Thursday, September 27, 2012


“It’ll work, I promise” Taylor said, laying sprawled out on his bed in the hotel room.  “But go to her place, I don’t want you waking me up.”

I threw the nearest piece of clothing at him.  He snickered, the way he always laughed at me.  

“I’m serious, Jordan!  Give her the sob story.  ‘We’re locked out and all I want to do is live my dream of playing hockey.  I don’t know how long I’ll be staying here, but I didn’t want to miss out on meeting you.’” He did an impression of my voice.  “Drop your new contract in there and BAM. Pants off dance off.”

I rolled my eyes at my reflection in the mirror.  We were just going to dinner, and even that had me nervous as hell.  Erin had asked for my number, but she hadn’t called me.  She said yes to a date but had no idea who, or what, I was.  Jordan Eberle, American college student.  Jordan Eberle, random guy in a bar.  It was incognito, like a secret identity.  I liked it.  Now if only I didn’t look like a grade ten nerd on school picture day.  Pulling off my shirt, I reached back for another one.  That was better.  Black v-neck sweater, light enough for the early fall, with dark jeans.  Casual but expensive, and Erin would be able to see that I did a lot of working out.

Taylor wolf-whistled.  “Get it tonight, Ebs. With your fucking luck, the lockout will end early just to keep you from getting laid.”

I GPSed my rental car to the address she had sent me.  Her apartment was on the second floor, over a laundromat.  I called her from the car just as she was walking out the door.


I had only seen Erin once.  There had been work clothes and ponytails and I’d still been a blithering idiot.  Now I was really in trouble.  She wore dark skinny jeans with a pale teal colored top that had ruffles down the center where buttons would have gone.  A gray blazer was buttoned over it, and matching gray ballet flats on her feet.  Her long hair was down, all waves and twists, pulled into a little twist at the front and falling over her shoulders and back.

“Right on time,” she said, swinging into the passenger seat.

“Uurrrrduhhhhhrrrr,” I replied.  Well not really.  But it took a moment for me to say, “I wouldn’t keep you waiting.”

Erin declined the GPS and gave me directions to the restaurant she had chosen because I didn’t know any places in town.  I was glad to have something to talk about, while I conserved my few coherent resources for when I’d actually have to look at her.  Fifteen minutes later we pulled up in front of a restaurant.

“I hope you like steak.”

“Definitely.” I’d have liked a mud pie if she wanted to eat in a swamp.

I parked and got out; Erin was waiting in front of the car.  The top of her head came up to my nose - she was the perfect height to wrap my arms around.  The thought made me laugh nervously, which I turned into a sputtered cough.  She led the way inside.

We had a table in the middle of the room.  In certain places, that would make me very uncomfortable - I was trying to be cool, not be recognized.  But it was clear that no one had any idea who I was, nor would not have cared.  I could be anonymous in any American city, except I was usually walking into a place with twenty four other big, strapping guys.  We were clearly somebody.  Here I was just a guy.  And still very lucky, because I was the guy with Erin.

I looked at her, then the table, the menu, the room.  Back at Erin.  She smiled.  I stuck my head into my menu.  Her soft laugh said she knew exactly what I was doing.  Then Erin’s fingers closed over the top of my menu and slowly lowered it to the table.

“Stop being so cute,” she said.

Or we aren’t going to make it through this meal, I thought.  Jordan alternated between flashing that gap-toothed grin and trying to focus on anything but me.  Trying to keep a straight face made his jaw clench, which made the muscles in his neck flex and ripple right down inside the collar of that v-neck sweater.  The body between his neck and his waist was nothing but a surprise; he obviously enjoyed the gym and I was obviously enjoying him.  I doubted that Jordan would notice if I checked him out - he was too busy searching the menu for hidden codes or something.

That grin again.  GAH!  I pretended to glare at him.

“What are lamb fries?” he asked, studying the menu while still blushing.

