Mike slid behind the wheel of his car and started counting. He didn’t make it to five.
“You would,” Brooks laughed, unable to resist making fun of his friend. “You would pick the one girl out of twelve who has half-season tickets. Do you know how much those cost? She probably has to have a roommate because she spent all her money on hockey tickets.”
“But she likes hockey! That’s got to be a leg up, right? I mean, she’s even a Caps fan.”
Brooks shrugged. “I can’t decide if it’s the best thing or the worst thing.”
“How could it be bad?” Mike goosed the accelerator, annoyed, and shot through a yellow light.
“Dude, you know the reputation hockey players have. In some cases,” he pointed right at Mike’s face, “they may be right. You did fuck her roommate. Then follow her to a bar. Then try to make yourself irresistible with your white guy dance moves.”
Brooks just cracked himself up. “I’m just saying, if she was into you just because you play hockey, she wouldn’t give a shit what her roommate thinks. But you’re here with me instead of home with her, so I don’t know how well that card is going to play for you.”
“We’ll see what happens tomorrow.” Mike sighed with frustration. If he’d known going home with the blond would have caused all this, he never would have done it. He could go without sometimes. But then he never would have met Zoe, so maybe it was worth it. “Wait. Shit! Do you think she’ll bring Jenna to the game? Fuck, would she do that?”
“Jenna is busy tomorrow night, she can’t come.”
“How do you….”
“Zoe told me while she was giving me her number,” Brooks said. “You didn’t get that either, did you?”
Mike groaned. “No! Give it to me.”
“I swear your dick is bigger than your brain. And I’ve seen you naked, it’s not that impressive.” He dodged Mike’s elbow as it came up. “Easy, Greenie, that’s a suspension these days. I’m not giving you her number. You’ve done enough stalking for one night.”
Brooks continued to refuse until Mike dropped him at home. On the way to his own house, Mike realized it had been a smart move. The car was quiet, the streets were dark and he would definitely have called her. If the last twenty-four hours had proven anything it was that Mike was not good at resisting temptation. Instead he resolved to use the time to think up a plan.
NO, Zoe said firmly. She flopped down onto her bed, still in her dress and heels. But as she hit the soft comforter and bounced lightly on the bed, she allowed herself the thought she’d been avoiding all night: I shouldn’t be here alone.
You shouldn’t be hunting on Jenna’s property either, she reminded herself. Of course she believed Mike when he said he didn’t care about Jenna. And Jenna didn’t care about him either – she wanted him yes, like a trophy. She’d get the benefits without having to do all that work every time she went out. Jenna was tired of starting over every time.
I feel that, Zoe almost smiled.
Zoe’s last relationship had started like Jenna and Mike. Minus the roommate. She met a guy in a bar, totally hit it off and took it way too far on the first night. She let her hormones and blood alcohol level make decisions then woke up in an empty bed expecting to never hear from the guy again. A minute later he came back into the room, two cups of coffee and a bottle of Advil in hand. Zoe fell for him right then.
And after a while it fell apart. They didn’t really fight, because that requires connection. Fire. They had fun going out and had fun staying in, but it never turned into anything more. He seemed happy to keep it simple, stupid. It left Zoe feeling like a leased car – something with a built-in end date. She didn’t want to do that again.
Mike Green. Say anything too many times and it starts to sound like nonsense that’s spelled wrong.
After Mike left the club, Zoe remembered little of the rest of the night. A few more drinks, a few more dances. The girls were in good spirits. Jenna was bouncing with drunken delight and Zoe almost wished for her to blackout so she’d forget Mike had even been there. Unlikely, but still.
Zoe hauled herself up and hung her new dress on the back of her closet door, covering her Caps hat.
Fuck, Zoe thought. Jenna was not only awake, but perky. Which meant she thought she’d had a great night.
“Last night was so fun, huh? Marie had a blast. And I still can’t believe Mike was there. I half think I’m going to run into him at the store or something next!”
