. All the family guys had gotten together at the Guerins’, and all the young guys and their girlfriends (if applicable) gathered here at Staalsy’s. It’s a good thing, too, because their conversation would not have been appropriate for the young kids to overhear. Geno wasn’t coming, even though he and Gonch were back in town. After Russia’s disappointing performance in the Olympics, he was no doubt sulking alone in his house.

While they argued over the depth of Team Canada versus Team USA, I followed Kelsey and Heather into the kitchen to grab something to drink. I grabbed a bottle of water for myself, and then a can of Mountain Dew for Jo.

“We have beer, too,” Heather told me. “You know, in case Jo wants one,” she clarified, knowing that I never drank and never would.

“She doesn’t drink anymore,” I told them, thinking that they should have known that. They were there that morning after the incident out at the club. Heather especially should have known; she was the one I had that whole conversation with.

They looked at each other, like they could psychically communicate with each other. Either they were good enough friends that they already knew what the other was thinking, or it was some kind of girly mental thing. “That’s a little... extreme, dontcha think?”

“Yeah, Kris,” Kelsey added. “I mean, not getting trashed out in public is one thing, but not drinking at all? It’s a little much.”

I shook my head. They didn’t understand; but it’s okay. They didn’t need to understand it. It wasn’t just about what happened at the club. “It’s more than that. She’s got class now, and other stuff to worry about. She’s not that party girl anymore.”

They shrugged and let it slide, so I headed back into the living room where everyone had taken their seats for the game. Jo was sitting on the one couch next to Gronk, and I slid in between her and the arm of the couch. It was crowded seating, so I pulled her into my lap, to make more room for myself, and then handed her the can of soda. “Thanks, babe,” she said, pecking my cheek and popping the top.

“Ugh, you’re so whipped,” Staal told me. TK nodded silently from the other couch, while Goose and Talbot muttered that that’s why they were single, because women were too demanding.

“How is being considerate being ‘whipped’?” Jo countered. “He brought me a fucking can of pop from the kitchen. Not like I made him drive out to the store to buy me one because I didn’t like what you guys had. God, you guys are so macho.”

“Yeah!” Kelsey said, rallying behind Jo as she handed him a bottle of beer. “Geez, Tyler, you should try being more like Kris. Wouldn’t hurt you to bring me a beer every once in a while.”

Tyler’s face turned sour at the comparison, and he glared at me. Jo just giggled and leaned against my chest. I put my hand at her hip, where her leg bent in her sitting position, and held onto my water bottle with the other hand. “I’ve got such a wonderful boyfriend that all the girls are jealous of. I’m so lucky, especially when I’m surrounded by such a group of chumps to see how great you are.” She kissed my cheek again as the guys all groaned and rolled their eyes. She quietly added, “Love ya, babe.”

“Love you, too,” I replied just as softly, pinching her hip gently and reveling in this simple moment.

I had expected things to change between Jo and me over the past couple of days, and it had surprised me when they hadn’t. If anything, we had just gotten closer. It was like we had peeled away our skin and showed each other our insides; there was full acceptance. It was a contented feeling between us, knowing that I could be myself and she wouldn’t judge me or think I was less of a man.

Things weren’t the same yet; we hadn’t had intercourse since I’d found that test. I was a little hurt initially from having to find out that way, but after I had talked to her about my family and my issues with secrets and dishonesty, I knew she wouldn’t keep something like that from me again. But even though Jo had said she was ready to move on, she was still hesitant. I can’t say I blamed her, I guess. After some time passed, we’d be able to be intimate again.

Once or twice, I had caught her crying when she thought she was alone. I would rush over to her, to make sure she was okay, and she would throw her arms around me and bury her face into my shoulder or chest or neck. She’d say something relatively simple like, “I just love you so much that it feels like my chest will explode,” or “I realized I never said ‘thank you’ for telling me everything you did. So thank you.” I wasn’t sure how I felt, knowing that I was the reason for how emotional she was when I had chalked it up to her own emotions about what happened, but at least it wasn’t a bad kind of upset. I think.

When the game began, all the good-natured and lighthearted banter ended. It was intense, and we all were silent for the most part. Almost the entire room erupted in cheers when Toews netted the first goal of the game. Goligoski and Jo both pouted and rolled their eyes. Then, when Perry got the next goal to bring the score up to two-nothing, the jeering started.

