“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.”
“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.