Sunday, January 27, 2013


Jordan didn’t have a jealous bone in his body, or he might have envied how excited his parents were to see Erin.  Lisa and Darren practically threw airport security out of the way to hug her in the arrivals terminal.  Then his mom tackled Taylor and Ryan in turn, alternately embracing and holding them at arms’ length to examine how they’d survived the lockout.  Erin introduced Lisa to Amanda and Darcy, while Taylor and Ryan tried not to blush too hard.  Darren gestured toward a luggage cart - that was already full.

“I brought everyone jackets.”

He must’ve cleaned out both of Jordan’s sisters closets and flown the lot to Edmonton, because it was at least two suitcases worth of parkas, mittens, hats and scarves.  When Jordan laughed, his dad just shrugged.  “You don’t make girls wear the same thing every day.”

Lisa helped hand out warmer clothes, even to the boys who hadn’t packed winter gear for Oklahoma City.  “Your parents coming in, Taylor?  Only a few hours drive from Calgary, eh?” Darren asked.

Taylor pulled a hunting cap over Amanda’s head, all the way down to cover her eyes.  “Gotta find a place to hide this girl first.”

Darren took the bags, plus Ryan and Darcy, to drop them off at Ryan’s place on the way.  Lisa drove everyone else to Taylor and Jordan’s apartment.  She had come in a day early, filled the fridge with food and even freshly made both boys’ beds.  When Jordan and Taylor walked into their respective rooms, they both called out, “Thank you!”

“Bet you left this place a mess,” Amanda said, examining the space Taylor had occupied before she knew him.  Some clothes were tossed onto a chair.  There was a bottle of cologne, a dish full of change, socks sticking out of the top drawer.  Taylor mentally inventoried when he’d been there last, what he’d done - and possibly who he’d been with.  Yeah, he’d need to put a few things away before Amanda really got a look around.

Erin leaned her suitcase against the wall in Jordan’s room.  It would be her home too, for now.  She promised herself a quick start to this new life - apartment, make some friends - before she could become too reliant on Jordan.  She wanted to be part of this, not take it over.

Jordan opened the closet and slid all the hangers to one side with a big push, making plenty of space.
“Here you go, babe.”

“Wow, Ry.  This is really nice!” Darcy headed straight for the high-ceilinged living room of the brand new apartment the Oilers had found for Ryan.  Just like in OKC, he’d be sharing with Justin.  Darcy ran her hand approvingly over the couch.  “A lot nicer than Schultz’s place at home!”

He dumped his suitcase next to hers in the hallway.  The place even smelled new - new carpet, new paint.  The appliances probably still had price tags on them.  Everything in the apartment had come with it, including the furniture.  A quick look around told Ryan it bright and airy with plenty of space and a lot of decorating he and Schultz would never have bothered to do.  

Darcy was down the hallway poking her nose into every door.  There were two bedrooms, each with it’s own en suite bathroom.  “Which one’s yours?” she called back.

Ryan was plugging in his phone charger.  “Whichever one you’re in when I get over there.”

He looked up at the sound of her footsteps coming back.  Darcy stopped in the hallway and leaned against the wall, shoulder-length blond hair caught in the borrowed scarf she’s hastily put on.  Her jeans were tucked into high brown riding boots, making her the shortest she could possibly be.  When she smiled, Ryan felt it from across the room.

“Got a few hours,” she said, batting her lashes.  “We could try them both, then decide.”

Ryan was halfway out of his jacket.  “You got it, goldielocks.”

He ran after her, into the middle of the first bedroom, only to find it empty.  A hand grabbed his t-shirt from behind, spinning and pulling him right into her body and pinning herself between the it and the wall.  Darcy wrapped her arms around Ryan’s neck and kissed him deeply, all the saved-up kisses she’d wanted to give him during the trip.  All the ones she wouldn’t get to give him when ten days expired.

Ryan was more than happy to oblige.  He slipped his hands inside her coat, his knee between hers and held her there.  This was his place, and this was the kind of guy he was going to be now.  The kind of guy who had a hot girlfriend and knew what to do with her.  He just wished he wouldn’t have to start all over.

“Glad you came?” he broke away, a little breathless.

Darcy arched one eyebrow.  “You’re about to be.”

A few hours later they were back at the airport, having worn out every flat surface in that first bedroom - bed, floor, desk, wall.  They never made it to the second room, just ended up in a heap of blankets looking out the window at freshly falling snow.

Now Darcy sat on a bench, watching Ryan read the overhead arrivals sign.  She’d never seen him so bundled, except for hockey gear, and was picturing how his lanky frame would fill out over the next few years.  There were some things only maturity could bring.  By the time he was twenty-two, Jordan’s age, Darcy thought Ryan would be without question the best-looking hockey player in history.  Her two months watching only the AHL clearly qualified her to make that statement.  Right now he had his hands in his pockets and a baseball cap pulled down over his head, but Darcy would have recognized him from a mile away.  She was waiting for someone else to do the same.

“You’re staring at me,” he said, not turning around.

“I’m about to ask for your autograph.”

That got a glance over his shoulder, a little smile.  “Where do you want me to sign?”

One slot on the board changed to read ARRIVED.  They stayed back from the small crowd clustered around the international arrivals gate, watching the people.  Ryan hoped no one would approach him, mostly because he had no idea what Darcy would do.  Run and hide?  Should he introduce her, and as what?  This is my old sort-of girlfriend but we’re still totally doing it?  He tugged his hat lower and looked at the floor.  Darcy, pretty good at reading his body language, let her fingers play along the hairline at the back of his neck.

Finally a guy wheeling a luggage cart piled high with hockey bags and taped sticks balanced on top,  emerged from the sliding doors.  Darcy left Ryan sitting, went over and waved.

“What, no Cowboys cheerleader outfit?  What kind of welcome is this?” Justin gave her a one-armed hug.  Ryan joined them walking toward the exit, trying to minimize the number of people who saw hockey equipment and him and the two together.  A few heads turned anyway.

Schultz glanced at the curious people.  “Tell ‘em Darcy’s my girlfriend,” he suggested.  “She’s too cute for you anyway.”

Ryan pulled his collar up and didn’t miss a beat.  “Well she already had sex in your new bed....”

“Uh... night!” Erin called out.  Amanda and Taylor were on the couch, watching TV, cuddling like they were back in OKC.  Erin was glad they could have a few more days - leaving sucked either way, what could it hurt?  She padded back to Jordan’s room in socked feet.  He flipped back the covers for her and let his arm fall over her as she turned into his chest.  He was the same warm, comforting shape Erin felt like she’d known forever.  With the lights out it didn’t matter what country they were in, it was just them.  Jordan pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“Welcome to Canada,” he said quietly.