“See? It doesn’t matter how the prelim round went,” Staal said to the entire room, but directing his words to the Americans. “The Canadians always come up big when it matters.”

“That’s what she said,” Talbot quipped, making all the Canadians laugh. “They just let the Americans win a game that didn’t matter. Lulled them into a false sense of security. Where’s that great U.S. team now, eh?”

Jo and Gogo both pouted. “Game’s not over yet, boys,” she said. And she was right. When Kesler potted one five minutes later, she pumped her fist so hard that she bounced on top of me uncomfortably. “That’s it! Come on, boys. Let’s make this a real game.”

As the time clock ticked closer to the end of the third we all tensed. Miller was pulled for the empty net and the Americans started laying it all on the line, with nothing left to lose. When Parise scored the tying goal with twenty-some seconds left in the period, Jo shot off my lap and threw her hands in the air, screaming her head off and getting glitter all over the place. “Yes yes yes, motherfucking yes!” she hollered, striding across the room to high-five Gogo again. The rest of us slumped down in our seats, grumbling and cursing Luongo. Overtime in the gold medal game. When one bad bounce, one mistake can define a game and determine the outcome. It’s one thing when the opposing team wins because of a sharp, well-executed play on their part; it’s another thing altogether when you lose because of a misplay. And in sudden death overtime, that’s usually how the goal happens.

While we waited for the OT to start, the make-up of the room began to rearrange. Kelsey and Heather left for the kitchen, declaring that it was too intense for them and they were going to sit in the other room. Jo and Goose moved to the other couch, and the other guys moved over to our side of the room. We were clearly divided with our loyalties.

Jo and I looked at each other from across the room as the guys took the ice for the faceoff of the overtime period. She smiled briefly, letting me know that even though she was desperately pulling for her country to win, she wouldn’t let this come between us. Sure, it was an important game, but it was just a game. After all, it’s not like I was playing for my country; and although she never said it, I knew that Jo was rooting so committedly for the Americans because of James. So I was okay with it.

“I’m so glad my girlfriend’s Canadian,” TK said, out of the blue, from beside me. “I can’t imagine having to go home with that—” he pointed his thumb at Jo and gestured toward her “—once Sid wins this for us.”

“Your almighty captain has been silent these past few games. I wouldn’t put so much faith in him,” she replied, her eyebrow raised in a challenging manner.

The guys looked over at me, obviously wondering if I was going to let her get away with talking like that. I cleared my throat. “Hey, the guy can carry a team on his back when he needs to. I wouldn’t discount him yet.”

“And why should he have to carry such a ‘deep’ Canadian team, eh?” she quipped back. “The U.S. is like a bulldog. They’re fighters. They’ve got just as good of a shot at winning gold as the Canadians do, eh?” I shook my head at her and chuckled, not wanting to get suckered into this. She was baiting me. “If you’re so sure, what do you say we make this interesting?”

I bit her line. “What did you have in mind?”

“How about a little bet?”

“Fine,” I replied, leaning forward in my seat and smiling at her. I could feel all the guys watching us, waiting to see how this would pan out. “Canadians win and that shirt comes off. I get to burn it.”

“Fine. Americans win and you have to wear this shirt to practice tomorrow,” she quickly responded, tugging gently on her shirt and more glitter falling off it. Those were some pretty high stakes, because I knew that glitter would rub off on me and not come off. I couldn’t imagine having to wear that—the teasing by the guys would be relentless. But I couldn’t back down. I nodded, and she smiled as she nestled back into the couch; both of us so confident in our respective team to win the bet for us.

Scoring chances were exchanged, but when Sid shot the puck at 7:40 of the overtime period, we were all on our feet. Beer and popcorn were spilled on the floor as we jumped up and shouted. We were all excited for Canada to win gold in Vancouver, but it meant a little something more to see our captain be the one to win it. For the first few moments, I forgot all about Jo and her loss. That is, until the guys pointed at her and started chanting, “Take! It! Off! Take! It! Off!”

The two Americans looked so incredibly dejected as they slumped on the couch. Goli’s arms were crossed in front of him as he frowned, and Jo was glaring at the guys that were all smirking back at her. “Y’all are assholes,” she muttered, shaking her head at them and continuing to pout.

