Sunday, May 30, 2010

94.) Promises

Soundtrack Song - Incubus, Dig

I set the now empty shot glass upside-down on top of the bar, feeling the familiar but long-unfelt burn of the alcohol as it slid down my esophagus, hitting and splashing into my stomach. Then I pursed my lips and exhaled, fighting the uncomfortable feeling as my body ingested something it had forgotten how to handle. It didn’t matter what we were drinking, and I wasn’t even sure what it was—except for knowing that it was strong. The burn and discomfort complemented my annoyance.

The bartender stepped down across from us to collect our glasses, and I quickly ordered a Coke because I needed a chaser. The guys immediately asked for another round of shots, taking full advantage of the fact that they didn’t have to pay. It really didn’t even have anything to do with how I had been treated; these guys were VIPs, and the manager didn’t want to lose their business if they would decide not to come here anymore after that... episode.

Tucking my hair behind my ears with hands that were still shaking, I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. I still had adrenaline coursing through my system from that dance-floor confrontation, and then my irritation piled on top of that was frustrating me. It had all happened so fast, and slugging that slime-ball had been a gut reaction. Maybe it was a tad over the top, to just punch him like that, but it was degrading and embarrassing to be treated that way in the middle of the floor in front of people that I knew.

It wasn’t until after I did it that it occurred to me that, maybe, perhaps, it was a bad idea to hit him; I backed up away from the grabby jerk, but I was fully prepared to stand my ground and tell him to fuck off. I was not—am not—a pushover.

And then Kris showed up, and I could tell by his posture alone that he was not happy. So I forgot all about myself and started to worry that Kris was going to get into a fight; I grabbed his shirt, ready to pull him back if I had to. Just the thought of him getting hurt in a fight over something that I had done made me sick with worry and concern.

A sick feeling that was being exacerbated by the alcohol currently churning in my stomach.

I was nothing short of relieved when that asshole left instead of retaliating. The guy was a pig, but I really didn’t think that he’d hit me back. I figured that I had proved my point that I didn’t want anything to do with him, so the ass would just call me a cunt and leave me alone. But hitting another man would be socially acceptable, meaning he could respond to his emasculation and punch Kris—which would be okay in the eyes of the other patrons.

Kris, of course, made sure I was okay, not at all caring that he himself almost engaged in fisticuffs. He was the ultimate, quintessential guy in how he wanted to protect and take care of his woman. It was reassuring to know that I had a man who was willing to stick up for me when things got rough, that he had my back, and that I could have relied on him for help if I had needed it. But he had so carelessly thrown himself into the middle of a situation that he could have stayed out of, because he had wanted to protect me when honestly, I didn’t need it. It was a nice sentiment, but I didn’t think that Kris would think I was a weakling incapable of watching out for myself.

I turned my head as I stood at the bar and looked back at him, who was still sitting in the booth. He had his back against the wall and his right leg stretched out across the seat. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, his tie was loosened around his neck, and the top button of his dress shirt was undone. Kris was looking across the table at Marc and Jamie, who were silent and nodding as Kris spoke rather animatedly, occasionally running his hand through his hair.

He had no right to act all pissy toward me for defending myself. I wasn’t even sure what instigated his attitude problem, because he didn’t seem angry that it had happened—he was more upset that I handled it all on my own. But what kind of girlfriend would that make me, if I made him fight my own battles? Even if I had needed Kris to step in, I wouldn’t have let him fight and potentially get hurt. I hated when Kris fought on the ice, so I definitely wouldn’t make him do it when it was completely unnecessary for him to do so. I couldn’t be responsible for that.

I had gladly let him lead me off the dance floor, glad that both of us were out of that sticky situation. In fact, I was still a little taken aback by everything that had so quickly happened in the matter of a span that had only lasted about ten seconds. But as soon as he copped that attitude about how I had chosen to handle the situation, I lost my patience with him. First, he wanted to insert himself into my fight—albeit, I’ll admit, with good intentions—but now he wanted to chastise me?

I knew that the entire situation sucked, and I wished that it hadn’t have happened. I wanted to be able to blame someone. Even though I knew it was stupid of me, a part of me wanted to blame Jamie. The dress was her idea; she was there with me when I got the tattoo of Kris’s number, and she wanted to doll me up in a way that would show it off and make Kris’s mouth fall to the floor. Well, that had worked... but apparently, he wasn’t the only one who had liked it. I knew it wasn’t her fault, but I should’ve said “no” to the dress.

In fact, maybe it was me who deserved the blame. Although I did occasionally like to get all fancy to look good for my boyfriend, I never went all out like this. My most extreme was that short, red silk dress I bought specifically for Valentine’s Day. But this was obviously dressing for attention. I knew that I hadn’t done anything intentionally to call that guy over, but still... why me? Out of all the girls here? I certainly wasn’t the prettiest, and practically every other girl here had bigger tits, so, once again, why me? Had I done something to attract him? I certainly must seem like a magnet for drama. Ugh, I’m a drama magnet.

And then, beyond that, a part of me wanted to fault Kris, too—which was just as equally ridiculous. I knew he hadn’t done anything wrong. But I kept thinking that if he hadn’t’ve wanted to get us drinks, and if he had immediately followed me out there to dance with me, then I wouldn’t have attracted the prick in the first place. But that was stupid, just me wanting to point a finger when there wasn’t any direction to point it at.

If anything had happened differently, like not wearing the dress or me not going out there to dance just yet, then maybe this would not have happened. I knew trying to find someone to place the blame on was a twisted coping mechanism, and I fought against focusing my anger on someone other than the douchebag who effected this, but who was gone.

The drunk had been kicked out of the club, I was no worse for wear because of it—even if I was mad about it, and now Kris and I were not getting along. I guess I had spoken too soon when I thought everything was falling into place out here in Cali with Kris.

Another shot was placed in front of me. My throat was still kind of burning; it’s amazing how your body can change once you give something up. “Ugh, I can’t,” I said, pushing it away. One of them, I didn’t really care who, picked it up and downed it like it was a gulp of water after a long, hard workout.

I wanted to forget all about what had just happened; the reason I left Kris sitting at the table was because he was going to ruminate on it and we were going to have some kind of fucking discussion about it, in which I did not want to take part. He was a play-it-safe kind of guy, and of course I knew that about him—but what was he fucking expecting from me? I left Kris because I didn’t want to talk about it, with anyone, but these guys around me thought it was, like, the coolest thing ever.

“Not a bad jab, Jo, but you would’ve been better off with a hook. More force,” Mitch said, like he was going to teach me how to fight and defend myself when he had just witnessed me do just that.

“Well, I didn’t have a lot of room to work with. Too hard to turn my body into it,” I explained, vaguely wondering in the back of my mind why I was even engaging in this talk. I was getting flashbacks of drinking at a bar with Kris’s teammates back in Pittsburgh, so I kept in mind everything that happened then and all those consequences. I didn’t need a repeat of that. And even though I was angry right now, a few drinks wasn’t going to change anything.

But I was also reminded of other, earlier memories of my life. Hanging out with these jocks was like how I spent my sophomore, junior, and part of my senior years in high school. These guys were oversized boys, like James’s teammates, except they had big paychecks and fat wallets to make them even more obnoxious.

They treated me pretty much the same way, too. In high school, I was the captain’s sister. James had made it clear to his teammates that I was off-limits, so they saw me as an annoying, tag-along little sister who could do no wrong. They thought that I impeded on their ability to have a good time, so they teased me and picked on me, tolerating my presence because I was a package deal; if James was going to hang out with them at the diner, then of course I was coming, too.

These guys saw me as the exact same thing—I was Kris’s tag-along girlfriend, probably some prissy, demanding girl that ate up all of his free time while I was around. Well, I was taking up all of his time, but only because we didn’t have a lot of time together before I had to leave again. They were silly, immature boys that had no idea about the deep, emotional connection that Kris and I shared; they’d never understand the many ways we needed each other. They were only tolerating me because I got them free drinks.

“If you started benching weights, I bet you could make it into the UFC,” he added with a cheesy smile, definitely exaggerating my skills as a fighter in order to make conversation with me.

“That’s okay, I’ll think I’ll pass on that. My hand hurts after one punch,” I told him. That guy’s jaw was hard as steel.

“But that works! All you really need is one good, solid hit for a K-O!”

We all laughed at Torrey’s enthusiasm. Logan chuckled and shook his head, switching the pace of our conversation as he spoke. “Man, the way Letang stormed over there, I thought for sure he was gonna deck that dude into next week. But then here’s this girl,” he laughed, gesturing toward me, “who does it for him.”

“What do you mean, ‘does it for him’?” I asked, squinting my eyes. I wasn’t even going to chew him out for the comment on my gender. “I didn’t do anything for him. I defended myself. I don’t doubt Kris would have, or could have, inflicted some real damage to that asshole. I’ve seen him fight, seen him stick up for his teammates on the ice,” I told them, thinking that they should already know this until I realized that Kris probably hadn’t been on the team long enough to form that kind of bond where he would vehemently go after someone from the opposing team after a questionable hit. “I thought for a moment that he was going to, and that I was going to have to hold him back.”

“Man, if my girl was out there getting manhandled like that, no one would have been able to hold me back. You best believe that asshole wouldn’t be walking out of here,” Logan grunted, implying whether he meant to or not that Kris was, at best, a pacifist—at worst, a pussy.

My temperature began to rise. “Oh yeah? So that’s why you just stood there, along with everyone else, as all that happened? Just watching? At least Kris isn’t all talk. He manned up and acted. He’s the kind of guy who’s always gonna have your back when you’re out on the ice. He’s the kind of guy who you want to have out there to back you up. So you might wanna watch your mouth before you talk like that.”

“Oooh, touchy,” he chuckled, not at all affected by anything I had just said. “It’s cute, the way you defend him.”

“I’m not defending him,” I countered. “Kris does not need me to defend him. I’m just letting you know that you’re being an absolute asshole. He’s your fucking teammate, so you should start acting like he is.”

Torrey added, “He’s the new guy. We’re just giving him a hard time. That doesn’t affect anything out on the ice.”

“He’s been here two weeks. What does he possibly have left to prove to you guys? As a matter of fact, I think you boys need to start giving him more credit and take a few pointers from him.”

“Come on, Jo. Now I think you’re over-exaggerating.”

