Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I woke up to a text.

Kara: Could I come to the game tonight?  Brendan wants to come.

She didn’t mention how she’s insisted on sleeping next to - no, on top of - me on the couch.  How we’d been closer than if we’d slept in bed together.  Kara didn’t say a word about the way she stayed in my arm long after waking, or climbed on top of me and leaned down to kiss me, her thighs practically in my hands which were practically up her dress.  Nothing.  Just ‘Can I bring my boyfriend to your hockey game?’

Yes, of course. I’ll put your tix at will call.

I tossed the phone to the far side of my empty, pathetic bed.  

God I’m a pussy.

Her seats were good, of course, but I didn’t look toward her once.  If after everything we’d been through - Thanksgiving and the beach and her fight with Brendan and our first night together, even if nothing happened  - she still felt nothing, I was beginning to doubt myself.  Maybe she never would.  Maybe I was as stupid as I seemed.

We won the game.  I had a goal and an assist because I’d be fucking dead before I let him see me lose again.  There were still some things that I could win by trying.  The game finished 3-0 and I suggested everyone head for the bar. Malone, Downie, Vinnie and Shannon all agreed; I ignored the concerned looks they shot back.

Kara and Brendan were there when we arrived.  I bowled right in, all smiles, and shook his hand like we were old friends.  Kara didn’t try to hug me, even after Downie picked her up and swung her around like we’d won the fucking Cup.  I loved him then, and Malone and Vinnie for way they fawned over her.  Brendan tried not to squirm but we all saw it.

It was so awkward.  Shannon took the seat near Brendan and struck up a conversation.  Kara pretended to pay attention but her eyes wandered.  Only I noticed - being fixated on someone will do that.  The only place in the entire bar her gaze didn’t turned was toward me. I never left her side, not for a minute, daring her to do or not do something that would give away her true feelings.

After two beers, Kara excused herself from the bathroom.  The space between me and Brendan was suddenly empty.  He moved in, radiating the confidence that only a guy who’s winning can project.  I know what that’s like.  Except that I had won the game and it still felt like Brendan was winning this battle.

“Good thing you’ve got such great teammates,” he glanced back at Downie and Malone even as his voice dripped venom.  “you can go out and pick up girls.  Though I’m sure you guys all do that in every city.”

I shrugged.  “Not all the guys.”

“You mean some guys respect relationships and don’t go trying to break them up?”
I was surprised, he went right for it.  Brendan leveled a stare at me that was designed to intimidate.  Too bad I’m a hockey player.

“Some guys respect their girlfriends.  Treat a girl right, why would she want to leave you?”

I just said it straight out, surprised at my own boldness and not sorry for a second.  Brendan bristled visibly, getting a full inch taller but still nowhere near my side. If half the team hadn’t been in the room, he might have punched me.  Veins stood out in his neck as he fought the impulse to react; another thing I have a lot of experience with.  I tried to keep my face impassive as I simply watched his blood boil.

“You need to back off,” he finally said through gritted teeth.  It gave him away, all his fear.  How scared he was of losing her.  How close I really was, even if Kara couldn’t see it.  My entire mindset shifted.

“I could go home, but then I’d be even closer to her.”  I couldn’t believe the words as they were coming out of my mouth.  They were crazy and I had said them out loud.  I’d admitted that I liked her and wanted her and intended to get her.  Probably should have told her first.

Brendan stormed over to Kara and grabbed her arm as she was coming back from the restroom.  I swallowed the desire to throw him over the bar for touching her like that.  She shook him off, rolled her shoulders back and asked very calmly what the problem was.  I couldn’t hear his reply, but his fists were clenched.  He was pulsing anger like a Defcon-One alarm.  Kara simply stepped back, pushed her bag back onto her shoulder and said okay.

Then her eyes came right to mine.  Even from ten yards away they were blue.  She nodded slightly, begging me not to do anything.  With a quick goodbye to a few people they walked in the other direction.

“Was that you making your move, Romeo?” Downie appeared at my elbow.  He had probably been cracking his knuckles and hoping Brendan’s self-control would lapse.

“Shit, will she be okay?”  Suddenly I was so worried I didn’t even tell him to shut up.  I hadn’t considered that Brendan might take my words out on Kara.  I hadn’t considered anything beyond show show of weakness and my instinct to attack.

“I think she can handle herself.  Plus, she’s got twenty-five brothers now and he won’t mess with us.”

I pulled into a parking spot in front of my building, noticing there were not many free though it was barely midnight.  I hoped Steven could find one when he got home - that’s where my mind went.  Brendan got out and started toward the door.

“You should go.”

It felt so good when I said it, like I’d thrown a hundred pound weight off my chest.  I hadn’t even decided to do it, because there was nothing to decide.  Behavior like his only got one reply.

