Saturday, July 31, 2010

114.) Adjustment Period

I’m not going to say that I’m psychic or anything like that, but my formula for success was right on the mark.

Kris and I had made slow, passionate love on our new bed, much like what we had done the day he had been traded. On that fateful March day, Kris and I had tried to prolong the consummation of our deep-rooted love because we were reluctant to have to part; this time, though, we took our time because we had the time to take. We held out as long as we could, exploding together in a mess of sweat and stickiness before collapsing into a boneless mass on the bed. Even though we had had sex two weeks ago in Denver, there were some things that we hadn’t done in two months—and it felt so good to do them, or have them done, again.

Afterward, we fell asleep. I knew Kris had had practice earlier in the day, and I was drained from traveling and once again having to adapt to the time difference. Nothing felt better than to wake up to his kisses—stubbly chin and all. I fantasized about shaving his beard off for him, but only in mid-June, once the Sharks won the Cup, of course. Anything else would have been premature.

We ordered in Chinese. Kris had called down to the front desk and asked Rebecca where the best place was while I privately stewed about the situation. That stupid bimbo had been hitting on him right in front of me, and Kris had been oblivious to it all. Of course. She hadn’t even noticed I had been standing there at first, and once she did, she went into total bitch mode. I’m absolutely positive that there were rooms available with a view of the city skyline, but she just wanted to find a way to spite me. Stupid cunt.

Then we ordered a new release movie to watch as we relaxed and stayed in. It really was just like a repeat of when I surprised him in Denver. I knew that the following day was going to be stressful for him, since it was another chance to clinch the series—this time, on home ice. Kris ate his usual beef lo mein, and I ate moo goo gai pan and laughed at our fortune cookies by adding “in bed” to the end of them.

Kris headed off to the practice the next morning without me. He woke me up and told me that the practice was going to be closed, and I wouldn’t be able to watch. I was disappointed, but I tried to be understanding; after all, this was the playoffs: another big game for the Sharks, and a chance to clinch the next series and win the right to play in the conference finals. This was huge for him and for the team, so I let him go to practice without complaining about how he had to leave. I knew this was all part of the territory, and I also knew that we’d be able to have some time once they won.

And I damn well knew that they were going to win that game. They were determined—especially Kris. I knew that if Kris really wanted something and strove for it with everything he had, he was capable of anything.

While he was at the morning skate, I unpacked both of our bags and stowed the empty suitcases in the big closet in the sitting room. After all, my body was programmed three hours ahead, so I wouldn’t have been able to sleep in even if I had tried my hardest. There was the typical hotel room artwork on the wall, which I carefully took down and replaced with the collage I had made for Kris over spring break. I wanted it to remind him of me, and for it to make his hotel room feel like home when I wasn’t there. But even now that I was there—here—this helped to make me feel better about our place in San José. We belonged here.

Kris messaged me when he was done with the skate, and he asked if I wanted to join up with the guys for their meal. I declined; I really wanted to spend the time with my boyfriend, but I also realized that he had the team dynamic to maintain. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get along with the guys or that they didn’t like me, but I wasn’t a part of them because I wasn’t a Shark. I was just a Shark adjacent. They needed to be a strong, cohesive group at a time like this. I texted him back and told him to go ahead with the boys and enjoy his lunch. Besides, I knew that we had all summer to spend together; there was no rush or need to be together every second of every day.

He surprised me by showing up back at our room with take-out bags in his hand. Instead of hanging out with his teammates, he got his order to go (as well as something for me) so we could eat together before napping. It was really sweet of him to do, and I was sure that he got a good ribbing from his teammates about it.

We ate, napped, and then got ready. He put on his suit, and I of course did up his tie for him. Kris handed me the blue tie that I had given him for his birthday, telling me that this would only be the second time he had worn it. “It’s your tie. You’re the only one allowed to put it on me—not even me.”

“That’s so cute,” I cooed, gladly performing this duty for him. I tied it, straightened and smoothed it, and then I reached up and tucked his hair behind his ears. It was getting so long, so much longer than when he had got it cut toward the beginning his season, the aftermath of my gum getting stuck in it. I was jealous of his hair. “You’re so cute.”

“Not as cute as you,” he said softly, holding onto my arms and leaning his forehead against mine. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I replied, feeling the warm sensation wash over me. When Kris had promised to always make sure that I knew how he felt about me, he meant it; not only did he often say that he loved me, but he showed it every day in his actions. I cupped his face in my hand and placed a gentle kiss on his mouth.

“It feels so good to have you out here again. And to not have to worry about when I’ve gotta see you off for you to go back to Pittsburgh.”

“It does. I’m so glad to be out here with you. I couldn’t stand being across the country.”

“Well, then I guess we’ve gotta enjoy it before my next road trip.”

“Win tonight, and you’ll get a nice break before the next round.” I kissed him again. “Which means lots of time to enjoy each other’s company.”

“No pressure or anything,” he sighed with a smile. I was going to offer him some soothing words of encouragement, but he continued before I could. “So, you about ready to walk over?”

“Yeah,” I told him. I was already in my jeans and a shirt; I grabbed my Letang jersey and tossed it over my shoulder since it was too hot to walk to the arena in it. We held hands and walked the five blocks to the Pavilion, and then we hung out for a little while in the lounge as the rest of the players milled around. I said hi to Pickles and thanked him again for his help with helping plan Kris’s birthday surprise, and I thanked Kent, too, and apologized to Joe Pavelski—but he shrugged it off since he had two goals after sleeping on the cot.

I sat with Brandy in the stands. Even though I had seen playoff games before, this one was different. In fact, it was even different from the sixth game against Colorado that I have seen. The game was so intense and physical. The Sharks were outshooting the Wings but had trouble scoring. In the first period alone, the shots were ten to one in favor of San José—two of which were Kris’s!—but neither team had scored. Brandy looked relatively calm, but I was sweating bullets and sitting on the edge of my seat.

“Brandy, how can you not be going bat shit nuts right now? I feel like I’ma rip my hair out,” I groaned during the first intermission. I shook my leg, trying to dispel my nervous energy. “Oh my God, I just want them to win this. So bad. So bad. Ya know?”

“I know,” she sighed. “I want them to win, too. We all want them to win.” The WAGs around us nodded. “But you can’t let yourself get so worked up, Jo. You can get excited about the wins, but you can’t lament the losses with them.”

I was confused; I followed the games and got wrapped up in them like I was a player. Winning and losing meant a lot to Kris, so it meant a lot to me, too. “Why not?”

“Because the guys need stability,” Christina Marleau explained. “They don’t need any help celebrating, because they’re already so excited. But they get down when they lose, and they don’t need us to be down on them. They need to know that when they leave the arena, we’re there for them to support them through the bad times. And just enjoy the good times.”

Brandy nodded. “The truth of the matter is: a professional hockey player is going to lose more often than he’s going to win. They need someone who congratulates them on a win, but loves them through every loss.”

“I do. Kris knows that,” I replied. “I’m ecstatic for him when he wins, and even though I’m sad when the team loses, I don’t take it out on him or blame him or make him feel bad about it. I know that his world revolves around hockey and doing his job well, but our relationship is founded on so much more than that. I want him to win—I mean, I really, really want him to win—but it won’t be the end of the world if he doesn’t.”

“Just don’t let him see you torn up about it,” Amber Boyle advised. “They take it harder when they think they’ve disappointed you, too, and not just their teammates.”

I asked, “How can you not show them that you’re upset, though? I mean, I get that they don’t want to think that they let us down, but how can you not be upset when the game doesn’t go the way you want it to?”

“It’s not that we don’t get upset,” Brandy clarified. “We do. But when our men come out of the dressing room, we don’t let them see that. We give them the same smile when we see them whether they win or if they lose, and kiss them just the same.”

That gave me a lot to think about as the second period started. Prior to this, I had never had to interact in person with Kris after a playoff loss. I was there for the series win over Colorado, and that was great. Kris was happy that he had won, and even though we had to say goodbye right away, we were riding the high of the win and made the most of it by having a quickie in the women’s room in the Pepsi Center.

But what would Kris be like if they didn’t win this game? It wouldn’t be his last game; they’d get another chance to take the series in two days without having to worry about losing it all. But how disappointed would he be? He always hated to lose, so I figured that he would only hate it more since the stakes were higher now.

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about that, because the Sharks won the game with a final score of two to one. It was a nail biter when Howard was pulled and the Red Wings had six attackers, but the guys in teal held them off and knocked Detroit out of contention for the Cup. San José had made into the western conference finals for the first time since 2004.

The WAGs were good about putting up a façade of not being that excited, but I couldn’t help it: as soon as I saw Kris, freshly showered and dressed, I ran up to him and gave him a big hug and kiss on the cheek. They were eight wins toward the ultimate goal, once again the first team in the west to decide their fate and giving them a long break in between series to relax and prep for their next opponent.

So, keeping to tradition, we had victory sex to mark the occasion. This time, though, we didn’t do it in the arena bathroom—we waited until we got back to the hotel. We hurriedly walked back to our new home, knowing full well what we were going to do. The sexiest moment happened when we were halfway there, and he stopped me on the sidewalk to kiss me. It was like he couldn’t even wait for us to finish the five-block trek to show me just how bottled up all his emotions and desires were. We came to a full halt, and I had to push him away in order to finish the walk and get to The Fairmont. However, we didn’t make it to the bed; we kept with it and did it doggy-style on the loveseat in the sitting room.

The Sharks ended up having an eight day break before the conference finals started. While the break was nice for the guys to get rested, they were also anxious to get on with the elimination process. Eight days was too much of a good thing.

Kris and I enjoyed the first few days to ourselves, though. The team had two full days of no practices or demands on them, and we spent every single minute of those two days together. Well, okay, not every single minute.... There are times when a girl needs some privacy. I would tag along with him to the weight room and watch as he worked out, and we went swimming together at the roof-top pool. The Blakes also through another cookout, and Kris and I headed over for that on Monday. It was a nice, quiet, simple affair. I ended up spending a lot of that time with Samantha, who was so happy to see me that she practically ripped my arm out of its socket to pull me into her room, where we proceeded to listen to Justin Bieber and talk.

After that, though, our time for relaxing together quickly diminished. Kris had practices, meetings, and media requirements. We headed over to Pickles’s place most evenings to watch the other games that were going on, so our evenings from four to eleven were dominated by hockey—even though they weren’t even playing. We watched all the series and kept ourselves up to date on every team. Of course, Kris’s teammates were all way more interested in the games between the Blackhawks and the Canucks, because the winner would determine their next competition.

