Jordan knew right where to find Taylor in the morning, and he had to say something. There were times when a best friend should butt in - like getting a hot girl to call you - and times when he should mind his own fucking business. Taylor was half-dressed, taping up a sock for the morning skate.
“Did you tell Erin that I would fall in love with her?” Jordan asked.
Taylor stopped what he was doing and put down the tape. He took a deep breath like he’d been expecting this question. “Yeah.”
“Because I knew you would,” he said simply.
Jordan frowned. It was hard for him to articulate why he was upset, and anything he managed would just give away that Taylor was right. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Jordan didn’t mind it being true, but he did mind being told. “I should be the one who gets to say it.”
“And you did now, eh? There’s no other way she would have told you that story.” As predicted, Taylor didn’t miss a beat.
Jordan squared his shoulders “She said it too,” he hated sounding like he was defending himself.
Taylor shook his head in disbelief, or maybe inevitability. “Wow. I’m happy for you, man. I really am.”
“Hey,” Taylor said sharply. His head snapped up but he kept his voice even, not inviting eavesdroppers. “It didn’t scare her away, did it? Keep her from calling you that night?”
“Is that what you wanted? To scare her away?”
“Dude,” Taylor grabbed Jordan’s arm and pulled him down onto the bench, then leaned in close. It was the equivalent of yelling quietly in a crowded room. “Just because I think it’s dumb doesn’t mean I’m not behind you. Erin’s perfect, Ebs. But you’re gonna get crushed. I’m sorry to be the only person who isn’t playing Little House on the fucking Prairie down here.”
Unlike last night, when he couldn’t keep from speaking, today words just died on Jordan’s tongue. The floor buckled underneath him and everything he’d been ignoring shifted. It rolled heavily into the middle of his heart , threatening to crash through the first weak spot. Jordan slumped forward onto his elbows. “I know,” he said quietly. “I know. And you had to go through this all last time...”
“This is different, Jordan.” Taylor assumed the same position, shoulder-to-shoulder with his best friend. It was his job to say the things Jordan might not want to hear. Or say them again, since no one was really listening the last time. “This time, you’re the one doing it. You can’t hide behind Julia and being so angry. You’re going to break your own heart, break Erin’s heart and leave her behind while you go on to your big, rich life.”
“What about Amanda? You really don’t feel anything for her?” Jordan’s voice was quiet and pleading, as if Taylor’s impending misery could keep his company.
“Amanda’s great,” Taylor said. “I like her a lot but it doesn’t change anything. I even like this city and we might be here all year. I’m not going to fall in love with someone I can’t keep, Jordan. There are somethings you can control, and the rest you can’t.”
That was it, exactly what Jordan had been trying to express. Taylor had never been in love, so he couldn’t really grasp what it felt like. But he knew something comparable now; being stripped of what he truly wanted when the lockout put him at the mercy of a hundred other forces.
“I don’t control anything,” Jordan said. “Especially this.”
Taylor shrugged, bumping Jordan’s shoulder in the process. "Yeah, well maybe you can buy Erin Center Ice so she can see you on TV.”
“I don’t see it anywhere.” Dylan was behind the bar at Wild Wings, flipping through the endless channels on their satellite menu.
“Ugh.” Erin went into the back where the cable boxes controlling the various TV feeds were hidden. They had every imaginable sports cable package available... except the AHL. It was Saturday night and she was stuck at work while Darcy and Amanda were in the stands at the hockey game. Taylor was sitting out, though had had not been suspended for his hit to the head the night before. Even Ryan, with his messed up face, was there. Only Erin was far from the action. She browsed through the pay-per-view menu, found the AHL internet stream and paid $5.99 for tonight’s Barons game. If her boss ever noticed, she’d gladly give him six bucks.
Back in the dining room, there he was: Jordan on TV. He skated and passed, then stopped next to Ryan. The sound was off but it didn’t matter. What could a commentator going tell Erin that she didn’t already know? His eyes were blue and he was right-handed? She must have been daydreaming and definitely slacking, because Dylan had to jump and and down, waving, the get her attention. He pointed to a tray of beers then to a table full of guys.
“You should go to a Barons game,” she told the customers as she delivered the drinks. “They have some NHL players and it’s really fun.” The men nodded politely, reaching for their pints.
