The trip to NYC was easy and Nicky joined some of the guys to walk around the city. Spring was in full effect, people looked happy even in their hurry and things were opening after the long, harsh grasp of winter. They took cabs up to Central Park, planning to stop for lunch and work their way back toward their hotel.
New York was one of Nicky’s favorite cities to visit. It always reminded him of how small things seemed at home in Sweden - how clean and orderly. But New York was more exciting.
As they walked and window shopped, watching the people and the bustle that never stopped, Nicky’s mind drifted to Devin. On Facebook there was a photo of her near shopping at Columbus Circle. They passed Rockefeller Center, where she’d gone ice skating. She’d climbed on a stone lion at the Public Library. Always smiling.
So stupid, he told himself. You don’t even know her. But he thought she’d like the horse drawn carriages along the Park and the hot chocolate truck he saw parked at a corner.
“What are you looking all mooney about, Backs?” John Erskine asked very loudly, catching the attention of their little group. “Did you get laid or something?”
He blushed. He always blushed. That’s why they teased him.
“Ooh, Nicky’s got a girlfriend!” John Carlson chimed in, making kissing noises. He was such a child. Nicky let it die out without sharing much, but when they turned the next corner Mike appeared at his side.
“You are a space case today,” Mike confirmed. Nicky just shrugged. Getting ahead of himself was one thing but telling someone else, even Mike, would break the spell.
“I’m just thinking about the game.”
Mike smacked Nicky on the back. “You have no game Nicky, and that’s not what you’re thinking about.”
Nicky made a point to talk more next last 10 blocks, just to shut them up. And when they reached the corner of 33rd and 5th, he steered them toward a hamburger place.
“My friend recommend this place, said the burgers are best ever,” he told his teammates. Actually Devin had said the root beer floats were the best ever, but he didn’t think that was enough draw. She’d promised the guys would not be disappointed with the food.
“What friend?” Mike asked. Ninety-nine percent of their social circle was shared. The other one percent was Devin.
“You don’t know them.”
Late lunch meant it was easy to get a table for six. They tucked into various burger creations, along with regular and sweet potato fries, extra pickles and everything else on the menu.
“Good call, Backs,” Brooks Laich said.
“Very... smart... friend,” John Carlson added with a mouthful of food.
Nicky reached back to grab a menu from the nearby pile. He positioned it on the table and snapped a photo with his phone. The Facebook app was already open.
“That for your friend?” Mike said suspiciously.
Nicky shrugged, tilting the screen away. “Just to remember where we eat.”
He posted the photo to Devin’s wall and logged out - it wouldn’t be the first time if one of the guys stole his phone. Lunch was as good as she had promised and he didn’t have to pay because he’d steered them toward a winner.
Too bad I can’t have a root beer float, he thought. Not during the playoffs. But maybe someday I’ll come back here with Devin and... oh shut up.
They killed more time walking across town, then had a team meeting and some other duties before dinner. Carlson moaned about being full from lunch then polished off an entire side of beef. Nicky ate lightly, knowing that it was good to wake up hungry on game days. Conditioned by their schedule, the guys were all tired by 10 PM.
“Watch whatever,” Mike said, heading for the shower. When the water came on, Nicky felt safe enough to open his laptop and log in. There was a little red 1 on the notification bar.
Devin Mills: Glad you liked lunch. Tomorrow you should try the crepes at Ecole on 9th Ave. Rest up!
Nicky scribbled down the name of the restaurant and quickly logged off. He’d think of something to write back and send it later, when Mike fell asleep.
“Any love letters from your boyfriend today?” Mel asked.
Devin was settling into the couch, laptop open. She knew she’d be disappointed if Nick hadn’t replied to her comment. But that’s stupid. I’m getting mad when he’s not waiting for my messages. Like I’m clearly waiting for his. It had been so... real chatting with him. Yes it was online but it was almost like an actual conversation with an actual person. Not the wild idea of some famous hockey player. She made a face to cover her real expression.
“He did send me a picture from lunch. They went to a place I used to love in school.”
“He’s in love with you.”
Devin laughed, feeling giddy at the prospect. Her heart fluttered a little when she say the red notification – but then saw there were 6, not 1. What?
All the comments were on Nicky’s photo that he’d posted on her page. So caught up, Sophie had forgotten than anyone who saw her profile could see his post. But no one looks at my page! She and Nick had no mutual friends, would not have appeared in anyone’s news feed. Apparently she was wrong.
Is there something you want to tell me?!?!?!? said a co-worker.
No wonder you don’t return phone calls said Jeremy from next door.
Catfishing yourself, Dev? her brother asked.
The rest were the same. Devin quickly deleted the responses hoping Nicky hadn’t seen them. She didn’t want to bother him or scare him away. He was obviously quite private and this was exactly what couldn’t happen. Her mouse hovered a moment but she couldn’t bring herself to remove his photo post entirely.
“Sorry Nicky,” she whispered, clicking on his name. One more look at his profile... if he could see how many times she viewed his Facebook, that would be enough to lock her up for life.
His photos were just so vague. They were obviously selected with care to eliminate anything worthy of sharing... and so eliminated any signs of real, messy, silly life. She got the impression that Nick had a goofy side - how could you not, hanging out with Mike Green? - but that didn’t translate onto the web. And you don’t even know him, she reminded herself. You’re making all this up.
Mel leaned back into the room. “Stop perving!”
Devin laughed, mostly at herself, and headed to bed.
She looked over her shoulder into the mirror. The #19 on her back had never looked so good. Crazy pants, she teased herself. But even so she headed for the kitchen with a camera in hand.