“Don’t ask, and don’t order them.”

When he questioned something, those perfect eyebrows scrunched together in the middle.  “Why not? It says they’re a specialty.”

“It’s lamb... parts.   Boy parts.”  I rolled my eyes.  This was awkward enough without anyone ordering testicles as an appetizer.

“Oh... OH.  Oh,” he looked away.  Then I lost it and laughed.  He laughed too, and we were like middle school kids in sex ed class.  Except that he kept doing that thing with his jaw and that wasn’t the kind of sexy just anyone could learn.

“Yeah, skip it this time,” I advised.  He went for the wine list and asked what I like, carefully selecting something.  The place wasn’t that fancy, but they had some higher end wines.  When the waitress came, we ordered steaks and a bottle of red.  Then there was nothing for us to do but look at each other.  Not that I minded.

I’m going to kiss him, my brain announced.  Thankfully it was inside my head, and soundproofed.  My stomach acknowledged with a little swoop.  I told everyone to at least let me get through dinner first.

“What’s your story, Jordan?”

When he looked at the table this time, it wasn’t embarrassed or coy.  A very serious set made him look older, like he was considering something important.  The boyishness disappeared for a moment.  I wasn’t expecting anything serious so it scared me a little.  What could he possibly be worried about?  We he married or something?  Too young.  And I’d met his friend, it was unlikely either he or Taylor had survived prison.  Too pretty.  Other ideas popped into my head at random: he was terminally ill, he was being deployed to Afghanistan, he had been a child TV star.

“I play hockey,” he finally said.

“Hockey.” It came out more surprised than I intended.

“Yeah.  The Barons?  They’re an AHL team, minor league.  But I really play in Edmonton.  Alberta.  In Canada, that’s where I live.”  

This was Jordan’s regular face, the one he wore with friends or other guys, when he wasn’t nervous to be on a first date with a new girl.  He was just talking now.  He really was handsome in a young superhero kind of way.

“You’re Canadian?”

“Yeah.  I play in the NHL - that’s the National Hockey League, the pro....”

“Jordan.”  I reached over and put my hand on his forearm.  He was warm to the touch.  “I know what the NHL is.”

“Oh, okay.  I just... I mean, it’s not that big a deal here.”

"So you're here but your team is in Canada?"  I could hear the relief in my own voice.  No jail.

"We're locked out. Like a strike, but the owners are keeping us from playing until there's a new contract."  Jordan was telling me he was an elite athlete. A professional, paid athlete in the big leagues.  All I heard was...

"So what happens when there is a new contract?"

"We go back," he paused. "I go back.  Immediately.”

Right. Well.

It wasn’t jail, but it was still something I didn’t want to hear.   Especially considering my brain still insisted there would be kissing.  Judging by Jordan's slumped shoulders, he was caught somewhere in between too.  Now that thought made me smile: big time pro athlete, stuck in the sticks where no one cared, and he looked a little sad over me.

"Is this a line?" I let the corner of my mouth curl suspiciously.  Jordan didn't seem the type, but....

"No," he said emphatically.

"So you're not trying to butter me up, get a little sympathy action?"

"No," Jordan repeated.  I nodded, saying nothing.  He blurted out, "Wait. Was it working?"

I put my head in my hands, shaking it at the same time. Jordan laughed and I heard him lean back, relieved. "Is Taylor on your team?"

"Yeah. He's injured though, he won't play here."

"I thought you were going to tell me you guys are a couple."

Jordan rolled his eyes, laughing theatrically. I guess he'd heard that before.  "Hallsy - that's Taylor, Taylor Hall - is my roommate at home."

"Aww, you live together, you both have girl's names AND you have pet names for each other!  So cute!" I hit him with my napkin as he stuttered some sports-related explanation.  "What does he call you?"

"Ebs.  My last name is Eberle."

"Ebs," I tried it out.  "It suits you. And for the record, I like the name Jordan for a guy."

