It had been pouring rain all day. From the sky to the ground a solid sheet of water turned the world into a fishtank. Mike saw the trainer after practice, working on a sore spot beneath his rib cage, and was the last of the guys to leave the arena. He always got the prime parking spot because of his car – the guys gave him shit for the ride he’d bought, but at the end of the day they respected the machine.
He sat a minute, Seether pumping through the stereo as he waited for the defroster to clear his windshield. The players’ entrance door opened to his left and a girl stepped out wearing a bright green raincoat and dark jeans tucked into high black rubber boots with white polka dots. She went to the end of the covered parking section and scanned the lot. After a minute’s consideration and a few skeptical looks at the compact umbrella in her hand, she turned to go inside.
Mike killed the stereo and rolled down the window. “Hey, everything okay?”
She looked around for the source of the voice, apparently thinking she’s been alone. Mike figured she couldn’t hear his music over the rain since she could barely hear his voice. She came over but stayed three feet back from the car, as most people did.
“I didn’t see you,” she said. Her hair was dark brown, thick and starting to frizz a little in the weather. Clear, fair skin was dotted with a few freckles and Mike was surprised to see her eyes were deeper green than her coat. “I can’t believe this rain!”
I can’t believe the one time I use this door, Mike Green is the only person out here, she thought. She’d seen him a million times around the building, but he looked more relaxed now. Training camp had just started, he was a little tan from the summer and his face was thinner too – he’d been getting leaner over the last few seasons. Probably makes him even cockier.
“You’re dressed for it,” Mike looked at her boots. “Do those things really work?”
“Yup, but they’re no match for today.”
Mike tried to guess at her accent – New England, maybe Boston. It took him a moment to figure out what made her look so eye-catching, so compelling that he was pretty much staring: her eyebrows. They were thick and straight, more dramatic than most girls’. He’d been quiet too long, she was starting to leave.
“Where’s your car?”
“Way out at the end of the lot. They made us park there because of the concert tonight – in case we didn’t leave in time. Now it’s a mile away in the rain.”
“I’ll give you a ride to your car, hop in,” Mike said. Hop in. You don’t just hop into this car. She looked unsure for a moment. He realized that she’s probably never do this otherwise, get into a car with a guy she didn’t know, and he wondered just how badly she really didn’t want to walk in the rain. Her hesitation finally broke and she went around the passenger side.
“I’m nervous in here,” she said, buckling her seat belt. His car reeked of money, the kind of flashiness that instinctively made her cringe. The interior was a cross between a space ship and James Bonds’ apartment – sexy science. Erotic engineering. She sat forward, afraid to touch her damp coat to the leather seat. Some of the hockey players were ostentatious with their money, but mostly it was the NBA guys who threw their paychecks around.
Mike looked at her as she looked at the car. Her nose turned up slightly and her lips were shiny with gloss, he wondered what it tasted like. He goosed the accelerator, just fooling around, and shot them forward a hundred feet in a smooth blink of an eye. She squeaked.
“If it were nice out, I’d take you for a drive. Show you what she can do.” He almost cringed at the sound of rain thudding off his paint job.
She snickered. “Pretty sure I know what she can do. Go fast, look shiny, get you girls.”
“Hey, I can get girls on my own!” He tried to make a joke out of it, but that’s what everyone said about his car. If they liked it, it was a chick magnet. If they didn’t, he was overcompensating for something. He got frustrated having to constantly defend what had been a serious purchase to make.
Ooh, defensive, she made a mental note. He was definitely leaner than last season, his hair spiky and his cheeks rosy. She’d always thought he was good-looking, now up close she knew it was a little more serious than that. Figures, she thought. Rich, young, talented AND hot – who else is going to drive a car like this?
“Kidding! Does it automatically play ‘Smack That’ when you turn it on?” She did a little Cabbage Patch dance move as she started to sing, “… wanna jump up in my Lamorghini Gallardo….”
Mike had heard that joke a million times, but this was the first time he ever laughed. She did a little head fake and brushed off her shoulder, like a white girl who learned to dance from a rap video. The smile of her face was priceless.