“You mean welcome back,” Erin returned his soft kiss and felt him grin against her lips.  “I just left.”

“Yeah, but now you live here.”

She pushed him onto his back, till she was perched against his side, looking down at him.  “Then you’re supposed to say, welcome home.”

The look on his face was the same as the night they met, when he followed her across the restaurant to give her a tip.  The moment that he almost asked her out but didn’t, the moment that everything almost got away.  This time Jordan knew an opportunity when he saw it.

“I love you,” he said.

“Love you too, Moose.”

Days passed too quickly.  The boys went right into practice, meetings, and what seemed liked all-day conditioning sessions.  Being in the AHL gave them a big leg up on most players who’d simply been training, but the shortened NHL season promised to be even more grueling than normal.  They woke up aching and sore no matter how much ‘stretching’ they talked the girls into helping with at night.

Erin got lost every time she left the house.  Jordan and Taylor lived within walking distance of some restaurants, bars and shopping, so she, Amanda and Darcy explored that area then branched out.  Getting in the car without a tour guide was even worse.

“At least it’s flat,” Darcy pointed out about the landscape, attempting to navigate them to yet another apartment open house.

“Flat everywhere!  If there were one hill, we’d know which way we were going,” Amanda insisted.  “I think it’s that street.”

They were almost back to Jordan and Taylor’s place, having made a big circle around the city.  This place was maybe half a mile away.  Erin parked, and the three girls walked into another available furnished one-bedroom apartment.  There had been a few Erin liked, a few she hated, and at least one where the previous owner had ten cats.  Her purse was stuffed with applications and every realtor or renter told them to hurry, this one wouldn’t last.

The doorway opened directly into the living room.  Cream colored paint complimented the pale carpet and the light tones made the room seem larger.  One wall held a rectangular mirror which served the same purpose.  It was decorated nicely, a step or two below the photos in a catalog.  To the right, a counter with seating separated the kitchen.  It was pale blue with slate gray countertops, all shined and ready.  The cabinets had glass and wood fronts, like little windows into each one.

“Ooh, this is cute!” Darcy said under her breath.  

Across the living room, a sliding glass door opened and three people stepped in.

“Hello ladies,” the realtor said.  “Be right with you.” A young couple followed her, talking quietly and nodding.  Erin could tell by their body language they liked the place too.

A short hallway led to the only bedroom.  It was smaller than the living room, but more than big enough for her.  One dresser sat waiting, a nightstand with a lap was next to the bed.  Amanda opened the closet and whooped.

“Walk-in!” she stage-whispered loudly.

Erin stuck her head into the bathroom - fake marble countertop in black veined with white, gold and brown, frosted light bulbs like a Hollywood dressing room around the mirror, a bathtub big enough to actually take a bath in.  She caught Darcy’s eyes in the mirror.

“I love it,” they said in unison.

“Ladies, welcome.  How are you?  I see you’ve found the walk-in closet,” the realtor laughed at Amanda’s thumbs-up.  “The apartment also has a garbage disposal, central heat and air, free laundry facilities on the ground floor and comes with an assignment covered parking space in the garage.  Have you seen the balcony?”

Beyond the sliding glass door was a six by ten foot tiled balcony, almost square, that occupied the very corner of the fourth floor.  It didn’t look out at much - other buildings, streets - but it was big enough for a table and a few summer chairs, maybe a small grill.  A few plants and it would be a little slice of park right outside the door.

“Can I fill out an application?” Erin asked.

The woman’s smile faltered.  “You’re American.”

Erin nodded.  “Yes....”

“I must ask, are you working here?  Sponsored?  The credit check requires employment verification and references from previous landlords.   With the demand quite high, you may need a Canadian citizen to co-sign the application to meet the criteria.  Do you have anyone Canadian who might qualify?”

Darcy leaned back against the railing, elbows bent like she was just hanging out.  She asked the woman, “How do you feel about the Oilers?”

Erin filled out the application, listing Jordan just as a reference.  It might be enough to get her to the top of the stack, at least.  She used her own phone number for him though, for privacy’s sake.  The realtor took it and Erin shuffled everyone out before she could read to the bottom.  Let her check Erin’s financials and call, she didn’t want to answer twenty questions unless it was going to help her get the place.

“Are we done?” Darcy asked, climbing into the car.

“Why, you miss Ryan already?” Amanda teased.  “Anything left you haven’t taught him?”

With a flick of her hair, Darcy smiled.  “He’s learned.  Just helping him study for the final exam.”

“So?” Ryan asked eagerly from his seat at Jordan & Taylor’s kitchen island.  He was plowing through a bowl of cereal when Ein, Amanda and Darcy came in the front door.

“How’d it go?”  Jordan leaned in and gave Erin a kiss.

“Good!  I saw a bunch of one-bedrooms, some really nice buildings,” Erin said.  The girls were peeling off their many layers of borrowed winter clothes.

Taylor closed the fridge and looked over at Ryan, then very casually asked, “Did they have two bedrooms?”

“Then you could have people visit,” Ryan added, looking nonchalantly at his food.

She started to remind them that she didn’t have a job yet - in fact, couldn’t get one because she wasn’t even Canadian.  Like the credit application, that was going to be the next issue.  “They did, but they’re around $300 more and I don’t even....”

“I’ll pay it!” Ryan and Taylor both blurted out.  Everyone laughed.  Ryan reached out and pulled Darcy into his lap.

“My apartment is not a brothel!”  Erin smacked Taylor, on the arm.

He scoffed.  “Hell, I’m not paying for the whole thing.”

Ryan chimed in, beaming now.  “You do need a job, Er.”

As predicted, her phone rang an hour later from a Canadian number.  Jordan answered very formally and winked at Erin as he stepped into the bedroom to talk.  When he came out, he was frowning.

“Sorry babe, you didn’t get it.  The one you saw already had an application in and they got it.”

Darcy and Amanda instantly started saying it wasn’t that nice anyway, they’d seen a few others and could keep looking tomorrow.  Erin just stood there, head slightly tilted, giving Jordan a completely even look.  He lasted ten seconds, then busted into a smile.

“You got a two-bedroom.  Bigger balcony too,” he said.  The girls shrieked and Jordan ducked as a throw pillow whizzed past his head. “How did you know?!”

Erin put her hands on her hips.  “You’re Jordan Eberle!  If you can’t even get me an apartment then I have seriously overestimated how important you are!  What did you tell them?”

He gave an exaggerated shrug.  “That maybe I’d know some other guys looking for apartments, you know, with the lockout ending and trades and stuff, and maybe I’d recommend this building, or others from the company.  Maybe I’d stop by their office with tickets someday.  Like tomorrow, when you sign your lease.”

