Saturday, May 28, 2011


Here's the song for the end of last chapter/beginning of this one in the club: Robyn - Indestructible.

Maybe it was meant to be a brief kiss, like an introduction.  A prologue to the next chapter.  Ten guys were lined up against the wall, waiting for Nicky to join them.  People were climbing out of the way while other people climbed in for a closer look.  The VIP area had shrunk by half and filled in twice.

Maybe it wasn’t meant as a kiss, but reassurance that they were both going in the same direction. That despite awkward beginnings and mutual shyness, each of them was correct in thinking the other was wondering if they were thinking the same thing.

Maybe it didn’t mean anything because it wasn’t planned.  It just was what it was – inevitable, irresistible, incendiary.

Nicky was moving more quickly than he realized.  Instead of gently pressing his lips to Devin’s, he stormed into her with the intention of kissing her.  Now.  His arm around her waist and hand at the back of her neck were all that kept them both from tumbling to the floor.

Reacting faster than a 50-goal scorer, Devin curled her fingers into the open collar of his shirt and held him in tight.

Herre fan!,
he though.  Holy shit.

It was like licking a light socket.  Devin kissed him back so quickly he felt electrified, parting his lips as she did and still moving forward with the momentum of coming toward her.  His stomach flipped madly and he was glad to have something to hold on to.

It could only last a few seconds.  Something that strong had to be eased into, like lowering yourself slowly into a roiling hot tub.  It took your breath away immediately but if you took your time, the intensity became comfortable.

They barely separated: gasping, lips inches apart.  Still clutching each other at a frantic angle.  It took Devin an extra second to slowly open her eyes.

Nicky was frozen.  Where he’d been so sure a moment ago, now fear flooded over those hot coals.  He could have been wrong.  He could have moved too quickly, read the signs wrong, assumed something she never meant.  That kiss could have been a reflex – what else would you do when someone twice your size grabbed you with no warning and threw himself on you?  She could no more fight him off if he’d been trying to kidnap her.

Then she smiled.  It came all at once, to her lips and her eyes, the megawatt grin that Nicky knew he’d fallen in love with the moment he first saw her photo.  He felt it too, slightly manic laughter when he finally exhaled.  Nicky pressed his forehead to hers and they giggled.

“Woooooooooooooot!” came a shout from behind them.  Nicky turned his head, Devin looked around his shoulders.  Mike and John were clapping like two monkeys who’d just discovered bananas.


“Go,” Devin whispered.

She didn’t want him to.  She didn’t want him to let go for fear she’d never get him back, not like that – unrehearsed, uninhibited.  They’d been walking on egg shells only to find themselves suddenly rolling on sheets.

Well maybe not sheets
, Devin reigned herself in.  But it was hard not to think about that as 210 pounds of muscle poured over her.  Nicky grinned back.  She pushed him and he half-jogged toward his teammates, head slightly down.  No such luck - Mike and John slapped him on the back as if he’d finally scored that elusive goal.

While the guys were photographed, Devin resisted the urge to pirouette.  Instead she shifted her weight like a nervous teenager waiting for her prom date to arrive.  Five minutes seemed to take an hour, only to have Mike hang himself around Nicky’s neck just to torture him.  They were one frat party away from giving each other noogies.

Finally he got free.  The sight of him walking toward her turned the floor beneath Devin’s feet to quicksand.  It was still very warm, very crowded and she was drunk on a combination of sipping and kissing.  Nicky pushed a big handful of hair from his face and didn’t stop until their shirts were touching.  He seemed to consider for a moment whether or not to throw her over his shoulder, but settled for one hand.

“Want to…?” he asked.  Devin was already nodding.

They made it through the crowd hand-in-hand and kept going when they hit the sidewalk.  Devin didn’t feel the chill in the spring air.  The neighborhood was crowded on a Saturday night and the sight of Nicky charging through turned a few heads.  She followed along, not caring where they went.

Nicky steered them into a greasy spoon diner.  Only a few tables were occupied as the clientele was still busy drinking nearby.  They nodded at the waitress behind the counter and went as far back as they could.  Devin slid in on one side of a booth, facing away from the restaurant, and Nicky moved in next to her.  He put his arm around her shoulders and carefully settled his injured hand along the top of the booth.

“That was…,” she started.  But he was already kissing her again.

