Friday, December 24, 2010

New Story!

Merry Christmas everyone! I've started a new story featuring Jonathan Toews. I hope you'll check it out:

In Another Life

Nine [the end]

A/N: Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  Thanks for all your comments on this story - I hope it ends the way you were hoping.  I'll have a new story up super soon!

Halley stopped in the hallway outside her apartment. Alex was inside, on the couch - she knew he wouldn’t leave on his own. Short of slumping against the wall and crying herself to sleep on the industrial carpet, she would have to get back in there.

He glanced up but didn’t stand as she opened the door. He’d shed his jacket and tie, rolled his shirt up over his arms. Halley closed the door and leaned against it.

“You should go.”

“You should come with me,” he said.

“No, Alex. I... I’m sorry, I don’t want this.”

He looked at her with genuine surprise on his face. No one has ever told him no before, she knew. Not when the chips were down, not when it was him or nothing. Halley continued, taking a seat in the armchair to his side. “Is this what you wanted all along? Is this why you were my friend?”

Alex shook his head. “No. I like you for friend, Halley, you are good friend. That’s why I think you be good for more than friend. I mean,” he fumbled with the expression. “You be good for me. You good for Mike, I see he better person. Not so much crazy, not run around. Happier.”

She had to laugh. “So much for that.”

Alex reached a giant hand out and settled it on her knee. Halley felt absolutely nothing at his touch. “Not your fault. But you say you don’t wait for him. You don’t want him if he doesn’t want you,” he said with a shrug.

Part of her knew that. But she had to blame someone and as mad as she was, she had told Mike the truth. She had fallen in love with him.

“I love him, Alex. Even if he really doesn’t love me.”

Alex nodded, resigned. Halley had a good feeling this would be the end of the discussion, that he wouldn’t try to kiss her again. Here goes nothing, she thought as she got to her feet and motioned for him to hug her. His body was surprisingly soft and she sank in, taking comfort where she could find it.

“Mike is lucky. Is asshole, but he is lucky.”

She shrugged. “Nobody gets anything now.” Alex kissed her head and let himself out of the apartment.

Mike barely made it home. As his tires squeaked to a stop in the garage, the tears came in earnest. Thank God no one can see me, he thought. Some tough guy. I’m a fucking mess. His cheek stung where she’d walloped him, but it felt real. She should have punched him - he deserved it.

He knew there was nothing going on with Halley and Alex. The farther he got from her house the more sure he was she’d never do that. Alex was her friend. Alex would go to her when he couldn’t go anywhere else - and this was the night for last resorts. Besides teammates, Alex’s orbit was all flashy connections and puckbunnies. Good time friends, not the kind you go to when you’re at your lowest.

Mike’s keys rattled on the granite counter, echoing in the empty apartment. Always empty now. Tomorrow or the next day he’d clean out his locker then leave for Calgary.

Home, he thought. It almost sounded good. A place he could hide out and wait for all this to blow over. Other people would lose, someone would win, time would pass and people would forget. Not him - this feeling would never, ever leave him. But it would eventually stop being the first thing he saw on everyone’s face.

The only face he wouldn’t see was hers.

Mike looked at himself in the mirror as he stripped off his suit. He’d barely managed to get it on, he was in such a rush to leave the arena and find her. A thousand apologies had been on his tongue, a million ways to beg and plead until she took him back. Moment of weakness, he told himself. But his reflection knew he lied. He wanted to go to Halley when he was happy, and now he knew that in trouble she was his first refuge. His stomach ached and his heart beat irregularly - he was very sure that pull would never weaken. He would spend his whole life wishing to be back with her.

Unless he did something about it right now. He wrenched his phone free from the pocket of his discarded pants.

Halley lay back down on the floor - her favorite spot those days. Alex had left without protest, taking with him the fear that this night could get any worse. The second he was out of sight, she dropped to the ground and curled into a ball.


He had come to her. He needed her, just like she knew he would. Because she knew him. And that meant she had been right about everything - he did love her. He was a coward and a shit, but he loved her. How can it be possible to love him more right now, after I hit him and sent him packing, than ever before?

She was outraged and insulted by his accusations that she’d been fooling around with Alex. Those were wild punches thrown in the dark but they’d connected with her body. He didn’t get to call her out on things when he’d cut her loose.

Her phone rang. “Come over,” Amanda said. “We are having a pity party and I worry about you being alone.”

“No,” Halley mumbled.

“Or I’ll come there, we both will. So help me Halley, you are not okay. Neither are we.”
Halley whined. “I have had a shit night on top of the loss and I really don’t want to move from this spot.”

“You can lay face down on the floor at our house, where I can keep an eye on you.”

If Halley knew anything, it was that Amanda was persistent. Relentless might be a better word. It was part of how she’d ended up with Brooks - she told him she wanted to be exclusive, she laid it on the line, and he took the offer. Amanda pushed. And she’d keep pushing until Halley got up.

“Fine. I hate you. I’ll be there in twenty.”

Halley hauled herself to sitting, then to standing. She took of all her makeup without even looking in the mirror, put on dark green sweatpants and an heather-colored hoodie. Sneakers, jacket and out the door. When she turned on her car, the radio was playing Snow Patrol:

It’s hard to argue, when you won’t stop making sense...
Why would I sabotage the best thing that I have...

Halley laughed sarcastically and shut it off.

“She’ll be here in twenty minutes,” Brooks told Mike. He was already driving. They’d all been on the receiving end of Amanda’s efforts before and knew that Halley would really have to choice but to come over. “Listen, Greener. If you fuck this up I will kill you. After Halley does. If you ruin this, Amanda will leave me and I will honestly murder you.”

Mike didn’t laugh. There was a really good chance of that happening.

When he got to Brooks’ condo, Amanda marched right up and poked him in the chest with a long, manicured fingernail. “I’m sorry you lost tonight. But so help me, Mike, do not do this for your wounded fucking pride. If you don’t mean this, please leave.” Her eyes were filling with tears even as she threatened him. The heat of her words could have blistered his skin.

Jesus, Mike thought. Everyone hates me. I really am a shit.

Brooks just gave him a look and steered Amanda out the door. Mike made himself a drink for strength and sat at the counter, spinning ice cubes uselessly. When the buzzer finally rang ten minutes later, he fumbled and nearly dropped his glass. He pressed the button, saying nothing.

Halley’s heavy footsteps sounded in the hallway. She was tromping, unable or unwilling to summon the energy to walk properly. The doorknob spun in her hand.

“I fucking hate you,” she announced as she entered.

“I deserve it,” Mike said from the kitchen. He didn’t move - she should have the chance to run away if that’s what she wanted to do.

Her head came slowly around the corner, peering. “You.”

Mike shrugged. “Me.”

“Still applies,” she said.

She came the rest of the way in, dragging her feet like they were too heavy. Her sweatpants were pushed up, revealing smooth calves and ankle socks. She shucked her coat onto the floor, flipping down the hood on her sweatshirt to reveal those thick, dark locks he loves to run his hands through. He knew tonight she smelled like flowers. Her sweater had a bird embroidered on the back - Mike had seen it countless times. Halley went right to the fridge, popped the top off a Yuengling and leaned back against the counter. I must be bat-shit crazy, walking out on this girl. I’ll never do better if I live to be a hundred, Mike thought.

Mike wore a black baseball cap and a white t-shirt under a gray zip-up sweatshirt. His shoulders were rounded, like he was protecting himself from body blows. The glass turned in his fingers, scraping the counter and never coming to his lips. Fuck me, he’s so gorgeous, she thought. Especially in full puppy dog mode. Halley didn’t trust herself to speak.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean what I said before about Alex. I know you would never do something like that.”

“You can think whatever you want. I don’t need your apology.”

Okay, this is not going to be easy. “I needed to say it.”

She took a sip of her beer, weighing the bottle in one hand like she might throw it at him. “Well whatever you need, Mike.”

“Halley, please. I....”

“Please what? You don’t get to have an opinion anymore. You don’t get to ask questions or pass judgements, you don’t get to participate. You gave that up. All of those things were privileges, Mike. You lost them when you threw me away.”

Mike put his head in his hands. “I made a mistake. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Look at me when you say that. And take off that hat, I can’t even see your face. If you want to apologize to someone, then do it like you fucking mean it.”

Mike looked at her. Those dark green eyes were furious and those ripe lips pinched till they were nearly white. He took off his hat, running a hand through his surely disastrous hair. Her expression didn’t get any more forgiving. “I’m sorry, Halley,” he said right to her face.

“For what exactly?”

Penance, he knew. “For accusing you of cheating. For leaving. For putting the game before you. For thinking that a single fucking thing in this whole world is better when you’re not around. Because I was wrong about that.”

She stared right at him. “You missed the most important one.”

“There are so many,” he tried to smile. It failed.

“You lied to me.”

Mike racked his brain. He wanted to remember, to apologize without needing to be reminded. But he couldn’t come up with which one of the hundreds of mistakes would be the worst. Halley picked at the label on her bottle.

“You said you didn’t love me,” she said quietly, without looking at him.

Mike remembered. Of course he did. Before leaving her house on the night he ended it, he told her that he didn’t love her. She said that meant he never would. But then she’d called him a shitty liar. He got up and came around the counter, staying well back from her but eliminating the barrier in between.

“I love you, Halley.”

She watched his mouth form the words. As important as it was to hear him say it, it didn’t really change anything. “I knew that, jerk. You’re the only one who didn’t.”

“I knew,” Mike said. “I always knew. But I wasn’t sure you felt the same.”

Halley gave him the look you’d give a pet that knows better than to pee on the couch. “So instead of asking me or talking to me, you dumped me. You love me, so you left me? What is wrong with you?”

Mike kept his back to the counter, fighting the urge to try to end this early with a kiss. He could feel it, could taste it on his lips but it was a mirage. Just like with the Playoffs, he was getting ahead of himself. There was a lot of work left to be done and he was painfully aware of how easy it was to lose.

“You never pushed for it to be just us. You never said you wanted to be my girlfriend, be exclusive. Amanda pushed, she made Brooks choose and she chose too. You never wanted just me. I thought you wanted to keep your options open.”

Option. The word rattled around Halley’s brain - it was the same word Alex had used the night he kissed her.

“You realize you sound retarded? We were together every single waking minute - how could there have been anything else? I was so scared of messing up your game, of getting in the way of your dream. Then you dumped me because you didn’t want to be serious. Those were the exact words out of your mouth. And now you say that’s what I wanted?”

Mike shook his head. “I know. I lied. I said I didn’t want those things because I thought you didn’t want them. I thought if you wanted them, you’d tell me.”

“Why couldn’t you tell me?”

“I’m telling you now.” It was the best he could do and he prayed that it would be enough.

“Are you telling me because you’re leaving?”

Mike squared his shoulders and let his fingers slip from their death grip on the counter where he’d anchored himself. It was time to sink or swim. “I’m telling you because I’m asking you to come with me.”

Halley’s face didn’t change, she didn’t move.

“To Calgary. For the summer.”

Still nothing.

“I know it’s sudden and if you want to wait a while I could stay, or if you want to stay then I could just wait, while I’m home....” It spilled out, like air from a balloon, hissing until there’s nothing left to hold its shape.

“Stop,” she put up a hand.

Please please please, he thought.

“I still hate you.”

“You can hate people in Canada. It’s allowed.”