“And don’t call me for a while.”

Brendan turned slowly.  “I should go?”

I didn’t repeat myself.

“And leave you here with him?”

I waved a hand at the parking area - full of cars but empty of people. “Leave me alone is more like it, Brendan.  I can’t believe you ambushed me like that.”

His laugh was cold.  “I ambushed you.  You took me out with ten guys who all want to fuck you, let them pick you hug and spin you around and talk all night about how fucking great you are and you think I ambushed you?
There was a time when I would have apologized for the way the guys acted tonight.  Every single one of us could feel the dark current flowing in the air, though I had done my best to diffuse it.  I was giving Brendan the chance to be the bigger man, to give a bit of ground and be the kind of person I wanted to be with.  After all, if Steven wanted me like everyone said he did, he’d done nothing but give for almost three months.

But Brendan couldn’t do it.  He took the first opportunity to challenge Steven and then had the gall to act insulted when Steven didn’t back down.  Brendan had expected to assert his place as my boyfriend and end this once and for all.  I didn’t know what he’d said, but Steven had clearly fought for me.

“Why are you so surprised that anyone would like me?”  I said it without feeling.  

Brendan opened his mouth to speak, the closed it.  One angry huff, a stomp of his foot and he was back in his car driving home alone.  I let myself into the apartment and sat for a good ten minutes in the dark.  Steven hadn’t been the only one to stick up for me tonight.  For the first time I was doing it too.

Leave it alone.

Maybe it was crazy, but I wasn’t ready to walk away from Brendan.  A lot had gone into us to let three months derail everything.  But if we were going to have a future, this was the me I wanted to bring to the table.  This was the strong, assertive, self-respecting person I wanted to be.  If Brendan couldn’t handle it then he could get out.  My only regret was that I’d had to spend Steven’s time and attention to get here.

Just wait.  Three months, it can wait another couple of days.

I could only guess at what Steven had said to set this off.  I had a pretty good idea but there was noting to be done about it now.  Brendan needed to cool off, and so did I, before I could reevaluate the situation.  I didn’t want to do anything rash and end up regretting it.  

That would mean seeing Steven without knowing what to do.  Without knowing what he said.  But I did know that I didn’t want to take a step in that direction if I wasn’t sure I could follow through.  So I would do nothing.

I made as early an exit as grace allowed, sped home and did two laps of the lot checking for Brendan’s car and rang her doorbell.  There was a good chance he’d told her what I’d said and I wanted to make my own account of it as quickly as possible.  Brendan could not be allowed to speak for me where Kara was concerned.

But she opened the door smiling.  “Hey Steven!”  She had the remote in one hand but hugged me with her other arm.  A tank top and pajama shorts were all that covered her - it wasn’t really skimpy but I was a little high-strung.  Her legs were long, the skin so smooth-looking and the waistband of her shorts was folded down to reveal the inside fabric patterned with stripes.  Knowing what the inside of her shorts looked like nearly made me faint.

“Come on in, I’m watching Castle.”

She hopped onto the couch, giving me plenty of room, then stuffed her feet under my leg.  I tried not to fidget and when a commercial finally broke she hit the mute button.

“Sorry about before.”  Her ponytail was a huge mess of hair falling everywhere, including her face.  It looked wild and sexy and soft.  “It was nice of you to include him but Brendan won’t be coming to anymore games.”

“No?”  Please say you left him, please say you’re free.

She shook her head.  “He has some trouble trusting people.  It’s obviously a problem for us.”

I was having trouble trusting myself, probably as much trouble as Brendan.  

“He’s really fun,” she continued, though I hadn’t asked.  “I feel like you guys haven’t seen him at his best – you must think I’m crazy.  I hope I’d handle it better if all his friends were swimsuit models.”

I barked a laugh.  “Is that how you think of us?”

“There is a lot of hot muscle going on with you guys,” she admitted.  I hoped to God she meant me.

“I’ll tell Downie you said that.”

“As long as he shaves that mangy beard.”

If Brendan had told her what I said, she wasn’t letting on.  If she knew and still wedged her feet under my thigh, still sat there in her little cotton shorts and shared her Wheat Thins, she either liked me back or delighted in torturing me.  We watched two episodes of the show and I didn’t remember a thing.

Christmas was Kara’s favorite holiday.  We had a big road trip that would take us away on December 21st and not bring us home till just before New Years Eve.  So on the 19th, the Lightning promoted Christmas in Paradise and invited all the fans to celebrated early since it was our last game before the holiday passed.

I hadn’t seen much of Kara since the argument with Brendan, or of his car around our building.  But she acted like everything was business as usual and I was afraid to ask.  Maybe Brendan had told her what I said, maybe this was her way of letting me down easy.  Either way, she was around less that ever.  The guys started to notice.  So at the first hint of a reason to talk to her, I skipped a call and went right to her door.