The Oilers first game rolled in like a tide.  Tension built as their days ticked away, and they started spending less time together as a group.  On the ninth evening, the last free night before the season really started, Taylor stood in his room straightening his tie in the mirror.  He’d always been good at ties but tonight he couldn’t get it right.  The sound of Amanda getting ready in the bathroom distracted him.

“Zip me up?” she appeared at his side.  The dress was new, he’d insisted she buy it that day so he could take her out to the nicest place in town.  Being an Oiler in Edmonton had it’s advantages - he could always get a reservation.  Black with white piping and cap sleeves, the dress fit her in a way that would make every other man in the place jealous.  He hoped she never wore it when he wasn’t around.  

The restaurant had white linen tablecloths and low lighting.  He’d asked for as private a table as possible - he was used to people glancing at him all night, but didn’t want Amanda to be uncomfortable on their last night alone together.  Plus he had something important to ask - he’d rather the whole place not watch if she said no.

They ordered food and wine.  Amanda admired Taylor, sitting across from her like a grown-up instead of the casual young guy she’d come to know well.  The dinner was a lovely gesture, but part of her wished they were spending this last night home cuddled up on the couch.  She wondered if this version of Taylor was what he prefered the Edmonton public to see - mature, responsible, adult.  He didn’t seem very comfortable doing it.

“Hey,” she put her fork down alongside lobster risotto and reached for his hand, “you okay?”

“Yeah, sorry.”  Taylor shook his head as if to clear it.

“It’s okay.  Nervous for tomorrow?”

Something sooner, Taylor thought.  He turned his hand and, laced his fingers into hers.  There was not going to be a better time than now.  Or a worse time.  If nothing else, the next thirty-six hours depended entirely on this.

Taylor looked up.  Amanda gave him an encouraging little smile, willing him to say whatever he needed to say.  She’d guessed there was something behind this dinner, some ‘thanks for everything’ speech so he wouldn’t have to do it tomorrow, in case they lost their first game.  Losses with the Barons had bummed him out, this must be times a thousand.

“I want to be your boyfriend,” Taylor said.

Amanda’s face went completely blank.  Taylor did not let go of her hand.   He’d been thinking that sentence for nearly a week, maybe longer, but in his head it was a question.  Would she be his girlfriend?  Did she want to be?  How would that work and did he even care?

“You don’t have to move here,” he added.  “But we could do the long-distance thing, for a while.  If you want.”

Almost coming home to Edmonton alone had scared Taylor.  He’d been so relieved to ask Amanda on the trip, if only to ease the transition back into this life.  Now that he was here, worrying about things like getting recognized in restaurants, he remembered how exhausting that life was.  He saw how much she was worth.

Amanda’s heart was racing - she had been expecting the wrong speech.  “Wow, I....”

Taylor leaned forward, eliminating some of the table-wide distance between them.  “It sucks, I know, but I’m away so much anyway.  I will miss you like crazy, only now I could call you and it wouldn’t be weird,” he took a deep breath, stopping himself.  It wasn’t only about him.  “Do you like me?”

“Yes,” she admitted.  Of course she did.  She’d just never let herself like him too much because he was leaving.  

“Then please, be my girlfriend.  I don’t want to find someone here, Amanda.  I just want you.”

Ryan leaned back against the arm of the couch.  Darcy’s feet were in his lap, he was rubbing her toes through socks.  She was sprawled out, arms overhead, watching a movie on TV.  He was just watching her.  A t-shirt was stretched across her chest, no bra, and each breath defined the shape of her breasts against the thin cotton.  He gulped.  It was impossible that after weeks together these simple, intimate moments still made his blood boil.  His hand slid up her calf.

Darcy smiled without turning her head.  “That move worked for you once before.”

Ryan squeezed her leg.  “What move?” he asked innocently.

The night Ryan took a puck to the face in Oklahoma City was the first night Darcy had ever stayed over.  She’d rushed to his side in the trainer’s room while he was still bleeding, then taken him home and sat next to him in bed.  He couldn’t kiss her, though he wanted to desperately, so he settled for pushing the leg of her pajama pants up and holding her calf.  It was the first time he touched her bare skin while they were both sober.  She shared his bed that night, and had nearly every night since.

Darcy drew her hands down under her head and gave up on the show.  She’d get enough TV at home when it was the only way to see Ryan.  Since he was here now, all sharp-featured and fox-faced, it was a shame to waste time looking at anything else.

“I’m going to miss you,” she said honestly.

“I’ll miss you too,” he said.  “You’re not going to get a new boyfriend, are you?  Not right away?”

Darcy smiled tightly.  “No.”

“Good,” he pressed his thumb along the edge of her shin.  “Then I won’t feel so bad if I don’t find someone.”

She levered herself to sitting, scooting down until her knees were bent across Ryan’s lap.  The corners of his mouth turned down hard enough to make his dimples show.  He looked at her leg in his hand, even when she leaned in close.

“Remember when you said I wouldn’t like you here?”

He nodded.

“Well it’s been nine days and I still like you.”

“Not enough to stay,” he said sullenly.  Ryan wanted to bite his lip to keep from speaking.  He’d worked so hard for Darcy to see him as more than a kid and now he was ruining it, getting petulant and bratty right before she left.  At this rate she’d be running to the airport.

He hadn’t actually asked her to stay.  Darcy would have said no anyway.  But as much as it was the right decision, it still hurt her.  Ryan had become a confident and capable boyfriend.  It was easy to forget the nervous new guy she’d met months ago, since  he’d turned into a man.  She cupped his cheek and turned his face.  Ryan reluctantly looked her in the eye.

“Make me a promise,” she said.


“That you’ll try.  That you’ll meet some girls and show them you’re more than famous.  You’re sexy and smart and funny.  Promise me that you’ll be my Ryan, even when I’m not here.”

He shrugged unconvincingly.  “Okay.”

“And if it doesn’t work,” she made him meet her gaze again, “I’ll come back for Valentine’s Day.”

Ryan’s face lit up.  He might as well have stabbed Darcy in the heart for all the excitement in his eyes.  Those dimples flashed for real this time and she groaned in defeat, falling back against the couch seat.  A split second later, Ryan was on top of her.

“That’s in six weeks,” he said, lips an inch from her mouth.  Then all of a sudden, he sat up.  Surprise plastered across his face.


“I’m not supposed to have sex the night before a game.”  His voice was full of awe.  “And tomorrow is a game.  I’m not supposed to do this.”

Darcy narrowed her eyes, confused.  “Why is that good?”