A tiny smile pulled at the corner of her mouth. Mike’s heart surged, nearly busting out of his chest. Never before had something so small made him feel so big. He took one measured step toward her.

“Halley, please. Come with me. My life is a total disaster without you, and not just because we lost. I am an unforgivable piece of shit bastard for ever forgetting for a single second that you are not the best thing that ever happened to me.” Mike was vaguely aware that he was begging. It wasn’t manly or proud, but if it worked he would still tell everyone. Please work.

Tears burned in her eyes. She was furious and distraught but her heart was pounding euphoria through her system. If she didn’t do something soon she’d faint. Mostly what she felt was fear - absolute terror that she’d end up right back here next season, put aside for the same thing.

“I don’t know, Mike.”

“I know. I need you, Halley. I love you.”

Her lashes brushed as she closed her eyes, spilling tears down her face. Once they were free there was not stopping them. Before she could gasp in a breath, Mike’s arms were around her. She shuddered against the feeling of strength and warmth wrapping her in a cocoon. She wanted this, she wanted it desperately. She’d spent two weeks wishing every second to have it back, even if she couldn’t admit that to herself. He kissed her temple and told her quietly, over and over, “I love you.”

He pulled back to put his hands on her cheeks. That beautiful face swam before her eyes, tears obscuring her vision.

“Don’t be afraid, Halley. You’re the one who gets us right. I got it wrong. You were always right.” He kissed her lips gently. Her knees nearly buckled, like a marionette with its strings cut. His lips found her ear again. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” she said, voice cracking.

“Will you come with me?”

Halley nodded against his chest. Mike rested his chin atop her head and just held her tightly. If not for the ceiling above their heads he was sure he could have flown them home. He promised the universe right then he’d spend the entire summer and the rest of his life making up to Halley for being a coward. He told her not to be afraid and he would never be afraid again either.

There was a cautious knock and the door opened a sliver. Brooks’ head appeared, eyebrows raised. He relaxed visibly when he saw Halley wrapped in Mike’s arms. Mike nodded.

“They’re home,” he whispered. Halley peeled herself away from him, face red and eyes puffy from crying. She smiled weakly.

“You guys are in so much trouble.” Her voice was watery, but strong. They all laughed. Amanda hugged both of them at once, so Brooks did the same.

“Happy family?” he asked, letting go.

Halley shook the hair from her face. “If I never look like this again, then yes.”

They walked downstairs in silence, holding hands. Mike steered her to her car and volunteered to follow her home. When they arrived, he stood in the living room looking the material contents of her entire life. He grabbed a shopping bag from beneath the kitchen counter and started filling it with photos and trinkets from the living room. Halley came back from washing her face.

“What are you doing?”


Her smile was a bolt of lightning - brilliant and powerful in a terrible storm. “I’m not taking that stuff to Calgary.”

“Nope, you’re taking it to my house. I want you to move in with me. Calgary and here.”
She looked like a kid in her sweats with no makeup and no shoes. For a moment she considered the intelligence of making a rash decision - only before two weeks ago, it would not have been rash. One of them was at the other’s place every single night except when Mike was on the road. It made sense, and it felt right. If she was willing to put the last two weeks away and give him a whole summer, what difference would her apartment make?
Mike left the bag and put his hands on Halley’s shoulders. “You know what the coaches spend 99% of the time teaching us?”

She shrugged.

“Never make the same mistake twice.” He kissed her forehead and waited.

Finally she reached for a book on the table. “I’m halfway through this,” she said. With a flick of her wrist it landed in the shopping bag.


Thursday, December 23, 2010


Hello gorgeous.
A/N: I was cheering for the Pens tonight, but glad that Mike got to be the star of the Caps' show.  He got his first goal in 19 games, and had at least .75 of another.  (Nice work, Flower).  Even got a go on the shoot out.

Halley paced the hallway outside her office. It was the second intermission of game 2 and the Caps were down 4-2. They’d made a goalie change and 18,000+ held their breath waiting for their offense to show up. The luxury box was too crowded and she was too amped up. Every time someone made a disparaging comment about the team she wanted to punch them, when they said something positive she almost cried. Her stomach ached as she waited for the 3rd period. She’d been hiding in her office, and decided to watch the frame from the concourse level. She’d just stand in a hallway with one of the ushers if she had too – the place was packed to the rafters, she wouldn’t find an empty seat. When the buzzer sounded she headed upstairs.

She had not spoken to Alex since the kiss. She had been hiding within a 10-foot radio of her desk and a door that she could close whenever she knew he wasn’t on the ice. Only when the games were on did she feel comfortable enough to leave her lair.

The Caps got 2 in the first 10 minutes to tie the game and Halley wondered if the building could collapse from so much noise. She’d chosen a section behind the Caps bench and it was a solid sea of red shirts all the way to the ice. Then, with 5 minutes left, it happened. The moment she’d been wishing for in a sick, twisted way caught up with her.

Mike gave the puck away. The crowd gasped collectively, a huge and fearful noise, as Mike made a sloppy pass in at his blue line. Cammalleri came up with it and went 2 on 1 with Plekanec, who put the puck in the net.

It was silent as a church. Mike’s head hung to his chest as he skated off the ice. Halley’s hand was over her mouth though she didn’t remember moving it. She spun on her heel and dashed into the bathroom, shutting herself inside a stall half a second before the tears came.

Fuck, was all she could think. Oh Mike. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks as she tried to be silent. She was so mad and so hurt, but she didn’t want this. Whatever part of her wanted revenge was so small compared to the part that loved this team, loved these guys. The part that probably loved Mike if she’d ever let herself listen to it. But there was no point in that now. She pressed her forehead to the tile wall and sobbed as quietly as she could.

She was still there three minutes later when a huge cheer ripped through the arena. The Caps had scored an equalizer with 90 seconds left. Halley smiled weakly as the roller coaster in her stomach sped on. She dried her face and snuck back to her office before the period ended.

“Thought I’d find you here,” Jeremy said. “You okay?”

“No, not at all,” she laughed pitifully. “But I’ll be better if we win.”

They did win. Backstrom locked up a hat trick just 31 seconds into the first overtime period. Halley barely had a chance to get riled up before it was over. Thirty minutes later her work was done and she headed gratefully to her car.

“Sorry,” she said, swinging through a two-way door. Someone on the other side caught it with one hand as it opened toward him. Mike.

Halley stopped in mid-stride, Mike still holding the door. He was in a gray suit with a light blue shirt, his hair wet from the shower. If little black clouds were real, he’d have had one over his head. His chubby cheeks and soft lips were arranged in a scowl that always reminded Halley of a sad little hound dog. Seeing him in this hallway, instead of near the players’ entrance, could mean only one thing: he was sneaking out.

She just about lost her mind right then. He took personal mistakes really hard – too hard, she’d always said. He could beat himself up for days. The Caps may have escaped tonight with a win, but Mike would be sulking and furious over that turnover until he took the ice in two days at Montreal. She knew he’d be sad, angry and that he wouldn’t talk to the other guys about it. Not the way he used to talk to her.

Two steps were all it took. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him hard. He smelled like Mike, felt like Mike. A moment later, his hands were around her waist and his body sagged into her embrace. They stood silently for two full minutes.

What am I doing? Her tears made round spots on his shoulder. She was so sorry she’d wished, even thought, about something bad happening in the game. Hate him all you want, she told herself, but not on the ice. She wanted him to realize his mistake, to be up nights thinking about her. If he cried until he puked or a bird shit on his head, fine. But not on the ice.

“Sorry,” she repeated, this time in a whisper. Then she peeled herself away and hustled out the door.

Sorry? Mike thought. She felt so good in that moment he almost chased after her. He really needed her now. But that would just lead to more of the same. I’m the one who should be sorry. He was still convinced he’d done the right thing – at least now he knew he didn’t have her, rather than wondering constantly which day could be their last. Summer was coming, no matter how long they played, and then it was game over for Halley and Mike.

Game 3 in Montreal was a rout. This was the Capitals team that had won the President’s Trophy and dominated the League, the team everyone expected to see in the playoffs. The score ended up at 5-1. Mike closed his eyes on the bus to the hotel. Focus. Seeing Halley in the hallway at Verizon had almost undone him. For all his planning to be free of her, it hadn’t been working – if someone told you not to think of something, you’d immediately think of it. And so Mike thought of Halley almost all the time.

She was right, he was a coward. He couldn’t bear to hear her say that he wasn’t enough, that she had a life of her own and she wouldn’t be giving it up anytime soon because he got some silly summer vacation. And while he was gone… who knew. She hadn’t been seeing anyone else, but that was voluntary. He saw the way guys looked at her, the way they talked to her in bars when they thought she was alone. She never acknowledged it but the minute he was gone, the sharks would be circling.

He had no excuse for the bad pass in game 2. It was just a dumb mistake that he’d been reliving since the moment it happened. But no time was as bad as right after the game. Everyone knew they’d dodged a bullet and Mike had effectively fired the gun. So he was sneaking out, the coward again, when he’d seen her. He’d frozen, silent and still, but felt an ounce of pride because he could tell that she’d been crying. No one else would be able to tell because no one else knew her.

She should have yelled. Or slapped him. If she’d walked away without a word he would have deserved it. Instead, she hugged him. The same way he could tell there had been tears in her eyes, she knew exactly how he was feeling about himself. So she hugged him. She cared enough to care about him, even after what he’d done. And what had she been sorry for? Was it “sorry, life’s a bitch but I had nothing to do with it”? He didn’t know anything could make him feel worse, but she’d done it by being better.

His eyes were still closed. Focus. They had played their game tonight, brought the heat. If they could keep this up and get momentum, they could roll out of the first round. Mike told himself it would be worth it then, what he had given up for what he would get.

Halley was a mess. Seeing Mike in the hallway had completely undone her. Hugging him was like leaping into a bottomless pit - she hadn’t thought about the consequences until she was already plummeting. It wasn’t until she’d run away that she remembered Alex kissing her, realized she’d been apologizing for more than wishing him ill on the ice.

To watch Game 3 she stayed home alone. She started on the couch and ended up sitting on a cushion on the floor about a foot from the TV. The 4-goal lead did absolutely nothing to calm her nerves and when it was over, she had to take a sleeping pill.

She was no better during Game 4. The first two periods were tight and they went to the break tied 2-2. Mike had an assist in his second straight game. Halley was wound like a top at the start of the third frame, but the Caps opened up a 3-goal lead and ended up winning 6-3. Halley fell asleep during the post-game coverage and woke up cramped to a face full of morning sunlight.

Mike’s confidence rose. They’d played well a second time, which an athlete who has slumped will tell you is the ultimate prize. Anyone can have a good game. Back to-back strong performances build promise. He clung to the victories and their 3-1 lead in the series like a life raft. He had put so much weight on doing well he was afraid to drown it out of pure obsession.

As he reclined on the plane back to DC, he wondered if Halley had cheered their victories.

There was no time to think between games. The team was back in DC one day, one practice, before game five. Whenever Mike was in his condo he slept, the only way to keep every inch of the place from reminding him of Halley. It was bad enough that his bedsheets were the same as when she’d first visited - when he’d joked about showing her their color. He had no energy to buy new ones, so he lay down in the last place they’d been together and let himself dream.

