"Ready?" Nicky asked. Devin smiled - it was that or throw up.
How does he do it? Nicky was already in the zone for game one vs Tampa Bay. His adorable little serious face was hard to take with his slightly crooked teeth and baby face. She wanted to squeeze him and kiss him and tell him everything would be okay. But the brick-sized knot in her stomach said otherwise.
It was five o'clock on game day. She'd left work early and come by the locker room. In a little hallway alcove, Nicky kissed her quickly.
"I'm glad you are here."
Her ankles melted like butter. Good thing he was holding her up. Devin kissed him back, bit her lip and waved goodbye. As she turned to leave, Mike rounded the corner and crashed right into her.
"Oh, hey. Sorry Dev. You look great."
She was wearing the same jeans and Backstrom t-shirt as the other day, nothing special, but the compliment made her heart squeeze.
Please please please, she pleaded silently to no one.
She hugged Mike hard, and without hesitation he returned the strong grip. There was a lot on the line and no one needed to say it.
"Luck!" she said, practically running away.
Four hours and three beers later, Devin and Mel sat as quietly as the rest of the Verizon Center crowd. After a deafening roar that threatened to collapse the building and some back-and-forth scoring, the Caps fell apart in the third. TB was up by one but it might have been ten for how poorly the Caps were playing. When the buzzer finally sounded, all she felt was relief.
She and Mel headed home. Devin was desperate to console Nicky but doubted her ability to be what he needed after a game like that. She didn't know him well enough to help and didn't want to do the wrong thing. But she wasn't home an hour when the phone rang.
"Can I come over?"
"Of course!" Devin's voice cracked like she might cry.
He knocked on the door twenty minutes later and Devin dragged him right to her room, onto the bed and wrapped herself around him. Nicky sagged into her arms like he weighed a hundred extra pounds.
I can't do this, she suddenly thought.
Her heart pounded with frustration and ached with fear. It was just one game. She couldn't handle a whole series - forget a whole season! - of this. Nicky rolled his face into her neck. He had not played well.
From her twisted position, Devin unlaced his tie and and peeled off his jacket. His baseball cap hit the wall with a thwack. Dress shirt buttons were quick in her hands and within moments he was in shorts and a t-shirt, Devin standing over him. Then she undressed to match and pulled the comforter around them. They lay awake but not talking, curled up together, for a long time. Eventually she drifted off to sleep.
Nicky knew sleep wouldn’t come. It never did after bad games, even when he left everything he had on the ice. Being awake was a punishment and the darkness would not take it away.
Devin slumbered and Nicky never moved. He held her like she was made of spun sugar, just sweetness and air, something that couldn’t possibly stand up to the terrible conditions of everyday life. A treasure to be admired but one you surely couldn’t touch.
There would be more of this, he knew. Even if they won, even if they went all the way - well, he never let himself think about that. Dream, yes, and maybe daydream in the off season. But during the run, thoughts about the Cup were as off-limits as touching it. You had to get it first. But before that could happen, bad games and defeats, anxiety and terror would be monsters under their bed.
Their bed. He hadn’t spent a night away from her since they met and ideally, he never would. But Nicky was a realist. And Devin’s reaction to today’s game had told him the truth - she really cared. If not about him just yet, then about the game. She understood. And people near the boards always got hit hardest.
A few nights before he’d lost control and been so aggressive with Devin, been so demanding and forceful. He’d felt strong. Now he felt as tired as he ever had, eighty seven games deep with only more work to be done. And still sleep would not come.
She turned, burrowing closer to him. He brushed hair from her forehead and settled into a new position to wait for morning.
At some point Nicky must have fallen asleep, because he woke in an empty bed.
Devin’s side was cold and the shorts she’d been wearing were tossed on top of the sheets. The clock said he had two hours before a practice that would be more like a trip to the principal’s office. He lay there, considering any manner of excuse not to go, until Devin came back. A rep Caps hoodie he’d never seen before was zipped around her chest.
“You know I get stuff for free.”
She chucked her sneakers and climbed onto the bed, offering him a bagel with cream cheese from a paper bag. “Brooks bought it. Well, Mel did, but if he didn’t report his wallet stolen then she had permission.”
“I can get for you, anything you want.”
Devin leaned up onto her knees and he stopped chewing so she could kiss his lips. “I was cold. If you’d been there, I would have just asked for a hug.”
