“Can we get your friend a job with the Caps?” Brooks asked, a glob of jelly smeared across his chin and his fork mid-air. Ten of them were crowded around a small table near the back of the restaurant, which had a dilapidated French air. Word of Nicky’s insider restaurant knowledge had spread. As promised, the crepes were huge, hot and incredibly good.
“At this rate, you’re never buying lunch again,” DJ King chimed in.
Nicky savored the taste of the cheese and asparagus crepe he’d ordered. Keeping his eyes on his food, he pretended not to notice Mike giving him a pointed look. Practice had been a drag, endless drills about entering the zone on the fly and digging along the boards. The finger he’d broken earlier in the spring was bothering him – probably broken again - but he hid it well. Today no one questioned him when he took a photo of the menu.
All he wrote with the photo on Devin’s wall was Even better.
After eating, a few of the guys went shopping. Nicky trailed along behind, noticing things he usually didn’t like scarves and handbags and jewelry. The huge sections baffled him – acres of floor space, so many choices your head could spin. He wondered what kind of stuff Devin liked and where she bought it. Nicky considered his own jeans, sweater and pea coat and felt decidedly Old Navy about himself.
“Who is she?” Mike cut into his reverie. He wore a sweater and a scarf against the spring chill, too stylish for most of the guys to pull off. But Mike looked like he belonged in this store.
Nick quickly put down a pair of earrings, denying he’d ever held them. “No one.”
“Bullshit. You’re walking around here like a fucking Care Bear. Unless you’ve suddenly decided to carry a purse. Hot trend in Stockholm these days?” Mike turned to the side, poised on his elbow like he had all day to wait for an answer he believed.
“It’s nothing,” Nick tried to convince himself. He left Mike staring at his back and moved through the shop. There was jewelry everywhere. Should I buy her a gift? What do you get a girl you literally don’t even know? There were big bracelets and tiny rings, all kinds of pins and pearls. Brooks came strolling up with a large garment bag over one shoulder. Something simple and slick, no doubt. Another thing Nicky could never really accomplish.
“Buying a present?”
Nick shrugged, his long blonde hair falling into his face. “Not really.”
They faced a glass case full of silver necklaces. There were hundreds of chains and pendants neatly arranged. Brooks pointed to a circular one with what looked like three tiny emeralds embedded up one side, like they were rolling in a clothes dryer.
“That’s nice,” he said and then left.
Nicky stared into the display, trying to picture the delicate charm against Devin’s skin. It would look beautiful – it was beautiful in and of itself. But without asking the price he decided against it. He hoped Devin wasn’t the type to look around the locker room and pick a guy because he’d spend money on her. Of course, any of them would. They were programmed to operate that way. But there had to be something Nicky could bring her home that didn’t make him that guy.
Later in the day, wandering around near Washington Square Park, he found it. Without noticing they had strolled onto the NYU campus. It was indistinguishable from the city really, but the university bookstore was flying multiple banners.
“Maybe they have an international section,” he said. John Carlson shrugged like all books might as well be Swedish for how much he wanted to read them. It bought Nicky the out he was looking for. “Catch up with you guys in a few minutes.”
The shop was stuffed to overflowing. It was part gift shop, part supply store for students and part regular bookstore. Nicky had never seen blenders shelved next to markers and calculators. On the second floor, he found what he was looking for.
Oh America, he thought. No less than three full aisles of NYU branded clothing stretched out before him. Not just sweats and hats, but socks and bathing suits and bedspreads. It looked like the Caps pro shop. He spent two minutes picking out a t-shirt for himself – simple gray with an NYU logo – and twenty picking out something for Devin. In the end he settled on a bound leather photo album with New York University embossed tastefully on the cover. She had so many photos online, surely she’d have some printed as well. He turned the pages, wondering if it would ever hold a picture of the two of them.
“You are a mess,” Brian said. He leaned over into Devin’s cubicle. She looked up from the document she was proofreading to see her hand noisily drumming her pen on the desk.
Hmmm, didn’t notice that. She put the pen down, pressing it to be sure it went still.
“Ants in your pants?”
“Let me guess.” He came around the wall and leaned against her cabinet. “Your boyfriend hasn’t scored in, oh… eighteen games and you’re hoping tonight might be the night.”
