Max called Ovie a "total douche" today live on the radio. As if I could love him more. Now have some faith, Team Talbot...
In the second period, I take a shot to the boards that knocks me for a loop. The trainers help me into the locker room and pull off my gear. My sore shoulder is tweaked, but mostly I just can’t catch my breath. My shirt is off and the doctor is pressing along my ribs. I gasp when he hits a sore spot.
“Are you okay?” She’s hurried the whole way from the ice.
“Yeah, just bruised.” I lift my arm a little, showing off my bare chest and medical tape.
She exhales loudly. “Scares the shit out of me when you guys get hurt!”
Our silence is awkward. The locker room encounter is the only thing between us now – the closest call, the barest escape. I want to bring it up but don’t know what to say: Why didn’t you come to me before? How can you leave me like that? I need to feel you again. Olivia walks over, brushes my wet hair back and presses her lips to my forehead. I am sweat-soaked and probably reek, but she stands close for an extra second, inviting me. I wrap an arm around her waist and sigh.
“Please be careful, Max,” she says, still playing with my hair.
I want her, here and now. The game is gone from my mind and I forget that I’m wearing shorts and pads and skates. I want to stretch her out on this table and convince her body that my heart is serious too. If I could stop time, I’d turn this place into our first time and make it last all night.
“Liv…,” I start.
She smiles tightly and walks away.
On the plane to LA, Jordan manages to score the seat next to Olivia. I sit as far away as I can so I don’t have to see them interact. Luckily it’s a quick flight. When we land, the weather is beautiful and everyone starts talking about the pool. It’s our favorite part about coming to LA – our hotel has an infinity pool that goes indoor/outdoor with a swim-up bar. It’s like Vegas, only less of a whore house vibe.
“See you down there!” Crosby yells down the hall as everyone heads for their rooms.
I’m in the pool, floating near the edge that meets the wall and looks endlessly out over Venice Beach. My reverie is cut short by a wolf whistle. Olivia has arrived. She’s wearing a hot pink cover-up, barefoot and carrying a book. My book.
It was Geno who whistled. Ten hours away from Oksana and he’s getting warmed up. He gives Olivia a big flex, the way Jordan used to do before he got in her pants. Not going to work, I tell him telepathically. She’s already got a full plate.
A few of the guys have the decorum to at least pretend they’re not watching. Gonch, Billy, Dupes… they turn away. Tanger heads for the bar, probably looking through his hair. She pauses like she’s nervous to remove her dress. When she finally pulls it over her head, I see why. Her bikini is dark blue and white stripes, with a red anchor on one of the triangle cups. A red belt rings just below her stomach. It’s fun and nautical and I am getting hard beneath the surface of the pool. Her breasts fill the cups nicely without being pornographic. Her stomach is toned, with the slightest feminine roundness to it, but it’s nothing compared to the perfectly round rise of her ass. Her thighs are strong and taut, the skin smooth and pale, since no one gets tan in Pittsburgh. She hurries jumps into the pool.
“Damn!” Crosby says out loud when she’s under the water.
We all stifle our laughter as she breaks the surface. Kris buys her a beer and they sit on stools in the water. It only comes to her waist, and I take the opportunity to fully enjoy the weight and shape of her breasts. I claim a deck chair and consider staring directly into the sun to keep my eyes from wandering in her direction. I also watch Jordan, who is chomping at the bit. He wants her bad – it’s all over his face. He wants to touch her, kiss her and most of all he wants to tell everyone that she is his. But she isn’t. Not after yesterday.
I can’t take this! Olivia thinks as she hurries to the locker room during the first period. Tonight it’s Jordan who had to be helped off the ice. He took a high stick to the face and dripped blood on his way out. She pokes her head into the trainers’ room – Jordan’s lying back on the table, wincing as the trainer stitches along his eyebrow. There’s blood on his cheek and on the towel next to him. She goes right in and takes his hand.
“Okay?” She’s definitely worried.
“Yeah,” he grunts as the trainer pulls the thread through again. “Fucking stings.”