“Steven!”  Kara’s smile was huge, like she’d been missing me.  But then why had she been staying away?  She wore jeans and a t-shirt, no shoes, and her hair was twisted into a braid over one shoulder.  Behind her I could see piles of wrapping paper.  

“Want to come to the game tomorrow?”

“Yes, I would love to.  Thanks.”

There was something stiff and awkward about her tone.  It made me feel like a robot repeating the nice small talk in his programming.  With a few bungled pleasantries, I managed to escape back into my apartment.

It was the first time ever I’d felt uncomfortable around Kara.

I tried not to think about her before the game.  She and Lindsay were coming, that’s all I knew and I didn’t feel right asking for more.  It used to be she told my everything.  Now I missed that, and her laugh and her feet on my coffee table and the way her arms twisted around my neck after a big game more than anything I could remember.  So when we took the ice for the warm-up skate, I was floored.

“Woah,” Vinny said, nealy crashing into me from behind.  Across the ice, right near the blue line, a bunch of WAGs surprised the shit out of us.  They wore green tinsel wigs, green and red cheerleader costumes and striped knee high socks.  A few of them had signs – Heather’s said, “Naughty for Marty.”  It took him ten minutes to stop laughing.  Kara had a Christmas tree sticker on one cheek and 91 written on the other.  She waved like I was a really exciting stranger.

We couldn’t lose after that.  In the lounge post-game, they all still wore their outfits.  Heather had called ahead to a local bar and Kara was rounding up coaches and trainers.  I found her in the hallway giving our security guard directions to the impromptu holiday party.  She was a dream of long legs in a short skirt, and those hilarious high socks did nothing to break the spell.  I must have been staring.

“Too much?” she asked.

“Never.”  I hugged her tight, having missed her so much.  It was the best I could hope for.

That night we got hammered – all of us.  I so rarely tied one on that I never knew what to expect.  And sometime between Irish car bombs and the third time they played “All I Want for Christmas is You,” I had to sit down.  Malone threw an arm around my shoulder.  He was three sheets to the wind, dancing with every girl in the place.  Someone had given him a green and red knit beret that he wore crookedly with pride.

“Tonight the night?” he asked.

I spun the broken record.  “She still has a boyfriend.”

Ryan shook his head.  “He here?  You see his number on her face?”

“She doesn’t…,” I continue to protest.

“Listen.  Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t.  But you do.  A lot.  So go do something about it, eh?  Because at this rate she never will.”

I finished my beer – probably a bad idea – handed Ryan the empty glass and squeezed onto the dance floor.  This time I didn’t stop next to her but moved right in till it was just her and me.  She was drunk too, I could tell by her languid movements and silly laugh.  But her arms went around my neck all the same and my thigh slid between hers.  The music changed and so did we.

I was grateful for the crowded bar.  Not that I wanted anything to stop us but I also didn’t want to regret anything with Kara.  Everyone knew I liked her so it was best to avoid their prying eyes.  We danced.  Well we half-danced, held-destroyed each other on the dance floor.  My hand was on the back of her bare leg and I can confirm she was wearing bloomers under her costume.  Her arms around my shoulders held me in tight as she worked herself around on my thigh.  She pressed her face to my neck and I felt her lips, quickly.

“I…,” she started to say.

I was close to kissing her or passing out, maybe both.  The heat, the alcohol-soaked crowd, the hem of her skirt between my fingers… the room wavered like a mirage.  I had to get out of there immediately.

I pulled to start us moving, like a rip cord on an engine, but she quickly followed and we tunneled through the crowd.  There was a packed patio and a door marked ‘no re-entry’ propped open an inch.  One of the perks of being famous : they always let you back in.  I threw it open so hard it banged off the concrete wall behind.

I sucked in a big lungful of fresh air.  It was barely cool but after the club it felt like spring water in my throat.  Kara panted beside me.

There was a streetlight behind her.  It caught the tinsel of her wig and threw spikes of light and color over the back of the building.  Beneath it I could see she was sweating.  I stepped close to her.  Her eyes simply looked up as I lifted the wig from her head.  Then I reached my other arm around and tugged free the hair tie at the crown of her head.  That dark mane tumbled free, damp and curly at her temples.

My arms were around her neck, not quite resting on her shoulders.  I was frozen there for a minute until Kara met my eyes.  Dark, dark blue.

I kissed her.  No hint of shyness of uncertainly, no guilt or fear.  The alcohol had taken care of that.  Her soft lips parted with what I remember to be ease and the taste of Kara flooded my system.  Until that moment I’d never really known how much I wanted her.  It was like drowning on dry land.

