“Shit,” Zoe said. She couldn’t move from Mike’s lap, she was wedged in against him in a way that seconds ago seemed fantastic. He put his forehead against her cheek.
“Sorry,” he whispered. She was still locked in his arms. “I’ll go in with you.”
“No, I’ll do this.” Zoe tried to move back toward her seat, but Mike held tight.
“But this is my fault. I should never have used her to get to you.”
She made it to the center console. “It only worked because I wanted it to. You said it yourself, if you’d snuck out that would have been the end. No big deal. But I made this a big deal.”
“Zo, I did everything wrong. At least let me apologize to her.”
“After. Right now she’s just mad, and it’s all at me.”
His pouty lips and deep brown eyes were a hang dog expression, one that looks like sadness feels, like a knot in the put of your stomach. Now I’ve fucked this up too, Zoe thought. She kissed him softly.
“I want to see you again.”
Mike couldn’t help his face lighting up. This thing with Jenna was always going to be a shit time but they had been dodging it long enough. Soon it would be over. And whatever it took to get there, a single date with Zoe had proven it would all be worth it.
“Call me later, please? I’ll come back, or if you don’t want to stay here… I’m so sorry, Zoe.”
She allowed herself one more swift kiss. “Go home and focus on your big game tomorrow. I’ll be fine.”
He made a face. “I’d rather think about you than Crosby. Especially in bed.”
His smile made it worth the fight she was walking into.
Mike drove home slowly, every corner making him want to turn back. He felt bad for the twinge of relief in his heart: it was finally out in the open. Zoe would handle it best. He’d never been good with angry women. Or crying. The idea made him shiver; no wonder he never stuck around that long. But the idea of it being Zoe in tears over something he’d done… well, he’d simply have to not make that mistake. New Mike didn’t do things like that.
Except that I did, even tonight. Out having a great time with Zoe while I’m doing exactly something like that to Jenna. Shit.
He’d wait an hour then text Zoe. No, he’d call. He’d only had one night to start fixing this and now it was falling apart all over again.
Zoe steeled herself and pushed through the front door. Jenna hadn’t bothered to lock it as she stormed back into the house. It was silent.
“Jenna,” Zoe called, “come out and talk to me.”
She knew Jenna hated being mad. She hated feeling anything enough to upset her, that’s why she stayed on the surface of things. But it didn’t really work – Jenna felt fear all the time: fear of rejection, of losing the one appeal she was sure she had. It made Zoe remember a song that said, “I feel like I’m the worst so I always act like I’m the best.” Jenna didn’t take it that far, but she battled the fear of not being good enough with every weapon she had.
And look what I did to her.
Jenna’s door opened. Her long blond hair was beautiful but her face a mess – she’d been crying through all that makeup she always wore. It was Friday night and Zoe didn’t know where Jenna had been earlier.
“Well done, Zoe,” Jenna said in a voice that made it clear she meant nothing of the sort. “Of all my friends, you are the last person I would have expected to stab me in the back.”
Zoe knew she had done that, in a twisted way, and she regretted the circumstance that made it happen. “I’m sorry, Jenna. It wasn’t….”
“It wasn’t what? Your fault? You fucking bitch. If you expect me to believe that you didn’t want him from the first fucking second that is bullshit. Oh they’re hockey players, so all bets are off. Turns out the high-and-mighty Zoe, with her nose in the air judging everyone, is just like the rest of us. Show her the one thing she wants and she’ll do anything to get it. Anything.” She spit the last word like she knew exactly what she was referring to.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“Liar! I know what you think of me, Zoe. I swear you fucking count up my sins like you’re going to send me a bill. But you’re jealous – guys like that would never notice you,” she sneered at Zoe’s date outfit as if she were wearing a potato sack. “You sit around as if you’re waiting for something worth your time, but we all know. At a club you’d be crying because the guy you fantasize about is taking me home.”
That hurt. It might even be true. Zoe had wondered if she’d been in the club, would Mike have talked to her. Would he have even seen her? For all the boobs and booze and blonds, there had been nights where Zoe felt invisible. Maybe she was lying to herself, saying she wanted it that way. The impartial observer. They say that those who can’t play, coach.
Then she thought of the second night, when Mike turned up at the bachelorette party. There had been plenty of other girls. She’d been in costume but not in character – she told him no, sent him away. And he kept coming back. If she was going to do this: be with him, actually get out there and try something, she had to believe that Jenna was wrong. She had to fight this fight.
“So there’s one guy I want. That makes me a bad person? At least I pick one, instead of taking home the first guy who talks to me. Whoever wins the race to the bar wins the race to your bed, Jenna.”
