Sunday, October 23, 2011


The next weekend, first in December, was Kara’s birthday.  I’d been waiting for her to tell me what she had planned, but as Monday rolled around I began to think she was just going to let it pass. And that would not fly with the guys.

“Let’s put her on the Kiss Cam with a picture of you,” Downie suggested.

“Girls in the stands will tear her apart,” Marty said but he was smiling.  “We could sing Happy Birthday after the National Anthem.”

“You could put her name on the back of your jersey,” Vinnie threw out.  That was actually a good one but I didn’t want to have to answer questions about why this girl wasn’t my girlfriend.  So I did the right thing, as far as I could tell: I scammed Brendan’s number from her phone and swallowed my pride.

“Hey man, it’s Steven Stamkos.  I wanted to offer to help with Kara’s birthday, whatever you’re planning.  The guys want to embarrass her at the rink but I think she’ll kill them.”

He was quiet for a moment.  “We’re just going to dinner that Friday, on her birthday.”

“Oh, okay, cool.  That sounds nice.  The guys definitely want to throw a party - maybe Saturday?  Would you want to invite some people on her end?  We could surprise her.”

“I have to go out of town Saturday morning.  So I guess she’s all yours for the weekend.”  The threat in his voice was obvious.  But I couldn’t keep a smile off my face - this was impossibly perfect.  Maybe it was my early birthday.

“That sucks.  Well, we’ll make sure Kara has lots of fun.”

“I’m sure you will,” he said shortly and hung up.

I planned everything - got the VIP section at a club, bottle service, the works.  And I got Linsday’s number off of Gilroy.

“Kara will be thrilled,” she told me.

“Are there people we should invite?  Her other friends?”

Lindsay paused.  I was ready for a whole list of names, or a headcount of fifty people.  I didn’t care.  But Lindsay hummed in thought.

“Can I be honest with you?” she asked.

“Uh, yeah.”

“All of her friends know Brendan.”

I hadn’t thought of that.  Once Brendan was out of the picture I just assumed we would replace him, and everything else would be normal.  

That I would replace him, I admitted to myself.

“Well Brendan knows about the party.”

Lindsay’s voice stayed serious.  “Steven, there’s knowing and then there’s hearing every detail from twenty different people for the next two weeks.    It might be a... happier party if you keep it just to the team.”

“Will she be disappointed though, if her friends aren’t there?”

“You guys are her friends.”

Thursday night I bought a big bouquet of flowers in a vase with a balloon, and Friday morning  I put them outside her door.  Then I waited for her to leave for work.

Knock knock.

“Happy birthday!” I yelled, swinging the door open.

She jumped on me the way she did when I scored a game-winning goal.  Guess she liked them.

“Thank you!” she shouted back.  “They are beautiful.  I’ll wear one in my hair when I go out with Lindsay tomorrow for girls night.”

I tried to match my expression to hers, like that was exactly what would happen tomorrow night.  “Perfect.”

And she did.  Lindsay told Kara she’d set up a girls’ night out birthday party, and when they rolled into the club at least twelve of us were there waiting.  We all watched her walk across the room in a little black dress and sky-high leopard print heels, her hair curled and falling all over her shoulders, with a bright red flower stuck behind her ear.  With eye makeup dark and dramatic, she was Kara 2.0, some Hollywood version.

“Merde,” Vinny said under his breath.  Then he slapped me so hard on the shoulder I nearly fell down.  I was catching myself when Kara looked up and saw us.

“Surprise!” we shouted.  At least those of us who could find our voices.  I was silent, smiling.

Kara’s face lit up, her hands flew to her mouth.  Then they instantly went to the hem of her dress, tugging it an inch lower on her thighs, suddenly self-conscious.

“No use in that, Kar.  We ordered strippers but you’ll do till they get here,” Malone pulled her up and hugged her tight.  She was laughing so hard.  He passed her on to other waiting arms and I moved to the end of the line.