“‘Over-exaggerating’ is redundant,” I bit out. “And I’m not. Because, you know, not only does Kris have a great girlfriend,” I gestured to myself as if I were a trophy or prize that any of them would be lucky to have, “but there’s the tiny detail of him already winning the Cup. Who among you boys have accomplished that feat yet? Hmm?” I paused dramatically, knowing that none of them could respond in the affirmative. “That’s what I thought. So maybe... just maybe... it would be worth your while to take a few tips from him, to learn from him, to mature.”

I took a hard, long swig from my Coke glass, as if all that talk had made me incredibly thirsty. It kind of did, because my throat was still burning from that shot of strong liquor. Then I sent my glass back on the bar, waiting for their response. I had taken my digs at them, showing them (just like I had with that drunk fool) that I wasn’t going to back down and let them poke their fun—neither at me, and definitely nor at Kris. Not when he would do anything for whomever his teammates were.

Jamie shook his head as the others stayed silent. “Wow, you know, you kind of sound like my mother.”

“Your mother must be a very smart woman,” I quickly returned, making him chuckle and nod.

The atmosphere at the bar was now just as uncomfortable, so I got the bartender’s attention and ordered two waters. He quickly filled two plastic cups with ice and water. Apparently, I wasn’t just a VIP; I was a VIVIP: a very important VIP. I left the boys at the bar to enjoy as many free drinks as they wanted, and I headed back to that far, corner booth.

Jamie noticed my approach first, and she cleared her throat and darted her eyes between Kris and me so he and Marc got the idea that I was coming back over. It wouldn’t take a genius to realize they’d been talking about me. When it dawned on Kris, he sat up straight and removed his leg from the bench seat so I could slide in next to him. I set down one of the cups in front of him, giving him a peace offering as I said quietly, “Here.” Just because I wasn’t happy with him didn’t mean I loved him any less. No argument would ever change how I felt about him.

“Uh, thanks, Jo,” he replied, his fingers curling around the cup without him picking it up to drink. I could feel his eyes on me, watching me carefully and analytically as I peered out on the dance floor just so I didn’t have to look at any of them. I’d left after a biting exchange with Kris, so neither of us was too pleased with how the night was transpiring. It wasn’t that I was giving him the cold shoulder; I knew, however, that he still wanted to talk and this wasn’t the time or the place to do it.

The awkwardness was palpable, but this was the better alternative considering I could have stayed at the bar with the others. Jamie tried to ease the tension by generating some small talk. “So, I do have to work in the morning, so I wasn’t planning on staying out too late.”

Marc caught on to her drift and replied with, “Uh, yeah, well, we’re leaving tomorrow after our practice. I mean, so, I shouldn’t be out too late either. With practice and traveling and all. Right, Letang?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah, right. Shouldn’t be out late,” he mumbled. Kris released his hold on his cup and put that hand at the small of my back; his fingers were cold, and I instantly shivered and fidgeted. He asked me, “Do you just wanna go now?”

We hadn’t even been here fifteen minutes. The sooner we left, the sooner Kris would want to have this stupid conversation that I wanted to avoid—I really didn’t want to be lectured on how reckless I had been. I wasn’t a demure, delicate lady, and I never was going to be. He knew this about me, yet he still was making an issue out of this. “I don’t know. Not really, but if you need to get some sleep....”

Marc pulled out his keys from his pocket and twirled the key ring around his index finger. “Want a ride?”

“No,” Kris denied with a shake of his head. “We’ll catch a cab. See you tomorrow, though.”

“Wait, Jamie,” I called out as they got up to walk away. “Your dress.”

It seemed like such a waste now, that she had spent almost an hour helping me get ready to go out as she picked out the dress, a pair of heels to match, straightened my hair, and helped me apply all this make-up to only be out for a quarter of an hour, and even worse to have that be a miserable time on top of it.

“That’s okay, I’ll get it back from you later,” she replied, giving me a small wave. “We’ll figure it out. Have a good night.”

I stopped myself from snorting indignantly. A good night? Our night had already been ruined. Standing, I waited for Kris to get up and lead the way. Since I was annoyed and a little pissed off, I figured it would just be easier to let him do whatever. He liked the control, obviously, and I was too apathetic at this point to care.

Kris brought me over to the bar to tell the guys that were heading out. “We’re taking off. See you guys tomorrow at practice.”

“Leaving so soon?” Logan asked, leaning against the ledge of the bar on his elbows.

“Yeah. Practice tomorrow, then we head to Vancouver, so... yeah,” Kris answered, very matter-of-factly.

“’Kay. We’ll see ya tomorrow, then,” Torrey said, giving the both of us a nod as he made eye contact. It felt kind of formal and weird, but we had other things on our minds, so we left without saying anything back.

The taxi ride was painfully silent as we were driven back to the Alameda. Neither of us spoke; Kris reached for my hand on my lap, lacing his fingers through mine as it lay on my thigh. I squeezed it, not bothering to stop looking out the window at the passing city to glance over at him. It was still awkward between us, but fight or no fight, there was still the knowledge in our heads that we were supposed to making every second of my visit count. We weren’t supposed to be upset with each other.

As soon as we were dropped off, Kris paid the driver and then opened the hotel room door, I headed straight into the bathroom, where I closed and locked the door. I still wasn’t prepared to hash this out with him, so I peeled the dress off, kicked the heels from my feet, and then proceeded to get ready for bed. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, brushed my teeth, and scrubbed my face free of make-up and any sweat until my skin was pink.

I hadn’t brought many clothes with me since I figured Kris and I would be holed up together a lot of the time. Because of that, I ended up wearing a lot of his shirts. There wasn’t much in the bathroom, but there was his button-down from Saturday’s game, so I tossed that on and buttoned it up, except for the top two buttons. I wished I had underwear or socks, but my stuff was in the main room and I didn’t want to go through it and invite this conversation to happen. So I left the bathroom and immediately pulled back the covers and got into bed. Probably the best thing about staying in a hotel is that your bed gets made for you. That, and you never have to worry about running out of soap or shampoo.

“Good night,” I told him, rolling over so my back was toward him.

“Jo,” Kris started, standing on the other side of the bed. He was stripped down to his undershirt and his boxers and his socks, ready for bed but moreso, ready to talk.

“No,” I blurted out, moving onto my back. “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to fight with you. I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want to spend tonight listening to you tell me that I shouldn’t have done what I did, or for me to try to explain to you that I did what I had to do. I just don’t want to.”

He sat down on the opposite side of the bed, still leaving some distance between us, but he was looking down at me as I lay there. “So what? You want to go to bed mad, pretending like this didn’t happen? You want me to leave tomorrow without resolving this, so we spend our day apart still ticked off with no way of fixing it, and then I come back and we’re still upset about all this?”

“No,” I repeated. “I don’t want that either. I do want you to understand that shit like this happens, Kris, and I handled the situation. Do you think that’s the first—or last—time I’ve been approached by some handsy dude? ’Cause it’s not, nor will it be. This was just taken to the extreme, by him and by me. I appreciate that you wanted to help or whatever, and, you know, maybe I could’ve been a little calmer, but I just reacted. And everything turned out fine.”

“Fine? That is not an appropriate way for you to react, Jo,” he scolded, and I didn’t know how to take that. Was this still because I was supposed to be a weak, incompetent girl? Or did he just higher standards for me? Was I too crude for his tastes?

“He was making a total fool out of me! It was disgusting. I do not need to be made a mockery of in front of an entire room of people, and then have someone come in and take care of it for me. I don’t need you to fix things for me. That’s just fucking embarrassing. It’s demeaning and degrading. I needed to stick up for myself, and that’s what I did. Shouldn’t you be proud of me for handling it on my own? For not needing you?”

“You can’t just go around punching people!” he hollered exasperatedly, waving his hand around in the air.

“I thought you wanted to me to be able to take care of myself!” I yelled at him, tossing back the covers off my torso and sitting up. I was throwing all this back into his face, seemingly out of nowhere, but I couldn’t help it. The words spewed from my mouth of their own volition. “Isn’t that what you said, hmm? You said you couldn’t watch over me all the time. That you didn’t want to have to worry about me. Remember that? You said that after I got drugged. You were so fucking upset, and I felt so bad that I hurt you, so I stopped drinking, I stopped smoking—but that obviously didn’t solve the problem, did it? The whole point you made behind that was in case something happened, you wanted me to be okay enough to handle it. So now, when a ‘something’ presented itself tonight, I took care of it. Just what you wanted. So what else do you want from me?”

“That is what I wanted, but you don’t seem to realize that this isn’t about what you are or are not capable of. Although I will admit that I didn’t expect you to haul off and hit him. This is about your safety—that’s my number one concern here. You’re lucky he just slunk off instead of wanted to come back at you harder. People are crazy! You don’t know how he would have reacted. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t’ve stepped in.”

“Well, then, it’s a damn good thing you were there, huh?” I spat out sarcastically. “Why is it that everyone else didn’t have a problem with it, and you did? Do you need to feel like a ‘man’ and protect me? Then go find a girl who needs that, because I don’t.”

“Of course I want to protect you, Jo! You could have incurred a lot worse than unwarranted attention—that’s what this is about. You wanna handle that situation on your own? Fine. But don’t do it like that. You put your safety at risk by picking a fight with a guy, someone bigger and stronger than you. Plus he was intoxicated, making it even more dangerous.”

“Oh, but it would have been okay for you to hit him? Don’t be such a fucking hypocrite here, Kris. He could have hit you, too, you know. You guys could have gotten into an all-out brawl, and you could have gotten really hurt. So don’t pull this bullshit out on me about my safety. Because the last thing I wanted to see was you take a punch because you stood up for me.”

“You still just don’t get it. I’d be able to take anything that guy threw at me. You can punch, Jo, I’ll give you that. You can fight, but can you take it? That guy was drunk, he obviously had no inhibitions, and he wouldn’t have held anything back just because you’re a girl. There’s no telling how people are going to react when under the influence. That’s dangerous. I know that. I know that well.”

A bit of my anger subsided, once I understood where he was coming from. He still wouldn’t come right out and say it, but I knew. I reached out for his arm, touching him lightly. My tone was softer, even though I wasn’t markedly less upset with him. “Kris, not every intoxicated man out there is your father.”

“All it takes is just a little alcohol to change people, Jo. You know. You’ve seen it, too.”

