“It’s so...,” Erin searched for the word.
“Terrifying?” Amanda suggested.
They stood at front row of a luxury box inside Rexall Place. Above and below and on all sides there were people; almost seventeen thousand of them, all wearing some kind of Oilers gear. Erin had on an Eberle shirt she’d insisted on buying herself from the gift shop yesterday, Amanda was wearing a huge Oilers sweatshirt from Taylor’s closet. They blended into the crowd until they were nearly invisible.
“I was going to say loud,” Erin finished. Another shriek went up from the knot of young girls stationed even with the blue line. Any time Taylor, Ryan, Jordan or Justin skated past it was like Justin Bieber coming to their end of the stage.
It was pretty scary though. One the ice, the Oilers did laps around their zone to warm up for the game. People were crowded eight and ten rows deep at the glass, cheering and holding signs to welcome back their team. There were more fans for pregame skate than the Barons got for a game.
Every single one of them knows more about hockey than I do, Erin thought. She was going to have a lot of work to do. Behind her suite, the Eberle family was snacking and talking. They’d been so welcoming and wonderful, she could feel their collective hope that this new girl from Down South could hack it in the Great White North.
She turned away to find a bottle of water and nearly crashed into Darcy coming down the stairs.
“What is that?!” Erin yelled.
“What?” Darcy held her arms out, displaying the Barons jersey she’d pulled on over her clothes. “You guys are too good for OKC now?” She spun around to reveal the obvious NUGENT-HOPKINS on the back, with number 18 instead of 93.
“You never wore that at home!”
“Well we are not in Kansas anymore, and I am the only person in this whole place wearing one.” She looked herself over and smiled. “It’s what I think of when I think of Ryan.”
Erin shook her head. “Poor Schultzy’s gonna hear Ryan thinking of you every night until Valentine’s Day.”
Jordan tapped his stick on the floor, the wall, his skate. It was dark in the hallway, music pounding overhead through the arena. Fans were stomping and clapping, just as anxious for this season to begin.
“Ready, Ebs?” Taylor leaned over and shouted around their captain Shawn Horcoff. Jordan stuck his tongue out at his best friend. He was more than ready.
“You noobs better be,” Horcoff said. “I’m getting too old for this rebuilding era shit.”
Taylor’s name and number 4 were called and he stepped onto the ice. The cheer was deafening. Horcoff was a few down the list, then Jordan skipped over the curb and skated between the Octane Girls waving their silver pom-poms. Lights were wheeling, flashing, strobing. Good thing he’d been here before.
Somewhere in the stands, Erin was watching. Jordan had done his best to prepare her, but it was only the beginning. This was the fun part. The long road trips and losing streaks and griping press would all come later - they always did. Tonight might overwhelm the senses but it was up to him to keep the season from overwhelming either one of them.
When the intros and ceremonial puck drop were all over, Jordan lined up next to Taylor and Ryan for the national anthem. Schultz skated right over and bumped into his side. He was grinning like a guy about the start his first NHL game.
“Pass me the puck, eh? There are a lot of girls here.”
Erin tucked herself into a seat and watched the opening faceoff. She saw the first line change, the first whistle, the first opposing team goal of the season. The OIlers had a lot of scoring chances and their goalie made some huge saves, but Erin stayed still, trying to catch everything. When the period ended, it was one-to-nothing Vancouver and she had barely moved at all.
“What do you think?” Darren took the seat Amanda had vacated at the sound of the horn.
“It’s big,” Erin said. “And crowded and crazy and exactly like Jordan said it would be.”
“He’s worried about you, that you won’t like it here.”
She enjoyed the irony of finding herself on the flip side of the equation. “I was worried he’d hate Oklahoma, but that turned out okay.”
“He had you,” Darren said.
Erin smiled. “Exactly.”
The second period was easier. Darren left and Whitney joined them in the first row so she could pepper Darcy with questions about Ryan. Determined to make Ryan the biggest stud in Edmonton, Darcy answered with enough blush-inducing detail to make it clear she was leaving a lot out.