“Well done,” Lindsay said, appearing next to me with Gilroy’s arm already around her waist.  

“You too, she had no idea.”

Lindsay shrugged.  “Maybe some idea.  I didn’t put her in that dress.”

I watched Kara get the full French treatment from Vinnie, like his girlfriend wasn’t ten feet away.  But she was laughing too as he dipped Kara to the floor and then righted her with almost no effort.  Showoff.  Marty gave her a drink while Heather fixed a blue party hat with a shiny bow on the top of her sex hair.  Finally there was just me left.

“Thank you,” she said almost quietly.

“I didn’t do anything.”  We were close, nose-to-nose, but not touching.  I thought I might lose it right there, looking into her dark eyes at this new, taller height.  Her body was longer, there was more of her to wrap myself around, pour myself over.  

“Liar,” she smiled.  Then she threw her arms around my neck in the sincerest hug I’d ever gotten.  I swung her in a quick circle, throwing her weight against my chest, then set her down before I could throw her up against the wall.

It was a great night.  Everyone danced and drank and generally tore it up.  Our bottles were emptied and replaced more times than I could count.  I danced with Kara every chance I could get, which wasn’t that often because everyone else was dancing with her too.  And I didn’t really trust myself.  Once I found her sitting on a low couch, catching her breath.

“Having fun?” I plopped down next to her.  She instantly put her head on my shoulder.

“Best birthday Steven, best birthday.”

We partied until they closed the place down, and even then they had to throw us out.  Downie insisted Kara and I get get the first cab home.  She climbed in and he pulled me back.

“Dude, seriously,” was all he said as the sharp edge of something stabbed into my palm on the handshake.  He laughed drunkenly, lurched away and left me holding a little stack of condoms.  I slipped them into my pocket as fast as I could and closed myself into the backseat with Kara.

I was pretty drunk.  I couldn’t stop looking at her.  In fact I’d been watching her all night - dancing, talking, laughing, drinking.  But now she had her head back and eyes closed, breeze from the ocean blowing across her face.  She must have felt my eyes on her because her hand slid down my thigh until her fingers tangled into mine.

“Best birthday,” she said and fell asleep.

I carried her from the cab like we were in a movie.  Her keys were probably in her bag, but I couldn’t get them without putting her down.  I already had mine in hand, so I managed to unlock the door and swing her inside in one motion.  I kneeled on the couch and leaned down to lay her on the chaise lounge part of the sectional.

“Stay,” she said.  Her arm around my neck locked and a tiny smile crossed her lips.  I was still holding her inches off the sofa.

“I will take you home in a second,” I promised, wanting to do anything but.

“Stay,” she repeated.  I would stay.  But she’d have to sleep on top of me and that would get weird real fast.

“We can’t both fit.  I’ll get your keys and take you home.”

Then Kara did my favorite thing she’s ever done.  She went dead weight in my arms.  All her limbs went slack on purpose and I could not even hold her.  Forget lift her.  Like a jellyfish she slid right out of my arms onto the couch.  With a smile she rolled her on side.  “Stay.”

I gave up.  I was a good guy, a gentleman with manners and boundaries.  But the third time the girl I’ve been dreaming about asks me to sleep next to her, even my resolve breaks.  So I dragged the ottoman over and threw off the back cushions to make more room.  Then I squeezed my jeans and t-shirt alongside Kara’s dress on the couchand wrapped myself around her.  She snuggled into me.  I stopped breathing and she fell asleep.

In the morning, I was on my back and she was across my chest.  Her top leg was bent, knee between mine and she was holding onto me like a koala climbs a tree.  I lay there and ran plays in my head to keep from getting inappropriate because there was no way in hell I was moving away.  My head ached, but my body was soothed.  Eventually she stirred.  I pretended to be asleep.

“You’re a bad liar,” she said softly after about three minutes.

“Huh?” I tried to sound sleepy.