Erin watched the game out of one eye while she waited on her tables. It was a trick she had practiced - whenever the home or favored team scored, people would order another round of drinks, and she’d learned to time her approaches. Tonight, she suspected she was the only person watching the Barons. Less than a minute into the second period, she knew for sure. Ryan scored and Erin whooped, turning the heads of half the people in the place.
The second period started as Erin was standing at the bar, awaiting a drink order. Dylan lined the glasses up but she stayed there, watching Ryan take the opening face-off. He put the puck forward, right on Jordan’s stick and at the ten second mark Jordan nailed a shot into the back of the net.
“Yes!” she shouted, fist-pumping. Dylan laughed. Five and a half minutes later, Erin’s distraction paid off again. Jordan scored his second goal of the game. She cheered again, and one table joined in the noise. Erin comped their beers.
Despite Ryan and Jordan’s best efforts, some guy from the Aeros had a hat trick and the game went into overtime. Most of the college games had ended and the crowd thinned, allowing Erin to stand at the bar and watch the overtime period expire with no goals scored. She circled back to her tables, keeping her eyes on the screen.
“Big Barons fan?” an older man at one of the booths asked kindly.
“Yeah,” Erin said. “They come in here a lot.”
The camera showed Jordan’s face as he skated toward center ice. Erin’s heart skipped a beat. He’d be the first Oklahoma City shooter. More important was the odd and unbelievable fact that she was watching him on TV; the same guy who just said he was falling in love with her. Holding those words in her mind made her shiver - the delicious, nervous kind.
A younger guy at the same table asked about shootouts and Erin told him it was best of three or sudden death after three. “That’s Jordan Eberle, he plays for their NHL team normally.” Trying to sound authoritative and not swoony, she added, “He’s really good.”
Jordan skated up the lane, deked high right and the goalie stopped him. Erin closed her eyes - she’d never get used to the idea of disappointing thousands of people at the same time with the swipe of a stick. On the next round Houston scored. The Barons couldn’t match. Ryan shot third and missed the net. The Aeros got a second goal, putting it out of reach and the game was over. The people at her table told her they were sorry and left a big tip.
When she finished her shift it was nearly midnight. She knew Jordan would be exhausted after back-to-back games, and probably disappointed over missing in the shootout. They’d also had quite the night... that lasted well into that morning. She was expecting a text, but instead her phone rang.
“Hurry up, will ya?” Jordan said. “It’s cold out here.”
Jordan hated arguing with Taylor. He especially hated losing those arguments. It didn’t happen often over girls - Taylor was a bit of a player, his girls a little too easy for Jordan’s taste. But Hall was smart about it, he only got as involved as he chose to be. Until now at least. Taylor had yet to experience the kind of connection that took that power away.
All day Jordan thought about Erin. He didn’t regret telling her how he felt, because it was honest. It would sit like a stone in his throat, choking him, until he said the words. And to hear her say them back was vindication, that he wasn’t alone in being crazy.
“A month,” he said to himself. Really it had been one night - if Jordan believed in love at first sight. Maybe he’d have to change his mind on that. Because every time Taylor’s words rang in his ears, Jordan knew it was futile to resist. He was in way too deep, the only choice was to ride the current and conserve his energy.
“What?” Erin slipped into her jacket, grabbed her purse and hurried outside. Jordan was leaning against the driver’s side of her car, rubbing his bare hands together. The moment he saw her, Taylor’s words evaporated in the heat of the moment.
“Why didn’t you come in?” she asked, all dazzling smile.
“Because I can’t do this in there,” and he kissed her. A big, deep, toe-curling kiss that made Erin forget the chill in the air and the loss on the board and even her middle name. When she finally came back to Earth, Jordan was smiling.
“Also, Darcy threw me out. She takes her nursing duties very seriously.”
They drove to her house. Jordan’s fatigue was taking over; he just managed to make it upstairs. Erin helped him undress but put yoga pants and a t-shirt on herself before they fell into bed. Jordan wrapped around her from behind, his knees pressed up against hers. Only then did he close his eyes, knowing full well he’d sleep the night through with Erin in his arms. Two goals hadn’t been enough to get his team a win, but telling Erin how he felt had earned him the right to be here when he needed to.
