“Have you seen Olivia?” Dan asks me. I shake my head no and he continues into the locker room. We’re getting ready for tonight’s game against Washington – Sidney’s favorite. It’s a big media draw, so they’ve been running around all day. Two minutes later, she comes out, sees me in the hallway and smiles. I think she’s going to talk, but her head keeps turning. When she does stop, it’s a dead, deer-in-the-headlights, front-impact crash stop.
“What are you doing here?” Her voice is flat and completely emotionless. I almost shiver.
There’s a guy in the hallway I didn’t notice before. He’s about my height, medium build but not a pro athlete. His brown hair is messy in a pretty way that involves product. I can admit that he’s a good-looking guy. When he smiles at her, I know he’s very good-looking. And that he is the ex-boyfriend from New York.
“Hi Liv,” he says brightly, pulling a small bouquet of daisies from behind his back. “Happy belated birthday.”
Olivia is coiled tight as a spring. She’s four feet from me and I think she’s going to back up and claw my arm. Instead, she gives me a quick, sharp look. I pick up my sticks as she starts talking.
“Scott. This is a… surprise.”
Inside the door I toss my stuff into a corner. I scan the room as quickly as I can, but don’t see him and continue into the trainers’ room. I don’t have much time.
“Billy!” He’s getting a shoulder iced. I go close and speak low. “The boyfriend Olivia had in New York, was he a hockey fan?”
“He’s here. He surprised her.” The look on Billy’s face says that I had better hurry. “So who do I send out there to rescue her, Crosby or Staal?”
“Both. Guy’s a huge fan.” Billy shrugs off the trainer and starts getting up himself. I’m already running.
Sid’s taping a stick. Jordan’s across from him, headphones in. I pull the wire on his earphones and he looks up annoyed as they fall out. “Olivia’s ex-boyfriend is in the hallway. You need to go rescue her.” They’re both on their feet before I’m done talking.
“I’m going!” Jordan is already moving.
“Wait,” I grab his arm. “The guy is a big fan. Crosby goes too, so we really run him off for good.” He waves for Sid to follow him and I bring up the rear. Jordan bowls through the door but they’re not in the hallway. I collide with Sid’s back as we stop and listen.
“… no right… not here. I told you…,” her voice is strained, but she is not shouting. We move in that direction.
“… said I was…,” he’s getting a little loud now. We’re almost around the corner where the arena opens up into the service hallways.
“… not listening to me….”
We turn the corner and her back is to us. Her hands are on her hips, flowers scrunched against her side. They are talking, not shouting, but the atmosphere is charged with aggression. Whatever he came here hoping to find, he’s not getting it. Instead he’s getting angry.
By the time this guy registers other people in the hallway, Sidney is next to her. The goddamned face of the NHL. He’s got his chest out and shoulders wide – he looks like a linebacker. No one handles pressure better than Sidney Crosby.
“Everything okay, Liv?” he asks, but he’s looking at Scott. Scott’s mouth is open, cut-off in mid-sentence. Olivia puts a hand on Sid’s arm – his huge, flexed, straining-that-shirt bicep.
“Thanks Sid, I’m fine.”
Jordan’s face is a mask. He steps in on her other side, towering over everyone, slides his own incomparably huge arm around her back and pulls her into his body. She leans against him a little. She was about to lose her edge, I think, just before we got there.
“Can we help you?” he asks Scott. Jordan’s stance is so possessive that there’s no mistaking this is his territory. In a different situation, I’d want to murder him. Now I’m grateful, but feeling suddenly useless. I ran for help but I’m of no consequence in this fight. No one needs me. I was just convenient.
“Scott, this is Sid and this is Jordan,” she says for emphasis. Then she looks over her shoulder. “And this is Max.” She reaches out a hand and pulls me in between her and Sidney. We’re shoulder-to-shoulder like a wall and she is holding my hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Scott says drily. “Olivia and I were just talking. We go back a long time.”
“Thanks guys, I will be right over. Okay? Just give me a minute.” The look on her face tells us not to go too far. We start to walk away. Before he lets go, Jordan kisses the top of Olivia’s head where it’s tucked into his arm. With a final glare at Scott, he follows us around the corner.
“Scott, you need to go. I’ve heard you out. I am glad we are over and that’s all there is to say. So please, go.”
He won’t drop it, though he must know we’re listening. “Got a new boyfriend now, Liv? Is he even old enough to drive? We know how you like to make all the decisions, so that should work out great for you.”
Jordan’s knuckles are white. His fists are clenched, his teeth and shoulders are clenched and I find myself ready to grab on and slow him down if he charges this guy. I can’t stop him, but I can buy Scott some time to run for his life.
“Jordan Staal is twice the man you’ll ever be. And if he ever sleeps with my roommate I will kill him. I was too easy last time, letting you live. Now you keep coming back to haunt me.”
