Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chapter One

Great to get a win last night, thanks to everybody who’s Rocking the Red!

Mike had posted the comment just after media left the locker room, when the team and fans and city were still flying high from his winning goal late in the game to give the Caps a lead in their playoff series.  At least a hundred people had posted comments to Mike’s Facebook fan page, and probably a thousand more on Twitter.  

Nicky smiled – Mike had become surprisingly less self-promoting this season.  He and the Caps communications people had started the Facebook fan page, but Mike had ended up not posting to it all that much.  He tended to share things in bursts – ten Tweets in a week, then nothing.  Facebook updates when he did a charity event.  Mike had told an interviewer at the beginning of the season he’d “grown up” some, and Nicky was impressed to see it was true.
He and Mike were best friends.  Completely different, totally opposite and best friends.  It just worked for them.

Nicky scrolled through the comments, thinking it must be nice to have so much instant support.  Sure there were 18,000 screaming people in the building, plus more in the bars and streets and offices.  But hearing right from the fans was an extra pat on the back.

Facebook was something that Nicky used just for himself – mostly to keep in touch with friends back home.  He kept the privacy settings on high and didn’t post any photos he didn’t want ending up all over the internet.  A fan page wasn’t really his style.  The screen reloaded and Nicky saw that someone had just replied to Mike’s post.

I was so excited when you scored, I threw my phone across the bar! Got a new one so I can say THANK YOU!

The tiny icon photo showed a dark-haired girl in a green shirt smiling widely.  The hot girls always love Mike, Nicky thought.  Out of curiosity, he clicked on her name: Devin Mills.

Ooh.  She was definitely pretty.  The larger photo revealed that she was laughing more than smiling, pushing the hair from her face.  There was motion in the photo, completely candid, and she seemed so alive she could have walked off the screen.  Nicky could hear the sound of her laughter.

Her most recent status: GOOOOOO CAAAAAAAAPSSSSSSS!  

Nicky wondered if Mike would see her comment or if he should point it out.  Maybe Mike could send her a reply, say something nice.  Probably something like I’d love to buy you dinner.  It was easy for him.  A move like that would take Nicky weeks to work up to, and when was the last time he knew a girl for weeks before she was swiped by one of his teammates?

Devin’s account was not really privacy protected – Nicky saw that she posted a few times during the Caps’ last game, but usually less than once a day.  She’d finished a great book, gotten excited about a movie and shared photos of her brother’s dog and eaten at a new restaurant.  According to the menu at left, there were 452 photos of Devin - she’d been to Las Vegas in February and skiing for Christmas.  Her team had won bar trivia in Dupont Circle and a friend hosted a baby shower.  Nicky clicked through some of the albums – endless photos with different backgrounds and always the smiling girl with the dark hair.  Her profile photos seemed clipped from the albums: waving from a boat, posing with an Elvis impersonator, pointing at her Caps t-shirt.  

I’ll tell him, Nicky thought.  This Devin girl seemed really nice and she’d probably love to hear from her favorite hockey player.  But there were more photos: a whole album from Caps games and viewing parties all season long.  In the cover photo, Devin was wearing a #19 Backstrom shirt.

She likes me too!  Nicky almost laughed at himself.  He had plenty of fans.  He might not recruit them for charity events and fan pages, but there were lots of Backstrom jerseys every night at the rink.  People recognized him on the street and he usually drank for free.  Well, he was usually with Mike.

I should email her myself, he decided suddenly.  Maybe I’m her favorite hockey player.  Maybe she’d be congratulating me if she could.

But he couldn’t just message her, because they weren’t friends.  Short of sending her a blind friend request there was only one way to contact her.  Luckily he knew the password to Mike’s Facebook account – because it was ‘Backstrom.’

Send Devin a Message

Nicky clicked the icon and a blank screen presented itself.  Fingers poised above the keys… he paused.

English was not his first language.  He’d long since learned to communicate while talking, even if his vocabulary was more profanity and vulgarity than anything else.  Typical locker room talk.  Sometimes he had to slow down and think before he wrote though.  English was pretty confusing.
On top of that, girls made him nervous.  No matter how much time he spent with Mike and the guys, he was never really comfortable just talking to a pretty girl. His mind wandered to her hair, the way she smelled, whether or not she was thinking about kissing him like he was thinking about kissing her.  

That’s what puckbunnies were for: no thinking required.  He hadn’t taken that route too many times, but at 23 years old with a big paycheck and his jersey for sale in stores, Nicklas Backstrom was no saint.  Just a little awkward.

Hi Devin,

This is Nicklas Backstrom.  I saw your comment on Mike’s post and your Backstrom jersey in your pictures.  I’ll try to score you a goal next game if you promise not to break your new phone.

