“You didn’t believe me,” Jordan surprises Olivia by being awake. She’s sitting on the bed, staring at the opposite wall.
“I had to check. I was drunk and I didn’t really think about it.” Her voice is thick with tears. Jordan sits up, the covers falling off his bare torso. Under the blankets he moves closer. It's bright was day inside; they didn’t close the blinds before they fell asleep.
“Are you upset it was me here, instead of Max?”
Jordan looms over her, his physical presence sucking all the air from the room. Those huge shoulders, voice husky with sleep, smile barely hiding though he’s just woken up. Olivia can feel how much he wants to touch her. A tear rolls down her cheek – the last of many cried before Jordan woke up.
“No, I’m glad you told me. I’m just surprised at how mad I am that no one else did.” She turns into him more, slipping her legs under the sheet. “I’m glad it was you, Jordan.”
One of his hands slides up under the sleeve of her shirt. The he presses his lips to hers in their first real, sober kiss. It’s as good as Olivia remembers – sweet and sleepy, like a warm place to curl up. Jordan runs his tongue over her bottom lip and she draws in closer. They are still dressed – well, half-dressed – and Olivia intends to stay that way. But a lazy morning kissing a gorgeous boy who also proved to be honest and protective… that sounds nice. Thoughts of anger and thoughts of Max disappear from her head as Jordan wraps his arms around and lays her down.
It takes every ounce of Jordan’s strength not to touch her body, not to press against her slender thigh and work the hard-on he feels growing. He wants to lick her soft skin, smell her neck, feel inside her body. He talks himself through kissing her, inner monologue running right up until he falls back to sleep.
I barely last the bus ride to the arena for morning skate. First, I waited to see if she would board. She’s been up two hours ago when we talked in the hall. But she didn’t show. Jordan climbed on last, sat in the front and didn’t say a word. Now, we are in the hallway near the locker room when I grab his arm and haul him into a corner.
“What the fuck, Jordan?” I am furious.
“Too slow, Max,” he isn’t smiling. He’s serious.
“What the hell does that mean?! What happened last night?”
Jordan cocked his head to the side. “I got some of what I wanted. Are you surprised? Or were you really going to wait forever? Did you even ever tell her you like her? I think you just wanted her to like you, and string her along.”
My brain is blinking on and off from lack of oxygen. I need to know what happened and I really don’t want to know. She looked hurt this morning, maybe embarrassed, but definitely sad. FUCK!
“What does that mean, some of what you wanted?”
He shook his head. “I like her, Max. I did something about it. No one has to know if she doesn’t want them to. It doesn’t have to be something. But I think she likes me back, regardless of how she feels about you. You should have made your move, bro. You should have known I wouldn’t wait.”
“So you got her drunk and took advantage of her?!” I am spitting. I want to go back to the hotel this instant.
Jordan gets angry. “Jesus, you’re an asshole. I would never do that! Just because you lose your mind about every piece of tail you see doesn’t mean we’re all man whores. I kissed her, Max. As much as I wanted to. Then when I woke up next to her, I got to do it again.” He thinks for a second, finds nothing else to say and walks off.
Slowly, my eyes close. The brick wall catches me. I sink down against it, bunching my suit jacket behind my shoulders. It takes a moment before I can think, before I know where she is and find myself moving in that direction. I see her through the office doorway sitting on the arm of a chair and staring out the window. When I close the door behind myself, she doesn’t turn.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
Her head rolls back, tilting her face to the ceiling. “I am really angry at all of you. But especially you.”
It’s hard to talk to someone’s back, but I know that seeing her face would be worse. She sounds more upset than angry. And now, when I know she wants to kill me, is when I want to kiss her most. I am nearly overwhelmed by the urge to take her in my arms and reassure her, apologize a million times, not even bother to explain or defend myself, just make it stop.
“I’m sorry, Olivia.”
She turns. “For what, Max? For lying to me? Or for finding me with Jordan this morning?
“Are you sorry for the gut-wrenching hour that I spent panicking that I’d cost myself my job? Are you sorry because when I looked in the mirror this morning I felt like a slut? Like I was every horrible thing that rule was designed to prevent? I felt like whoever wrote that rule saw me coming from a mile away, another stupid puckbunny who wouldn’t make it two fucking weeks into the season before she ruined the whole damned team.”
There are tears in her eyes as she walks closer to me. I think she wants me to see them. “Or are you sorry that it was Jordan, not you, who woke up to find me crying and fixed the whole damned thing?”
That’s exactly it, and more. I’m dying and furious and freaking out that Jordan was in my place. How the fuck did that happen?
Her face is pale and her bottom lip is trembling. Her chest is concave, shoulders rounded like she’s taken a beating. I have never seen her anything but confident, poised, happy: now she’s barely holding it together.