“Sure thing, Liv. Call your little boy band there whenever you need help.”
“I will, Scott. Thanks. They’re better friends already than the ones I had in New York.”
He grunts in frustration, an angry noise someone would make on the ice. Sid’s tense too, like he thinks Olivia might be in danger.
“When are you going to give that up? You keep harping on the same point because you have nothing else to say! It was a mistake. I am sorry. What else do you want me to do, Liv?”
“You’re not sorry, you’re pathetic. A mistake is made once. Sleeping with someone for two months not an accident, it’s an epidemic. And what I want you to do is GET OUT.”
He can’t stop himself. Jordan goes back around the corner, put his hands on Olivia’s shoulders and says, “She asked you to leave. I trust you don’t need any help finding your way out?”
Scott wants to retort. His face is red with choking back whatever comment is on his tongue. After a moment, he lets it go. “Good luck with her, you’re going to need it.”
Jordan nods. “Thanks for fucking up and making this possible.”
If Jordan were not a colossus, not a professional athlete, Scott would deck him. Sid and I are behind them now, in full view, and I watch the plus/minus of attacking Jordan zips through Scott’s mind. He barely decides against it. Scott spins on his heel, marches toward the nearest exit and leaves. The door is one-way, so when it slams he is really gone.
Jordan slides his hands down Olivia’s arms, wraps them around her and holds her from behind. His head goes down I can’t hear what he’s saying. Sidney’s hand on my arm says we have to go.
“Thank you,” Olivia whispers, melting back in Jordan’s chest. She squeezes her eyes shut but the tears escape anyway.
“Shhhh,” Jordan whispers, turning her to face him. He tilts her head up and wipes beneath her eyes with his thumbs. Then he kisses each eyelid, slowly, lightly. She takes a deep breath and steadies herself. “Shhhhh. It’s okay. He’s never coming back. Not now.”
A wet giggle escapes her chest. The adrenaline has bottomed out and she’s trembling, borderline hysterical. She wraps her arms around Jordan’s middle, absorbing comfort from his body. He kisses her lightly on the mouth. They’re in full view of anyone walking this part of the arena but Olivia does not have the strength the care.
“I won’t let anyone hurt you,” he says. “I won’t hurt you, Olivia. Nothing to worry about.”
Jordan appears behind me and claps me on the shoulder. He’s smiling, though he looks a little shaken. “Thanks man. Nice save,” he says. He gives Sid a bro-hug too. “Thanks guys.”
“She okay?” Sid asks.
“Yeah, she’ll be fine. Probably sharpening her knife collection, just in case.” Jordan sits and starts to dress. We have an hour before pre-game skate. After a minute, Jordan raises his head and looks at me again.
“She’s in her office, if you want to talk to her.” The look on his face says that I should, that I have his permission. As if I needed it. But still, if they’re going to date then this is kind of his turf. I nod and head toward her closed door.
“You okay?” I say softly, opening the door a crack. She’s sitting on the couch just inside, a tissue in hand and staring at the floor. I shut the door and sit across from her. Fresh tears brim in her beautiful eyes and she looks so, so tired. Without speaking she slides over and puts her body into my chest. I reach my arms around her, lean back and hold her against me.
“Max,” she whispers. “Thank you, Max.”
I kiss the top of her head – I can’t resist. It’s platonic. It’s protective. I just want to make her feel better. “Olivia, anything you need.”
“Thank God you were there. You knew exactly what to do. I didn’t want to have to ask you to do that all by yourself.”
“I would have,” I assure her. Almost gleefully.
She smiles, I can see her cheek move. “I know. Remember I said I’d wear your jersey while you kicked his ass? I kinda wanted you too.”
I push her up a little so I can look in her face. “If he ever comes back, give me first crack. Whatever’s left, Jordan can kill it.”
She sighs and settles back into my body. Holding her feels like magic, like I’m getting stronger and younger and warmer and more powerful. I greedily take a deep breath of her scent – cherry blossoms today. I should be focused on comforting her, but my mind will not cooperate. I think of holding her like this every day, or coming home to this. I’d race back from any game, any road trip, just to wrap myself up in her.
“How could anyone cheat on you, Olivia? I will never understand that.”
“He cheated on me for two months with my roommate,” she says sadly. “Want to know how I found out?” I have a feeling that I don’t, but I nod. “I came home from work to change for an event and they were doing it on the couch. My couch! Right in the middle of my living room with the windows open. How tacky!”
She’s laughing a little, so I think it’s okay to laugh too.
“We’d been together for two years. We talked about getting married. I moved out when I caught them, and he spent two weeks trying to find me. Flowers, candy, presents, he slept on my doorstep one night. He was so pathetic I almost forgave him. Then I ran into the roommate at a bar. She told me it wasn’t one time, it was two months. That he’d been coming over every single time I was out. Sometimes he’d come over early, fuck her and then wait to take me out after work! I was apoplectic. She was my friend – her friends were my friends – or so I thought. Turned out they all knew.”