Ryan’s face throbbed. He was well enough to play, and the cage wasn’t so uncomfortable for him. He was used to the sight lines by the second or third shift and had even scored a goal. It didn’t mean he was healed though - by the end of the game, his lip and mouth were as swollen as ever and each heartbeat echoed in his whole face. The moment he was back in the locker room, he popped two pain pills and drained an entire bottle of water. The trainer surprised him with a tap on the arm.
“Your girlfriend is in the lounge.”
Amanda would have already left with Taylor and Erin was working. Jordan gave him no more clue that a raised eyebrow on the way out. Sure enough, Darcy was sitting in the near-empty lounge.
“Hey,” she said, looking over his suit, half-assembled like he’d gotten dressed while the fire alarm was going off. “Ready?”
He got into her car with no idea where they were headed. Ryan wondered where Darcy lived and what stage their relationship would have to be before she took him there. Surely not every guy she made out with got to see her bedroom. Ryan thought of himself as something more now - and it wasn’t the pain meds talking anymore. She had waited for him, after all, though she turned the car toward the hotel.
In the elevator, Ryan slipped his fingers between hers. Darcy didn’t curl her hand around, but she didn’t push it away. The door dinged open and they walked hand-in-hand to his room.
Ryan undressed in the bathroom, putting on sweatpants and a t-shirt. He couldn’t really brush his mangled teeth, so he rinsed with something special the dentist had given him. The alcohol stung his swollen gums, bringing tears to his eyes. Just what he needed when the girl of his stateside dreams waited outside. Checking the mirror was worse - he still looked like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, without the mask on. Why is she even here? he wondered.
But he stuck his head out to find Darcy already under the covers in bed - his bed. Jordan’s was perfectly untouched.
Here goes nothing, he thought, and pulled his t-shirt off again.
Darcy’s shirt was on, for what it was worth. It was bright blue and advertised a 5K race. Ryan tried not to read the print that stretched across her breasts. She wasn’t wearing a bra for sure. He cursed himself: if he’d hurried, he might have caught her changing. Not that he could do anything about. Keeping his eyes off her chest, he went around the bed.
Darcy fought to keep a straight face, her eyes following Ryan’s shirtless torso across the room. Not bad, kid, she said to herself.
By the time he reached his side, Ryan felt creepy for being shirtless. He pulled it back on, quickly climbed under the blankets and slid to the middle. Darcy had one hand on the remote, starting a new episode of CSI. Ryan didn’t know what to do, but he was pretty sure only virgins asked out loud. So he folded his hands on his stomach, watched the show’s opening sequence and promptly fell asleep.
He woke up when Darcy gasped at something on TV. The pain meds made his brain a little foggy and he definitely wasn’t used to having a girl in his room, let alone in his bed. Now a very real one was moving beneath the covers, almost certainly wearing nothing but a single layer of thin cotton clothing.
“Okay?” he mumbled.
She started to say something, then stopped when she saw his face. Very gently, Darcy touched her fingertip to Ryan’s mouth. She started in the corner and traced the broken curve of his upper lip. It was so swollen that her touch seemed miles away. Ryan had almost forgotten how horrible he must look to this beautiful girl.
Groggy and unthinking, Ryan reached for Darcy. She silently consented to roll onto her side. His arm went low across her stomach, making her the little spoon and anchoring her firmly against his body. Darcy’s head rested on the pillow, still watching TV. Ryan settled in behind, his mangled face successfully hidden, and closed his eyes.
Amanda sat on a suitcase, on a bed.
“Bounce,” Taylor said. Amanda did, and he was able to zip his bag another inch or two By the fourth bounce, the suitcase was halfway closed. He looked up at her breasts, clearly bouncing beneath the v-neck of her shirt. Her hair bounced against her shoulders, ever her lips parted slightly every time she hit bottom. He gave up zipping.
“That’s hot,” he smiled. “Maybe I should have gotten my own place.”
Amanda laughed. “You miss Ebs way more than you want to sleep with me.”
Taylor tackled her, knowing in that moment that Amanda understood what Jordan could not. They were having fun as friends and lovers; nothing beyond that existed. Taylor wasn’t about to waste the chance and he certainly wasn’t going to waste any time. He kicked the closed suitcase off the edge of the mattress and buried it under their clothes.
