Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chapter III: Loophole

Early in the season I never have food. It takes till Christmas for me to get a routine going and remember to shop. I reprimand myself all the way to the grocery store where I pick up the usual suspects – pasta, sauce, eggs, OJ. Turning into the equally important beer section, I nearly crash my cart into the Doritos display. Leaning over the cases stacked in front of the cooler, in cargo pants and a clingy sweater, is Olivia.

I’ve never seen her outside of work before, except the other night at the bar. And that didn’t count. Here she is just another woman in the supermarket. Instantly I know that she really is as lovely and beguiling as I think. The artificial constraint of work has disappeared.

Whenever I encounter a woman, a million questions immediately weigh on the situation. Does she know who I am? Does it matter? Does she like hockey? Does she know I make kind of a lot of money? Not Crosby-money, but still. More than your average Pittsburgh boyfriend. Olivia was always set apart, those questions answered. Yet here she is, just like everyone else. And I am staring at her.

“Hey Liv,” I say as I approach. I’ve picked up women in the store before. I don’t want to be a creeper watching her from the end of the aisle.

She’s genuinely surprised to see me. “Hi Max!” And excited. “Do you live around here?”

I idiotically point toward what might be east. “A couple miles that way.”

“I live the other way, just a few blocks.” She’s got a case of Yuengling in her hands. I take it and add it to her cart. A case is a lot of beer for one person. Maybe she has roommates.

“They sold out of six packs,” she explains like she’s reading my mind. “How am I going to drink all of that?”

Bingo. “You could come over for dinner. I’ve got all the food, but I haven’t picked beer yet.”

And now the moment of truth. Too bold? Too soon? I wait. She looks suspicious, then apprehensive and finally happy.

“Can you cook?” I’m surprised, like when she agreed to come to the bar.

“I make a mean pasta.” That part is true.

I try to hide the smile as I type her number into my phone. I hit send and let it ring, so she has mine. Then I text my address and tell her to be there in twenty minutes. My car breaks the sound barrier on the way home. Carefully checking the house, anything less-than-impressive gets hidden away. There’s not much. A couple of Maxim magazines in a drawer. Two DVDs go in the bedroom. Then I put them in the closet, thinking she might somehow ends up in the bedroom. Ditto condoms and lube and anything else racy. But not too hidden. Just in case.

I cannot go over there in these underwear. I mean, just in case. Right? Like emergency preparedness? I have a fire ladder in my room. I should have something lacy in my pants, Olivia thinks, zipping her jeans and running out the door.

When the doorbell rings, I already have the water on to boil. Olivia sweeps in carrying the case of beer and a pint of Haagen-Dazs Dulche de Leche ice cream.

“It was the only dessert in my house. And it’s my favorite.”

“Didn’t you tell Crosby you’re not supposed to give us ice cream?”

“Or watch you do pushups. Or probably have dinner at someone’s house.” She laughs and points a finger into my chest. “I’m such a rebel.”

“I promise to leave your honor unscarred.” I do Scout’s honor though I was no such thing.

“Boooooooooooring.” She heads for the kitchen.

She’s chopping garlic at my counter. She’s in my house, cutting vegetables, in her stretchy brown sweater. If I were an asshole, I’d snap a photo and send it to the whole team. Okay, I’m kind of an asshole. I cough to cover up the fake shutter sound it makes. But I don’t send it yet. If I did, half the guys would be over before food hit the table.

She dumps the garlic into my homemade pasta sauce. I can make five things – all different shapes of pasta topped with this sauce. Using the wooden spoon, she lifts a taste to her lips and smiles.

“You were not lying,” she confirms, licking her lips. Seven things flash through my mind – none of them deadly but all of them sins.

We laugh and talk while cooking. I learn a lot about her and probably tell her even more about myself. As she passes close, I’m nearly overcome by the urge to grab and kiss her. She’s in my kitchen. We’re cooking ourselves dinner. The way it would be if she were my girlfriend.

Women don’t cook here. They don’t hang out. Maybe they have breakfast. Girlfriend?!

Instead I pour her beer in a glass as she puts the last dish on the table. The food is really good. Olivia twists her spaghetti around her fork and asks me all kinds of hockey questions: if I like the traveling, what I do in the off season, what’s the best part about playing. I think she’s anxious to get the season underway so she can learn the ropes.