I resisted the urge to scream. My dad was a depressed drunk, not an angry drunk. “I don’t think alcohol changes people. I think it magnifies their feelings and tendencies. Alcohol doesn’t make you do something that you don’t want to do; it’s not like it’s crack or something. Just because he was drunk doesn’t mean he was going to hurt me, and someone can hurt me who isn’t drunk. Correlation does not imply causation. Just because your dad got physical when he drank doesn’t mean all people do.”

“He already had his hands all over you. I told you, I saw it all, and I didn’t get jealous because I knew it was an honest mistake and you weren’t trying to dance with some other guy. But he wouldn’t stop. Damn it, Jo, I was so fucking worried he was going to hurt you. I can’t...” he paused, taking a deep breath as he looked away from. “You don’t understand. I can’t see anything happen to you.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me, babe. You don’t have to worry about me so much.” I squeezed his arm and tried to get him to look at me again, but he wouldn’t, so I moved next to him. “Hey, babe. Kris,” I cooed, trying to make him face me. That’s when I realized that this went much deeper than whatever happened at the club tonight.

Like so many things in our lives, this came back to one of his life experiences that affected him so deeply. This wasn’t about me, at least not solely; it was about Luc. His best friend had been the one person he had to turn to, who he could have fun with and talk to about anything, until he had senselessly been taken away from him. Kris was now irrationally afraid to lose another person he loved so much. That hadn’t been a life-or-death situation, but it was still enough to shake him up to see me in harm’s way.

“I just... I saw you in danger, and I had to come over and help. It was such a precarious situation, and I wanted to take care of it so you’d be safe,” he told me. I wasn’t sure whether or not Kris knew that he was trying to compensate for the helplessness he felt when Luc had died, and Kris couldn’t do a thing about it.

I wanted to tell Kris that we were all always in danger. Maybe we didn’t think about it every second of every day, but we all live in immediate danger. Every time I get in my car, every time he walks down the road to the Tank... something could happen to either one of us at any time. Life can be short and cruel, and we knew that well. That’s why we had to enjoy the moments we had together and live them to their fullest potential.

But I didn’t say that. He knew all that; that’s why he chose caution and safety while I chose mirth and revelry. We were still struggling to find that middle ground of compromise. Tonight exemplified that, because we had been so caught up in excitement over spending our week together that the big issues didn’t seem to matter.

So instead, all I said was, “I know.” I didn’t say that I didn’t need or want him to act that way. In a tougher situation, it would be reassuring to know Kris would back me up or help out. Hell, even though it had annoyed me, it was kind of cute that he wanted to be so protective. In a weird way, it let me know how much he cared by wanting to take the brunt of an attack for me.

“I just need to know you’re safe,” he said, finally turning his head. There was such sadness in brown eyes.

So much sadness that I couldn’t help myself from swearing something to him that I couldn’t possibly guarantee. “Kristopher, nothing’s ever going to happen to me. You don’t have to worry about me, or wonder if I’ll be okay. That’s the last thing that should ever be on your mind, because I’m someone, something that you can always count on. No matter what, I’ll always be there for you whenever you need me. Always. Forever.”

Kris didn’t say anything else. Without any spoken words, we awkwardly lay down on the bed so that I was on my back, and his head was on my chest. I had one arm around his chest and shoulders to hold him, and my free hand was playing with his hair and lightly scratching his head as I did my best to comfort him the only way I knew how. Because I had wanted to soothe him, I didn’t even notice that I was on my back and my tattoo wasn’t hurting anymore.

After about ten minutes of that, Kris readjusted his body position, rolling over and getting on top of me. I spread my legs to accommodate him as he held himself up with those big, strong arms of his. He kissed me gently and slowly, and he probed my mouth with his tongue so thoroughly that I was glad I brushed my teeth. I wrapped my arms and legs around him, tangling my body with his. Then Kris put all his weight onto one hand so he could begin unfastening the buttons of my shirt. When most of them were undone, except for a few at the bottom, he pulled one of the sides away, baring my right breast to him.

He stopped kissing me so he could see what he was doing. First, his fingers lightly circled my breast, swirling closer to my nipple with each turn. But he didn’t touch it. He observed the way my body was responding to him as my nipple got hard and my back arched and I licked my lips and moaned as a way to beg him to continue. Then he did the same thing with his tongue, circling around until this time, he touched the sensitive nub, pulling it between his lips and softly clamping down on it.

Sex was always incredible with Kris, because he always put the effort in to make sure I was happy and enjoying it. He knew that as long as I was enjoying it and having a good time, then he would be, too. Having sex at a time like this, when we were so open and in tune with each other was even more amazing because emotions were running high, sensations were heightened, and we were so eager to please each other that we’d forsake our own gratification for the other’s.

I grabbed at his shirt and pulled it over his head as quickly as I could. His mouth separated from my nipple in the process. When he turned his attention back to it, he blew cool air over it, and that with the combination of his saliva sent me into a fit of chills and anticipation. I reached down and pulled his dick out of his gray boxers, stroking him slowly to drive him crazy; I could feel how wet I was already getting for him, and I wanted him inside me so desperately.

He grabbed my wrist and made me let go of him, pinning my hand down against the mattress. “Not yet.” He kissed me on the mouth and then dragged his mouth down my body, insisting on tasting me everywhere first, before he let me repay the favor and join our bodies as one.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

93.) Night Out

I had really hoped to finish this yesterday, but something didn't seem right, so I had to get a second opinion. Have I mentioned lately that I love you guys? If not... I do. Bunches.

Soundtrack Song - Stroke 9, Little Black Backpack

Another loss. The Dallas Stars made total fools out of us, making us look like those midget players playing against the Red Wings in that South Park episode that parodied The Mighty Ducks. It was a pathetic, eight-to-two loss. I assisted on Boyle’s power-play goal and ended up being a minus-two for the night. Not as bad as some, but anything less than a plus was less than ideal.

If the guys didn’t think that two games constituted a streak, then they certainly couldn’t deny that three games did. And if there’s anything worse than losing, it’s losing on home ice when your loved ones are there to watch you and cheer you on. This was Jo’s second game that she got to attend in order to watch me play as a Shark, and even though I’d put points up somehow, the team had still lost.

But I didn’t have time to mope. It was already Tuesday, meaning Jo’s break was already about half over—and once we factored in the time I’d be away for Thursday’s away game, our time together was dwindling down like grains of sand passing through an hourglass. So I couldn’t be upset or let my thoughts linger on what I could have differently to help my team win when I only had Jo with me for a few more days... besides, when you lose by six goals, that’s not one player’s fault: that’s an entire team meltdown. These guys needed to totally reevaluate their attitudes toward the game before the playoffs started.

So far, in the two weeks that I had been with the Sharks, there were several things I had noticed that were markedly different between them and the Sharks. One of those things was the attitude of the younger group of guys. I wasn’t sure why they were so different, but they were; I suspected it had something to do with locale. As the guys had reminded me several times, this was California, which apparently was synonymous with “party central.” It didn't matter at all that we got our asses handed to us out on the ice in that shameful defeat—we were still going out.

“You in, Letang?” Mitch asked, as we finished getting dressed back into our suits.

Before I could answer, Couture spoke up for me. “That’s a question for his girlfriend.”

The room cracked up at his innuendo, and I rolled my eyes and tried to ignore the fact that I played hockey with a bunch of immature twelve-year-olds. “Actually, that is a question for Jo. I’ll have to see what she wants to do tonight.”

“Ugh, I don’t know if I wanna invite them out along with us,” McGinn spoke up. That surprised me, because usually he’s the silent one. “I’ll be pukin’ all over the bar tonight, and that’s not very attractive to ladies.”

“Oh, come on, it’s not that bad,” I said. I knew the guys liked to rag on me for the way I acted around Jo or for how much time I was spending with her. Ever since the guys found out that I had ignored their calls and messages yesterday because we were spending the day together.

But Monday had been amazing; Jo had been so excited to go to the observatory. I’m not gonna lie—that telescope stuff went right over my head, and I stopped listening and paying attention about two minutes into the tour. But I watched the way that Jo was absolutely fascinated by every word that guide said. She asked a bunch of questions and was the first to look at everything, much to the annoyance of the other guests. She was like a kid in a candy store, and as long as Jo was happy, I was happy.

“Yeah, dude, it is that bad,” Logan replied. “You’re such a woman. How does it feel to have a vagina?”

“Shut up,” I sighed. “Listen, she’s only here for this week, so I’m just trying to have fun with her. When she goes home this weekend, it’s gonna be, like, two months before I get to see her again.”

“Go put a tampon in and take some Midol, because you’re PMSing,” Mitch countered. “Weren’t you the one who said we needed to focus anyway? We didn’t start losing ’til your girlfriend showed up.”

“Jo doesn’t have anything to do with that,” I started, hating that they were using my words against me.

“Leave him alone, guys,” Bowlby interrupted. “He’s just being a good boyfriend. That’s something none of you guys would understand.”

“Yeah, and I’d like to keep it that way,” Mitch laughed. “I’d like to keep my dick as wet as possible, and girlfriends are the biggest cock blocks.”

A bunch of the guys cheered and agreed, and all I could was shake my head and laugh. They had no idea what Jo was like. It’s kind of funny, because the guys in Pittsburgh had assumed the worst of her because of the party-girl impression she had made on them, and now the guys out here apparently thought she was some uptight, goodie two-shoes. Neither of those were totally correct; they didn’t know her at all. First impressions are hardly ever correct.

“If you guys just give Jo a chance, you might actually like her. She’s a nice girl, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not fun.”

“She’s going out with you, so we know she’s definitely not fun,” Couture laughed, earning a high-five from McGinn next to him.

“Whatever, guys. If you don’t want us to come out, we won’t.”

“Forget them,” Pickles sighed. “I’ll ask Jamie if she wants to come, too.”

“Thanks, man,” I said to him with a nod. It felt good to know at least someone wasn’t going to poke fun at me or criticize me for being in a committed relationship. This team was highly divided between the young, single, partying guys and the older, married, stay-at-home fathers. And ever since we came back from Sunday’s away game, Pickles had done his own shacking up with his girlfriend—so I didn’t know why I was getting all the flack.