However, Kris and I were secretly very interested in the Penguins and how they were doing against Montreal. He wanted his former teammates, who were still his friends, to do well, but we also got some satisfaction when they were eliminated in game seven. There was no way of knowing if Kris’s presence on the team would have had any effect on the outcome of the series, but we imagined that it was a fact. After all, his current team made it further than his former one did.

In the end, Montreal was going to play Philadelphia for the Prince of Wales trophy, and the Sharks were going up against the Blackhawks for the Campbell Bowl. The pressure increased exponentially with each round, and this was no different. As the first game approached, Kris tensed noticeably as he prepared diligently. He spent more time training and working on his shot and watching tape, and I spent more time lounging around the pool or watching movies in our room. He and I would eat dinner together, usually down in the hotel restaurant, and then we’d cuddle and make love in bed. It was a predictable routine, but it’s also what Kris and I had shared before he had been traded. It was lonelier this time because I didn’t have classes, but I managed.

That is, until the conference finals actually started. Kris’s schedule became extremely regimented, and there was no room for error or change. Or sex.

The Sharks dropped the first game on Sunday, May sixteenth, testing my ability to mask any disappointment I was feeling. None of it would have ever been directed toward Kris anyway, but seeing his frustration made me want to be careful to not make it worse. He was silent during the walk back to The Fairmont, never speaking a word as we began our bedtime routines. I knew that I had to do something; my go-to method of distraction, coming onto him, was rebuffed when I prolonged our goodnight kiss. When I began to drag my hand from his shoulder, down his chest and stomach, and toward his junk, he rolled over in bed so he faced the wall, away from me.

“I can’t,” he said, offering the lamest excuse I had ever heard. I knew that when he had a game, he abstained—but his next game was Tuesday, so we should have been able to fool around that night.

At first, I didn’t know what to say. Since I knew that Kris had a “no sex on game day” policy, I didn’t proposition him on those days or in those situations, meaning that every other time I initiated sex, he accepted my offer. I didn’t know what to do or how to react. “Why?”

“It’s the playoffs,” he informed me curtly.

“I thought you said that you were getting rid of that rule since I was coming out here?” I asked, trying not to cop an attitude and doing my best to be understanding. This was a new situation for me. I pushed up and looked down at him, but he wouldn’t roll over or even look up at me.

“But we lost.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, did you expect to win the series in one night?”

“No! Don’t be ridiculous.”

I’m not the one being ridiculous here.”

“We lost.”

“I heard you the first time,” I grumbled. “I was there.”

“Then you know.”

No, I don’t know, I thought to myself, but I didn’t dare say that. He was testy and irritated, and now so was I. If he wasn’t in the mood because of the loss, then I could understand that; I wasn’t some nympho who wanted to fuck for the sake of fucking—I wanted to show Kris that the losing didn’t matter to me, just like the WAGs had said. I was supposed to “love him through the loss,” like Brandy had said, but he wouldn’t let me in to do that. Just like early on in our relationship, I could feel him block me out as he built up his wall. I got out of our shared bed and put on a complimentary hotel robe over the panties and camisole that I had planned on wearing to sleep in.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

I heard the bed creak as he rolled over, probably now looking at me. But I wouldn’t cast a glance back at him. I knew he was frustrated, but this wasn’t helping anything. He hadn’t even moved to cuddle with me under the covers; I wasn’t going to just lay there and be snubbed all night just because he was upset about losing. “Well, I’m not tired. Good night.”

I turned on a lamp as I curled up on the love seat. There was nothing I could do to occupy my time, so I ended up falling asleep alone in the parlor. It had occurred to me that this probably wasn’t the best reaction to have. Being upset with Kris when he was already upset over something else wasn’t helping our situation. And it wasn’t even just because he didn’t want to have sex—he totally rebuffed me and was rude about it. He could have been nice about it or explained himself instead of acting that way.

At some point during the night, I woke up next to a warm body. He must have gotten up and carried me into bed, because we were under the covers, and even though I was still wearing the robe, the sash had been untied, and his hand was at my waist underneath the layer of soft terrycloth. Lifting my head so I wouldn’t disturb his sleep, I read the clock: it was almost five in the morning. Very carefully, I slipped my arms out of the robe and sidled up closer to him to absorb his warmth. He never woke up as I got comfortable against his hard chest.

When I woke up again in a couple of hours, we had adjusted our body positions again. Now, he was spooning me. I could feel his warm breath against the shell of my ear, and his arm was around me and tucked between my breasts. I felt so close to him. As I shifted to free my left arm, which was falling asleep since it was pinned under my body, I felt something against my butt: morning wood.

I stuck my ass out and pressed my body against his. He had practice later, but just because he had to get physical in a few hours didn’t mean that we couldn’t get physical now. He’s human—a male—so his sexual needs can’t automatically shut off. I’m pretty sure that even monks can’t fight against biology and human nature. I didn’t see anything wrong with fooling around a little in the morning, and I also figured that it would lighten his mood, making this a perfect compromise.

Kris groaned as he woke up, grabbing my hip and rubbing himself against me. I felt my body turn on and rev up in response to his actions, but as quickly as he initiated something sexual, he let go, rolled away, and swung his feet over the bed, grumbling something under his breath.

I was bewildered. It felt like a reversal of last night because he was the one leaving me, but I was still getting snubbed. “What? Where are you going?”

“I need to take a shower now. A cold shower,” he snapped. “Thanks.”

“What did I do?” I wasn’t going to let him get away. I got off the bed, too, and followed him into the bathroom. He turned on the spigot and felt the temperature of the water, and once he was satisfied with it, he turned on the showerhead and pulled his white shirt over his head. Not once did he turn around, answer me, or acknowledge my presence in the bathroom with him. “Kris,” I hissed, the sound coming out like a bark.

“What?” he grunted back, stepping out of his boxers and quickly getting under the spray.

“What is up with you? You’re frustrated, I get that, but do you have to be so rude to me? I don’t fuckin’ appreciate it.”

“How am I being rude? Why does this have to be my fault? Why don’t you stop teasing me? You know it’s the playoffs. I can’t be wasting my energy with you when I have to focus on the series.”

“‘Wasting’? Really? I’m a waste of energy?”

He sighed. “That’s not what I said—”

“Why did you bring me out here, Kristopher, if you weren’t going to care about me being here? If you were just going to end up pushing me away once the next series started?”

“I care about you being here,” he replied. “I love that you’re here. But I need you to understand how important it is that I focus for tomorrow’s game.”

“What does the game you play tomorrow night have to do with right now? You don’t need to be spending every single second thinking about hockey.”

“I don’t need you to distract me. The ’Hawks are our biggest threat right now. The Sharks were so close points-wise to them this season. We can’t lose both games at home—we have to win it.”

“I can see why you feel that way,” I told him, showing him that I could be understanding. His logic was easy enough to follow, but I still thought that he was putting way too much pressure on himself and his team.

“Can you? Because I don’t think you do. This can’t all be for nothing. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that we win. Even if that means taking a billion cold showers between now and the middle of June, because I need to funnel all of my physical energy and strength into my game. I gotta leave it all out there on the ice every night, every shift. If I don’t, and we lose, then I’ll always wonder ‘what if.’ I can’t do that again.”

Too often, Kris played the “what if” game and questioned the potential outcomes of his life. I didn’t want to be the cause of him torturing himself for not pushing himself during his games—but I also knew that if anything other than the outcome he wanted happened, then he would play this mind game with himself. If they lost, he’d analyze every missed shot or any failed attempts to defend or his sloppy passes even if it wasn’t his fault at all.

The year that Luc died, Kris didn’t just lose a friend. He also lost out on an opportunity to play for the Cup. He didn’t want to be insensitive and talk about it like the game and trophy was more important than his friend, and it wasn’t, either. But as a hockey player who had been conditioned from birth to strive for that shiny, silver reward, he couldn’t help but feel sad over that lost chance to achieve eternal greatness and get his named etched on the side that season.

So I let it slide. If Kris thought that this would be the solution to his troubles and what it took to win, then I could hold out. Of course, I could have argued with him and told him how stupid he was being or I could have tried to persuade him into letting me do all the work so he wouldn’t have to expend any energy, but I didn’t. All I said to him was, “Fine. Just... don’t be so rude to me about it,” before I left the bathroom and got back into the still warm bed.

I wasn’t cold, but I pulled the blankets up to my chin anyway and cocooned myself amongst the pillows. Since I wasn’t too tired, I stared at the wall. It bugged me still that he was in this bad mood, but I knew that he was stressed over just this one loss. I felt torn between trying to accept it and wanting to call him on his bullshit—but I knew that any disagreements would just exacerbate his mood and make it go from bad to worse. It sucked to know that the past two times we’d had sex was a fluke in his plans.

When he emerged from the shower, he dressed in casual clothes. “I don’t mean to take it out on you,” Kris said, clearing his throat. I rolled onto my back and watched him. “But right now, sex is out of the question. Maybe if things were going good for the team, it would be different. We had all last week to enjoy ourselves and relax, but right now I’ve got to concentrate all my efforts and devote everything I have to my team. That’s why I’m here, why they brought me here. I can’t let everything we had to go through to get to this point to mean nothing by coming this far and... losing.” He spat out the last word like it was venom.

“I understand, Kris, I do. It doesn’t make sense to me, because I’d think sex is just like another work out. Gets your heart pumping and blood flowing, but you know, whatever.”

“An unnecessary work out. If it’s not hockey related, then we need to rest,” he explained, and I shook my head. Kris would rationalize anything it took to win.

“If you don’t wanna have sex, then fine.” He looked at me like he didn’t believe me. “I mean it. It’s not a permanent thing. This is a relationship, you know, and if you don’t want to do something, then I’m gonna be okay with it. And I know you’re angry that you guys lost. But don’t get all pissy about it to me, ’kay? I get that you want to win, wanna make this season and your trade count, make it worth something. Make sure that you’re capitalizing on the opportunity you were given. Anything that’s important to you is important to me, but it’s not worth it if it just means we’re gonna fight.”

“Who’s fighting? We’re not fighting,” he joked, sitting down on the bed and placing his hand on my ankle, over the covers. He squeezed. “I love you, Jo.”

“I love you, too, Kris.” It didn’t matter what was going on in our lives; I still loved him more than anything in this world. Nothing would ever change how much he meant to me or how I felt about him. We could have been in the middle of a screaming match, and I still would have told him that. Life was too short to not tell him that, even if he’d always know it anyway. “Have a good practice. I guess I’ll see you later.”

“Do you want to come out to lunch? I’m sure the guys’ll be going out, and we could meet them out if you wanted.”