“What made you take this job?” I ask when she’s finished grilling me.

“Needed a change. A friend in New York works at the NHL’s public relations agency. She submitted my resume. I wanted a change from publishing and a break from New York.”

She was obviously very accomplished – she’d worked at big firms in big cities and was now Director of our department at 27 years old. But it had always been a young game, everywhere I’d played. The older guys, the ones who stayed forever, were in the front office or the recruiting system.

“And now that you’re here?”

She nodded as she finished a bite. “I like it. It’s just big enough. At first I was worried about not knowing anyone, but the job gives me the chance to make friends.”

“You didn’t mind signing that clause about not dating players? It might be hard to find a boyfriend with us around scaring the guys away.”

I think she looks almost relieved. A bad breakup in the recent past, or something else that didn’t go as she’d hoped. I wonder who it was. I wonder if I can kill him.

“Life is easy when you’re not allowed to make any decisions,” she answers.

I send the photo to Crosby, Kris, Jordan and Geno as she scoops out ice cream. The message reads, “You are no match for a Jedi.” I ignore the replies vibrating in my pocket. Instead I take her beer and carry it into the living room.

Girls always like my house. That’s why I run everything past Vero when decorating. She says it’s ‘masculine but approachable,’ whatever that means. I just want it to look nice without being flashy. Some of these guys have no idea what to do with their money and MTV “Cribs” would call them tacky. Olivia goes right to the bookshelf. These are not for show, they’re books I’ve read. Wow, Max reads, right? It works on a lot of women.

“Can I borrow this?” she turns, a copy of The Three Musketeers in her hand.

“Do you read French?” I would give her a kidney if she wanted it.

“Not well, but with a dictionary I could get through it. It’s my favorite book ever. I’ve read it a hundred times in English.”

I didn’t know she spoke any French. Adrenaline freezes my system as I try to remember every time I said something crass about her in French, wondering if she could have understood me. Surely she would have called me out if she had. And she’s here, I'm not doing too badly.

“Read some of it to me,” I sit down. “Let’s see how your French is.”

She starts at the beginning. Her vocabulary isn’t very strong, plus the book was written in the 1840’s. Some of the words stumble. But her pronunciation is good and her accent is even better. Almost like she’s not trying at all.

“Your accent is perfect,” I say, genuinely impressed. She thanks me, saying she chose French in school because she can’t do a Spanish accent to save her life. She reads another page and I know she’s right about being a dictionary away from conversational French.

“Did you speak English growing up?”

“I did. My parents made sure my brothers and I learned. Plus, all the movies and music are in English. It was easier. But sometimes the accents are hard – I can’t tell the difference between a New York and a Texas, they sound the same to me.”

She laughs. “If you ever see me drunk you will hear a New York accent that cannot be mistaken.”

If I ever see her drunk she won’t be using her mouth to talk. I’m at the bottom of my ice cream, but I don’t want her to leave. It’s only 8:30 PM.

“Want to watch a movie?” I suggest.

She looks at me for a moment. This whole evening is obviously a come-on, I am no good at hiding when I’m hitting on someone. Why would I want to be? I think she’s considering how friendly she can be without crossing that line. She surveys the DVD shelf.

Mystery Alaska, Miracle, The Mighty Ducks, Slapshot, The Cutting Edge…” she recites. I don’t own any of those movies.

“Too bad,” she laughs at her own joke. “I love The Cutting Edge.”

Olivia reaches into her purse on the armchair and tosses me a Netflix envelope. She brought her own movie. She brought her own movie!!!! I am too busy opening it and trying to contain my excitement to realize that she’s using her phone.

“Hmmmm…,” she’s pressing buttons. “Why do I have four text messages, all from members of your team?”

Oh my God the photo.

She laughs, loudly and suddenly. “Sidney says, ‘Max is terrible at keeping secrets. You should have cooked me dinner instead.’ She giggles at the rest and sends what I imagine are snarky replies. I have to look away. Those assholes! I should have known they would text her too.

“Liv, sorry. I was just giving them a hard time. I thought it would be funny.”

“It is funny. It was funnier when you thought you covered the sound of the camera taking a picture.” She smiles.

Damn! I’m such a dick! And yet she hasn’t run from this house, screaming for a restraining order.

“I… I have nothing to say,” I blush. I actually blush.

