The Barons took a three goal lead into the second intermission. Erin’s second text to Darcy went unanswered. “Either she’s stitching Ryan up or they’re already doing it,” Amanda said.
Only Ryan wasn’t back when the team returned for the third period, and still no sign of Darcy either. It was weird for Erin to see Jordan out there without his linemate; the whole thing looked a bit lopsided. It felt lopsided too - the Aeros scored twice in the first five minutes to close the lead to one goal. The Barons seemed out of step on most of the rushes, unable to connect on passes and trying to be too fancy. Amanda groaned when Taylor stepped around someone and got stripped of the puck. Halfway through the period, Houston tied the game. Erin’s phone buzzed.
Darcy: Emergency dentist field trip. See you guys later.
“Well, no making out tonight,” she said, showing the phone. Amanda didn’t even smile. They weren’t long time hockey fans used to tough games. The Barons had lost a few, but giving up a three goal lead look the air right out of the building. It was not the triumphant return they’d hoped for Taylor, or the tell-your-friends Friday night the Barons needed.
“Let’s move,” Erin suggested.
“Let’s,” Erin got to her feet as she spoke, “move. Down by the ice.” Amanda followed without question. Empty seats were scattered behind the Barons bench, but Erin picked an empty row and used it to pass out of that section. A few more steps down brought them to the front row at the glass, right on the line with the Aeros goalie. Amanda craned her neck forward, but the curve of the glass made it hard to see the other end of the ice.
“Now if they give up any more goals, we won’t have to watch.”
“But if they score, we’ll be right here,” Erin said optimistically.
Jordan hated losing. He was used to it, any hockey player was, though hard-fought losses were the only acceptable circumstance. Giving up three unanswered goals was bad enough, but they looked so sloppy doing it. Not that there were many people around to see them - and this assured there would be fewer next time. Taylor was understandably rusty after so many months out of the game, playing with brand new linemates. Jordan told himself to stay positive and shifted focus to his own linemates.
“Let’s try what we did before, eh? Get it to Schultzy up high and let him feed me coming in on the right.”
It didn’t work the first time. The Aeros defender stepped up, forcing the puck around the boards. Schultz tried the other side, using Mark Arcobello on the wing. It drew the Houston players out since Schultz had a few goals already on the year. Arcobello played catch for two passes, then Schultz turned suddenly. It was more of a deflection than a pass, but it ended up right on Jordan’s stick. And right in the back of the net.
“Attaboy!” Mark caught him in mid-stride, the Abney, shoving them all into the wall in a giant hug. Behind them, there was pounding on the glass: Amanda and Erin. They were the only people for three rows, but they were jumping up and down, Barons jerseys flapping. He flashed her the big gap-toothed grin - he’d have kissed the glass if he thought fast enough.
With the lead, all the Barons skaters picked up their feet. Taylor maybe too much. He delivered a brutal hit on his next shift that was called a check to the head. The ref assessed a five minute major penalty, putting the Barons on an endless penalty kill and Taylor in a foul mood. The hit would be reviewed and could possibly get him suspended.
“He’s not playing tomorrow anyway, it doesn’t matter,” Amanda pointed out. She was proud of herself for knowing the rule. “If it’s only one game.”
Despite a few close calls, the Barons were able to kill the penalty and win the game. It wasn’t pretty, though Erin hoped dramatic hockey might sell tickets too. The announcer repeated Saturday’s game info for the hundredth time as people filed out of the arena. Erin and Amanda decided that tonight was not the night for waiting in the lounge; they went across the street to a bar, hung their jerseys up with their jackets and ordered beers.
“I wonder how much trouble he’s in,” Amanda said, looking into the bottom of her empty glass.
Erin signalled for another round. “At least two beers’ worth.”
When Jordan turned up, he was by himself. He work a light gray suit with a white shirt and blue tie the color of his eyes. The knot was a little crooked - Erin hooked her finger behind it and pulled him in for a kiss.
“Somebody scored two goals,” she said.
He shrugged. “Someday’s in trouble, and somebody else is in the hospital.”
Erin wrapped her arms around his waist. Jordan was not a huge guy, but he was completely solid. He could be outside in a hurricane and come through standing. Maybe that’s what this all was - one big storm - and Jordan weathering it as best he could. He squeezed Erin in return and asked, “Can we go home?”