“What a sore loser,” Talbot taunted her.

“What was that said about a Cinderella story? Looks like good ole Cinderelly got clubbed upside the head with her own glass shoe,” Staal laughed, holding his sides as he killed himself over his own lame joke.

“Such assholes,” she repeated.

“Yeah, but at least you only live with one,” Goligoski grunted. “I’m gonna have to listen to this at practice all fuckin’ week if not the rest of the season.”

“Take! It! Off!” they shouted again, ganging up on Jo.

She sighed but stood up and reached for the hem of the tee shirt, giving the appearance that she was willing to oblige them. That’s when I stepped in and walked over to her, placing my hands on her arms to get her to stop. I knew she wouldn’t really do it, that she was just waiting for me to intervene. “Uh uh. Not here. Not now.” The guys all groaned, saying how it wasn’t fair; but no way in hell would I let her fulfill her end of the bet in the middle of Staalsy’s living room in front of most of my friends on the team. “I’m the one who made the bet. Get over it,” I told them.

“Assholes,” she said. “If the Americans would have won, I would’ve celebrated, but I wouldn’t have rubbed it in your faces like that. And then you wanted to see my tits on top of that? Wow.”

I could see she was bummed, so I tucked away my sense of pride and put my arm around her shoulders. “All right, the fun is over,” I announced to my teammates. Then I said to Jo, “Let’s go home.”

The guys put up a fuss about going out and celebrating, but I knew that that wasn’t on my agenda. Jo wouldn’t want to go out now, and I didn’t feel like being the designated driver while they let loose and rejoiced in our country’s victory.

Jo was quiet as I drove back to our apartment. “You okay?” I asked her, pulling the car onto our street. “Or are you taking this kinda hard?”

“No, I’m fine. I know one of us had to lose. I just didn’t want it to be me,” she sighed playfully, casting a smile in my direction. “I get really proud of American players, because we’re not expected to be as good as Canadians, you know? Hockey is so overlooked, even in Pittsburgh, where we have a great professional team. Like, did you know that I went to school with people who didn’t even know we had a varsity team? It was still all about the football team. I’m proud of my countrymen and their performance today, even if they only won silver.”

I kept my mouth shut about how a team wins bronze or gold; a team loses the gold medal to “earn” silver. That was my experience as a player in international competition, though, that taught me that rationale. So I nodded as I parked the car, not wanting to ruin her mood.

When we got inside, I hung up my jacket and rubbed my hands together, trying to appear devious. “I can’t wait to start the fire to burn that shirt. I’m going to have nightmares about glitter tonight.”

Jo giggled at my antics and exaggeration, sitting on the couch and flipping open the cover of her laptop. She began to fiddle around on it as I stared at her. “What are you doing?” I asked her. “Take that tacky thing off. A deal’s a deal, and I won our bet.”

“Ugh, patience,” she scolded, setting her computer down on the coffee table with her iTunes open. “Have a seat, Mr. Letang. The show’s about to begin.”

“What are you talking about?” Even though I didn’t know what was going on, I sat on the couch like she had commanded, watching as she stood in front of me but out of reach. Beastie Boys began to blare from her tiny computer speakers. “What are you doing?”

“How do you expect me to get naked for you without music? But you should know there’s one rule here at Candy’s House of Fun, Mr. Letang,” she teased, pointing a warning finger at me before she leaned down and caressed my cheek with that same finger. “No touching the dancers.”

I watched as she backed away from me, swaying her hips in time to the music and preparing myself for the show she was going to put on for me. For a moment, I thought about telling her that our bet only involved taking off her shirt... but if she was going to strip for me, well, then I was going to let her.

Welllll this girl came up to me, she says she’s new in town....

It didn’t take her long to shed the shirt, glitter flying everywhere. She was wearing her white, lacy bra. I know a lot of guys think black or red is sexiest, but there was something about the complexion of her skin against the angelic white that set my body on fire. Not to mention that it was skimpy and see through, and I knew there was a matching white thong to the set. I was anxious to see if she was wearing it, too.

Her body sparkled with flecks of red, blue, and silver as she ran her hands up and down her body, leaning over and giving me a great view of her cleavage. I licked my lips as she moved between my legs and wriggled her body for me as a part of her striptease. I reached out for her, but she nudged my shoulder. “Uh uh, no touching. Candy’s rules.”