“That would be crazy,” Zoe agreed.
Jenna poured herself coffee. “I’m so bummed I can’t go to the game tonight. I don’t want to not see him. You know how guys are, he might get distracted by some other girl if I’m not around.”
Zoe put her head down on the table.
“Oooh honey, do you have a hangover? Here, let me get you coffee.”
Jenna mothered Zoe through breakfast then went off whatever it was Jenna did on Sundays. Her unbreakable plans were dinner with her wealthy aunt and uncle who lived in Virginia – it was a monthly commitment and Zoe suspected they helped keep Jenna in the lifestyle to which she’d become accustomed. Zoe wondered if her own plans should include anything more than the typical hockey game she went to once a week. She dug her phone out of her bag from the night before.
“Are you alive after last night?” she asked when the line picked up.
“Are you in bed with a naked Mike Green after last night?” her best friend Christine asked in a sleepy voice. Then she started laughing. Zoe groaned and lay down. Her room was a disaster of pre- and post-party supplies.
“No! You saw him leave the club.”
“Thought he might have climbed in your window. He does know where you live. He probably left the bar to go sift through your underwear drawer while you stayed out dancing.”
“I swear to God, Chris. This morning Jenna was talking about ‘I don’t want him to get distracted by some other girl and forget about me!’ She’ll come back from her aunt’s with a new boob job and extensions if she thinks it’ll work.” Christine just laughed. Zoe covered her face with an arm. “What am I supposed to do? He knows we’re coming to the game tonight. You are still coming, right?”
“Does he have any more friends who look like the guy from last night?” Christine asked.
“Yes, he does. A whole team full.”
“Then yes, I am.”
Beep beep. The sound of an incoming text cut off Christine’s last word. Zoe asked her to hang on and opened the phone’s main screen.
Morning Zoe, it’s Brooks. Since you won’t go out with Mike, would you like come out with a bunch of us after the game?
“Oh my God.” Zoe gave herself a facepalm for good measure, but she knew one thing for sure. She couldn’t say no. Holding out on Mike was the absolute extent of her restraint. But the rest of the team? Her team? There was no way in hell she was missing that chance. Yesterday, the idea of a text from Brooks Laich would have sent her in a fangirl meltdown. Funny how things had changed.
Do it for Christine, she told herself. Yeah right.
“Whatwhathwhat?” Christine was whining.
“I got you a date with the rest of the team.” Zoe said. Two seconds of silence. Then screaming.
“You have to share your girl with the rest of the team tonight,” Brooks announced, slapping Mike’s shoulder. The morning skate had been light, followed by a team meeting and some physio for those who needed it. The locker room had mostly emptied out.
“You talked to her?”
“Texted. I’m trying not to get us both on restraining orders,” Brooks said. Mike sat on the bench and looked down at his feet. His pouty lips and chubby cheeks made his sad face especially effective. “Oh come on, bro. It’s not that bad. She’s coming to the game, she said she’d come out with us after.”
“What if we lose?” Mike asked.
Brooks laughed. “You two are alike. Here’s what she said…,” he opened his phone. “’What happens if you lose?’ and I said, ‘If we lose, you buy the drinks.’ She said, ‘Okay, I’m bringing a friend to split the bill.’ and I said, ‘Just don’t bring a guy. Mike’s slap fights are embarrassing.’”
Mike gave his friend a dirty look. More laughter.
“Then Zoe said, ‘It’s a girl. You let her feel your bicep last night. Apparently size does matter.’”
That got a smile from Mike. And he kept on smiling, knowing that he would see Zoe tonight without Jenna around. It was his chance to start fresh. And while Zoe might not be falling over Mike just because he played hockey, he knew any true Caps fan would be at least a little impressed by hanging out with most of the team. He’d probably have to pay the entire tab, but he’d turn the boys out in force if it meant getting an advantage with the girl in the red shorts.
