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.