A note is taped to the bathroom mirror. My first thought is that I’ve never seen Olivia’s handwriting before.
Back in a week. Promise. Thank you, Max.
My robe is folded on the counter and her clothes are gone. They must have still been wet because I find a t-shirt and a pair of track pants missing.
“Sorry it’s short notice.”
“Not a problem, Olivia. Just promise you’re actually coming back,” Mario says. Olivia wasn’t sure who else in the chain of command knew what about the situation she’d created, so she went straight to the top. Mario offered to tell Dan and a few other people for her.
“I’ll be at the Rangers game in 7 days,” she agrees. Then she turns up the music and continues driving northeast toward New York.
It’s 9 PM when she reaches her parents house in Westchester County. Her childhood room is the same, like a time capsule from ten years ago. She pulls Max’s sweatpants and shirt on and goes right back to sleep. Her phone is off so she misses a text.
Max: Sweet dreams.
Jordan looks up from taping his stick to see Sidney coming in from the gym. It’s the first time Jordan can ever remember being alone in the locker room.
“Alright?” Crosby asks.
“Like I told Max: whatever it is, work it out. Don’t get shipped off to Columbus over some chick who’s playing both sides of the ice.” Sidney wipes his face on a towel. “Even if it is Olivia.”
Jordan nods, eyes still on the roll of tape as he spins it to create ridges in the grip. Ever since he punched Max, he's been thinking the same thing.
Jordan surprises me by saying good morning. That’s it – no apology or explanation – but it’s good enough.
“Mario told me she went home to NY. She’ll be at the Rangers game next week,” Crosby informs us. When he’s gone, Jordan speaks to me again.
“Think she’s really coming back?” he asks.
I just nod. She promised.
The week passes slowly. I call her a few times, not expecting an answer but because I want her to know I’m thinking of her. As if I could think of anything else. Crosby was right, she’s been jerking me around. I’ve made a fool of myself, or let her do it for me. But all I can think of is that Billy Joel lyric, “I have been a fool for lesser things.” So while I’m hurt by the way she’s waffled back and forth, it’s not nearly enough to change the way I feel. I let her get away with a lot because I wanted to win her over. So I spend the week thinking about boundaries and rules and how I’ll make it clear that I don’t intend to be a ‘wet blanket,’ as Sid put it, forever.
Jordan sits next to me on the bus to Philly. After an hour or so everyone else is asleep.
“Sorry about the punch,” he says, apropos of nothing. But he’s been waiting.
“I probably deserved it.”
His head is back against the seat and his giant frame is slack like he’s exhausted. Without looking over, he keeps talking. “I wasn’t half as mad at you as I am at her.”
“She’s dicking you around too.” He finally turns his head toward me.
I shrug. “And I keep pushing. She’s asked me to leave her alone a million times. I don’t think she means it, but she has asked. I could have made her come to me if she really wants me. I’m still pretty sure she does. But not sure enough to stop trying.
“So who’s the bad guy here? Her for liking both of us or me for thinking I know better than she does?” I ask.
“It was always you,” Jordan says. “I thought I could change her mind.”
“Olivia thought she could change it too.”
Olivia spends the week reading. She finishes The Three Musketeers in French and reads a couple of her dad’s books that are lying around the house. She watches two Pens games on TV, eats her mother’s cooking, sees some old friends who have husbands, houses, kids. Her parents take her to the movies, she takes her mom to lunch.
“You okay, Liv?” her mom says over a salad.
“I made another mess, you know me.”
“You never were any good with boys. Only thing that ever made you lose your head. I trust you’re being more careful picking a guy than you were last time?”
“Too careful, I think. Too careful,” Olivia admits.
The morning of the Rangers game, we bus in from Philly. I’ve sent Olivia three text messages over the week and one voicemail last night: See you tomorrow. And when I do see her, who knows what will happen. I have my hopes, my suspicions and doubts. But all I can do is wait. She’s not at the morning skate.
