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.
“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.
“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