The two of us walked out into the lounge where Jo was standing with Jamie as they waited for us to finish dressing. She was glowing, just like she had been up on Mt Hamilton, and that light had stayed with her ever since. Jo had talked with the guide until he had to start the next tour, about all kinds of stuff like the research at the other observatories and the university and other stuff that I totally didn’t get, so I had just hung back and let her do her thing. She was effervescent on the drive home, babbling away about how much fun it would be to work and do actual research in a place like that at night, and her enthusiasm made me excited for her. We ordered Chinese for dinner and just chilled back in my room all night. Our night was simple, but that’s what made it so great: just me and her and Chinese food and cheesy romcoms on cable. And then more sex.

“Hey,” she greeted me, grabbing my tie and pulling on it so I leaned down to her level and she could peck me on the cheek. “Nice assist.”

“Thanks. So, uh, the guys were talking about going out tonight? I didn’t know if you’d be interested.”

She hummed, tapping her finger against her closed lips as she thought. “It sounds fun, but remember? I didn’t really pack, so I don’t have going-out clothes to wear.” She gestured down at herself. “Unless a Letang jersey and ripped jeans are acceptable in clubs out here in Cali, which I seriously doubt.”

“Well, I’m sure I have something you can borrow,” Jamie piped in, Marc now beside her with his arm around her waist. I don’t think I’d ever seen him do that with her before. “I’ll have to change, too, so you can just come over and we’ll get ready.”

“Um, I doubt that I can pull off anything you have,” Jo replied, referring to their two very different body types.

“No, I think I have just the thing,” Jamie replied, eying her up and down and making Jo a little uncomfortable. I could see Jo squirm at the prospect of getting glammed up like Jamie. “Trust me, Jo. It’s my turn to work some magic.”

“If you say so,” she shrugged, and we all agreed on that plan of action as Pickles coordinated plans with Couture as we headed over to Jamie’s.

It was a nice, plush place she had. I didn’t know much about her, but she vaguely reminded me of a career-woman Barbie, and this was her pink mansion. Pickles plopped down in front of the TV and motioned for me to join him. “Might as well take a seat. These women are gonna take forever to get ready.”

“Nah, not Jo,” I replied, sitting beside him on the couch. It was faux leather, and I sunk into it. Nice. “She takes, like, two seconds to get ready.”

“Well, not Jamie. And not Jo when Jamie gets through with her either.”

While Pickles had been exaggerating, it definitely did take a long time for them to get ready: almost forty-five minutes. I was getting bored, ready to just call it a night and head back to the hotel for some shut-eye. We weren’t going to have much time out and about, because it was getting close to midnight.

Jamie descended the staircase first, and Pickles told her that she looked very pretty. I was too focused on waiting for Jo to come down next. She was wearing a shimmery, dark gray dress. It may not have been as flattering as her as it would have been on the owner of the dress, but I still thought Jo looked incredible. The skirt came down to her mid-thigh, and it had this straight neckline that showed off a bit of her shoulders. And plus, Jo was in really high, white heels that put her at the perfect height for me to kiss.

But before I could kiss her, she turned around to give me the view from behind, which was even better. It was backless, showing off so much skin, including almost all of her new tattoo. She obviously wasn’t wearing a bra, but she couldn’t have had on any panties either, because it dipped so low that it was almost scandalous. I had no idea how it was staying in place, but it was, somehow. Jo turned back around, and she was beaming. Her brown hair was pin-straight and looking silky smooth, her lips were pinker than usual and really shiny, and her hazel eyes were sparkling and surrounded by lines of black. “You like?”

Jo didn’t dress like this just because she wanted to or liked to. She dressed for comfort most of the time, in my clothes for half the time, leaving only a few occasions that she’d doll herself up like this. And when she did, she did it for me. I thought she looked sexiest when she was wearing my jersey or one of my shirts, but this was pretty damn sexy, too. I drank in the sight of her, all of her, in the smokin’ hot dress as well as her pretty, smiling face.

“Speechless?” she giggled, reaching out and taking my hand in hers.

I shook my head, wordlessly telling her “no,” but still being unable to say it. Then I brought her hand up to my mouth and kissed the back of it. When I finally found my voice, I told her, “Are you sure we have to go out?”

She laughed again, throwing her head back. “Yes, we do,” she replied, moving beside me and wrapping her arm around my middle. The two girls exchanged a knowing glance. “Jamie’s got good taste, doesn’t she?”

“Definitely,” I answered, my fingers lightly tracing her spine. I watched as Jo bit her glossy bottom lip, trying to suppress the shiver that threatened to shake her body. God, I wanted to take her back to the hotel already. This was going to be a long night.

We headed out, since it was already getting late. Everyone else was already there; I suppose this is what it means to be “fashionably late.”

The club we went to seemed a little shady to me, but the guys said they had lots of fun there and Jo seemed okay with it. I had reservations about the place as soon as we approached it, but I seemed to be the only one. The inside didn’t look as bad as the outside, though. The bouncer didn’t card Jo, which probably should have been an indication that this wasn’t exactly a reputable place. We headed straight up for the VIP section, where there were some plush couches, an expansive bar, and a dance floor. There were other, non-hockey playing patrons here beyond the velvet rope, but they ignored us, so I figured this was a usual thing and no one paid much mind to us Sharks.

Some of the guys stood lined up at the bar, and some were on the myriad of couches, surrounded by scantily clad, fake-looking girls. Jamie’s head bobbed in time with the heavy bass.

“Well, it’s no Diesel,” Jo chuckled to me, reaching for my hand again. She squeezed and tugged on it. “I like this song. Come dance with me.”

I leaned down to talk in her ear, even though the music wasn’t overly loud. “I will, but I’m gonna get us something to drink first. Coke?” I asked her, wanting to get comfortable and settled in before dancing.

She nodded at me, squeezing my hand before she let go. I had kind of expected a little pout to guilt me into following her out onto the floor, but she didn’t. Jo knew my habits by now, knew that I liked to chill out for a moment and take it in before going crazy—especially in new places. I wanted to check the club out first and get used to the scene. “Okay. But once you get those drinks... come find me, stud.”

I moved to stand with the guys at the bar to get a water and a Coke. The service was pretty quick; my teammates must have been hotshots here. It wasn’t long before I had a bottle of water in my left hand a glass of soda in the other. I turned, looking around the room at the lay out and atmosphere. Definitely wasn’t the type of place I’d choose myself. It was nice enough looking, but the crowd was iffy. Why were there so many people here on a Tuesday night?

As I took in our surroundings, I was simultaneously scanning the room for Jo. I couldn’t miss her in that sparkly dress. Hell, I’d always be able to single her out in a crowd. She was dancing out there with Jamie. I should have walked right up to her, handed her her Coke, pressed my body against hers, and danced with her all night until she wanted to leave... but I got caught up in watching her move rhythmically to the music, the fabric of the dress swaying around her legs, and her tattoo playing peek-a-boo from behind the side of her dress and I almost didn’t want to stop watching.

But my trance ended abruptly when another man stepped up behind her and placed his hands on her hips. I watched as Jo chuckled and stuck her ass into his groin and turned her head to the side, not quite looking up at him. Although I was too far away to hear her, I could read her lips as she said to him, “I thought you were getting our drinks?” When he didn’t respond, she asked, “Kris?” as she turned around and faced him. She wasn’t looking to dance with any guy; she thought he was me.

His hands never let go; in fact, he must have interpreted Jo’s action of spinning around as encouragement, because he grabbed onto her ass with both greedy, grubby hands and pulled her against him. Once Jo recognized that guy as not me, she made a move to back away from him, just like I knew she would when she realized she wasn’t dancing with me. I watched and made out more words as she apologized to him. “I’m sorry. I thought you were somebody else.”

The drunken sleaze ball drawled out, “That’s all right, sexy. I’ll be whoever you want me to be.”

She pushed against his chest, trying to get away. “Uh, no thanks, I have a boyfriend.” His unrelenting hold on her, however, never loosened. Jo grabbed his arms, and I could see her nails digging spitefully into his skin as she tried to pry his hands off her. “Let go. I said, let go!”

That was when he went too far, instigating the situation when he didn’t acknowledge her rejection and then didn’t leave her alone like he should have. My blood began to boil, and my grip on the objects in my hands tightened. That’s what spurred me into action, when the situation began to escalate and he put her safety in jeopardy. The guys had turned to look at me, to see what I was going to do, but I was already moving. I set down the drinks on the bar—or more like slammed them down, making liquid slosh out and spill everywhere—and headed in their direction, fully intent on removing his grabby hands from my girlfriend.

“Hey!” I hollered, elbowing past some passersby to get to her. If he didn’t back off, I was going to make him regret it. I was going to rip to his arms out of their sockets or break his hands. Seeing a man treat a girl like this was enough to get under my skin; when she said “no,” he should have immediately let go and walked away. This was disrespectful and disgusting, and generally would have bothered me—but that feeling was infinitely multiplied because he was touching my girlfriend that way.

I wasn’t a possessive or jealous boyfriend, but he wasn’t stepping back. Someone needed to do something, and that someone was going to be me. It was my duty to make sure she was safe and protected and cared for. This wasn’t a reaction borne from feeling like someone was trespassing on my property; this asshole was violating her personal space and her wishes, and I never wanted to see Jo treated like that, by anyone. The fact that he was inappropriately making a move on the woman I loved more than anything else in this world only added fuel to the fire.

Apparently, he was too drunk to hear anything—my demands or Jo’s rejections. “Whassa matter, baby?” he slurred, leaning his face down even closer toward hers as he continued to grope her. He was drunk, but anyone in his position should have been able to figure out Jo was clearly not interested.

It didn’t appear like they heard me, though. The moment felt like it took forever, but it really happened so fast. I hollered again, trying to get him to notice me and realize that he needed to back off. “Get your hands off of her!”

I was three steps away and could clearly hear his words now, but before I could get there to intervene, I watched as Jo’s face changed, past disgust or frustration to flat-out pissed off. She didn’t bother looking around for assistance though; she took matters into her own hands by clenching her hand into a fist and popping that pig right square in the jaw.

His face turned to the side; although it was a solid shot by Jo, she didn’t have the force behind it to really hurt him. It was the surprise moreso that caught him off guard rather than a substantial amount of pain. He quickly let go of her and she took two steps back. One of his hands reached up to the spot on his face where she had made contact, but he didn’t make a move to step away and defuse the situation.