“Can I buy you lunch?” she asks when Jordan picks up the phone. He meets her in the hotel lobby and they walk to a nearby deli without really talking. Soup and sandwiches in hand, they take a table in the far back corner of the dining room.
“I’m mad at you, Olivia,” he finally says halfway through his chicken salad on wheat. “For someone who knows so much about being hurt, you certainly aren’t careful with other people. Too busy worrying about yourself.”
“You should be mad. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I really didn’t. I deluded myself and took it out on you. Totally selfish.” And it hasn’t kept her from hurting and being hurt. It’s time for her to suck it up and do what she should have done from the beginning.
He finishes a bite. “So it’s you and Max then.”
She makes a skeptical face. “If he’ll have me. I’ve been pretty awful to him too.”
Jordan shakes his head. “He would go through this a hundred times for you. Me, I wouldn’t do it again. I guess that means you two are meant to be.”
Olivia picks up the second part of her pastrami. “It means that I don’t deserve you, Jordan. I had a lot of fun with you, and you were always there for me. That should have been enough. I’m a mess but you are perfect.”
“Well then I’m sorry that perfect isn’t good enough for you.” He thinks about getting up and leaving with that statement in the air, but it just means having this conversation again later and dragging this whole thing out even more. He considers his position, knowing it’s his last chance to ask for something before this story no longer includes him.
“Please Liv, don’t throw it around at work. I can’t watch you and Max be together. Not for a while at least.”
“I promise, Jordan. That is the very least that I can do.”
As they jaywalk across 6th Avenue on the way back, Jordan reaches out for Olivia’s hand. Then he quickly pulls it away. She’s on her own now, he tells himself.
Olivia brings her parents to the locker room before the warm-up skate. She’s wearing tall black boots over dark skinny jeans and a drapey green sweater. Her parents are the same height and she resembles her dad strongly. Then she smiles and it’s her mother’s smile. She introduces them to Flower first, and Billy G makes his way over. A couple of the other guys follow. I wait until they’re almost done. Olivia looks at me as Geno is garbling something in English to her father. A tiny, apologetic smile crosses her beautiful face. I am suddenly nervous, meeting her parents. If I am important then this is important.
“Mom, Dad, this is Max,” she says as I approach with my hand out to shake.
“So this is the guy,” her mom says without hesitation.
The guy? I’m what guy?
Olivia blushes slightly and looks down. Her dad gives me a ‘we’ll see about that’ expression then breaks into a smile as he introduces himself. I make small talk for a few minutes but my brain is spinning. Am I ‘the guy’? What does that mean? As she leads them back to their seats, Olivia meets my gaze with wide eyes. I think it’s a look of hope.
If I could run in skates, I’d run off the ice at first intermission. I follow the line into the hallway, head spinning like an owl as I search for Olivia. Luckily, she’s waiting for me.
“Want to do the MSN interview?” she asks, like we have nothing better to talk about. I must be blinking stupidly because she tells the producer that I’m ready without waiting for an answer. For three minutes I recite every sports cliché in the book, try to remember what just happened on the ice, where I am, who we’re playing against. I probably sound like Crosby. Who cares? The spotlight goes out and I’m back in the real world. Olivia is behind the crew, leaning against the wall like she did in the magazine photo with Kris, watching me.
“Hi Max.” The blue in her eyes is very dark.
“You left without saying goodbye.”
“I said I was coming back,” she answers.
“Are you back now?”
She twists the bracelet on her wrist for a moment, buying time, working up to something.
“If you still want me,” she says.
I look quickly around the hall. I don’t care about the media, the trainers, the equipment guys or whoever else all these people are. As long as Jordan isn’t here. I pull her around a corner into an alcove where some rolling carts are stashed – very romantic.
“I still want you,” I whisper. And I kiss her.