"Erin could be a guy's named, changed a little. Sounds the same," he countered.

"Only if you sound Canadian."

It was easier after that.  I still wanted to kiss him, but my urge to Google him was a close second.  I knew next to nothing about the NHL or hockey.  Any kind of pro athlete sounded impressive though, and maybe at home Jordan was a really big deal.  I felt strange asking - I'd find out for myself later.  He was more at ease talking about other things anyway.  Our food was almost as good as the conversation, and there was plenty of it.

"Americans eat a ton!" he said, pushing his plate away.  Then his gaze snapped up, "I mean, not you.  You're gorgeous."

I stopped a full fork halfway to my mouth.  

"I'm sorry.  Keep eating!  You look amazing."

"Jordan!"  Now I was blushing.  

"Sorry," he made a pouty face.  "If my trainer saw this he would die."

Trainer. Bonus.  I made sure he saw me look appreciatively at his upper body.  He sat up a little straighter.  "We have to eat out a lot now, or move I guess. If we're going to be here awhile." There was just a tiny bit of traitorous hope in his voice.

"Move where?"

"An apartment. Someplace with a kitchen."

"You're living in a hotel? For how long?"

He counted back mentally.  "Got here the day I met you.  Four days ago.  We're used to it - always hotels on road trips.  This one is a suite, has a living room and stuff."

"You share with Tayl, um, Hallsy?" I said dramatically and earned a smile.

"For now. Our teammate Ryan gets here soon." Jordan explained that they were still on rookie contracts and had been assigned to the Barons before the lockout.  They'd be here until they weren't here anymore, whenever that was.

We finished dinner and Jordan paid.  I wondered how much money NHL players made, I might have to choose a nicer restaurant next time.  In the car, I gave a few directions before he realized we weren't going to my house.

"Keep driving."

To Jordan's credit, he didn't ask again.  I took us thirty minutes away, out of town, to where the highway reached the empty land between Oklahoma City and whatever was next.  We took an exit and pulled into an empty field with a big rectangular white wall standing at one end, pieces peeling and falling away.

"This used to be a drive-in, when I was little," i said.

Jordan parked up front next to a short pole that once held speakers.  What had been parking lot was now growing tufts of grass through the hardscrabble.  Jordan turned off the headlights and followed me out of the car.  Overhead the moon was more than bright enough, though there was little ambient light this far from the town nearby.  I faced him and reached for both of his hands.  They were warm and a little rough.

"Look."  I tilted my head all the way back and looked at the sky.  Jordan gave a happy little wow that made me want to rest my cheek against his shoulder.  There were easily a thousand stars.

"Beautiful," he said.  When I lowered my chin he wasn't watching the sky anymore.  He was inches from me, holding my hands in the dark.  That crinkle formed again between his eyebrows, working up to something.

"I had to tell you, upfront, that I might leave," he finally said. "Taylor wanted me to play the sympathy card, since anything could happen tomorrow."

"What did Taylor think the sympathy card would get you?" I stepped closer, our bodies grazing each other.  Jordan just smiled, ducking his head.  "And if anything could happen tomorrow, then what happens tonight?"  

Jordan's eyes went round as saucers. Poor guy was in for a disappointment if he thought he was getting lucky at a pity party.  But my brain was winning half the battle, it  tipped my face up.  He hesitated just a second before his lips met mine.

Jordan kissed like he smiled - kind of shy the first time, as if you might not like the gap in his teeth.  I very much liked the press of his soft, warm mouth and the heavy feel of his body molding against mine.  Our fingers were twisted together and I squeezed.  It was a Jordan kind of kiss - sweet and spine-tingling.

"Was that a sympathy kiss?" he asked, one eye open.

I rubbed my thumbs into each of his palms.  "Are you sorry?"

"No!" he said too loudly.  "Not at all.  Just wondering that Hallsy's advice would have gotten me."