“What a bitch,” I say, really amazed at the way people will treat each other.
“So I cut him off again, told security at my job to shoot him on sight. One of the bodyguards we used for actors actually drove me home a few nights to be sure he wasn’t hanging around. Then, it got worse. Or better, depending on how evil I’m feeling. Turns out my roommate still wanted him. After I caught them, he never once spoke to her. She stalked him like he stalked me, getting nowhere either. Three weeks later, she found out she was pregnant.”
My body goes rigid. Every guy lives in fear of accidentally getting someone pregnant, someone they don’t care about. But this is worse.
“So now he pays her child support, she had to move back to Wisconsin and they never, ever speak.” I’m stunned silent. She keeps talking.
“The worst part of the whole thing… what still kills me, is that I didn’t love him. I thought I did for a long time. I wanted to, but a tiny part of me always knew that wasn’t enough. I spent two years with someone I didn’t love. I let someone I didn’t love ruin my life and walk all over me. I hurt him, probably worse than he hurt me. He loved me even though he was incredibly stupid. That’s why he still tries to come around – he still loves me. But I didn’t love him. And so when I got wrecked by the cheating, I was just as mad at myself for wasting so much time. Not being honest. Not being brave enough to see the truth and do something about it. Karma really kicked my ass on that one.”
The tears are done. She’s just talking now. Some of it she’s saying to herself – don’t do that again.
She sits up, breaking our embrace, but keeps her hand on my body. “This is why I can’t get involved with something serious. I got in over my head. I have to learn to be honest with myself before I can go there again. I got an easy out with Scott – he ruined it, so I didn’t have to. As bad as it was, it would have been worse, eventually, and it would have been my fault. I cannot put someone through that. I couldn’t risk that happening with you, Max.”
I feel what she’s saying more than I hear it. I don’t like the words, but now I really know her. If I thought we were close before, that was nothing. For now, I can make do with this.
“Nobody’s perfect, Liv. Don’t beat yourself up too much,” I give her a squeeze and sit myself up. It’s almost time to get dressed.
She stands and pulls me up. I get a good, solid hug and give one back.
“Thanks Max,” she says.
“I don’t like to see you hurt. But I do like being able to help you,” I kiss her cheek and head for the locker room.
We scratch out a victory based solely on the pent up energy in Staal and Crosby. They tear it up on the ice and the victory is an ugly, scrappy one. But still a victory. I hear Jordan growl at a defensemen to drop his gloves. Crosby lays off his normal bitchfest with Ovechkin because he can’t have a fight on national TV. I feel fine – sad, but fine. When the game is over and the media pour in, Olivia stands in the back of the room and smiles.
“Let’s get a beer,” I say to Jordan when the reporters clear out. He wants an excuse to be with her. They have no parameters yet and he doesn’t know the best way to get her to hang out. So I’m giving him a hand.
“Good idea,” he smiles like he gets it. He walks over to her without putting a shirt on. The smirk on her face is priceless. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“You can’t buy anyone a drink, 20 years old. But it’s okay, because I owe you guys big time.”
Olivia delivers. She throws her credit card behind the bar and tells us to order whatever we want. It’s a cute move – three cards go back after hers’ and there’s not a bartender in town who would charge her with us in tow.
She ditched the dress she’d been wearing for jeans and a satiny black top with a hot pink sash wrapped around her slender waist. She’s wearing flats and her hair back – business is over and she’s leaving it behind tonight.
TK dispenses with the waitress and brings over a tray of lemon drop shots. Everyone raises one and Jordan clinks his against mine.
“Nice work today,” he slugs back the vodka. “I should probably be worried about you two, but we’ve promised to keep it casual.” He looks over at Olivia, who’s laughing at the face Crosby makes from the lemon. “If I fall in love with her, we might have a problem.”
I drain my shot and smile. “Then don’t fall in love.”
We both watch Olivia toss down her shot, then bite the fruit. Geno pushes her hand, squishing the lemon into her face. She squeals and throws it at him. Without even noticing she’s doing it, and certainly unaware of us watching, she slowly licks the juice from her lips and smiles. I get tunnel vision – the edges go dark and I can almost feel that tongue on mine, on my skin. A powerful shiver courses through me, like I’ve just come back from an out-of-body experience.
Jordan must have felt it too. “I’ll try, dude.”
Someone puts Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” on the jukebox and Olivia dances with Sidney. They’re like a mermaid and a walrus. She moves with him, humoring his bad dancing, but mostly they’re talking. Probably about today. Sidney’s social circle is limited by his fame and he takes his friends very seriously.