She was always there, in the dreams, but never a main character. He dreamed he was in a train station, she walked past him and disappeared into the crowd. He was in a cafe, she was behind the counter though she never spoke. She never said a word, denying him the sound of her voice until he was man enough to really speak to her.

The afternoon of game five, Halley hid in her office. She was afraid to run into him, or anyone, in the building. They’d been around since the morning skate, preparing and focusing. Media attention during the playoffs was overwhelming and there was always a camera or a reporter waiting for a moment of a player’s time. She would have worked right through to the puck drop if Jeremy hadn’t interrupted her.

“You’re making yourself crazy. Let’s go eat and come back,” he ordered.

They had salads at a place nearby, killing an hour talking about anything but Mike, the Capitals or hockey. Halley did feel better taking a break, but the Verizon Center loomed large outside the window and there was no escaping their return. Just before the puck drop, they claimed their usual seats in the arena staff suite - front row, Halley in the corner and Jeremy protectively next to her.

Montreal scored two in the first period. It wasn’t a runaway game, but Halley’s stomach was a solid, clenched knot of fear. In the second, Ovi scored. Halley’s heart fell remembering that he had kissed her. Really kissed her. She might have no idea how she felt or what she wanted to do but that was completely and totally the wrong thing. He’d called her twice but she hadn’t picked up. Every time the camera zoomed in on him she felt the urge to cry.

He’s supposed to be my friend, she thought. Fucking professional athletes. Fucking entitled sons-of-bitches who think they can get away with anything and fucking walk all over people. Now she was wondering if he’d been her friend all along with this in mind. It made her shiver.

The Caps fought hard for the 2nd and 3rd periods but couldn’t come up with an equalizer. It was a buffer game - they still lead the series - and they had played well. But the days of consoling themselves with “good game” were over. It was do or die time and they’d let an opportunity slip away. Halley put her head against the wall and stayed until the suite was empty.

Mike broke a stick in the hallway as he left the ice. They had come so close a hundred times - nothing was worse than a game of inches. They had 2 more chances to win one game. Just one more win.

Game six wasn’t for three days. Mike wished they would fly to Montreal and wait, but instead they practiced at home. He wanted distraction but most of the guys were still giving him a hard time about Halley. He couldn’t answer any questions, couldn’t let his focus waver for a moment. Such concentration did not come naturally and more than a few times it failed. He woke in the middle of the night, painfully hard, having dreamt he could almost touch her. “Halley,” he let himself say out loud. It brought the memory the surprise hug, with tears in her eyes and dark circles under her eyes. The smell, size and weight of her body in his arms... he gave in and finished himself off with her face in his mind.

When they landed in Montreal a day early, it was easier to relax. They skated, slept and finally game day came. They all wanted to season to last forever, but they were in a hurry to get back on the ice. In the morning, over breakfast, Alex helped himself to the chair next to Mike.

“Hey,” Mike said. They hadn’t discussed anything but hockey since Alex threatened Mike in the locker room. All off-ice life ceased in the playoffs, one of the biggest reasons Mike thought it would be easier to get through without Halley.

“Halley not answering my calls,” Alex said without looking up.

The fork stopped in midair. Mike had no idea what the say, no thing to offer. Alex was still calling Halley - of course he was, but Mike hadn’t really considered the idea. They were still friends. She was friends with a lot of the guys. Long after he was gone from her life, they would still be in it. He thought that unfair, they were his teammates for fuck’s sake, he should clearly get them in the breakup. But they hadn’t really broken up; he had dumped her. In so doing, he lost the right to pick the terms of their surrender.

“I hope she okay.” Alex pushed his plate away and left.

Me too, Mike thought.

Halley watched Game Six face down on the floor in her living room. It was the shortest distance between watching the TV with one eye and hiding her face completely when something bad happened. And it happened often - the Habs won 4-1. The series was tied. She was gut-wrenched and spent; if she’d been able to eat anything she would have thrown it up during the post-game recap. Her phone rang not ten minutes after the final buzzer.

“Are you dead?” Amanda asked.


“Halley, I’m worried about you. I know things are bad, and they are only getting worse. Tonight was...,” she didn’t finish because there was nothing to say. “Can I come over?”

“I don’t want to talk about Mike,” Halley protested.

Amanda waited a moment. “We should talk about Alex.”

Halley stared at the disconnected phone in her hand. How could anyone possibly know anything? Twenty minutes later she had barely moved when Amanda let herself into the apartment. She had Halley’s extra keys in case of a lockout or trip. Halley simply rolled over onto her back and looked up at Amanda from the floor. The blond dropped right down next to her.

“Did he make a pass at you?”

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. “How do you know that?”

Amanda put her head in her hand. “Shit, Halley. You realize Mike is going to kill him. He may be Alex Ovechkin but Mike will lose his mind and honest to God tear his fucking throat out.”

“Wait, wait, wait. How do you know?” How much do you know? she really wanted to ask

“He said something really weird to Brooks, about making sure that you knew other people would take much better care of you than Mike ever could. He wasn’t specific, but Brooks said it felt like he was letting someone know he was going for it. Alex wasn’t asking permission, mind. Just informing Brooks that he thinks it’s open season on you.”

Halley rolled back over and resumed her face-down pose on the rug.

“Halley, did he do something?”

Without looking up, she answered. “He kissed me.”

“WHAT?! When?”

“After game one.”

“Holy shit. And since then?”

Halley’s voice was muffled into the ground. “Haven’t talked to him. Don’t answer when he calls.”

“He’s calling you?! For fuck’s sake, Halley.”

She finally rolled into a sitting position. “What am I supposed to do, Amanda? I didn’t give him any reason to kiss me. I didn’t kiss him back, or see him or talk to him afterward. It’s Alex - you know that he does whatever the fuck he wants like he’s King of Everything. But he’s also my friend, or so I thought. We have spent a ton of time together over the last six months.”

“What changed?

“Mike changed! Now I think this may have been Alex’s end game all along - waiting for Mike to fuck up. I swear... way back when Mike and I first met Alex tried to ask me out. Sort of. I told him no, he backed off. But maybe he didn’t, maybe he was just waiting.”

“Mike is going to flip out.”

Halley pulled her knees in. “What fucking right does Mike have to do anything?! I don’t give two shits what Mike thinks.”

Amanda was quiet, obviously not buying that line. Halley took a deep breath. “Mike gave up his right to have a say in my life.”

“Does Mike know that Alex tried to ask you out before?”


“You know what’s going to happen, right?” Amanda asked. Halley shook her head no. “Alex is waiting to see if Mike tries to get you back. If he doesn’t, Alex will keep coming to you until you go to him. Or run him off. But I guarantee you that Alex tells Mike about asking you out and about the kiss. These douchebags are too competitive not to. If Alex thinks he can win, he will fight dirty.”

Halley lay back down. “No one wins. Everyone leaves, summer comes and no one wins.”

There was nothing like the noise at the start of Game Seven. Halley felt nauseous looking out over the sea of red and white to where the guys skated loops and the carpet was laid for the National Anthems. The suite was packed to the rafters, as was every other inch of space in the building. People were hopeful - the Caps had won the President’s Trophy. They could score and they could win. Two losses had been rough and the Canadien’s goalie was a show-stopper. But surely tonight was the night they moved on toward the Stanley Cup.

Halley had never been to a more tense game. The Habs got one goal at the end of the first, and the second period was a back-and-forth nail-biter. Only 3.5 minutes were left in regulation when Montreal scored again. Blood pounded in her ears, louder than the desperate cheering of 18,000 fans. One minute later, Brooks put the puck in the net and Halley nearly fainted. They needed another goal in under 3 minutes, against a goaltender they had barely beaten in 420+ minutes of hockey. The Habs took a penalty with 1:44 left, giving Washington the man advantage. But as close as they came, as many times as they almost connected, time expired and the Washington Capitals were eliminated in the first round.

“Oh my God,” Halley said out loud to no one. It was silent as a crypt for a moment, the audience deflated and shocked. Eventually they recovered to give their team a round of applause for a season well played. Anyone in the house would have told you that all the regular season points in the world don’t mean shit when you fall in the playoffs.

Her hands were shaking as she scooped her purse from her desk and closed the door. It was five minutes of sitting in the car before she could pull out of the parking lot. Thirty minutes later she was stock still on the couch in her living room, still dressed, still wearing her Verizon Center staff badge. She refused to let herself process what had just happened until she was safely home.

That’s it. It’s over. The season is over. If she’d been able to eat at the game she would surely have thrown up. It was everyone’s worst nightmare - a worse performance than last year’s disaster. A heart-breaker, but her heart was already broken. Mike.

He’d given her up for the game. Given up on them, on himself, on everything except winning. Now that they’d lost, it felt worse to Halley than ever before. So fleeting, so uncontrollable - forget what they told you when you were a kid. Hard work and desire were not enough to achieve your goals. Dreams did not come true. Not for everybody.

She couldn’t stop the images of Mike from flashing through her mind. This would be the worst day of his life and he was alone. Embarrassed, furious, disappointed and all by himself. He wouldn’t want anyone to see him like this. Her chest burned like acid reflux as she felt the overwhelming urge to find him and hold him, put everything else aside and still try to be there for him. She knew he needed her.

Tears came then, for the whole mess. Six months of the season had been bliss - they’d been living their own little fairy tale. But there was always a monster at the end, a big fight, someone usually died. Just because she felt like the star of her own story didn’t mean she’d have a happy ending.

It was so faint that she froze, listening. It came again: a knock on the door.

Halley didn’t care who it was - she jumped the coffee table and whipped it open without looking through the peephole.

“Alex,” she whispered, pulling him into the apartment and into a hug. They stood there, holding onto each other, for ages. He didn’t cry, just ached. In his arms, Halley’s shoulders shook gently with the force of her own tears. He looked exhausted, beaten and defeated. That cocky smile and easy arrogance were crushed. She didn’t care about the kiss, about whatever had happened the last time she saw him. He was her friend and he was suffering. Those big arms were warm and steady around her - she craved comfort too. After a while, Halley’s heart stopped racing and she lifted her head from his chest.

He moved to kiss her right away. Just before his lips could touch hers, she got a hand between them and he kissed her fingertips.

FUCK, she thought. “Alex, don’t. Please. Goddamn it, you are my friend and I can’t....,” she went from devastated to angry in a heartbeat.

Another knock at the door interrupted them. Halley gratefully scrambled out of Alex’s embrace - aware that without help she was in a very compromising position. Her brain reeled as she pulled it open.

Mike’s suit looked like it had been at the bottom of a hockey bag for a week. His tie was crooked and his hair was a mess. Tears brimmed in his eyes as he brought himself to look at her for the first time in almost two weeks.

“Oh God,” she said. His face held such despair - what was left of her heart slipped free and shattered on impact. She didn’t bother to fight the urge, she just reached for him. He fell against her and pressed his face into her hair. They’d have stayed there in the open doorway forever if Alex hadn’t come up behind Halley.

“Mike,” he said gruffly. It was part greeting, part commiseration and part announcing his presence. Like he had more right to be in her apartment.

Mike and Halley’s heads both snapped up. She had honestly forgotten about Alex the moment she saw Mike’s face. Suddenly he towered over her possessively and she felt Mike’s arms slip from her waist.

“Alex,” he said darkly, like things were clicking into a very ugly picture in his mind. He looked at Halley, his face streaked with tears and his pouty bottom lip trembling, spun on a heel and marched toward the stairs.