She rolls her eyes. “I’ve sent so many pictures of you guys to my girlfriends – you have no idea. God bless the iPhone. I could start a website and make a fortune.”

Her Netflix movie is Role Models, which is hilarious and inappropriate. Olivia and I sit on the couch, not touching but not miles apart like kids on a first date. I can still smell her clean laundry scent. She laughs the entire way through then says she’s seen it five times. When the film ends, it’s after 10 PM. I’m disappointed that she’s leaving.

“Thanks for dinner, Max.” She puts on her coat. “Next time, I’ll cook.”

Next time next time next time…. When she’s gone, I finish her beer.

Four booty call texts from one photo. I’m saving these just in case I get really lonely this winter. Jordan’s was the best. Olivia reads it again as she files them in her phone. “Come over now and I promise to buy you breakfast.”

She’s barely out the door before I’m running to the bedroom to find that lotion I hid. The cling of her sweater, the sound of her laugh, the sight of her on my couch in the dark… it’s almost enough. My mind turns it into a little porn – she’s wearing only white cotton panties in the kitchen, baking brownies. She turns toward me, licking the spoon, and a drip of batter falls between her breasts. I lick the chocolate from her skin, then taste the same in her mouth. I smear a dallop of it on her stomach and lick that off, then her thigh. The rest never makes it to the oven. I take her to the couch, where we were watching a movie, and instead I see her climb on top of me, straddling my lap. My pants are gone and she’s hooking the fabric of her underwear aside, holding my cock in the other hand. She flicks my head against her clit and coos appreciatively. She runs it over the length of her entrance, which is slick and warm. Then she rocks onto me, taking just the tip, then more, then all the way to the base. She cries out, thrusts twice, and then I come. Guess the brownies made me a little hotter than I expected.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chapter II: Specifics

We win our last pre-season game. Nothing to get too excited about, but it puts us in a good mood for a long day of TV stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I like to talk about myself. But it’s a whole lot of boring and waiting.

In the locker room after, Olivia sends a couple of reporters my way. I scored the Stanley Cup winning goal last season and they want to know how I’m going to follow it up. I rattle off something innocuous because it’s expected, and because I have no idea how to follow up last season.

She talks with Dave, the Media Director, and gets him to clear the press out as early as possible. It’s going to be a long season and there will be plenty of time to talk without really saying anything.

“Want to get a drink with us, Liv?” Crosby asks, making a mess of his tie. For someone who’s been in the spotlight since he was 5, you’d think he could figure this out. She bats his hands away and quickly makes a perfect Windsor knot. I don’t like that anymore than I liked Geno huddling into her.


Sid’s eyes get wide when she turns to fetch her coat and bag. It was just going to be me, Sid and Kris, but it’ll be a party now. We hadn’t really had the chance to invite her out before. Maybe I guessed she’d decline. I desperately want her to be full of surprises.

She follows us in her car to a low-key Irish bar a few miles away. As we pull in, Sid’s phone rings.

“No, we’re okay. It’s Tuesday,” he says. “I’m sure. Yeah, you can wear it.”

I realize it’s her, asking if he needs to go in the back way. She’s calling his cell phone, which is obviously in her contacts since she dialed while driving. She’s called him before.

It’s Crosby. He’s a player personnel nightmare. A full-time job. That’s it, I tell myself.

Sidney just smiles as he puts the car in park. TK and Geno pull in, followed by Marc and his girlfriend. Jordan brings up the rear.

We push some tables together in the back. Olivia and Jordan carry pitchers from the bar, and she also balances a Jack and Coke that Sidney didn’t have to order. She takes the chair next to Kris and I see his brow crease. It relaxes slightly when she pours him a pint.

“Sláinte,” she says, raising her glass. “Thanks for inviting me.”

Vero clinks her glass in cheers. “I hate being the only girl around here.”

I’m three seats away, but the chair on her other side is empty. Seating fail. She was the last to sit and though we all want to claim that spot it would be too awkward. Marc grins at us each in turn, calling us out for staring at the empty chair.

She talks naturally to Kris, who seems to be holding his own. She’s casual and engages Vero and Marc in the conversation, keeping the pressure low. I think it’s sweet that she’s going out of her way to make Kris comfortable. I’m sure Kris is also appreciating it, for many reasons.

Another group of patrons puts a song on a jukebox and a few people start to dance. Before I can form the thought, Jordan is up.