He watched her get ready for work, pulling on slacks and a sweater, slipping into high heels. He knew the guys in her office must be in love, and they didn’t even know what her lacy thong looked like underneath. As she brushed her hair, Nicky hoped she could be stronger than he was. Shyness had been his problem, now weakness would take its place.
She presented herself for approval, Nicky applauded and started to get up. “You can stay, if you want. Just lock the door when you leave.”
He blinked at her like he’d forgotten English.
“You’re almost to Verizon, why go all the way home?” she asked.
It was true, he didn’t need to. Except to kill time, which he’d do by watching TV or surfing the internet, both of which he could easily do at Devin’s. But he’d be alone in her space. Was that weird? She didn’t seem to think so.
“Is that okay?”
Devin put the last of her things into her purse. “If you steal anything, I’ll just buy a new one with Brooks’ credit card.”
Devin kissed Nicky goodbye at the front door like they were on Leave it to Beaver, only the roles were reversed. She had woken a few times in the night to him tossing and turning - even when he slept it was poorly. Maybe he’d take an extra hour and face practice with some strength.
Maybe not, she knew. He’d taken the loss about as hard as she’d expected, but it was still a lot to handle. You could see a car accident, even just a fender bender, and drive away. It was different when you felt the impact.
It left her feeling useless. Nicky had asked to come over, so he craved something but Devin didn’t know what. He hadn’t slept, hadn’t felt better - she’d clearly failed. Knowing the practice would be rough, she didn’t want to ask any more from him by making plans for that night. But they had yet to spend a night apart. So she left him at her apartment, hoping that would make him want to come back.
“So...,” Bryan said as she came in.
Devin just put her head down on her desk and prayed for five o’clock.
It was the first day that no one mentioned Nicky to her. No one made a joke or a kissing noise. Just yesterday, Devin had wished they’d get over it already. Today she wished for it back. When the end of the day finally rolled around and she hadn’t heard from Nicky, Devin wasn’t surprised to find Mel on the couch in her sweats.
“Well that sucked,” her friend pronounced. Mel looked like her normal self. Brooks must have kept his live bites under her clothes. “Guess it’s girls’ night in.”
Over take out and a bottle of wine, Devin became more intimately acquainted with Brooks than with some guys she’d actually had sex with herself. Mel spared no details, good or bad, about what had apparently been a three day lock down at his condo. They had ordered groceries and condoms from Safeway delivery.
“And I swear to God, Dev, he is ready to go every twenty minutes. If you could plug your phone into him your battery would never die. And he likes to talk. Some of the things he says would have Nicky making the sign of the cross.”
Devin smiled over a bite of Thai food. “Well, Nicky is not all that vanilla,” and she told Mel about being held off the floor inside the door and nailed to the wall like a picture. Mel nearly choked.
“Stop! You’re ruining my image of him! Tell me he cried after, or asked you to adopt a manatee or something.”
“He, uh... he told the press I was his girlfriend.” Devin expected a shriek from Mel, maybe some jumping, but no. Mel just rolled her eyes.
“Ugh, you married people are so gross.”
A few hundred x-rated details later, Devin hauled herself upstairs. Nicky hadn’t called. She didn’t want to disturb him. But she had tickets, and her Backstrom t-shirt was ready to go.
I can go one night without him, she told herself. But an hour later she was still awake when her phone rang.
“I can’t sleep,” he said in a small voice.
Nicky sighed. “Come let me in?”
Devin got downstairs so quickly that Nicky checked for a fireman’s pole. She threw open the door wearing just a green t-shirt and white panties. His sweatshirt and duffel bag made him feel inflated as she hugged him so hard her arms popped. He quickly ditched his heavy shoes to avoid making noise.
“Are you allowed to be here?” Devin whispered.
“Bruce can’t hear you,” Nicky whispered back, already feeling better for seeing her face. And her underwear. She slapped his arm.
“Fine! Get in trouble!”
He pulled her in for another hug. “Curfew is eleven. I have ten minutes to be in bed.”
“It doesn’t matter whose bed?
Upstairs, a floorboard creaked. They both froze.
“No sex before games!” Mel shouted.
With minutes to spare, Nicky had his eyes closed in a dark room with the girl of his dreams tucked under one arm. She wore pants just in case.
Practice had been just a team meeting. Some things had to be said out loud, though everyone knew them. Thankfully their coach was a no-bullshit kind of guy. He read them the riot act and sent them away.