The trainer finishes and rubs a clear gel over the stitches. Then he holds the tube out to Olivia. “Coagulant. He needs another coat in five minutes, then if it’s not bleeding anymore he can go back out.”
“Do not bleed, please. It gives me a heart attack.” Her heart rate is a little high. She uses a baby wipe to take the smear of dried blood from his cheek then holds it. “Tough guy.”
“Is it ugly? Ruin my face so you’ll never want to see me again?” He hopes he’s kidding.
“You are as gorgeous as ever. Don’t you worry about that.” She gives him another dab of the gel and then walks him back to the ice. He’s a good 8” taller than her barefoot, on skates he towers a foot above. Just before they reach the turn to the bench he faces her.
“I really want to kiss you right now,” he says quietly. “I feel like King Kong.”
She slaps him on the ass, though he can barely feel it through his gear. “Go get ‘em.”
We’re walking back into the hotel when Olivia runs past us with a shout. Across the lobby, a group of girls stand around a flower arrangement in going-out clothes. She jumps into them with a big hug and, of course, we all stop. One of her friends sees us looking and gestures to Olivia to turn around.
“You guys wanna come out with us? Just going around the corner.” Everyone nods. “I have to change. We’ll be back in five,” she calls to her friends.
“How do you know people everywhere?” TK asks.
“I lived here for three years before I moved to New York. These are my girls. They don’t know a thing about hockey, so be nice and let Crosby finally have one.”
I wait for her by the elevator. Most of the guys are downstairs already, anxious to get first dibs on Olivia’s girlfriends. When she turns the corner she smiles at me. She’s wearing a killer pair or jeans, rolled up at the ankles above a pair of red high heels. A v-neck black tank top shows off her body, the beads on the straps catching the light. The red flower tucked into her hair makes me think of the lily I gave her on her birthday.
“Beautiful,” I say.
“Not so bad yourself, Superstar.” I’m wearing jeans and a beachy white button down with green stripes open a few notches at the neck. God bless warm weather. I wait till we’re in the elevator to be sure we’re really alone. Then I jump at the chance.
“Liv, I want you so badly,” I say, moving toward her. “How can you say you don’t feel what happened in the locker room?”
She puts a hand to my chest, keeping her space. “I never said that. I definitely felt it.”
She doesn’t meet my eyes until I touch her chin, tilt it up. I walk through her hand and kiss her; we go to the wall. I push my tongue into her mouth, my thigh between her legs. My hands grip her ass for the maximum effect of grinding her body into my lap. Seconds later, the elevator slows and I step away.
“God damn you, Max,” she hisses, wiping her lips. “You always get everything you want, when you want it. What happens after that? The game is over and you’re moving on?” She marches out ahead of me where Jordan is waiting. Olivia takes his arm through and heads right to her friends.
The night quickly devolves. Olivia lightly rebuffs my attempts to be friendly. Her cute friends are quickly claimed by my teammates. As advertised, they don’t know hockey but two of them look ready to fight over Sidney. He watches them vie for his attention like it’s a tennis match. Tanger hands me a drink – it’s a double. He can tell something is off but knows better than to ask about it. I drain it and buy us another round while we stand at the bar and watch.
Olivia is really mad. I can tell by the way she’s dancing with Jordan like I’m not even here. Or maybe because I am. If she wants to teach me a lesson, it’s working. I can’t have everything I want. Olivia wants other things, someone else wants her.
I’m really mad too. Olivia thinks I’d love her and leave her. I have told her that I really like her – she says she doesn’t want serious but she’s so worried that I’d drop her after I had my fun. I wonder if she knows that she’s making no sense. And I wonder what she’s doing with Jordan.
“What does that look like to you?” I ask Kris, raising my glass toward the dance floor. Two of Olivia’s friends are dancing with Crosby and Geno the same way that she’s dancing with Jordan. They just met, probably won’t come home with us and will never see each other again. It’s meaningless, harmless. Yet when I see Olivia and Jordan, I see trouble.
