Monday, October 17, 2011


The Lightning spent November almost entirely on the road and I felt off-kilter the whole time.  Steven and I talked or texted nearly every day but the whole building felt empty without him next door.  Brendan on the other hand was around more than ever.  Things between us were as good as they’d ever been, if you didn’t count the texts I deleted or calls I sent to voicemail when he was around.  I had planned to use the time to show Brendan that I was as committed to our relationship as ever.  But everything I did felt disingenuous with the issue of his jealousy over Steven lurking in the background.  He and I were going to my parents for Thanksgiving - it was only a three hour drive, but maybe I just needed to get a little farther from my apartment.

The day the Lightning were due home, and three days before Thanksgiving, Brendan called me from work.

“I have to go home this week.  My stupid family from Ohio suddenly announced they’re coming and it’s like World War Three that I’m the only one who won’t be there.”

“How can you even?  Aren’t the flights like eight hundred dollars?”  I asked.  Home for Brendan was outside of San Antonio and usually involved a connection.

“Even more, so my parents are paying half.  I already bought it - I leave Wednesday morning at 10 AM.”

“That’s the busiest time.”

“It totally sucks.  I’m sorry to bail on you, Kar.  I know you’re looking forward to the trip, will you be okay driving alone?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.  It’s okay, I know it’s important to your family.”

He scoffed.  “All this effort to see people no one even likes.  Do you want to do something tonight?  We could have early Thanksgiving?  I could cook, but we all know how that would turn out.”

I opened my mouth to say yes, but stopped just in time.  Steven was coming home tonight.  We didn’t have plans but I wanted to see him... danger signs flashed and alarms blared in my head but I did it anyway.

“How about tomorrow instead?  I’ll find a place that does turkey so you don’t burn down your house.”

Five hours later, my phone rang again.

“What are you wearing?” Steven asked in an over-the-top sexy voice.

“Jeans with a paint stain on them,” I purred back, then started cackling.  

“If you’re wearing a dress and heels downstairs in five minutes, I’m taking you to dinner.  There’s no food in my place and I’m starving.”  And he just hung up.

Of course I tore through the closet like a woman on a mission.  A dress?  How nice?  He’d be wearing a suit, having just come from the plane. So something that nice.  And he had that sexy little black sports car... okay, okay.  I went for the money shot, my favorite dress: a bright green silk number with one drapey sleeve and the other arm left bare.  It was the only thing besides a black dress that had shoes to match.  I quickly brushed my hair, swiped on some mascara and threw my keys and lipstick in a little clutch.

You want dressy, you got it.

I hurried downstairs as best I could in stilettos but he was already waiting, leaning against the driver’s side.

“Wow, Kar.”  

Wow yourself.

It had been two full weeks since I’d last seen Steven and I swear he was bigger than before.  He came up to hug me; his arms were heavier, tighter.  I took a deep breath of him like a freaking teenager in a movie.

“You got new cologne.”

He smiled.  “Like it?”

“Better than your stinky gear.”  But my face gave it all away.

Steven opened the door and I lowered myself into his Mercedes.  We looked like we were going on a real, fancy date and when he pulled up in front of Salt Rock Grill, I hesitated.

“Want something else?” He had one hand on the gear shift.  If I said Chik-Fil-A, we’d be there in five minutes.

“No, no.  I... have you ever been photographed eating at a place like this?”  I winced as I said it - will you be photographed with me, will people think we’re on a date, is my boyfriend going to see this?

I’m such an asshole.

But Steven was ready for the question.  “They’ll let us in the back just in case.  I called ahead.”

He eased past the valet, into a parking lot and turned a corner.  Two other high end cars were parked in the gated space behind the restaurant.  Not the only VIP in town tonight.  Steven told me to wait, then came around and opened my door.  I took it his getting out - always a mistake.

“Bring all your secret dates here?” I asked, trying to get the tone of the evening back on track.  

He just gave my hand a squeeze before letting go. “Nope, only you.”

I shouldn’t play with fire.

The sight of Kara in her body-skimming silky dress would have been too much on any day.  But after two weeks away I was like a drug addict in the throes of a detox.  That thud you heard was me falling off the wagon.

She hugged me so tightly, the scent of her vanilla lip gloss making me ache to taste her mouth.  I had missed her more than I thought, more than I would admit to anyone.  Not that I had to tell them.  Because we walked in through the back, toward a tucked away alcove of the restaurant but didn’t make it that far.


I spun on a heel and there were Marty and his wife Heather having dinner.  Instantly I checked to make sure Kara and I weren’t still holding hands from the car.

“Kara, you look beautiful!”  They both gushed, getting up to hug hello.  Kara was taller than Marty in her heels.  She and Heather had hit it off on a few previous meetings and now... Marty gave me a look.

“Everyone goes out to eat after a big road trip,” Heather said like she was passing down wisdom to the newest member of the WAG club.  Even if there’s food, I’ve been stuck there for weeks with the kids going nuts.”

“I thought haven’t been on a date in five years,” I chided Marty for what he’d said the night of Kara’s first game.

He shrugged.  “Got sick of waiting for you to babysit.”

We said goodbye and Kara turned to follow the maitre’d to our table.  Behind her back, Marty and Heather gave me matching cheesy thumbs-ups.  I rolled my eyes.

We ordered dinner.  Kara sipped a glass of red wine that stained her lips the color of many kisses.  It made it hard for me to concentrate on what she said.  Her hand lay partially open on the table - I wanted to slide mine right into it.  A few things had happened at her work and she asked about my games in a way that let me know she’d watched them all.  