“Remember that time you gave him a hickey?” Erin said.
Darcy didn’t even blush. “The first time! I was more careful with placement later. I should do that again before I leave, right on his neck.”
“I can’t hear this! He’s like my brother!” Whitney covered her ears.
“Oh your brother is worse. Try sleeping in the room next to these two,” Amanda bumped Erin.
Amidst a chorus of “God, gross!” and “Stop, please stop!”, by the halfway mark, the girls were cracking up and Erin had unbolted herself from the chair. It carried them until Vancouver scored against with six minutes left.
“Shit. I hate the Canucks,” Whitney said. She turned to Erin. “Number one thing to learn: Everyone hates the Canucks. Hey dad!” she hollered back over her shoulder. “Tell Erin who hates the Canucks.”
“Everybody!” Darren and a few other voices answered.
The Oilers didn’t stop charging though, and jokes about Ryan’s extracurriculars died away as time ran down on the clock. With under ten seconds left, Taylor got the puck at center ice. People heading early for the snack bar stopped and turned. He crossed Jordan’s path, left the puck and Jordan brought it up the left side.... right around the shoulder of the Vancouver defender. Jordan lifted the puck on his backhand and put it into the top corner of the goal with 3.6 seconds left. It was the perfect line of sight - Erin saw it go right in the net.
The place went nuts. For all her stillness thus far, Erin was on her feet before the puck dropped back to the ground. Someone was hugging her and then everyone was hugging her. They looked just like the knot of Oilers down on the ice. Jordan broke free and skated the length of the bench, fist-bumping all his teammates. His mother Lisa squeezed through everyone in the suite to get to Erin, then crushed her with a hug.
“Now we’re ready,” Lisa said. “Now we’re good.”
Jordan pulled out of the Rexall players parking area and went left. Erin wouldn’t know that was the wrong way for a while yet, but tonight she realized when he turned into the circular valet driveway of a hotel. Still she didn’t say anything, just reached for his hand. The attendants recognized Jordan immediately and called him by name. He stopped at the desk, checked in and led them to an elevator.
“I thought it would be nice if we gave Taylor and Amanda their last night alone together,” he pulled Erin in close. “Since I get to keep you, and all.”
The game had gone into overtime, then a shootout. The Oilers won without Jordan, Ryan or Taylor notching another point. None of them tried in the shootout. It didn’t matter - despite the conditioning of regular play, Jordan was exhausted from the adrenaline of his first game back in the NHL. He beeped open the door to a one bedroom suite on the tenth floor.
Erin was drained too. The speed and sound of the game were different, the energy level intoxicating. But mostly she felt the weight of it - every game mattered toward the ultimate goal. Now more than ever, because they were all played in the home conference. Whitney had explained that to her again. Every game was a four-point game. Erin walked to the high, plush looking bed. She wanted nothing more than to faceplant into it and sleep for a week. Her life had been quite the perfect whirlwind lately. Instead she ditched her borrowed parka and started to undress: Eberle t-shirt, long sleeve tee from underneath. Boots were unzipped, jeans were wiggled off. Neatly and methodically she stripped down until her panties hit the floor.
Then she looked up.
“Don’t let me stop you,” Jordan said, leaning against the wall. His suit was still intact, his hair wet and dark. Erin smirked as she walked right around him into the bathroom and turned on the tub.
“You better hurry,” she called.
The bubbles were high and the tub filled in less than two minutes. God bless luxury hotels. Erin slipped gingerly beneath the hot surface just as Jordan came in. She leaned back against the built-in headrest and admired him.
“Room for me?” he asked. That devastating grin should not have been allowed while he was naked. He sat behind her, between her and the tub, letting his legs stretch out alongside hers and Erin’s back lean against his chest. The heat instantly soaked into his aching muscles, still tight with exertion. Jordan sighed and folded his arms around her. Private moments with Erin always relaxed him. The idea of having them whenever he wanted during a long, hard season was absurdly luxurious, much like this bath. “What did you think?”
“I felt like I was going to faint, and I wish that everyone in OKC could have seen you tonight. And I think,” she turned a little to see his face, “I think I’m going to like it here.”