“Liv, dance with me.” He has her up before she can answer. The song is Keith Urban, something Sidney would like. Country boys. Jordan puts one palm on her hip and the other takes her hand as they two step slowly. This looks like some kind of calendar shoot with her in that Pens t-shirt. As tall as Geno, Jordan also leans down to speak to her. She’s laughing and he doesn’t stop.

“May I cut in?” I ask as the song ends. Jordan pushes her into my arms a little too hard, causing her to almost fall into me. He straightens her up and flexes again.

The next song is country too – I don’t know it but Olivia does. She lets me lead her around the floor. After seeing her joke with Jordan, I feel awkwardly silent. I’m too close to her body. She seems happy to be quiet, so I go with it. One of her hands is on my shoulder blade, her forearm resting against my bicep. The other hand is in mine. I wonder if my skin is rough, if she’s thinking about me touching her.

She’s thinking about you. They always are. This is perfectly normal, like always. I repeat this to myself. Except there’s no way in hell she’s going home with you. Why does that make this so tough?

“You smell good,” she says. “Are you wearing Eternity?”

I nod.

“I haven’t smelled that in years,” she’s shaking her head. “I would have pegged you for something trendy, Max. Instead you are a classic.”

Then she sends us home early.

“Get your beauty sleep, boys. We’ll sell more tickets if you look hot tomorrow.” She gives Vero a hug, leaving us all jealous as she gets in her car.

Only Max could make cologne from 1992 smell so good, Olivia giggles to herself in the car. I’m upgrading Jordan to a 35. He’s a good dancer and holy crap, his hands are huge.

I wake up in the middle of night, sweating, with a huge hard on. I was dreaming about Olivia – we were in her office. I was scratched from the game and we were hiding, we could hear the crowd screaming outside. I knelt behind her and slowly slid her pencil skirt up her thighs and over her ass. She leaned over her desk, black g-string nestled into the crack as I stroked myself to fully hard. Then I took the plunge, pressing myself into the tightest, wettest pussy I’d ever had. She looked back at me, over her shoulder with her sexy glasses on.

“Max, we’re not allowed to do this,” she said, before raising her hips and driving back into me, swallowing me whole. She twisted and rocked, meeting my thrusts with sharp, short cries of pleasure. Her breasts were out of her open shirt and she pinched her own nipple while she met my eye.

“Harder, Max. I want you all the way inside me,” she purred.

I gave it to her as hard as I could, apparently so hard that I woke myself up. From the deep, hot core of her sweet pussy to the empty, cold sheets… talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. I conjure an image of her, boobs falling out of a too-small demi-cup bra, walking around my house with jeans unbuttoned at the waist. About the time she’s having her way with a cherry popsicle, I finish myself off.

I walk to her office at 10:15 with two shirts on hangers. Talking on the phone, she waves me in. She’s wearing a bright blue silk blouse with some ruffling down the front, like a tuxedo. Her hair is up in a high ponytail.

As she speaks, she scribbles on a sticky note and holds it up.


I hold the green shirt up in front of my chest. She tilts her head and waves for the black one. Black always looks good on TV, nice and easy with no wrinkles. But she motions for the green one back, admires it and gives me a thumbs-up.

“Really?” I mouth.

She covers the receiver and whispers. “Put it on.”

I almost take a step out the door. Almost. Catching myself, I turn away from her and smile hugely. Thank God no one can see my face. The black shirt goes on the nearby couch and I pull my t-shirt over my head. I hear her exhale a silent laugh.

I have the shirt over one arm when a balled up piece of paper hits me. I look over my shoulder. She is waving for me to turn around. As I do, her eyes follow my bicep onto my tattoos. It is difficult to resist the urge to flex as she looks openly at my body.

There it is. That flicker, that spark. She wants me.

Without shifting her gaze, she says, “Yes, absolutely” and hangs up the phone. “I have no idea who I was talking to.” Then she giggles.

For Christ’s sake, are there cameras in these offices? If I had my way with her right here, would anyone find out?

“Put your shirt on quick, before someone comes by,” she makes a face that says ‘yikes.’ I pull on the green shirt and button it.

“I usually wear black.”

She shakes her head, taking me in while clothed. “I like that one. Makes your 5 o’clock shadow look roguish.”

I will wear this shirt everyday for the rest of my life. I’ll buy 30 of them.