See you at a game,
Nick

He read it twice – it was a little boring, but everything looked spelled right.  Before he could psych himself out, he hit send.

Damn! he thought suddenly.  I should have offered her tickets!  Even if she could find tickets, they were really expensive in the playoffs.  More than hearing from a player, she would probably love to come to a game.  But she’s want to meet everyone, and Nicky wouldn’t be able to say no, and he knew already that he’d lose her before he ever had a chance.

Nicky ran a hand through his long blond hair and exhaled loudly as he signed off, knowing that yet again he was hopeless when it came to girls.  
____

Devin sat in her living room, feet up on the coffee table and laptop hot against her thighs.  Castle was on TV, the minutes ticking off until bedtime.  She was still rolling her eyes at having posted on Mike Green’s wall.  It seemed so stupid to talk to a stranger that way, someone famous no less, like you were begging for their attention.  Not that she would have turned it down, of course.  But it felt like she was being a silly little girl.

Still, she wanted to tell him he was awesome.  The game had been intense and the goal incredible.  For all the screaming and hunting under barstools for her phone and giving up ever putting the broken halves back together, she felt like she had earned the right to say something.

Just thank you, she promised.  Then she was on to reading about a friends’ upcoming wedding and the new job with a marketing company someone in LA had landed.  A few minutes passed before the little red 1 showed up at the notifications icon.

From: Mike Green Fan Page

Her heart about stopped.  She read the email with her mouth wide open.  Ten seconds later, she was thinking, No way.  NO WAY.  Nicklas Backstrom had definitely not just emailed her.

But he did.

No way.

She hit REPLY, typed something quickly and hit send before she could change her mind.  Just in case it really was him.
____

Later that night, Nicky signed into his own Facebook account.  His best friend from home had sent a clip from a Swedish TV show and there was a note from his cousin, whose baby had just started walking and promptly tried to drink out of the toilet like the family dog.  He responded that she learned it from her dad.  Nicky paged through some of their photos, and some of his own, still thinking about the girl he’d emailed from Mike’s fan page.  If all you compared were pictures, she was having a better time than anyone else.

Get a life, he told himself, but logged into Mike’s Facebook anyway.  And there it was, the little message notice.  His blood surged hotly.

Devin Mills:  How do I know you’re really Nicklas Backstrom?  Either way, I’ll wear #19 in case he does score me a goal.

Instantly he was smiling like an idiot.  I must have done okay in my first email, since she replied.  But now I need to write more.  And he’d need to explain why he was checking Mike’s fan page like an intern.

Or... he considered the alternative.  He could Friend her.  It would mean giving her access to his profile, which was pretty limited, but still.  That was his private space and he guarded it seriously.  Plus being on the shy side might come back to bite him - would she think he didn’t have many friends?  That no one saw his page because no one wanted to?  Thousands of people followed Mike’s every move, but who was interested in his sidekick?

Nicky quickly deleted his email to Devin and her reply from Mike’s fan page.  Mike wouldn’t care he’d been on it, but Nicky could live without the smooth-talking defenseman making any more fun of his romantic challenges.   So Nick logged into his own account and tentatively typed her name into the search box.

Send Friend Request

The mouse hovered over the icon for a few seconds before he clicked it.  Now it was done.  Almost embarrassed to be trolling for friends online, Nicky quickly closed the laptop and went to find something - anything - else to do.
____

Devin got all the way to work in the morning, distracted her wrinkled pants, the long line for coffee, the crowd on the bus.  She even read a few work emails before the remembered.

Nicklas Backstrom emailed me.

No he didn’t.

Well, someone did.

Thanking heaven that Facebook wasn’t blocked on her work computer, she logged in.  No new notifications, meaning she hadn’t received any emails.  Told you, she scolded herself.  But there was a friend request.  With over 500 “friends” already, most of whom she hadn’t seen in years or had barely known at all, the prospect of one more wasn’t nearly as exciting.

Nicklas Backstrom

NO FUCKING WAY!  Clamping her mouth down on a strangled scream, Devin clicked that target so fast her mouse was a blur.  Accept.

And there it was.  Nicklas Backstrom’s Facebook profile, looking as normal as a zillion other people’s pages.  Like her own page, except most of it was in Swedish.  There were videos and comments from other people, a few replies from Nicklas.  Twenty or so photos were associated with the account, a few candids and some professional sports shorts clearly pulled from the internet.

This could be anyone, she reminded herself.  Between Twitter and Facebook and whatever else kids were using these days, there must be thousands of fake celebrity accounts.  Why couldn’t one of them be a hockey player?  Surely ten minutes on Tumblr would find you more pictures than this.

Still, the Swedish looked legit.  There were uumlats and everything - they might be on Swedish keyboards, but Devin had no idea how to make one on hers.  She’d never even seen one outside of IKEA.  Surfing through pages of people who had posted, they were also Swedish and seemed real.