“Mike wait!” she made to follow him. Alex grabbed her from behind as Mike reached the stairwell door. It slammed and Halley rounded on Alex.

“What are you doing?! Let go of me.” He did, instantly. Halley shoved him away and took of running.

“Mike!” she shouted when she hit the sidewalk. He was three car lengths ahead of her and walking away as fast as he could. She ran. “Mike, please.” He beeped the alarm on his Escalade just before she caught up. “Mike.”

“How long has that been going on? Did you wait till my side of the bed was cold or did you call him the second I left?” He stepped off the curb before turning, making their heights almost equal.

“Nothing is going on! He’s my friend, he was upset, he came over. You know he doesn’t like you guys to see him hurting.”

“I don’t fucking care what he likes! Except I never knew it was you. Makes sense though, you two always hanging out, making fun of me. Have you been with him this whole time? Since that fucking Bon Jovi concert? Played hard to get with me and give it right up to the great Alex Ovechkin!”

Halley’s open hand connected with Mike’s face so hard she hurt herself. Should have closed my fist, she thought, I’d have knocked him out.

“You really are an asshole. I had a choice way back when we met - you or Alex. Maybe I picked the wrong guy - my first mistake! My second mistake was falling in love with a coward.”

She just said she fell in love with me, he thought. Mike was reeling more from her words than being slapped, but he was furious and confused about Alex.

“Choosing means picking one, Halley. You obviously got the best of both worlds.”

I just told Mike I fell in love with him, she thought. But she wasn’t done.

“I didn’t get the best of anything! I got a guy who dumped me so he could win a game. How’d that work out for you, Mike? All of this and YOU DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING WIN.”

He knew Alex was still upstairs. Even if there was nothing going on, he was driving her right back to him. As quick as he’d been to call her a liar, Mike knew that Halley wouldn’t cheat on him. Or else he didn’t really know her at all. his anger started to crumble, fear flooding the open spaces. “Halley, I...”

But she was already leaving. “Go home, Mike. Go be alone and focus on whatever else you have left in your life. Because this season and I are both done with you.”


 A/N: HBO's 24/7 is the best thing that ever happened to the world.  And this... oh Mike.  I want to ride on your scooter.


“Tonight,” Mike said, adding his Green #52 jersey to the top of a laundry pile.

“Without even talking to her? Still time to change your mind,” Eric Fehr tapped his fist against the wall like he was driving home a point.

Mike shook his head. “This is the right thing. For me.” Should not have told him, he scolded himself. But he had to tell somebody.

“Mistake,” was all Eric said before he turned to go.

Mike let himself in to Halley’s apartment. He’d always liked the place – it was small, but it was cozy. He’d taken so much care with his own condo, had so much help and so many professionals that he marveled her place felt like a home even though it was really a collection of randomness. She was in the kitchen and he could see her shadowing moving where the light spilled into the hallway.

“Hey,” she called.

He didn’t say hello. He only had one thing to say, and that was it. From the doorway, he watched her put away dishes. She wore black yoga pants and a long tank top, accentuating her toned upper arms. He thought about the time he coached her push-up technique, in the Caps training gym, and how they’d ended up making out on the floor instead. Not now.

“Sorry about the game,” she turned toward him.

They’d lost their last regular season game, but it didn’t matter – the Caps had the President’s Trophy locked in as the NHL’s most-winning team. The playoffs would start in a few days and Mike needed that short time to get his head on straight. After tonight. He’d decided that this was the best and only way to do it - clean and fast.

“Halley, there’s something we need to talk about,” he said, leaning against the fridge.

She was still for a moment. “Uh oh.”

Mike closed his eyes. He almost smiled. She could always read him, read his mind, and was always two steps ahead of him. She didn’t know this was coming but she was no fool.

“I think we should stop seeing each other.”

It was like falling through ice into a frozen lake. The air was knocked completely from her lungs with a whoosh she was sure he could hear.

“Why?” It came out strangled, barely audible.

“I need some space,” he lied.

She forced a deep breath into her body, like moving a weight from her chest. Total panic. “I never said anything about getting serious.”

That’s the problem, he thought. “I know. But we’re together every night that I’m not on the road. Every single day. I know you’re not seeing anyone else.”

“Are you?” If that’s what this is about I’ll fucking kill him, she promised herself.

“No. I haven’t been. But…”

“But you want to?” She got her feet under her a litte bit. ”Mike, you’re here every night. You’re here now. You call me every day. I don’t understand - I think you’re as serious about this as I am.”

So much more, but Mike knew he couldn’t tell her that. She liked the way it was, she was happy, but she didn’t want more. It wouldn’t solve anything to admit he was falling in love with her and freaking out. Summer was coming – he couldn’t stay and she wouldn’t want to leave. And he couldn’t be with her and go without her, he would never make it through that. The wondering, the waiting, the worry. It would only work to cut and run.

“Well I’m not. I’m not serious and I’m sorry if it came off that way.” He said it quickly, in one breath. A moment’s hesitation and he’d lose his nerve. Just get through this, he admonished himself.

Tears burned in Halley’s eyes. She willed herself not to cry, not yet, because she was not done with this conversation. “What exactly are you not serious about? Are you not serious about all your clothes in my room? About having a key to my apartment? Are you not serious about the team referring to me openly as your girlfriend? What parts of this bother you?”

“Halley, there’s no easy way to do this. I have had a great time with you, but it’s over.”

“And you can’t give me a single reason?”

No, I can’t, Mike knew, but he did anyway. He lied. “I don’t love you.”

That hit Halley like a ton of bricks. She’d never said she loved him. She knew she probably did, but calling it that would only freak everyone out. She was pretty sure he loved her too. Now he was saying something else. And for him to say it so coldly, like he was pronouncing a death sentence, was a slap in the face. And it didn’t make any sense.

“What you mean is that you never will.”

It twisted Mike’s gut to see tears spill from her eyelashes. He’d known this would happen, steeled himself for it, but his composure wavered. Her face was red with anger and shame.

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re a terrible liar Mike. Every word out of your mouth is bullshit, I can see it. Whatever it is, even if it’s worse than this, I want to hear it.”

Mike just shook his head. He felt like he might cry, which would completely unravel the way he had this planned. He’d done his task, now he needed to get the hell out of there. He slid her key onto the counter.

“Goodbye Halley.”

She stayed in the kitchen. As Mike reached for the doorknob, he heard her voice one last time.


Halley sat on the couch, staring into the middle distance with an uneaten plate of food on the table. The doorbell rang and she used her portable phone to buzz the person up without asking. Three minutes later, Amanda let herself in because the door wasn’t locked.

“Honey, are you okay?” Amanda sat right down and put her arms around Halley. “What happened?”

“Mike doesn’t love me and he never will, so we’re done.” It was only the third time she’d said the words and they tasted worse every time.

“Shhhh,” Amanda said. “I’m sure he’s just freaking out because of the playoffs coming and they’re all under so much pressure. He will be back. Anyone can tell that he’s crazy about you.”

“That’s what I thought - apparently we’re all wrong,” Halley felt herself getting angry again. She’d been like this all day. After Mike left she’d cried herself to sleep in a mess of confusion and shock. This morning, she’d woken up feeling betrayed. The two extremes continued to fight for control.

Amanda looked down with a vaguely panicked expression. Brooks and Mike were best friends and the four of them hung out all the time. Only Brooks and Amanda had a label, Halley and Mike didn’t. Amanda knew she’d pushed the issue... and now she wished she’d never said anything. If Mike could just leave then she really had this whole thing wrong.

“I can’t believe it. I’ve gotta call Brooks.” She went into Halley’s bedroom and shut the door.

Brooks answered on the second ring. “I don’t know why he did it,” he said without a hello. “He didn’t say a word through the whole practice.”

“What the fuck? Call him right now and find out what is going on.”

“I can do you one better. I’m on my way to his house.”

Brooks parked outside Mike’s garage and rang the doorbell. He was uninvited and unannounced, but he knew Mike was home. “Come on, Greener. I’m not leaving,” he shouted. Feet thumped on the stairs and Mike pulled the door open. Without stopping he went right back inside, leaving Brooks to follow. A bottle of whiskey was open on the counter with a half-full highball glass next to it. Mike had a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, a wrinkled t-shirt and jeans. He sat down and polished off his drink in the same movement. “Want one?”

Brooks took a glass and a seat. “What did you do?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Mike said. Not to you, which is the same as talking to Radio Amanda.

“Too fucking bad, bro. Because Amanda is there right now and I’m never gonna hear the end of it. So give me something.”

Mike looked up and Brooks saw the dark circles under his eyes. “I can’t stay with her.” He didn’t continue.

“Why the hell not? You’re fucking crazy about her. Everyone can tell.”

“I can’t concentrate with Halley around. She takes up everything – I can’t get my head in the game when I’m always thinking about her. When I’m always with her.” He poured another measure of amber liquor.

“Bullshit. If I’m not mistaken, you’re one point ahead of your production from last season. Which was twenty points above the season before. Mike, Halley is not fucking with your game. You’re playing great. We’re playing great.”

“But what if we don’t?” Mike stood up sharply. “It’s the fucking post-season, Brooks. We won the President’s Trophy and now what? We can’t go out in the second round like last year. That was just winning the division and it was months before the bitching stopped. People expect us to win this year. We have to win.”

Brooks took a sip of his own drink, feeling now like he needed it. “Buddy. You are freaking out. None of this has anything to do with Halley.”

Mike sank back into his seat. “It does. I can’t worry about her. I can’t worry about what we’re going to do in the off-season, if we’ll be together or I’ll be home and she can’t just pack up for the summer and… there’s no way around this. At the end of the season, I go and she stays. It could be two weeks or two months - regardless. So if it’s just going to happen then, why fucking wait? Why not do it now and get my head clear so we don’t go out like clowns this year?”

Brooks looked around Mike’s new kitchen, all granite counter tops and brass fittings. This was Mike - expensive, flashy, smooth. Across the table was someone he didn’t know. From the guy who had it all to the guy who felt like he couldn’t handle anything in under 60 seconds.

“Did you ask her? Did you ever talk to her about the summer? Maybe she wants to go with you, maybe she’ll just wait here. It’s not like you can’t afford to visit.”

“I’m not stupid, Brooks. We’re not even officially a couple – she doesn’t want to go with me. If she did, she’d push. Amanda pushed you, remember? All or nothing? Halley has never once said that. I can’t ask her to give up everything for me if I’m not the only thing she wants.”

“And what do you want?” Brooks asked.

“I want to win.” And he did. More than almost anything.

“You are a douche,” Erskine said the moment Mike sat down on the stationary bike next to him.

“Shut up, John,” Mike grumbled. “I’m not explaining myself to you.”

“Don’t think it’s me you have to worry about.” They both looked up as Alex Ovechkin stalked into the gym. Only an inch taller, Alex had 30-plus pounds on Mike and moved like it was 60. He was solid and quick , almost predatory and he just walked on by.

“Fuck,” Mike said under his breath as he cranked up his iPod and rode.

Half an hour later Mike was in the gym doing squats. He’d succeeded in piling on enough weight to stop thinking about Halley, to stop wondering if he’d done the right thing and if it would work. For the first time in two days, he was lifting something other than doubt. When he saw Alex, he racked the weight and stretched. Alex started bench pressing without a word and Mike knew he was in trouble. He got up to leave.