“Your breathing gives you away when you’re awake.”  She put two of her fingers to the bare skin of my bicep and ran them gently up under my sleeve.  Here she was, tangled in me, awake and not fleeing the scene.  The realization forced me to close my eyes again.

We stayed there for a while.  I hoped she wondered what I was wondering - how could we end up like this if there was nothing between us?  Why wasn’t she running away?  Did it feel as good to her to be alone together and physically close?

Eventually she peeled herself away and sat up, but kept one hand on my chest.  Then she swung her leg over and straddled my lap.  It was so sudden I flinched.  Her little black dress rode high up her thighs, which were practically in my hands.  Kara put both hands on my shoulders, leaned slowly down and kissed my cheek.  Her lips burned where they touched my skin.

“Thank you, Steven,” she said.  Then she left, taking her body, her warmth and that kiss with her.

I lay on my bed, still in my party dress, and stared at the ceiling for an hour.  So far twenty-six was just as confusing as twenty-five.  I had woken up next to, no, mostly on top of Steven and it hadn’t even registered as weird until now.  I had laid there and held onto him; Jesus Christ I’d climbed off him like it was the end of a lap dance.  And the whole time, I hadn’t thought of Brendan once.

The party had been amazing.  Steven, the guy who had more money than he could spend, had given me something that no one could buy.  He’d given me his time and his friends and then he’d taken care of me.  

What more can I want?

He was on the other side of the wall, probably asleep in his bed.  I wondered if he’d slept at all last night, if he’d been comfortable with me all over him.  I wondered if he hated me for taking advantage of the situation when he’d clearly been a perfect gentleman.  I was pretty sure he’d carried me inside - he could have gone for the bedroom, but he stopped at the couch.  This morning he’d looked so surprised.

I needed to get a grip.  The Lightning would be on the road soon, leaving just before Christmas, and I would have some time to think.  Because I couldn’t do that with me and Steven and Brendan all trying to climb the same flagpole.

I showered and put on jeans and a hoodie, then drove around for two hours until I found that little beach he’d taken me too.  It seemed unfair to consider Brendan from Steven’s secret place, but it was the only spot I knew I’d be alone.  And I had something important to do.

Brendan is mad... maybe with good reason.

For the first time I really understood what Brendan was worried about - because it’s exactly what had happened.  Without doing anything scandalous, judging by the fact we were fully dressed this morning, I had betrayed his trust.  Girls with boyfriends didn’t do the things I’d done last night.  Girls with boyfriends didn’t put themselves in those situations.  Girls with boyfriends shouldn’t want to.

Up until now, Steven and I just had been friends.  Sure my mind had wandered in some other directions, but until last night there was really nothing I felt bad about.  

And the weirdest thing was: I still didn’t feel bad.

But I should.

As the phone rang in whatever city he was working in, I knew this wasn’t fair.  I would tell Brendan about the surprise party, we would have a fight.  I was already arguing in my mind, knowing that part of my defense was a lie.  But how much was still true?

“How was the party?” Brendan asked as he picked up.

“How did you know?” I gasped.

“Stamkos called me last week, asked if I wanted to surprise you.  Too bad I couldn’t be there.”

I was stunned silent.  And scared.

“How was it?”

“Uh, fun.  Loud.  We went to a club, most of the team was there.  They party like they’re the shit, Bren.  Lindsay and I danced them all out, though.”

Here it comes.  Round one.

But no.

“They have a game tomorrow night, I checked the schedule.  Do you think we could go?  I’ll be back by four.”

“Uhhh, yeah. Sure, I’m sure we could,” I said after a minute.

“Good.  I want to thank Steven for throwing you a party.” Brendan sounded genuine.  It was the first time he ever called Steven by his first name.


  1. I am hooked, i love it. I just want Kara and Steven together already!!! lol

  2. Why is Brendan suddenly acting nice? I don't like it haha, I feel like he just wants to go to the game to rub the relationship in Steven's face. Great chapter! Steven was adorable :)