“Olivia, I’m so sorry. I should have told you. But Jordan didn’t tell you either, so I don’t see how he’s the good guy here! He kissed you and whatever else while you still thought the rule stood. If you were in trouble, it would be because of him not because of me.”
She shakes her head. “Jordan told me last night, before anything happened. I was drunk but he definitely told me. Then I woke up scared that he’d lied to get what he wanted. That’s why I called you. But no. Jordan was a good guy. He was honest with me when it counted.” She pulls back and exhales.
“For Christ’s sake, Max. Jordan is 20 years old! Why is he getting this right and you’re getting it wrong? I thought we were friends. I thought I was closest to you. I even thought ‘fuck the rule!’ and if we liked each other maybe we could find a way to make it work. Guess I was wrong.”
I run a hand through my hair, over my face. This all got away from me so fast. And Olivia definitely blames me. She should. I did more than anyone else – flirted more, pressed the issue. I got closer. She was thinking about it too! Thinking about me! And still I do not tell her, cannot bring myself to tell her, that’s what I wanted most in the world. I wanted you to want me. Because I want you.
“If I’d told you, would you have picked me?” I have to know, thought I can’t seem to answer the question out loud myself.
“I sure as hell wouldn’t have made my decision from the bottom of a bottle, or with Jordan’s arms wrapped around me. So now we’ll never know.”
She doesn’t have to admit it. I know from the fight in her that she would have chosen me. Right now we’d be laughing and touching, trying not to kiss in public, thinking about sneaking into her room later and biting the pillows to keep from screaming. Instead her face is flushed and now she’s really as angry as she claimed to be before. I had it and I let it get away.
“So what about you and Jordan?” I ask, more for myself than out of concern for her.
Olivia looks away. For everything I’ve done wrong, Jordan has done something right. He’s risen where I have fallen and she doesn’t know what to make of the change. And he was probably all honest and told her he likes her, but he’s so young.
“What are my options? The whole fucking team probably knows. So it’s Jordan or nothing at this point, unless I want everyone thinking I’m a whore. But I wasn’t expecting Jordan. I wasn’t thinking about him. So right now I’m just going to do my job and be a lot more careful about where I get my information from.”
She gives me a hard look, then brushes past on her way out of the room.
What about Jordan!? You might as well ask ‘what about yourself’? What are you such a fucking coward for all of a sudden, Max? Olivia takes a long walk around the concourse to cool off.
This is exactly what I don't want to happen...
In truth, no one knows. Sure they saw her on his lap last night, saw him carry her upstairs. But that’s hardly enough evidence to hang someone. I’ve seen guys on this team disappear into a bar bathroom for half and hour then claim with a straight face they never met the girl. And other guys have backed them up. So despite the fact that half the team would have done exactly the same thing with Olivia, if no one saw it then it didn’t happen. And I’m sure as hell not saying a word. Jordan gives me a challenging look from across the locker room. He’ll be marking his territory now.
“I did what you couldn’t do, Max. I earned this,” he says darkly, wandering near me as casually as possible.
“Earned what? You think she’s going to run in here and kiss you in front of everyone? You’re a child, Gronk. Olivia needs a man.”
He snorts a mean laugh. “I manned up when you were no where to be found. You had plenty of chances, but you were scared. Only children are scared, Max.”
Fucking farmboy son of a bitch. And he’s completely right. Fuck.
I take a stupid two minute roughing minor and almost bust my own captain when Sidney gives me shit for it. I need to pull it together or everyone will figure out something happened with Olivia. My only hope is that she’ll put Jordan aside and we can start again. If no one knows about him, then she doesn’t have to worry what people think.
She doesn’t look at me in the room after the game and sits alone in the front of the bus. Kris tries to talk to her, but she whispers “Hangover” and winks at him. At the hotel, she goes right upstairs when the rest of us stop in the bar. I pass her room and hear her talking, but don’t knock. Jordan’s still downstairs.
The next morning, she’s first on the bus and first on the plane. You’d never know something was wrong except that she doesn’t really talk to me. I don’t think the guys notice. Billy sits next to her for the flight to Carolina. She reads, but not The Three Musketeers, then falls asleep somewhere over Pennsylvania.
It’s a real off day for us when we land in Raleigh around lunch. Sidney asks her to help him pick out a birthday present for his mom and Kris and Flower invite themselves along. When they’re gone, I track Jordan down to the weight room. He and I haven’t spoken and I don’t know if he’s talking to Olivia either. His gigantic frame lays beneath the bench press bar and he’s grunting out his sets.
“Any luck?” I sit on the next bench.
He racks the weight. “I’m not discussing this. I have no problem with you, Max. But if you want to talk to Olivia, talk to her.”
I smile on the inside. He’s gotten nowhere either. I don’t want this road trip to end without another chance to talk to her. Once we’re home, she can hide much more easily.