“What are your tattoos?” I tell her the story behind each.

She comes around the desk and swings her leg up to rest a foot on the top of the chair. It’s a really flexible move and pulls her black slacks tightly over her ass and thigh. I take what I hope is a casual step backward. Olivia lifts the cuff from her ankle.

“My brother and I have matching ones too.” There it is, up close. A small, intricate snowflake is just above and behind her right ankle. I squat down like I need to really examine it. Today she smells like clean laundry. The urge to run my finger over the tattoo makes me tremble.

“Why a snowflake?” I cough, standing up.

“My parents had a bed and breakfast growing up, the Snow Shed. We lived there forever.” A wistful look crosses her face as she remembers something happy. If ever I’ve been on the verge of kissing her, it’s now.

“Olivia?” a voice calls.

Fucking fucker, fuck off! Woah. Rein it in. My heart jumps.

One of the NBC producers stands in the door. Good thing I am dressed. Olivia tells him that we’re ready and we follow him up stairs to a conference room turned media suite. I sit for 15 minutes while they figure out the lighting and adjust their camera angles. Olivia sits in the interviewer chair so they can calibrate that as well. She asks me silly questions.

“What is your favorite color?” Blue.

“What is your favorite movie?” Braveheart.

“Boxers or briefs?” Whichever she prefers. Boxer briefs, she says getting it right.

“Most embarrassing thing you don’t remember?” I woke up one morning on vacation in a rowboat being poked with an oar by a very angry Spanish woman.

I stop her. “Wait wait, this interview is awfully one sided.”

“No one cares what I think,” she protests.

“Favorite movie?” I demand. She says The Empire Strikes Back.

“Bikinis or g-strings?” Depends on the outfit.

“Most embarrassing moment you don’t remember?” A vacation story of her own - she once woke up on a beach in Greece, a mile from her hotel wearing a crown and painted completely blue.

“What was the fourth question?” I ask. She’s asked me four. The producer announces they’re ready and Olivia gets up to leave.

She stands, facing me. “My favorite color is green.”

Olivia had a few thoughts before lunch. They were all wiped out when Max took his shirt off. It was like pulling the tablecloth away without disrupting the dishes. Everything looks good, but the foundation is very unstable.

I finally finish my media stuff an hour later. I’ve talked the life out of that Cup-winning goal. Back downstairs, I hear voices from the locker room.

“I can’t watch,” Olivia says as I walk into the room. Crosby sits in front of his locker, camera crew setting up.

“You have to, that’s your job.” His tone is teasing.

She shakes her head. “I signed that ‘no consorting with players’ form. I’m pretty sure there’s a clause in there that I cannot watch you do pushups. Or eat ice cream. Or a million other things. And if there isn’t, there should be.”

Sidney looks at me and smiles. “Max will come with us. Witnesses.”

Olivia gives me a ‘kill me now’ look and follows Sid from the room. I don’t know what’s going on, but they are having too much fun to be left alone. We go to the gym where another camera crew has lit the place up like Las Vegas.

They’re filming him working out. For fuck’s sake.

The producer explains the shot. Sid’s in professional mode now, the jokes are over. But he looks at her a few times to make sure she’s still there. It’s not showing off if it’s work. I can hear him thinking. They do a few takes of him lifting free weights, then a barbell. He smiles at her as he climbs into prone position on the leg press. The trainer choreographs some move on the Cross-Fit and they shoot that.

“Porn,” she says quietly to me, as Sid is running hard in place.

“Too bad he’s such a nerd in real life,” I counter to keep her talking, keep her close.

“That’s part of his appeal. The boy next door.” She’s still watching him.

“Is that your type?” My mouth is dry even as I ask it.

She raises her eyes to mine. “I don’t have a type. Too predictable.”

TouchĂ©. My reputation with women precedes me in the hockey world. I like to have fun, to be casual. It’s exaggerated, probably because I purposely exaggerate it. Every team needs a Casanova, a ‘personality player.’ And hell, I love women. Especially when they love me first.

The producers move Sid to the next station. A small worried look crosses his face, but he puts on his game face, takes his shirt off and tosses it at Olivia.

I watch her, not him. She catches the shirt and gives him a death stare in return. He can’t see her face closely, can’t see her eyes flick quickly over his abs and chest, his bare arms. When he turns around, her eyes go a little bit wider. She snaps back quickly remembering that I am next to her.