“Where are you going, Mike?” Alex asked, not even breathing hard despite lifting well over half his body weight.

“I’m not talking about this!” Mike snapped. He’d been talking to himself non-stop and was sick of it already.

Alex dropped the weight onto its hooks and sat up. “Nothing to talk about. You dump Halley. What I can say?”

Mike was confused – Alex loved Halley. They had clicked early on and were hilarious together. They spent 99% of their free time making fun of Mike, sometimes so badly Halley felt compelled to make up for it after Alex left. It wasn’t like they spent every day together, but Halley definitely hung out with the guys and with Alex most of all.

“You’re not mad?”

“Didn’t say that,” Alex shook his head. When he wanted to be a dick, he pretended to speak less English than he really did. “But is your decision.”

Mike’s shoulders dropped. He had expected a beat down from Ovechkin, had been waiting for it as if it were something he deserved, something to survive before he could move on and put this, put Halley, behind him. Now it wasn’t coming and it left him feeling untested with his arguments and defenses molding away in his mind.

“Yes, it’s my decision. It’s for my game,” Mike said as if Alex had disagreed with him.

Alex shrugged and lay back down on the bench. As he reached for the barbell, Mike turned to leave. “Mike,” he said without looking over, “you better play really good.” His voice was even and controlled, but the hair on the back of Mike’s neck stood up.

Halley put her head down in her lap. She was in a luxury box with some of her coworkers, sitting in the last seat of the front row and not talking to anyone. Jeremy, her desk-neighbor, sat quietly next to her so no one else could. The Caps had just lost Game 1 of the first round of playoffs to Montreal 3-2 in overtime.

It had been four days since Mike announced they were through. She’d kept it mostly together at work, except for the brief moment the morning after when someone asked her how Mike was doing. She cursed, shut it off and then dashed into the bathroom. When she came back, Jeremy was sitting in her chair.

“Drinks at lunch?” he asked. She told him the whole story over two glasses of wine and gone back to the office feeling a little better. That had lasted a few hours.

Amanda had come over that night. She’d been furious at Mike, but the explanation Mike gave Brooks never made it back to Halley. Amanda wasn't going to help Mike for a second - if he wanted to explain, he’d have to man up and do it himself. So Halley got through the next two days hiding in her cubicle. She ran into the building at 9 and out right at 6 pm. She didn’t even want to come to the game. But in the end, she had to know that he was there, even if seeing him skate and play like it was any old day made her blood boil.

She tried so hard, but she couldn’t root for the Caps to lose. Almost every name and number on the ice was her friend and this meant everything to them. Instead she secretly hoped someone would knock Mike on his ass or drop their gloves – not really hurt him, just give him the beating she felt like dishing out herself. Instead Mike blocked a bunch of shots, causing Halley to nearly climb out of her skin every time he went to the ice in front of a puck. It was agony. In the end they lost 3-2 in overtime and she was wiped.

An hour later, she was home on her couch doing the same thing she’d done every night – staring into the middle distance, the survival part of her brain thinking about dinner. Her phone rang, this time a default AT&T ring.

“How are you?” The voice was gruff and heavy: Alex. He’d be distraught and furious about the loss.

“Probably feel like you do,” she said. All the guys were too competitive, but Alex was the worst.

“Mmm,” he grunted. “We go out. Ten minutes.” And he hung up.

Halley flopped her head back on the couch. He hadn’t even waited for an answer – that’s the Alex she knew: hilarious and ridiculous, he was also a total show-off; a million times more arrogant than Mike and with no apologies. But somehow it worked for Alex, the swagger and bravado – he wasn’t faking it, like Mike had. He really was that confident, that flashy. It was hard to swallow but it was honest. Halley had sometimes thought she liked Mike more because he seemed so normal next to Alex. With an exaggerated sigh, she changed out of her work clothes.

Alex wore a suit straight from the rink and a baseball cap pulled low. They barely exchanged hellos. He drove to one of their favorite post-game bars, a little dive off the beaten path where no one would bother them. And none of their friends would be out after tonight’s loss. Alex parked his SUV on a side street then opened the back door. Halley came around toward the road, where Alex handed her his suit coat. He unlaced his tie, unbuttoned his shirt and stripped it off till he was standing shirtless on the side of the road. Halley blinked and looked around in surprise. Alex grabbed a long-sleeve shirt from the back seat and pulled it over his head. Baseball cap back on, he put his hand on her back and jaywalked her across.

Alex nodded to the bartender and went straight to the back corner. He was right behind them with four shots of vodka and two beers. Halley picked up one shot glass.

“Today was shit,” Alex said as a toast, tapping the table and draining the shot. Halley followed suit and chased it with her beer. “Mike play okay tonight.”

Halley nodded sadly. He had played well, though he hated not being on the scoreboard when they lost a close game. Mike prided himself almost obsessively on helping his team at both ends of the ice. He be pacing his condo right now, kitchen to living room his favorite path, reliving the details of a play he didn’t like. She’d listened to him for hours. Now she wondered if he was already talking to someone else.

“He leave you for the game,” Alex said, breaking her train of thought.


“Mike leave you because he worried about game. He worried he don’t play well in playoffs, too much pressure and he think he play better without you.”

“Oh,” Halley said softly, voice catching in her throat. Better without me. Hot tears burned in her eyes and she sat, frozen. Don’t cry, please don’t cry.

Alex saw her face fall and backtracked. “Wait, wait, I not say exactly right. Mike think if he doesn’t think about you, his game better. If he focus only on game. Is stupid, I know.” He silently wished his English weren’t a problem, that he could always say what he wanted in a nice way. Instead of getting it just a little wrong, just enough to be misunderstood. Especially now.

Halley almost laughed. Alex’s explanation was crude, but it was pretty much what she’d figured out herself. Even if what Mike said was true, that he didn’t love her and never would, she knew that his entire life right now was the playoffs. So anything else he claimed to be thinking about was bullshit, and he was certainly not thinking about her. Guess he got what he wished for, she said to herself.

“Mike make mistake. He realize in a little time,” Alex downed his second shot of vodka.

“Good luck to him then, because I won’t be around.”

Alex sat forward. “Where you go?”

“No, I’m not leaving. I’m just not going to wait around for Mike to change his mind. He doesn’t want me, fine. Then he doesn’t get me.” Alex looked impressed. Fucking superstar athletes, Halley thought. Fucking center of the fucking universe.

“Did you think I would wait for him?” she asked.

“Maybe. You like him, yes? He nice to you, take care of you. He have lot of money, nice house, maybe you wait to see if he change his mind.”

There was one shot of vodka left, three-quarters of the way across the table toward Alex’s side. Halley snatched it up and threw it down her throat. “Fuck that! I’m not gonna wait around so Mike can take care of me. He can shove the money up his ass. Is that why you think I went out with him?”

Alex signaled for another round. “No, Halley. You don’t go out with him for that. I know this. But sometimes, is nice extra. Sometimes, is worth a little extra.”

“What kind of extra? You mean the wives who pretend they don’t know their husbands cheat? They stick around because it’s a cushy life and they don’t have to work, instead they put up with some puckbunnies?” Halley had this conversation a million times in her head. I’m not that person.

Alex shrugged. “Mike not sleeping with other girls. Not on road, I would know.”

The tears were back, brimming. She knew he wasn’t, but she needed something concrete to be mad about. Something she could throw, rather than something she couldn’t even explain. “Please don’t defend him, Alex.”

Alex took a fresh shot, savoring it for a moment before speaking. “I don’t defend Mike. He is wrong, he make a mistake. He is asshole for dumping you. But he scared.”

“Of what?”

“Losing,” Alex said like it was the most obvious thing in the world, worth throwing away relationships and possibilities. Halley knew that to these guys, it was. But not to her. She glanced around the bar at other people, whose lives didn’t hinge on a game, who could tell you today what kind of person they’d be tonight. Most hockey players couldn’t do that.

“It doesn’t matter now. He can do whatever he wants. And so can I.”

“So what you want now?”

Halley didn’t know. She kept hoping to wake up and find the last few days had never happened. “I want to talk about something else.”

So they did. She had one more shot, one more beer and they talked about anything but Mike and the game. Alex always wanted to talk about other things with Halley. At first, she’d thought he didn’t appreciate her knowledge of hockey, didn’t think she could talk about it. Finally she realized it was all he ever talked about with most of the people in his life. They were his teammates, his coworkers or they were people who wanted something from him – women, fans, agents, sponsors. So when he wanted to talk about music and movies and Russia, he talked to Halley. Halley was non-threatening when she was with Mike, she was somebody else’s girl. Rarely did a woman around Alex let that stop them from making a move. She wondered how many unspoken things like that she’d lose now that she’d lost Mike.

Alex drove her home, parked in the same loading zone spot Mike always used. He came around to her side of the car, surprising her a little, and wrapped her up in the definition of a bear hug. She smiled sadly – it couldn’t be easy for him to feel caught between her and Mike. She promised herself she’d never make him choose.

“You never tell me what you want, now that you can do whatever you want,” he said with his arms still around her waist.

“I don’t know what I want,” she admitted. She was about to elaborate, saying she hadn’t even begun to think about it, but she never got the chance. Alex leaned down and softly kissed her on the lips. She froze completely, not even breathing, for the few seconds his mouth was pressed gently to hers. When he opened his eyes, he looked at her questioningly.

“Option.” He kissed her again, quickly on the forehead, and got in his car. Her brain was so blank she stupidly wondered if that was his English word of the day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


A/N: Mike's hot self is in the new Maxim - story here.

Mike sat next to Brooks on the charter flight for their west coast road trip. They’d be gone through New Years, leaving the girls behind to party in their absence.

“St Thomas? Nice,” Brooks said when Mike told him about the gift. He didn’t need to mention the Olympics. “I’m taking Amanda to Key West for a few days, she can’t take too long off work.”

“Coming back early with her?”

Brooks nodded. “She’s on the whole girlfriend track like white on rice these days. Don’t think I could swing a few days in paradise without pissing her off.”

“So you went for it?” Mike asked.

“Not yet - I’m gonna let it run until she’s ready to have the big talk. The more time she takes, the more time I have to be ready.”

Mike leaned back in the seat - thinking about this gave him an instant headache. “Don’t you already know?”

A little shrug lifted Brooks’ shoulders. “I’m not going out alone, man. Call me old fashioned, the girl’s gotta want it worse than I do.”

For the rest of the flight Mike wondered what Halley wanted. She never pushed, never dropped hints or asked for things. She just answered when he called, made him laugh, let him wake up next to her. He had no reason to doubt that she felt the same way he did, but he really had no way to be sure either. And it wasn’t old-fashioned sensibility that kept Mike from wanting Halley to make the first move. It was fear.

Halley put her head down on her desk. It was 12 PM on December 30 and Steve Yzerman had just announced the 2010 Team Canada Olympic roster. Mike was not on it. Her heart broke for him, not just because she cared but because she believed he had earned a spot on the team. Her emotions ran from anger to disappointment and back again a hundred times. She was still sitting like that five minutes later when her phone rang.

“I’m so sorry, Mike.”

He took a deep breath - he’d prepared for this but now he was really, really sad. “It’s okay,” he said unconvincingly.