There were posts in English too and a number of American friends.  Devin was startled to recognize some of the names - there were other hockey players on here.

Why would fake Nicklas Backstrom be Facebook friends with fake Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner?  She couldn’t access their pages because they weren’t friends.  But they were friends with someone.  The Send Message button practically glowed in the top right corner.

Okay, this is pretty convincing.  But how do I know you’re really Nicklas Backstrom?  Will I have to wait till you score me a goal on Friday?

On Friday, just one night away, the Caps would try to take a 3-0 lead in the series over the New York Rangers.  The game was in NY and Devin already knew where she and her friends would be watching from.  And what she’d be wearing.  Browsing through the photos one more time, she shut the browser and turn toward her work.
____

Nicky had not been distracted, he’d been occupied.  Throughout practice he was itching to check Facebook and see if Devin had replied.  Earlier in the morning, there had been nothing new.  As soon as they were off the ice and Coach was finished talking, Nicky dug out his phone.  The Facebook web app was already running.

One message.

He covered the smile that came to his face.  Secrets were never secret for long in the locker room and there was no way he wanted anyone to know that some internet stranger was giving him butterflies.  His teammates would be making fake dating website profiles all afternoon and have them on the evening news.  Today’s Top Story: Capitals Nicklas Backstrom is an Online Stalker.  Taking his phone into the video room, he opened her note.

How do I know you’re really Nicklas Backstrom?  He needed something more convincing.  Something to keep her sending messages because he was clearly waiting for them.  There were blank rink diagrams next to the white board, with dry erase markers on the running board.  Nicky scribbled quickly and took a photo of himself.  But he couldn’t attach the picture to a reply, so he posted it to her wall.  A little link on his profile would show that he’d done so, and any of the guys could follow it and see.

What the hell, they won’t know what it’s about.
____

Devin forced herself to set up her lunch.  She spread a turkey sandwich, macaroni salad and ice tea strategically around her desk, put a napkin on her lap and a straw in her drink.  Then she chewed one bite very slowly.

Oh fuck this.  She double-clicked Google Chrome and went right for Facebook.

This time the scream was out before she could stop it.  It didn’t matter because she actually had something worth screaming about.  At the top of her profile was a dark, small and not incredibly flattering photo of Nicklas Backstrom holding up a piece of paper next to his face.  It read “Hi Devin.”

The fact that no one came running to her scream should have worried Devin, but it didn’t.  She was too busy frantically dialing her roommate and best friend.

“Mellllllllllllllllllllllllllllll,” she whispered, “are you at your desk?  Please go onto my Facebook right now.  Like RIGHT NOW.”

“Okay, okay, jeez.  Did Jeremy hack in and claim you two are married?”

Jeremy was the guy across the hall from them who never tried to hide his crush on Devin.  He was alright if you liked stockbrokers and they always joked that Devin could never get drunk enough for fear she’d get weak and go knocking.

‘WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!” Mel shouted.  “Whatisthat?!”

Devin could barely talk for giggling.  “I posted a comment on something Mike Green said on his fan page.  This guy emailed me back claiming to be Backstrom.  I wasn’t sure, then he Friended me.  But people make that shit up all the time.  So I said, ‘how do I know it’s really you.”

“And now you do!” Mel’s voice was a whisper now, and full of awe.  “Oh my God.”

“He said he’s going to score a goal for me tomorrow.  And not to wreck my new phone.”

“SCORE YOU A GOAL?!” Back to yelling.

“Shhhhhh, that’s what he said.  I promised to wear my Backstrom shirt.”

There was a clunking noise as the phone was either dropped or thrown.  Mel may have passed out.  Devin just stared at the little sign in Backstrom’s hand and waiting for her friend to regain consciousness.

“Ca... You... Wha... I can’t.  What are you going to do?”

Devin had been thinking about that.  She was obviously replying.  But what to say?  Or should she do something, since he had done something?  Apparently, they were on the same page.

“Make a sign,” she answered.

Just as Mel said, “Post a picture.”

Devin took a sheet of paper from her printer and found two Sharpies in her drawer.  It took a few tries before she thought her “Hi Nicklas” looked both legible and attractive.  Outlining the black marker with some red highlights, she then used the reflective window of her boss’ office to fix her hair.  The shutter noise on her phone sounded like a firework exploding.

What do you think? she sent it to Mel.

Gorgeous was the verdict.