When he looked back at her again, his face was blank. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the alcohol or any anger he was now feeling. In fact, I wasn’t sure what his next move was going to be. Neither did anyone else, I guess, because the entire group of people around us—even people we didn’t know—had stopped dancing and were now watching intently to see what was going to go down. You never know how intoxicated people are going to react, and I was now really, really worried for Jo’s safety.

I inserted myself between them, shielding Jo behind me and puffing out my chest like I was in Animal Kingdom or something. I felt as Jo grabbed fistfuls of my shirt at each of my sides, and I asserted myself as her boyfriend, as her protector. Adrenaline was coursing through my system and my heartbeat was pounding so loudly in my ears that I completely blocked out the music. I couldn’t even hear my own words. “Back. Off.”

He stared at me, and I stared right back, neither of us blinking. The seconds ticked by like hours, so painstakingly slowly, as I waited for his reaction. He glanced back at Jo, shook his head, and grumbled something unintelligibly before he drunkenly made an about-face and slunk off into the crowd. I let out the breath I had been holding in, letting my lungs and chest deflate. Crisis averted.

Once I was sure that he was gone and no longer a threat to Jo, I turned around and cupped her face in my hands. “Are you okay?”

Jo nodded, appearing shocked at what just happened. Everyone was still looking at us, so I wrapped my arm protectively around her shoulders, holding her tightly to me and hiding her from their spying eyes as I headed back to the safety of a well-lit, corner booth. I slid into the booth seat and she followed in after me.

“You sure you’re okay?” I asked again, getting a better look at her face now that we were in the light. Her eyes were a little wide. It doesn’t matter how prepared you may be to handle that kind of a situation; it’s always a shock to be confronted like that.

“Yeah, I’m okay. What a fucking asshole. I’ve never had someone just, like, not get the picture.” Jo shook her head, letting out a breath as if she were trying to let go of her emotions. Then she put her hand on the table and flexed her fingers. “That hurt.”

I picked up her hand and kissed her red knuckles one by one, feeling her quick pulse. Despite her casual demeanor, she was still a little shaken up by this. No one expects to get treated like that. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“Did what?” she questioned, looking at me carefully.

“You just punched some guy, in the middle of the club.”

Jo continued to look at me, and I wasn’t sure how to interpret that. “He wouldn’t back up off me. He wouldn’t take his hands off me. I did what anyone else would have done.”

“I know what happened, Jo, I saw the whole thing. I was coming over to help.”

She snorted. “Help? You seem to forget, Kris, that I grew up with a brother and hung out with his jock, hockey team friends. I know how to throw a punch and defend myself. James made sure of it.”

“But you’re a girl,” I said, frustration leaking into my voice.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” she hissed.

“He’s a guy. He’s stronger than you. If you made him mad, you could have made things a lot worse. He was drunk, so who knows what he would have done.”

“What was I supposed to do? Let him grope me in the middle dance of the dance floor? Wait for you to show up? No offense, Kris, but I had everything under control. I don’t need any help from you.”

I didn’t know how to react to that. No way Jo could have held her own against that guy if he had gotten physical—even more physical—with her. He may have been in a public place like a club, but he was drunk and obviously capable of anything if he had been so aggressive with her to begin with. Maybe I could have been overreacting, but I didn’t think so. “I was right there! I would have handled him for you! He looked pissed, Jo, and I wouldn’t’ve put it past him to hit you back. Jo, I was scared for you,” I admitted, squeezing her hand and waiting for her reaction.

I didn’t get to see it though, because some of the guys joined us at the table.

“Dude!” Couture laughed, plopping down. “That was awesome! I’ve never seen a chick punch someone before!”

“We need an enforcer, since Shelley got traded. Wanna be a Shark, Jo? We’ll put in a good word with Coach for you,” Mitch chuckled.

She didn’t laugh, but she went along with their joke. “Too bad I can’t skate for shit.”

“Who says you need to skate?” Mitch continued. “You only need to be able to stand up so you can throw a few.”

A man approached our table, and I could tell he was the manager before he even opened his mouth. “I just wanted to stop over to apologize. I hope you’re all right, miss,” he said, trying to cover his own ass, when his bartenders shouldn’t have been serving someone so overly intoxicated.

“I’m okay,” she told him.

“We took care of him, so you don’t need to worry about him. Everything from here on in tonight is on the house, to show you how sorry we are.”

The guys nodded, waiting until the manager left before they hooted and hollered in excitement. They were professional athletes, so it’s not like they couldn’t’ve paid. “Sweet! Free drinks! Come on, let’s go celebrate!” McGinn cheered, his delight causing him to speak up for once.

“What are we still sitting here for?” Logan seconded. “We gotta toast Jo. It’s free, so we’re going top shelf.”

Jo spun her legs over the edge of the seat and stood up. “Jo,” I started, not wanting to see her join the guys at the bar.

“What, Kristopher?” she sighed, looking down at me as I sat there and looked up at her. “Don’t even start with me right now, okay? I’m not letting some asshole guy ruin my night, so I’m going to get a free drink and try to forget about it. If there’s one thing you should have learned tonight, it’s that I’m a big fucking girl and I can take care of myself. I’ll behave myself, so just chill out. Okay?”

“Fine,” I mumbled, slumping back in the booth. “Go do whatever you want.”

“I will,” she snapped back at me, turning on her heel and walking away from me. Logan handed her a shot, and they all raised their little glass cups in the air and clinked them together. I looked away before I watched them drink.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

92.) Plans for the Future

Soundtrack Song - Jimmy Eat World, For Me This Is Heaven

Unusually, I woke up before Kris. I was still tired, but that spot on my back was burning and irritating me. It wasn’t as big as the one on my ribs, but it seemed to hurt or bother me more than that one did; it probably hurt worse because of the difference in my state of mind. When I had my memorial tattoo done, I was depressed and upset about James, so in comparison, the physical pain didn’t bother me. The mental and corporeal discomfort went hand in hand. But this time, I was happy and excited to be here with Kris—meaning the discrepancy between my peaceful state of mind and the achy tenderness on my back made the pain feel worse.

Very carefully, I eased my way out of Kris’s arms and rolled out of bed. Kris had Advil in the bathroom to take when he was sore from games or whatever, but he hardly ever took any, so I helped myself to it. I popped a few in my mouth, turned on the faucet, and then cupped my hand in the flow so I could wash those pills down. Then I headed back into the main room to get back into bed.

For a moment, I stood at the side of the bed and looked down at the man underneath the bed sheet. He was so gloriously beautiful. Sometimes, I forgot to just look at him and take in the sight of him. His long, shiny, brown, soft hair. Those thick caterpillars that passed as eyebrows. The pock marks and scars on his face, each with its own story of creation. The soulful, all-seeing, puppy-dog eyes that were currently hidden beneath his eyelids, which were lined with eyelashes I would kill for. His adorable button nose and thin, pink lips. I loved his mouth. That amazing, defined, sculpted body. Michelangelo would have killed to use Kris’s body as his model for David. He was hirsute, but in just the right amount; the thick, coarse, wiry hairs of his legs and arms as well as the line of hair from his navel downward, without dense chest hair or, worse, back hair. And I was lucky enough to touch it whenever and however I wanted.

As I thought about that, I realized that I could either stand there looking at him, or I could go snuggle up against him. So what the hell was I doing just standing there? I pulled back the covers and crawled back into bed, sidling up to his warm, firm body. With my head on his chest, I hooked my right leg over his and placed my palm against his sternum, feeling his heart beat in his chest.

Just as I closed my eyes and hoped for a few more hours of precious slumber, I felt Kris stir underneath me. At first, I hoped that he was just tossing and turning, adjusting himself in his sleep to get comfortable with me. But he turned his head and brushed his lips against my forehead—and that couldn’t have been by accident. He was awake. “Mornin’.”

“Go back to sleep, babe,” I mumbled to him, curling up against his side and nestling against his warm body. His arm instinctively wrapped around me and held me against him. I had never felt so comfy-cozy in my entire life.

“What time is it?” he asked, his voice deep and husky and his accent thick with sleep.

I wanted him to just shut up, so I didn’t have to talk back to him. I was way too tired to have a conversation. “Early.”

“But what time?” he insisted, rubbing my shoulder absentmindedly. I wouldn’t have minded, except it was starting to wake me up, and all I wanted to do was sleep.

“It’s early o’clock,” I groaned. “Go back to fuckin’ sleep, please.”

He chuckled softly and wrapped his arms around me, hugging and pulling me on top of him. “I thought you wanted to do stuff today? You were so excited.”

“I was. I am. But sleep was also high up on that list of things to do. I love sleep,” I grumbled.

“Yeah, I know. But what did you wanna do today?”

Yesterday, I had asked Jamie about what there was to do in San José because I wanted to know all of my options about what Kris and I could possibly do today. Jamie knew the area well, because she worked with a PR company that had a lot of major clients based in the city. I asked her about fun attractions or things to do, but she made them all seem lame. The parks were filled with homeless people, the zoo was in reality like a petting zoo with a few kiddy rides, the nearest “beach” at the bay was more like a marshy swamp, and the water park wasn’t open yet—apparently, one of the big things to do in San José was go to a Sharks game. The only good things to do were in other cities nearby.

Besides the usual, typical alternatives of lunch out or a movie or walking around downtown and window shopping, there wasn’t much for us to do in San José. But then I remembered something. “Wait. Kris. You said you borrowed Rob’s car?”

“Mmhmm. I got it for the day. He said that it’s kind of as a thank you, for helping him out and going to talk to Samantha,” he replied, looking up at me.

“So... that means we can go wherever we want?”

“I told you, whatever you wanted to do. Why? You’re kind of scaring me, Jo.”

“Lick Observatory?” It was where I wanted to go, but it came out more like a question or a suggestion rather than a definite answer.

“Yeah, okay. What is it? Where is it?” he asked, which made me giggle. Of course he’d agree to go, because it was for me, even though he had no idea what I was dragging him into. Just one of the many reasons Kris was so great. I mean, if that wasn’t love, I didn’t know what was.

“Up in the mountains, a little ways east of here. It’s an observatory, you know, one of those places where you go to see to the stars.” I had done a lot of research into the area when Kris had first been traded, and now that I was thinking about it, this would be the perfect time to go check out the Lick Observatory. After all, if Kris’s season didn’t continue long after the regular eighty-two games, I wouldn’t be coming back out here; ergo, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do this in-person investigation.