With one side pressed to the back of the seat, Devin turned as best she could to face him.  A piece of blond hair fell forward as he leaned over her.

“Ahem,” the waitress cleared her throat.  If she had a dollar for every tipsy couple who made out in the diner she wouldn’t need to waitress anymore.

Devin wiped one finger along her bottom lip.  “Can I have a Coke?”
“Ice tea.  Do you have apple pie?” Nicky asked.  The waitress scribbled it down and headed off.

“With ice cream please!” Devin lifted herself to call over his shoulder then settled back even closer to his body.  His chest was so wide he couldn’t turn sideways in the booth and his thighs so solid he hardly needed the seat to sit on.  She fought the urge to climb into his lap.

“I never eat ice cream,” he said.

Devin couldn’t help it.  Something had gotten into him and she didn’t want to lose it.  “I bet you never email girls you don’t know either.”

He blushed.  It absolutely wrecked her.  

“I think you are funny writing to Mike that you throw your phone.  And I see your picture, you look nice,” he paused, stumbling over the words.  “I mean you look like nice person.  And you look nice…”  Nicky ducked his head, embarrassed.  “My English is bad.”

“No.  You’re doing fine.”

When he looked up, those blue eyes were full of hope.  “What I try to say is you are very beautiful, Devin.”

She couldn’t sigh and kiss him at the same time.  He seemed grateful to have something to do with his mouth besides stutter.


Nicky’s frustration faded at the taste of her.   If he couldn’t say the right thing, at least he could make sure she got the message another way.  But the kisses were starting to drive him crazy.  He ached to kiss her for real, just the two of them somewhere with no florescent overhead lighting or the smell of onion rings in the air.  His good hand was in her hair again and his self-control slipping.

This is not me
.  He was surprised at himself, maybe even impressed that he’d kissed her.  Certainly he was grateful for whatever had come over him.  But it was already ebbing, even in the intense desire he felt for Devin.  He just wasn’t the make out in public type no matter how badly he wanted to make out with her.  Still he couldn’t bring himself to break away from her lips.

Finally, it was who Devin stopped.  She leaned back slightly, holding a handful of his shirt.  Ten more seconds and she’d have him down on the table, forget the hundreds of people passing by and the diner beginning to fill in around them.  He might be seventy pounds heavier but she doubted he could stop her.

The waitress arrived with their drinks and a single plate of pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Nicky gave her the first bite, which she used to offer him a spoonful of ice cream.  He took it with a smile.

“Yes, apple!” Mike suddenly plopped into the booth across from them.  Somehow he already had his own spoon.  Mel was right behind, her hand in Brooks’ back pocket, and Carlson had his face pressed to the dessert case inside the front door.

“There you guys are!” Mel said.

Nicky snatched the plate away from Mike and pushed in to make room for John.  Mel got wedged between Brooks and Mike and did not look upset about it.  
“Making out in a diner?  I feel like I’m in Grease,” Mike said.

Nicky blushed because that’s what he always did, even though he had no idea what Mike was talking about.  Devin, however, choked on her Coke.

“Stranded at the drive in, Mike?” Devin asked.  

He shrugged, mouthful of pie.  “I’ve got Carly.”

The rookie defensemen followed a waitress carrying a whole tray of desserts.  She unloaded two kinds of pie, a slice of cake and a brownie then just held the can of whipped cream out.  John took it with a smile and said, “Can I see  a menu?”


Devin barely tasted the dessert.  She was too busy laughing at the guys trading jabs and too busy feeling the heat from Nicky’s body creep up her leg.  They were squashed into the booth with John on the far end, and Nicky’s arm stayed around her shoulders.  That last drink had fully reached her bloodstream and she had a pretty good buzz going.  Either that or it was the width of Nicky’s thigh pressed against hers under the table.

She knew it was out of character for him to kiss her like he’d done.  Especially a first kiss, and in public.  Thank God, she thought.  It might have taken him ages to work up to it the old-fashioned way.  

Drunk in a bar, as God intended
, she told herself.  But when the liquid courage wore off and the atmosphere was less intense, how would Nicky react?  Surely a first kiss was like a gateway drug, and Devin planned to become fully addicted.  

The arrival of their friends had been perfectly timed.  It was just about to get awkward - that damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead moment when all decisions, good or bad, go right out the window.  You become someone you’re not and do things you don’t like all to the soundtrack of that little devil in your head.

