Saturday, October 15, 2011


The next day, and every day after that for weeks, I did nothing but get crazier about Kara.  We talked, we hung out.  I texted her from the road, and when I was home she’d show up with a movie or a board game.  It took me a long time to work up the nerve to ring her doorbell, but it was one of my favorite nights - she was in the middle of making spaghetti and meatballs and she needed my help.

“I was just about to run over there with sauce on my hands!” she said.  We made a huge dinner and sat on the floor at the coffee table, side by side with our knees touching underneath.  

“Can you come to the game Thursday?  It’s a big one, against Pittsburgh.”

“You beat them in the playoffs last year,” she said, impressed with herself.

“We’ll be lucky to beat them now, with Crosby and Malkin back.”

Kara sighed.  “Thursday I’m supposed to go out with Brendan.”

The statement sat there like an unidentified package in an airport: harmless dirty laundry or a nuclear bomb?

“Bring him,” I suggested, trying not to choke on my food.

She took a big bite and chewed slowly, as if giving herself time to think.  The silence was the most uncomfortable thing to ever exist between us.  When she finally took a sip of water, I was practically twitching.

“I don’t know.”

“Kar,” I said, turning toward her.  “I don’t want you to feel bad about hanging out with us.  And I definitely don’t want you to stop.  So....”

“Okay,” she nodded, more to herself.  “Okay.  Thanks.”

Her tiny smile was so hopeful that I almost had to kiss it off her face.  I wanted her happy but not over this.  I wanted him to hate me enough to go away forever.  But I didn’t want Kara hurt.  If they were going to come apart, it couldn’t be because of me.  Not if I wanted to be there after.  

Be patient.

We finished eating, watched two episodes of 30 Rock and before I went home, I hugged her so hard I lifted her right off the floor.

The next morning I put in a request for really great seats - center ice, twelve rows back, perfect mix of view and being in the action.  Unfortunately, someone overheard me.  Someone named Ryan.

“Oh shit, she’s bringing the boyfriend?” Malone said.  I tried to quiet him but he only has one volume setting.  “Dude, you gotta score a hat trick and fight someone.  Someone scary, like Matt Cooke.  If you even got a punch off against him, this jackass would swim to Mexico and you could have all the Kara you want!”  He grinned ear-to-ear over his version of my life plan.

“I’m not fighting someone.  And please, this is going to be awkward enough.”

Malone softened a little.  “You’re right.  She’d never fuck you if you got your ass kicked.”

He ducked under my punch and scampered off, cackling like a loon.  I couldn’t see how them attending the game could go well at all - a good time would help Brendan, a bad time would hurt Kara.  But there was nothing else to do, I had to invite him.  I had to be the bigger guy if I wanted to keep her around.

Maybe I could get Nealer to flight me.  He’d take a couple punches, right?

By the end of practice, everyone knew that Kara was bringing Brendan to the game.  They didn’t need me to say anything about Kara, just the fact that I kept bringing her around meant more than anything.  They chirped me about it, but with an unmistakable undercurrent of aggression.

No one answered Kara’s door that evening, and in the morning I had a charity appearance before heading to the rink.  At the last possible moment, around five o’clock, I texted her ‘See you soon!’ and shut my phone off.  A sick feeling sat in my gut - she wouldn’t come, something would happen, Brendan would find a way to ruin this.

“You okay?” Marty asked.  He meant that I needed to put my personal shit away and get my head in the game.  Or that’s what he would have meant to someone else.  He knew that I would be a madman tonight.

“Good, I’m good.”

The other guys were less observant.

“Worth a delay of game if you hit him in the face with the puck,” Ryan Shannon suggested.

My concentration felt edgy, anxious.  I ran a little extra to warm up, the music blasting in my headphones.  I dressed in silence and once I hit the ice for the pre-game skate I never lifted my head.  What if I saw her?  What if I didn’t?  Would she be wearing my jersey, standing next to her boyfriend?  Nothing but trouble either way.  

When the game started it was easier to block out the world.  I wanted to win and if that showed up Kara’s boyfriend then all the better for it.  But the Penguins were better than last season, maybe better than ever.  They were hungry to redeem themselves and knew the luck and joy of having a full, healthy squad.  They were flying.  I could barely keep my feet under me, no time to think about anything else.

“Fuck,” Vinny said quietly, dropping to the bench after a double shift in the second period.  We were down by one and grinding it out.  At the buzzer it felt like we’d already played a whole game and then some.  We slogged into the locker room dragging our skates.