Amanda stayed behind to wait for Taylor. Erin tried Darcy, but no answer. Hand in hand she and Jordan walked to the car. As they were belting in, her phone buzzed.
Darcy: Ryan’s okay. At hotel now. He’s on meds + sleeping. I’m staying here.
“Looks like you’re with me tonight,” Erin said.
“That’s what I meant by home,” he answered. The phone buzzed again.
Darcy: He’s still really cute though.
Erin: Told you so.
Jordan didn’t feel like talking, so he just put his hand on Erin’s thigh and looked out the window. Once he’d assumed they would leave OKC before he learned to recognize it. Now every building on the route to her place was familiar: one street, one block, one mile closer to Erin. When they’d met, he expected every day would take him farther away. Now here she was, same as she’d been a month ago. Jordan was still changing. That’s why he didn’t know what to say.
That night’s game had everything: the good, like two goals, and the bad. His friend had been hurt, another probably disciplined. They’d played well and then poorly, gotten lucky and unlucky. All in front of a what could hardly be called a crowd. But those fans seemed to get it - they stuck it out and were rewarded, they seemed to appreciate the night’s battle. Jordan was absurdly grateful for their presence.
Erin led him into her apartment and right to the bedroom. She stripped him out of his suit and tie, shirt and trousers, while he stood there with half a smile on his face. When he was down to his shorts, she undressed herself in much the same way, but to Jordan it was like the best part of a movie. Her sweater went up like a curtain opening to the sight of her. It stretched over her breasts, revealing a black satin bra with white trim. Long, dark waves of hair crashed against fair skin. The shake of her hips as she wiggled out of her jeans made the ground roll beneath his feet. She stopped at bra and panties, folded back the covers and invited him into her bed.
Jordan lay down like he was diving into a pool. It was everything - refreshing, weightless, the kind of quiet where you have no choice but to hear every single thought in your head. Thoughts Jordan had been trying not to hear all night - maybe all month.
He wanted to be here. After a win, he wanted to see her triumphant smile. After a loss, he craved her comfort. Now that friends were hurt and in trouble, Jordan wanted Erin to share his worry. It had all happened tonight, and ended in her arms. Everything that had gone wrong made this even more right.
For better or worse, that’s what they say, he thought.
Jordan rolled on top and kissed her to stop himself from speaking. The only words in his head were crazy; promises no better than lies, and equally unkeepable. Instead he slipped his tongue against hers, felt her body respond to his touch. Jordan didn’t have the energy left to do anything but nothing could have stopped them. As they had their first few nights together, Jordan and Erin made love without saying a word.
He slipped her panties off, their satin as smooth as her legs. His hands came back up that way, dragging and catching across skin like a stutter. She tilted her head back, baring her throat, and he kissed hard as he pushed into her tight, hot body. The sound of her moan vibrated down his spine.
It was easy to take her like this. She was soft and warm, he was hard and insistent. Her moves were matched his - push together, pull apart - but had the opposite effect: she doubled his result, doubled his pleasure. Sinking into her made his head swim. Hitting the top of her slot threatened to drown him. Erin dug her fingertips white into the hard planes of Jordan’s back and never asked him to stop. Exhausted from the game, this energy from this came from a different place. He stroked and rocked, lifting her ass into his lap and holding it there with two hands: a perfect target, a wide-open net. Erin arched her back away from him, angling her hips down against his thrusts. He slid a hand up her stomach, over the perfect curve of her breast and rolled the hard nipple beneath his thumb. Then Jordan caught her behind the neck and pulled her up into his lap.
They were sitting in the middle of the bed with nothing to lean on, no leverage except the weight of her body and the strength of his thighs. Erin wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist and held on as Jordan drove upward. She slid back down him like a stripper on a pole and sobbed out a breath as she hit bottom. With their eyes open, they went until they were both trembling. It had the same bare intimacy as fooling around in his car at the drive in - nothing covered them, no one hid beneath the other. His body rioted to drop them to the mattress and drive himself right through her, but he flexed his muscles against gravity and refused. Only would be the only one to hold her for this, he wouldn’t even share with the bed.
