Tuesday, October 18, 2011



“Jesus, Kara.”  

Brendan sat across from me at his small kitchen table.  We’d had to settle for chicken instead of turkey, but we’d gotten all the fixings and a bottle of wine for our early, faux-Thanksgiving.  Which I had promptly ruined by announcing that I invited Steven in his place.  Once I got to his place, I couldn’t wait.  Waiting was like lying, and lying only made things worse.

“What is going on?”  He put down his silverware and just looked at me.  

“He’s my friend!  He doesn’t have anywhere to go and I don’t want to go alone.”

“You’re telling me Steven Stamkos is going to sit home alone and cry into a takeout tray on Thanksgiving?  He’s not a cat lady, Kara.  Surely he did something every day before you moved in there.”

“Please don’t make this more than it is,” I said in a calm, even voice when I wanted to scream and throw a tantrum.

He pinched the bridge of his nose like I was giving him a headache.  “I don’t trust him, Kara.
And I don’t like the things he gives you.  I’m sorry I can’t pick you up in my Benz for a hockey game every night.  You used to be fine with that.”

“Stop it.”  I reach over and hold Brendan’s hand on the table.  “That has nothing to do with this.  So he has a nice car.  Who cares?  The hockey games he gets for free, it’s not like he’s spending money on me.  You know I’m not impressed by that stuff anyway.  He could live in a mansion and have a jet or a butler or whatever he wants, but he doesn’t even have a cleaning lady.  You’d like him, Bren, if you just gave him a chance.  You wouldn’t be so worried if you knew him.”

I could tell he really didn’t want to give in.  But he really didn’t want to lose this fight either, and I wasn’t backing down.  Inviting Steven had made that clear.  So Brendan just sighed.  

“Fine, babe.  Take him home with you.  But I don’t like it.  Even if you’re not into him, he is into you.”

Just as he was dropping it, he said the worst possible thing.

“Because that’s the only reason he’d want to hang out with me, right?  He couldn’t possibly just think I’m fun or cool, he must want to get in my pants.”

Brendan gave me a hard stare like he was about to lose his patience.  “Please, Kara.  He could fuck anyone he wants  - you can’t honestly have delusions about that.  I’m more worried that he knows exactly how fun and cool you are.  Because if he’s as great as you say he is, then that’s exactly what he’s after.”

I hung my head, feeling like I’d been slapped.  Steven could have any girl he wanted - that was my point.  It was the perfect argument for why he didn’t want me.  But Brendan had turned it around until it meant I was the only one.

Could he be right?

He reached out arm and stroked his thumb along the inside of my wrist.  “I’m sorry, Kar.  I just don’t want to lose you.”

“You’re gonna lose me if you keep pushing me away from my friends.”  Tears pricked at my eyes.  I was winning the argument by losing it, making my point by proving the opposite.  It felt every bit as wrong as it seemed but I was still glad to come out on top.

“I’ll try,” he said soothingly.  “I trust you.”

I stayed at Brendan’s that night.  He turned his body into mine in bed, kissed me gently like he was apologizing.  My body hesitsated at his touch - I didn’t want him then, or anyone.  I didn’t even want to be in my own skin.  But I lay still, letting him, apologizing for taking advantage of the situation by doing nothing.  He made love to me, full of caring and comfort, and I lay there trying not to cry.  

In the morning I felt better and more understanding.  I told Brendan that I saw his point and while I wouldn’t give up being friends with Steven, I would be more mindful of the situation.  There was no point in arguing that Steven couldn’t possibly be interested in me - he was too nice, too young, too famous.  All those things would just work against me.  So I kissed Brendan goodbye and knew that if he were coming with me, things would certainly be easier.

That afternoon I threw my suitcase in my car and drove to the rink to meet Lindsay for dinner before the game.  I wasn’t hungry - it felt like I’d swallowed a rock.  After the exhausting and emotional night with Brendan, I was going to have to tell my best friend the same thing.  She would be less... forgiving.


Lindsay hunched over an untouched burger and a beer that was getting warm, her brow knit in the perfect combination of confusion and assumption.

“I know,” I finally admit.  She would sit there all night in silence waiting for me to say the words.  “I know.”

Her usually loud, boisterous voice was oddly quiet.  “What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to have friends!” I answered too forcefully.  “I’m trying to spend time with people I like, who are fun and make me happy.  You’re on that list, and Brendan, and Steven.  So what if he’s a guy?  I can’t be friends with a guy?”

She just put her hands up in surrender.  

“I’m sorry, Linds.  I’m getting too defensive - I just had this all out with Brendan.  I understand his concerns, I really do.  But Steven is my friend.  I will be friends with whomever I want.  If I give in on this, it will be something else next time.”