“You guys have to stop taking your shirts off in front of me.”

40+ for Crosby. Holy fucking shit. Good thing Max was there or I would have been underneath him for those pushups. Fucking fire me! Who cares?! Olivia fans herself.

I finally run out of excuses to hang around. All that’s left is to ask if I can go in her office to get my black shirt. In the media suite, she’s looking into the monitor at Kris in the hot seat. She walks onto the set, squats down in front him and adjusts his collar. He’s tense, I can tell. Then she runs a hand through his hair, brushing it back from his face.

“Your hair is gorgeous,” she says. “Just make sure we can see your face.”

She confirms the monitor looks good, and the sees me. I might imagine that her eyes light up. I might hallucinate that she smiles. But she does really come over.

“Had enough? Me too.” She turns back to Kris, who’s getting a mic attached to his lapel.

“Can I get my shirt from your office?”

She nods. “Door’s open.”

Someday Kris will stop looking at me like I’m going to bite him. And then I will, Olivia smiles.

I take a moment to look around her office. She went to Dartmouth. A battered copy of the fourth Harry Potter book is marked halfway through. There are some photos – her in front of the Coliseum in Rome with another girl, skiing with a group, one of her and a guy in front of a fall foliage mountain backdrop. They look a little alike, probably her brother. No obvious boyfriend photos, though she’s too savvy for that.

Unless he put a ring on it, she wouldn’t have it around here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chapter I: Exception

I don’t chase women. I’m Max fucking Talbot. So what am I doing here?

“Hey Olivia,” I say.

She looks up from her desk. Her long, dark brown hair is tied back in some kind of messy knot, like she just got out of bed. A white button down shirt is open at her neck, revealing a fair tan left from summer. With her square glasses and pearl earrings, she looks like a sexy librarian. From a porn movie. She even parts her lips a little as she breathes out.

“Hi Max,” comes from those delicious, glossy lips. “What’s up?”

Up. Ha! I’m up. Every hair on my body is standing up. My pulse is up. And something else definitely wants to come up.

“I, uh….” It takes a second to remember the reason I invented to come here. “I wanted to ask you about the Activities Clause. The one that says what we’re not allowed to do off the ice.”

She smiles and leans back in her chair. Her chest is full, complimented by her top rather than straining against it. It’s sexy and subtle. Most women around here are puckbunnies and subtle is not a concept they are familiar with.

“Planning to do something dangerous?” She arches an eyebrow at me.

“Well, I… my brothers want to go skydiving over Christmas. You do it in the Laurentian Mountains, if the weather is clear. Supposed to be amazing in the winter. You have to book in early and hope it doesn’t snow.”

That look that crosses her face – Is that skepticism? Does she think I’m full of shit? Wait, I am full of shit. Shit.

“Jumping out of a plane is frowned upon by the Penguins organization,” she says officially. Then she puts her elbow on the desk and rests her hand in her chin. “But personally, it’s amazing and you should do it. Don’t tell anyone I said that.”

I almost stammer again. “Have you done it?”

“In Switzerland, in the winter. We could see the Matterhorn a hundred miles away. Possibly the most amazing experience of my life.” She smiles at the memory.

Blood rushes in my ears like a jet engine. I thought she was sexy before, strutting around the arena in a pencil skirt. Now she jumps out of planes in countries that use numbered bank accounts? I may die.

“So, what you’re saying is….” I can’t finish my sentence.

“I’m saying that skydiving is not allowed. But if it goes wrong, you’re dead. Right? You won’t be around the care if Mario’s pissed off.”

She stands up. Another goddamned pencil skirt. The long kind that flares at her knees, making her legs look impossibly long. She walks around the front of the desk, stopping just a foot from me.

“If you’re going to do something from the list of prohibited activities, that is the one exception I recommend.”

Today she smells like honeysuckle. It’s never the same two days in a row. She looks at her watch and picks up a folder from her desk.

“Team meeting in 5. Run interference for me?” she asks.

That’s three times this week Max has come in here. The questions are getting dodgier, Olivia thinks to herself.

It’s the first of October. We’ve played five pre-season games and have one left, tonight. In three days, the regular season opens.

Olivia started here in August, or maybe July. Before the team was back. By the time we started using the building, she had already settled into her job as Director of Player Relations and was walking around like she owned the place. She practically did. If not the actual arena, then most of the hearts and dirty thoughts that live inside.