No, Devin knew Nicky was uncomfortable that way.  She just hoped that didn’t mean they’d be uncomfortable when they were alone again.  Because Carlson had eaten half a dinner and the entire dessert case and Mike was nodding off.  Mel and Brooks looked like they’d probably have to find a motel halfway home.
“We should go,” she said softly.  In Nicky’s baby blue eyes she thought she saw relief.

Outside, Brooks and Mel all but ran for their car with the slightest goodbye.  John rolled his eyes at Mike.  “You again?” and he headed toward Mike’s truck.

“Behave yourself, kids,” Mike smirked.  Nicky led Devin toward his car, keeping one hand on the small of her back.

Contact is good
, Devin thought.  But it was more than that – his hand burned through her shirt, prickling her skin.  A panicky feeling rose in her chest and her throat began to constrict.  She took a deep breath to ward off a mini panic attack.  They were almost to the car and she was suddenly terrified of doing the wrong thing.  She had taken the metro to the game, so he was either driving to her house or his house.  On the first date.  Would he want to come in?  Mel and Brooks were obviously out.  They had no trouble communicating expectations about the next step in their relationship.  But what about us?

Devin really liked him.  It felt miles ahead of where they should be.  The entire day - the game, the win, dinner, dancing - had conspired to overwhelm her.  She couldn’t help but be impressed by his friends, his job; Nicky was already a part of something she loved.  But more than that, it was him.  He was exactly the adorable, awkward, charming and simple person she’d expected.  And since he’d kissed her, she thought it might be more than she could handle.

“Are you okay?” he asked, starting the engine.  She had gone quiet without realizing it.

“Yeah,” she tried to sound confident.  Nicky watched her for a moment, his thin lips pressing more firmly together.  Then he reached forward and shut off the car.

Devin sighed quietly.  Nicky turned toward her and put the side of his head back against the seat.  Then he pulled one hand from her lap and held it in both of his.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“I can take you home.”

Devin just watched his face, which was impassive as he looked down at their hands.

“But I don’t want to go away from you,” he said.

All at once she was drunk again.  It rushed to her head, forcing her eyes to close and her heart to pound.  Instinctively she tightened her grip on him.  Her shoulders rounded forward as her stomach dropped hard, like she’d gone over the edge of something.

“Stay with me tonight.”  She had no idea what it meant as she said it.  But Nicky nodded, so maybe he would know when they got there.


Nicky had little experience with this phenomenon.  It was rarely a good idea to go home with someone on the first date - someone you wanted to see again, and away from the bedroom.  It was not the way things were done in Sweden, where people acted properly and with respect.  But there was no way he was leaving Devin’s side, not after he’d come so far, unless she wanted him to.  The look that had come over her face as they neared the car matched what Nicky felt inside: terror.

She’ll think I’m a cold fish
, he worried.  That I could kiss her like that and pull away, that I could leave behind the taste of her lips simply because someone might see us... well, it sounds stupid even to me.

But he couldn’t shake the discomfort of displaying their affection in public before it was defined in private, and he definitely had no idea what it meant.  She’ll think I’m embarrassed to be seen with her, he feared.  Luckily Mike and the guys had turned up and allowed him to feel like he was showing her off again.

Please come with me
, he’d prayed as Devin sat silently beside him in the car.  Then her offer was just as good.

Nicky was not a sex on the first date type of guy, not when he liked someone.  It was a matter of respect and responsibility, especially with the crazy shit he’d seen since coming into the League.  You just didn’t treat someone you cared about that way.  Devin deserved his attention, not the pro athlete reputation of getting what they wanted, when they wanted it.  Now he was caught wanting everything all at once.

The car ride was quiet except for her giving directions.  When they rolled to a stop in front of a brownstone row house, he was relieved to see it looked like two bedrooms.  And her roommate was definitely occupied.  No one else to run into tonight.

Devin let him into a split level townhouse.  It was narrow, the way old houses in DC are, and definitely occupied by girls.  The overstuffed couch had multiple throw blankets, the bookshelves were crammed with as many knick-knacks and photo frames as movies or CDs.  It smelled like flowers or candles, he thought.  It was definitely someone’s home.

She showed him to the couch and went into the kitchen.  He sat stiffly, feeling very much the child he was when he had his actual first date back home.