“That rule has never applied to me before!”  He flopped back down on top of her, mouth even closer this time.  “And I already can’t wait to break it.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Taylor stood in the living room, staring at a movie he’d rented from Red Box the night before: The Vow.  It was Amanda’s turn to pick.  Two hours of suffering in chick flick silence then he could convince her she owed him one in bed.  Now it would never be watched.  They would never spend that time curled up on the couch, wondering how many sit-ups it would take Taylor to look like Channing Tatum.  At the moment, Taylor was glued to the floor in surprise over how much he wanted to watch that stupid movie.

“Hey,” he said without turning around.

“Hey,” Jordan replied.  Only one set of footsteps, that got Taylor’s attention.  He looked over his shoulder to see Jordan alone.


Jordan nodded.  “She’s coming.”

Taylor exhaled heavily.   “Good man, I’m so glad.”

They both fell into the couch.  Jordan didn’t care that he smelled like someone who hadn’t showered after three hours of hockey.  The sofa was a rental.  A few minutes of silence passed as they both pictured returning to their regularly scheduled lives in Edmonton.

“What did she say?” Taylor asked after a while.

Jordan shrugged.  “Just, okay.”


“You’re not gonna…,” Jordan didn’t want to finish his line, it felt mean because he knew the answer.

“Nah.  We’re not like you guys, we’re not…,” Taylor didn’t say ‘in love.’  He’d never been in love.  It had been ages since he’d even thought about the lockout ending.  Taylor was a go with the flow kind of guy, and now the flow was changing direction; he was  caught in the current.  It would spin him around, shake him up, but he would simply swim.

“Yeah.”  Jordan wasn’t so fluid.  He took things with him.  From playing junior hockey so close to home and not going away to school, he’d been lucky.  His family came to Edmonton often.  Oklahoma City was the first time he’d been so far away for so long, as the rest of his life seemed to be on pause.  Now someone had hit fast-forward.  Jordan felt like he had grabbed onto Erin while running out the door.

Erin knew what was coming.  She and Jordan had piled up the broken pieces of glass, wiped what she could reach of the beer.   From the corner of one eye, she saw her boss come out of the kitchen.  

“You should....”

“I should go,” Jordan said at the same time.  He smiled quickly, gap flashing.  

Ah fuck it, Erin thought.  With an armload of ruined restaurant property, in the middle of the dining room, she leaned in and kissed him again.  Not just a peck, this was no time for a kiss goodbye.  It was a close-mouthed, full-court press, the kind that needed no words.  Still she said, “See you soon.”

When Jordan’s back was out of sight, Erin tilted her chin up and moved toward her fate.  Every staffer in the place had seen them.  Dylan gave Erin a thumbs-up as she ditched the tray into an empty case of beer at the corner.  She winked at him, turning toward the kitchen.

“What was that about?”  Her boss Robert was a nice guy.  Easy enough to work for.  His main task was wrangling a big crew of young people with cash in their pockets and no reason to be out of bed before noon.  What he did not tolerate were obvious breaches of the main rules, for fear that one lapse would spark anarchy.

Erin didn’t let herself stop to think.  “I quit.”

Robert’s mouth dropped open in shock.  “Erin, come on.  It’s a rule, but I’m not going to fire anyone over a kiss.  You don’t have to beat me to it.

“I’m not quitting over that,” she said, then smiled to herself.  The kiss, and all it entailed, was in fact why she was quitting.  “I’m leaving.  Moving.”


“Canada,” she said with as much resolve as she could muster.

Robert blinked back at her.  “Canada?  You’re....” It dawned on him.  “You’re moving with him?  That kid who’s always in here?”

He’s not a... but Erin had to push the words back down her throat.  She nodded.

“He’s what, a hockey player?  Like double-A?  Erin, come on.  You’re....”

“He plays for the NHL, Robert.  He was here because of their lockout, which is over as of about twenty minutes ago.  So he’s going back and I’m going with him.”

Robert  pushed a hand up his face, pinching his temples toward the middle and wrinkling his brow.  The gesture made him look twenty years older.  A heavy sigh came with it.  “When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow,” Erin wasn’t sure, but she didn’t want to come back here.

“You’re walking out, no notice?  Fucking great.  If I...,” he took a deep breath.  “Erin, you’re a good server.  Top tips the last three months running.  This is a good gig for you.”

“I know I’m leaving you in a lurch, and I’m sorry.  But we didn’t know when it would end and he has to go now.”  Erin did feel bad.  Wild Wings had treated her well, gotten her through a tough time and without it, she never would have met Jordan.  She didn’t want to end all that with a messy exit.

“You have to go right now?  You couldn’t give me a week even?”

Erin looked at the floor.  She could do whatever she wanted - Jordan would understand.  But Jordan was what she wanted: the version she knew here, in the intermission his life had taken just long enough to bring them together, and the one she would come to know in Edmonton.  It was important that his real life reset include from day one.  It would be a triumphant return and Erin wanted to be part of that.  “I can’t,” she shook her head. “I can’t miss anything.”

Robert growled in frustration, seeing he would not win this battle.  “If I could tell you how many girls have left for some guy, just to come running back when....”

“I won’t be back,” Erin said with conviction.

“Don’t, because your job won’t be here,” Robert was angry now, his mind churning with all the problems her exit created.  “Go ahead and go, I hope it works out with, what’s his name?  Jason?”

“It’s Jordan Eberle.  Look him up.”

Erin’s hand was shaking when she raised it to knock on the door.  She hasn’t called, just come over, still in her Wild Wings uniform.  It didn’t take two seconds for him to open the door.

“Hey,” Jordan puller her right into a hug.  He was so familiar and solid, like something she could depend on.  

Robert had been right to ask those questions when she quit.  He’d been right to doubt.  Erin didn’t share his concern but there were so many things to figure out.  A trickle of fear had crawled up her spine all the way here, settling between her shoulder blades and making her head hurt.  Now, as Jordan held her close, that tension begin to ease.

From behind Jordan, another set of arms reached around and hugged them both.  

“I love you guys!” Taylor said in dumb-sounding voice.  “We’re gonna have so much fun as roommates, Erin can cook for us and I’ll leave my underwear all over so she feels extra welcome.”

Erin’s laugh was muffled against Jordan’s shoulder.  “I’m not living with you, Hallsy.”

“Well I’m not moving out!”  He let go.  “You can take Jordan and leave me the whole place.”

Erin rolled her eyes.  “I’ll get my own place.  It’s just Canada, not the moon.  Plus, I never want to see your underwear ever.  I’ve heard stories.”

Jordan, still with an arm across Erin’s shoulders, breathed a silent sigh of relief.  He hadn’t thought about anything - a place for Erin to live, a job, anything for her to do.  He had only thought of himself, and that he couldn’t go without her.  He couldn’t leave something so precious behind and spend the rest of the season missing her like a hole in his heart.  Not when he should be celebrating.

Apparently, she had a little more of a plan.

“Fine, whatever.  You can live with Nuge, he needs a place.”