Mel took it and set up a shot. “For your mail order bride profile?”
“Har har.” But yes, a little.
After a mini photo shoot that would have made Victoria’s Secret proud, Devin finally had a photo that was both cute and sporty. Mel leaned over her shoulder as she posted it to Nicky’s wall.
“Write: Score in NY and you can score right here in DC,” Mel suggested.
“How about: Practice putting one in my crease?”
Devin slapped her on the side of the head. “How about: Good luck tonight.”
“How about: Get lucky tonight?” Mel tried. Devin used her shoulder, arms and one leg to push her roommate into the hall and lock the door. Five minutes or she’d miss her train. The cursor blinked insistently in the little white text box.
Have fun tonight! I’ll be cheering.
Send. And she was gone.
The Caps had a light morning skate, then fixed up equipment and got prepared for the game. After lunch, they went back to the hotel for pre-game naps.
Time to get our heads in the game, Nicky thought sarcastically as he opened his computer. Mike was shuffling around in the bathroom. What if Devin hadn’t sent anything - would he be able to sleep? The tiniest things could throw him off on game days. But if there was something, that might not be better. His brain had hatched about every scenario, from meeting Devin to marrying her, like an endless filmstrip in his head over the last two days.
And you don’t even know her, he told himself for the thousandth time. Just because some girl wears your...
But there it was. Some girl, wearing his number. And it definitely wasn’t nothing.
Facebook told him there were 7 notifications, but when he clicked only one came up. Devin was looking over her shoulder; even in profile her smile was contagious. His last name looked huge across the shoulders of her girl-cut shirt. She wore dark jeans, standing in a kitchen he presumed was hers. Someone must have taken the photo. Nick quickly decided it was too centered, focused and clear to have been taken by a guy. That close to Devin and he’s sure his hands would be shaking. The short and sweet note made him smile.
Nicky thought about what to write back. It looks beautiful on you or My number has never looked better. But he couldn’t figure out how to compliment her without being too obvious – his English wasn’t strong enough to be subtle. Everything came out sounding like a caveman. He sighed, shut down the machine.
He would welcome sleep if he could dream about meeting her and knowing what to say.
The Caps lost a tough game 3-1 in New York. Devin’s heart felt heavy and solid. There was no need to panic about the season ending yet, but she had desperately wanted them to get this one. It was her game. It was their game: hers and Nicky’s. Like their first date or their first kiss.
Or my first straight jacket, she thought.
Watching them leave the ice with heads down, she knew there was nothing she could post that would do any good. Suddenly everything about it seemed inadequate, fake. Some things had to be shared the old-fashioned way: in person. Until then their “relationships” was simply a product of her overactive imagination and empty bed.
Losing sucked. Losing in the playoffs was a hundred times worse. It had been a pretty even game, but that didn’t matter. Nicky hauled himself onto the bus and sat in shared silence for the ride home. Everyone went right to their rooms and closed their doors.
Nicky loved rooming with Mike, but having a roommate as a grown up was weird. Most things kept private by normal people were everyday occurrences among athletes - hell, they walked around naked all the time, so boundaries went right out the window. Guys brought girls back to shared rooms, took care of themselves when there were no girls... it seemed like anything would go. Except secretly chatting with a someone you’d picked up online.
Mike flipped on the TV. Nicky climbed into bed with his laptop and leaned against the headboard. A handful of people had messaged him - but none were from Devin. All his friends back home had been following the game, even in the early morning hours. He spent a few minutes reading their notes so he wouldn’t have to lie.
“Whatcha doing?” Mike asked, not bothering to look over.
“Got some emails.”
Nicky checked his page - Devin’s photo was still there, looking like a stake through his heart. He hadn’t been exceptional tonight, probably hadn’t gotten much camera time. She must be disappointed in him.
The box popped up in the bottom corner and Nicky’s whole body tensed.
Sorry about the game.
Nicky: Hi. Sorry I didn’t get your goal.
I don’t care about that! You guys played well.
We play okay. Be nice to have 3-0 lead, not so much stressing.
You’ll have 3-1 after game 5.
Nicky knew what had been nagging him all day. Game 5 would be back in Washington. He should invited her. He wanted to - wanted her to see a playoff game, get the VIP treatment, something that only he could give her. He wanted to meet her and see that smile in person.
But after tonight’s tough loss, it was hard to imagine that being a good idea. What if they lost? What if he played badly and ruined his chance? On TV it was easy to get away with a mediocre game because the camera dictated what viewers could see. In the arena she could follow him through the whole game. And probably wouldn’t want to.
What do you do after the game?
After we lose, just hang around. Watch TV or a movie. What are you doing?
Washing my Backstrom shirt so I can wear it again for game 4.
Nicky made a noise, somewhere between a sign and a moan, didn’t quite catch it in time. He hoped the sound of Seinfeld’s laugh track covered it up. She might as well have turned up and hugged him for how good that felt.
Ask her to game five, his brain said.
Wait, I need to think about this, he answered himself.
Think? I’m your brain. I say do it.
No, I need more time.
I’m going on strike, his brain decided.
Even under direct orders, Nicky chickened out. But he did do something.
Nick: Maybe we can talk tomorrow? We have curfew at ten.
Devin: Okay, ten. Go to Ecole for crepes and tell me how you like it.
It will be good. You make me very popular today for lunch.
This place is better, you’ll see. Goodnight, Nicky.
He logged out, stupid grin on his face. He kind of had a date. A first date. And he didn’t have to worry about getting distracted by her smile or her hair. Of course, he already was distracted. Now he could think about kissing her the whole time and she wouldn’t be able to see it on his face. He’d only have to hide it from Mike.