In the morning, I intentionally get on the bus late and sit alone at the front with my headphones on. I don’t check to see if they’re sitting together because I do not want to know. What I already know is enough. Then I see her from the window – she’s standing outside the door talking on the phone. Must have walked right past her. Only when Coach comes out does she disconnect. Without looking anywhere, she sits across the aisle from me and works soundlessly on her Blackberry during the ride.
At the morning skate, Jordan avoids me and Olivia avoids us both. I catch him looking around for her a few times. So do some of the guys.
“Looking for your girlfriend, Gronk?” Cookie teases.
“I would have told her if I thought she’d kiss me,” Sidney says.
“I would have held out for her to…” TK starts but Billy slashes the back of his legs with a stick.
Jordan laughs it off, telling them all it was nothing. “She was just trying to teach you guys a lesson. I think it worked.”
I wonder why he isn’t gloating, why he doesn’t tell them all about the roof, the hallway. It’s tough to keep reminding myself: They don’t know you know. They don’t know you heard or saw them. All I can do is put my head down and get through the drills. At the end of practice, I’m slow getting off the ice. At the door to the bench, Coach stops me.
“You let Jordan tell her?” he asks flatly. I just roll my eyes – there’s nothing he can say that I haven’t said to myself. Except when he does. “I saw the way you looked at her. That’s why I told you about her birthday. I thought you really liked this one.”
He shakes his head, leading me in from the now-empty ice. “Whatever you were protecting, I hope it was worth it.”
I stand in the shower so long that Kris has to come looking for me. On the bus Olivia sits up front and works, like we’re not even here. I’ve given up my pretense – Coach really threw me for a loop. If he knew, maybe she knows how much I like her. Maybe she’s getting back at me through Jordan. It’s desperate, but it’s all I’ve got. So I just stare at her, watching her work.
Her hair is down today and she’s hiding behind it. A lacy white top overlays a white camisole, so her arms and shoulders are almost bare. I’m desperate to be close enough to smell her. Her legs are crossed though, like she’s blocking anyone from entering the empty seat next to her.
After lunch, I make an excuse not to head upstairs right away for my nap. I’m driving myself crazy and I need to talk to her. After the guys have cleared the hallway, I go up and I knock on her door. I have no idea what I’m going to say, but I have to do something. When she doesn’t answer, I got looking for her.
After the lobby, atrium and conference rooms, I finally find her on the restaurant veranda. She’s in the shade, laptop open. Her bare feet are on a chair.. A glass of lemonade sweats on the table. The hotel has a grassy area next to it, like a little park, where a small playground is empty in the mid-day sunshine. Without looking up, she pulls out the chair next to her and I sit down.
“Hi Max,” she says evenly.
“Hi Liv.” And I’m out. Nothing else comes to mind. Everything sounds too serious, too overwhelming – I really like you. I’m sorry I was scared to put myself out there for you. Please be with me. Please don’t be with Jordan. I want to make you happy, I want to take care of you.
“What’s up?” she finally asks, while I’ve been deciding.
“I’m still sorry,” I start. “If I can have a minute, I would like to explain myself.” She nods. I take a deep breath, a big gulp and I may even close my eyes.
“I panicked and did the wrong thing. It was stupid. Since we met I can’t think about anything but you. That’s unusual for me and I didn’t handle it the way I wanted to. Liv, I’m sorry. I really like you.”
There it is.
She sighs. “Max, I am getting over a bad breakup. This whole thing has been kind of a big deal and it’s reminded me that I don’t want something serious. I just can’t go back to that right now.” She turns to face me. “I could probably really like you too. But it’s best for me if I don’t. It’s best for me if we don’t.”
She sees the disappointment on my face. I did the wrong thing and it went badly. Now I’m doing the right thing and it’s still not helping. Her shoulders are stiff – she seems to be keeping herself strong while she gets through what she wants to say.
“I’m sorry Max. I am glad you came and found me. I want to be friends with you.”
I cannot stop myself in time. “Is that all you want with me?” Don’t ask a question you don’t want answered.
“Yes,” she says.
“If I’d told you about the rule first, if I’d just been honest and asked you out, would you have said yes?” I am a glutton for punishment.
“Yeah, I probably would have,” she admits. “But I’m glad now that didn’t happen. Right now, I don’t think I can give you what you want.”
It figures that the one time I want more than casual, this happens. She wants easy and I want serious. I am Max fucking Talbot! I invented casual. And now I’m asking too much from someone with whom I could not handle anything less than the freedom and permission to be absolutely crazy about her.
I make a last ditch effort. “And if I wanted less? I can be casual, Olivia. I can date.” Even as I say it I know it’s a lie. But I’m hoping she might be fooled.