Erin put her lips to his ear and whispered, “Come with me.”
Her body clenched, tearing a groan from him. He’d brought her off enough times to know she was so close. All he had to do was let go - of the hold he’d been keeping on everything. His defenses were so weak. If he gave in now, to her, everything would go with it. He wanted this, he wanted her, and for the first time Jordan was determined to make it possible.
Erin’s body shuddered. She was trying not to black out before she came - he already felt so good, it was almost enough just to be with him. But Jordan said yes and now and Erin gasped as he pounded out three more strokes. On two and a half, she broke. A soundless, shuddering breath was forced from her lungs as the orgasm ripped through her body from fingers to toes. It expanded then snapped back on itself like an explosion - a split-second of peace before destruction. In that heartbeat, Jordan came too. She felt his cock pulse, impossibly harder, and he moaned. It probably happened again but she falling apart in his arms.
Jordan grabbed her shoulders and held her down, grinding out his orgasm and hiding his face. If he didn’t talk, he couldn’t say anything crazy. If she couldn’t see him, she wouldn’t know. He buried his nose in her hair and clutched her till they were both spent.
“Wow,” she said, voice shaking.
He couldn’t resist her praise or the sound of her whispering voice, worn out from him. Jordan looked into her eyes. It was too dark to tell but he knew exactly what color they would be in the light. She smiled like he was the best thing she’d ever had, and he just said the only thought in his head:
“I’m falling in love with you.”
Across town, Darcy was sitting against the headboard of a hotel bed, watching Modern Family on the lowest audible volume. The TV was the only light in the room. She’d rooted through Jordan’s drawers for a pair of sweatpants that might fit her, then rolled them a bunch of times. It wasn’t comfy to wear jeans to bed, and she certainly wasn’t going to take her pants off. She laughed softly at a joke on the show, and sleeping Ryan next to her stirred.
“Rrrrmmmm,” he mumbled, rolling slightly. Darcy let her open hand rest against the top of Ryan’s head; he stopped moving and slowly opened his eyes.
“Ow,” he said. She gently brushed her fingertips through the front of his hair, where it fell longer and swept across his forehead. She’d been admiring the part in his hair while he slept.
“I bet,” she said.
Ryan’s two front teeth had been knocked back by a stick to the face. Luckily he didn’t lose either one - they were only slightly loose, and the dentist said it was because of all the swelling. His upper lip was ballooned out, swollen itself and split just to the right of center. Ryan’s normally pointed, elfin features were rounded painfully and even his dimples were gone.
“No,” she let his fine dark strands fall in their natural wave, then lifted them again. “He’s at Erin’s. I’ll stay here.” Ryan tried to smile, but flinched in pain and sucked in a sharp breath. “Careful,” she cautioned playfully.
He tried again, with less lip movement. “Yrrrgood nurse.”
“I did okay.” There had been more blood than she expected, but Darcy held some gauze and mostly just held Ryan’s hand while the trainer patched him up enough to take him to the local hospital, where an on-call oral surgeon had met them. X-rays and exams were done, Ryan was judged unbroken but unfit to sleep alone tonight.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Do you,” Ryan’s enunciation was painfully slow and sticky, “have a nurse costume?”
Darcy wrestled her smile into a smirk instead. “Cowboys cheerleader not enough for you?”
Ryan, brown eyes sparkling now, “Issgoodtoo. Youbrrnngg?”
She laughed, making the mattress shake again. Instantly she decided that was not the message she wanted to send right now, judging by Ryan’s good spirits despite his busted face. She could sleep in Jordan’s bed. Darcy shifted her weight to get up - and Ryan put a hand on her shin. She watched as he drew the leg of her borrowed sweats up, then pushed his big hand under her bare calf till he was holding it. His skin was so warm.
“Stay,” he said quietly. “Prrmissse not to kisssyou tnnnnight.”
At her own apartment, Amanda sat on the couch watching TV. She’d waited for Taylor, but the first sight of his face proved he’d want to be alone tonight. He gave her a heavy hug and kiss, drove her home and dropped her off. She was good at giving space. Amanda also felt completely inadequate to provide whatever comfort he would need. She had no real sense of what had happened - there were no replays, the other player wasn’t injured on Taylor’s hit. He explained about the NHL cracking down on checks to the head, and how it had become a huge deal in the game as a whole. Then he said goodnight.