“No. You go. I think grades are supposed to be posted today at noon,” I told him. He kissed me and head off for practice, and I stayed in bed for a while longer, sliding my hand down into my panties. Maybe it would be easier to get through the next week, week and a half if took care of this for myself. Just because Kris needed to demonstrate restraint didn’t mean I had to. This was definitely going to take some getting used to.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

113.) Sex, Win, Sex

Sorry, guys. I tried to get this up yesterday, but I was having some computer issues which I fixed just long enough to post this.

Soundtrack Song - Train, If It’s Love

This time, I found Jo before she found me.

I had been standing in the baggage claim area of the airport, waiting not by the turnstile or right by the escalator, but toward the back where I could stand against the wall. My ball cap was pulled down over my face as low as possible while I watched and waited for Jo to come descending into the lobby; it may have been an unnecessary precaution, but seeing as though we were pretty close to winning this round of the playoffs and making the conference finals—barring a complete team meltdown—there was a lot of hoopla surrounding the Sharks out here. It was the first time that the Sharks had this kind of playoff potential in a long while, and people were excited about it.

Back in March, when Jo came out west for her spring break, she had been lost in the sea of people and I couldn’t find her. Her shriek had echoed off the walls and alerted me to her presence like a warning siren before she had launched herself against me.

But this time, I spotted her as she looked around for me. She had one earpiece to her iPod in one ear, and the other hung down her front as her head swiveled around, searching for my familiar face. Jo was wearing cut-off, tight, jean shorts and a white tank top, the red of her bra faintly showing through. I pushed off the wall and made a bee-line for her. The place was pretty crowded, with multiple flights having landed around the same time and everyone trying to find their luggage all at once, so I had to snake my way through the people to get to her.

Jo was getting caught up in the rush of travelers, nudged and pushed and swept away in the flow of traffic. It was a struggle to reach out and grab her arm, but I managed to pull her to me. Her body melded to mine as she recognized my grip and stepped into me. My arms folded around her, holding her against my chest as she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

We took our time, staying just like that for what felt like forever. After all, it felt like we had all the time in the world. I didn’t have anywhere to be today, and Jo was here specifically for me.

I bent my head and smelled her hair, nuzzling my face against her scalp. It was like a scent that you smell one day, and you know it’s familiar but you can’t quite place how you know it. But I knew it was her shampoo or conditioner or hair product or whatever—it was Jo. I could feel the small mounds of her breasts pressed against my front as she pressed her face into my neck. I was feeling and smelling her, and it was wonderful.

This was so different from the way we had crashed together the last time we had met at this airport. The other people had parted for us and watched our little reunion; but this time, no one made any room for us. They were bumping into us, and I think I even heard someone mutter under their breath about how we should just get out of the fucking way already, but I ignored all that. There was no need to make a big scene or make this bigger than it had to be. This was small and simple because it meant so much to us; it was all about how we felt.

The other times we had met up, there had been sparks and smiles and big, romantic gestures. Now, there was only relief. Now, there was all the time in the world. We were both completely and totally relieved to be reunited, together again, without the weight and pressure of knowing that we would have to part soon after. I’d still have to leave to go on road trips with the team, but those wouldn’t be for any long duration of time before we’d get to spend time together again. It would be just like it was before I had been traded to the Sharks, and I couldn’t wait to get back to that place in our relationship.

I just held onto her, content to stay like that until she made the first move to pull back; I could’ve stayed this way forever. She still didn’t make that move when she said, loud enough so I could hear her over the bustle of the crowd while quiet enough that not everyone else can listen in, “Congrats on the assist last night, babe. I love watching you on the power play.”

Grunting, I tried to ignore that comment. Last night’s game did not go as planned. We could have swept the Red Wings, but we lost when Detroit scored seven goals. I had assisted on our only goal of the game; there shouldn’t be anything negative about helping my team score—except when it was a pity goal in the third. Now, instead of celebrating a sweep, I had come straight from practice to pick Jo up because we had to play a fifth game. So instead of addressing her congratulations to me, I changed the subject and answered her back. “Congratulations on finishing your semester, Joey. I’m so proud of you.”

She laughed, her body shaking against mine as I held her. Other than that, she stayed still as she spoke, not even moving to look up at me as she continued our conversation. “This is not a contest to see who can say ‘congratulations’ more.”

“But I didn’t get to talk to you yesterday after your exam, because of the game and then traveling. How’d you do?”

“Good, I think,” she replied. Then she got accidentally pushed from behind as a group of passers-by tried to sneak behind her. That knocked her into me—which I wasn’t sure was possible, because we were already pretty close.

“What do you say we go get your bag? And get out of here?”

“Yes,” she sighed, finally adjusting her posture and standing up straight so we could make our way to the baggage turnstile. I grabbed her hand and brought it up to my lips as we waited, and Jo giggled and tried to pull her hand away. “Scratchy,” she laughed, talking quietly. We were surrounded by crowds of weary travelers, but we still tried to enjoy each other’s company privately. “Your beard is really growing in. It’s kind of impressive.”

I immediately began to rub the underside of my jaw as she talked about my facial hair, feeling the bristly hair. “Kind of? You should see some of the other guys’ beards. Scraggly, or like peach fuzz.”

“Listen to you brag, like you’ve got a full beard. You have a dirt lip,” she softly chuckled, tracing her thumb above my mouth. “And not even enough to make a soul patch here,” Jo added, swiping the pad of her thumb against my chin.

“Then what are you complaining about?” I brought the back of her hand back up to my mouth and puckered up, evoking the same squirming reaction from her. “Hmm?”

“Seriously, Kristopher,” she pleaded, continuing to giggle. I let go, not really wanting to, but willing to relent to her wishes if that was what she wanted. She responded by slinging one arm around my waist and the other around my back; then she clasped her hands together and placed them over my hip so she was holding onto me but not too tightly. Resting her head against my shoulder, she sighed contentedly. It was an even compromise, and I kissed her forehead—which she let me do to without fidgeting.

I put my left arm around her shoulders as I pulled my ball cap down over my face a little more. When I glanced up, I could see the revolutions of the turnstile, but I couldn’t see anyone’s faces, so I hoped to avoid any recognition. It’s not that it wasn’t something I was used to, because I was. It happened often in Pittsburgh, but since I went to so many of the same places, no one really ever bugged me. Here, though, it was a new experience. Don’t get me wrong; I certainly didn’t mind meeting fans, getting recognized, being asked for the occasional autograph, hearing fans wish me good luck, or the like. I just wanted to avoid that today.

Once my hat was fixed, I put my free hand on her arm in front of me. “So, how was your flight? Good?”

“Ugh,” she groaned loudly. “Delayed. For. Fucking. Ever. Stupid thunderstorms in Pittsburgh. Wouldn’t’ve been so bad, except they boarded us and then decided to tell us that we were going to be delayed. There were blue skies when Tubby dropped me off! We sat on the plane for over an hour in that canned, stale, recycled air, and it was so hot and humid and I thought I was going to die.” She realized her poor choice of words, shook it off, and continued, “Once we finally took off, I kept willing the plane to fly faster, to get me here sooner. Swear to God, Kris, I’m not letting you go until I absolutely have to.”

“I missed you, too. I figured we could order in? Whatever you want.”

“Chinese?”

“Sure.” I paused. “You know, Brandy was asking when you’d be back in town. I lied and told her tomorrow, just in time for the game.”

“You lied to her? Why?” Jo asked, looking up at me with a puzzled expression.

“Remember last time you came to visit me here in San José?” When she nodded, I further explained, “Well, I didn’t want a repeat of that argument in the car. You wanted a night to hang out together, stay in, get reacquainted with each other... so I figured that’s what we’d do this time.” Suddenly, I got a little worried that she’d want to go out, and that maybe I should have asked her before I had decided on anything. “I mean, is that okay?”

“Aww, Kris, it sounds great,” she laughed, kissing the underside of my jaw in appreciation. “Except you didn’t have to lie about it. You coulda just told her that we wanted to be alone tonight. I’m sure she would have understood that. Like, her husband’s on the road a lot. She’d get it.”

“Yeah, she would. Samantha, not so much,” I sighed.

“Samantha? Why would she care? How do you know if she would care?”

I rolled my eyes. “Because she, too, has called me to ask when you were coming.”

Her quiet tone was gone as shock and surprise set in. “Wait. What? I haven’t even heard from her in like, two or three weeks. And anytime she’s called me, I talked to Brandy, too. How the hell did she talk to you?”

Clearing my throat, I casually mentioned, “She would, uh, borrow Blake’s phone. It only happened a few times, mostly more lately because you were busy and not answering your phone when she wanted to talk. I really just kinda feel bad for her because she seems so... lonely. She’s not their kid, so she doesn’t get all their attention like Brett or Bailey do. And when she does get attention, it’s negative, which makes her act out even more.” I continued to think aloud. “She needs a good role model, you know? Things aren’t easy for her right now from what you’ve said to me about it, and I know that, but there are better ways she could be dealing with it. It’s not my place to say anything, so I just tried to listen—I mean, plus, I’m not even supposed to know any of this. But I think that’s why she likes you so much. You’re straight up with her, you don’t sugarcoat anything, but you don’t just criticize her. You try to help, constructively, and I think she sees that.”

“Are you done, Dr. Phil?” Jo pointed to the turnstile. “Because I think I see my bag....”

I quickly forgot what the hell we had been talking about, because the prospect of leaving with Jo was at the forefront of my mind. “Which one is it?”

“Black one with the wheels, with the bright pink address tag and yellow ribbon on the handle. Just lemme grab it so we can head out.”

“No, no, let me,” I offered. I unwrapped myself from around her and headed to get Jo’s bag for her, but she wouldn’t let go of me. She took my hand in hers and then placed her other hand over the back of mine, following me as I wove around the maze of impatient people. That made it a lot more difficult for me to maneuver deftly enough through the crowd to avoid bumping into people. I kept apologizing profusely to the people we bumped or walked into, but it’s not like I was going to ask Jo to let go and hang back while I picked up her suitcase; I certainly didn’t want to let go of her, either.

As soon as I grabbed it, we turned right back around, and I pulled her bag behind us as we headed for the exit. Jo raised her hand as if she were going to hail a taxi, but I shook my head at her, tightened my grip on her hand, and pulled her in the direction of the short-term parking lot. “We don’t need a cab.”

She looked skeptical. “You making me walk to the hotel?”

“No,” I chuckled, finding humor in the way she automatically assumed that. “Why would you even think that? I got to borrow Brandy’s Escalade again.”

“But I thought Brandy didn’t know I was in town yet?” she asked, pressing for information. She knew that something was up—and something was up—but I didn’t want to divulge that information. Yet.

