Nicky looked around the restaurant. It was minimalist style with white walls and tables, lots of black-clad servers setting lunch trays on tables. Just likes its name: Cafeteria. Based on the three places she’d sent them, Devin liked all sorts of restaurants so long as the food was good.
Mental note, he told himself. Then he almost laughed. In case I ever get up the nerve to ask her out.
He was tired of taking photos of menus for Devin. It was so boring, nothing more than confirmation that he’d been somewhere. As if all he could do was follow directions. And honestly he wanted something more in return – another picture of her, at least. Another step in whatever direction this was going. He’d looked at the other two photos so many times they were imprinted in his brain.
“Guuu nnuuurrrppp,” John Carlson said from across the table.
Brooks shook his head. “You are the missing link, Carly.”
John gulped and lifted the bowl like a prize. “I said this will make for a good nap.”
Inspired, Nicky snapped a few photos of the guys: Carlson holding up two empty bowls, Mike and Sasha mugging for the camera. He got Ovi to take a photo of him and Brooks looking happy and well-fed. They ate enough for three times as many people then took the very long route back to the hotel.
As they passed shop windows, he pictured every dress or necklace on Devin, which was easy considering he had never seen her in person. She was perfect in his little daydream. It slowed him down so much that Mike noticed.
“What do you think?” he asked, tipping his head toward Nicky.
“Definitely a girl,” Brooks said. “He was looking at jewelry yesterday.”
“I know. Where the fuck did he find a girl we don’t know?”
“Ha. You’ll be jealous when I get to her hot friends first.”
They both watched Nick chatting with Sasha. Semin was the quietest of the guys and would be a prime secret-keeper. Mike made a note to dig for information. It was a long season on the road and the guys all gossiped like Real Housewives. They knew, or made a game of finding out, everything about each other.
“She must be the one with all the restaurant suggestions,” Brooks pointed out.
“And there’s some kind of present from NYU in our room, I saw the bag.”
From behind them, a voice chimed in. “He take a lot of pictures this trip. Before never he take pictures,” Ovi added. They hadn’t even realized he was there – the giant Russian was surprisingly stealth. He grinned like a gap-toothed madman.
“Think he’s sending her pictures?”
“He has been on the computer a lot this trip,” Mike admitted, thinking about to the last few nights in the room when Nicky claimed to be emailing friends at home. They were all on their phones instantly, scrolling and tapping.
Mike grabbed the phone from Brooks’ hand. Nicky’s Facebook page had little activity – no status updates or anything – but there were photos. He opened the first one: a brunette smiling over the shoulder of her #19 t-shirt.
“Hello, Devin Mills.”
The guys stopped, huddled in the middle of the sidewalk over the small iPhone screen. Mike opened Devin’s profile.
“At least he pick a Caps fan,” Ovi said.
“You think he picked her? Since when does Backs pick up girls?” Mike rolled through her news feed, showing them photos Nicky had posted of their last few lunches. There were a few and then…, “Oh my God.” He laughed so quickly and suddenly he snorted like a pig at Nicky’s picture with the little sign that said, Hi Devin.
“He is such a noob!” Mike laughed.
“Is cute. Girls like cute.” Ovi smiled again, which frankly made he look like a serial killer. But he thought it was charming. Brooks craned his neck to see the shot from the right angle.
“He could have brushed his hair. But it worked, eh?”
Mike went back to browsing, reaching the top of the page. “Maybe not. There are no posts from today. No pictures.”
The rest of the team was probably back to the hotel by now. It would be nap time shortly then they’d head to rink to try to slay last season’s demon of being eliminated in the first round. Success loomed large and they were feeling good. Giddy, even. And mischievous.
“What we do?” But Ovi knew the answer.
They plotted for the next few blocks, tossing out ideas and shooting them down. They could all friend her at once, the whole team. Devin had her company listed on Facebook; they could send her flowers, or a singing telegram, or a stripper in a Backstrom jersey. She would be watching the game in a few hours; they could have the TV commentators deliver a message on-air.
“But we want her to like him, right? We’re trying to help?” Brooks was wary of screwing up something Nicky was obviously trying to get.
“He need help,” Ovi agreed.
Mike locked his phone and put it away. “Okay, we’ll help.”
Devin actually lost herself in work for a few hours and when she looked up it was after 4 PM. Of course the cap of her pen was chewed to shreds but that beat clockwatching any day. In two hours she’d been holding a beer and probably her breath, hoping the Caps would win. Hoping Nicky would score. Hoping maybe he’d send her a… wait.
Miracle of miracles, Devin had gone hours without checking her Facebook. Anyone watching web traffic must have thought she died. Her computer had saved the password and even the familiar blue and white page layout made her stomach flip.
“Eeep!” she squeaked, actually slapping a hand to her mouth hard enough to leave a mark. She leaned in closer as if what she saw required careful examination. As if it could be mistaken for anything else.
Nicky was shirtless and lay on his stomach. His right arm was up and bent, head resting in the crook of his elbow. The position made his bicep bulge convincingly. You didn’t need to see his whole back to know it was wide and perfectly defined. Chin length blond hair fell over his ear and his lips were open just slightly. He was fast asleep and totally fucking hot.
And just beneath his elbow, another little sign: Hi Devin.
She stared dumbly at the photo for a good thirty seconds. Her brain saw nothing but bare skin and blond hair and rumpled sheets and…
“Uuuhh,” she choked.
Slowly she began regaining brain function. Oxygen travelled through blood and bubbled to life once more. She noticed things in this order:
Jesus Christ, this photo is the best sex I’ve ever had.