Her job is to keep us in line. She makes sure everyone is signed, present and accounted for. She regulates media appearances and access to the players. Everyone’s fair share of public appearances, charity work and public relations gigs will come through her.

I walk slowly next to her. She’s my height in her shoes, which are delicious leopard print slingbacks. The heel is slender, but only moderately high. I guess she’s 5’ 8” barefoot. I glimpse a red painted toenail through the peep toe. Every time I see her, I find myself looking at her left hand to make sure she hasn’t promised herself to someone overnight.

She stops at the locker room door. Half the guys in here would love for her to see them naked. She’s been laughingly careful about it, but it only a matter of time. Crosby has his shirt off and Kunitz is in his shorts, but otherwise the coast is clear.

I’ve spent enough time in the room to notice that the noise falls a bit when Olivia walks in. It happens every time – the absence of sound as 10 of the 25 guys forget what they were saying. She doesn’t seem to notice. The playback room, where we have team meetings, is across the room and down the hallway. Whoever designed this place did not expect to have women walking around.

“Hi Liv!” Marc-Andre calls out. Blissfully shacked up with his girlfriend of a zillion years, Marc enjoys nothing more than to torture us all with Olivia’s gut-wrenching presence.

“Hi Flower,” she smiles back. She loves nicknames. She learned everyone’s before we even got here, then politely asked if it was okay to call us by them. No one argued. She calls me Talbs sometimes, but not often enough. I’d love if she thought of her own for me.

“Sexy librarian today?” he jokes.

She laughs, maybe blushes a little for effect. She doesn’t look that way and not know what we’re thinking every day. But she doesn’t throw it around, and I respect that. There’s a lot of throwing where women are concerned, mostly throwing themselves at us. Oliva is a professional. She just happens to be crazy hot.

“There is too much testosterone in here,” she waves a hand in front of her face.

“Come on, Liv. You know we all think about you,” Jordan chimes in, unable to resist giving anyone a hard time. “Personally, I like the glasses.”

She throws him a wink. “Thanks, Gronk. I think about you too. Mostly when I have to open a jar and it just won’t budge.”

Jordan pulls up his sleeve and gives her a flex, then kisses his bicep. What a goober. Thank God he’s at least 80% kidding. Then Sidney chimes in. I notice he’s put a shirt on before calling any attention to himself. Kid’s shy, which is hilarious. Girls are out of their minds for that body.

“What about me, Olivia? When do you think about me?” He’s giving her puppy dog eyes.

“When I’m mowing the lawn.” Because lawn boys don’t wear shirts. She’s good.

TK throws a curve ball. “And when you’re thinking of us, what is it you think about us?”

She doesn’t reply right away and I know she’s looking for a clever turn of phrase. She’s not going to outright answer this question. I hear my mouth talking without permission from my brain.

“Yeah Liv, what do you think about us? Don’t be shy.” I say, looking around. Who can I put this on? “What do you think of Tanger? He can take it.”

Kris gives me a look that could burn Montreal to the ground. He’s got a big old crush on Olivia. He’s a little shy sometimes and she definitely makes him nervous. She’s looking at him too, like she knows he’s the victim of my unauthorized speaking.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, Tanger is a 35.”

Jordan whoops like a siren and slaps Kris on the back. Kris’ face goes fuchsia. I hope she meant that, because she just made his day. And set him back at least two weeks from being able to talk to her normally.

“Seriously Kris,” she’s nodding, with a smile on her face. He’s impossibly red. Ah, when she gives him a hard time it makes us all love her even a little more.

“Didn’t you sign some kind of sexual harassment agreement when you started here?” Billy G asks, pretending anyone wants her to stop.

She peals out a laugh. Her head goes back a little and she closes her eyes.

“I signed the part about ‘will not consort with players’ alright. Then I met you guys. When we got back to the office, Mario had blown that page up to poster size, taped the roster to it, highlighted 15 names and made me sign it again in blood. I think he hung it on the wall.”

Billy narrows his eyes at her. “Only 15?”

“He also added me to the list of things Max was asking about earlier.” She turns toward me as someone asks what list that was. The guys give me stares, knowing I’ve gone to her office again. They can see through my bullshit in a second.

