“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