Jenna’s nostrils flared. “One guy?! You have to have the one I had? Do you want to know what Mike’s like in bed? How big he is, the sounds he makes, what it feels like when he comes inside you? Do you want to go lie in my bed and think about him being ten yards from you fucking someone else?!”
Whatever remnants of restraint Zoe had just disappeared. “Can you even remember which one he was? All those guys, are they so different in the dark?”
Jenna stepped back like she was inviting Zoe to get into the ring. “You think you’re so much better than I am. Well you’re no different, Zoe, you just picked a different poison. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t fuck that whole team. Slap a number on his back and skates on his feet and suddenly you’re just another slut.”
“That’s not what this is about!” Zoe yelled.
Jenna laughed out loud. “You’re such a child. You really think Mike – or any of them - wants anything more than to fuck you? Think you’re going to fall in love and have little hockey babies and spend your life doing bake sales? That’s pathetic.”
“This is not about sex.”
“It would have been if I hadn’t banged on that window. Bet he’s home jerking off to the thought of us fighting. They live for this shit! More pussy, less responsibility. I know plenty of guys like him.”
There was a time when Zoe would have agreed with her. Now it got her back up wanting to defend him. “You don’t know Mike at all.”
“And you don’t even know yourself. Go to sleep, Zoe. Your little hockey life dream is over and he’s not going to call you back. You were like a fucking landing strip: flashing lights and radio broadcasts – pay attention to me, fuck me! Well you didn’t even get that far, did you? Couldn’t even seal the deal with my sloppy seconds.”
“He picked me!” That was it, Zoe was furious. She let it come right out knowing it would bring the worst part of the story to light. “And I didn’t even have to fuck him first.”
The room fell quiet. Jenna’s mouth fell slightly open and she froze, realizing that she didn’t know the truth about anything between the kitchen that first morning and the car tonight. “When?”
“At Marie’s bachelorette party. He came because he wanted to see me. I turned him down that night.”
“You turned him down,” Jenna said caustically, as if no such thing were possible.
“But you went out with them after the hockey game – with Brooks. And then Mike invited me to his party… he told me to surprise you with the party at his house…,” she slowed, putting the pieces together, “so you wouldn’t be nervous.”
“Fuck,” Jenna whispered, somehow worse than when she was shouting. “Last night, you pushed me toward Alex to get me away from Mike. You’re not into Brooks at all.”
Jenna seemed to shrink in size. Realizing that it was Mike specifically, and not just anyone in a hockey sweater, made it worse. Zoe really had gone for the one guy Jenna had. She’d taken the one thing Jenna saw as achievable and put it right back out of reach.
“Mike was just another guy to you. You wouldn’t have thought twice if he didn’t have money. God knows you never would have brought him home.” Zoe knew she was pushing it, but some things needed to be said and she never wanted to talk about this again.
“You’ve been playing me this whole time. Using me to get to each other. You let some guy, who you know is into one night stands, string me along because you wanted to keep seeing him?! I was so excited, going on about… God, you’re such an asshole!”
“I’m sorry Jenna, I really didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Jenna squared herself. “Except you didn’t stop it and you didn’t tell me. So you seem to have gotten what you wanted. Well, part of it. Maybe he’ll drive you around the block again, give you that pity fuck in the back of his SUV and make all your dreams come true. Then you’ll finally find out no matter who he is, he’s really no big deal.”
Jenna spun on a heel and marched back into her room. Zoe sank to the floor and sat cross-legged for a few minutes, considering what the venom in Jenna’s words covered. Hurt, obviously, at getting excited over someone then being passed up. At being betrayed by a friend. Once again ending up alone with nothing to show for her troubles.
Zoe hadn’t thought of all those things. For all the heartache she’d given herself about liking Mike, she never really stopped to consider that she was being worse to Jenna than he was.
Scooping herself off the floor, Zoe packed an overnight bag and drove to Christine’s without calling. Christine putt her at the counter, gave her a glass of wine and sat down to hear the story. Zoe spared herself no excuses – she laid out exactly what had happened since Mike kissed her at the bar. Every thought process, every time she willfully ignored screwing Jenna over. When she was done, she was drained.
“Jenna would have done it to you,” Christine said. “You’re lucky she didn’t figure it out sooner. If she thought the end of the story was her and Mike, she’d have killed you in your sleep to keep you out of the way.”
Zoe was about to shoot that theory down when her phone rang quietly.
“You okay?” Mike asked.
“Yeah. It went… like I expected. I’m at Christine’s.”