“Well, I called in a favor from Bowlby, and he told Brandy that it was up for inspection or needs its tires rotated or some excuse, I don’t know. Does it matter, anyway? Just go with it.”

“‘Just go with it’? Seriously?” Her voice was high and squeaky as she tried to process this new information. “Did you seriously just say that to me? Who are you, and what have you done with my Kristopher? My Kristopher would never say that.”

I laughed. “Really? Never?”

Never. My boyfriend is stuck in his ways. Not a spontaneous bone in his body. He never ‘just goes with it.’ You’re a pod person!”

Squeezing her hand as we approached the Escalade, I dropped my hold on her and then reached into my pocket for the keys. If Jo hadn’t suspected something before this point, this was when she would have been put on alert. I opened the back of the SUV to stow her suitcase away, and she spotted my bags in the back, too. “Okay, for real,” she started. “What’s going on? Did you do laundry or something?”

“No.”

“Your collage is in here, too! Kris, why? What’s going on? Seriously, please, tell me what’s going on.”

“You’ll see,” I told her, closing the trunk and heading around to the passenger side to open the door for her, like a proper gentleman as my mother had instilled in me to be.

“Oh my God, you didn’t, like, get kicked out of your hotel or something, did you? You’ve been paying to stay there, right?”

“No, not kicked out,” I laughed, keeping my answers to the absolute possible minimum. It was beyond amusing to keep her in the dark about what was going on. Well, she surprised me by coming to Denver, so I could keep this under wraps for just long enough to be able to see the look on her face.

“Okay, good. Because it would be really sucky of you to have me come out without a place to keep me!”

“Come on, Jo,” I scolded her mockingly. “You know I’ll take care of you. Of course we have a place to stay!”

“Then why is your stuff in here and not in your room?” I didn’t answer her, so she kept pestering me. “Kris? Come on, babe, tell me.” She put her hand on my thigh as I drove us, but I didn’t hold it. Since it wasn’t my car, I wanted to be extra careful as I navigated the city streets. The only time I glanced away from the road was to look at Jo’s face as I purposely took us past the Alameda—but didn’t stop. “Damnit, tell me where we’re going!”

I couldn’t keep up the silent treatment. “I thought you liked surprises and spontaneousness? Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“Apparently, I gave it to you!” Jo was practically bubbling over, searching our surroundings as if she would find a clue. “I’m seriously going to explode if I don’t find out what’s going on, like, now.”

Luckily, our destination was only a couple of blocks from the Tank, which we had just passed. I continued to drive quietly and carefully, making a right off the main drag and stopping in front of a big, impressive-looking building. Someone opened my door, and another person headed toward the back and began to unload our things onto a brass cart.

“Welcome to The Fairmont,” we were bade as we exited the SUV. I handed over the keys and waited for Jo to walk around the car, joining me under the awning. I put my arm back around her shoulders and led her inside to the ornate lobby, the cart being pushed in behind us.

“See, I said I’d take care of you. You like it?” I asked her, stepping up to the front desk. The smiling receptionist greeted us and took my reservation print-out, credit card, and I.D.

Since I was Canadian, she struggled with finding the identification numbers and my birthday so I pointed them out to her and tried to help, in order to speed the process along. “Kristopher Letang. Birthday’s April twenty-fourth, 1987. That’s my passport number, and my visa number, if you need that, too.”

She giggled and blushed a little, typing in the information to her computer. “Thank you. I’ve only been here about a month, and I’ve never had to do this with a passport before.” She typed a little more and then looked back at me. “Are you here on business? Or for pleasure?”

I opened my mouth to answer her, but Jo spoke for me. She wrapped her arms around me from behind, but looked around me toward the receptionist. “A little bit of both.”

The receptionist cleared her throat and nodded. “Uh, I see you’ve requested a one-bedroom suite, Mr. Letang. Would you prefer a view of the San José skyline, or the Santa Cruz Mountains?”

“Um, I don’t care,” I responded. “Jo? What do you—”

“Skyline,” she told the clerk, her mind quickly made up. Then she spoke to me. “That sounds nice, right? Being able to see the city all lit up.”

Before I got a chance to answer my girlfriend, the receptionist sucked a breath between her teeth. “Oh, I’m sorry. All we have available are mountain views.”

Jo grumbled something softly as she leaned her forehead against my spine, so I put my hand over hers and told the receptionist, “That’s fine. We’ll take whatever’s available.”

She nodded again, typing a few more things into the computer before she handed me two card keys. “You’ll find your room on the fourteenth floor of the South Tower. Room 1403. Pressing zero on the phone in your room will call down here to the front desk, so if you need anything, my name is Rebecca, and I’ll be happy to help with you anything you might need.”

“Thanks, Rebecca,” Jo said, sounding chipper as she took one of the room keys and slipped it into the pocket of her jean shorts. She also grabbed the slip of paper that the clerk was holding out for me.

The two of us headed toward the bank of elevators, and our bags followed behind us in the elevator. Even though we weren’t alone as we headed up to our floor, I talked to her like we the bellhop wasn’t there. “So? Nice place, right? I asked the guys about where their families stayed when they came down, where was nice. This was where they told me. Do you like it?”

“It’s nice, Kris. Really nice. I mean, really nice. But why did you do this now? You should have moved out of that other place a long time ago.”

“Well, I didn’t care about staying there. Sure, it wasn’t great, but it was close and fine for just me. But this place is nice, and it has a pool.”

“A pool? I didn’t see a pool,” she mused aloud.

I laughed. “That’s because it’s on the roof,” I told her, watching the way her face lit up as she thought about it. “There’s actually room service here. There’s, like, three restaurants, too. Oh yeah, and a spa, if you want to check that out.”

“A spa?” she chuckled. “What am I gonna do at the spa?”

“I don’t know, whatever girls do at spas. I still have a few road trips ahead of me—I hope—so I wanted you to be somewhere safe. Somewhere with stuff to do or keep you occupied. And plus, it’s still kinda close to the Tank. Not as close as the Alameda, but still pretty close.”

“So you did this for me?”

“Well, yeah,” I explained. The elevator dinged, and we headed to the left for our room. “I didn’t want you to have to stay there all alone for days on end. We’re hoping to make it to the next round, you know, and then we’ll be out for three or four days depending on the schedule, depending who would win the other series, the Hawks or the Canucks. That’s pretty far away.”

Jo didn’t say anything for a moment. “You’re so cute when you act so protective. I hope you’re not putting yourself out for this. I’ll be the first to say the Alameda was pretty sketchy and you needed to move on up, but this is pretty extravagant just for me. You know I’m happy to be wherever you are—and that’s my only requirement.”

“I know. And I’m happy to have you here,” I replied, sliding my key card into the door and opening the door.

There was a parlor with a sitting area, and then there was the bedroom with the king-sized bed, the television, and a few more chairs, and of course the bathroom with a walk-in shower as well as a separate bathtub. The bellhop pushed the cart into the room and deposited our bags and my collage in the sitting area. I slipped him some cash for a tip, and he quickly ducked out.

I spun around, looking for Jo. I found her in the bedroom, face down the bed. “Jo, what are you doing?”

“Testing the mattress,” she replied, her words muffled by the pillows and blankets. She pushed up and rolled over, sitting up and bouncing. “It’s so bouncy! Kris! You have to feel this!”

“It’s a bed,” I laughed, leaning against the wall and watching her. The littlest things seemed to make her smile so much. “Of course it’s bouncy.”

She stood up and began jumping on it like a four-year-old child. “Well, I’ve never had a bed like this! Oh my God, it’s gonna be amazing to sleep on this tonight.”

“Well, you know what else we can do on it,” I started, leaving the parlor and getting on the bed with her.

Jo stopped jumping but remained standing. She nudged my shoulder with her foot until I was lying in a supine position, and then she stood towering over top of me, a foot on either of my sides. It was the perfect position for her to tease me. “You mean to tell me, Kristopher Letang, that beds are good for something other than sleeping?”

“Most definitely.” I slid my hand from her ankle, following the lines of her leg upwardly as far as I could reach while lying down.

“Well, are you going to tell me what else we can do?”

“I think I’d rather show you. Come here.” Grabbing the back of her knees, I pulled her down on top of me and quickly unfastened the button of her shorts. Then I rolled her over and quickly yanked those jean cut-offs down. Her panties were as red as the bra showing through her white tank top. “I missed you, Jo. I hope you know that.”

“I know,” she responded. Her hands threaded through my hair as she gazed up at me. “I missed you, too, babe.”

I whispered to her, “Let’s make love. I want to be able to take my time with you. I feel like I can finally relax, Jo, relax with you.”

She kissed my ear. “I like the sound of that. It’ll be just like last time, like on your birthday,” she said. “Sex all afternoon, and then tomorrow I’ll be at your game and you’ll win, and then we’re going to have victory sex.”

Next, I removed her tank top, leaving her only in red lace. I kissed her stomach until she pulled off my shirt and I had to break away from her. “As long as you don’t jinx me.”

“Well, then, better stick to what worked last round. Sex, win, sex.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

112.) Change It Up

To: Anna, MelTing, and msd. This one's for you guys.

Soundtrack Song - Broken Bells, The High Road

While it definitely sucked big balls to have to leave Denver and head back to Pittsburgh, knowing I’d have to wait another week and a half or two weeks to see my boyfriend again, it wasn’t so bad—at least, not as bad as I thought it would be—which was a welcome surprise.

Kris had some time off before his series against the Red Wings started, but I had been super duper ridiculously busy as soon as my plane touched ground in Pennsylvania. I had last minute assignments to work on since we had missed a lot of classes in February because of all the snow, tons and tons of studying to do since I did want to show Kris a page of straight A’s when grades came out, and other loose ends to tie up, like putting in my two-week notice at work. It was easier just to quit now because I wouldn’t know how long I’d be out in San José, and then when we came back here to Pittsburgh in the summer, I would be studying my ass off with accelerated summer courses to catch up and start in the fall as a sophomore. And then of course, come fall, I’d be in California.

With all that to focus on, Kris and I didn’t even have tons of time to talk on the phone. Although, he did tell me a funny story how Pavelski wanted to thank me. Because Kent had agreed to let Kris and me have some privacy in Denver, he had kicked Joe out of his bed and made the poor guy sleep on a cot. During the next game, Joe had a multi-goal game. So now, he decided to sleep on his futon during the Detroit series—which had resulted in two more multi-goal games for him as well as tying Mario Lemieux’s record for three playoff games in a row with two or more goals in each.