Zoe stood in front of the mirror in her bathroom feeling stupid. She just stared at her reflection trying to convince herself that nothing was going on. Nothing out of the ordinary except going out for a post-game (hopefully) celebration with her favorite hockey team. Yup, perfectly normal.
She’d been through ten outfits. Usually she wore jeans and sneakers with a Caps sweatshirt or t-shirt over long sleeves. Anything more than that seemed like she was trying too hard – like the girls she saw in high heels and low cut party tops clacking around the arena. That’s what Jenna would wear. But tonight wasn’t just a game and she knew it. So she went simple, layering a bright teal v-neck shirt with three-quarter sleeves under her sweatshirt. It was dressy enough to be in a bar, but not out of place during daylight hours. The jeans stayed the same and were compromised with a pair of knee-high, flat-soled riding boots.
Just because I’m not going to do anything doesn’t mean I can’t look good. She ran through the team’s roster in her head: Brooks, Backstrom, Semin, even little John Carlson was cute a hell. Those were obviously no-fly zones – she had no intention of being horrible to Mike. Under other circumstances, this story would be completely different. But still…
Mike had seen Zoe at her least prepared on the morning they met – obviously something about that had worked. But he’d also seen her in full effect, or as full effect as she got. And he hadn’t been disappointed. Somewhere down the middle, Zoe thought. She let her hair fall in its natural waves but went for eyeliner and mascara to at least look like she was trying.
Trying for what?! she screamed at herself for the thousandth. I don’t want him. I don’t want this. Zoe gave herself a stern glare. A single day of not even knowing him had been more potential problems than anything she was willing to get involved in. A smart person would walk away, leave it as a great story to tell on girls night out. If she found all new girls who didn’t know Jenna.
Without permission from her brain, Zoe’s eyes rolled themselves. She could ignore the obvious but that didn’t make it go away.
Mike Green. Her inner monologue sounded like a cat mewling. Fucking A.
“Where are her seats?” Mike hadn’t been at the arena ten minutes but he’d found a pen and paper and Brooks. Who just shook his head.
“I didn’t get that. Remember, I’m trying not to get you arrested.”
“Text her,” Mike suggested. Okay, commanded.
“No. You’ll be out there all night staring into the crowd. You fall down enough as it is.” Brooks’ blue eyes were perfectly calm; he was a man who spoke sense. Mike grumbled something about being cock-blocked and waved the piece of paper.
“I’ll make you a deal. I write a note. You get the seats, tell Jimmy the security guy not to tell me. He can deliver it.”
Brooks considered the option, frowning. “No bribing him. No ‘I’ll let you drive my Lamborghini’ bullshit.”
Mike even made a cross-my-heart motion before he started writing. Without allowing himself a chance to re-read or change it, he folded the paper, tore a notch to keep it sort of sealed and gave it to Brooks. His friend wouldn’t read it. Then he couldn’t be complicit in any crime. The Mike sat down to get his head in the game. He wanted to play really well tonight and he needed a win.
Zoe looked down into her plate of food like it might hold the answer to Christine’s question. Nothing came, though, and so she was quiet too long.
“You’d better put on a game face tonight. If Mike sees you like this he’ll just throw you over his shoulder and carry you away.”
“I am not going out with him. I am not having anything to do with him,” Zoe said adamantly. Then she paused. “ And it would help if you could stop talking about his shoulders!”
“Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll stick to talking about his forearms. And his ass. Jesus, he was wearing the shit out of those jeans last night.”
Zoe threw a cashew across the table.
Coach Boudreau made his usual pre-game speech, which sounded like fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck for five full minutes if you’d listened to enough of them. Mike didn’t need to be psyched up – his heart was already pounding. Zoe might not be rolling over because he wore skates, and honestly he didn’t want her to. More than anything he wanted Zoe to want all of him. Otherwise she’d be nothing more than Jenna. But he could make her remember just how great it felt to see your team win. As Coach stormed out in his customary waddle, Mike caught Brooks’ eye. His friend just nodded – the note was on its way. Nothing anyone could do now but play.