No big deal, Nicklas Backstrom’s on my couch
, Devin told herself as she poured two glasses of water from a Brita pitcher.  Then she held each to the light to be sure they were clean.  She could see him looking around the room from his seat, his back straight and hands on his knees.  Very formal.  That nervous boy was back.

With a deep breath, she put a smile on her face and picked up both glasses.  Come on, Nicky.

“Nice house,” he said.  “How long you have lived here?”
“Three years, Mel and I.  We have collected so much junk!”  She moved a coffee table book of travel photographs and set down the glasses.  “Before this our college apartment in New York was tiny and filled to the ceiling.  We promised it wouldn’t happen again, but obviously it has.”

“I like it.  My house, there are not so many things.  Everything here I have to buy, or sometimes get a few things on the road.  For visit, my parents always bring things from Sweden, but usually they are for cooking.”  He grimaced.  “I don’t use them so much.”

Devin took a seat next to him.  He leaned back, glass in hand, and relaxed a touch.  It would be all night if she started far away and had to work closer, so she just settled against his side.  That same arm with injured hand went around her shoulder and let her inside.



Not enough , Nicky thought.  She’d gone out with him, so she obviously liked him.  She’d brought him home, so she obviously trusted him.  And now she was curling into his side like a kitten – she obviously wanted to be close to him.

I want all those things too
.  So he used his good hand to reach over her knees and lift her legs across his lap.  She twisted in place with a squeak of surprise.

“Okay?” he asked.  She smiled and reclined against the arm of the couch.  Nicky kept one hand around her knee, resting gently on the back of her thigh.

Devin talked.  She told him about school and work, what she liked in DC.  She asked questions, and then more questions based on his answers.  Nicky was surprised to find himself telling her all kinds of things - funny stories, embarrassing moments, even mentioning a girl he dated last season.  It was easy to talk to her.  And it didn’t hurt that her long legs were stretched across him, her soft hair twisted between the good fingers of his injured hand.  Every time her smile flashed, Nicky’s stomach squeezed inside his ribcage.

He followed her lips as she spoke, wondering if he’d forgotten exactly how soft they were.  The tip of her tongue peeked out and he nearly groaned with the desire to taste her again.  The build-up was killing him but he wanted her to break first.  He needed permission to be in her house, in her arms and to kiss her again, since he hadn’t gotten it before.


Devin wasn’t listening to herself.  Instead she was thinking shit, we’re back to the part where he’s never going to kiss me.  

Nicky was leaning slightly over her, closer than he’d been ten minutes ago but still far enough for a nun to approve.  His hair slipped out from behind his ears.  It really was blond, Devin thought was she studied him, and his fair skin was not exactly flawless.  His front teeth were turned a little crooked and his nose had been broken at least once.  Those little imperfections added up to make one perfect face, one she’d seen a million times but never really looked at until today.  

He laughed.  Apparently she’d said something funny.  Either that or she’d been speaking gibberish, because that’s all her brain could produce right now.  If he didn’t kiss her soon she’d be impersonating the Swedish chef.  

Probably offensive , she thought.

His fingers stroked her hair - at least the unbroken ones.  The gentle touch made her sleepy as did the heat between their bodies.  It was a lot of touching for two people not actually touching each other.  It was a placeholder and it was, frankly, driving her crazy.

He tilted over a little more, telling a story of his own. She hoped it wasn’t important because she wasn’t listening.  The second button on his shirt had come half-open and she watched it, willed it to slip free of his shirt.  Devin tried to move it with her mind.

If it opens, it’ll be a sign.  Then I’m going to lick that patch of skin, along with the rest of him.


What am I talking about?
Nicky had to stop and wonder.  Devin had clearly gotten bored and was examining the seam work on his shirt.  It was possible he’d stopped speaking English some time ago, around the moment when she bit the plump center of her bottom lip, leaving the indentation of her prefect teeth.  The slight dent had not yet righted itself.  He wanted to know if it made her lips feel different to kiss.  His own mouth was still moving and he heard his voice.

“Kyss mig,” he said.


Nicky flinched.  He’d said that out loud.  And in Swedish.  Lord knows what he’d been talking about, but Devin had apparently been listening.

“Uh, sorry.  Swedish,” he stammered.

“What does it mean?”

“Nothing,” he shook his head.

A different smile came to her face.  It started at one corner of her mouth and slowly curled up until a dimple showed in her cheek.  Her eyes narrowed.  “It must mean something.”