Kris also said that he got pranked again in the locker room when they had their first practice after clinching the conference semifinals; apparently, the guys can only be so nice for so long before they have to act out. They reminded me so much of elementary students. They told Kris that now, since his birthday was over, all bets were off. I wasn’t really worried, though, because the further they advanced in the playoffs, the more focused and determined they would be—leaving little time for silly and innocuous stunts.

Besides all that, Tubby’s semester was done, and he was home. It was so great to hang out with him again; unfortunately, I was still stressed with class and couldn’t give him a lot of time like a best friend should. He understood, of course, but I still felt bad—because as soon as my semester was finished, I’d be gone again. Even once I got back after Kris’s season finally ended (whenever that would be), I knew I’d be diving right back into the schoolwork.

While we could, we had spent time together. I showed him my newest tattoo and watched as his eyes about bugged outta his head. It hadn’t been the best reaction, but it was no less than what I had expected. Then I sat through his lecture about how tattoos are permanent, yadda yadda, how could I be so stupid, yadda yadda, why was I thinking with my vagina instead of my head, yadda yadda yadda... but he eventually got over it just like I knew he would.

But right now, he was out looking for a part-time summer job or something to occupy his time this summer and pad his bank account before he went back to U Penn in the fall. And I was supposed to be studying. My books were spread across the coffee table in the living room, but I couldn’t make myself look at formulas anymore. There was one more final standing between me and my summer—tomorrow’s physics I final—and then the following day, Friday, I was going to be flying to San José. As of today, the Sharks were up, winning the series three to nothing. I was really, really, really hoping that the Sharks would sweep the Red Wings, but I never let those words leave my mouth. Funny how I was picking up Kris’s habits, including his superstitions.

So, instead of studying, I was packing for San José. His season was continuing past my semester, so to California I was going. Kris was currently in Detroit. Game four was tomorrow, the same day as my last final. These last two weeks had flown by—thank God! I was more anxious than upset during this short separation, because I knew that when I saw him again, that was it. No more of these sad, miserable goodbyes and long, dreadful separations. Sure, there would be road trips and times when we couldn’t be together or wouldn’t be, but nothing would ever have to compare to this.

If anything, I had learned to appreciate being with Kris. I missed kissing him whenever I wanted and holding him and likewise being held by him. Those were the things that I had noticed I had missed the most and wanted to do as soon as I saw him. All I wanted to do was spent time with him and soak up his aura and presence. I was so anxious to get out to California that I thought I would jump right out of my skin and bounce around off these walls.

I was going through the closet and trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to take to San José; it was a tough decision. What would I need? What would I have to wear? How long would I be out there? It was hard to say. As much as I was hoping for Kris and his teammates to defeat the Red Wings one more time, I also knew that in a fluky sway of momentum, it was also just as possible for Detroit to come back and win the next four games straight.

As I rooted through my clothes, I tossed them on the floor. Some things got immediately tossed into a suitcase. I pulled out my red, silk dress that I had worn on Valentine’s Day. Kris liked it, so I packed that, too. I figured that I’d probably never have to wear it, but maybe Kris and I would spend a night in together and he’d like to see me in it.

I was feeling so good about this, but the next thing that happened really knocked me off my feet: I found James’s old leather jacket. After Tubby had had it stitched back together as my Christmas present, I had tucked it away here—and hadn’t seen it since. The jacket had never been the same, and looking at it all stitched up was as heartbreaking as it was to see it in pieces. Taking a few backward steps, I collapsed down on the bed, clutching the leather to me. Instinctively, I sniffed it; it still had the burnt smell from the accident, but his smell was still there, albeit faintly.

I cried harder than I had in a really long time, slipping into it and curling up on the bed. It was sad, and I missed him. Most of all, though, I felt guilty. I hadn’t gone to his grave since December fifteenth, and I had just been so busy that it didn’t even really occur to me that I needed to go see him. Even after Luc’s birthday and being with Kris for that experience, it should have made me want to come back here to Pittsburgh and visit James. Sure, I could have made the excuse that the weather had been bad with feet of snow outside and a salt shortage by the city, but then why hadn’t I gone in March? April? Now in May?

So I went. I made myself get off the mattress, take off the jacket and tuck it under my arm, and find my car keys on the kitchen counter. My feet were dragging and I didn’t go over the speed limit as I drove to the cemetery, and I kind of felt like a kid having to walk to the principal’s office: if I prolonged the journey, then maybe I could somehow get out of my punishment.

The parking lot was pretty empty, and I didn’t see anyone on the grounds. That was just the way I liked it, because then no one would look at me funny as I sat there and talked aloud. The last time I’d been here, I was pretty much a wreck. Today, I didn’t feel so devastated. I was disappointed in myself for allowing life to get in the way before I came back out here, and sad for James. I wondered if he had been lonely for all those months.

“I’m sorry,” I told him, taking my usual seat in front of his headstone. My fingers reached out for the words etched into the marble and traced the letters: b-r-o-t-h-e-r, and then backwards, r-e-h-t-o-r-b. “You know I always tried to come out once a month. And now it’s been about six. I don’t know how I let that happen.”

Huffing, I folded the jacket in my lap. “I figure you’re still mad about this. Tubby got it all fixed up, but it’s not the same. It can never be the same,” I mused out loud, thinking about how that applied to so much going on in my life right now. “Maybe I can change it? That’s what happens all the time, right? Things change, your dreams transform, and so does the world around you. You’ve gotta learn to adapt. It’s not good when things stay static. We can change it up. What do you think about... a wallet?” My fingers traced the lines of stitches. In my head, I could see it perfectly, a soft, leather wallet with the initials J.R.A. stamped onto it. James Randolph Anderson; of course, it could also stand for Joanna Rachelle Anderson, but did that really matter?

“At least that’s something I can still use, right? I mean, I want it to be useful, something I’ll see and touch every day. Especially when I’m gone....” The breath caught in my throat. “See, I’m, uh, going to California. Then I really won’t be able to visit you. Fuck, James, I didn’t even think about this! How can I leave you?”

I leaned my head against the cool marble; it didn’t matter what the temperature was outside, because his headstone was always cooler than the ambient air. I closed my eyes and hoped that I could make him understand. “Kris got traded, you see. He’s a Shark now. He really fits in with the team. The guys all like him—and me, too, I think—and he’s doing so well out there. And there’s this school, with its own research observatory! It’s perfect, James, more perfect than CMU. I really want to be out there with Kris.” But the question was: who did I want to be with more? My boyfriend, or my lonely brother? Who else came to visit him? Who would talk to him and keep him company? Even I was doing a poor job of that, and James had always been the most important person in my life. I guess, that is, until now. I wanted to stay here with James, but I needed to be with Kris. And there was my answer.

That was something that James had taught me—that you live each moment like your last, and you do what makes you happy while you can. Kris made me happy, and once I set my mind to something, the only person who could possibly stop me from doing it was... me. Besides, who would begrudge me from going?

Tubby. That’s who.

Just like he had taken me to the airport before my spring break, he took me once I had finished my last final. I was certain that I had done well enough to get those straight A’s, but I had to wait two weeks before I could access my grades online. I had elected to leave James’s jacket behind in the closet; once Kris and I came back, I’d take it a leather worker’s and get a wallet made from the supple, unstitched leather. While I was somewhat pleased with that solution, which I’d come up with on my own, I needed time to adjust to it before I actually did it. It was still a huge step and a ginormous change from what it, and my life, had been.

“Jo-Jo, you’re sure about this?” Tubby asked again, like all of a sudden I was going to change my mind.

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life,” I assured him. “Tubster, I love him. I’ve gotta be with him.”

“I know. But... wow. Moving out to California to be with him?” His eyebrows were raised and his eyes filled with concern and uncertainty. “That’s big.”

I shrugged. It didn’t feel big or major to me. That’s where Kris was, so that’s where I had to go. “It’s not permanent. He’s not staying out there once the season’s over, however it ends for him. I know that he’s not thinking about it, because it would be like a jinx to plan his time off when he doesn’t know how it will end. But he’s not spending the summer in San José. He’ll vacation, he’ll spend some time at home in Montreal, and he’ll spend time in Pittsburgh because I’m gonna take summer classes back at CMU—I’m just waiting to see when he’s finished playing to know if I can take them all summer or just second session. I’ll figure out what to do in the fall later, once we have a better idea of whether he’ll still be in San José or not. I know it seems so up in the air, but... it doesn’t matter. Being with him is all that matters to me.”

“I know,” he repeated, shaking his head. “But you’re following him. You’re dropping everything to follow him, and, just, what if something happens?”

“What would happen?”

“I don’t know. Just something.”

“Oh, Papa Bear,” I chuckled, standing on my toes and reaching up to hug him. He did remind me of a big ole bear, protecting me, his little cub. “You can’t be afraid of ‘something.’ Life is full of all kinds of ‘somethings’ that could always ruin our best-laid plans.” I pulled back, my hands still on his shoulders as I gazed up at him. “I have to go. Have to.”

“Yeah, but, remember what happened after your accident? He left. You were still in the hospital, and he left you there when you could have used his help.”

Frowning, I let go of him. Why did he have to bring that up? It was not a proud moment in either of our lives. “He didn’t leave because of me, but because he needed to get his head straight. He was confronted with potentially reliving the worst day of his life. I know what that’s like,” I explained, thinking in my head about the ways I totally overreacted, first when he incurred his shoulder injury last fall and then when he got into that stupid fight with Hartnell on James’s death day. “I can’t fault him for needing space, because that’s what he had to do to deal with the situation.

“And, may I remind you, that he came back,” I said with my eyebrow raised. “You told him to go away, but that doesn’t change the fact that yeah, he came back to talk to me—even though I told him if he left that it was over. So, I mean, you gotta give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s been with me through everything since then. I don’t where I’d be—who I’d be—without him around.”

“Okay, but, what if something like that happens again, and you’re out there and I’m back here? It sucked being away in Philly when I knew you were going through a rough time with his trade.”

“It won’t!”

“Humor me, Jo-Jo. What if it does?”

Sighing, I replied skeptically, “I just... I can’t think that that’s gonna happen. Life’s too short to sit here and wait around for him to come back. I gotta take advantage of the good thing I have going. I just....” I couldn’t lend words to the feeling in my chest. I had to be with Kris when I could.

I’d be pissed at myself if I hadn’t learned my lessons. First James’s death, and then Kris getting traded. I was sick of the people I cared about being taken away from me. At least with my boyfriend, I could go out to California to be with him. He wasn’t forever gone. That’s why I had to go and leave to be with him. “Please, Tubs.... Understand.”