He couldn’t have taken this picture.
That’s not his handwriting.
If he’s asleep, the only person there should be…
At the bottom of the post, the time code read 2:32 PM. The picture had been up for almost two hours. So surprised by it, Devin didn’t even realize she had eleven comments.
PICK UP YOUR FUCKING PHONE! - Mel
Is that who I think it is? – her sister Kate
If they lose tonight, I’m blaming you. – a guy from her kickball team
Did I miss the part of the staff meeting where Nick Backstrom is sending you naked pictures of himself? – her boss from minutes ago.
Oh God, work. I… she didn’t get to finish her thought.
“Bahahahaha,” burst from the next cubicle. Brian drew in a huge breath, trying calm himself, and laughed again on his way over. “Are you shitting me?! Or are you trying to end up in the Examiner?”
“I didn’t even see it until now!” She right-clicked to save the picture then deleted the post from her page. All eleven comments went with this. Only then did she look at Brian. He shook his head doubtfully.”
“No,” Devin insisted.
“You have to.”
She gave him a hard look. It would make no difference if she checked or not – if the photo was there it would be everywhere. Well not everywhere. Nicklas Backstrom was not Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, and even hockey’s A-list wasn’t Hollywood’s C-list. It wasn’t like she was getting Facebooked by Zac Efron. But still…
Brian leaned over her shoulder as Devin logged into Tumblr. It was the most disjointed and bewildering blog site out there, like bastard child of Twitter and Facebook and an absolute hive of gossip. Devin followed a fair number of hockey fans and her dashboard usually looked like the NHL equivalent of a Justin Bieber concert. She didn’t have to scroll far.
“Oy.” Brian clicked his tongue. Someone had posted the photo of Nicky straight from her Facebook. It could have been anyone – she was probably even Facebook friends with a few of her online hockey friends, she couldn’t honestly remember.
Tumblr always seemed to have pictures of celebs, in this case hockey players, that were taken by friends or family. Vacation pictures, family pictures, candid shots by people close to them. Yet they always got out. There was a photo she’d seen of Rick Nash kissing his girlfriend that he’d clearly taken himself by holding the camera out with one arm. How the hell did that get on the internet?
“Who took the picture?” Brian finally had a minute to think about it.
“Mike Green, I guess. They’re roommates.”
“Do you think Nick knows?”
Devin resisted the urge to put her fingers to the screen. Nicky looked to peaceful and innocent sleeping, somehow he seemed shy even then. While admitting that she didn’t know him at all, Devin was sure he wouldn’t want this out for the world to see. He’d been so careful.
“No, I’m sure he doesn’t.”
“Hey, we gotta go.” Mike said, tapping the wall. Nicky was dressed in a suit and tie and about to sit down at the hotel room desk.
“We not leave for half hour,” Nicky pointed to the clock.
“Nah, early bus. You slept through the message.”
His computer wasn’t even booted up yet, it would take at least ten minutes to download the photos and post them to Devin’s wall. He could do one from his phone but he wanted to make a little album and show her all the guys at lunch. And maybe write her a note. Maybe she’d written something to him.
“Coach will bust a gut if we’re late!”
Nicky closed the laptop with a groan.
The bus ride was short and Ovi chattered at his the whole time, elaborately suggesting some plays for the game tonight. Once at the arena, Nick tried to get a few moments alone but there seemed to be people everywhere – in the equipment room, the gym, the video room. Finally he ran out of time before the team meeting and then it was time to get dressed.
“Nicky! Can you tighten that strap?” Mike turned his back, one of the ties on his shoulder pads loose. Nick hadn’t even reached for his phone yet. Once they were suited up and ready, Coach was back with some whiteboard work and there just wasn’t a free moment.
Wish me luck, Nicky thought. Devin would be watching whether he talked to her or not. She’d be wearing #19 and cheering him on. What he really needed more than a message was a great game. He could talk to her after.
“Let’s do it,” he said out loud.
Mel squeezed in alongside Brian at a table. The Greene Turtle was packed and Devin loved to watch the game with so many Caps fans. It was almost as good as being there.
“What time are you guys getting here for game five?” Brian asked. “It’s gonna be a madhouse.”
“OH!” Mel did the slow turn. “Didn’t Devin tell you? Her Facebook boyfriend offered us tickets. It’s like their first date. With twenty thousand third wheels and a glass barricade.”
“So you’re finally going to meet him.” Brian said. They were both staring at Devin.
“It’s the playoffs! He should be concentrating on the game not on me!” She was a little too emphatic.
“Oh, so he didn’t ask to meet you,” Brian paused. “Wait. That’s weird, right? I might be a guy but even I’m not that dumb. “
“He’s not…,” Devin started.
Mel cut in. “Yeah, it’s weird. You spend all week chatting with someone and sending pictures, then you get her free tickets to her favorite thing in the world, which happens to be watching your professional sports team win a series in the playoffs… and you don’t want to meet her. I mean, she’s practically out of her clothes already with all that awesome.”
Devin thumped her pint glass down on the table. “Mel!”
“I’m just saying,” she held up her hands. “I don’t think Nicky B gets laid a lot. He should take some pointers from Ovi.”
“Or Mike Green,” Brian conceded.
“You know Varly gets it all over town and he sucks!” Mel said. They were both laughing.
“Nah, no Jersey Shore shit for Devin. Someone like Brooks Laich.”
Mel waved that off. “Brooks can get it right here, thankyouverymuch. Six ways from Sunday and twice before church.”
Brian pulled a face and give himself earmuffs. Devin just put her head down on the table.