They went inside, taking seats at the kitchen counter while Taylor opened a beer for each of them.  He looked like he was waiting for the obvious question.  Erin felt responsible for her friends, since she’d brought Amanda and Darcy into all this.

“Have you talked to Amanda?”  

Taylor pursed his lips, proud to have the right answer ready.  “Yeah.  But I’m, uh... I’m not asking her to move.  I don’t think she would anyway, but we’re not, you know.  It’s not serious.”  Erin had expected that, as had Jordan.  She gave Taylor’s hand a little squeeze.  His big eyes looked a little sad, as if he might have wished for someone he’d want to bring home.

“What about Ryan?”

Taylor shrugged.  “He and Darcy are probably having a last go right now, the way he ran out of the game.  He was right behind Ebs, running like hell to get to you.”

Jordan was busy peeling the paper label from his bottle.  “Do you think he’ll ask her?”

“No,” Taylor and Erin both said.

“But I bet he asked for the advanced class tonight, learn everything he can.  He’ll have to find a girl to start all over with,” Taylor sneered.  “Great.  Back on the struggle bus.”

Ryan was, in fact, busy.  He stood at the end of his bed, trying to peel Darcy’s skinny jeans off over her feet.  She kicked as if to help but really made it worse.  Or maybe it was the sight of her, on her back in a white lace bra and panties, that was giving Ryan coordination problems.  He finally grabbed the whole wad of fabric and yanked, turning the pants inside out and nearly dragging Darcy off the bed.  He helped her back up as he climbed on top.

“You sure?” he asked for the second time.

“Yes,” she smiled.  That damned grin had the same effect on him as seeing her naked.

“But no one’s gonna believe it.”  He settled onto his elbows, tugging playfully at the lace edge of her bra.

“Jordan and Taylor will back you up.”

“Right,” Ryan flicked her nipple with his tongue.  “They’ll say I had a concussion and imagined the whole thing.”

Darcy ran her fingers through Ryan’s stick straight hair.  He glanced up from beneath those impossible eyebrows.  It was a damned shame to let the most perfect looking and grateful guy in Oklahoma City go off to the Great White North.  His weight settling between her legs weakened her resolve.

“Erin will be there,” she assumed.  As much as she knew Ryan was a great catch, she knew that Jordan and Erin were something else entirely.

“Yeah,” Ryan sounded as wistful as a guy could with a mouthful of boob.  “She’d better.  Ebs’ll die if she says no.  He loves her.”

Darcy rubbed his earlobe between two fingertips.  His features were all so pointy, his expressions animated.  Ryan was like a drawing come to life.  “She loves him too.”

He titled his face up to see her squarely.  A not-so-innocent gleam came to his brown eyes.  “I love this,” he said.  Darcy laughed, loud and clear.  Next to hearing her breath catch in bed, that laugh was Ryan’s proudest moment.  He loved to make her make that noise.

“I love this too, Ryan.  I’ll be jealous of whoever you find in Edmonton.”

His fingers traced the outside curves of her breast, then pushed them together to make cleavage.  Sometimes Darcy caught him just playing like she was a shiny new toy.   “I won’t.  It’s too hard.  They all know me there.”

“I know you,” she said, “and I like you.”

He smiled shyly, dimples dimpling.  “You don’t know me there.  It’s so... different.  Bigger.”

“I’d still like you,” Darcy promised.

That same mischievous glint flashed in his eyes, like she’d walked right into his trap.  “Prove it,” he said.

Erin sat on the floor of her room, surrounded by clothes.  She wouldn’t need everything in just ten days.  That was virtually all the time they had before the season really started, all the time Jordan could spare to help her get settled.  She didn’t want to be a burden.  By the time he was lacing up his skates in front of a terrifyingly large crowd, she intended to be getting comfy into her new life.  Ten days to find a place.  Jordan’s first game was at home, then he went on the road.  Erin would leave too:  come back to OKC, get the rest of her stuff, and get on with it.

Her front door burst open so hard she jumped.  Darcy had a key, or she might have just run it down.

“Damn, look at all this!” Darcy said, surveying the half sorted living room.  Erin had been up most of the night.  Their flight wasn’t for another six hours.  It never occurred to her how much stuff she had until she tried to pack it all in one go.  Darcy chucked a rolling suitcase and a duffel bag onto the couch.

“What is that?  WHATISTHAT?” Erin scrambled to her feet.

“Oh I’m coming, baby.  I’ve got ten days to make sure Ryan doesn’t shack up with some skank who figures out I taught him everything a boy needs to know.  Ten days and one National Hockey League game featuring the Edmonton Oilers.”

Erin collapsed gratefully into Darcy’s arms.  Darcy laid her friend out next to the roller bag, then set about packing the rest of Erin’s outfits for the trip.  While Erin was a heap on the couch, her phone rang.  

“Hey Jordan.”

“Darcy said yes!  She’s coming tonight, staying through the first game.”

“I know,”Erin said.  “She’s here, packing my stuff.”

There was some scuffling and Taylor came on the line.  “I gotta bring Amanda.  Right?  I gotta do it.”

Erin laughed weakly.  Amanda had not been upset or surprised that she was not asked, or that Erin had said yes.  She would however be a little miffed that Darcy had let Ryan coerce her, and now she was left out of a group trip.  If she knew about it.  “Okay,” Erin said, “here’s what we do....”

“God this is weird.”  Jordan leaned across the console and kissed Erin hello.  Darcy was in front of them in Ryan’s car.  Behind, Taylor laid on his horn.

“Let’s go,” Erin said.

They rolled to a stop in front of Amanda’s house.  She and Taylor had already said their all-night, something-to-remember-me-by farewell the night before.  Ryan and Jordan had seen her today, so had Erin and Darcy after packing.  All part of the charade.  Amanda was not expecting her phone to ring at five o’clock.

“At the airport already?” she answered.  Erin thought she was forcing that chipper note into her voice.

“Look out your window.”


“Look out your window!”  They all hollered from outside.  A light came on, then a shadow.  Amanda’s face appeared in the window.

“What the...,” she put the phone down and squeaked open the glass.  “What are you doing?”

“Ten days!” Taylor was parked in the middle of the street, standing inside his car with his body out the sunroof like a kid fooling around on his way to the prom. “Come visit for ten days, and see our first game.  See what you had all this time and didn’t even know it!”  He gestured to Ryan and Jordan.  

“Come with us.  With me.  Please come with me, Amanda.”

The shock on her face fell into pressed lips, then a tiny curl, then a grin.  Like the Grinch’s heart growing to three times it’s size, the smile spread until Amanda was beaming down like Juliet on her balcony.  “You’re crazy!”

“Is that a yes?!” Taylor called back.

“Yes!  Of course!”