Devin hadn’t been thinking about Nick’s scoring drought, but she had been thinking about Nick. She blushed and stuttered at the same time. “He’s not my… how do you know that?”
“I think you can bet online how many games he’ll go scoreless.”
She slapped his leg. “Not that!”
“Facebook, baby. Socially acceptable stalking. Not that I’m stalking you. And if I were, I would probably give up now.” He smirked. “Can’t compete at that level I’m afraid, just a lowly old copy editor.” He crossed his arms and his ankles emphatically, feigning resignation.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she said clearly.
“That ought to last ten minutes.”
“I…,” she stopped, wondering why she was defending herself or how much she wanted to share. Brian was a cool guy; they hung out after work sometimes, and he had a long-term girlfriend so he was just giving Devin shit. And she didn’t want to lie about it, necessarily. “I have never even met him.”
Brian raised one eyebrow in the international sign for Excuse me?
“You know one in five couples nowadays meet online. I saw it in a Match.com ad.” He nods affirmatively.
“We didn’t meet on Match.com!”
“Okay, HockeyPlayersWhoNeedDates.com or whatever sites you visit. ILoveSwedes.net.” He laughed at his own joke. “AtLeastIScoreOffTheIce.org.”
Devin put her head down on the desk laughing. There was something embarrassing about online dating, even if everyone did it. Like people who found someone the old fashioned way could hold it over you. Meeting someone online sounded a lot like shopping for shoes – you could see what looked good, but not how it fit you.
“We’re not dating,” she said again.
After dinner, Nicky kicked Semin’s butt at Battlefield 2: Band of Brothers and left Mike to take his spot against Erskine, the reigning champion. It was nearly ten and the perfect excuse to have his own room for at least a few minutes. In the hall, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and instinctively pushed his hair behind his ears, neatening his appearance.
Like she can see me, he scoffed.
But that’s how it felt: like a real date. Something he should have to plan and get dressed for. An opportunity to impress her and get to know her and… and fail miserably, of course. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Nicky had dated. He’d had a few girlfriends, though none in Washington because his first few seasons had seemed so hectic. Endless road trips, his parents visiting all the time, holidays to plan for and the few precious off days spent trying to heal bruises and aches too numerous to count.
Some guys fed off the life – the more action, the more they acted. One or two nights a week were all they needed because they made those nights count. Nicky moved more slowly, letting things build, and by the time he got a third or fourth free day, weeks had passed. There were girls who would wait, of course, but none of them had been right.
Looking at Devin’s profile picture, he wondered if she’d be the same: disappointed by what he could offer and frustrated that his life was often not his own. He considered if it was better not to start something you weren’t sure you could finish. Maybe he would never give her that photo album, never even see her smile in real life. Maybe it was better that way.
Devin: You’re early!
I’ve been waiting all day to talk to you, Nicky wanted to say. But instead he typed You are too.
I’m jealous you had crepes for lunch. That picture made me hungry.
They were great. I am so popular now. Do you have another place for tomorrow?
Before a playoff game? That’s a lot of pressure. I’ll think about it. What else did you do today?
Thought about buying you a present, bought you a present, thought about not giving you the present, he rattled off in his brain. To Devin he said Hard practice today then just walk around, I love New York for just seeing the places.
Did you practice entering the zone on a rush?
Nicky laughed out loud. She really should be an assistant coach.
Yes. Still I need to score your goal.
Devin winced. Brian had been right about Nick not scoring in eighteen games. The commentators and press were all on about it, about not delivering in the playoffs. As long as they won it was a dull roar. God forbid they lose, she thought, I will punch anyone who says a word against him.
Brian’s right, I am a mess! she admitted to herself.
Between chat messages, she did a Google Image search for pictures of him. There were thousands, but the first few pages were always the same. That blond hair to his chin, boyish face trying to make a serious impression. He smiled with his mouth closed – Devin wondered if his crooked front teeth made his self-conscious. She thought they were adorable.
And here he was still talking about getting a goal for her.
You’re playing really well, goals will come. It must be frustrating.
Yes and when I try more it is only harder.
So stop worrying about my goal. But you should do an intermission interview so I can see you.
My English sometimes is not very good.
I can find a hundred interviews with you online and your English is great.
Writing is easier. More time for thinking.