“Like they’re sleeping together,” Kris says honestly.
I wheel around on him. “Do you know that? Or are you just guessing?”
Kris puts his drink down. “I know you want her. When are you going to do something about it?”
“I fucking kissed her at the photoshoot and they’re putting it in the magazine. Then again in her office. And the other day in the locker room, we almost had sex. I was coming out of the shower late and she was there and… a trainer walked in or we would have done it on the table. Fuck!”
Kris’s eyes were wide and he’s stopped drinking.
“On the way down tonight I kissed her in the elevator. Now she’s pissed at me. And doing that.”
We both look back to where Olivia and Jordan are grinding, her arms around his neck and his riding dangerously low on her back. If they were strangers I wouldn’t even notice. But that’s my girl he’s dancing with.
“But she wants me, I know she does.”
Sidney squeezes himself between Olivia and Jordan at the bar.
“Can I pleeeeeeeeeeeease take your friend back to the hotel?” He’s a little slurry – the kind of drunk where you’re sure you sound fine, but you definitely don’t. Olivia can’t resist. She presses right up against him and runs her fingers inside the open front of his shirt.
“I might be kinda jealous, Cros,” she purrs.
A sloppy smile and his hands are on her ass. “You can come too.”
She barks a laugh. “You are ready. Go, have a good time. And please don’t embarrass me, I told her you were fucking hot so you’d better live up to it.”
Her friend comes from the bathroom, gives Olivia a kiss on the cheek and lets Sidney lead her from the bar. Fucking captain has his own room. It changes the mood - Geno moves a little closer to the friend he’s been talking with, like he might actually get some. TK and Flower are entertaining the other two, and Tanger sits down with them. I look over the landscape like it’s CSI – I’m going to cleaning up the mess tonight. A hand touches my shoulder and I’m surprised to see Olivia, alone.
I can’t help but admire her shape as I follow her outside. My mind is trying to distract itself because whatever is coming cannot be good. She didn’t come here with me and she won’t be leaving that way.
“What are we going to do?” she asks.
Olivia’s not apologizing for what happened in the elevator, though I think she should. She can’t just let me in and then push me out, slam the door and run off. I won’t let her. But she’s also not demanding that I apologize because she knows I am not sorry. But I am a little drunk.
“You are going to leave here with me right now.”
She closes her eyes a moment, like she was expecting that. Good, I think, she should be. If any of this comes as a surprise then she’s really got herself fooled.
“You’re going to stop playing around with Jordan just because you’re scared of being with me. You’re not helping yourself and you’re sure as hell not helping him. I know you talked him down once – he wanted to be exclusive and you said no. Next time, he won’t be asking. I am not asking now.”
I close my hand around her wrist. It’s not a gentle gesture and I don’t mean it to be. It’s possessive and a little bit threatening because that’s how I feel: like someone needs to tell her to stop this bullshit and do what is obviously right.
“Olivia,” I’m speaking so low it’s practically a growl. “You were thinking of me when you came here with Jordan. You think of me when you dance with him. I know you’re sleeping with him and I bet you think of me then too.”
Her wrist nearly flies from my hand but I lock in my grip, hard. The tension in her body is palpable. I am past being the nice guy; convincing her that I like her, wouldn’t leave her, want to be there for her. I’ve said it all and have to hope she’s heard. Tonight I’m angry and frustrated and it shows. I put my mouth right to her ear.
“You want me. More than you want control or security. I can feel you trembling – you want me as much as I want you. Tell me I’m wrong, Olivia. Say you don’t want me.”
She’s either going to kiss me or kill me. I’ve played that card. My fingers are white from squeezing her wrist so tightly. Olivia’s face is turned toward the door, a pained look in her eyes as she struggles with the truth of what I’ve said. They are almost there, the words I want to hear, they’re almost on her lips, on her tongue. I taste them in the memory of our last kiss.
And then I’m off the ground.
Jordan practically throws me across the deck. I stumble to a stop against one of the railings. He’s right over me, right in my face.