“Good!  Because you have five minutes to pack and get in this car or we’re not going anywhere tonight!”

Amanda yelped and disappeared inside.  Darcy and Ryan applauded Taylor, who took a bow in case any neighbors were listening.  Erin and Darcy buzzed their way into the building and went to help pack.

“You’re all crazy!” Amanda whipped open the door without stopping to say hello.  She was shoving an entire pile of clean laundry into a suitcase.  “This is what I’ve worn for the last ten days, it’ll have to do.”  Darcy and Erin joined the stuffing and squishing and sitting on the bag until it zipped shut.  Amanda dug out her passport, some extra lip gloss and looked around like she was forgetting something.

“The lockout is over,” Darcy reminded her.  “Taylor makes a zillion dollars.  Just bring your purse and  make him buy you new clothes.”

“You won’t need them,” Erin said.  She reached into the messenger bag hanging at her side and unfurled Tayor’s #22 Barons jersey.  “You can just wear this.”

They made it to the airport with plenty of time.  Ryan couldn’t have a beer so he settled for a Sprite and putting his hand high on Darcy’s leg while they sat at the bar, killing time.  Taylor called it, “soaking in America.”  It was certainly that - middle America, where hockey wasn’t the focus of attention.  The last they’d get of that for a long time.

“I kind of liked the lockout,” Ryan admitted.

Jordan looked at Erin.  She wore skinny jeans with flats, a long red cardigan and striped scarf that was more about decoration than warmth.  Not that she needed anything extra to look perfect.  Her dark hair grazed his hand where it rested on the back of the bar stool.  She seemed so happy, so relaxed, as if he hadn’t just asked the world of her, out of the blue, and been told yes.  His dad would bring her a parka to the airport.

Jordan leaned in, kissed Erin’s cheek and said,“Me too.”

(Not quite the end.)

Jordan got the A today in Edmonton, and my Eberle shirt came in the mail. Fate? - Juliet

Saturday, January 5, 2013


“Change of plans,” Jordan’s mom said.  Jordan had just come in from putting Erin’s suitcase in the car.  She walked down the stairs already wearing her borrowed parka and hat, in time to hear the announcement.  “Your grandfather had to go into the hospital,” Lisa told them.  “It’s not a really big deal, but he was a little faint and your grandmother took him in last night.”

“Last night!”  Jordan was worried.  The night out at his jersey ceremony must have been too much, despite his grandfather’s insistence.

“I know,” his mom waved away the concern, “I think they were hoping to be out by now and we’d never know.  It’s okay though, the doctors said he’ll be home by dinner.  So we’re stopping by the hospital instead of their house to say goodbye.”

They piled into the car.  Jordan held Erin’s hand distractedly, watching the landmarks of his life as a kid fly by.  His dad Darren was speeding and no one complained.  Jordan was forever leaving, forever missing things in favor of hockey.  When he’d been chasing the dream of the NHL it had been different - everyone seemed to share that number one priority.  Once he reached the League, he was as thrilled as relieved to have met all their expectations.  It made the forgotten Christmases and birthdays less bitter.  Now, as he tried not to panic, Jordan wondered if he could justify leaving.  If he could go back to the States and think of it the same way, while his life slowed down and others so important seemed to be speeding up.  It was a job, a contract - Jordan would have been elsewhere if he could control it.  But missing is missing, and in this case he might not get another chance.

Erin squeezed his fingers.  She was worried too.

It only took a moment at the hospital for that to change.  They followed a nurse’s directions to the hallway off the oncology unit where his grandfather had been kept overnight for observation.  Two doors away they could hear him laughing.  Jordan led the charge into his room and found his grandfather sitting up in bed, watching at a rerun of The Office while his grandmother rolled her eyes and smiled from a bedside chair.

“You made it!  Good, we didn’t want to miss you!” Al said, wearing a sweater over his hospital gown.  His face was full of color, his voice strong.  Everyone’s heart rate settled.  “Sorry you had to come here, see me like this.  Some visit for you, Erin.”

“It’s okay, Al.  I’ve spent plenty of time in hospitals, they don’t scare me,” Erin said.

Jordan sat on the edge of the bed.  It was the same hospital where he had visited sick kids in past years.  He ran an annual golf tournament to benefit the Regina hospitals, so he knew that his grandfather was receiving top-notch care.  It was the only time he didn’t mind if someone did extra just because he was Jordan Eberle.  He tried not to think the worst as they talked, that this could be the last time he saw his grandfather.  It was easier when he seemed so full of life, even in a hospital room.  And his grandfather never would have let Jordan miss anything on his behalf.  This was one of those grownup moments where he’d just have to move forward and hope for the best.

Erin saw them all settled and chatting, then claimed a bathroom break and went in search of the nurse who had helped them on the way in.  It never hurt to have a backup plan.

When Erin left the room, Al pointed after her and said to Jordan, “What are you going to do about that?”

His mom laughed.  Leave it to the old man to say what no one else would.  It has always been that way in Jordan’s family.  He knew they’d been itching to ask that very question since they decided they liked Erin about an hour into the visit.

“I don’t know, Grandad,” Jordan answered.

“MIght not be anything to do for a while yet,” Darren put a hand on his son’s shoulder.  “Could be in Oklahoma City till summer at this rate.”

“Well you better figure it out soon, before someone else does. Some horrible American, one of those big football players or something. Thick accent, y’aaaaallll,” Al faked the sound, then shivered at the idea.

They were still laughing when Erin came back into the room.  Everyone hugged everyone goodbye.  It gave Erin the warm fuzzies to see that Jordan had such good, normal people behind him.  No crazy sports parents, no one already spending their son’s money.  They were as normal as Jordan and obviously the reason why.

“Take good care of him,” Jordan’s grandmother whispered in Erin’s ear.  “He’ll do the same for you.”

Erin hugged the older woman tightly.  “He already does.”

Back in Oklahoma City, Ryan was flopped out on the couch when Jordan and Erin walked into the apartment.  Taylor was nowhere in sight.  “He’s getting pizza,” Ryan said, waving one hand but not turning around.  

“Where’s Darcy?” Jordan asked.

“Her office Christmas party’s tonight.  Amanda went as her date.”

“How come you aren’t her date?”

“It’s twenty-one and over,” he moped.  

Erin went to the sofa and laid right down on top of him.  Ryan wiggled toward the edge so she could fit alongside, his arm around her shoulders.  Erin reached across his chest and snuggled in.  Jordan appeared at the end, looking down at them.  Ryan was trying not to smile, but the close proximity of any girl these days had a very strong effect on his mood.

“Careful, Er.  Now he actually knows what to do with a girl,” Jordan said.
Erin threw her leg over Ryan’s and latched them together.  “How long you think Darcy’s gonna be gone?”