“Are you by yourself?”

“Yeah, leaving for practice in half and hour.” They were still at the team hotel in San Jose, and due for a morning skate before the night’s game. “None of our guys got picked for Canada.” Halley could picture his sad hound dog face. “I wish you were here,” he said quietly. He wanted hear her say that he was the best thing in the world, if only to her, the only thing she wanted even though she could have it all. Mike wanted Halley to love him, because right then it felt like the world did not.

Halley tried to keep the tears in her voice quiet, because she was afraid to upset Mike any more than he already was. She crushed a sheet of paper nearly to dust in one hand. “Me too.” They talked quietly for a few more minutes before Mike had to leave.

When he disconnected, Halley put her head back down on the desk and cried. She’d never felt someone else’s sadness so acutely.

“Love you,” Mike said after the line had gone dead.

Halley invited Amanda and Anya to her friend Daniel’s New Years Eve party at a rented loft downtown. Halley was excited for Girls Night Out, she just hoped Mike was okay after yesterday’s bad news about the Olympics. The girls came over early to get dolled up together.

“I talked with Brooks before they left,” Amanda said, curling her eyelashes, “about us being exclusive.”

Halley looked up from her seat on the floor. “Aren’t you already?”

“Well, yeah I think so. But who knows with guys? I’ve been dropping hints like grenades since Thanksgiving but he was either dense or ignoring me,” she stopped what she was doing. “They’re on the road all the time... I mean, Brooks is a great guy. Still they’re pro athletes and plenty of the guys think they’re entitled to a little something extra for their efforts.”

Anya was nodding. “Nicky doesn’t like to gossip but a lot of the married guys - there are plenty of stories from their trips.”

“That’s sad,” Halley said. “I know what the reputation is, but these guys seem so nice.”

“Nice, yes, but will that keep them from being stupid?” Amanda asked. Then she quickly backpedalled. “I don’t mean Mike. I’m not saying he would, I just mean in general....”

Halley looked at the two blonds in the mirror, dressed to the nines and about to paint the town. There was nothing the guys could do to stop them either, if they wanted to misbehave. Everyone seemed to the think the money would keep the girls in line. But what kept the guys in line? Her boat was sailing smoothly and she didn’t want to rock it - most guys were commitment-phobes and telling them not to do something meant they would immediately want to do just that.

Halley smiled. “I am not worried about Mike. If he wanted to be with someone else, he would. No matter if I called him my boyfriend or not.”

“It just makes me feel better. We didn’t settle on it, but I’m glad I brought it up. It’s like a promise and I think that Brooks would keep it. Will keep it, when he makes it,” Amanda shrugged. “You and Mike really haven’t talked about this? Everyone else calls you his girlfriend.”

“Mike and I are great. I don’t care what we call it.”

The conversation had no right answer and they could go around about it all night. In an effort to distract, Halley set up a camera, posed everyone for a photo and sent it to the boys. Phones started ringing like a chorus.

“No. Go put on some snowpants and one of my jerseys. And a helmet.” Mike said. There was some muffled fumbling and arguing, then Alex came on the line.

“Halley, you have Mike’s credit card? Buy more dresses like that one.”

Mike wrestled the phone away and dodged Alex to get out of the dining room. “Are you trying to kill me? I’ll be a wreck knowing you’re out like that and I’m 3,000 miles away.” He was laughing, but he knew full well that Halley could have any guy she wanted.

Halley put on her best sexy voice. “Are you wearing a button down shirt? With your sleeves rolled up? And a pair of those pants that leave nothing to the imagination?”

“Uh, are my pants too tight?” Mike asked her, hoping she was kidding.

“Send us a picture and I’ll decide if I should be worried about you out with the boys tonight.”

“Brooks! Take a picture of my ass.” The fact that Brooks did so without question made Halley laugh. He left the line open so she could hear them talking.

“Turn a little. More. Two steps forward. Okay, good lighting,” Brooks’ voice was clear in the receiver. She heard the shutter noise and Brooks came on the line. “Okay Halley, you asked for it.”

“Forget the girls, I’m more worried about Mike being with you!”

Brooks scoffed. “You got Amanda, I got Mike. I lose AGAIN.” He gave the phone back.

“I wish I was with you! Call me later?” Mike said.

That is not a guy who is running around on me, she thought. I don’t need to put him on a leash if he’s staying right beside me. “We can video conference you and Brooks kissing at midnight.”

“If it meant you and Amanda making out, he would do it,” Mike said.

When they disconnected, Halley couldn’t help but smile. Mike was not over the Team Canada snub, but he was putting it aside and having a good time for New Year’s Eve. His confidence had steadily increased because he was playing well, and she liked to think she had a little something to do with it too. The Olympic team was a bump in the road, not enough to derail a train.

It helped that January and early February were a blissful blur of wins. The Caps won 17 of 22 games, including 14 in a row. Points piled up like snowbanks and Halley had never had more fun. Mike marveled at the way she had made herself part of their little family - everyone loved her and she loved them back. She’d even become good friends with Alex, which Mike had worried about a little in the beginning because he was so flashy. But Alex seemed different with her, and she was the only real female friend he had. They hung out all the time and everyone was in high spirits. It kept Mike in a good mood, even as people were leaving for the Olympics. The Caps’ last game was February 13, and Mike raced home from the airport in the middle of the night.

“Shhh,” he said, climbing in next to Halley’s sleeping form. She barely stirred. Eight hours later they woke to the alarm clock ringing. Mike’s big hand silenced it with a single slap.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.” He had been excited for and dreading this day in equal measure. It was the first day of Olympic hockey, thousands of miles away, with no place for him. It was also the first day of eighteen straight that he would spend with Halley. She and Amanda had been together a lot lately and Mike hoped Halley might have gotten some ideas about what she wanted from their relationship. Two weeks on the beach might bring the reassurance he was looking for.

“Time to go to the airport?” she murmured. Her soft lips found his shoulder, kissing across the tattoo on his collarbone. Three road games in the last four days were no match for how much he wanted her.

“No, I set it early so I could do this.” He slid one hand right down the front of her little cotton short. She giggled, squirming as he worked his way into the cleft between her legs. He wet a tiny spot on her neck with his tongue and blew cool air across it, making her shiver. Halley responded by opening her legs and pulling his mouth onto hers. Mike hooked one of his knees over hers and worked himself against her thigh as he played with her honey pot. Soon his fingers were slick and his cock was hard. Halley pulled at his shorts and rolled him on top.

He slipped inside her exquisitely tight body, moving slowly to spread her wetness along his length. Halley moaned softly, somewhere between half-asleep and totally aroused. Mike pressed her into the forgiving mattress. She took her time coming around, opening one eye and then the other, looking up at the man who filled her completely.

“Brilliant idea,” she said. Her hands plied his smooth skin, tracing the hard curves of his flexed biceps and down over where his abs started at the small of his back. She gripped his hips and moved herself beneath his body, giving him the same push and pull she was enjoying. He nipped her earlobe and drove harder. A staggered breath came from her lips.
“Baby,” Mike said quietly, almost a subliminal message that convinced her body to just give in. She cried out softly as she came, spilling deeper heat into the space Mike occupied. He groaned with pleasure as his orgasm burst as well. When it had rolled itself out like a wave on the beach, his lips found hers.

Halley barely had to lift an arm to reach her Corona. Fat drops of condensation trickled down the bottle, sweating in the hot sun. She plucked the lime from its perch at the neck, aimed to her right and squeezed.

“Hey!” Mike said without opening his eyes. They lay side by side on two chairs in the middle of a wide white sand beach. Somewhere behind them was a bar, hotel, nightclub. In front was just the ocean. They’d arrived a day earlier and been laying around ever since. Halley hoisted herself onto an elbow and took a sip of her chilly beer, then slid Mike’s white Kanye West sunglasses on to gaze at the water. Mike shielded his eyes with one hand and took in the shape of her body.

“Best view in town,” he said.

She was about to agree, then realized he was talking about her. He hadn’t said a word about the Olympics even though they’d passed two bars advertising live broadcasts. Instead he reached for his own bottle and put on her black oversized sunglasses.

“Happy, Halles?” Mike knew she was, baking in the equatorial sunshine. But he meant in the bigger picture: Happy with me? Happy with us?

She tapped her drink against his, but didn’t ask the same question. She knew Mike was happy now, she just hoped it was enough to get through the Olympics.

Mike waited. Halley was as fun and sexy as ever, and it was the best vacation he could remember. But she never brought up the issue that continued to nag him - was Mike what she seriously wanted for her life?

Halley never had more fun. The more days passed the better it got, and Mike seemed genuinely okay with the Olympics. Sure they’d both rather be in Vancouver, but they were in a good place now. A great place, she told herself. Why am I worried about what Amanda is doing with Brooks? I’m happy, Mike’s happy - if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“Are you sure this is okay?” Halley asked.

Mike took her hand and pulled her into the crowded bar. From the chatter, most of the crowd was Canadian. She was worried that someone would recognize Mike and make him feel awkward for not having made the team. His only concession was a black baseball cap pulled low on his head. They ordered beers and found a spot where they could see the Gold Medal game starting on no fewer than four TVs. Mike stood behind Halley, leaning her into his chest, and sipped his drink.

Jonathan Toews got a goal in the first period and the place went ballistic. Mike dipped his head a little, jiggling Halley around and laughing in her ear. She gave him an evil look. In the second, Corey Perry scored and got an even bigger cheer. They were three beers in and the smile on Mike’s tanned face was just shy of a shit-eating grin. He tried so hard to stifle it that he actually started coughing.

“Plenty of time left,” she threatened. And there was. Ryan Kesler brought the US within one and Halley yelled loudly enough to makeup for the lack of Americans in attendance.

“Uh oh, we got a Yank!” a guy near her joked. She bet him a round of beers they’d get a tying goal.

It wasn’t looking good through the third. As time slipped away and Ryan Miller stood on his head in the net, Mike’s grip on Halley got increasingly tighter. Of course he wanted the Canadians to win, but every second off the clock was like the tiny stab of a thorn in his side. Team Canada was within a minute of winning the Gold Medal. Then Parise struck.

Halley screamed so loud that Mike actually clapped a hand over her mouth. She wiggled free and continued freaking out. Everyone’s heart pounded in unison - you could almost hear a drumbeat over the commentators voices. The guys next to them made good on their bet and bought a round of beers.

In the brief intermission before overtime, Halley lifted onto her toes and kissed Mike on the lips. “If they had you, that never would have happened.”

Mike wrapped his arms around Halley’s waist and held her tight during the overtime. The whole place was balanced on a thin edge, people wringing their hands and gripping their drinks. They didn’t have to wait long: at 7:40, Sidney Crosby put one past Ryan Miller and made the dreams of an entire country come true.

An hour later, they escaped the bar still laughing. Halley had been playfully pelted with napkins and served free sympathy drinks while the Canadians celebrated their fairy tale ending. Mike had her by the hand and moved them toward the beach. It was hard to believe there were still sunbathers and swimmers who had just missed that epic event.

Mike swung Halley around and caught her up into a hug. “I am really, really glad that’s over.”

She give him a big, head-turning kiss. “Let’s go eat. I lost, so I’m buying.”

Everyone arrived back in Washington refreshed and focused. It was time to carry their pre-Olympic momentum into a playoff run. Brooks settled in next to Mike on a stationary bike in the gym.