“Hey, this game isn’t over,” Boucher hollered before the door was even shut behind him.  “Sit down, drink up, let’s get back out there and get one!”

“He means get some, Stammer,” Downie stage-whispered as soon as Coach was gone.  “As in get laid.  You should try it sometime.  Might like it.”

My soaked glove hit his arm with a wet thwack and hit the floor with a plop.  Satisfying, but useless.  

We got precious few chances in the third but couldn’t convert.  Everyone was so spent that the locker room was nearly silence - the only blessing was that no one ragged me about Kara.  I knew she’d be disappointed.  It wasn’t till we lost that I realized how badly I wanted to win, and how much I’d just assumed we would.

Of course we’d win.  Of course Kara would realize she likes me, dump her boyfriend during intermission and be waiting in my apartment wearing one of the little cheerleader outfits our ice girls wear when I got home.

I drove across town in silence, not relishing the idea of returning home alone while they were probably still out, Brendan gloating over my loss.  When my phone beeped I nearly drove off the road.

Kara: So sorry, you played so hard.  We still had fun - thanks for the great seats.

I couldn’t reply with my hands on the wheel - I think ‘texting while driving’ was in my contract under dangerous activities.  Even so I wouldn’t know what to say.

Let her have the night. I need to get a grip.

My phone beeped again.

Kara: Night.  See you tomorrow.

That made me smile.  I would see her tomorrow, regardless of what her boyfriend was saying now.  She wanted to see me and so she would.  For good measure, I imagined her deleting that text so Brendan would never see it.

I deleted the text and slipped my phone back into my purse.  Brendan stopped at the bar on his way back from the bathroom and brought us two fresh beers.  He had talked pretty encouragingly about the game, and hadn’t said a word about Steven.  The good behavior only made my night worse as Steven and the guys struggled then ultimately lost.  I felt deflated while Brendan went on like his fun, normal self.

This is what you wanted.  Steven you friend, Brendan your boyfriend.

And I was fighting the urge to be a bitch.  The loss made me grumpy and frustrated and I wanted to pick a fight.  About Steven.  About anything.

Stop, Kara.  Stop.

So I smiled at my new drink, danced with Brendan when his song came on the jukebox.  I talked about anything but hockey or my apartment and willed myself to be fine.

Instead I drank.  It was my floatation device - I’d always been a happy drunk.  It significantly lowered the risk of me revealing anything like the fact that I thought about Steven eighty percent of the time.  Brendan kept the drinks coming and enjoyed my company like it was a gift.  We danced and laughed and somewhere around the fifth beer I forgot most of my problems.

“Home, baby,” Brendan said, closing out the tab.  I leaned against his side - he was shorter than Steven, but thicker and it had always been a comfort that I felt so feminine next to him.  His shirt brown hair was freshly cut, making him look younger than usual.  He wore a dark blue t-shirt that complemented his medium skin tone and dimpled smile.

I know him so well.

A year is a long time.  Brendan was my first long-term relationship and I couldn’t believe how much work had gone into it.  Not bad work, like we were making something out of nothing, but just slight adjustments you make when you allow someone else to occupy so much of your life.  There had been a few big fights, like any normal couple.  But most of our times had been good times and I had invested myself in us.

“Yay, home,” I said.  For the first time I thought only of my home, not my neighbor’s.

Brendan drove us and we went upstairs like any other night we’d come home together.  I kicked off my shoes and, as I do when I’m feeling lazy, stripped off my jeans then my shirt and left a trail across the floor.  My head was swimming and I wanted nothing more than to land in my bed.  Brendan was right behind me.

We’d always clicked when it came to sex.  It was the first way I knew that we might have something worth building on, and it had been an important part of the year we’d spent together.  Talk about invested - Brendan knew things about me that I didn’t think anyone would ever know.

He was kissing me before we hit the pillow.  It was so comfortable and warm - I’d long since memorized everything about being with him.  My body responded as it always did and welcomed the chance to remind my brain what was so good about us together.

When we were finished, I curled up with Brendan and fell asleep in the arms of my normal life.

She can’t know.  She would never do this to me.

I laid in my bed and listened to Kara and Brendan behind the wall.  They weren’t overly loud and it didn’t last overly long.  I could easily have put a pillow over one ear and blocked the sound of her voice.  But I didn’t.  I held my breath and stared at the ceiling while Brendan had the pleasure of the second thing I’d lost that night.


  1. That was heartbreaking..........

  2. Haven't got around to commenting on the first couple of chapters yet, but I am LOVING this story! Steven is too adorable. I agree that this was a little heartbreaking, but I can't wait to see what's next for them!