Kris didn’t want to have the conversation about what was going to happen in a week when we had to go our separate ways again, and I could definitely understand why. After all, we only had six days together during my spring break, and this was our only full day together. Why should we ruin it by talking about something that was only going to make us sad and depressed and upset? It made sense, and I didn’t want to talk about it either. I didn’t even want to think about where we were going to be in just one week, because we’d be apart.

But even so, I couldn’t help but think about the more distant future, about this summer and beyond. Since I wasn’t looking forward to our impeding two-month separation, I knew that I couldn’t stand to be away from him like that in the future. If Kris were to remain a Shark next season, then I was going to be in California with him: end of story.

He was insistent on me going to school so I could get that diploma and achieve my dreams—which was something very sweet of him to do, to be so focused and adamant in wanting me to have everything I had originally wanted for myself—so I would just have to continue my education in California. Problem solved. That didn’t solve our current dilemma of having to separated from him for two months, but I couldn’t transfer in the middle of a semester; universities, unfortunately, didn’t work that way. My only options now were to either drop out and move immediately out here to be with Kris, or to finish out my spring semester at CMU back in lonely Pittsburgh. Since Kris made it clear that quitting was out of the question, I had to choose the latter.

Yesterday, when the game was over but Kris was still hours away from returning to the area, I went to the reception of the Alameda. I batted my eyelashes and asked sweetly, and the pimply teen in charge allowed me to use their computer. All I could think about was how I wished that I was out here living with Kris instead of visiting, because then I wouldn’t hate his road trips so much. After all, in Pittsburgh, this wasn’t so bad. He had hockey and I had school to occupy ourselves with when he was gone. So then, in the next logical step of thinking, I wondered about what it would take to be out here with him.

In the span of that evening, I had formulated the solution. In fact, I had it all figured out; since there was no way I could apply to a university and get acceptance for the fall semester, I would apply for the spring—and in the meantime, I’d take classes at either one of the two community colleges right in town. I’d take summer courses in Pittsburgh like I had originally planned, and then I could transfer credits from CMU and later from the community college, to ultimately continue the course work needed for my degree out here.

For the spring term, I would apply to the University of California’s campus at Santa Cruz. The city of Santa Cruz wasn’t even forty miles away from San José; in terms of driving, it was less than an hour away. That still sucked, because I’d either have to commute two hours a day to live in San José with Kris, or I’d have to live on campus and travel to be able to spend time with my boyfriend. But those options were a lot better than being separated by an expensive, eight-hour trip by plane.

I had really lucked out when I found UC Santa Cruz. The University of California Observatories, of which Lick Observatory was one, were a research facility of the University of California, which just so happened to be headquartered at the Santa Cruz campus, which just so happened to be pretty close to San José.

Now, I don’t believe in fate. It doesn’t make sense that bad things can be plotted out for us; to me, that’s just sadistic. But this... how could this be random? How could Kris have been traded somewhere that held such great opportunities for him to grow and develop as a hockey player—when that same “somewhere” presented me with my own amazing chance to learn at an actual research observatory? Maybe it was simply pure luck, or serendipity. But if ever there were a chance occurrence to change my mind and make me believe in fate, this would be it. This was just too... dare I say it... perfect.

The only hitch in this genius plan could result in if he weren’t going to be a Shark in the 2010-11 season. He was still going to be an RFA come July first; that is, if San José didn’t make an effort to extend his contract prior to that date. I had a feeling, though, that the general manager would wait and see how Kris panned out in his role before worrying about that. In the scheme of things, Kris had only been playing with the team for about two weeks now, which wasn’t long enough to really gauge how well he meshed with the team.

We wouldn’t know until the season was over. Despite the Sharks’ collective reputation as chokers, I knew they had the potential to go beyond the first round, at the very, very least. And the longer their season went on, the less time I would have to apply because there’d be less time between the end of the season and the start of free agency; conversely, the longer their season went on, the more reason I had to believe that Kris’s contract would be extended.

Or, Kris could hold out and wait and see if he fielded any offers from any other teams. Hell, what was I saying “if” for? If he waited until July first, of course Kris would get some offers—the only questions would then be: how lucrative would the contract be, and would the Sharks be willing to match it?

There were just too many variables looming on the horizon for either of us to be sure enough to make a decision regarding our long-term individual futures as well as our relationship. I usually just went by the seat of my pants as I made my way through life, but I couldn’t do that in this situation. In order for me to be happy, I needed to be with Kris; since his life was defined by the decisions made by general managers and NHL schedule makers and so many other outside forces, I had to be more flexible in my ability to conform to a schedule and plan.

After James died, I gave up on planning and trying to figure things out. But now, I had to rely on planning because it was the only way I could make sure to be with Kris. We needed each other, and since he couldn’t pick and choose where he could be... and I could... that meant I needed to find a way to be with him. I needed to plan, but I couldn’t yet. I hated, hated, hated not being able to plan, having to wait and see what was going to happen. Anxiety and I were not good friends, so this was killing me.

I had to actively do something, so even though I couldn’t say that I would for sure be applying to UC this summer, it didn’t hurt to be prepared and scope out the research facility. If anything, it would be a fun little excursion for me to get to see, up close and personal, the places where I had always wanted to work. I looked down at Kris as we hung out in bed and tried to analyze his reaction to my suggestion. “Does that sound okay to you?”

“Yeah. I told you already, you had free range to decide what we were gonna do today. I don’t care, just so long as I get to spend the time with you. So, let’s go,” he answered, ready to get a head start on our day.

I giggled. “Not so fast, big boy. Visiting hours are only in the afternoon. Which means we can get a few more hours of sleep before we have to get ready and head out. ’Kay?”

“Okay,” he relented, once again giving in to me. I laid back down, half beside him and half on him, using him like a big body pillow. Kris pulled the sheet up over us, and once the Advil kicked in and took the edge off my pain, I fell back asleep.

When I woke back up, it was after ten. Kris was awake but still in bed with me; he had the TV muted as he flipped through the channels and looked for something to watch. I squeezed him and then rolled onto my back as I stretched out my arms and legs, but once I put pressure on my right shoulder blade, I cringed and sat up.

“Still hurt?”

“Yeah,” I replied, moving my arm and feeling the irritated, tender skin pull over my shoulder blade. “I think the ibuprofen wore off already.”

“Lemme see,” Kris said, pushing up on his hands. I turned and showed him my brand new tattoo. He peeled away the plastic wrap as he checked it out. “Looks good. Better than yesterday. We should probably get it washed off and some fresh ointment on it.”

With that good idea, we got out of bed and headed for the shower. We couldn’t have sex in the shower since I had yet to go on the pill, but we fooled around until the hot water ran cold. We made out and tried to make each other come with our hands. It was like a game, almost, to see who could make the other finish first—kind of like a race. I wasn’t sure if I had won or lost when he made me climax around his hand—but there were no losers in this game when he squirted his hot, thick, white fluid against my stomach.

When we finished, we each wrapped ourselves in a towel. Kris fixed his towel around his waist and then pulled out his electric razor, poising himself in front of the mirror to begin his routine. I was about to head into the other room to begin getting dressed, but I hung around in the bathroom to watch him work.

Kris had such interesting shaving habits that kind of fascinated me, probably for no other reason than I didn’t have to shave my face; I teased him for being metrosexual until he explained his methodical ways to me. He said that when he didn’t have to worry about a nice, clean shave, he just used the electric razor. It was nice to have that bit of growth when he was playing, in case he got face-washed.

But when he wanted a close shave, for example when he knew he was going to be spending time with me and kissing me, and therefore did not want to chafe me, he’d use a razor, too. Once he did his initial shaving with the handheld electric, he began to apply foam all over his face.

’Til that point, I had merely watched. I sat on the closed lid of the commode and observed him as he worked, but now I stood up. “Kris, can I do that? Can I shave you?”

“You wanna do this for me?” he asked, to which I nodded quickly. “Are you gonna cut me?”

“Well, I won’t try to,” I replied, chewing on the inside of my mouth. I wanted to be a part of his life as much as possible in the ensuing few days. I wanted to be with him and do things with him so when we had to be apart, everything he did would remind him of me.

He tried to stop the smile from blooming across his face, but it was futile. He was teasing me, using my own words from last night. “But you have to promise to be gentle with me, Jo.”

So I gave him the same response that he gave to me. “Promise.”

Kris handed me the stick razor, before he grabbed a hold of my hips and moved me between him and the sink. He gave me step-by-step directions and specific instructions, holding my hand and guiding it as we together swiped the razor against his face and neck. After a few sweeps, and Kris thought that I had the hang of it, he let go and let me continue to shave his face. I made sure that I didn’t touch his sideburns, so they wouldn’t be uneven. Kris made fun of me for sticking out my tongue as I concentrated and tried to be careful. I didn’t want to cut him or scrape his skin.

It was sexy and fun to do this, not unlike when I would tie his ties for him on game days—even though this was much more intimate than that. He was so vulnerable in this position. In the animal kingdom, exposing your throat to another animal is a sign of trust. I knew we weren’t animals, but it was still a symbolic thing for Kris to let me do this for him. After all, I was holding a sharp blade near his carotid artery; one wrong flick of the wrist, and he could bleed a lot. But he trusted me to be gentle, and I wasn’t going to let him down. I loved every second of this.

When I finished shaving him, I stepped to the side and to let him wipe his face clean of any residual foam. Then he picked up his bottle of aftershave lotion and squirted a dollop in onto my hands. I rubbed it into his cheeks, neck, chin, and upper lip, finally putting two and two together to realize that this was one of the things that made him smell so good.

He grabbed my wrists as I finished massaging the aftershave into his skin, and he pulled me toward him. His mouth captured mine in a searing, sexy kiss, which could have escalated into more if he hadn’t have stopped. He must have let this affection build up while I shaved him, and now he had to let it out. But he ended it far too soon for my liking—even though I knew that we didn’t have time for sex if we wanted to spend the entire afternoon at Lick. “Now go get dressed, Jo, so we can eat before we leave.”

“Yes, sir!” I saluted him, and that earned me a swat on the ass in encouragement to get moving and get ready.

Kris finished up in the bathroom while I changed back into my capris and then grabbed one of his tee shirts to wear, so that it would be loose fitting and wouldn’t irritate my tattoo. I got Kris to apply more ointment to it and cover it up with more plastic wrap, knowing that I would have to let it breathe some tonight when we returned. We ate the rest of the leftover food that Brandy had sent home with us for a quick lunch, and then we headed out for the observatory.