I wait for the song to change, and when I hear it I have to cut in. Sid looks a little disappointed – my song is sexier. But he can’t do much on the floor anyway. Olivia shrugs at him, winks at me and starts really dancing to “The Way You Move” by Outkast. She doesn’t get too close to me, but watching her is almost as good. I’m sure Jordan is watching us, but I don’t check.
“Thanks again for today, Max,” she says, moving near me. “You saved the day.” I reward her gratitude with some extra awesome dance moves that get a big laugh.
Jordan lets me get to the end of the song. When “Smooth” by Santana and Rob Thomas starts to play, he twirls her away. She claps - turns out Olivia loves this song. I head for the bar and get another drink before I have the fortitude to look. They’re not too close, but they are closer than she and I were. And she’s rocking her hips and shoulders to the beat, rolling her whole body in a slow, sexy dance. It’s like they wrote this song for her. Jordan makes it a whole verse before he moves right in, hand on her hip and slides his knee between hers. As he curls around her, she puts her hands on his shoulders and pulls him in close. It’s not graphic – the couple next to them is practically humping – but the suggestion is much more effective.
I make a mental note to play this song for the next woman I really want to dance with.
We make it thought another few rounds, but I’m starting to fade. TK offers me a ride home and I have to take it. Olivia and Jordan are dancing, so I give her a little wave. She leaves Jordan standing there to walk the room and give me a big hug.
“Night Max,” she’s a little tipsy and looks tired too.
Jordan pulls up in front of Olivia’s building, puts the car in park and turns toward her. She’s got her eyes closed in the front seat, but she’s smiling.
“Is this a parking spot?” she asks without looking.
“Good. Leave your car here.” She gets out and heads for the door. He runs to catch up.
Jordan drops onto Olivia’s red couch. Her living room is slightly small, but decorated brightly. The whole place feels like home. Beaded lampshades, runners on the tables, flowers in a vase on the bookshelf. Of course Jordan is a boy and couldn’t tell you any of this. But he does know this feels like a place he wants to hang out. He leans back on an Indian-print pillow and takes a glass of water from her hand. She stretches out next to him, her bare fee on his shins.
“How long have you lived here?” There is stuff everywhere.
“Four months,” she says. Can’t believe it’s been so quick.
“How long since you last saw the boyfriend?” Jordan doesn’t want to talk about it, doesn’t want to upset her. But knows he needs to. Lest Max be the only one she feels she can talk to.
“Six weeks? I was in NY in August, and he accidentally on purpose happened to be where I was.” She makes a face. “I don’t want to talk about him.”
Jordan rolls his eyes. “Thank God.” He puts the glass down, grabs her legs and pulls them over his thighs. She ends up lying on the couch, her head on the last cushion. He tilts onto an elbow, lies down next to her and traces a finger around her jaw line.
“Liv, are you sure you want me here? I mean, we want to keep this casual. But that was only like two days ago and now I’m in your apartment.”
She giggles. “I know! I wasn’t expecting to need a rescue so soon. I think I can be in your presence and not get out of control.”
Now he laughs. “It’s definitely not you I’m worried about.”
“You can go, if you want,” she says seriously. The blue of her eyes is midnight. Jordan wraps his arm around her middle and unfolds his arm so he was on his side next to her.
“Yeah right,” he whispers and kisses her. “But no sex.”
“Ha, that’s my line!” Olivia pretends to slap his arm.
He scoops her up, like he did the night of her birthday. One door is open, the bathroom, so he chooses the other. Her bedroom looks like the living room – very happily lived in. Photos, paintings and books are everywhere. As they pass the dresser, she reaches out a foot to kick a drawer shut. Jordan catches a glimpse of underwear and takes a deep breath.
He sits her on the bed, takes off his shirt and jeans and climbs under the covers. She puts a blue t-shirt on, pulls her tank top off underneath it, slides off her jeans and pulls on a pair of shorts. Jordan bites his lip at the flash of ass that shows as she hikes them up, and then smiles at the little hearts printed on them. She climbs in next to him and he reaches across to turn off the light.
Olivia finds his lips in the dark and kisses him, feeling safe and warm. Feeling relieved that the Scott problem is over. Hoping that Jordan will be just the kind of thing she needs. Jordan breaks away.
“Liv, don’t kiss me like that when I’m in your bed. Remember, I’m 20. I’m all hormones. I may die and then how will you dispose of my body?” He pauses. “If I die in your bed and you call Max, I will never forgive you. From the grave.”
Olivia smiles in the dark and runs the smooth back of bare her calf over the skin of Jordan’s leg.
“Oh that is it!” He rolls on top of her and kisses her into oblivion. Just before they get too hot and heavy, he pulls her into a hug and closes his eyes.
“My willpower will not always be this strong,” he mumbles.
Oh God neither will mine, she knows.