Mike had learned a long time ago that he couldn’t force goals. The more he tried to score, the more he focused on getting points, the less productive he was. And since being snubbed for the 2010 Olympics for not being “defensive” enough, Mike had been concentrating on that aspect of his game. His point totals were down, but there were many who said the Caps couldn’t win without him. Tampa Bay was fast and they had huge offensive power – he’d have his hands full today.
The roar of the home crowd always helped settle his mind. Today it worked on the butterflies in his stomach as well. He closed his eyes for the National Anthem and was glad to be playing an American team; two whole songs and he might have gotten nervous again. But the magic of the game quickly took over. The puck dropped and it was like a tunnel lowered over them: you could only go forward, no point in looking up.
Ten tight, scoreless minutes passed before Stamkos struck. It was never a question of if, just when. Mike felt like a bait fish to a shark whenever the young forward was on the ice – and he was always on the ice with the Stamkos line. But this one couldn’t be stopped: a wrister from the point that seemed intent on getting past Nuevirth. One-nothing Lightning.
“Step it up, D! Not like you’ve never seen that little shit before!” Boudreau screamed.
On the next shift, Mike got a lead on St. Louis trying to break down the wing. The guy was like a ninja – little, fast, crafty. Mike waited for Stamkos to make a pass, then shoved St. Louis hard into the boards and kicked the puck along to Backstrom.
“That’s it, Greenie! Kill that fucking midget!” Boudreau yelled.
On the next shift, Lecavalier gave Mike a full body slam to the ice. “Pick on someone your own size.”
“You’ll see me if you ever get the puck, asshole,” Mike replied.
Zoe felt like she’s taken a whole bottle of caffeine pills. Her heart raced unevenly and her hands were cold. It wasn’t the nerves she felt during every game, wasn’t the adrenaline fueled by the screaming crowd. In fact it wasn’t anything she was doing differently at all.
“What?” Christine asked. Zoe was pretty sure she hadn’t spoken out loud. Her friend nodded down at the shredded napkin littering the floor. “So much for your game face.”
Zoe exhaled loudly. The problem was nothing had changed. Sure she followed the puck and the game, but without thinking or trying she was mostly following Mike. And realized that’s what she always did. Every game, twenty-plus games a year plus television. With a big swig of beer, she forcibly turned her attention on the puck. Focus, Zo.
By intermission she was feeling a little better – she’d mostly been able to keep her eyes off Mike on shift changes and play stoppages. And she hadn’t missed the few big checks he’d thrown, or the ones he’d received. Maybe she’d winced a little harder than usual when all 6’ 4” of Lecavalier came down hard on top of him. Shaking it off like she’d been hit herself, Zoe stood to go downstairs.
“Miss?” A guy in a black Verizon Center uniform pullover waved in her direction. He stepped over the people at the end of her row, holding something out to her. “Are you Zoe?” She took the piece of paper and turned it over in her hand. Just a piece of lined notepaper, creased in half and sealed with a torn strip folded down at the center. Christine laughed.
“I swear to God if that says, ‘Do you like me? Circle yes or no.’ I will pee my pants.”
“Maybe it’s the plan for tonight. Maybe it’s from Brooks.”
“Maybe it’s from Harry Potter saying you’re the last horcrux.”
Zoe bared her teeth at her friend then gently lifted the little clasp. She had in fact passed notes like this in class, talking about cute boys or some girls’ hairdo. It was awkward and adorable. Fuck. The arrogant, womanizing player Zoe could fend off, even if it was Mike Green. But awkward, dorky Mike Green with his metrosexual scarves and hugging everyone all the time? That would be another story. If he figured that out…
“Fucking open it!” Christine yelled. Zoe jumped back to reality, nearly tearing the paper. She peeled down the tab.
Told you this was more than one night. - Mike
3 years ago