Nicky had paced his house for an hour, then the supermarket for nearly another hour. A light workout did nothing to calm him, but he needed to conserve energy. So he went to a movie, didn’t bother to follow it, and went home all while Devin was still at work.
She’d seen him low last night. When she didn’t call, he worried she must think less of him. He wanted her to think he could handle it so he didn’t call either. During daylight it had been manageable but once night fell he started going stir crazy. Thinking too much about the game was a bad formula but it was the only other place his mind would go. So he gave up.
It’s late. You didn’t invite me. I’m really scared. Very manly, Nicky thought. But judging by the reception, Devin was just plain old happy to see him. And mercifully, sleep came quickly that night.
In the morning, he snuggled as much as he dared without getting too riled up. No sex before games definitely meant the morning of. Devin understood. But when it was time for him to leave, she kneeled on the bed and held his face, kissing him as hard as she could.
“Good luck,” she said, squeezing his non-broken hand tightly.
“See you tonight.” Because either way he knew he’d need to.
Devin stared at her hands.
The Caps had been down almost the whole third period. When Ovi scored with just over a minute left, Devin’s knees actually buckled. She’d barely been able to stand and cheer. But just six minutes into the overtime, Lecavalier beat Neuvy with the game-winner.
“I’m never getting laid again,” Mel said. She tried to smile but it wouldn’t come. The arena was eerily silent at 18,000 shocked people filed slowly outside. Devin never turned her head.
The silver key in her palm shone under the bright lights. It had been delivered by a staffer, right to her seat during the first period.
See you tonight. Nicky
Even his writing looked Swedish.
Devin went home with Mel, got her car and some clothes, and drove herself to Nicky’s. It was the first time she’d gone there alone. She flipped on the living room light and immediately saw a single hot pink daisy in a vase on the bar. Leaning against the base was a note: Be home soon.
When he’d written that, he thought they’d win. When he’d left her the key, bought her a flower, he hoped to be taking a tied series to Tampa. Now that wasn’t true and it twisted Devin’s heart.
She flitted around nervously under she heard his car in the drive, but his place was bigger and she didn’t make it to the door first. His overcoat was open, his hat pulled down so that blond hair showed only along his neck. She waited for him to close the door.
“Sorry,” she said.
Nicky walked right into her arms and knew that if he could do that every time they lost he’d have a better life.
Truthfully he wanted to cry. Game one had been awful but tonight had been so even. They could have won. But at the end of the night it didn’t matter how close you’d come. Tomorrow they would leave to face the hottest team in hockey on home ice.
He made a couple of turkey sandwiches and Devin sliced some apples. They didn’t talk much, just sat close together on the couch and munched, sharing the last glass of milk in the house. Then Nicky watched her brush her teeth and from where he lay against the pillows.
“Want to come to Florida?” he asked as she lifted her side of the blanket.
Devin looked at him for a moment, her lips pursed in a small half-frown. She shook her head no. He made a similar face and nodded.
“Be here when I get back?”
To that, she smiled.
Nicky thought he might never wake up early again. His body, his brain and definitely below his waist wanted to stay in bed with Devin forever. Feeling sluggish and sore, he still climbed on top of her half-sleep and woke her up the old-fashioned way.
“I thought you were supposed to be nice,” she whined as he kissed his way down her neck.
“I can be very nice.”
She laughed. Sometimes when he talked she swore she heard Mike’s voice.
They took their time. More than once they paused to catch their breath, nowhere to go with all day to get there. Nicky took shelter in her body, in the way her tight squeeze drove everything else from his mind. He escaped into her. Devin basked in the way Nicky was all she could take, all she could want. It overwhelmed her to feel him move inside. When they were slow and easy with each other, she could literally forget everything.
He liked it best when she came this way, when she shuddered in his arms and gasped at the wave of pleasure he pushed onto her shore. Her deep brown eyes never left his as he went over too, moaning softly but without hesitation, letting her know how good it felt to be him.
“I will miss you,” he said after, her head on his chest.
“I’ll miss you too. It’s only three days.”
They would play back to back games, then return home very late the last night. Win or lose it would be the same amount of time before they saw each other again.
“You can stay here if you like,” he offered. The key was hers to keep.
“Maybe. But my bed smells like you too.”
Nicky kissed her for a long time before surrendering to the process of the day. He tried to memorize exactly what it was like so he could replay how it felt to be congratulated or comforted. One of the two would be very important.
Please don’t let this end, he thought, meaning everything.