She moved against me, a little unsteady, and my brain roared back to life.  Her hands were in my shirt hair.  Mine slid past her waist, under her thighs and pulled her up enough to be pressed as close as she could be.  Adrenaline surged through me – worth it but it startled us back to reality.

“Steven,” she gasped.  Her mouth left mine but not her hands, or her hips.  Those crystalline eyes were wide with shock.

“Be with me,” I said pleadingly, holding tight to her and the idea of what had just happened.  “Kara, I want this so much.”

“I… oh God.  I’m so sorry. I…,” she untangled herself, climbing down from my lap.  Back on solid ground her resolve strengthened.  “I’m sorry.”

“Wait, Kara….”

She was already moving back inside – to disappear, to leave.

“Kara, please.”

She turned.  If begging is what it took, I could beg all night.  I certainly had enough things to ask for.   I took two steps toward her.

“I thought we had… that we could…”  Of all the times I’ve had this conversation with myself, why do words fail me now?

She put her hand on my bicep, skin to skin, where a minute ago she’d been pawing at me.  The expression on her face was so jumbled I thought she might cry.

“We could.  But I…,” she drew in a ragged breath and stood a bit taller.  Her face set into a sad smile.  “Don’t you ever think that I didn’t mean that kiss.”

I knew better than to follow.  The back door clanged shut behind her and I stared mutely at it, trying to slow the images flashing in my mind.  I could feel her, taste her on my lips.  A crazy moment, a confession a long time coming… my desire for her doubled.  And she had said no.  I sank down and crouched there as my gut roiled with shame.

Kara would never want to see me again.  Living next door – such an unexpected joy – would become like a gallows’ walk each time I went home.  She would avoid me and I’d be a shadow.

The door flew open again, making my heart lurch with anticipation.  Kara.  But it wasn’t.

“Bro, what the fuck?” Malone swung on the handle.  “Where’s Kara?”

“She didn’t come in?”

“I dunno.  Thought she was out her popping your cherry.”

He was drunk or I would have punched him.  Where was she?  I was not much better off, weaving blurrily through the club without finding her.  Finally I did find Marty and Heather.

“Home, probably,” Heather said.  “She was pretty drunk.”

Marty raised one eyebrow.  No one remembered seeing her leave of hearing goodbye.  Of course they wouldn’t remember if she rode into the sky on a unicorn, the state of them.  But my buzz was turning paranoid and no one knew for sure if Kara was okay.

“I’m out!” I shouted to Downie, who was buried under a blond.

“Lightweight!” he yelled back before reconnecting to her face.

The cab driver didn’t know me.  Kara’s phone was either dead or off.  But her light was on so I went straight to the balcony.

“Please talk to me,” I called over the railing.  A drawer slid shut, feet shuffled.  When she spoke, she was only a few feet away but I couldn’t see her.

“Sorry you had to leave for me.”  Her voice was so tiny.

“I wanted to leave for you.  Can I come over?”

“I don’t…,” she protested.

“I’ll climb over.”  It was a spectacularly bad idea – thee stories up and I was drunk.  But I had considered the idea a million times before and knew I could easily make the short distance.  And now it was all on the table, time to play all my cards.  I rattled the railing.

She leaned out.  “Stop, stop!”

“I swear I will do it.  Just let me in.”  I put my face to the cool concrete and said quietly, “Don’t make to talk to a wall.”

“When I look at you I can’t….”

That did it.  Whatever she couldn’t do was exactly what I wanted her to do.  It had been in her kiss, in her promise that she’d meant it.  I swung a leg over, then the other and reached for her banister.  No looking down.  Fifteen seconds later I was standing on her balcony.  She wore plaid pajama shorts and a yellow tank top.  Her hair was tossed back.  The tear tracks and puffiness around her eyes distracted me from the fact she wasn’t wearing a bra.

“We….”  I’ll never know what she planned to say.

I threw myself on her.  She couldn’t talk if she was kissing, and Kara did kiss me back.  Her body went slack against me as she lost whatever argument was going on in her mind.

I didn’t want to do something we’d regret.  If she’d just said yes we could have avoided this, or at least done it honestly.  But my desire for Kara drowned out everything beyond the electric slip of her tongue and the soft burr of her cotton shorts in my hands.

We moved backward into her room – I pushed or maybe she pulled.  Her sliding door thunked home and I was finally where I’d dreamed so long of being.


  1. Aww yay, finally! Someone finally manned-up and got his girl! I have a sneaky feeling the next chapter will have adult content, but as it's Stamkos, maybe just PG rated. Loving this, and glad she's finally giving in :)

  2. Uh oh. As wonderful as it is that they finally kissed, I feel like Kara's going to regret whatever happens, especially since it doesn't seem like Brendan is "officially" out of the picture. I don't want her to regret it though!