Erin made her way down through the nearly-empty stands at the arena. The Barons had a noon game, and she was due at work at four o’clock. Sunday football went well past midnight and she had the late shift, but at least she would get to see the game. She took the seat next to the only Hall #22 jersey in the place, front row behind the glass.
“So, what’s the big deal?” Amanda asked immediately. Erin had hinted on the phone that they needed to talk about something and to arrive early. As it was they had the convention center pretty much to themselves. Erin wasn’t sure at all how this would go over.
“Jordan...,” Erin stopped, took a deep breath. “Jordan told me that he’s falling in love with me.”
Amanda’s jaw dropped like a rock. Surprise filled her eyes, along with a slight darkness that Erin would have called fear. It made her feel immeasurably better, to be honest. “Oh my God.”
“Yeah,” Erin said.
“I knew he was - I mean everybody knows it, Er. But he said it already?”
Please please please, Erin prayed silently. Don’t freak out.
Every girl wants to fall in love. They want to be swept off their feet in a romantic whirlwind that is extra sexy if it rains money and privilege. Jordan, or Taylor or Ryan, could very well be that storm under different circumstances. In this strange reality, even stripped of those things, Erin was still afraid that Amanda might be a little jealous. She and Taylor had a tiny head start for anyone keeping score.
“That is...,” Amanda searched for the word. Finally, she just said, “awesome. That is awesome. Oh honey, I’m so happy for you.” There was no shrieking, no fanfare, just a big solid hug from one of her best friends. Erin sighed out the breath she’d been holding.
“I said it back,” Erin added.
Composure regained, Amanda actually rolled her eyes. “Really? Shocker.”
“You have it tattooed on your forehead, babe. People in space can tell that you’re head over heels for that dork.” Amanda smiled and Erin knew they were back where they started, on solid and familiar ground. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s your kind of dork. You two are made for each other.”
“Thanks, I think,” Erin said sarcastically. There was a brief silence while she knew Amanda was working up to the obvious question. But instead of asking it, Amanda just stretched her arm across the back of Erin’s seat and pulled her in to lean together. When Jordan was gone and Erin was left, Amanda would be there. Of course she would.
“You and Taylor aren’t....” Erin started.
“No,” Amanda’s smile was genuinely happy, maybe also relieved. “Not even a little. I still don’t know what I was doing that first night, I... I’m just happy he turned out not to be a one night stand.”
“Me too,” Erin said.
“No, really happy. Like twice a night and once in the morning happy. Like handprints on the mirror happy.”
“Oh God,” Erin covered her face. Amanda squeezed her so she couldn’t escape.
“Like wake up the neighbors happy!”
“Gross,” Erin moaned. “We are your neighbors now!”
“Could be worse,” Amanda craned her head around. “Could be Darcy and Ryan. Where is she anyway? She’s been late for everything since she met him, and they’re not even doing it. Ah, perfect.”
Darcy was jogging down the steps, still not wearing any kind of Barons or Oilers gear and certainly nothing with NUGENT-HOPKINS on it. “What did I miss?”
Amanda waved her hand like it was nothing. “Erin and Jordan are in love. In other news, water is wet. Now you tell us, Nurse Darcy. What is the status of Ryan’s teenage dream?” For the first time in her life, Darcy blushed at the mere mention of a guy’s name. Amanda laughed out loud. “Oh my God, you didn’t?!”
“No, I did not. Poor guy, his face is a mess and it really hurts! The pain meds knock him right out,” Darcy said. Erin and Amanda just stared at her until she continued. “Just sleeping, that’s it. He... likes to cuddle.”
That resulted in shrieks and howls and slumping over in chairs. Amanda was gasping for breath, “Of course he does!”
“I also don’t think he wants me to see his face,” Darcy said. “He’s kinda sensitive about the way he looks right now.”
“Oh God.” Erin’s voice cracked at a high-pitch. “He’s so cute I could die. Please tell me you at least said he’s gorgeous, Darce. You’ve gotta give the kid something, he’s taking you home every night and probably confused as shit.”
“Did he wake up humping you?” Amanda asked way too loudly. More screams and flailing. Even Darcy laughed until there were tears in her eyes.
“No, God. I don’t know what to do. Can this game fucking start already?,” she fanned herself. “It’s hot in here.”