She was surprised when her phone rang an hour later. Erin would be with Jordan and if Darcy wasn’t with Ryan, Amanda intended to kick her ass first thing in the morning. She reached over and saw Taylor’s dorky Instagram self-portrait photo on the screen. “Hey.”
“Hi,” he said.
“Depends. What are you doing?”
“Modern Family, it’s on eight,” Amanda answered. She heard Taylor moving around and sudden background noise from his TV, then a weird echo of the noise in her own apartment. A moment later, something funny happened and Taylor laughed. She pulled her feet in and laid against a pillow, getting comfortable with the phone trapped against her ear. Taylor laughed at another line and she could hear him settling in too.
“Better now,” he said.
Erin looked at Jordan for a long moment, soaking up what she’d just heard. They lay twisted in sheets not even warm yet from their bodies. Another guy might have taken it back, or at least mumbled some qualifier, if she didn’t reply instantly. But not him. His eyes never left hers. and that solidified her answer.
“I am too,” she said. Jordan smiled. Any part of Erin not head-over-heels quickly went tumbling. “Taylor told me you would,” she continued. “The night I called you, when he came to the restaurant. How did he know that?”
“He was just jealous,” Jordan said. Erin narrowed her eyes, not buying it. “He... he thinks I fall in love too easily.”
“It has only been a month.”
Jordan pushed himself up onto one elbow. If he was going to tell Erin this - and he should, he knew that - she would hear the whole story. Get it over with and never have to say it again. “It’s not that. I fell in... it happened like the first night, Erin. I could have told you at the drive in.”
“So you’re saying you’re easy?” she teased.
“I’m saying - Taylor is saying, really, that I should be more careful because last time it didn’t end well,” he said. Erin started to speak but Jordan just had to keep going. “I had a girlfriend named Julia. We were together for almost a year before I caught her trying to cheat on me. With Taylor.”
The look of shock on Erin’s face would have gotten an ‘I love you’ out of Jordan if he hadn’t already said it. “Obviously I was a bad judge. Terrible judge. It really upset Taylor that someone thought he would do that to me. She knew him really well, too. Not only did I pick someone who didn’t care about me, she didn’t care about her friends. Didn’t care about anyone but herself.” He sighed, trying to slow his racing heart. Just telling the story brought so much bad stuff back. “She really got us.”
“Jordan, I’m so....”
“Don’t be sorry,” he interrupted her. “I’m not sorry. It had to happen so I could get her out of my life. Otherwise...,” the thought trailed off. “I’m not stupid, Er. I’m not gonna let her keep ruining things, no matter how careful Taylor thinks I should be. I’m not afraid to fall in love with you.”
It was such a perfect moment, like a Disney movie with two young lovers looking deep into each others eyes - though usually with some clothes on. It lasted until Jordan said, “Well....”
Erin laughed. Jordan was a second behind her, snickering. They put their foreheads together and held there, rocking to the giggles.
“Except for the lockout,” he said.
“And that you could leave tomorrow.”
“And the fact you’ve never heard of Saskatchewan. That is a really big deal for me, babe.”
“I’ve heard of it now! Jeez, if I’d known they made guys like you I would have found out about it sooner. I looked it up...,” she reached for her phone and swiped the screen, calling up a text message. “Who are the Schenns?”
“Luke and Braden? They’re from Saskatoon.”
Erin smiled slyly. “Do you know these people?”
“What?! Why!” He grabbed for the phone but she tossed it into the pile of clothes on the floor.
“Hey! My hot friends are doing pretty well, right? I might have some more for those two.”
Jordan did the only thing he could - he tickled her. She screamed, twitched, flailed and ultimately lost the fight in a wheezing, struggling heap of blankets and body parts. He wrapped his arms around her as best he could and closed his eyes. “Did you love her?” Erin asked after a minute.
“Yeah.” Jordan wasn’t going to lie. When he loved something, he meant it. Then and now.
“I hate her,” Erin said.
He kissed the nearest piece of bare skin - her shoulder. “Me too.”