Mike’s heart hurt knowing that Zoe had gone through this because of him. “If you need a place to stay, I can come get you. My offer for a bubble bath still stands.”
Zoe said a tiny little prayer that this not end quickly with Mike. Please let it be worth this, she thought.
“Can I take you to breakfast? I have to be at the rink early, but I could pick you up at ten and bring you home before the game.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Everything’s gonna be okay.”
When Zoe finally fell asleep, it was blissful ignorance of the world at large. She dreamed of nothing and didn’t roll around. One moment she was closing her eyes, the next her alarm was ringing. Christine barely cracked an eyelid as Zoe rummaged through her closet and found a clean pair of jeans and a v-neck sweater with green and white stripes. She texted Mike the address and he arrived at ten sharp in his black Maserati.
Zoe sank into the passenger seat, grateful for the way it curled around her body. Mike wore a black hoodie and sunglasses pushed up into his hair. Just seeing his face made her feel better about the night before. Wrestling with the embrace of the aerodynamic seat, Zoe got as close as she could and kissed his lips. Mike ran the pads of his thumb across her cheek bone. The dark color of her eyes, the messy cloud of her long hair… he kissed her back, hard.
At a nearby diner, Mike sat next to Zoe in the booth and shared an omelette and pancakes between them. They talked very little, just being settled in each other’s company. Zoe dreaded the end because she’d have to go home to where Jenna was. Sensing her reluctance, Mike ate very slowly. But still the time came.
He opened her car door and this time, when she brushed close to him, Mike caught her and held. Zoe’s arms looped around his neck and she melted against his chest. They stood hugging for quite some time while Mike thought of the appropriate thing to say.
A week ago, Zoe thought Mike was a scumbag. Now she’d given up her roommate’s friendship and probably her place to live to be with him. He had no idea how to repay that, except to know that he would find a way. No matter what. He would be worth it.
“I want this, Zoe. I’m not going to mess it up.”
He was rewarded with a kiss on the mouth then Zoe met his eyes and said, “I trust you.”
When Zoe got home, Jenna was gone. Thank God. She showered, dressed, threw an overnight bag into her trunk and went to the bookstore to kill time. So much time that she felt compelled to buy the book she started because she’d read so much. At four o’clock she drove downtown and met Christine at a Starbucks.
“Guess I need to look for a new place to live,” she admitted.
Christine had her laptop out and they spent an hour browsing studio and roommate listings. Christine had just moved into a one-bedroom but it was rent-controlled and there were no units available. There were some promising roommate situations and even two studios that Zoe could afford, so she sent some emails to make appointments for the next day. It wasn’t a task she relished, but better not to dwell on it. The quicker she was out of her place, the better.
“I want to be able to see Mike and not worry about Jenna.” Plus Jenna’s probably home putting Drano in my orange juice and rat poison in my underwear drawer.
Mike dropped his bag into his stall and started changing into Under Armor. Not too many of the guys were here yet, but he’d had an idea in the car. Something he could do for Zoe to show he was serious.
“Nicky, I’ve got a big question for you. Any chance you’d take on a roommate?”
Backstrom had just bought a house, nice and big, and had complained about having to decorate on his own and come home to an empty place after road trips. Please please please, Mike thought.
“Did you get Zoe thrown out of her place?” Brooks asked, coming in.
Mike shrugged. “Jenna caught us kissing last night, they had a blowout. I don’t want Zoe to have to live like that.”
“Did you ask her if she wants to be moved? I have room too, if she doesn’t want to settle,” Brooks said.
“No,” Mike laughed. “You two are enough trouble when you’re together, I can’t take you living together.”
“Zoe live with me?” Nicky shrugged like it was no big deal. “Okay. I like her. But… you visit her, visit me cool. No sex. I don’t want to hear you.”
“Thanks Nicky,” Mike clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Hopefully she’ll just stay at my house all the time.”
“Not all the time! I like to live with roommate, we can do cooking and stuff. Maybe I stay in Washington for the summer this year. Zoe can be my wingman for meeting girls.”
Mike wrapped an arm around Nicky’s neck in a man-hug. “Maybe she’ll find you one just like her.”
It was after six when Zoe and Christine reached the Verizon Center. Seeing the huge crowds decked out in red and white never failed to get Zoe excited for a game. Already they were riled up, chanting “Crosby sucks” on the streets for no reason. The will call attendant handed Zoe an envelope.
“Oh God.” Mike had put them six rows up behind the bench.
“Wooooooooot, window shopping!” Christine shouted.