He was blushing hotly.  “It’s nothing.  I just make mistake.”

“It sounded like English.”

“No, definitely Swedish.”  Definitely, definitely.

“Does it mean the same thing it sounds like in English?” she asked.

Nicky thought of the words, then thought of the words in English, then compared them. It was a bit of a process - her American accent would say the words differently, so it might sound more like the English...

And then she kissed him.  Devin propped her elbow back on the armrest, pushed up and pulled Nicky’s mouth down to hers.  He blacked out for a second on contact.  His hand tightened around her thigh as he curled down toward her.  For the first time, Devin parted her lips and Nicky slipped his tongue inside.  She purred at the velvety addition to their kiss.  His head spun with the taste and feel or her, and with relief.

Seconds later, she broke the kiss without taking her face away.  “Was my Swedish translation right?”

Nicky smiled and repeated it: “Kyss mig.”  Kiss me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Devin had a momentary space-time slow down, standing against Nicky while the two of them just laughed at Mike.  She thought that if this worked out they’d spend a lot of time doing that.

Then she realized Mel had been unattended in the same room as Brooks Laich for at least thirty seconds.  She hadn’t heard any screaming but that only meant she’d probably eaten her prey whole.  Devin practically jumped away from Nicky, looking past him.

And there was Mel, with one hand on Brooks’ forearm, laughing casually like she’d just come off her yacht in the South of France to find that silly chauffeur had brought the Rolls instead of the Bentley again.  Mel touched her long hair and Brooks’ eyes followed through the soft locks.  

Oh boy, Devin thought.

Nicky watched Devin watching her friend.  Mike went over to introduce himself, since he wasn’t about to let Brooks stake a claim that easily.  It gave Nicky and Devin a moment nearly alone.  In person.  He now  knew her hair smelled like flowers and her silky blouse felt like water beneath his fingers.  He knew she was taller than he’d expected and even more beautiful.  He’s said hi.  The hardest part was over, right?

Devin pinched her lips together to cover a smile as Mike barged into the other conversation like a screen door snapping open in the wind.  “Is he always like that?” she asked.

Nicky, absurdly grateful to not have to think of the next thing to say, replied, “Always.”

That full, flashing smile lit up her face.  “Seems about right.”

She moved back toward him, just close enough for the hairs on his arms to stand up.  He started to ask her if she’d like a drink when the rest of the team burst in.  The maitre’d, unable to stem the tide, tried to announce them.  But John Carlson already had Devin by the waist from behind and was spinning her around.  She hooted in surprised, hair tossing across her face as he set her down on her feet.

“Hi, I’m John,” he said with exaggerated politeness, extending one hand very formally.  “Been eating your food for days, love your work.”

Ovi was next.  “I am Alex.  You must be internet girlfriend.”

Devin glanced at Nicky, laughing.  He cursed himself for blushing.  She extended her hand to shake as John had done, but Ovi looked at it like she was passing a dead fish.

“Why we no hug?  Friends is always hugging.”  He wrapped her up like a bear, then pushed her right to Alex Semin.  “This one Alex, call him Sasha.  He is also for hugging.  Not so much English but he understand everything you say so be careful.”

Devin went down the line getting a hug from eight or nine of the guys.  DJ King dipped her almost to the floor before she finally finished.  Brooks introduced Mel around and pretended not to see the grimace she made when Ovi hugged her.  Or that she accidentally hugged Semin twice.  
Thank God we won, Nicky thought.  

Devin’s brain was in the blender.  Hockey overload mixed with the euphoria of winning and the strong arms of way too many good looking guys.  Even the ones who weren’t good looking were built like jungle gyms and she felt like a monkey dying to climb something.  Nicky offered her a chair and three guys tried to grab the one on her other side.  They would be relentless to him no matter where they sat.  Devin inched her chair close to his and saw he was already blushing.  She leaned over and bumped his shoulder.  The little smile spread as he tried to hide behind his hair.  It wasn’t long enough and they both shook their heads, laughing.

It gave her a second to catch her breath.  There was a lot going on in that room.  Being so near to Nicky was not helping but she couldn’t move away.  The size of him – taking up his chair and a little bit of hers too – was an incredibly pleasant surprise.  She’d never considered the actual math of how they might fit together and now it was very obvious that if it happened, she would finish out the small piece of space he left.