This girl, he thought. There was something about her – she wasn’t batting her eyelashes like most girls did around him. She was tall and fit, he could tell from her shapely legs and he wondered what she looked liked under that coat. The last girl he’d dated had looked like a stripper. The last girl he’d slept with had been one.
“And,” she said proudly, “I know it’s the same car P Diddy has – I saw a picture of Justin Beiber driving it.”
“I would never let Justin Beiber drive my car,” he said. She sang two lines from “Eennie Meenie.”
About thirty cars were parked that the far corner of the lot, at least a quarter mile from the arena. She never would have made it in the rain. Mike pulled up behind a silver Mazda 3 with a bumper sticker that read ‘Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Jimmy Buffett.’ He was a little disappointed it had only taken a minute to get there.
“Hey, I was going to get something to eat. Wanna come? Maybe it’ll stop raining by the time we’re done.”
He would, she thought. He would ask someone out two minutes after meeting them. Bet he does it all the time. But she was intrigued, even if it was masochistic, and she wanted to find out what the great Mike Green was like. “Ummm, sure.”
What are you doing?! her rationale whined. Then she looked at her car – even eight feet away she’d be soaked before she could get in. “Guess I should tell you that I’m Halley.”
“Like the comet,” Mike said before he could stop himself. So lame! He gave himself a mental facepalm.
“Actually, exactly like that – two L’s and all. My dad works for NASA and I was born on the day the comet was last seen,” she said.
“Cool. I’m Mike.”
“Mike who?” she asked.
He opened his mouth the answer, then quickly got the joke and shut it. She’d already seen. Failure to contain her laughter made it come out like a snort. She shook her head in apology as she laughed.
“Okay, okay,” Mike smiled. “You’ve made fun of me and my car.”
“And you still asked me to dinner….” She looked out the window at the rain. She’d gotten away with one there and promised to at least try to give Mike the benefit of the doubt for the rest of the night.
They went to a steakhouse a few miles from the arena. Mike pulled up under the awning – the valets all sprang to life at the sight of his car, as always. Of all the things involved with owning and driving a $200,000 car, this made him the most nervous. Halley waited on the curb as he gave the keys to an attendant. It took all his willpower not to tell the guy to be careful; that’s what the jackass guy was always doing in the movies. He opened the restaurant door for Halley, who smiled like she could read his mind.
“Ferris Bueller much?”
“You have no idea.” Mike had actually wondered a few times if valets had gone joyriding in his car and he hoped to never know the answer. Under her green coat, Halley wore a clingy black cashmere sweater. Not the rack he usually went for, but she moved in a graceful, pleasing way. His hand touched her top and the soft brush of the wool made his breath catch a little. She smelled like dryer sheets.
“What do you do at the arena?” he asked after they’d ordered wine and food. He’d gone for a nice bottle of red, one someone had recommended and he always tried to remember the name.
“I work in facilities. Making sure you guys have ice, concert logistics, that kind of stuff.”
“So when our ice is bad, it’s your fault?”
She smiled wickedly. “Maybe I’m a closet Penguins fan, trying to sabotage you.”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Not too late for them to poison your dinner.”
He found himself trying to impress her, but was careful not to sound arrogant. This kind of girl would never go for that guy – he could tell she was keeping back from him. She’d already teased him about his car, which he figured was fair game anyway. When he talked about charity work with the team, places they traveled, what he did in the off-season, he tried to mention the highlights and then play them down.
Halley could hear the gears in Mike’s brain turning as he selected what to tell her. No doubt he was a flashy guy. Aside from the car he wore a gold chain around his neck, beneath the collar of his sweater. She’d seen a photo of him wearing a necklace with his number of it, she wondered if there was a 52 hanging under his shirt. The fact that he was reining himself in struck her – she just didn’t know yet if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Or if she cared.
“Why have I never seen you around before?”