The seats were insane. They could see the veins bulging in Boudreau’s bald head as he yelled out line combinations. Players’ voices carried as they called for pucks and argued with refs. A shot flying over the glass could easily knock out their teeth.
The teams obviously hated each other. Elbows were up, sticks were swinging and the boards rocked with collision after collision. Zoe had to keep covering her face and her stomach ached so badly she abandoned her beer. Halfway through the third, the Caps got a tying goal to make it 3-3. But it wasn’t enough – the Pens scored with two minutes left and won by one goal. It had been a great game, but the Caps just couldn’t quite get there.
Zoe and Christine went to the same bar as the last time – before they’d met Mike and company, before he’d kissed her without permission. It seemed like a hundred years ago. This time, there would be no party. It was forty minutes before Mike, Brooks and Nicky came across the street.
“Hey,” Mike kissed her, full on the mouth, as if to remind everyone he was allowed to do that now. They ordered another round of beers and pulled up stools.
“So Zoe, Mike says he ruined your life and you need a new place to live. I want you to be my roommate,” Nicky announced.
Zoe started to protest. “I can’t just…”
“I want you to. I have a new house but it’s too big for me. And I like having a roommate, for watching TV and making dinner and stuff. We can have parties!” He was getting into it, smiling that little elfin grin that revealed his crooked front teeth.
“Did Mike put you up to this?”
Nicky nodded, guileless. “Yes, it’s his idea. But I tell him he can’t come over all the time, because you are my roommate and we have time for hanging out too.”
Mike’s arm was around her waist, heavy and comforting. Here he was with a solution to her biggest problem. And she liked Nicky – he was so sweet and probably quiet, he looked clean – he could be the best roommate ever. A big new house, probably had a lot of toys….
“Take it,” Mike whispered.
“Okay, but I’m paying rent.”
The grin on Nicky’s face went ear-to-ear. “Yes, you pay for the cable.”
“No, I’m paying real rent.”
“Is real rent. I have all the channels.”
Brooks cut in. “Make him pay for the porn though.”
Nicky blushed so hard he was purple. Zoe bought a round of drinks and they made a pint glass agreement that she could move in whenever she wanted. Even tonight. But when it was time to go, Mike insisted she join him for a nightcap at the wine bar around the corner.
It was packed on a Saturday night. Zoe felt underdressed next to Mike in his suit, but they had to stand so close to talk that he couldn’t even see her clothes. Not that he cared. Two goblet-sized glasses of red wine in hand, they tucked themselves into a corner.
“I hope I didn’t embarrass you with the Nicky’s house thing. But I had to do something. He was complaining about living alone, I thought it would be a good solution.”
Zoe savored a sip of full-bodied wine. “It’s perfect. And thank you, I can cancel the appointments I made tomorrow to look at new places.”
“Well it is my fault you have to move.” His broad chest and shoulders about blocked the room from view. Not that she was looking anywhere else anyway.
“It’s my fault. You didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do.”
They both sipped, wondering what the other wanted to do right now. It had been a very rough twenty-four hours and Mike knew that getting Zoe alone and sliding into her arms would fix everything that was wrong with the world.
But that’s how I fix all my problems, he thought.
Zoe was emotionally and physically drained. She had barely gotten to worry about apartments before the situation had been resolved, but even that seemed to sap her energy. The heavy wine, the warmth of the crowd and the nearness to Mike’s soft mouth conspired to make her woozy. Red alert, red alert.
“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered.
They went to her car. Mike let someone at Verizon know he’d be leaving his overnight and got behind the wheel. Then he drove toward Christine’s house. Zoe barely even noticed until they were pulling to a stop. Mike went around and practically had to lift her out of the seat.
“I thought we were going to your house,” she said.
Ping! A little bolt of lightning ripped from the sky, right into the pit of Mike’s stomach. “I think you’re too tired to visit me tonight.”
Zoe blinked up at him innocently. “We could just sleep.”
Yeah fucking right, she thought. And he knew it too. She was about to collapse. Mike slipped his finger beneath the neck of her shirt and traced the ridge of her collarbone.
“Make no mistake,” he whispered at her ear. “I am going to have sex with you the first time you give me even the slightest chance.” His finger moved up around the delicate outline of her earlobe. “I’m going to keep you so long Nicky will forget he has a roommate. Work will report you missing.”
Zoe purred like a cat. She had that heady, devil-may-care feeling that would have dropped into bed with Mike inside of a heartbeat. But what he promised sounded better than what she could deliver. All she could do was breathe in the scent of his skin.
“Good thing I’ve got money left over for the porn channels,” she said.
3 years ago