“Would you like a drink?” the waitress was suddenly behind her, starting with the only girl she could find.

“A Sam Adams, please,” Devin said.  Nicky ordered the same and the woman circled away.  John Carlson had won the seat on Devin’s other side and he talked loudly to Michael Neuvirth like young goalie might be deaf instead of Czech.

“I’m glad we win for you,” Nicky said almost quietly.  Everyone around them was rowdy and not listening, though Devin would have bet a few were watching their shy teammate try his luck with a girl.  

“Me too.  Thank you for the tickets, it was so much more intense than a regular season game.”

Nicky paused, like he was going to say something more.  At his lap he twisted one finger into a napkin over and over.  Devin wanted to sigh – he was still nervous.  Maybe even more nervous than before.  The idea of someone like him being that excited about someone like her… well it made her want to kiss him, frankly.

Probably not the time, she laughed to herself.  Instead she shared his menu, though hers was perfectly fine, and talked about what they liked to eat.  He was more of a steak person, she went for pasta.  As they debated the merits of various side dishes, Devin marveled at the size of his hands.  Without thinking she ran her finger along the length of his right thumb.  It was slightly discolored and swollen – there was obviously something wrong with it.  Her skin barely touched his but it felt hot.

“Is this bad?” she asked in a low voice.  No protective dress meant he was trying to act normal and maybe the other guys didn’t even know.

It’s better when you touch it, he almost said.  In truth it throbbed angrily but he’d stuck to Advil for the sake of this date.  If you could even call it that.  His teammates talked to Devin from other ends of the room, calling out questions and embarrassing him, but she just rolled into it like she was dancing with them.  As happy as he was to have them breaking the tension, Nicky was both more interested and more apprehensive than ever to be alone with her.

Then she touched him, skin to skin.  The merest hint of contact.  His stomach flipped and for the first time since hugging her, he didn’t feel any pain at all.

“Broken,” he whispered back.

She was quiet for a second.  Then she laid her hand gently on his wrist and held it there.  Like she understood what an injury meant at this point in the season, with no time to heal and no option but to play through the pain.  It told him that she knew why he wore no splint and would never, ever tell the guys how much it hurt.  It was probably also why he hadn’t scored in so long that he felt he might never score again.  But in the playoffs, reasons are just excuses and there’s no room for whining.

In that second Nicky knew he was going to fall, and fall hard.

Devin didn’t know what to say.  You’re my hero seemed a bit much for a makeshift first date.  But he was – they all were – because she felt how much they loved the game.  Coming off a series win you could probably see their mood glowing from space.  But one win was a drop in the bucket. Athletes gave everything in a way that normal people are rarely asked to do and the idea made Devin immensely proud of the boy sitting next to her.

So she just touched him; a tiny hug she hoped to deliver in full-size later.  She was thinking about later when Carlson ordered twelve shots of vodka.

“Just bring bottle,” Ovi called.

Across the table, Devin caught Mike looking at her.  He raised an eyebrow.  She smirked back.  He tipped his head to the right, where Mel sat next to him.  She was turned away, talking to Brooks.  Devin shook her head slightly.  Mike barely nodded back.  Devin shook her head again.  Then Mike slowly lifted one arm and extended it across the back of Mel’s chair.  She didn’t stop talking, but Devin could see on her face that she noticed.  Brooks noticed too.  He looked at the rogue hand that had appeared between them, then very calmly swatted Mike’s arm so it fell away.  Mike made an angry little boy face and stuck his nose in the air.

Drinks arrived, along with the promised bottle of vodka and a whole tray of shot glasses.  Sasha poured one half and one full, gave the half to Nicky and the full to Devin with a big grin on his face.  She stuck out her tongue and switched them.  Even as a Caps fan, she’d rarely if ever heard Semin speak.  It cracked her up to find he was such a joker.

“Okay.  Good win today, boys,” Ovi called, raising his glass.  “Now we say hope the Penguins win so we can kick their ass next.”  Everyone cheered.  Devin clinked her drink to Nicky’s, tossed it back and winced.  

“Yuck,” Nicky agreed.

Food arrived, and more drinks.  Devin thought there were countries that ate less than this single table.  She talked with Nicky and John, and Mike across from them.  A couple times people took digs at Nicky but overall, they seemed to accept her presence and whatever she was doing there.  With the exception of a wedding, it was the happiest party Devin had ever been to.  More shots were poured – this time Sasha gave her a full one – and more toasts made.  