A wicked smile comes to her lips. “The list of things your contract says you’re not allowed to do outside of work.”

Kris is definitely a 35. Crosby’s a 35. Jordan’s a 30. Max is a 40. I need a new scale, Olivia admits to herself.

Coach calls us into the meeting. Olivia sits in the front row, on the corner. Geno practically tosses Crosby out of the way and sits next to her.

“Hello Olivia,” he says. His voice is growly from not being used enough. Speaking Russian all summer always makes the beginning of the season hard on his English. “How are you?’

“Good, Geno. You?”

“I am well, thank you.” She smiles at his grammatically correct response. He really tries to be a better speaker so he can be a better interview. I know they’d worked on it together, and even gotten him an accent coach. But he seems to want to learn from her, and no one blames him.

Most of the meeting is about opening night. Tonight’s game is the last chance to shake the off-season slag and get ready to start the long battle. The Stanley Cup hangover is legend in the sport – teams who win it rarely came back strong. We are determined to be different.

Olivia stands at Coach’s invitation and everyone in the room tunes in. Her stomach is flat under her belt as she leans back slightly against the table. I notice a small, shiny scar partway up her right shin that I’d never seen before. Eyes around the room drink in her slender form. She looks healthy, strong – I have been meaning to ask what she does to work out. Maybe she wants a training partner.

“Tomorrow is media day.” The room groans. She stares over her glasses like we are naughty schoolboys. It has the desired effect of distracting us.

“They’ll be ready at 11. No skate tomorrow, so I’m going to let everyone sign up for their own time. But you have to talk to them. Interviews will take about 10 min a piece, plus photos, profiles and then they might want to shoot b-roll with some of you.”

She smiles. “Try to look nice, please. No shirts with logos, you know the drill. Except you, Crosby. Wear something with your own face on it, okay? Effing Rebook calls me every 10 minutes.” That gets a laugh. “Staalsy, wear something blue. Makes your eyes look nice on camera.”

He looks shocked that she’s thought of him. To cover his surprise, he asks, “Does it have to have sleeves?”

“I’m happy not to see any mullets among you, so I don’t have to break out the clippers. Here’s a list of the times. Sign yourselves up and please don’t make me hunt you down.”

At the end of the meeting, Geno catches Olivia in a corner and talks to her in a low voice. He towers over her, so his shoulders curl down as he leans in close. I don’t like it.

Get a grip. It’s going to be like this all season and you haven’t even played one game yet. Remember, women chase you. Not the other way around. We have a long way to go. I don’t sign up for a time, instead going back to the locker room to work on some equipment for tonight.

Geno’s a 25. He’ll be a 30 when his English is polished. Olivia files him away for reconsideration.

This time, her office door is closed. I knock and hear shuffling. When she opens it, my heart stops.

Her hair is down, swept over one shoulder and hanging in front of her. She wears a Penguins t-shirt – the soft cotton vintage kind with the logo almost washed off. Dark slim jeans wrap her legs and she is barefoot.

“Sorry, just changing,” she said. As if I could be a door away from her naked and not know it. “I didn’t have anything to wear tonight, so I went to the gift shop upstairs.” She lifts her arms and spins around. “Look okay?”

It looks like God himself had painted it onto her body. The shirt clings and hangs in all the right places. Again, sexy and subtle. Her ass looks amazing in those jeans. The red toenails are as good as I’d imagined.

“You’re missing a number on your back,” I say.

She shakes her head. “They only had the player shirts in mens sizes, and they’re not soft.”

I wonder which one she’d been looking at. There are lots of Crosby shirts, a couple for Geno and Flower and one each for me and Staal. Maybe mine.

“If you ever need something, I can give you a jersey to wear,” I offer. Then I’d have to accidentally ‘lose’ the jersey and take it home to sleep in. Because I am completely losing my mind – she is supposed to want to sleep in my shirts. In my bed. She’s supposed to want me.

She look down at herself. “Maybe next time.”

I get the sign-up sheet from her desk. The only slot left is the very first one at 11 AM. Perfect. Signing up for it would have looked weird, but I want to be first.

“Can you come at 10:30? It always takes them forever to set up, and they’ll need a guinea pig.” Precisely. I give myself a mental pat on the back.

Well if I have to look at someone all morning, at least it’s Max. I should have told him not to shave. But then I might not make it through the morning, Olivia notes happily.