“Good trip?” he asked.

“Dope,” Mike said. “Beautiful place, nothing to do. You?”

Brooks sported a little tan from his time in Key West. “We had the talk. The boyfriend girlfriend talk.”


“And she was pretty adamant. Amanda wants the title or she starts thinking about wanting out. It was kinda nice, actually, the all-or-nothing deal. None of this ‘if I say no she mopes around till I cave in’ stuff.”

“And?” Mike repeated.

“I said yes. Of course I said yes. She’s great. Plus, everyone else is shacked up and it’s no fun to be the lone wolf. Unless you’re Ovi.” They shared a laugh - no wingman in the world was a match for Ovechkin. “What about you? Gonna make an honest woman out of Halley?”

“I don’t know if she wants that. She never says anything, never pushes. Maybe she’s happy the way we are.” Maybe that’s why she didn’t say anything, not once, not in two weeks.

Mike wanted Brooks to say he was cray, obviously Halley loved him to the moon and back and he was just missing all the clues. Mike would rather be dumb than right. But Brooks just bobbed his head in agreement.

“Best of both worlds, man.”

“We are official!” Amanda announced as she sat down to lunch. Halley and Anya congratulated her. “It only took like four months of hints and shit. You’d think he was slow. I mean, a girl can only work so hard!”

Halley was happy for her friend, but really didn’t want to talk about this. “You did it!”

Amanda was all smiles. “I always get what I want.”

When will Mike know what he wants? Halley wondered.

It took a while for the Olympic euphoria to wear off the NHL - it could not have played better in a movie. Mike kept his head up and was genuinely happy for the guys who had gone; it wasn’t their fault he hadn’t been chosen. The Caps were still winning a lot and the pressure was starting to build. Just six weeks until the end of the season.

Mike was still waiting for Halley to state her case. Brooks and Nicky had been offhandedly chatting about the off-season, assuming it wouldn’t start until mid-June, and their plans included their girlfriends. Suddenly, Mike began to panic. A disastrous second round exit from the playoffs the year before had left him with a healthy fear of summer coming early and unexpectedly.

Summer. Anywhere from 3 to 5 months. He went home to Calgary, had a training regimen in place, relaxed and healed himself in preparation to do it all over again next season. But what about Halley?

Halley had a year-round job, her own apartment, her own life. He’d been a huge part of it, but he was not the main part. Halley was the star of her own show and Mike was starting to freak out about what his role for the summer would be.

She should come to Canada, he knew. But she wasn’t even officially his girlfriend. Why would she walk away from everything she’d worked hard to earn in DC for someone she didn’t even want to be exclusive with?

Every time he was with her, the conflict worsened. She was the same as always - it was great and it was terrible. He wanted to be with her , but every day that passed without her addressing about their future made him less sure they even had one.

The Caps were under a lot of pressure. The President’s Trophy race would come down to the wire and Mike wanted it so bad he could taste it. After that, the playoffs. He felt confident in the team and in his own game: they would go far. But his mind was wandering. A longer post-season meant more time with Halley, and more time before he’d know what the hell was going on.

Talk to her, he tried to convince himself. She laughed and smiled and kissed and whispered - Halley was Halley. His Halley. He should be able to talk to her about anything, especially to say he was falling in love with her. But the fear was stronger, the fear that even a little push would push her away.

Halley was not oblivious to the coming season. Summer would take Mike away and she had no idea if she’d be left behind. But he was so close, so far along in the pursuit of his hockey dreams that she was terrified to mess with anything. What if he bolted? What if he didn’t want to think about summer, or worse, didn’t plan to take her with him? Would she wait even 3 months for him to come back? Halley had been honest with Amanda - she wasn’t worried about Mike. But a 10 game road trip was different than a 100 day relocation.

Don’t mess this up for him, she told herself. Just be patient, be cool and be there for him. He needs you now. But every day that went by made the elephant in the room a little bigger.

Still he waited for her. And she waited for hockey, thinking she was waiting for him.

“Get your head out of your ass!” Coach Boudreau yelled from the bench. Mike felt Ovi’s stick make contact with his calf as the big forward skated by. His mind had wandered and he’d blown a drill. It was not the first time.

The night before, in the middle of hanging around doing nothing, Halley had said something that stopped his breath in his lungs.

“I can’t wait to see you this summer!” she said into the phone. He wasn’t sure who she was talking to, a girlfriend from college maybe. The remote nearly fell from his hand. “I know! We can go to that crab place and you can show me the gallery.” She went on talking, but Mike had gone deaf.

This summer. Halley has plans for this summer.

She went to sleep early. He sat on the couch in a mild state of panic. When he finally climbed into her bed, his body couldn’t do anything but hold her and his mind couldn’t stop turning.

“Greener! I will fucking bench you,” Coach was saying.

“Sorry Coach. Sorry.”

I will talk to her, he promised himself.

The Capitals lost three very close games in a row to close out the month of March. Only by the sheer force of will did Mike keep his growing concern in check. He had intended to finally just ask Halley what she wanted, but no time ever seemed right. There was never a moment where he would be able to handle hearing that she didn’t want him, wasn’t serious, didn’t think this was going anywhere.

Distantly, in some back corner of his mind, a little voice was probably saying that he was cray. A warning bell must have chimed that he was setting himself up for an epic fucking disaster. But he couldn’t hear it over the roar of the crowd and the silence about the summer.

Halley cheered. She stuck to Mike’s routines, tried to make sure everything was great and that he was happy all the time. A tiny part of her felt Mike pulling away, getting a little distant. But it was the height of the season and she just chalked that up to the game.

“Greener, your girlfriend’s waiting,” Erskine said coming back for something in his locker. The word ‘girlfriend’ made his stomach clench.

“Mike!” Halley said, throwing her arms around him. Her touch made him ache - she had become like Kryptonite. He wanted her so much, but it hurt increasingly to be near her. Mike tasted what he would miss, felt what he would lack all summer.

“Hey,” he responded slowly. Halley just hugged it out, kissing his cheek and consoling him on the overtime loss to Ottaway. Only 12 days left in the regular season.

Halley woke in the morning to find Mike gone. That was unusual, he wasn’t due at practice for another hour. Must have the jitters, she thought. She’s checked with Amanda and Anya - Brooks and Nicky were acting a little weird too, churning in the end-of-season storm.

“Hey, I missed you this morning,” she said when he called after lunch.

“Yeah sorry, I couldn’t sleep. I’m gonna stay at my place tonight. See if I can get a good night in. Big game tomorrow,” he said.

That was weird. Under normal circumstances, Halley would have questioned. But with just a handful of games between the Caps and the President’s Trophy, she wasn’t about to think she knew better than Mike.

“Okay, get some sleep. See you at the rink.”

Mike lay in his bed. He’d done the same that morning at her place, Halley breathing softly and trying to burrow into his side in her sleep. The Caps had lost three games in a row and it scared him to death. They weren’t blowouts, they were games that Washington should have won. Games of inches. The kind of games that get away from even the best teams, even in the playoffs, even if everyone thinks you should be winning.

If they weren’t winning, there was nothing. There was no reason for Halley to stay around because the summer would be a disaster. No reason for her to stay around because Mike’s team would be a laughingstock. No reason to stay around because she didn’t love him, not really, not the way he loved her. No wonder she hasn’t said anything.

There, in the dark, Mike felt like he finally knew the solution.

“Mike’s being really weird,” Halley said.

“I believe the scientific term is ‘scared shitless’,” Amanda offered. “Brooks is a fucking lunatic. Wakes up in the middle of the night saying ‘interference’ and ‘penalty box’. I think he’s actually losing it. Anya says Nicky is wearing the same socks every practice until they win the President’s Trophy. She makes him leave them on the porch.”

“Mike is a million miles away all of a sudden. He’s never been like this before. And he hasn’t said a word, like he doesn’t realize he’s changing.”

Amanda just shrugged like she wasn’t surprised. “Sound like he’s freaking out same as everybody else.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Halley fell asleep to the sound of Mike’s low, even breathing and woke to him twisting a strand of her hair between his fingers. “Morning,” she burrowed into his wide body.

“Hey sleepy.” He kissed her forehead and squeezed the arm that looped around her waist. “I have to go to practice. You should stay here, go back to sleep.”

“Mmmmmm, don’t leave. So warm.”

Mike kissed his way down the back of her neck and out over her shoulder. “I’ll be back soon.”

When he returned, Halley was in the kitchen wearing one of his sweatshirts. She had two fillets of salmon in the oven, greens and rice steaming on the stove. It smelled like a restaurant and his mouth watered immediately. “Wow,” he said, kissing her lips. “I could get used to this.”

“You mean salmon and broccoli? Because they’re the only two things in your fridge.” The oven timer dinged.

“Lunch first. Then grocery shopping,” he promised. Halley put a plate in front of him, reaching way across and pressing her breasts into his arm. Mike smiled. “Okay. Lunch, sex and then grocery shopping.”

Once Halley gave in to Mike there was no going back. The same way he’d taken her on three dates in three days - right from the start they were together almost every day and night Mike wasn’t on the road. Halley finagled herself a pair of seats a few rows behind the Caps bench and wore his jersey to every game.

She was in her room a week later when she heard the front door open and trotted out to find Mike hanging his overcoat in the closet. “Damn, baby,” she said exaggeratedly. He wore his suit from the plane, charcoal gray with a blue shirt open at the throat, no tie. He gave her a single raised eyebrow like he was trying to pick her up from across the bar in a swanky hotel.

“Would you like to see the view from my room?” he asked.

“My room is nicer,” she jerked her thumb toward the hallway. “Closer.”

Two hours later, Mike was eating late-night Thai delivery in the living room. Halley couldn’t help but admire him, sitting on the floor at the coffee table in just sweatpants. He reminded her of a bear cub - oversized, adorable, slightly awkward. She sat next to him in a tank top and panties and helped herself to cashew nut chicken.

“Do I still have to ask you to be my date to stuff, or can I just assume that you won’t make me go by myself?” he said through a mouthful of food.

“Halloween party?” she asked. Mike nodded. The party was the day before Halloween this year and just 20 days since their joint birthday celebration. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll go with you, if you wear a hot costume and promise to keep it on after we get home.”

“You do the same and we have a deal.”

A week later Halley was very glad she’d made the agreement. She wore a little bee costume with black and yellow stripes, tiny mesh wings and antennae on a headband. Striped thigh high stockings stopped way below her dress, which barely covered her ass. It was similar to what every other girl in the place was wearing. Amanda was a beer wench, Brooks wore leiderhosen. Anya was a mouse and Nicklas had dressed as a cat. Mike came around the bar and Halley couldn’t keep the look off her face.

He wore light khaki pants and a matching shirt, unbuttoned to the middle of his chest. At her request it was definitely a size too small - stretching over his biceps like a big flex could tear it in half. He taken a safari helmet, attached netting to drop down over his face, and he carried a big net. The words GREEN’S BEEKEEPING were emblazoned on the back of the shirt.

The netting rolled up and sat atop the brim of the hat so he could lean in and kiss Halley’s cheek. “Those stockings are killing me.” She felt his fingers brush the top of one, at the back of her thigh.

“I bought like ten pairs.”