“Where is this ‘Candy’?” I asked, playing along with her little game. “I may have to complain.”

“Don’t argue with me. I’m just a dancer doing my job, trying to please the client.”

I grabbed the drawstring hanging from her sweatpants and yanked, loosening the waist. I almost didn’t recognize my own voice as I ordered her around, “Then please me, Miss Glitter.”

Jo smiled at me as backed up again and completely untied the knot below her navel. Then she turned her back to me and looked over her right shoulder as she pushed the waistband slowly over her hips and revealed that yes, she was, in fact, wearing that lacy, barely-there thong. I felt the blood in my body rush to my groin, my dick throbbing and hardening as she bent over at the waist until her pants were at her ankles. Then she stood up straight, stepped out of the sweats, and kicked them to the side.

My eyes raked over her body, following the lines of her legs from her striped knee socks up to where her thighs swelled into her ass, and then observing how her shape cinched inwardly from her hips to form her waist. She looked over her left shoulder next as she reached behind her back and unclasped her white bra. Slowly, she pushed one strap over her shoulder before she repeated that action with the other. It was nothing short of torture as she completely removed the thin, flimsy material but kept her back turned to me. Jo swiveled her hips and mouthed along to the words of the song as she tossed her bra over her head like a bridal bouquet. It would have smacked me in the face if I hadn’t’ve caught it.

Now I like nothing better than a pretty girl smile, and I haven't seen a smile that pretty in a while.

When she finally spun around, her arm was draped across her front, cradling and hiding her breasts from me. I groaned, wanting to see her body. See all of it. Jo stepped closer to me again, moving between my legs to give me a lap dance. Jo started by grinding her butt in my lap, but then she turned and straddled one of my legs. I could feel the heat emanating off her body, and it drove me nuts. Grabbing a hold of the backs of her thighs, I pulled her toward me suddenly, which knocked her off balance. She immediately reached for my shoulders with both hands to steady herself, giggling and inadvertently making her pert, round breasts bounce close to my face.

“Mr. Letang!” She feigned disgust. “How many times do I have to remind you not to touch me? I am not a piece of meat!”

“But I’m a paying customer,” I growled ferally, continuing with her little charade but unable to hold back any longer. We hadn’t made love in over a week—not since that night at the hotel in Shippagan. Sure, we’d done other stuff, but that never quite extinguished the fire of desire in me like having full-on intercourse. She was teasing me, and I couldn’t resist anymore. I wanted her. Badly.

“I believe that lap dance was on the house,” she quipped, sucking her breath between her teeth as my mouth latched onto her right nipple and worked on it.

I hugged her tightly in my arms and held her against me as I stood, so once I was off the couch she could wrap her legs around my hips. Her hands were in my hair at the base of my skull, and I cupped her ass as I carried her into the bedroom. “What will it take to get a private dance in a back room, hmm?” Dropping her on the bed, I watched as she bounced on the mattress. I hurriedly pulled my shirt over my head and made quick work of dropping my pants and boxers.

“I guess I could make an exception for you,” she said huskily, spreading her legs and stretching her arms above her head, looking every bit like my own personal Aphrodite. She was hot for me, too; I could tell by the wetness visibly seeping through the lace of her thong.

I fell on the portion of the bed between her legs and reached over her body for the stash of condoms on the nightstand, impatient to get inside of her, to feel her surround me, to be one with her again after a long span of eleven days. Once my hand grabbed a foil wrapper, I rocked back onto my knees and began to tear it open with fumbling, impatient hands.

Looking up from what I was doing, I glanced down at Jo. As much as I needed this, I had to make sure that she was okay with it. We’d tip-toed around this issue since I found about the almost-pregnancy, and I always assumed that she’d let me know when she was ready again. I sure as hell was feeling ready. By the hooded look she gave me, I thought she was now, too. But still, I waited for her to nod and give me the go-ahead before I rolled the condom down onto my aching dick.

With one more swift movement, I yanked down the white lace from the juncture of her legs. Eagerness got the best of me, though, and her underwear didn’t get past her knees before I leaned back over her and sunk into her warm, awaiting body.