Because I’m fully clothed, she thought before catching herself. Be nice, you promised. After all, he’d asked her to dinner wearing just short of a snowsuit.
“I have? How come we never met?”
“When?” Mike blurted out. It was impossible he’d spoken to this girl and not noticed. Not remembered. Not at least considered asking her out, or getting her number, or getting her naked. He would remember her.
“A couple times. Christmas skate with the hospital kids last year, when we renovated the locker rooms. When you shot the GEICO commercial, I rode in the elevator with you and the caveman. Just us.”
Mike was shocked. If he’d managed to miss her, what else had he missed?
“It’s okay, you were busy. We were both working. And I don’t stand a chance next to the caveman.” Halley couldn’t believe what she was hearing – her own voice saying it’s okay for celebrities to ignore the little people.
“Halley,” Mike refilled her wine glass, “it is definitely not okay that I don’t remember.”
She smiled. “You’re making it up to me with dinner.”
He scoffed. “I can do better than that.”
After two glasses of syrah, Halley found her urge to razz Mike subsiding. He was actually a nice guy, when he stopped trying to be cool. They shared stories about their summers – Mike in Calgary doing outdoorsy things and getting on the ice as often as possible, Halley taking weekend trips with her friends to beaches all along the east coast. The conversation turned to DC and Halley was impressed at the number of museums and events Mike had been to, not just bars and clubs.
Mike had never spent a date so much on his toes, if this was even a date. Halley was smart and quick – almost too quick. He knew she was fighting back remarks, and he sensed that a tiny bit of her did not like him. Yet. That was yet another thing Mike was not used to dealing with: girls who didn’t like him. Most women threw themselves at him, and when one stuck she was impossible to peel off. Halley was still taking two steps backward for every one forward. Maybe she had a boyfriend?
“You don’t seem worried that someone will take a picture of us and it’ll end up in the Examiner tomorrow,” Mike tried. Surely a significant other would not take kindly to that.
“How’s my hair?”
He smiled. “That’s not an answer.”
“It’s just that my boyfriend hates when I’m photographed with my hair a mess,” Halley said.
“Very funny,” he made a face. She had not taken his bait.
She put her wine down. “Mike, if you want to know something, just ask me. I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t think I’ll get in trouble at work for having dinner with you. And I know my hair looks a mess, but I don’t care.”
Point taken, he thought. “Your hair looks great.”
Halley tipped her glass toward him in a mock toast. “And that is how you get someone to answer a question without asking.”
When dinner ended, Halley offered to expense it to the team. Mike refused – he wanted it to be a date, and it definitely wouldn’t be if it was a work function. He helped Halley into her coat before the car came to a quick stop in front of them, squeaking slightly on the wet pavement, and Mike went a little stiff. Halley waited until Mike was in the driver’s seat next to her before she leaned over him.
“How many miles were on it before?” she examined the odometer.
Mike laughed, getting another whiff of her clean scent. “Looks like they only went the long way around the block.”
It was still raining so hard that Halley’s silver car was nearly invisible in the parking lot. Mike pulled into the space next to her, as close as he could get to her door. She pulled up her hood and extended the handle of her umbrella.
“Thanks Mike, that was fun.” She hoped she didn’t sound as surprised as she felt.
“That was exhausting, Halley. You are too sharp for me,” he admitted.
She put her hand on his forearm. It was the first time they’d really touched and even through his jacket she could feel the warmth of his body, the firm shape of his muscle. The cockpit of the car was quite small and they were close together.
“I get dull with time,” she promised.
Mike wanted to kiss her. It was warm and soft and damp inside the car and everything about the world right then screamed to cuddle up with someone. If he’d had another moment, he would have.
“Bye Mike,” she opened the door and was gone into the storm.
When Mike pulled away with a beep of his horn, Halley put her head down on the steering wheel. What the hell was that? She hadn’t expected him to be funny or smart or able to handle her. And she hadn’t expected to feel a buzz when she touched him, to want to keep touching him. The look in his eyes had said he was about to kiss her. She hadn’t expected to want him to.
3 years ago