“I know, I get it, I do.” He sighed and loosely held onto my upper arms. “I guess I just wish you could stick around some? I finally finish my semester, come home for the summer, and now you’re leaving. Doesn't seem fair to me. We haven’t had much time together since December.”

Although it may have seemed rude, I laughed in his face. “Tubby! You’re the one who left for Philly for school. You get to leave, but I have to stay here to be here when you want me to?” I joked, poking him in the ribs. “Now that’s not fair.”

He grabbed my hands and stopped my assault on him. He was smiling, but he was serious. “I left because it was the best thing for you, and for me. I woulda lost my scholarship, and Kris was there and talking about helping you grieve, and I was just getting in the way.”

I got defensive, for Tubby, even though I was standing there and defending him to his own face. “You weren’t in the way. You’re never in the way. You’re my best friend, I love you, man, and I didn’t want you to go but I knew you had to go because it was good for you. You needed a break from me, from me having to lean on you, and you needed to go out and have fun and do your own thing. I would have loved it if you could’ve stayed, or if my going out to be with Kris didn’t have to mean leaving you, but... that’s how it is. You and I are always gonna be friends—best friends—no matter who's where geographically. Besides, I’ll be back. Summer session, remember?”

“Yeah, I ’member. I’ll see you when you get back, then.” He sighed, clearly having more to say but keeping his lips zipped on the matter. “Have fun. Get a tan. You’re so fuckin’ pasty. And I guess I’ll see you in a couple months?”

“Hopefully,” I smiled, thinking that I didn’t want to put anything in any definite terms because I didn’t wanna jinx it. We embraced once more. “Thanks for dropping me off. I’ll call you when I get settled in and stuff.”

“You’d better.” I got into the line at security and fumbled through my purse to find my driver’s license. When I glanced behind me to wave goodbye, Tubby was already gone. I chuckled to myself, like a crazy person, and looked straight ahead, focusing on the path ahead of me that was going to take me straight to Kris, with no return ticket purchased to ruin my ease of mind. I would not come back to Pittsburgh without Kris in tow, once his season was over, and we could look forward to our summer and the next coming year.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

111.) Send Off

It felt good to have another strong, definitive win against the Avalanche to clinch the series. It was proof that we were meant to win. The beginning of the series had been a struggle and we had floundered, but we had pulled our shit together and had shown everyone over the past two games that we were a team to be reckoned with. Maybe the Sharks had a tendency to choke and lose in the past... but this was another year and another opportunity to prove everyone wrong. I wanted to be a part of that.

We allowed ourselves a few minutes in the locker room to revel in the win, but then those of us who had won the Cup before had calmed everyone down. One series down, but three more to go; we couldn’t put the cart before the horse and get ahead of ourselves. While this was a step in the right direction, our journey was still long, hard, and nowhere near finished.

I avoided the media like the plague, showered, and dressed in record time. It wasn’t hard to do because the reporters all had their hands full with the goal scorers and captain of the team. Little Joe was especially swarmed because he’d had a two-goal game—not bad for having to sleep on a cot last night. That worked to my advantage though; there wasn’t a lot of time for me to find Jo before the team would be bused to the airport, so I knew I had to hurry to find her and kiss her before we left.

It didn’t feel like a coincidence that she was here and we won. Things were always easier when Jo was around, and I knew that having her around last night and today was a big help to me before I got out on the ice. So what if I didn’t score? In a team effort, it doesn’t matter.

As I finished buttoning my shirt and pulling my tie over my head, I noticed that the guys around me were dragging their feet, still stripping out of their uniforms and pads. I looked at them funny, and Pickles winked at me. “Don’t worry, man. We’ll buy you some time. Go find her and say goodbye.”

Couture and Mitch and Guch smiled and nodded, seconding Pickles’ offer. Pavelski and Murray were still in the showers, so I knew I’d for sure have a good, solid twenty minutes. Instead of taking the time to thank them, I rushed out the door and into the hallway. It took a few minutes and some coordinating with Jo to figure out where she was and how to meet up with her. The arena was pretty empty by the time I found her, loitering in the hallway with her bag over her shoulder. She saw me coming and pushed off the wall to meet me halfway.

“Great game, babe. Congrats on winning!” she said into my ear as I hugged her tightly to me.

“Thanks,” I sighed, inhaling the scent of hotel shampoo in her hair. Then I kissed her forehead. “I don’t have a lot of time before the team has to get on the bus.” I rubbed my hands up and down her back, reluctant to have to go through another quick send-off. The only good part of this rested in the knowledge that the next time I’d get to see her, we’d be together for the rest of the summer and could spend every day together once this season was over.

“How long do we have?” she asked, tilting her head so her chin was resting on my chest as she looked up at me.

I was torn between wanting to hold her steadily like this and being able to look into her eyes, versus kissing and caressing her; I wanted to do both, but couldn’t. “I don’t know, maybe ten? Fifteen minutes, tops?”

Jo let out an odd sound, which I couldn’t tell if it were a groan or a moan or a hum. She was thinking, too, about the best way to spend our few minutes together. Her eyes lit up as a light bulb went off over her head. “Come on,” she demanded, grabbed my hand and squeezing it as she walked down the hallway.

“Where are we going?” It wasn’t tough to keep up with her, but I had no clue where she was leading me and I hated the uncertainty.

“I thought I saw.... Yes, here it is. Come on,” she said quietly, pulling me into the women’s restroom.

“What are we—”

She clapped her right hand over my mouth as she let go of my hand and placed the pointer finger of her left hand over her lips, signaling to me to be quiet. I nodded, and she let go of me. Jo bent over at the waist and checked under the doors of each stall, making sure that no one was there. Once she was satisfied that she was alone, she pushed open the door of the handicap stall and waved me over. “Hurry up, Kris.”

I walked over, and she grabbed a fistful of my shirt and pulled me in with her. Then she closed the door and locked it. I knew what she was getting at, and I should have told her “no,” but I lost any ability to speak as she reached down, cupped my dick over my pants, and firmly squeezed. Jo’s propensity to take charge was kind of a turn on since it was nice to not have to always be responsible for initiating sex like some guys said they had to, and this was definitely an instance of that. I knew that this was a bad idea because we could potentially get caught, but it was kind of a rush—just like the rush of blood down below.

“You wanna do it, or you want me to suck you off?” she asked, nipping at my earlobe. My head rolled back as I tried to process her words. I knew what asked, but I couldn’t possibly respond when she was undoing my pants. This was so spontaneous, and I wasn’t prepared, which made this so hot.

Jo unfastened my belt buckle and pants, which I had just put on mere minutes ago to come and find her. When she circled her hand around me, I was almost fully hard; it took no time at all to be ready for her. I just hoped that she was ready, too, as I unbuttoned her pants and yanked them down. “What if someone catches us?”

Her voice was breathy as she turned around, planted her palms against the wall, and bent over. “That’s why we gotta make it fast.”

I pulled my shirt up with my right hand as I used my left to help ease my cock between Jo’s folds. She wasn’t really wet, but the friction felt good as I took a few long, slow strokes inside of her. “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” I moaned, holding onto her hips as I moved. Her pants were around her ankles, so she couldn’t spread her legs apart very far; it made her feel tight, and the pressure and warmth was incredibly amazing.

She bent over a little more and pushed back against me. “Come on, babe. Faster. Harder. We don’t have much time.”

The faster I went, the more noise we made. Between her breaths and my moans and the sounds of our bodies meeting, the room was filled echoes and cacophony. If someone were to walk by, or even to come in here, we’d be found out for sure and probably get into a lot of trouble. The angel on my shoulder was telling me that this was a bad idea and that we should stop before we incurred any problems. But the devil on my other shoulder was whispering in my ear to keep going and not to stop until I was spent.

“Yess,” she hissed, standing up straight as I thrust into her. Her hands came up to the back of my neck, and I almost lost it. With the change in angle, I could barely pull out, so I just rocked back and forth. I wrapped an arm around her middle as then stuck my finger into her mouth to get it slick with her saliva, which I used to reach down and play with her clit.

Jo seemed to like this more than what we had been doing before, and she tightened around me like a vice. I knew I couldn’t last much longer with all this contact, and Jo seemed to know it, too. “Don’t come in me,” she begged.

“What? Why?” I knew she was on the pill, and we had done it just yesterday, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold back if I made her orgasm. It was already feeling pretty intense.

“Too messy, and I gotta fly out tonight,” she said between her teeth. “I’m gonna... so close.”

I pulled out of her but didn’t stop rubbing her clit. I pinched and pulled at it, pressing my dick against her ass. She started making louder noises, and I began to get a little paranoid that we’d get caught. Cupping my hand, I put it over her mouth to suppress her moans while I kept touching her clit until I felt her body shudder against mine.

But she wasn’t finished with me. She spun around and dropped down in front of me, looking up at me with her golden eyes as she wasted no time in taking my cock in her mouth. I wasn’t expecting this since I thought she might think it a little gross to be tasting her own fluids on me, but she didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, she seemed to be enjoying it. One hand was on my thigh as she balanced in her squatting position, and the other massaged my balls, with a finger tracing the line between my balls. It felt so damn good. When Jo let out a little hum, like this was her favorite thing in the world to do and she was having a blast, I had my own blast and blew my load.

Grabbing her shoulders, I pulled my girl up to her feet and kissed her, not caring at all about what she had just done for me. As I sucked her bottom lip into my mouth, my phone rang from my pants pocket, on the ground. I knew that it had to have been one of the guys telling me that I needed to get my ass down to the bus. We separated and put our pants back on, and I checked my phone; sure enough, it was a call from Pickles.

“Shit, Jo,” I mumbled, but it was all I had to say to convey my point.

“Okay, well, uh,” she grumbled, sliding back the bolt of the stall so we could wash our hands. “I guess I’ll see you in two weeks?”

“Maybe sooner, depending on what the next schedule looks like. Once we figure out the standings and who we’re gonna be playing, they’ll put the schedule together and then when you’re finished, and I’m in San José to be able to meet you, then we won’t have to sneak around in bathrooms anymore,” I chuckled, pulling her against me in a tight, warm hug. I really didn’t want to have to let her go again; it felt like a tease to spend these amazing thirty-some hours with her only to have to be ripped apart once more.

“Amen to that,” she sighed, taking a long, deep breath. “God, this summer is going to be so amazing, because I’m not letting you outta my fuckin’ sight for a minute.”

I raised an eyebrow. “What about your classes?” I asked her with a laugh.

“I’ll bring you with me. We can sit at the same table and share textbooks and be study partners, and you can quiz me like Bridgette Wilson does for Adam Sandler in Billy Madison and you can strip off your clothes when I get the right answers.”