I hope they win it all, Devin said as she gave a cheers.

It was barely 8PM when they had eaten every last bite of food in the restaurant.  The promise of a party carried through - no one was drunk yet, but plenty of people were headed that way.  They just weren’t going to do it downtown.

“Do you want to go to Arlington?  If not, I can stay here.  No problem,” Nicky offered.

Devin sensed that they still needed people around and a little more time to get comfortable with each other.  And that Nicky really wanted to celebrate with his team - hell, she did too.  It was worth more than the crazy cab fare home.

“Let’s go.”

They headed to the players parking area, which made Devin a little giddy.  Mel was lost somewhere in the group of large bodies but Devin trusted she wouldn’t let herself be left behind.  Instead she took a deep breath to prepare for being alone with Nicky in his SUV.  He opened her door, then climbed in his side and shut the door.

The both sighed softly.  The silence inside the car was blissful.

“I love to play at Verizon Center, but sometimes even we get headaches,” Nicky said.

“I couldn’t hear the crowd over Mel screaming in my ear.”

Nicky gently shifted the car into reverse, favoring his hand.  Devin slid down into the comfy leather seat and tried not to watch him from the corner of her eye.

It was like they knew the Caps were coming.  Saturday night was jumping and there was no hiding a mass of hockey players rolling into a bar.  Not that they tried.  Various friends and family were there, having been called ahead, and the VIP area was half full already.  Nicky was one of the last cars in - he might have taken the long way over to get a few extra minutes with Devin.

Not that he talked much.  She asked about the area, where he lived and if he liked it.  It was easy to tell her things, but when it came time to ask something he was at a loss.  Everything seemed too personal or clumsy: Do you know Swedish fish aren’t Swedish?  How is it possible that you’re single?  What kind of cereal do you like for breakfast?

As they made their way toward the back and the crowd closed in around them, the DJ congratulated the Caps over the microphone.  Everyone started cheering.  Nicky instinctively turned, carving out space with his wide shoulders and reached back for Devin’s hand.

She froze.  He stopped.  She looked at his hand, then at him.  For a long moment, they just stood there staring at each other.  Nicky had trouble processing the surprising development that she didn’t want to hold his hand.  He wasn’t presumptuous, but he had obviously read the entire situation very wrong.  As he was thinking, she said something.

“What?” he asked.

“Wrong hand!”

He had to look to be sure - but he was holding out his broken thumb side.  How could I forget?! he asked himself.  Devin motioned for the other, non-injured side and slipped her small hand into his big one.  Their fingers twined together and Nicky smiled at the feeling.  

He wanted to keep holding her hand, but there was no way to do it while also holding a drink and trying not to get his hand jostled in the crowd.  So he settled for standing next to her in close quarters and listening to her make his friends laugh.  Carlson leaned between them and ditched an empty bottle on the table.

“Come on, Internet Girlfriend.”  With one tug he had Devin halfway to the dance floor.

“I like her,” Mike said, stepping in next to him.  They watched John clowning around with Devin, who gave as good as she got.  

“Me too,” Nicky told him.  No sense denying it, Mike would know anyway.

“So go dance with her.”

Nicky sipped his beer.  “You know I dance bad.”

“Worse than that?”  Carlson was winging her around the floor in a waltz, almost a menace to other people respectably trying to dry hump each other.  Devin just cracked up.

“I’m not funny.”

Mike rolled his eyes and took a full beer from Nicky’s hand.  “Fine.  Let the master show you how it’s done.”

Green pushed his way in and tapped John on the shoulder like an old-fashioned cut-in, then handed Devin the extra drink.  She curtsied.  The song was something made for grinding but Mike kept a little distance and hid his face alongside Devin’s ear so Nicky couldn’t see him talking.

“Having fun?”

“Yup,” was all she said.

“Taking it easy on my boy?”

Devin laughed, trying to cover the nervous giggle that rattled around in her brain.  It was one thing to be here.  It was another thing to kind of be on a date.  It was something else entirely to pretend Usher and Enrique weren’t singing about sex on the dance floor while being half wrapped up in Mike Green.

“I promise.”

Mike swung her around - the blush on her face would give away their conversation to anyone watching.  And of course Nicky was watching.