Rob’s Escalade was tricked out, with a GPS and everything. We had no trouble navigating the half hour drive up the winding hill to Mt Hamilton. We found it easily, and I even though I knew that we at a higher elevation, the shock of the cool breeze still startled me. I hadn’t come prepared, because I was in flip flips, capris, and a baggy tee of Kris’s. Yeah, I was cold, but I was too excited and giddy for the tour to let it bother me too much.

The tours began at the gift store, and as we waited, I looked around. There wasn’t anything too fancy or enticing. Just shirts, hats, posters, wine glasses, and—

“Here, a sweatshirt,” Kris said, handing me a plain, green sweatshirt that looked like something my grandmother would wear, or something you’d find at a thrift store or Salvation Army or Goodwill. It had the very simple Lick Observatory Mt Hamilton logo on the top corner. I just kind of looked at him as he proffered it to me, not sure what to do, and Kris looked back at me like I was a fucking retard. “You’re cold. Will you just take it?”

“Are you trying to get me to steal it?” I asked, slowly reaching out and accepting it. The tag was still on, and I was sure that Kris had been beside me the whole time as we waited.

“No, wha...? Why would I give you something to steal?” He pulled the receipt out of his pocket and showed me that he paid for it. “You’re cold, and it’s, like, a souvenir. Put it on.”

He looked so proud of himself, so how could I say no? I ripped off the tag and shoved it into my pocket, and then I slid my arms into the sleeves. With one more pointed glance at Kris, I threw it over my head and pulled it down my body, feeling like I looked just like Grandma Anderson.

I pulled my hair free and then modeled for Kris. “So? Hot, right?” I giggled.

Before he could answer, someone called out and said that the tour was going to start in a few minutes. Kris and I headed out of the gift show and into the cool air, where we’d begin to walk up toward Lick. People were still gathering, and it looked like there’d be ten of us. More than I had expected; how many people were really interested in telescopes on a sunny Monday afternoon?

Looking down into the valley before us, the tour guide noticed my gaze and pointed out that we were looking at downtown San José. I asked Kris, “Where’s the Tank? Can you find it?” When I didn’t get a response, I turned back from the view to look at him. He was playing with his phone, holding it up. “What are you doing?”

“Taking your picture,” he answered nonchalantly.

“No,” I laughed, turning away from the tiny lens on his phone. “Not in all my frumpy glory!”

“You look good to me.” I stuck my tongue out at him at that remark; there were times when guys said you looked nice to flatter you and times when they really thought so. I didn’t think that this was one of those latter times. “Come on, Jo, stop playing around. Don’t you want a picture of you while you’re here?”

“If you’re in it with me.” I reached for his arm, which was outstretched and holding his phone. “Come here.”

“Wait, lemme get someone to—”

“No need,” I chuckled. I took his phone and turned it away from us. “Just make sure you’re smiling. Are you ready?”

“Wait!” Kris held onto my waist as he placed his chin against my shoulder, so we looked like we were the same height. “Okay, ready,” he added.

As I pressed the camera button, Kris surprised me with a kiss on my cheek and I immediately reacted. “Hey,” I whined teasingly. With a pout, I added, “You ruined the picture!”

He took the phone from me and flipped it over so we could see the screen. The city that was now his home was in the background. A breeze had picked up, and our hair was flying across our faces. Kris’s head was turned as he kissed my cheek, but his sparkling eyes were still trained on the camera. Meanwhile, my eyes were closed and my mouth was open in a giggle, ready to chastise him.

“I think it’s perfect,” he told me, his fingers flying over the buttons as he saved it. Then my phone beeped, meaning he must have sent it to me so I could have the image, too.

The guide called out, “Okay, we’re ready to begin! Everyone follow me!”

Kris waved his hand, gesturing for me to walk ahead of him. As I followed the group, I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and saved the image of us as the picture that would pop up whenever Kris called me. The more I looked at it, the more I liked it; Kris was right, it was perfect. Just him and me, enjoying ourselves and our time together as we were about to tour the observatory in his new town. And hadn’t that been the entire purpose of my trip out here to California?

“Pay attention,” Kris said with a gentle hip check, causing me to pocket my phone and focus on what the guide was saying about the thirty-six inch Lick Refractor and the on-going search for exoplanets.

Friday, May 21, 2010

91.) Permanent

You Sharks fans are gonna keep me on my toes....

Soundtrack Song - Phoenix, Lisztomania

Another loss. I was frustrated; I hadn’t scored or put up any points, but at least I wasn’t a minus. The guys around me were talking, but I tried to ignore them. The only thing I had going for me was that Jo was waiting for me back at the hotel. It was the first time that I had ever looked forward to going back to the Alameda. I really did need to check into a new place, but the hotel had the convenience of locale—which was the only reason I hadn’t left yet.

The guys here dealt with losses so differently. We were still doing very well in our conference and division, so we didn’t need to begin worrying about whether or not we were going to make the playoffs. Maybe it was just from playing on the Penguins: a team loaded down with guys who had this innate, fierce competitive spirit. Guys who had gotten a taste of winning it all the season before and wanted more.

The veterans of the team, like Blake and Thornton, were visibly bummed, but they knew how to compartmentalize because they’ve dealt with the ups and downs for so many seasons now that they had learned to leave it all behind at the rink or on the plane. The younger guys hadn’t yet tasted victory, so they didn’t know what they were missing out on, or what it took to achieve it.

“Ugh, I can’t wait to get back to ess jay,” Mitch sighed, stretching out on the seat in front of me. “I think I’m gonna relax my muscles in the hot tub and see if Sara will come over and bring one of her friends. Man, too bad it’s a Sunday night or we could go out. It’s still early.”

“But we lost,” I pointed out.

He replied, “So? We could pretty much tank it here on out and still make it to the postseason.”

“And that’s good enough for you?” I shook my head, thinking, Maybe that’s why you guys choke every year. “That’s not the kind of attitude that’s gonna win you guys a Cup. What’s gonna happen when the first round starts?”

“Listen, Letang, don’t worry about trying to fix something that’s not broken,” Couture groaned, lacing his fingers together behind his head and leaning his head back. “You’ve only been here two weeks, and we’ve won three of the first four games you here, right?”

I went over the schedule in my head. Loss, win, win, win, loss, loss. “But we lost the last two. You never wanna go on a losing streak.”

“Two games is not a streak,” Logan laughed.

“Um, technically it is,” I told him. Their nonchalance and indifference regarding their season—our season—was nothing short of infuriating. Wilson and McLellan had told me that I had been brought here to help lead these guys to the Finals. And if I had to have been uprooted and moved across the country to help this team out... forced to give up all the good things I had going for me in Pittsburgh... then it was not going to go to waste because these guys were too lackadaisical in their playing. “Maybe I don’t know how you guys do things here, but I can say from experience, since I’ve actually won a Cup, that you need to have your heads right when you’re heading down the stretch before the playoffs.”

“Ooh, someone’s all wound up,” Guch commented, trying to diffuse the situation. “Looking forward to getting back to your girl to, uh, relieve some stress?”

“Whatever,” I mumbled, looking back out the window of the bus and trying to go back to ignoring them. Soon enough, the HP Pavilion came into sight, and we all piled off. The guys headed toward their respective vehicles, and I slung my overnight bag over my shoulder and pointed myself toward the road to start my walk.

“Letang, wait up,” Bowlby called after me. I stopped and turned, waiting for him to catch up with me, but he instead waved at me to follow him. Figuring he wanted to give me a ride, to be nice, I walked over to his car with him and got in.

“Thanks for the ride,” I muttered. It wasn’t that I was unappreciative, but I now I was not only grumpy from the loss, but a frustrated with my teammates for not putting in the mental effort.

“No prob. Listen, don’t get discouraged with those guys, and don’t let them bother you either. See, that’s why we need you here. We need a younger guy that can lead and set an example for them to model themselves after. They’re young guys, thinking they’re on top of the world. San José is like a playground to them, where they play a game for a living and then get to play around even more when they’re off the ice. Just keep playing your game, and show ’em how it’s done.”

I nodded, trying to soak this in. It was one thing to bring my experience to the table to try and help the team progress into the playoffs, but another thing entirely to have to be a leader to this group of rowdy guys that didn’t seem to want to buckle down to expend the effort.

“So, looking forward to your day off tomorrow? Got plans?” he asked, now trying to be nice to get my mind off the game and the guys.

“Uh, oh yeah. Definitely. Jo’s really excited for us to get to hang out together and relax for a whole day,” I told him, finding myself smiling despite my mood. I didn’t have the time to brood over the loss, when I had to make the most of every minute I had with Jo this week. We had to make our time together count, because it was already starting to dwindle down.

“What’re you guys doing?”

“I don’t know, actually. She’s kind of... free-spirited, I guess, so I’m letting her plan it out. I’m just gonna go along for the ride.”

“Wise man,” he chuckled. “This might sound kind of weird for me to offer you, but do you wanna borrow a car? It’ll be hard to get around and do stuff without one, unless you wanna keep calling taxis.”

“Wow, Cap, that’s really nice. That would be great, actually,” I thanked him, a little surprised by his generosity.

“Just as long as you’re careful with it,” he said with a warning his voice. He sounded like such a father.

I assured him, “I’m a good, safe driver. Your car will be safe with me, man.”

“Yeah, I figured. And Jo’s a nice girl, so I don’t mind doing this for you guys.” He hesitated for a split second before he asked, “She tell you what happened?”

“No.” I wasn’t sure if this were a trap or not. “Just that she talked to Samantha, and got her to come out of the bathroom.”

Bowlby nodded. “Well, it was nice of her to come over, so like I said, I don’t mind repaying the favor.” He took me back to his house and got me the keys to his wife’s black Escalade. I thanked him again before I quickly texted Jo to let her know I was on my way and then drove to my hotel, ready to put the day behind me. I pulled into the parking lot at the hotel, and Jo had the door open before I even approached the threshold.

“Hey,” she cooed in greeting, her head the only part of her body visible from behind the door as she let me in.

“Hey,” I sighed, slouching my shoulder and allowing the bag to drop to the floor. Then I tossed the keys onto the TV stand. “Good news, Blake lent me—” When she closed the door, I could see what she was wearing. Or not wearing. Or... oh God.