"You'll never know."

Well, maybe he knew a little when I kissed him again.

It wasn't fair to be in the car with Erin after only two kisses.  For starters I wanted two hundred more kisses.  And since we'd been holding hands I wasn't sure where I could touch her now.  Was her leg fair territory?  A slender thigh in dark denim was right there looking built to fit my palm.  I kept my hands on the wheel till we were at her house.

"When does your friend Ryan get here?"

"Tomorrow night."

"Okay. The next night - Friday -  be here at eight. Bring the boys.  Bring the whole team."

I said yes just to increase my likelihood of another kiss.  "Okay.  What are we doing?"

Erin pushed up in the seat until she was pushing our mouths together.  My body roared to grab a hold and kiss her back, to feel her tongue against mine and kiss her like I meant business.  Too slow.

"Party," she said, then she was gone.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012


“So, good summer?”

It was the lamest of lines, not even a line really, but one I’d had to use a disturbing number of times in the last few weeks.  Goddamn this lockout, I might not survive it.

I didn’t really leave Edmonton this summer, much to my mom’s chagrin.  There’s just not a lot to go back to in Regina, in terms of training or anything.  Yes, it was always good enough growing up, as I’d been reminded ad nauseum.  But growing up was a trip and at some point you had to reach your destination.  Not that twenty-two is adult.  But it’s too old to have your parents visiting all the time.

“Yeah! I love summer.  We went to the lake a bunch of times and....”

I smiled and nodded without listening.  She was cute, this girl my mom had somehow contrived to place in front of me.  We were at my aunt’s house in Edmonton, having another early fall barbeque.  As if the lasting nice weather would keep us from remembering that hockey was not coming anytime soon.  My mother was desperate for me to find a girl and get serious.  I thought she might stay until she saw it happen.  With the ink barely dry on my new contract and a few seasons under my belt in this hockey-mad town, there was no shortage of willing girls.  There might even be a few left that Taylor hadn’t test-driven.  And that’s what my mother was so worried about.

Puck bunnies.  Knocked up.  Child support.  Scandal.  Those ideas haunted my mother’s dreams.  As if I were running around with no pants on all the time.  Still, I got where she was coming from.  Horror stories about clingers and stalkers and sluts ran constantly around the NHL like commentators over a game broadcast.

So my mother tried to fix me up.  She found someone who knew someone, and every one of them knew who I was.  They sent their daughters and nieces and neighbors to these little parties my mom organized.  The gatherings were bearable, as there was always plenty of company, but the goal was clear.  I was beginning to feel like the King of England, visiting the countryside while people foisted their womenfolk on me, hoping for a favor.

“Yeah, training hard and just hoping to get back to playing soon.”  My brain could run this show at half-power.  A few minutes later, I politely excused myself and didn’t look back to see disappointment on her face.  

“Dude, can we get out of here?” Taylor cornered me in the kitchen, glancing around only after he’d spoken.  “It’s Friday, it’s hot out, there are going to be girls everywhere tonight.  Tell your mom I’ll find you someone.”

“We should send her ahead to scout Oklahoma City for you,” my dad’s voice came around the corner before his body.  “Go on, go have fun.  I’ll take care of your mother.”


“I still can’t fucking believe this is happening.”  I threw my bag down on the hotel room bed.

“I can’t fucking believe I can’t even play here.  Oklahoma City.  Why on Earth is there a hockey team here?  Did they run out of rodeos?”  Taylor was still on injured reserve, and ineligible to be sent down to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons before the lockout occurred.  Now no roster moves could be made, even if he was cleared to play.  He was here for now though, and I was glad.

Oklahoma City seemed like the middle of nowhere for a hockey team, but it wasn’t that different from Regina or Edmonton in other ways.  Just warmer.  I liked warmer.  Otherwise it’s was pure country, from the tip of it’s boots to it’s down-home roots.  They just sang more songs about it in America.  The hotel was alright. It wasn’t the Ritz, if this city even had one, and that’s what we’d become accustomed to on the road.  But without knowing how long this lockout would last, permanent accommodations were no on the to do list - and I hoped they never would be.