“I have already agreed to date Jordan,” she says, looking at her hands instead of me. “I like him and he is not looking for something serious. We are not exclusive, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for the other guy to be you.”
I want to throw up. I want to punch something. I knew this was coming but it still feels like a piano has fallen on me. Now I want it more than ever. I want to show Jordan how it’s done. I can beat him.
“You guys are too competitive,” she says, reading my mind. “I will not be someone’s bragging right or locker room talk. I still have to work here and I will be friends with anyone I want. But I will not date two of you at the same time.”
She smiles. “I mean, breaking the rule is one thing. Dating every forward on the team is something else.”
I try to smile and laugh, but it comes out like a wheeze. There’s no making this situation better. Not right now. She still tries.
“Max, I’m very flattered. I mean, you’re Max fucking Talbot! There was a time when this would have been great for me. But right now, I don’t even know which end is up. I don’t want to get in over my head, not if I can help it. Getting in too deep with you could ruin everything for me. The rule may be a joke, but my job is not. As messed up as I’ve been lately, I can’t let that happen to me here.”
“Olivia, I wouldn’t hurt you,” I say. I mean it. She’s so scared we’d go wrong before we’ve even started.
“Max, I could hurt you. I just learned how easily that can happen. I hurt someone and I got hurt too. It took everything for me – I left my home, my friends to get away from it. I can’t do it again.”
There are tears in her eyes and I desperately want to kiss her. Just like when she saw the flowers in her office. Instead of pushing me away, she should be letting me in. Letting me help. Instead, she is letting the pain take my place. I think about how far this has come – I wanted her, then I wanted to be with her. Now I feel like I’m falling in love with her.
“Liv…,” I start, but there’s really nothing left to say. She puts her hand over mine, on the table. I flinch at the touch of her soft, warm skin. I want to hold her hand. I want to make her strong. I want to be the one. I try to laugh again.
“I’m already messed up over you,” I admit.
“I’m messed up over you too. I saw that when I realized how mad I was. Not at everyone, not really. Just you. I was trying to be diplomatic and blame you all, but it only really mattered when it came to you. That’s why I can’t do this, Max. It’s already more than I can handle. I need something less important. Something easy.”
My shoulder slump with resignation. “Does it have to be Jordan?”
“Would it make a difference? If it was Sid or Kris or Geno?”
She’s right, it doesn’t matter. Jordan is the least serious of all the guys, the least likely to become something she’d get hurt over. The last likely to still be around when she decides she’s better and wants a real relationship. I just don’t want it to be anyone.
“No,” I have to smile. “Jordan is a good choice. He’s a good guy.”
She nods. “I do like him. I don’t want you to think I’m going out with just anyone for the sake of it. Jordan is a lot of fun. I also think he’ll kind of keep it on the down-low.”
I snort a laugh – I don’t want to make fun of her, but Jordan is not quiet. Or tactful. But he has been better than usual about this situation. “I don’t know about that.”
“He’ll be nice. Or you’ll knock him out.”
Olivia goes right to her room to lie down. She knows she’s doing the right thing. Her gut told her Max was serious. He makes me feel out of control, like a car with the accelerator all the way down. Can’t turn, can’t stop. If I got behind that wheel it would end in a crash.
She thought of Jordan and knew it would be fun and he would distract her. Keep her happy. Just be careful, she cautioned herself for the millionth time since he officially asked her out. Don’t get careless with him either, he’s a good guy.
Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.
She falls asleep. She dreams she’s in an elevator, and just before the doors can close, a hand reaches in and pushes them open. It’s Jordan. He kisses her into a dent in the wall as the car starts to move. But it seems to move forever, that feeling of weighing more or less depending on direction shifts in Olivia’s head. Jordan’s tongue is in her mouth, his hands on her ass and under her shirt.
With a lift, he picks up and balances her against the inside of the car. Their pants are both gone and Jordan runs the rough pad of his fingers over her pussy. She trembles. He slides it in, causing her to exhale. As he puts another finger into her hot folds, she sucks in a breath. She’s fast asleep, but her body is redlining.
Using his fingers to open her, Jordan moves Olivia over his cock and shifts her down onto his head. The huge, satisfying girth of his dick completely fills her core. It’s painful for a moment, until she’s comfortable with his size. Then he strokes at her, pressing her between the wall and his body. He milks her trembling peach until she’s almost at the end. Her eyes close. With a stroke of a finger, Jordan tickles her clit and lets an orgasm rip through her body. Her back arches, she moans low as warmth breaks within her body. She takes a deep breath and looks up. The face staring back at her, enjoying her pleasure and clearly planning his own, is Max’s.
Olivia wakes, feverish, with the feel of Max’s touch on her body.