Jo was wearing one of my blue dress shirts, which was oversized on her. Her hands were lost in the sleeves, and the front was unbuttoned and open. I could see the blade of her hockey stick tattoo and also some of the writing. But what I couldn’t take my eyes off was the skimpy, barely-there bra and panties she was dressed in. Holy shit, she was barely covered. The lingerie was white but not quite white, almost bluish or opalescent. I didn’t know much about the styles or fashions of women’s underwear, but I know that just the sight of her caused my brain to short circuit and my body to wake up. I could immediately feel my pants get tight.

Her mouth curved into a smile as her eyes darted down to my crotch, undoubtedly noticing my hard on. Her fingers played with the open sides of the shirt, knowing the power she held over me. She took a few barefooted steps toward me. “So, you were saying?”

“Uh, I was saying.... I forget what I was saying,” I confessed, surprised that my mouth could even form words. I slid out of my suit jacket quickly.

She licked her lips and prompted, “Blake lent you something?”

“Mmhmm. Yeah.” I loosened my tie and pulled it over my head, without bothering to unknot it. I then untucked my shirts and began to thread the buttons through the holes. My hands were desperate to get my clothes off me, to strip down, and they busied themselves with the task rather than reach out to touch her.

“What?” she giggled, lightly running her fingers over her bare skin by the collar of the shirt. I wanted those to be my hands that were touching her. “What did you borrow?”

“Car.” My dress shirt was off, and my undershirt followed suit shortly after. Jo moved in front of me and hooked her index fingers through my belt loops in order to pull me toward the bed. My eyes were trained on only her. “I like where you went shopping. What you bought.” I was practically incoherent.

“I thought you would,” she said, pushing me down into a sitting position on the mattress. “Jamie and I had a lot of fun shopping today.”

“Yeah?”

“Yup. She kind of surprised me by being a really nice person.”

“Good,” I breathed, holding out the vowels as she crawled on top of me.

Her chest was right in front of my face as she straddled my lap and perched herself up on her knees on either side of me. She ran her fingers through my hair until she had a strong grip on my hair. She tugged on it firmly enough to make me look up at her—making it perfectly clear to me that she wanted to be the one in charge. And I was glad to relinquish the control to her.

I slipped my hands beneath the shirt she was still wearing, my thumbs rubbing circles on her sides as she bent her head down closer to mine. Jo deliberately tortured me by taking forever to finally kiss me. Unable to help myself, I swiped my tongue along her bottom lip to ask wordlessly for her to open her mouth to me. I inserted my tongue into her mouth and lazily swirled it around as my hands roamed up to her front and roughly squeezed her breasts.

When Jo broke the kiss, I began to suck at the flesh of her neck, nipping softly and gently. Her fingers began to massage my scalp, letting me know that she liked this, so I started using a little more pressure and bit her with a little more force.

“I take it you’re not tired,” she eked out, grabbing onto my shoulders.

“Nope,” I breathed against her neck, and a wave of goosebumps broke out across her skin.

“Good. Because I need your help with something.” Her words in my ear only made me harder. She had said something like this about forty-eight hours ago, I need you to help me get off—and then we had proceeded to have frantic, hot “monkey” sex.

I was ready to do that again, to help her out if that’s what she needed. “’Kay.”

“But you have to promise to be gentle with me, Kris,” she moaned, still enjoying the way I was making her feel.

If she were still sore, then I could be gentle. We didn’t have to have frantic sex; slow and romantic making love worked for me, too. I gave her another one-word response. “Promise.”

“Good,” she sighed, letting go of my hair and then backing up off my lap.

As she started walking toward the bathroom, I felt gypped. The pressure of my dick straining against the fly of my dress pants was beginning to become unbearable. Jo was no tease. “Where are you going?”

“You said you’d help me. I’ll be right back.”

I groaned and flung myself back against the bed. What kind of help did she want? Rubbing my hands over my face, I tried to take a few deep breaths to calm myself. She was dressed so sexy, so I knew I’d still get laid... but I didn’t want to wait.

“Hey,” she called, and I looked up just in time to see something come flying toward my head.

With my good hockey reflexes, I managed to catch the UFO. It was a tube of A+D ointment, like the stuff I had been told to use for my tattoo. But Jo’s tattoo was old; she got that back in October, as her birthday present from Tubby.

I pushed up back into my sitting position, looking at her and trying to figure out what she had this for, or if maybe I needed it for something—but I didn’t know what. Jo had taken off the shirt to reveal the strapless bra and panties that were even skimpier than I had thought. Once I saw that, I forgot all about what was in my hand.

Jo got down on her knees in front of me, and I was sure that she was going to help me take off my pants; to my chagrin, she turned her back to me. “Remember. Gentle.”

“With what?” I asked, finding out the answer slowly for myself. I looked down at her as she pulled her hair over to one side of her neck and leaned forward. There it was, plain as day, black cursive script across her right shoulder blade: cinquante-huit. My number, written out in a single line in French. It was still a bit red and irritated, so I just underlined it with my finger. “Jo....”

“I hope it’s right. Jamie and I had to Google it on her phone,” she chuckled, scooting up to sit with me on the bed. She was facing me, examining my face. “So? What do you think of it?”

Speechless. I was absolutely speechless; I had no clue what to say. I loved Jo, and I was crazy about her, but seeing a tattoo—something so permanent—on her body that all but branded her to me was shocking. I wasn’t scared of commitment, because I loved being committed to her and being her boyfriend. But a tattoo? It was like I had marked her as mine, and no one else’s. Like I had my name on her.

“It’s not because I love you,” she added quietly in explanation. “I mean, I do love you, but it’s not why I got it.”

“Then why?” I asked, feeling beyond curious. “I think it’s beautiful, I do, but... this is a really, really big thing. I mean, tattoos are big decisions.”

“I know,” she admitted with a shrug. “But once the idea popped into my head, I knew I had to do it. I like tattoos, and I like it when they mean something. And this one means a lot to me, just like my other one.”

I swallowed. I knew how much her “other one” meant to her, because it was a memorial for her twin brother. I couldn’t even believe she put me in the same realm as him, but knowing that it was something that was so meaningful made it easier to accept. It may have been spur of the moment, but it hadn’t been a mere whim. “So, what made you get it?”

“You’re a really, really big part of me, of the person I am now. Jamie and I were talking, and I got to thinking. No matter what happens, you’re always going to be someone who had a really big affect on me, and I wanted to kind of commemorate that. And this seemed like a special way to do just that, but I wanted something not so obvious. So I thought about your number, and since you speak French, this made sense to me. Now, you’re a part of me, and it’s like having a piece of you with me always. I really like it, Kris, and I hope you do, too. I don’t want this to weird you out, and I think it sorta is.”

“Not weirded out, just shocked,” I assured her. “If I’d’ve known you were thinking about it or something, I could have adjusted to the idea of it.”

Jo chuckled, which kind of surprised me just as much as her new ink job. “I distinctly remember you coming home and surprising me with this,” she laughed, rubbing my left bicep. “And you were the ‘my body is a temple’ guy. Remember when I showed you my first one, and I asked you if you had any? I think your eyes pretty much bugged out of your head.”

“They’re just so... permanent.” With a sigh, I cupped her shoulder and turned her body so I could see her back again. It wasn’t that big, maybe eight inches long at most. Even though it was in a flowing, elaborate script, it wasn’t impossible to read like some cursive fonts. It was both simple and intricate, all at once. I read it aloud. “Cinquante-huit.”

She tried to repeat it, to say it appropriately, but she had a bad American accent that made me chuckle. “Close enough.”

I lightly let my fingers graze that discolored patch of skin, until the urge to spell it out came over me. I used my tongue to trace the curly lines, moving from letter to letter carefully and gently and falling in love with the tattoo as I wrote it out across her shoulder blade, as if I were inking it myself. Goosebumps exploded across her back and arms; if that reaction were from any pain, she didn’t tell cry out or ask me to stop. I dotted each lowercase-i with a kiss.

I didn’t feel any pressure because of it. It wasn’t a symbol of what we were as a couple or who I was as her boyfriend; she made that clear. Plus, there was absolutely no expectation for me to get anything and reciprocate the gesture. This was the result of my attempts to reach out to a kindred spirit and to have broken through. I had wanted to make an impact, and I had. Now everyone could see that.

Je l'aime,” I told her. I unhooked the dainty clasp of her bra, which caught her a little off guard. She turned to look at me as I opened the tube and squirted some of the ointment onto my finger. When I smiled at her, she appeared reassured, so she presented her back to me again to apply the salve. I smeared it and covered the fresh tattoo and the surrounding red skin. “Do you have a wrap or something?”

“Yeah,” she replied, reaching for a box of Saran wrap on the nightstand. I hadn’t even noticed it when I walked in, because I had been watching Jo the whole time. She ripped off a piece just big enough to cover the spot, and I gently pressed it and made it stick so her skin would be protected as she slept. “So, you really like it? Be honest with me, Kristopher.”

“When have I ever lied to you?”

Jo turned around and shifted so she was closer to me. I grabbed her hips and pulled her back onto my lap, ready to pick up where we had left off. But this time, instead of desperation and need, I wanted to go slow and sexy. I started to lay her down on the bed, but she squirmed and squealed in protest. “Not on my back. Please!”

“Sorry. I forgot,” I chuckled, not even thinking about the discomfort that would cause her. I pulled her back up and then lay on my back, allowing her to spread out on top of me. Cupping her breasts as I leaned up to kiss her, her hands massaged and kneaded their way down my chest and abs and slowly began to work at my belt buckle.

As she did that, I stretched and reached into her panties, but I must have been a little overzealous. A rip echoed off the walls and the periwinkle lace trim separated from white fabric.

“Kris!” she whined, unable to keep the laughter out of her voice. “Brand new! I just bought these today!”

“I’m sorry. I’ll buy you new ones,” I promised. “I didn’t even do anything! Shoddy workmanship.”

“It’s okay. I didn’t shell out the cash for them. Just don’t make a habit of ripping my clothes off me, at least literally.”

I cupped my hand around the back of her neck and tangled my fingers in her hair, bringing her down for another kiss while my other hand resumed its work of feeling in between her legs. We’d barely gotten to the foreplay, but we wanted each other too badly to torture ourselves.