“If you weren’t my teammate I would kill you right here,” he hisses. “And if you ever touch her again I will do it anyway.”
He storms off. Olivia disappears through the door, an arm around her back that I assume belongs to Kris. I stay, slumped against the railing, as the fight and adrenaline drain from my system and leave only shock behind.
Kris goes back to the bar, letting Jordan take Olivia out front. There’s another outdoor area, much more crowded, where people are seeing and being seen. He leads her by the arm because she’s still got her hand around her wrist. When they reach the side of the building, he sits her down on a concrete parking lot divider and peels her fingers away.
“Did he hurt you?”
Olivia shakes her head no, but her wrist is sore. She starts to cry anyway. Jordan straddles the divider and faces her, putting his arms around her waist and his chin on her shoulder.
“Shhhhh, it’s okay,” he says quietly. “I didn’t mean to scare you. You looked so upset, and when I saw how tightly he was holding your arm I freaked out.”
Still more tears well in her eyes. Here’s Jordan protecting me from myself, not from Max. Jordan always doing the right thing, always saving me. “Jordan, thank you.”
Olivia has seen Jordan’s protective instincts in action, both during Scott’s surprise visit and on the ice. She also knows that most hockey players have a temper – she’s watched almost every guy on this team, whether on video or in-game, drop the gloves. But it still comes as a surprise when that bleeds over into real life.
“I said I would protect you, Olivia. No one is going to hurt you while I’m around.”
I go right back to the hotel. Kris gets up to join me but I shake my head. I need to be alone, and I don’t want to put Kris in a position where he’s choosing sides between me and Jordan. The pool deck is empty and a concierge doesn’t stop me as I go outside and choose a chair right near the infinity edge of the pool. It’s a clear, hot night and the breeze from the ocean cuts the air like a knife.
I stay till the moon is high in the sky then take myself upstairs to bed.
Olivia’s brushing her teeth when Jordan puts a pair of sweatpants on the counter.
“They’re Tanger’s, they should almost fit you,” he pauses. “Want me to stay? I talked to TK, he won’t rat on me for sleeping out. He’s still hoping to pull one of your friends anyway.”
She just looks at Jordan and nods. They climb into bed and Jordan wraps his huge frame around her from behind, like a suit of armor. She hasn’t said much because she doesn’t know what to say. There are too many things to give in to – the passion of Max, the protection of Jordan. She can’t bear to think of hurting the beautiful, exuberant, ferocious guy holding her safely in his arms. Man, she says to herself. Jordan is a man. He may be 20 but he is not a child. He’s done so much for me.
Emotionally exhausted, they both drop off quickly.
The next day, we practice in LA. We’ll stay another night in the same hotel then drive the hour to Anaheim before tomorrow’s morning skate. I steer clear of Jordan at the rink and he does the same for me. Olivia is nowhere to be seen. Kris’s look is all questions but all I can do is shrug.
“Crosby, you alright after last night? Liv’s friend give you a good roll?” TK asks indelicately.
Sidney throws a glove at him. “You’re a pig, TK, if you think a gentlemen such as myself would talk about something like that. But for your information, I have a second date tonight.” That earns the captain some howls and rude suggestions. He pretends to be embarrassed but he’s really trying to remember all the tips.
After practice, it’s barely 2 PM and I am back at the hotel. It’s going to be a long day. Kris suggests a walk down the beach boardwalk.
“Have you talked to her?” he asks after a minute. I’m surprised he lasted this long.
“I have not seen her and I cannot go to her.” And it’s killing me. I have no idea how mad she is, if she’s even mad. She never got a chance to answer me.
“Jordan said she’s going to have a bruise on her wrist where you were holding her.”
Oh God. I stop walking. I hurt her.
Kris keeps going. I can tell he’s upset with me, thinks I’m being the same impulsive, irrational asshole that I always am. He’s right. Tanger’s a great guy but he expects a lot from his friends, especially when it comes to respect. I have disrespected Olivia and this is his way of letting me know he’s not pleased.