Jordan kissed her softly. They stayed in the bath a long time, talking about nothing, enjoying the quiet after the deafening arena. The OIlers’ next game was two days away, then another two and pretty much every two days until April, if not more often. Jordan couldn’t wait for those games - he’d already been waiting so long. When the water was tepid and they’d dried each other off, Erin climbed right between the soft sheets of the king sized bed. Jordan, towel tied around his waist, stopped by the closet.
“I have practice at ten thirty.”
“Okay,” she patted the spot next to her.
He patted the closet door. “And you,” he turned the knob, “have a job interview.”
“What?!” She sat straight up in bed, duping the blankets and nearly making her messy hairknot fall out. Inside the closet hung a black women’s business suit.
“Surprise! You have an interview at Stollery Children’s Hospital. Turns out they are looking to model a new program after an American system out of Texas and who better to coordinate the two than an administrative consultant who knows the US system?”
Erin’s mouth hung open. “You’re kidding.”
“It was actually my grandfather’s idea. Well, him and that nurse you met who helped do the video call, remember? He asked her about jobs, she called some people and heard about this. The Oilers do visits to Stollery’s all the time, so we knew people there. They can’t wait to meet you.”
“Jordan,” she said.
“Whitney picked this out,” he pulled out the suit, a simple and sophisticated pants combo. “She checked your size from your suitcase.”
“Jordan,” Erin repeated.
“It’s not a lock, I mean, they won’t just give you the job ‘cause of me so don’t worry about that. But I know you’ll be great.”
He stopped rambling.
Erin patted the spot next to her again. “Get over here, right now!”
He jumped into the bed like he was sliding across the hood of a car, until he was on top of her and kissing her with his hands in her hair. Erin was laughing and breathless, then quiet, then building up again as she fought to keep from being loud. She and Jordan moved together easily, happily and when they were finished, fell asleep the same way.
Ryan let the apartment door swing shut behind him. He was too busy guiding Darcy up against the wall and nailing her with a kiss. She squeaked in surprise, then pushed her hands into his back pockets.
The adrenaline of the game had been more than he expected, more than he remembered. The feeling didn’t end with the shootout. He’d grabbed Darcy and run from the building. Schultz was out celebrating his first NHL game, and two points, with some of the other guys and Ryan wanted to take advantage of his last night.
Darcy used to think that Ryan was cute when he was all hot and bothered. Now she was hot and bothered herself. It had been her first NHL game too, just like Schultzy, but she wanted to celebrate something different. Knowing Ryan was a big deal was one thing but seeing it live was another story. She had his shirt halfway open when he peeled hers up and overhead.
She was wearing a bright blue bra with white and orange trim.
“Where’d you get that?” he asked, staring for once not actually at her boobs.
“Some store here. The lady said all the girls who like the Oilers have them.” Darcy unzipped her fly, folded her jeans down over one hip. “Matching thong. You guys must be pretty popular.”
Ryan blushed. Then immediately felt stupid for blushing. And so blushed harder. Standing in front of him, in his place in his city, mostly naked and halfway to the living room, was the girl of his goddamned dreams.
“Ryan!” Darcy squealed. She was about to make a joke about him being too cute when he grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her in for the hardest, deepest kiss they’d ever shared. The temperature in the room went up ten degrees. Darcy almost stumbled in her unzipped jeans, but Ryan held her upright and kissed her until they were both panting. Their lips barely parted, breathing hard, and he pressed his forehead to hers.
“I want to give you something,” he said.
Darcy smiled wickedly. “I want to give you something.” Before he could react, she was on her knees and opening his belt. Ryan’s turn to nearly fall. He glanced around feverishly, knowing for sure the place was empty but needing to check again, out of courtesy, before he got a blow job in the middle of the room.
“Darce, wait, ahhhh,” Ryan lost the words on his tongue and the thoughts in his brain as Darcy put her mouth to work. She didn’t care what he had for her. It would be something sweet and nice and she would love it and her resolve about leaving would shake a little more. It had been doing that daily since arriving in Edmonton. She needed to get on the plane tomorrow, get some space between them and think about it. Because when she was close to Ryan all she could think about was the way he looked at her like he’d never seen a girl before.