“We’re going to bar across the street,” TK says. When I don’t immediately move to join, he adds, “Olivia is coming.”
The bar is big, borderline country and not too busy on a Tuesday night. We settle around two large tables in the middle of the room. Olivia sticks close to Flower, but Jordan isn’t far away. I catch her eye, almost accidentally, and the barest hint of a half-smile sends my heart falling into my stomach. Emboldened, I cross to them and take a nearby stool.
“I still need your help with that book,” she says evenly. Her eyes are desperately asking me to act like we’re fine. So I act.
Everyone has a good, low-key time. We’re not drunk by any means. Olivia looks stunning in a soft cranberry-colored sweater. I put my hand on her arm, mesmerized by the warm, inviting fabric. It’s the kind of plush you want to get naked and roll around in. I’m thinking I’d like to roll naked with Olivia when she shrugs firmly, making my hand drop away.
Billy G is looking at me strangely, like he can read my mind. I make a move like I don’t know what he’s talking about. When his eyes narrow, I still give him nothing. I wonder if she might have told him on the plane because now he looks a little pissed off.
“So Olivia,” Billy says rather loudly, thumping his empty pint glass down on the table. “Has anyone told you yet that rule about not dating players is complete crap?”
Silence. Whoosh. You could hear a pin drop. Crosby’s mouth falls open. Kris retreats into his hair. Geno turns away like he just saw a unicorn wander out of the bathroom. And Billy is looking at me, not Olivia. When we both turn to her, she’s squeezing her lips between her teeth like she’s thinking of what to say. It’s the only thing more surprising than the question.
“Yeah, Jordan told me.”
Somehow the quiet gets deeper. I swear the jukebox shuts off. Slowly, every eye in the place turns to Staal. It’s the first time in ages he’s not laughing or smiling. He just looks resigned, like he took his lumps and thinks we’re all assholes for not facing our own. Half the guys are staring daggers at him, the rest look impressed. Even Billy is surprised. He realizes he may have just stepped in something and really embarrassed her – he starts backpedaling.
“Oh, good. About time.”
Olivia gives him a resolute little smile. Now everyone knows that she knows. Two secrets down. She knocks the third secret out of the park when she goes over to Jordan and kisses him lightly on the lips. Then she walks out of the bar.
Anger overwhelms Olivia all over again. A day and half since having it out with Max. A day and a half since Jordan gave her the last of a thousand kisses and hasn’t asked for anything since. A day and a half when she thought she might be getting a grip. So much for that.
Every player has had a concussion at some point in his career. We all know the low, dull ringing sound of an empty skull. The taste of copper in your mouth. A feeling that you’re half-awake but powerless to came up from a dream. The bar feels like that dream: I’m trapped, stunned. My body wants to fight but the signals to my body go unheeded.
“What the hell was that about?” Sidney asks, eyes wide.
Jordan scoffs and gives him a dirty look. “We’re all assholes. Playing around like she doesn’t deserve to know.” The even tone of his voice says this is a fact. Not a debate. And no one objects. I’ve had two days to process it and reached the same conclusion he did – we played a game, and we lost.
The image of her kissing Jordan flickers through my mind like a grainy, old-fashioned film strip. It’s almost stop motion, going back and forth over the instant that her lips touch his. In the foreground I see the heads of ten teammates all watching the scene unfold. I feel sick. Three beers burn their way up my throat. One quick swallow and I dash off to the patio. The cool night air helps, and though I hang my head I do not throw up. Instead my head pounds with the realization that not only have I lost her, I may now have to watch her and Jordan be together. This is exactly what that fucking rule is meant to prevent! For the first time ever I wish it were enforced, that she couldn’t be with anyone at all. Heavy footsteps strike the wooden planks behind me.
“You didn’t tell her,” Billy says. I knew it would be him.
“I was scared. Scared she’d choose someone else.” He’s a stand-up guy, not going to blab to the team that Mad Max was scared about something.
“Well you got your wish.” His footsteps recede.
I don’t see Jordan in the bar, but then again I don’t look. I just leave.
I turn from the elevator into the hallway just in time to see Jordan enter the stairwell at the far end. Without hesitation, I follow. I hold the door open slightly while he climbs two flights and another door shuts. It’s the roof access, with a door on each side. Sliding open the farthest one, I don’t see anyone on the dark pitch. But I hear her. I squeeze through and stand in the shadow against an air duct. It’s dark anyway and they’re on the other side of the access cabin.
“How did you know I would be up here?” she asks.
“You go on the roof at the Mellon. I saw you one day and a security guard told me you’d been there before.” I can’t tell if they’re touching or even standing close. Without the context of body language, most of the meaning is lost.
“I can’t believe Billy called you out like that,” Jordan tries.
“He called you guys out, not me. Well, not you either but he didn’t know that. He was pissed no one had told me yet. And he was genuinely surprised to find out you had. Guess we kept our secret pretty well.”