Guess I deserve this too. Tanger’s mad at me, everyone’s mad at me. I’ve made a right fucking mess of this because I couldn’t just leave it alone.
Olivia comes to dinner. My stomach drops when I see she’s wearing a long sleeve shirt, covering her wrist. If I’ve left a mark on her body I don’t know what I’ll do. She sits between Jordan and Flower. I’m surprised Flower hasn’t confronted me, threatening my life as well. Maybe there is someone left who doesn’t know. As we eat, Olivia actually seems fine – she laughs and talks with everyone, giving Crosby a hard time about her friend and some pointers for his after-dinner date. If anything, it’s Jordan who’s quieter than usual, more brooding. And he’s the one looking at me.
When we finish, someone suggests a nearby bar. Thankfully it’s not the same one as last night. A lot of the team is there – most hoping Crosby will bring his date over later so they can get a look at her. They take over the pool table and darts, hockey players are good at both with their hand-eye coordination. Especially Flower. He’s quickly stuffing $20s in his pocket as he cleans house at the dart board.
Jordan hovers around Olivia like a lion protecting its cub. I don’t blame him. As an hour passes, then two, I realize he’s not going to give me an inch of space tonight. Too soon, I think. He doesn’t want to have to make good on his promise to kill me, so he won’t let me in. Olivia does not look at me once.
A big cheer goes up when Crosby ushers his date through the door. Olivia laughs so hard she almost spits her drink. Crosby puts on his game face and runs the gauntlet of teammates to the bar. The girl, whose name I never did get, is very cute and very embarrassed. That should go well later. Again. I manage a smile for Sid. Before the midnight curfew can hit, I take a cab alone back to the hotel.
My chair at the edge of the pool deck waits for me. I watch the stars, few and dim in the strength of the city lights. I wonder if I’d be sore tomorrow if I slept right here. Twenty minutes later Jordan comes out. He stops two chairs away and lays back.
“She’s in bed,” he says without looking at me. “Got the start of a nasty fucking bruise where you grabbed her.”
“Jordan, I didn’t mean to….”
“But you did. You did the worst thing you could possibly do.” He swings his legs down till he’s sitting. “I should be thrilled, because I think you just threw it all away. You opened the door for me. But I can’t be happy Max because she’s fucking miserable.”
He exhales loudly and looks around, like he’s making a decision. One hand goes in his pocket and he holds out a keycard.
“She wants to talk to you. Might as well go wake her up.”
I can’t believe it. Jordan is giving me the most menacing look I’ve ever seen and he could literally tear me limb from limb, but he’s holding out that key.
“You’re lucky I am the best fucking friend you’ve ever had. I’m only doing this because she wants it. I hope she tells you she never wants to see you again. And tomorrow when her wrist is black and blue I’m going to make her wear short sleeves so everyone can see what you did to her.”
I take the key.
“I meant what I said, Max. I won’t let you hurt her.”
I knock softly as I open the door. The lights are off in her room and the air conditioning unit hums.
“Hi Max,” she says quietly.
I sit down on the end of her king size bed. It’s enormous – I would never have thought being in the same bed as her could feel so far away. The curtains are open a little and a bar of light shines across the comforter. I can almost see her face.
“Are you okay? I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I start and then I cannot stop. “Olivia, I am so sorry, I was so caught up in being angry that I didn’t realize I was holding you so tightly and I can’t believe I actually hurt you.”
I’m about to cry. I am Max fucking Talbot and I don’t even know myself anymore.
“I’m okay, Max. It’s ugly, but it’s just a bruise. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”
“That makes it worse! That I could do it without thinking, without knowing… fuck. No wonder you’re so scared of me.”
She laughs softly. “That’s not why I’m scared of you, Max.”
I move up the bed, sitting closer to the pillows. She rolls to face me, but there is still an ocean of space between us.
“I could fall in love with you. That’s what scares me.”
Her words weigh a hundred tons and move at the speed of light. When they collide with my brain, the impact stuns. Love. Me. I should be shouting for joy but that’s not what this feels like.