When Taylor got back, and Erin and Ryan gave up their ownership of the couch, they settled in to watch a movie on TV.  Jordan told a very abridged story of the jersey retirement ceremony, so Erin told it again with details.  She knew this was Jordan’s other family and it was just as important they share in his big moments.  Still it wasn’t long before they were all drifting off to sleep.

“You can stay here if you want,” Jordan offered Ryan.

“You’d better not,” Taylor said.  “What if Darcy decides all drunk that she can’t go a whole night without you and you’re not home?  You know Schultzy’ll let her in.  If they’re drinking the good stuff at the party, she might not remember how ugly you are and get confused.”  He paused for a moment, that far-away and perverted look clouding his eyes.  “Dude, I hope Amanda comes over.”

That got Ryan out the door fast, rushing to set up camp just inside his front door in case Darcy knocked late night.  Erin and Jordan left their full suitcases on the floor and fell into bed, reaching for each other before they hit the mattress.  Arms around each other and legs sliding together, they fit perfectly despite a few days being very far apart.

“I think you promised to make me scream,” she whispered.

“I said that?”

She pretended to get free.  “I’ve got a text message somewhere....”

Jordan kissed her with a smile on his lips.  His hands moved, finding her skin hot as if it had been waiting for his touch.  He took the shirt right over her head. Erin purred, pressing her hips into his lap.  Tracing the curve of her throat with his mouth, Jordan lowered his attention to her breasts.  He flicked at each nipple in turn, feeling them harden against his tongue.  Erin pushed her thigh up and felt him harden too.

They hadn’t been together in three days.  Jordan was sometimes away longer than that, it wasn’t a big deal.  But she’d been right across the hall, practically within arm’s reach, as if teasing him the whole time.  It was much tougher to handle than the version of Erin he kept in his head on road trips.  The morning’s events at the hospital had made him focus on how much he loved the people in his life.  Now he was reminded, like an avalanche pouring down a mountain, that he lusted for her too.

“Come here,” she whispered, pawing at his sweatpants.  Jordan moved so she could....

“Fuck,” he said as her hand found his cock.  His heartbeat raced to the scene, pounding out a message like it was in a hurry to be heard.  Erin’s hand twisted and pulled as he fumbled to get her out of her pants too.  Finally, bare thighs slipped by under his fingertips.  She spread her legs and pulled him on top, he was already pushing.

“Ohgod,” she moaned as he slipped inside her.  The pressure, the hot contact, the weight of him poured all over made Erin see stars.  Three days had never seemed so long until they were over.  Jordan put his face into her neck and took the last few inches from her body.  So much for screaming - holding onto each other and panting was all they could do.

They needed a plan, something to take care of everything else so they would never lose this.

A week later, Erin woke in the same place - twisted in sheets and hockey player body parts - only this time the phone was ringing.  Jordan smacked around the nightstand until he came up with the offending noise.

“Hi Mom,” he said, looking right into Erin’s eyes.  His mom must know they were spending nights together, but it was still very weird to hear her voice while laying there.  

“Good, I wanted to be sure you were free.  Grandad’s back at the hospital.  It’s... I don’t know.  Just faint again, I guess, but it’s the second time in a few days.  I’d...,” she paused and Erin could feel the tension turning every muscle in Jordan’s body to stone.  His mom cleared her throat.  “I’d like you to talk to him, okay?”

Just in case, she didn’t say.  No one said it.

“Yeah, I’m here all morning.”

“Okay, call you in about a half hour.  We’ve gotta use the landline at the hospital, no cell phones allowed.”  She disconnected.

Jordan put his head very gently back against the pillow.  He was warm and safe, comfortable and happy thousands of miles away.  Countless thoughts swirled, the worst ones falling out like houses being dropped by a tornado:  This could be it.  This could be the worst day of his life.  He wasn’t there.  He couldn’t do anything.

Erin freed herself from his embrace.  Jordan was too distracted to notice.  She found her phone and paged through the contacts.

“Hi, Rose?  This is Erin, Jordan Eberle’s friend, from last week at the hospital.  Yeah,” Erin glanced over, but Jordan wasn’t listening, “he is.  We just heard.  I was wondering if you could do it now, if you have time.  His family’s going to be there soon.  Okay, great.  I will get it set up.  And Rose, thank you so much... yeah, I know, but still.  Thank you.”

Jordan stirred.  “What are you doing, babe?”

Erin fetched his laptop from the desk, sat down next to him in bed and opened the cover.  The screen came to life.  With minimal interest, Jordan watched her find an icon on the menu that he hadn’t used in ages:  Skype.  She double-clicked and the familiar blue and green window popped up.

Then it rang.

“What the hell?” Jordan started to sit up.

The name said Rose Dewitt but when Erin hit the ‘accept’ button, it was Al’s face that came into view.

“Jordan?  That you, bud?”

“Hey... Grandad?  Hey!  How are you?”  He pulled the blanket up, nearly tipping the computer off Erin’s knees.  Luckily he was wearing a shirt.  

His grandfather peered close to the screen.  “Where’s the camera?”

“It’s here, Al.”  A finger from off-screen touched the top corner, and Al adjusted himself so he was front and center.  

“That’s pretty neat,” the older man said.  He spun the screen and a friendly looking nurse in blue scrubs came into view.  “Jordan, this is Rose.  She says she knows your Erin.”

Jordan was wide-eyed and slack-jawed, looking at Erin.  Her wavy hair was the typical morning mess that meant Jordan had had a very good night.  Those blue eyes were sparkling and her dimples were in full effect as she tried not to crack a smile.

“How did you?”

Erin leaned her face into the frame.  “Hi Rose!  Thank you so much!”

“It’s no trouble, dear.  Now this iPad has hours of battery so you talk as long as you’d like.  I’ll send your family in when they get here, Al.”

“That’s something, huh?  Morning, Erin.  Seems I owe you one.  I didn’t know you were so clever.”

“It’s nothing.  I saw Rose was on her iPad when we visited you, I just asked her if we ever needed a call if maybe she’d help us out.  She said Jordan does  a lot of good work for the hospital, she’s happy to repay some.  You’re looking good.  How do you feel?”

According to Al, he was right as rain.  Jordan didn’t know whether or not to believe him, but it made everyone feel better.  HIs grandfather was talking and laughing the way he’d done before, but seeing him really reinforced the sound of his voice.  No reason to believe this was any worse than anything he’d overcome already.  They were still talking when Jordan’s family came into the room.

“Hey, look who’s visiting me this morning!” Al turned the screen and Lisa jumped at the sight.  

“Jordan?!  How the heck?”

“Erin did it,” Al said proudly.  “She made friends with the nurse here and this morning, called her up.  We’re using Skype.  It’s even free!”