“You mean Max kept it. I have nothing to gain by telling people that I kissed you. Not if I want to ever kiss you again.” The hopeful tone of his voice paints a picture for me. Jordan would be standing with his back to the breeze, hands deep in his pockets. Olivia is probably leaning against the wall looking up at him.
“I just kissed you in front of everyone!” She winces, I can hear it in her voice.
“Eh,” Jordan dismisses, “that could have been a ‘thank you,’ or just to show everyone else what a dick they’d been. I kissed you in front of them on your birthday. It didn’t have to mean anything. They didn’t see us really kissing yesterday.”
Hair on the back of my neck stands up. Really kissing. Jordan says it like it was something dirty and my mind goes red with jealousy. I can’t stop the vision of them rolling on the bed, her long, slender legs wrapped in his, his hand on her ass or her stomach. His giant frame forcing hers into the mattress beneath them as all 6’ 4” of him kisses her entire body. I see Jordan cupping her breasts beneath that black strapless dress, his hands sliding up her thighs underneath. Olivia’s head thrown back, hair twisting, as he licks and bites at her neck.
Fuck. It’s awful and it’s hot and I could almost be hard from thinking that way about her, with anyone. Except Jordan. I just want to rip his guts out.
“I don’t know what to do, Jordan.” The sound of her voice breaks the spell. It’s soft and catching, like she’s on the verge of tears. His feet scuff against the uneven surface as he moves. I imagine he’s holding her now.
“Liv, don’t worry about it. I like you. No big deal. If you like me, great. If you want to wait, I can wait. Or if you maybe think you want someone else, that’s okay too. I didn’t do this to freak you out.” He’s speaking more quietly, but I can’t move for fear of them hearing me.
“If you like Max, Liv, I’ll be cool. I promise. We all know he likes you.”
Asshole. Fucking asshole.
“But you don’t have to pick me. You don’t have to pick anyone.”
She draws in a labored breath. Her voice is gummy with tears. “I am really mad at Max. More than anyone, he should have told me.”
“Give him a break, Liv. He’s scared. He’s not good at actually liking someone. And if he didn’t like you, he would have tried to fuck you by now.” He laughs.
I’m furious at him, but also amazed that he’d sort of defending me. And while I’m being honest and calling myself a dick, Jordan is right. I don’t know how to like someone. I don’t know why I haven’t tried to seduce Olivia yet, because God knows I want to fuck her senseless. But it’s more than that and I suck at figuring out what to do about it.
“How’d you get so smart, kid?”
“I’m very mature for my age, I’ll have you know.” He’s definitely holding her now, joking privately even on the almost-empty rooftop. “And plus, guys reach their sexual peak between 18 and 25. So I’m prime time. For women, it’s between 25 and 40. I figure you’ve got another 12 good years left in you.” She laughs.
“Get it while it’s hot!” he yells.
They’re kissing. I can’t see or hear them, but I feel the current like a live wire coursing into the ground. There’s no choice but to wait them out, to stay still until they go inside and I can escape downstairs. If it were me, I’d make my move and try to get it on with her up here. No roommates, no neighbors. If they start having sex, I will throw myself five stories to the ground.
While planning my suicide, I hear the door open. I wait for silence on the stairs before creeping down. Through the window in the door I see them, walking hand in hand. They stop at her door. Jordan reaches around Olivia and pulls, her hands rest on his biceps as they kiss. My stomach clenches when she moves her head to the other side. His tongue is in her mouth and immediately turn away, feeling sick again.
A door closes and I turn back. Jordan’s alone in the hallway, walking to his room.
Olivia flops down on her bed, still dressed. That was fun. That was perfect. I want to make out with a beautiful boy who also makes me laugh and then goes back to his own room. At least for now… oh God, what am I doing?
Down the hall, Jordan gets right into the shower. He almost took her into the bedroom; gut instinct told him she would have gone for it. But he was being patient. Because they are being casual. Yet the image in his mind – Olivia in his shower, sliding soap suds around her naked body – is not casual. Neither is the thought of joining her, rubbing her body down, tweaking her nipple or her clit on every pass. Then Olivia putting a leg up on the side of the tub, leaning forward and and crying out, unready for the size of his cock, as he strokes into her. Shifting till she's comfortably taking him all in and saying, “Do that again, Jordan.” He does, twice, before the sound of her voice in his head is too much and he spills into his hand.
I don’t sleep much. My heart won’t stop telling my brain what an asshole I’ve been. I played a game and I lost, big time. As I lay there, listening to TK snore softly, I kick myself mentally for the hundred times I could easily have told her. In her office. On my couch. Dancing at the bar, kissing on her birthday. I think about time machines and alternate universes. I think about Jordan, the smug son of a bitch, with his own agenda the whole time. I got outplayed by a kid. And I never saw it coming.