“You don’t want to be in love with me,” I say, knowing it’s true so I don’t make it a question. If she wanted to be in love with me, she would be. She already has me anyway.
“Max, I don’t know if I even believe in love. The falling feels great, but it’s totally out of control. And when you land it’s a minefield. One wrong step and everything blows up in your face. I went one round against that and lost, I am not eager to go another.”
I roll onto my back and stare at the darkened ceiling. “Liv, I’m scared too. I’ve never been in love and frankly, you make it sound horrible. But I want to be with you. If I thought I could do that without falling in love, I would. Maybe I should have just pretended I was cool and then you could be with me instead of Jordan. You would never have known.”
She chuckles again and even with everything I’m feeling it goes right to my heart. As long as she doesn’t hate me.
“I would have known, Max. When you kiss me I can read your mind.”
“Then you should know that I will be good to you,” I say. “I will never forgive myself for what happened last night and I will never lay another finger on you unless you ask me to. But I would be good to you Olivia.”
“I know.” She rolls onto her back too. “And if you hadn’t held my wrist, I would have slapped you. Or punched you. I was so mad that you were being presumptuous and just taking whatever you wanted. You don’t listen when I talk Max, you just hear what you want. But still, it’s no better me hurting you than the other way around.”
“Except that I can hurt you a lot worse, without even trying.”
“Only where people can see. I hurt you other ways.”
“Try explaining that when everyone sees your bruise.”
“I will,” she says, matter-of-factly.
The silence draws out time. We’ve said so much but accomplished nothing other than to put ourselves right back where we started. I still love her. She still fights me. I’ve been lucky to get a free pass for taking it too far tonight, and I suspect she gave Jordan a similar pass for reacting the way he did. He’s just protecting her.
“If our places had been reversed, I’d have punched Jordan,” I say honestly. I think it’s important that she know just how far I would go to for her, even if she doesn’t like it.
“And Jordan would have killed you. Then I would have ended up with him anyway. Not good math, Max. You need to be more careful.”
She’s right, of course, but hockey players always bite off more than they can chew. It’s in our nature.
“What are we going to do?” I ask her the question that started this whole night.
“If I asked you to stop, to back off, would you?”
My heart and lungs collapse in on themselves. It’s my worst fear – even after all this, spilling my guts in the most unmanly way, almost fucking crying because I’m so worked up and scared – she still won’t want me. But I feel so strongly that she does.
“No, Liv. I may not have handled it right, but I meant what I said. If you don’t want me you’re going to have to say it. Tell me you don’t want me and I’ll go.”
She sighs. “That equation doesn’t count Jordan. Jordan is… Jordan is incredible. While you and I have been messing everything up, Jordan gets it right. He deserves more than what I have been giving him.”
“That’s not how this works and you know it,” I say flatly.
“Max, I don’t want you to love me,” she says quietly.
A punch in the stomach has felt softer. A puck to the face lighter. I might as well be trying to stop an oncoming train for all the control I have over the way I feel for her.
“Too bad, Olivia. I love you.”
There it is, like a lead balloon. Might as well tie my shoelaces to it, because we are going to the bottom together.
My heart beats so hard I can’t be sure I’ve heard her correctly. But before I have a chance to find out I’m wrong, I’m across the bed, covering her mouth with my own. She tastes like salt and it spears my heart – she was crying, I made her cry. I redouble my efforts, attack her lips and slip my tongue into her mouth. Blood is rushing through my body like Class V whitewater and my mind is completely blank but for the sensation of being connected to her.
A minute later, gasping, she breaks away. I let my head fall into her pillow, my own breathing ragged.
“Shit,” she says. “I love you too.”
Neither of us move. She says it like she’s disappointed to find out it’s true, like she had a bad feeling about it all along. My heart stops, waiting for whatever comes next.
“Liv…,” I start speaking in French, I’m so overwhelmed. “Je t’aime. Je t’adore. Je suis desole pour mes erreurs…”
“Shhhh,” she says. “Please go.”