“What happens in the locker room between periods when you’re losing?  Do you ever give one of those rousing Hoosiers pep talks?  Cause sometimes it looks like you guys got your asses handed to you and you come out flying.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it.  Coach tears us a new one and we go back out to redeem ourselves.  I don’t usually talk, that’s Vinny’s job.  Or Marty’s.  I just try to score goals and not take penalties.”

“Well five goals in six games, you’re doing pretty well out there.”

But not in here.

We laughed and talked like always; Kara ate half of her dinner and half of mine.  I ordered her a second glass of wine.  Marty and Heather said goodbye before they left, leaving me feeling like a kid out past curfew.

“Can you come to the game on Wednesday?  We’re gonna wear the third jerseys, you haven’t seen them yet.”

“Oh,” her face fell a little and without even knowing what was wrong, I reached for her hand and squeezed it.  It was so small compared to mine, she felt so vulnerable sometimes.  Especially wearing a frown.

“I’m going home for Thanksgiving, just to my parents’ house, I was going to drive up Wednesday.”

“I always forget about American Thanksgiving.  No chance Brendan would want to wait till after the game?  Drive up late?”

She paused, thinking, then slowly her face started to light up.  The corners of her mouth curled first, then her eyes got narrow.  “You play Wednesday and then when?”

“Uh, Saturday, I think.  Off day Thursday, some of the guys do a dinner.  I think it’s at Shannon’s this year - his wife offered to cook.”

This time she reached for my hand, which I’d purposely left just beyond her fingertips.

“Come with me to my parents’ house.”

“Uh, what about Brendan?”  Was she trying to get me killed?

Then she said the best thing I’ve ever heard.  “He can’t come. Has to go home last minute for some sucky family thing.  It’s just me, unless you come.”

You have to be kidding.

Go see her family?  Spend an entire two days just me and Kara together?  Take the literal place of her boyfriend - eat his food, sleep in his bed?  


“Are you sure there’s room?  I mean, you and Brendan probably share....”

Kara burst out laughing.  “Oh man, I forgot!  Brendan shares a room with my brother when we visit - or he did, we had only been together a few months last time we were there.  Jason’s cool, you’d get along great.  Or there’s a hotel, some people stay there, but it would be way better if you stayed with us.  The house is like a time capsule from high school.  It’s so fun, Steven, we have like twenty people and everyone gets drunk and acts like a family on TV.  I need someone to keep me sane.”

She squeezed my hand, which was still in hers.

“We can go up after the game, or early Thursday, and come back Friday so you can practice.  Please come.  I...,” she looked down at our hands but didn’t make a move.  “I know that Brendan’s been a little difficult and makes it hard for us to be friends.  But you’ve been so great - all the games and everything - please let me do something for you.  What else can I get for the guy who has everything?”

Everything but you.

I had agreed in my mind at her first request, even if I had to sleep in the bathtub while she and Brendan cuddled in a twin bed.  But the reality was better than I could have written.

“Of course I’ll come.  It sounds great.”

Steven and I walked to the front door like he was dropping me off after a date, hoping I’d invite him in.

Hoping I’d kiss him.


He wasn’t.  Steven wasn’t thinking that because he knew about Brendan.  And because he was my friend, a fact he’d proven by agreeing to come for Thanksgiving with my crazy family.  I knew exactly how inappropriate it seemed, bringing a guy who wasn’t your boyfriend home to meet your family, for a special occasion, overnight.  But I refused to give in to that.

God damn it, why is everything against us being friends?!

So I bowled through it, invited him anyway, and now I had a road buddy who I hoped would still want to be my friend after twenty four hours of quality time.  At the door I told him so.

“You sure you’re up for this?”

He looked so handsome in his dark suit, standing in the twilight.  Older, more grown up.  I always forgot he was only twenty.  “I’ll try not to embarrass you.”

I hugged him, more for myself than anything.  “I’ll give you a set of car keys in case you need to run away early.”

I waited till Wednesday morning to tell anyone.  I just showed up at the morning skate with a smile plastered across my face, whistling.

“Get laid last night or something, Stammer?” Vinny asked.

“Finally break into Kara’s place in the middle of the night?” Downie was more specific.

“No... not before she takes her home to her parents’ house for Thanksgiving tonight.”

Silence.  Complete, dead silence.  

“She what?” Downie came around first.  Guys shouted questions, which quickly became suggestions, which quickly became synopses for Skinemax movies.  I let them run themselves out.

“Don’t be be assholes tonight, okay?  We’re leaving after the game.”

Someone threw a glove and Malone said, “Don’t worry, half pint.  We all want you to lose your virginity.”

On the way to the ice I stopped at the bench to fix a lose strip of tape on my blade.  Guys were hollering and horsing around before the start.  Marty dropped onto the bench next to me.

“Really?” he said quietly. “The two of you the other night at the restaurant, was that a date?”

“No, she’s still with Brendan.  We are just friends.”

He chewed his bottom lip for a moment. “Be careful okay, Steven?  I know how much you like her, but if she doesn’t see it... well Kara’s fantastic.  But if she’s so sure she just wants to be friends, don’t go falling in love with her, eh?”

I nodded at his good advice, knowing I had already ignored it completely.  Everything Kara did said she wanted to be friends.  Everything that I ignored blissfully while falling completely in love with her.


  1. From the phone call to the dinner, they actually sounded like a real couple. And they should be! Time to get Brendan out of the picture. Hopefully her family will put pressure on her to do just that once they meet him at Thanksgiving!

  2. awwwwww!!!! Branden needs to go away 3 chapters ago! I want them together...

  3. “What are you wearing?” Steven asked in an over-the-top sexy voice.

    “Jeans with a paint stain on them,” I purred back, then started cackling.   Loved this.....very cute.....remind me again why they aren't together?