I’m really not okay with this. My body feels heavy and my mind is clouded. Talking with Olivia made it better and worse. To know that she likes me enough to be messed up is soul-crushing. She will not let me in, she refuses to budge. Instead she’s distracting herself with a hilarious, ridiculous, sweet, smart and loyal blond giant who happens to me one of my closest friends. She’s got me dead-to-rights. Jordan is a great guy. Fuck. It sounds like I should want to date him instead of her.
I move more slowly through my day; late getting dressed, last on the bus. When I see her it’s an arrow to the heart – a dark blue silk top exactly the color of her eyes, charcoal gray trousers, hair twisted back around a chopstick. But then she smiles at me with gratitude in her eyes. Please, please let’s be friends, her look says. And I cannot deny her anything so I smile back.
The guys all sense that things are back to normal. Olivia laughs and jokes instead of hiding up front with her Blackberry. She sits at the window next to TK, across the aisle from Jordan. She’s almost through the ride when the moment we’ve all been waiting for comes from Sidney’s mouth.
“What was up with you kissing Jordan in the bar the other night?” Instead of awkward silence, she gets catcalls and whistles from the boys.
“It was just a kiss!” she says. “Jeez Crosby, never been kissed?”
“I would have let you be first, Liv. I should have told you,” he laughs.
Everyone agrees – they are telling her they’re sorry by making a joke. So male. I wince at the memory of groveling and pleading to say the same thing. The price I pay for being closer.
“It was just a kiss,” she repeats then she looks at Jordan. “And I might do it again.”
That brings the house down. Jordan blushes, the guys yell rude comments and harangue them both. If not for the aisle, they’d be demanding a replay right now.
She leaves the locker room and it begins.
“Jordan Staal, you bastard. Who would have thought you would end up with the finest piece of ass in Pittsburgh?” Cookie throws a towel at him.
“Guys, it’s nothing serious. And I have not gotten anything,” he looks all diplomatic for a second then loses it. He’s 20 and all hormones and he cannot keep a straight face while he alludes to being with the woman I am still free-falling into love with. “But really, really! Stop. Olivia’s awesome, you all want her and we are going to be very nice about this. Because otherwise she’ll hate me and I’ll have to kill you all for ruining it.” This he means, and the guys will only go so far. They won’t cost him this chance. Plus they’re all a little afraid of Olivia as well.
Billy sits down next to me. “You okay?”
“Not really,” I say. I’m glad he knows. “If he hurts her, I’ll kill him. If he makes her happy, I might kill him then too.”
“Did she tell you what happened in New York?”
“With the guy? No. Just that it imploded,” I say, wondering how and when and why she would have told Billy all this. No wonder he called us out at the bar. He’s got all kinds of information.
He just nods. “Worse than that.”
We win 3-1 and Stall gets himself a goal. He’s feeling pretty good. Olivia works the locker room and sends some extra media his way. She looks like a goddess in a slouchy black blazer with a low-ish cut ruffled top underneath and some very tailored slacks. It’s kinda cute, really, the way everyone is watching while they try not to look at each other. I want to throw up.
On the plane, Olivia sits on the aisle next to Billy. Jordan sits across and one row behind. She falls asleep and he just looks at her, a lot. When we land at 2 AM, they leave separately. Thank God for that.
The off day is rough. I want to call the guys to hang out but I know where the conversation will go. It’s bad enough I’m talking to myself about it all the time. When I go for a run, it’s in the direction of her house. When I eat dinner, it’s the same pasta sauce we ate together. When the day finally ends, it’s her image in my mind but my own hands on my body.
The Olivia in my dreams is sunning herself in my yard. It’s a hot summer day and she’s got a big sheet laid out. Her small red bikini is scandalous. I join her, shirtless, and drip a palmful of suntan oil onto her back. With both hands, I rub it deeply into her upper back and shoulders like a professional masseuse. I use my forearms and elbows to release tension in her muscles. My fingers untie her top as I work along her ribs and onto her sides. Strokes down to her lower back consistently trail onto her ass. Soon those bikini ties are gone too.
Even in my dream, I’m so hard it’s tough to move around. I work her calves and quads, kneading the oil into her flesh until it’s hot where I touch her body. My cumbersome shorts disappear in the dream. I press myself to Olivia’s back, my cock pressing into the pillowy flesh of her bare, tanned ass. Then I slide myself into her juicy little catch, pressing a long, languorous moan from her lungs. Keeping her legs straight and together, I get maximum glide on her oiled skin and the tightest angle into her core. She puts a hand underneath and strokes herself until I feel her shuddering around me. Her breath draws short. My cock is pounding. This time I finally dream long enough to make it to her orgasm. When she comes, her body clenches mine like a fist and rips an orgasm from me. We come together, and she tells me, “Fuck Max, you make me feel so good.”