My helmet falls from my hand, I knock over the stick that had been next to her. My gear smells awful, I’m all sweaty and four inches taller than normal. I press her into the wall and cover her soft lips with mine. Olivia meets my mouth with a kiss that must look as blinding as it feels. Her mouth is smooth and cool as my stubble rasps against her chin. She twists her fingers into the damp fabric of my sweater to get closer. Bottle rockets and firecrackers whistle and explode inside my head, my legs wobble beneath me. Olivia gets caught in the moment and, despite the people just around the corner, slips her silky tongue into my mouth in a way that makes me want to carry her into the nearest closet and score a hat trick. But it seems like we may have all the time in the world for that later.
After a minute, I pull away. Her face is tilted way up toward mine, her lips parted slightly and her eyelashes fluttering. When she looks at me, she looks a little stunned, a little surprised and a lot relieved.
“I love you, Max,” she says quietly.
“I knew it.” I kiss her again, briefly, before ducking into the locker room.
I sneak out quickly at the end of the game, saying I’m going to walk back to the hotel. Olivia is busy wrangling Flower and Crosby for something on Sportscenter. Jordan’s getting dressed slowly. We’re all very busy not looking at each other. I dig out my phone before I even get outside.
Nervous. I am nervous, Olivia admits to herself, wringing her hands. Marc and Sid could be talking about mail order brides and drug smuggling in their interview – she’s not listening. Max has already left. They’re both staying at the hotel tonight. She feels all the things that have passed between them squeezing together like traffic on a bridge. Yes, I want this, she knows. She just doesn’t want it to feel so out of control. But this is it, it’s time and there’s no stopping it now.
“Rutabaga watermelon,” Crosby says, appearing in front of her.
“What?” she snaps out of her trance.
“You didn’t hear a word we said. I know I’m boring, but aren’t you paid to listen to me give interviews?” To her relief, Sidney smiles. “So, what’s the verdict? Spend a whole week figuring out how to let Staalsy down easy?”
Olivia opens her mouth to retort, then shuts it. After a moment of pressing her lips together, she says, “Jordan has every right to hate me. I told him that and I think he’s taking me up on my offer.”
Sid shrugs, and Olivia thinks he’s probably come to the same conclusion.
What can I say? Olivia gives Sid a hopeless look, her shoulders sagging a little.
“Good decision,” is all Sidney says before he walks away.
Olivia also walks back to the hotel. A lot of the guys are going out tonight – they love to party in New York. She’d given Jordan a small smile, so he’d know to go and have fun and she wouldn’t be getting in his way tonight.
Tonight. Olivia took more than a few three-part yoga breaths thinking about tonight. The last time she’d been alone with Max had been a true low point. And he had been there for her – not asking or saying anything, not doing or trying anything, just being a solid form she could lean against. When she’d woken up, his face had been pressed to the back of her neck, his arms wrapped tightly around her. She’d known then how foolish she’d been all along. You cannot fight everything. Sometimes the smart move is surrender. Still the idea needed time to gel, the execution needed attention to keep from making things any worse.
She’d had the conversation with Jordan a hundred times in her head. It went about as well as she expected. He wasn’t the type to scream and throw things, to beg and plead. Olivia knew Jordan had honestly had enough. That was the hardest part – knowing Jordan would give up. Give up on her like she’d given up on him. She knew how he felt, now that it didn’t matter anymore.
And with Max, well… leave it to her mom to blow that chance at subtlety. It’s out there. Now what?
Olivia finds the message light blinking on the hotel bedside phone. The operator says she has a package downstairs. Back into the elevator, and Olivia picks up a square envelope. She forces herself to go back to her room and set it down, unopened. She gets dressed – really dressed. A black lace cup bra. The panties have a lace-up panel at the back, which she ties into a small bow. A fitted, classic little black dress. The highest shoes she owns: leopard print slingbacks. Finally she tips her head over and shakes out her hair. A tiny bit of gloss and she looks in the mirror. Her outfit feels like armor, like a powerful shield. She needs the strength right now of looking like she knows what she’s doing. Hopefully that will make it true.
Then she turns back to the envelope. Serves me right if I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go. She slides her nail under the flap and shakes it out.
I knew it.