I laughed again. Her classes would probably go right over my head, like the tour guide’s speech when we were at the observatory, but I’d sit through that all to spend the time with her. This was a fun game to play with her, though, to see what kind of elaborate plans she’d come up with. “What about when I have to train for the season?”

“Then I’ll come with you to the gym.”

“You’re gonna work out with me?” It’s not like it was a ridiculous idea, but as far as I knew Jo didn’t step foot in the gym we even had in our apartment complex in Pittsburgh, so I doubted she’d suddenly decide to take it up now.

“No,” she replied softly. “I’m just gonna watch you. That’s a way better use of my time than running around and lifting stuff.”

“Okay. Well, what about when I go to Montréal to visit my mom? Are you going to come to that, too?”

Jo looked up at me. “Uh, well, that depends. Will your mom just ignore me the whole time? Or will she try to poison my breakfast for real?”

“Neither,” I groaned. “You two are my favorite ladies, and you will have time to hang out together and get to know each other and you two will get along great.”

“If you say so.”

“Well, I say so.” I continued on with our game, relishing this simple moment. Maybe it was stupid, but I loved the silly way we could get on like this because it was fun and easy and just one of the many reasons I loved her. We had the perfect balance of serious and goofiness. “And what about when I go on vacation after the season?”

“Then you’d better pack me up in your suitcase, too, because I’m definitely tagging along for that.”

My phone went off again. “Shit. I gotta go.”

“I know. Go, while I’m still on my post-sex high.” We walked out in the hallway, and she nudged me away from her. “I love you, babe. Send me a text when you get back to California, okay?”

“And you do the same when you get back to Pittsburgh, so I know you got there safe.” I paused. “How are you getting to the airport?”

“Cab,” she replied, pulling out a fifty from her pocket to let me know that she had it taken care of. I hated that she had paid to come out here to see me, even if it were for a surprise for my birthday, because if I had thought of it first, we would have figured out a way to see each other like this weeks ago. It had just seemed so impractical that the thought had never crossed my mind. “I’ve got it covered, planned it all out. You’d better go before the bus leaves without you.”

“Ugh, I know, I know.” I kissed her again, holding her still by holding onto her shoulders. I had to break it off quickly, feeling unfulfilled... but unless I had a straight week to kiss her, it wouldn’t be enough to make up for all the time apart. I already felt so sad for having to leave, but I knew I had to suck it up and walk away from her. My team and all that responsibility was waiting. “I love you, Jo. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too, Kris. I’ll talk to you soon. Jesus, two more weeks.”

“I know. I can’t wait.” I let go of her and forced myself to leave before I decided to not go at all. I started jogging down the hallway, but I called over my shoulder, “I love you!”

“Love you, babe!”

When I looked behind me before turning the corner, I saw her watching me go. It was easier to do these send offs when we didn’t have the time to get emotional. They still sucked, but I had to hurry back to the visiting team’s locker room. I ran as my phone started to go off again, sprinting until I heard familiar voices.

“Seriously, Coach, I can’t find it. It was a gift, I can’t leave without finding it...” Logan was saying.

I heard McLellan reply, “I’m sure it just got packed up, somehow, we’ll find it when we get to the Tank.”

“It was from Jenn. She’ll kill me if I lost it.”

The place was empty—no doubt, everyone was on the bus already, except for these two. Couture spotted me and nodded, blurting out, “Dude, Letang, tell me you found it!”

“Found wha—”

“My watch,” he said pointedly, trying to get me to go along with him. “You were helping me look for it, and we’re holding everyone up.”

“Oh, uh, yeah, found it,” I said, trying to play along with this haphazard scheme to cover my ass.

Couture walked up to me and secretively reached into his pocket, pulling out his watch. He muttered under his breath, “Jesus, Letang, you owe me big time. What took you so goddamn long?”

“Sorry,” I replied just as quietly, following him toward the bus as McLellan hurried us along. “Thanks.”

“You’re lucky I’m a good liar,” he sighed, and we boarded the bus and headed toward the airport.

I looked in every passing taxi to see if Jo were the passenger, wanting to see her one more time. I was hoping that this next span of time would go by quickly and painlessly; it probably would for Jo, since she had exams to focus on. Hopefully, the second round and our next opponent would help distract me, too.

The following day, the guys and I gathered over at Bowlby’s to watch the other two games in the western conference. We had won our series, but none of the other teams had ended theirs yet. Chicago had a chance to win on Monday, but the Canucks and Red Wings each had a chance to win their respective series now on Sunday. We were hoping that these would get drawn out as long as possible, which would give us the best advantage; we’d be the most rested of all the teams in the western conference.

And well rested we were. We were all feeling pretty good since had been the first team in the conference to clinch our series, and we were top ranked, too. By no means were we resting on our laurels, but we were feeling confident. A certain amount of swagger is needed when a team is preparing for winning the Cup while avoiding being too cocky. We had a good balance.

Turns out, the Canucks won, beating the Kings in their game six, but the Coyotes beat the Red Wings and forced a game seven. On Monday, the Blackhawks defeated the Predators, also in six games. At this point, because of the seeding, we knew that Chicago would be going against Vancouver in the conference semifinals, and the Sharks would find their opponents in either Phoenix or Detroit—whoever could come out on top of the game seven. We were all hoping that the Coyotes would win; I had my own personal rivalry against the Red Wings because of the Finals of the past two years, but the other guys were sure that they could beat Phoenix more easily than Detroit.

Which is, of course, why the Red Wings defeated the Coyotes six to one. The Sharks would have to face the Red Wings in the semifinals.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

110.) Schmoopy

When I stepped out of the bathroom, they guys were—thank goodness—gone. I had heard Kris yelling at them to leave, and although it had kind of been a rude awakening, the boys hadn’t been trying to be mean or annoying. We had kind of disappeared yesterday, and I think that this had been their way of checking up on us and making sure that we were having a good time together.

While irritating, it was cute, too. They had his best interests at heart, even though they were acting like total guys about it. What else could we expect from them, though? It’s like they wanted to make sure all was well with Kris, and it was the first time that I really felt like the guys were watching out for him—thereby accepting him fully into their group. Kris was more than just a guy in a Sharks jersey; he was a part of their team.

Kris was dressing in black, mesh, basketball shorts and a black Sharks tee. I really didn’t want to see him put a shirt on and cover his sexy body, but I wouldn’t want him going down to partake in the complimentary continental breakfast and showing it off to anyone else. His body was all mine. All I wanted to do was rip that shirt right back off him and keep him hostage for the rest of the day, but I refrained, for his sake.

I tossed the bed sheet back on the mattress and started to dress myself, slipping back into my panties and yesterday’s khaki shorts and blue shirt; I didn’t pack any other clothes, except for my Letang jersey to wear to the game tonight. But I don’t think Kris noticed at all what I was wearing. He smiled broadly at me when I plopped down on the bed, waiting for him to step into his Reebok flip-flips so we could get our grub on.

“Are you sure you wanna go down for breakfast? We could order up again,” he suggested.

Shrugging, I let him make the decision. “It’s your birthday, so whatever you wanna do is fine with me. We can hang out with the guys, or stay up here.”

“I mean, I told them that we’d come down, but we don’t have to.”

Then I laughed. “I told you, babe, whatever you want. We can go.”

“Okay, then let’s go down before they eat all the food. We’ll be lucky if there’s anything good left. That is... unless I get my present now?”

“Not yet. When the time is right, you’ll get it.” I raised my arms into the air and waggled my fingers at him. “Help me up.”

“Lazy,” he teased, but he grabbed my hands and gently pulled me to my feet again.

“No, I’m just helping you warm up, you know, stretch your muscles and all that,” I giggled, wrapping my arm around his and squeezing his strong, thick bicep. His arms were so hot, and I sighed as he put that arm around my shoulders and pulled me against his side.

“These muscles?” he joked, flexing with his free arm. Through the thin, cotton fabric of his shirt, I watched his bicep bulge. I swear, Kris’s body could put Superman’s to shame.

“Oh, yeah. You wouldn’t wanna cramp up during the game.”

“Then I guess I’d better make sure I’m ready,” he laughed, swiftly bending down and hoisting me over his shoulder. I squealed in surprise and giggled with delight as he manhandled me. “This’ll do the trick.”

“Don’t you dare hurt yourself before the game,” I warned. “I did not come all this way to see you sit on the bench, you know.”

“This is fine. See?”

I felt as he twisted at the waist and then did a squat—just to show off. “Look at that big, ole gluteus maximus.” I gave him a quick slap to the ass, trying to get a reaction out of him.

“Hey, watch it,” he growled playfully, starting toward the door.

“I am watching it.” This time, I pinched it, laughing at my own joke before I said it. “More like gluteus sexy-us. Mmhmm.”

Kris put me down with a sigh. “Will you stop talking about my butt?”

Pouting out my lip, I said, “Why would I wanna do that? I like it so much that I have to talk about it.”

He just shook his head as he grabbed my hand. That’s how we made our way down to the ground floor for our morning meal. We got off the elevator and could smell the eggs and bacon and orange juice as the scent of breakfast wafted through the lobby. We followed our noses into an adjoining room, where all the food was spread out on a table. Surprisingly, there was still a lot of food, even though it looked like most of the guys had eaten already. The staff had to have known that a bunch of hungry hockey players were staying, because there was absolutely no shortage of any food.

We headed straight for the buffet line, and we grabbed plates and piled them high with food. Even though we had eaten plenty last night, we felt starved. Then we walked over to where our morning intruders were sitting at a full table in the corner. They were nice and polite about us joining them, pulling over chairs for us instead of letting us sit alone at a nearby table. It was almost... weird of them.

Although they were all actively avoiding any conversation related to tonight’s game specifically or even hockey in general, I could see that they were all amped and revved up to get out on the ice at seven. I couldn’t imagine what must have been going through their head. All that anticipation and competition would have driven me nuts.

Kris ate healthily: a banana, yogurt, granola, orange juice, eggs, and toast. I, on the other hand, ate eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and a giant cup of coffee. Kris scrunched up his face as I doused my eggs and potatoes with ketchup, but he didn’t say anything since he knew how I ate. But Logan made a gagging sound, not afraid to voice his disgust. “Ew. Really? Ketchup on your eggs?”

“It’s good,” I told him, shoveling a huge forkful past my lips to prove the point to him. My next two words were mumbled, and a bit of egg fell out of my mouth in the process, but I think he got the point. “Want some?”

Real classy, Jo,” he laughed. I held my napkin in front of my face as I laughed, so no one would have to see. “God, Tanger, and you put up with this on a regular basis? Gross.”