Everyone drank and danced. Alex come alone, dressed as a ringleader from a circus, and worked the room like he was auditioning for the job. Halley watched him laugh and joke with everyone and when he reached her and Mike, he carried on like nothing had happened at the concert. So Halley took the cue and did the same. It was clear to her that Mike looked up to Alex in a short of I’m-friends-with-a-superstar kind of way and she didn’t want to mess up whatever worked for them. She said yes when Alex asked her to dance and he was never inappropriate or mentioned the conversation they’d had at Bon Jovi. In fact, she was surprised to find how much fun she had with him. For someone who skated so nimbly he was a terrible dancer, but had so much fun with it that she didn’t care. And he didn’t single her out, he didn’t make her uncomfortable. He treated her like one of the guys.

“Halley! Bring shot for Mike,” Alex called. Halley ordered three, carried them back to a table and perched herself on Mike’s knee. Alex toasted in Russian, then Mike and Halley yelled something that sounded like what Alex might have said and they drained their glasses. Alex gave Halley a wink and she happily felt like the past was forgotten.

Time passed more quickly that Mike could remember from years before. It was his fifth season and he’d gotten used to the schedule, but there’s never been anything in DC he’d wanted to get back to quite so much. Now practices were something that took him out of Halley’s warm arms and road trips kept him from sharing nights with her. Before he knew what had happened, Halley was basting a Thanksgiving turkey in his oven, cooking for his friends. Her friends.

“Who would have thought, you’re so domestic,” Brooks said to Mike, watching Halley work from the other side of the granite island. “I feel like I’m on Leave it to Beaver with you these day, Greenie.”

“Shut it, Laich. You’re all loved up with Amanda, what do you care?”

Brooks finished his beer. “She’s starting to drop hints about getting serious. Referring to everyone as so-and-so’s girlfriend or boyfriend. I think I’m going to get the talk soon.”

“Isn’t it a little soon?” Mike made a quarter turn away from the kitchen, keeping his voice low. “You’ve been together what? Three months?”

“They worry though. On the road all the time – and be honest. You know that the girls who don’t worry are the ones who should.” Brooks raised an eyebrow but Mike needed no reminding. Some of the most legendary stories from the road involved married guys. Some others involved Mike.

“What will you say?”

Brooks shrugged. “I’ll have to decide how much I like her. Don’t want to get pushed into something I’m not ready for – that’s not good for either of us.”

Mike’s eyes followed Halley as she stirred something on the stove and asked Nicklas to taste it. Alex demanded a spoonful as well then tried to steal the whole pot. Does she want that? Does she need it? Mike hoped she didn’t worry about him on the road. Should I be worried about her alone at home? Brooks caught the train of thought rolling across his friends’ expression.

“Hey, don’t freak out,” he slapped Mike on the back. “I think it’s good for us, bro. Just feels like we’re getting old, you know?”

When everyone had a plate piled with turkey and everything else, Mike raised his glass. “Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And thanks most of all to Halley for dinner. We’d all be at Olive Garden if it weren’t for her,” he said and kissed her cheek as glasses tinged together all around them.

There was nothing the guys couldn’t or didn’t eat. By the end, every dish had been scraped clean. Anya and Alex brought pies in from the kitchen - two of each kind. Halley reached for a pumpkin. “This one is mine, you guys can eat the rest.” And to show she was serious, she stuck her fork right in and took a bite without cutting it.

Alex raised his eyebrows. “You cannot eat whole pie.”

“Wanna bet?”

“Yes. We bet. I eat whole pie, you lose, you make more dinner next week when we back - late New Year party,” he said.

Halley pushed up her sleeves. She’d been more concerned about everyone having enough food and liking everything that she hadn’t stuffed herself. And pumpkin pie was her favorite thing in the world. “Okay. If I eat the whole pie, you lose and you have to wear a Crosby jersey while we watch the Winter Classic rerun.”

"Sidney not even playing this year!" Ovi complained.  Halley just shrugged.

“Damn, you’re mean!” Brooks laughed.

Alex raised his fork. “Go!”

Halley took her time, working her way from right to left through the dish. It wasn’t that big, and she was pretty sure she could get it all in if she paced herself. Everyone had 1-2 slices of the other pies while watching. At ¾ finished, Alex seemed to be slowing down. Halley still had room left. Mike served everyone coffee while they went right on eating pie. Within 30 minutes, Halley was swallowing the last bite of graham cracker crust and licking whipped cream off her fingers.

“That may be the sexiest thing I have ever seen,” Mike said.

Alex had at least 5 bites left and narrowed his eyes at Halley. He lifted the entire chunk onto his fork and stuffed it into his mouth all at once. “Tie!” he yelled with his mouth full. He finally got it all down.

“I ate a whole pie and I didn’t even win anything!” Halley banged her fork on the plate.

“How about I make dinner for New Years party?” Alex suggested.

“Okay. Crazy Russian dinner, no ordering out,” she said. He agreed. “And I’ll wear the Crosby jersey while we eat.”

Mike called from the kitchen, “The hell you will!”

Mike loaded the dishwasher while Halley collected wine glasses and recycled bottles. She emptied the last one into their two glasses and leaned against the counter as Mike turned the dial to start the water.

“You are amazing,” he said, tapping his glass to hers. Then he tapped his lips to hers too. “We have never been treated to a better Thanksgiving.”

He put away his concerns about what Brooks had said. Halley was there, all there and she was all his. No need to worry, he told himself. Right?

Halley popped a button on his shirt and ran her finger inside it. “Never spent Thanksgiving with a guy before.”

“He would have locked you in his house after a meal like that.”

She watched him finish cleaning, the wide span of his shoulder stretching his shirt in a way that gave her dirty ideas. He hummed obliviously, putting away a few items, until he turned and caught her watching. The blush that spread across his cheeks made her heart want to burst. He was beautiful, capable of such great things and he got bashful because she was checking out the way he looked in those jeans. Still a little insecure, she thought. I think I like him that way.

On the first real off-day in December, Halley woke to Mike putting a wrapped box on her chest. Inside were a pair of Reebok hockey skates. Mike had even cut out a picture of himself and stuck it over Sidney Crosby’s face on the box. “Early Christmas! We are going to the outdoor rink at the Sculpture Garden,” he said, tossing a sweater at her.

Once they hit the ice, all bundled up like grade schoolers, there was no doubt that Mike was not like any of the other skaters. The way he moved - Halley had seen it a zillion times but it still fascinated her. He was more sure on skates than his own two feet. She was a reasonable skater, if rusty, but no match for Mike’s sure, natural strides.

“Show off!” she laughed.

“There’s only one thing I can do better than you. Let me have it!” He pulled her along, spun her around and never once did he let her fall.

After hours of turning circles amid the holiday crowds Mike finally pushed her toward the exit. She let him tie her new skates together and hook them over her shoulder the way he wore his.

“My parents want me to go to Bermuda with them for Christmas,” Halley said, back in boots and sipping a hot chocolate. Mike stopped in his tracks - he hadn’t really thought about her going away. He couldn’t go home because they played right through the season. Halley had been such a fixture, he just assumed she’d be around too. Now he realized that of course she had her own life. They had only been dating for two and a half months.

“That sounds nice.” He tried to keep the disappointment from his voice. After such a great Thanksgiving, he had pictured a similar Christmas feast with his teammates. Without Halley, they would probably end up with a reheated restaurant meal.

“I haven’t said yes yet. I told them...,” she paused, wondering if this was too much, “I told them I might already have plans.” She looked up at him from beneath her ski hat, nose red from the cold and the smell of her hot chocolate all around them. Her meaning dawned slowly on Mike, causing his mouth to curl up at the sides.

“Would you like to make plans with me?”

Halley shrugged. “How good are these plans? Worth giving up a week of laying on the beach in a bikini getting tan lines you could trace when I come home?”

Mike pictured himself doing exactly that, barely touching her bronzed skin as she lay on dark sheets. He shook the image from his mind. “Yes, obviously. Plus Santa does not visit the Caribbean. You need snow at Christmas.”

She linked her arm into his. “See, I knew I had plans.”

Mike’s smile was even bigger on the inside. His Thanksgiving conversation with Brooks had been nagging him for a week. Amanda was still dropping hints about getting serious but Halley hadn’t dropped so much as a clue. Now Mike thought he’d been bothering about nothing. Halley wants to spend Christmas with me. She’s not worried. Fucking Brooks.

Mike walked into the lounge at Kettler after practice to find Halley, John Erskine and Alex talking on the couch. She was laughing hysterically. “Did you know that Alex went to see Michael Jackson in Moscow once? Show him the moves!”

Ovechkin did something that might have been the moonwalk, if performed by a bear in the circus. Then he gave them an “Ee-hee!” and jazz hands. Halley was doubled over, ready to pee her pants.

“You should have your own TV show,” she gasped.

Halley and Mike spent Christmas Eve prepping the dinner they would cook the next day. Well, Halley would cook and Mike would point out where he’d put away various utensils. There was no order to his kitchen because he didn’t use anything in it. In the morning, Halley woke first and snuck out of bed. She turned the tree lights on, started coffee and dug Mike’s gift out of the closet where she’d hidden it. When she padded back to the bedroom, he was half awake.

“I hear reindeer,” he said.

Halley sat right down on his back until he rolled her into the bed. “Merry Christmas!” she shouted. He relented and followed her to the living room, barefoot, wearing only a t-shirt and boxers and dragging the comforter from his bed. He wrapped it around them on the couch. Outside, tiny snowflakes fell.

“This is for you,” she passed him the parcel. He smiled like a 5-year old, it was the only real present he would get this year and everyone knew unwrapping was the best part. He tore open the paper and the long, rectangular box. Inside was a limited edition hand-painted Jim Phillips skateboard deck.

“Oh my God!” Mike gasped. He had quite a skateboard art collection going in his condo, and Jim Phillips was a legend. He had one other Phillips piece but it was nothing compared to the color and detail of the almost graffiti-like scene painted on this one. “Where did you get this?!”

“Secrets!” Halley smiled. The look on his face was pure little kid Christmas joy. He gently laid the board aside then attacked her. She shrieked as he pawed at her through her tank top and tickled her side at the same time. Hally was helpless - Mike just held her down and kissed every inch of her he could reach.

“Thank you! It’s the best Christmas gift ever.” He reached into the drawer on the table and pulled out an envelope. “I have something for you, but it might change. If it does, there is something else. But this first.”

Halley slit the envelope open and removed a long folder. Inside were two plane tickets to St. Thomas dated February 2010. “Mike,” she said cautiously. They were the dates of the Olympics.

Mike was fighting to keep his uncertainty at bay. He wanted to be collected, wanted to sound calm. Halley could read him like a book, but this would be a long road and he wanted to start out on the right foot.

“I don’t think I’m gonna get picked. But if I do, will you come to Vancouver instead? I know it’s not the beach vacation you gave up, but it would....”

Halley kissed him quiet. She had to do something to keep from crying. It was no secret that everyone Canadian player wanted to make the Olympic team and Mike was having a career year. But there had been talk about him not being “defensive enough” for a defensemen and rumors that he wasn’t going to make the cut. Halley would be furious if that happened.

“I will go wherever you want,” she said. “But you deserve to make that team.”

He smiled a little sadly. “And if I don’t make it, we deserve a vacation.”

A/N: Dude. I just realized I had this one "registered users only" for comments. Sorry about that! If you're out there, I've fixed it.