Devin sighed. There was a really good chance that she would never meet Nicky. That he never intended that at all, even after all this talking. And flirting. We are flirting, right? How do people flirt in Sweden? she wondered. Still, Nick was a Capital. She was a copy editor at an ad agency. There was little more to go on than they both liked hockey and that certainly wasn’t going to take them down the aisle. She ran through the possibilities for the ten thousandth time: he’s bored, he’s lonely, he wants to practice English, he’s tired of always hanging out with his teammates. Any reason made more sense than he wanted to date her.
Are you still there? he wrote.
Yeah, sorry. I’m here. What are you doing now?
Just talk with you. Mike will come back soon, maybe watch a movie. We go to bed early, like old people.
Haha. You must go out on off nights.
There is was, launched into the conversation like a missile. Free time means time to meet new people, right?
Nicky looked at the message, all innocent in black and white pixels. In his mind it flashed like a neon sign. He knew he wasn’t great with girls. Maybe not even good. But the message was so clear even in English he could see it: ask me out.
“I want to,” he said out loud to the empty room. Eventually he would have to man up and meet her, or he might as well stop this right now. He would end up hurting himself either way – trying and failing or letting himself get this wrapped up only to walk away.
It had only been a few days, three pictures, two restaurant recommendations and a a few chat conversations. It had only been two games. In the course of his life, often measured by the number of games since or until something, the number won or lost, two games was nothing. He had known her for less time that it took to break in a pair of gloves.
But he was into her. Whether he cut himself some slack or not, Nicky had a crush on Devin.
“Please work,” he spoke again. He had one, and only one, clever idea.
Who comes to games with you?
My roommate Mel. She’s a big fan too.
Nicky could have rolled off the bed in relief.
For game 5, I can get tickets for you and Mel.
There it was - not bring a friend who might be a guy, or bring a blind date or bring your burly biker boyfriend.
Devin squealed and pressed her face into a pillow. Mel was going to freak out. Game five could be the most exciting thing ever. Besides meeting Nick, of course. She waited, but he didn’t offer anything more.
We would love to. I would love to, she answered.
Tomorrow after the game we fly right home. I can message you next morning about tickets?
Sure. It will be awesome to see you play.
“It would be more awesome to see you pre-game in your suit and post-game celebrating your series win,” she whispered, as if saying it out loud could make it come true.
Cool. Good night, Devin. I hope we win for you.
Night Nicky. Good luck tomorrow!
She closed the dialogue box to avoid seeming like a creeper. Facebook told you when someone had shut the text window, which she always found odd. Socially acceptable stalking indeed.
When is it socially acceptable to ask someone out?! She kept a little scream inside. If he brought them to game five and didn’t meet them… well she wouldn’t know what to think at all. Maybe he was warming up to it. Maybe he’d tell her in the message. Maybe he had a size two blond girlfriend who baked cookies from scratch and wore lingerie made from unicorn mane. She knew absolutely nothing about him.
The box popped open again.
“OhmyGodaskmeout!” she shouted rather loudly.
What is another place for lunch?
This time, Devin grabbed the pillow before she screamed.
Nicky needed a reason to post something to her wall tomorrow, a reason to communicate. Game days were serious times and simply saying hello would reveal how much he was thinking about her. It would give him away. But lunch was the perfect alibi.
Try Cafeteria on 7th and have the macaroni and cheese.
Cool. Have a good sleep.
You too, Nick.
He looked at the shopping bag sitting atop his suitcase. She’d definitely get the presnt.
Mel knocked on the door as Devin was shutting down her computer. Apparently her screams had not gone unnoticed.
“That was not the sound of you making a date.”
Devin flopped back into her pillows. “How about a date with you? To gave five?”
“Nicky offered us tickets.”
Mel gripped the edge of the dresser till her hand was white. “And he offered you a tour before and to take you out after with the whole team. And me. Plus a chalet on a fjord and all the lingonberry jam you can eat.”
All Devin could do was shake her head. “Tickets. That’s it.”
“Hmmm.” Mel’s face twisted into a confused look. “Maybe because it’s the playoffs.”
“Maybe because there’s nothing going on here and I’m just crazy.”
“Still, tickets to game five. That’s serious.”
“Serious date night for you and me.”
Mel tilted her head. “Too bad I only put out for Brooks Laich.”