Devin debated adding a message, but decided against it.  Just the photo.  She posted it to Nicklas’ page and stared at it for a long time as if expecting it to speak.
____

Nicky packed for the road trip the way he always did - just bring everything.  With all their traveling most of the guys had it down to a science.  Nicky had never really bothered since they flew charter and didn’t even carry their own luggage.  And you never knew what you’d need on a trip to New York City.  Still it took some time to make sure his favorite jeans and shirts were clean, throw out any food that was about to go bad and close up the house so he’d be ready to leave in the morning.  Truly he was glad for the distraction.

He’s been thinking about Devin all afternoon.  In his mind he made up scenarios and played them out with her as the leading lady.  They ran into each other at the movies.  She waved to him during the warm-up skate.  He helped her change a flat tie.  In all of them she was definitely thinking about kissing him back.

I am sad, he said to himself in Swedish.

But when he finally opened the computer, there she was.  Smiling at him like she’d smiled in all those photos, like he was as exciting as a tropical beach or a grand hotel.  Like he was as good as a vacation or seeing old friends.  It gave him a whole new set of daydreams for tomorrow.  As he was filing them away, a box popped up in the bottom right corner.

Devin Mills: Is this really Nicklas Backstrom?

Nick’s heart did a stupid little jump.

Your picture is nice, he typed.  You can call me Nick.  Or Nicky.

Well I’m Devin.  Thanks for your email!  Are you really going to score me a goal?

I will try.

I’ll wear my Backstrom shirt.

Already he knew he would play better, bigger because he would try to impress her.  And that he’d be nervous the whole time.
____

Devin’s hands were almost shaking.  She felt as if she’d mainlined a case of Diet Coke - jittery and prone to insane giggles.

No big deal, just chatting with Nicklas Backstrom.  Wait, NICKY Backstrom.

His writing was a little stilted.  She wondered if it was harder for him to write short, quick messages that a more composed email.  The last thing she wanted to do was make him uncomfortable.  But he kept typing.

No Caps fans in New York.

That’s not true - there are always a few.  We’re watching at Greene Turtle, plenty of fans there.

Messages kept passing back and forth - they talked about which Green Turtle locations were best, what other bars had watch parties. Usually Devin did other things while on the computer - watched TV, had dinner going or laundry in.  Tonight she was just glued to the screen.

I was at the last regular season game, when you guys gave away your jerseys.

Too bad you not win mine.  Or Mike’s.

I was just glad you won the game.

Nicky told her about what they did on the road, the TV shows they watched and how one guy got nominated to choose the music for the locker room.  No one liked John Eskine’s music, but everyone liked when it was Brooks Laich’s turn.  Devin had gone to college at NYU and gave Nicky so many recommendations he had to email a list to himself.

After about half an hour, conversation started to slow.  It wasn’t that they had nothing to talk about, instead it was too much.  Devin was afraid of getting too friendly or too personal.
____

Nicky checked her profile.  It said she was single, but that could mean anything.  Maybe she was dating five different guys or had just gotten divorced.  There were pictures of her with guys but no one too regular.  Again, not much to go on.  He wanted to ask if she had a boyfriend but that seemed absurdly invasive for their first conversation, especially over Facebook chat.

And yet it was handcuffing him.  He didn’t want to get shot down if he offered her tickets.  Because if he offered her tickets of course he inteded to meet her too - maybe take her out afterward with some of the guys, or at least give her a tour of the Verizon Center.  She’d love that.  But would she show up with some guy in tow and put him in a funk for the whole game?
It would have to wait.  All day long he’d been thinking about her and they’d never exchanged a single word in real time.  He needed more focus than that for the playoffs.  

I will try for your goal.

I don’t care if you score, Nicky.  Just have a good game.  I’ll be proud to wear #19 anyway.

Before she could type another line and mess up the perfect layout of his screen, Nicky captured the image and saved it.  I’ll be proud to wear #19 anyway.  Now he knew why Mike did it, why he opened himself to people more directly and encouraged the interaction.  It felt incredible to hear someone you don’t even know, who you have never really done anything for, wishing you well.
____

Author's note: This idea came from Kris via Mibba.com.  She loved the idea of Nicky being a little awkward with girls, and maybe finding that communicating online would be easier, at least at first.  After all, our whole lives are on here, right?  Hope I do her idea justice, and you enjoy.  Thanks!
____

6 comments:

  1. This is really cute so far. I like the shyness of it all from Nick's POV, I enjoy Devin's reactions and interactions with him. It's fun!

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  2. I really like this. It's so cute how Nick is so timid with girls and totally seems like it could be real. Can't wait for your next update!

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  3. Totally loved it!! So glad that you are doing a story about Nicky!! Maybe I will wear my Nicky shirt to the game tonight, lol!!

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  4. EEEEEE You made me soo happy!!!!!

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  5. AHHH THIS IS AMAZING!!!

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  6. YAAY you're back!
    and with a mind-blowing story!
    and with one of my favourite players!
    thank you sosoosososo much!

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