Jordan tried to pull Erin into the frame but she leaned away.  

“I’m in your bed at nine in the morning!” she whispered urgently, hoping the mic wasn’t broadcasting to Jordan’s entire family.  “I have...,” and she tousled her hair furiously, miming sex hair, which she’d already definitely had.  Now she looked fresh from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

“Yeah, you do,” Jordan yanked her close.  “Say good morning everyone!”

His mom was about to cry.  She was standing right behind his father’s shoulder, trying to hide herself.  She waved, and his dad said hello.  In the bottom corner, Jordan could see what they saw - he and Erin, all pajamas and sheets, in bed together.

Al turned the iPad around.  “Okay, I’d better visit here since they drove all the way to see me.  Thanks for calling!  It was great to see you.  And don’t worry, I’m fine.  Maybe I could borrow this thing and watch some of your games, Jordan!”

They all said goodbye, and Erin closed the laptop.  She was beaming at her success.

“Surprise,” she said.

Jordan tackled her.  Pillows went flying, the laptop was moved.  The clothes they were grateful to have on for the call quickly hit the walls and slid to the floor.  Jordan put an elbow down down on either side of Erin’s head, holding her still, and kissed past the ordinary kiss.  Past the make-out kiss.  He twisted his tongue against hers, velvet on velvet, raising goosebumps despite the heat between them.  Their bodies responded like the next step in a chemical reaction.  He never stopped kissing her, not even when he came.

(Two weeks later)

Buffalo Wild Wings was packed.  It was December 23, a Sunday, and most people didn’t have to work for at least two days.  Some were getting away from family they’d already spent too much time with.  Everyone was watching football.  Teams were making or breaking their seasons on screens all around the bar and Erin had been running for hours.  One tiny TV in the corner was turned to the Barons game, but that ended ten minutes ago.  A win!  Even if she was the only person who cared.

The Saints and Cowboys were on the biggest screen, going to overtime even if neither team was going to the playoffs.  As the fourth quarter ended, everyone ordered another round of beers.  Erin scooped up a small tray with six pints carefully arranged and wound her way through the crowded tables.  Fox sent the broadcast back to the studio.

“Thank for joining us on the Fox in-game report as the Cowboys and Saints go to overtime in Dallas,” Curt Menafee said.  “Before we get to that and other games around the NFL, a bit of breaking sports news coming now out of New York City.  The National Hockey League lockout is over.”

Time got slow, like in The Matrix.  The words flew at Erin like bullets, ripping through air that tried to fight them back.  She didn’t dodge in time.  Frozen stock still in the middle of the busy bar,  the full tray slipped from Erin’s hands.

“Nice game, nice game,” everyone was saying to everyone as the Barons filed off the ice.  Jordan and Taylor had each scored goals.  They were halfway to the locker room when Coach came jogging back up the hall.

“You two,” he said, tipping his head toward the trainer’s room and barging in.  Taylor and Jordan followed. “Got word as the game was ending.  The lockout’s over.”

It was a blindside check at center ice: no warning, no time to brace.  That single sentence nearly knocked Jordan off his feet.  His shoulders curled, absorbing the blow, trying to protect his soft middle.  In this case, his heart.  Instantly his ears began to ring from the impact.


“League’s doing a press conference in twenty minutes.”  Coach was obviously unsure of what to say,  happy for them but disappointed that his team would lose out.  He slapped them both on opposite shoulders.  Jordan stumbled, a stutter-step that jarred him awake.

“Erin,” he said.  Then sprinted away.

In the locker room, he threw off his gear like it was burning his skin.  The guys didn’t notice as he yanked on his shorts, wiped himself once with a towel and started pulling on his suit.  Hopping on one leg, he got his pants buttoned and left shoe on at the same time.  T-shirt, dress shirt left open, jacket.  At least it was his favorite suit, one that Erin liked.  The perfect outfit for his funeral.

He had to get to her first.  Erin had to hear it from him.  Goddamn sports bars, it could be announced at any second.  For once he loved that Oklahoma City, and most of America, didn’t give a shit about hockey.  It might be his saving grace, if he could just beat them to the punch.  He yanked on his overcoat, felt the keys jingle in his pocket, and pelted out the door.

Why was it so far?  Why were there speed limits and red lights?  Why the fuck hadn’t anyone invited teleportation yet?  It was in every movie!  Jordan whipped into the Wild Wings parking lot, the first spot he saw and started running.  He crossed half the parking lot before he heard the outdoor audio was on.  Just a little closer!  He threw open the front door at a run, words reaching his ears as he passed inside.  

“… lockout is over.”  

He saw her, instantly, like she was spotlighted by nothing other than his focus.   The words hit her at the same moment.  The tray she carried didn’t even wobble; it dropped like a rock and hit with a crash: the sound of two lives shattering.  That attracted far more attention than the announcement on TV.

“Oh my God, are you okay?!” People nearby started to move – either to step back or to help.  Jordan was still flying, he  skidded to a stop behind Erin’s shoulder just as she began to react.

“She’s fine, she’s fine,” he said without thinking.  “She quits.”

It wasn’t up to him.  It wasn’t even necessary – no one quit over broken glass, and her boss wasn’t even nearby.  Erin reacted slowly, like someone in shock.  She peeled her eyes from the mess and turned toward the sound of Jordan’s voice.

Every detail imprinted on her brain.  His blue eyes were the darkest she had ever seen them; those bushy eyebrows knitted in concern.  His hair was wet, almost curling.  The buttons on his dress shirt were open.  They had won the game.  He’d scored a goal.  He was here.  How was he here?  The lockout was over.

The lockout is over, she thought for the first time coherently.  At the same moment, Jordan said...

“Come with me.  Please, Erin.  Come home with me.”

Half the place was watching.  Erin didn’t notice.  Jordan’s hand closed on hers, zapping her back into reality.  Go with him.  For something so crazy it sounded awfully easy.

“Okay,” she said.

The crowd around them sighed happily, without knowing why.  Maybe it was two kids in love.  Maybe they were just glad this clumsy waitress wouldn’t be carrying their beers anymore. Not a single one of them had any idea who Jordan was, or why this mattered, except for Erin.

She threw her arms around his neck and  kissed him.  For nearly three months she’d been fighting the urge to break that particular rule.   Her sneakers squeaked in the spilled drinks as she pulled away and said, “It’s okay, I quit.”

A few turned back to their food, their seats.  They missed the moment when Jordan got down on one knee.

An ice cold flash of adrenaline shot through Erin’s system.  Her heart thumped once.  Someone behind her gasped.  Every eye was wide as Jordan knelt on the messy floor, in his best suit…  and started picking up shards of glass.                                     

Not over yet! - Juliet