Probably no girl who ever did this, she thought as he groaned from above. Well she wasn’t just going to give up.
When they were finished, Ryan all but collapsed onto the hallway floor and pulled Darcy down to lie next to him. If Schultz came home early, he’d never unsee the sight. Ryan landed half on top of the suit coat he’d ditched. Digging into the breast pocket without letting go of Darcy, he found an envelope.
“What I have to for you isn’t that good,” he said.
She snickered. “Liar.”
“No,” his breathing was still ragged, “really. You’re....”
Amazing. Incredible. Ruining me for everyone else. Ryan knew what he wanted to say. Darcy knew what he wanted to say. So she held out her hand before he could say it and he placed the envelope in her open palm.
“What is it?” she asked without moving.
“Plane ticket. For Valentine’s Day.”
“You’re going to miss your flight!” Taylor yelled.
Amanda pushed her suitcase into the kitchen. “I have over two hours.”
“I drive really slowly, and I tend to get lost. Might need some breakfast. Maybe something for that wall...,” he pointed to a bare spot to the left of the TV. “There’s a home store on the way.”
He didn’t want Amanda to leave, and she didn’t really want to leave either. Mostly because the idea of sitting down for six hours on a plane after the night they’d just spent together sounded like agony. She could only guess Ryan and Darcy had been as bad. It was a long flight home to nothing, but it was time to go. Taylor handed her an orange juice for the road, picked up her suitcase with ridiculous ease and locked the apartment door behind them.
Ryan and Darcy were already in the airport departures area, occupying the small row of chairs opposite the Air Canada ticket counter. Darcy had her legs across Ryan’s lap, feet resting on her suitcase and arms around his neck. They did not bother to untangle when Taylor and Amanda sat down next to them. A minute later, Erin and Jordan strolled up hand-in-hand.
“Time to go,” Taylor said. He pulled Amanda to her feet, wrapped her in a hug and lifted her right off the floor. She laughed. Taylor would be playful and silly right to the end. Then he dipped her almost to the floor and kissed her. “Call me when you land.”
“Call me from the plane if you want.”
“Okay,” she said.
“You’ll be at the gate for what, two hours? You can call me from there. I could probably buy a ticket and just come hang out with you. We could get lunch and....”
“Okay!” Amanda smacked his chest. “I’ll miss you too.” She kissed him again, just to shut him up.
Darcy walked slowly, keeping Ryan a little behind the group. There wasn’t far to go to the security checkpoint and the space Darcy knew she needed was right on the other side. Yet she found, since waking up in Ryan’s arms that morning, she was reluctant to get there at all. The Valentine’s Day plane ticket she’d swore she wouldn’t need felt awfully solid in her pocket.
Ryan stopped moving. “See you soon,” he said, squeezing his lips together nervously so his dimples showed. He had learned a few tricks that worked on Darcy after all.
Darcy tried to laugh though her eyes were stinging with tears. “Don’t go out with any girls until Erin approves.”
“She already approves of my girl.”
“Ryan,” Darcy’s voice caught. She had two fistfuls of his sweater and had to force herself to look him in the eyes. He was smirking, just a little, like he knew he had her. Damn it. “See you soon,” she said, and kissed him.
Erin, Jordan, Taylor and Ryan waved as Amanda and Darcy had their passports cleared and joined the security line.
“How was your interview?” Taylor asked while they stood watching their friends move out of sight.
“It was good,” Erin said. In fact it had been great, and she was sure the job was hers. But until the call came, she didn’t want to jinx it. Amanda and Darcy didn’t even know. Let it be a happy surprise for her friends when they came back to visit in a few weeks. Jordan squeezed her hand to show his confidence.
Ryan sighed heavily and turned away from the departure area. “Think they want to hire any more Americans?”
Officially the longest story I've ever written. Thanks for reading! Something new is coming soon. - J