“I need a beer.”  Taylor grumbled.  That wasn’t going to happen.

We went next door to Buffalo Wild Wings, a chain sports bar we saw in a lot of US cities.  Taylor was still only twenty, so he got a soda and I ordered a draft beer.  The bartender looked twice at my ID - at home, that was someone was recognizing me.  This guy clearly though it might be fake.  Or maybe he didn’t know where Canada was.  Either way our drinks arrived and we nursed our grumpiness with an American Thursday night football game.

“You guys hungry?”

Taylor and I both turned so fast the barstools nearly spun out from under us.  The voice was attached to a waitress, and a plate of wings in each hand.  We ignored those - not an easy feat - because also attached to this waitress was my newest hope of salvaging anything out of a season that was falling apart beneath my feet.

“Hi,” I managed to stutter on a word with only one syllable.

“Hey there.  Aren’t you the best thing that’s happened to us all night?” Taylor was already taking a plate, smiling back.  Winning her over with that tallness and lantern jaw.  We weren’t supposed to eat wings, but I’d have eaten a sack of dirt if she offered it to me.  Her name tag said ERIN.

“You too?”  Her eyes were blue.  A long and wavy ponytail of brown hair hung past her shoulders.  Her black polo shirt was just tight enough and the buffalo in the restaurant logo was rounding second base perched atop her breast.  I quickly moved my eyes from the buffalo’s territory.

“They’re on the house,” she put the plate in my hands because I was incapable of doing anything.

Taylor only needed a second.  He asked her about the wings and the menu and all the different sauces and what time she got off work.  Or he might as well have.  Erin talked with him, but glanced at me a few times.

“I’m Taylor,” he finally said when he grew tired of me dragging him down.  “This is Jordan.  He’s a little special, has a tough time making friends.”

She laughed good-naturedly, but it wasn’t the reaction Taylor was hoping for.  At home, girls launched themselves into his huge arms in faint hysterics after a joke like that.  Guess a lot of things that worked in Canada for NHL stars were not going to fly in Oklahoma City.

Erin reached out and rubbed my arm through my shirt.  “I think he’ll do okay here.”

We both watched her swing her hips across the dining room, then Taylor rounded on me.  “Why do you have to be such a noob all the time?  Jesus, Ebs.  That chick probably has a hundred hot friends in little cut-off shorts and boots and pigtails and you’re gonna fucking ruin it because you’re drowning in drool.”

“Suck it,” I said, tearing into a wing.  It was not far from the truth.

Taylor waved a drumstick in my direction.  “Fucking hopeless.  I’m glad I’m leaving you here with Nuge all year, you two can play with your dolls.”

When the food was gone and the football game over, Taylor went to the bathroom.  The bartender dropped off the check.  I paid it, wondering how I could also tip Erin.  She’d brought us free food, after all.  The kitchen door opened and I spotted her carrying a tray of silverware to a station at the back of the room.   I folded a twenty in my hand and told myself she was just a person.  I could talk to people.

“Hey, uh, hi.”  That was easy, her back was turned.  She was a few inches shorter than me.

“Oh, hi.  Jordan, right?”

Kick me right in the junk, why don’t ya?

“Yeah.  Hey, thanks for the wings before, that was really nice.”  I gave an awkward shrug and held out the money.  “For you.”

Erin had dimples to go along with a fantastic smile.  They flashed and I knew I’d be eating a lot of chicken wings this season, probably while acting as hopelessly as Taylor had pointed out before.  She took the money, brushing my hand in the process. “Thanks.”

There was a moment where I could have asked her out.  Asked her something.  Told her I just got here and seen if she made a move.  Her hundred hot friends in slutty cowboy attire came to mind.  Did I want them to be lonely all winter?  But I didn’t take the chance.