He smiled at me as he took a sideways glance in my direction. I could act like a lady when it mattered, but it was so easy to goof around with the guys—especially when they were being open and pleasant with us like this. Kris nudged me and teased, “I’m still training her on table manners.”

I whined, “Heeyy. I’m a good girlfriend.”

“Yes, you are,” he quietly said in my ear, slipping his arm around the back of my chair and leaning down to plant a kiss on my cheek. “The best. I mean, who else would fly out to Denver to spend the day with me?”

The guys groaned, and Torrey pretended to hold his stomach. “Gonna vomit. The mushiness is more disgusting than ketchup on eggs!”

“It’s like that schmoopy episode of Seinfeld,” Logan complained. “I feel like George.”

“No soup for you!” Pickles laughed, imitating the Soup Nazi from the same episode. I could tell that they had nothing better to do than sit around and watch television all day. Which was probably especially true during the playoffs, when they wouldn’t go out to the clubs or otherwise occupy themselves with liquor and girls. All they had at a time like this was TV.

My boyfriend, however, looked a little lost; he must not have seen this episode, which shouldn’t have been allowed, since it was one of the funniest episodes of any show ever. The conversation moved on, though, and continued to morph and adapt as the guys forced themselves to talk about anything other than the game that night. They talked a little more about Seinfeld and then other shows, and when the discussion lulled, Torrey even asked me about my classes. I almost choked on my eggs because I was so surprised by that.

We hung out until the rest of the team began congregating in the lobby, ready for the team bus to take them to the arena for their morning skate. Kris moved to hand me the room key, so I could hang out in his room while they were gone.

“Stay outta trouble while I’m gone?” he said playfully as my fingers curled around the card, ready to take it from him. “No pay-per-view movies. And stay outta the minibar—the team doesn’t pay for that, and that comes out of our pockets.” I thought he was done, but he wasn’t; he got more serious as he reached back into his pocket and grabbed his wallet, pulling out a couple fifties. “If you wanna go walk around, go shopping, eat, whatever, that’s fine. We won’t get back for three, maybe four hours, and then we’re gonna eat again before our naps. So be back by around one thirty?”

“I was just gonna take a shower and hang out while you were at practice, Kris,” I mumbled, looking at the money now in my hand. “I don’t need this. I don’t want it, either.”

He shrugged. “Well, it’s my birthday, so you’re not allowed to argue with me. Please take it. You can spend it or not spend it if you so choose, but I know last minute plane tickets aren’t cheap, and—”

“But I came out here for your birthday. I’m not taking your money for that, because it’s like making you pay for your own—”

“Ah, ah, ah,” he chuckled, cutting me off. “You even said that coming out here wasn’t my present, so you have no reason to object to this. Listen, if it had even occurred to me that I could have you fly out to see me... if I had at all that it was possible or a feasible plan... then I would have sent you a ticket faster you can say, ‘San José, here I come,’ because I want to spend time with you as much as you want to spend it with me. So please, just take it.”

I fidgeted, unsure about letting him give me that cash. As I shifted my weight to one leg, I turned my head to the side and saw the guys looking over at us. They all sharply looked away and tried to give the appearance that they hadn’t been listening—but they only looked like they were trying to pretend to have not been listening, and failing miserable at that as well.

My mouth fell open, but I still didn’t have a response for him. I wanted today to be the greatest day of the year (so far) for him, and I didn’t want to argue... but I didn’t want him to give me money, regardless of the excuse. It was one thing when he paid for things while we were out and about, but I didn’t like him just giving me money for the sake of giving me money. Even if I only had fifty-two dollars and thirty-seven cents in the bank to last me until Friday, this trip had been a worthwhile investment for the welfare of our relationship.

Before I could find a way to diplomatically say “no,” I felt Kris’s hand in my pocket as he shoved the crisp bills into my shorts. My hand circled his forearm—or at least as much as I could, considering the girth of his arm—and tried to protest again. “Hey, Kris! Don’t!”

He pressed his mouth against mine with a hard, quick kiss, and he left before I could fight him anymore. He did glance back at me, his hair falling into his eyes, but I recognized his rakish grin. Kris was pretty laid back about a lot of things and he was never pushy or demanding—unless it was something he was adamant about. That’s how I could always tell if it was something he cared a lot for, because he’d make sure it happened if he wanted it to.

I pressed the button for the elevator. When the doors opened, Rob Blake and Patrick Marleau stepped out of the car. Rob nodded at me. “So, you made it. Was he surprised?”

“Yeah,” I replied, beaming. “He had no clue. Kris was so surprised, and he was happy to see me.”

“I’m sure he was,” he laughed.

“Have a good skate,” I bade him, stepping into the elevator before the doors closed and riding it up to the fifth floor. I was going to stick to my original plan to take a nice, long, hot shower, and then to just chill out and veg until Kris came back. Today was all about him, and all I wanted to do when I came out here was to spend the time with him. If we were in San José, I would have gone to his skate, but since I probably wasn’t supposed to be here in Denver as a distraction, tagging along would have been a bad idea. It wasn’t a big deal to wait for him, though. After all, we’d been apart for a month and a half; a few hours was nothing compared to that.

I yawned as I let myself into the room, and then I quickly stripped down and took that shower I was dying for. Since I was a busy person, I never took long, luxurious showers. When I did get an opportunity, the unit below mine usually emptied the hot water tank that our apartments shared so I got maybe five minutes with warm water. This was going to be a nice chance for me to just relax. My shower must have lasted for half an hour, and my skin was warm and bright pink when I finally turned off the water. The mirror was fogged, and I wiped it clear so I could brush my hair and teeth.

Putting Kris’s dress shirt from yesterday back on, I plopped back on his bed. Since the guys were only here for one night—last night—the maids hadn’t come back in to clean the room, so the sheets were rumpled and askew. But best of all, the bed still smelled like Kris. That was one thing about him that I missed so much. At home, when his pillowcase still smelled like his shampoo, it was a little easier to pretend that he was around, and just away for the time being. Once the scent dissipated, though, I only had my memories to rely on; otherwise, it was like he was never there. He’d been gone for so long, and we’d only been living together for a couple of months when he got traded, that it was getting harder to remember what it was like to live with him on a permanent basis.

I couldn’t wait for all that to change when this damn semester would be over.

My phone beeped with a few messages, so I turned on the television and read the texts I had. There was one from Charlene, telling me to give Kris a happy-birthday hug from her; Tubby sent a message with wishes that I was having a good time; and Dave asked if I wanted to get together at the Starbucks in Squirrel Hill to study. I ignored all the messages and didn’t bother to respond.

When Kris finally got back, he didn’t ask if I went out and shopped or ate or spent the money he had given me. Instead, we napped together. I loved the way he could wrap himself around me, like a little kid holding onto a stuffed teddy bear. It made me feel so warm and loved when I was surrounded by his arms.

At three thirty, the alarm on his phone went off, signaling the end of our nap. I quickly dressed in my Letang jersey and brushed my hair again. It took me only about two minutes, so I watched as Kris put on his suit. It was interesting. Since he slept in his boxers, he put on his undershirt and then his pants, which he left undone as he put on his dress shirt. All the while, he was talking on the phone to his mother, who had called to wish him Bonne Fête. I loved listening to him speak French, even though I had no idea what he was saying.

There was something so domestic about the way he held his phone between his ear and his shoulder as he tucked his shirt into his pants and did up his fly, button, and belt buckle. Especially when he was smiling like that, which he only did when he was talking to his mom. They had such a special relationship. Now that Kris was almost dressed, I reached into my bag and pulled out the small, wrapped package I had brought with me. It was not an expensive present, but it wasn’t about the price; it was about what we were going to do with it, and I thought that’s what would make Kris appreciate it.

When he saw what was in my hands, I could tell that he tried to get off the phone with his mom—but it still took him a few minutes to end his conversation. When he finally did, he sat next to me on the bed with the length of our thighs touching. “So this is my present?” he asked, teasing me. “It looks... small.”

I laughed. “Well, that’s okay. I don’t have to give it to you.”

Using his quick reflexes, he grabbed the package out of my hand before I could get it out of his reach. He acted like a total kid, squeezing and shaking it, trying to guess what it was before actually opening it. I wrapped my arms around his bicep and placed my chin on his shoulder to watch as he slid a finger under the folds and ripped the tape.

Inside was a robin’s egg blue tie. It wasn’t anything special, just something I bought at Target, but the fun came into play when I flipped up his collar and took the tie from him. I performed the calculated movements to knot the fabric and complete his outfit. It wasn’t about the tie; it’s that I could be here to give it to him and to tie it, like I had done for him before and loved doing for him. Simple moments like these were the ones I had missed the most over the long weeks without him.

When it was tied and straightened, I grabbed the strip and pulled him toward me. Kris knew exactly what I wanted, so he kissed me. It was sweet and sensual and sexy without being sexual or demanding.

“Jesus Christ,” Logan’s voiced echoed unexpectedly through the room. He and Pickles interrupted us, unlocking the door with Husky’s unused key for the second time today. I could have killed him. “You two are like Siamese twins, attached at the lips.”

“Don’t take it out on us just because no one wants to kiss you.”

Logan laughed. “I don’t care about kissing. I’d rather have her suck my—”

“So, are we leaving?” Kris asked, interrupting him.

“Yeah,” Pickles chuckled, “We gotta go turn in our keys, load our bags, and take the bus to the arena.”

“Come on, Schmoopies. Let’s go,” Logan sighed.

Things got a little complex at this point. I couldn’t hang out in the hotel because the team had to check out, but I couldn’t yet go to the arena because I wasn’t supposed to be there and the doors wouldn’t even open for ticketholders until six thirty. Kris looked at me, feeling bad, because he felt like he was abandoning me when I had made a special effort to come out here.

“Don’t worry, I’ll go grab something to eat and find my way to the arena,” I said to him.

“You might not wanna wear this jersey though,” he replied, pointing to the shark in the middle of my torso. “Denver might not be nice to you.”

“It’ll be fine,” I promised. I kissed him softly and hurried out of the lobby before the coaches spotted me. I used Kris’s money to take a taxi into the main drag in the city so I could grab a bite to eat at a café—where I knew people wouldn’t care about hockey and wouldn’t bother me. I ate slowly and then called Tubby to pass the rest of the time as I waited, before finally heading over to the Pepsi Center to watch the Sharks win the sixth game. The game had started slowly and was tied one to one until the third period, when the Sharks explodes and started scoring left and right. Kris didn’t get any points, but I knew he’d be more than pleased with the five-two win and clenching the series.

The Sharks’ curse of choking in the first round had been broken, but they still had a long way to go.