Finally she took a sip of her drink, then simply said, “Good for you.”

I waited.  She didn’t blink.

“That’s it?”
“What else do you want me to say, Kar?  You and Brendan have put a lot into being together.  Steven’s fantastic.  It all works out, happily ever after, the end.”

“Last time, at the bar, you were all worried that I liked Steven.”

“I know you’re not going to do anything stupid.”  Lindsay shrugged, like she still had something else to say.  We both waited silently.  Finally I raised my eyebrows, inviting her to continue to the part we both knew I wouldn’t like.

“I’m just saying... don’t be too smart either.”

That was it.  No further advice from my sage friend.  She tucked into her burger like it held the secret to the universe and left me staring at my beer, wondering how I could possibly be smart when I didn’t know anything at all.

Five, four, three... buzzer.

We piled onto the ice to congratulate each other on an easy, breezy 5-1 win over Los Angeles.  A night before an off day always gave us an extra burst of energy, and tonight there was plenty left when the game was over.  The locker room was similarly boisterous.  I chucked my gear into the hamper cart while press milled around and guys made plans for the post-game celebration.

“Stammer, you coming?” Vinny asked.

“No, I’m heading out of town remember?”

“Oh!” he shouted, clearly having remembered all along.  “You’re going to you girlfriend’s parents’ house for a major holiday.  I forgot.”

It drew catcalls from every corner of the room and even a reporter or two looked back at me.  I laughed and shook it off - boys will be boys.  But I was in a hurry to start whatever it was Kara and I were actually doing.  I never should have left my locker.

Because when I came back, every shelf and single pocket of every single item was stuffed with condoms.  There had to be two hundred of them, spilling out onto the floor and littering the bench.  I turned my face so they wouldn’t see me blushing, but it was too late.

“Think that’s enough, Steve-O?” Downie asked, flicking another like a bottlecap.

“We know you work out on off-days,” Malone added with a terrifying pelvic thrust.  I pitied any woman who wound up underneath that.

“You guys are assholes,” I laughed, scooping armloads of condoms onto the floor at my feet.  “She’s gonna be here any second.”

“Good, I can fill her purse,” Downie said.

I pulled my stuff out of the stall and stepped clear from the pile, in a hurry now.  The guys booed and hissed as I ducked into the lounge.

Kara was on the couch with one of Marty’s kids in her lap, giving him pieces of a cookie and singing the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song.  He bopped around like she was his best friend in the world, spitting crumbs as he sang along.  Her hair was pulled back and she wore the jersey I’d given her.  It was...

Stop.  It’s going to be a long weekend.

“Hey Steven,” Lindsay popped up at my shoulder with a sly smile on her face.  She’d been watching me watching Kara.  I pushed it away - she could help me or not, but nothing to be done for at least a few days.  

“Hi Lindsay.  Gilroy’s still in the room, you guys ever get together?”

She nodded.  “How do you think I’m getting home?”

Kara untangled herself from the St. Louis boys and gave me a big hug hello.  The WAGs probably assumed we were dating, unless Kara told them otherwise.  I wondered if they would ask.  If she’d volunteer that she belonged to someone else.  I made a mental note to get her a third jersey as soon as it seemed appropriate to be giving her another gift.  


“Have a good time, guys,” Heather said, her son now attached to her leg.  “Don’t miss us too much.”

I ducked us out before any of the guys could arrive to embarrass me.  In the player’s parking area, I saw that Kara had parked nearby in the spot I’d gotten her.

“Want to take my car?” I offered.  It put us a lot closer together in the sleek, low-slung sports car than we were in her Honda.  Plus it was a better, more fun ride.  “I’ll get you home faster.  You can leave your car here.”

She shrugged.  “You’re paying the speeding tickets.”

Once we were on the highway, she spun through my iPod and settled on a soundtrack.  We talked about the game and other things, then drifted into a companionable silence.  It was past eleven and we still had well over two hours to go.  The roads were empty and we zipped out of the city onto the wide, lonely highway.

Somewhere around mile seventy, Kara fell asleep.  Her head rolled toward me, her lips slightly parted as she dozed.  I marveled at how vulnerable she looked, how peaceful.  How glad I was to have her with me.

Even if nothing happens.

I settled back and followed her directions.  The CD ended but I didn’t start a new one, instead enjoying the slight sounds of the car and her breathing.  After a while, when we were more than halfway there, she shifted.  Her knees pulled up slightly, curling toward me.  I was watching the reflectors tick by when she surprised me by speaking.  