“Not too easy, eh?  He might need a little... encouragement.”

“I might need to stop drinking,” she unlaced her arms from around his neck to take a sip.  Mike just laughed, took a swig from his own bottle and pulled her back in.  With friends like these..., she thought.  No wonder Nicky was shy.  No wonder he was talking to girls on the internet.  But they were good friends to him, and boys will be boys.  Devin gave Nicky credit for keeping up with them and knew that somewhere inside he wasn’t so shy after all.

When the song ended, she caught Nicky’s eye and winked at him.  He blushed for the hundred-thousandth time.  Devin spun free of Mike.  “I’m going to check on Mel.”

“She’s, uh...,” he started but she was already gone.

Devin knew exactly where her best friend was.  She’d been making out with Brooks since they walked in the floor.  Looping the long way around VIP, all Devin could see where Mel’s feet sticking up over the back of a couch.  
Looks like she’s doing just fine.

She turned outside, crossing the patio in the cool night air to lean against the railing.  It came back to her how unreal the whole day had been: the game, dinner... she’d been flirting with Nicky all night and he was, she was pretty sure, doing his best to flirt back.  The sharp air also made it clear her edges were getting blurry – she hadn’t been kidding about the drinking.  Between the warmth inside and the thumping bass that made everything sway, she was a little woozy.

Not the time to lose my composure, Devin thought.  Or maybe it is.

With a last deep breath, she headed back inside.  As she crossed toward the VIP section, she saw Nicky doing the same from another angle.  She’d been away maybe five minutes but the sight of him was all new overload – mussed hair, shirt sleeves rolled up over his forearms, buttons open at his throat.  He caught her eye and instantly changed course toward her.  His walk was confident.


But as he got close, he slowed and smiled like he’d been all night – happy, but reserved.  Timid.  They came together just off the side of the dance floor as a new song started.

Stop, Devin told herself.

Her brain simply replied: No.

Careful to take his left hand, it didn’t take much convincing to get Nicky on the dance floor.  He slid his arms around her waist and fit her into his space like a key.  The beat was quick but sultry and she couldn’t help touching him as they moved.  So near to his wide body, she felt even more drunk.

“This singer is Swedish,” he said.  “Robyn.”

Devin knew that, but Nicky’s voice vibrated softly against her ear as he leaned in to talk.  His breath was barely warmer than their bodies.  She nodded, but his  baby blue eyes still showed hesitation.  So close, but so far away.  Devin willed herself to be calm.  Nicky dropped his poker face and bit hit lip.

Too soon, she repeated.  But it’s just a kiss.  And now she wanted it more than anything.

I should kiss her, Nicky thought.  The time was right.  There were alone in a crowd, lost amid people who had already gone much farther tonight with someone they’d just met.  He was a little tipsy.  He felt a little bold and all this second guessing was wearing him out.  A beautiful girl who clearly liked him was pressed to his chest and he might not get another chance this good.  Hell if he took much longer he might never get a chance at all.

Devin shifted against him, his hand slipped up her back and under her hair to cup her neck.  Her face turned up, lips so close.  He was really going to do it.

“Hey, we gotta…,” Mike pushed in.  He stopped short, realized he’d interrupted something good.  “No, no, go ahead.”  He waved for them to carry on and stood there watching.

Devin laughed.  Nicky wanted to punch Mike but was busy with the beautiful woman burying her face in his chest, her thick soft hair between his fingers.  Mike tapped his foot like he didn’t have all night.

“What?” Nicky asked.

“Photo for some promoter.  They paid the bar tab.”

Nicky looked down at Devin who shrugged and said, “Sounds worth it.”

He made sure to have a good grip on her hand before following Mike through the rolling crowd.  He felt hollow, having barely had time to remember how it felt to hold her.  He’d almost done it.  Fucking Mike, if he’d waited ten seconds they would have changed everything.  All that nerve worked up for nothing and now he had to start over again.

Who says? he challenged himself.

They climbed the two steps up to VIP, past the nodding bouncer.  All the guys were grouped near the far wall and cameras flashed, snapping candid photos.  It was such a bustle with people trying to get clear of the picture that Nicky felt as good as invisible.

Devin dropped his hand so he could join his teammates posing.  He only went two steps.

Fuck this.

Nicky turned around, covered the space in a single stride and before he could psych himself out, leaned down and kissed Devin’s soft, surprised lips.