“Have a good night,” I mumbled, retreating.

Taylor was at the bar, sipping his drink and pretending not to watch me blush my way back.  He was laughing before I sat down.  “Strike out, Romeo?”

“No,” I hissed.  “Just giving her a tip, she did give us free food.”

“I’d like to give her the tip of something else,” he said, arching an eyebrow.  I snorted and drained the last of my iced tea.  Then a footstep sounded behind me and a hand appeared at my shoulder.  With a twenty dollar bill in it.  Taylor’s mouth was open, as always, but he was looking right past me.

“You forgot something,” Erin said and dropped the money on the bar.

Taylor was scrambling for his wallet to give her more.  “I’m sorry, I told you he was special.”  He came up with another twenty and added it to the first.  Erin clicked her tongue.  

“Twenty, or forty,” she smirked, “is not the number I want from him.”

I made it into the kitchen before I started laughing.  Like a loon.  I’d left those two guys at the bar gaping and sashayed my way out of the dining room, hips set to Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show mode.  Good thing they couldn’t see my face turning blue.

“Such a flirt!” I told myself.  I loved it, it gave me a little kick every time.  And a lot of extra tips.  Not that I’d been after more money from tonight’s boys. Just another gap-toothed smile and a little fumbled blushing from the dark-haired one with the perfect eyebrows.  His taller, blonde friend who actually spoke English was already on the hook.

Not that I wanted him.  I could tell Taylor was too smooth for me.  But guys like that tipped more for attention than for wings.  Couldn’t hurt to give them both and maybe make new regular customers.    For now, I waited until they left before I went back to the bar.

“Hey, did those guys....”

“Erin.  Fuck.  If I had half your sass I wouldn’t need your tits to make more money than anyone in this place!” Greg the bartender produced a one hundred dollar bill from his pocket with great ceremony.  I unfolded it quickly, and scrawled on the front was a phone number with a 780 area code.

“It’s from the little one,” he added with a wink.

I stuffed it into my bra.  “Good.”

Two days later, when I showed up to start my shift, Taylor was sitting at the bar with a water and a chicken sandwich.  He was really well-built, I admitted to myself, and rocking a gray t-shirt with jeans and sneakers.  

“I was hoping I’d see you,” he also had a great smile.  “You know my friend’s been waiting by the phone this whole time.”

“The phone he keeps in his pocket?” I smirked.

“Sleeps with it under his pillow, hoping it’ll ring.”

“And you, what are you hoping for?”  I leaned my elbows on the bar opposite him and thought there would be quite a few girls hoping for him, period.

“Hot friends,” he shrugged.  “More free wings wouldn’t hurt.”

I had to laugh.  Taylor would go through my friends like a boat through water, and they would love every minute of it.  “Maybe.  You guys at State?  Or OCU?”  A blank look crossed his face, which meant they were not students at either school.  But Taylor wouldn’t spill.

“Gotta leave Jordan something to talk about on your first date,” he said.

By the time he left, I had promised to call Jordan before dinner.  Otherwise Taylor was bringing him over to see me.  “You thought he was awkward before,” he warned.

“Okay, I’ll call!”

And so I did, on my first break.  Jordan picked up on the second ring.  “Hey, it’s Erin.  From Buffalo Wild Wings.”

“Hi.  Hey.”  Jordan repeated himself adorably.  I pictured him smiling, fidgeting.  Oh boy.  “I was hoping you’d call.  I, uh, I had fun the other night.”

Loooooong pause.

“Me too,” I offered.

Jordan drew in an audible breath.  “Would you want to go out sometime?”

I said yes, of course.  I was only surprised by how much I wanted to say it.  We agreed he would pick me up at seven the next night and I could hear him smiling as we said goodbye.  Somewhere, probably in the room with Jordan,  Taylor was very pleased with himself.