“Is this weird?”  Her voice was soft and a little afraid.  It was a confession as much as a question.  A fear  you’d only share where no one could ever hear you.

“No.” But the fact that I knew exactly what she meant said otherwise.  Her face was dimly lit by the dashboard, shadowed where her hair fell along one cheek.  She looked almost sad.

“You know if it was, you could tell me,” she said.

I lifted my hand from the gear shift, which had been parked in fifth for over a hundred miles, and ran the back of it over the sleeve on her forearm.  When I reached her bare skin, I turned my hand to hold hers.

“I tell you everything,” I smiled.

But I would never tell her.  I would ask her only when I already knew the answer.  And for now at least, the answer was no.  Kara wanted a friend.  And I would take her any way I could get her.  

She chuckled softly.  “Not everything.”

“Ask me.”

I dare you.  What is it that you want to know about me?

The atmosphere in the car was becoming charged.  We were telling secrets in the dark, treading dangerously close to something that neither of us was ready to name.  Doing so would only result in me losing Kara completely, and so I let her steer this dangerous conversation.  

“How much money do you have?”

A predictable place to start.  She could probably do the math on her own, except endorsement deals, and she already knows it’s a lot.  I want her to know exactly what kind of care I could take of her, if she ever wanted or needed it.

“About thirteen million in the bank.”

She nodded, like she had ballparked it.  “Does that make you feel safe?”

“No.  I want to play so badly, and the money can’t keep me from getting hurt.  But otherwise yes.”  I pause, wondering if this game works both ways.  “Does it make you uncomfortable?”

Kara shakes her head no.  “It would if I didn’t know you, the idea of it.”

Some girls run toward money, some girls run away.  I could have guessed which category Kara would fall into.

“What the best thing that ever happened to you?”

“Honestly, not scoring a lot my rookie season.  I had forty six points.  Last year I had ninety five.  The team made a really big deal about drafting me and if I’d started out hot... I might not have handled it that well.”

She half-smiled.  “I don’t believe that.”

“What about you?  Best thing?”

“Don’t know.  Hasn’t happened yet,” she said honestly.  “I mean, lots of good things but nothing spectacular.  What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?”

“Probably not scoring a lot my rookie season,” I laughed.  “I got really scared, Kar.  Like I was not as good as everyone said, like they had wasted their number one pick and I wasn’t going to deliver.  They were counting on me... it was hard.  My parents moved down here for almost that whole season.”

“I bet they’re great,” she said.  “You’re gonna think my family’s nuts.”

“It’ll explain a lot about you then,” I joke, trying to lighten the mood.  I don’t want to know the worst thing that ever happened to her; I don’t want to think about her sad.  

“How come you don’t have a girlfriend?” she finally asks, quietly.  The air gets thicker, breathing requires effort.  Her question is not at all what she means to ask but it’s the closest we can come. at least for now.

“I dated someone last season,” I feel relieved to say.  I’m not a loser, there’s nothing wrong with me.  “But it wasn’t that serious, and summer kinda killed it.”

It’s my turn, but I can’t bring myself to take the opening: Are you happy with Brendan?  Less happy since you met me?  Do you love him?

Finally Kara saves me.  “Do you always leave for summer?”

This is a hard part for relationships.  If a player has a girl in the team city, it’s serious to bring her home.  If she’s at home, the same for bringing her where he plays.  The windows are so short - eight to ten months or two to four months - it’s hard to get that far into anything before it comes apart.

Or it’s not hard.  

Because I’ve only known Kara seven weeks and I’m past that point.  I’d invite her tomorrow or stay for her or...


“I have always gone home.  But things change.”  Simple answer.

“Could you get traded?”

“Not unless I want to.  My contract goes through 2016 and I have a no-movement clause.  After that I’m an unrestricted free agent.”  I pause, formulating how best to ask if she’d miss me.  I know she would, but I so badly to hear her say it.  

“Thank God,” she sags against the seat.  “If you just disappeared one day....”

“You’d miss me?” I suggest, too excited.

“I’d be stuck here with Downie!” Kara sticks out her tongue, and slaps my hand.  “Of course I’d miss you, Steven.”

I let the moment go.  The mood shoots way up and we’re laughing together.  Secret time is over for now and I have survived round one.  

“I won’t leave, Kar.  I promise.”


  1. Awww... I hope this weekend gets rid of Branden... Bring on the relationship.

  2. So hate Brandon. Loved how Steven played this outnand happy that Kara was honest about missing him. She covered up her slip well with the Downie comment. Can't wait for round two!

  3. Awww so cute! Looking forward to Kara realizing that Steven is a MUCH better catch than Brendan ;)