Say something, Devin thought. Anything.
It was the only time she knew like she’d rather have something other than a kiss from Nicky.
She could feel him thinking, feel the gears turning in his mind. The silence stretched out almost to discomfort; there was only one thing to talk about but no one wanted to say it first. Maybe, she worried, he had nothing else to say.
Eventually, he rolled over and snuggled his head under her arm. His voice was a mumble into the twisted sheets.
“I have to go to the rink.”
“Break-up day,” Devin said.
Nicky’s head shot up so quickly it made Devin jump. She nearly bit her tongue.
“I… I mean clean-out-your-locker-day!” she stuttered. “We call it Break-Up Day because it’s the last time we see you guys every season.”
“Oh.” Nicky’s face was pale.
Okay, then just fucking say something! But he didn’t. Instead he tromped around the bedroom getting dressed in jeans and a long-sleeve collared shirt of soft, dark green cotton. On his strapping frame it looked outdoorsy, the color of Christmas, and something about it all was very Scandanavian. Forget clean lines and minimalist design, Devin’s idea of Sweden was something very fresh and healthy.
And seriously gorgeous.
Nicky pulled a baseball cap backwards over his long hair – it was the way Devin always thought of him, though he hadn’t worn it that often since they’d met. But it was in ninety percent of the photos she’d ever seen. He caught her smiling, and did what Nickys do best – he blushed. Devin giggled and he jumped into the bed with her, catching the sheet taut and trapping her. She pretended to struggle.
“My God you’re heavy!”
Nicky lay right down on top of her like a beached whale. She whined pitifully, which made him laugh and only crushed her more. Their faces were so close together their noses touched.
As incredible as that was, it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.
“Love you too, Nicky.”
When he was gone, Devin dressed in the extra clothes she’d brought and drove right to Mel’s office. It wasn’t quite lunch but she barged right in.
At a cafe around the corner, armed with sandwiches and sodas, Devin steered Mel into a chair and sat down with a thump.
“Are you breaking up with me?” Mel asked, making puppy dog eyes.
“Everyone stop using that phrase! No one is breaking up!” Devin caught her breath and sighed. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Mel made a face like she was well aware that and kept chewing.
“But Nicky told me he loves me.”
She expected choking, maybe the spitting of a soda or the throwing of a tomato. But Mel just swallowed her food. “And you said duh.”
Devin gave herself a facepalm. “I’m sorry, I think you fail to appreciate the fact that a guy I’ve known for two weeks thinks he loves me!”
“But how is that possible?! He doesn’t know anything about me, he’s never seen me angry, my insane mother hasn’t tried to deconstruct his DNA to see if he has approved genetic traits for her progeny.”
Mel sipped from her straw. “Devin, he knows you. He is you. You two and your shy awkward turtle two-left-feet shit, it’s so cute I could gag. And besides, I’ve seen you fall in love with a song or a book or a sweater in less than a week.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Think of your favorite book ever. We both know it’s Pride and Prejudice because you’ve read it every six months for years. Why should that be any more permanent than the guy in your life? That gray cable knit sweater you have, the snuggly one? You’ve been wearing it every chance you get since college. It’s just clothes, but you’ve had it for years. So give Nicky the benefit of the doubt – he’s at least more interesting than a sweater. He’s going to be a long-term thing.”
“This is insane,” Devin protested, but her voice was softer.
“What did you tell him?”
She sighed. “That I love him too.”
Mel simply raised her eyebrows over an all-knowing face. “Duh.”
“How is it possible? And why do I feel like I’m going to throw up?”
Instead of answering, Mel lifted her soda can and looked meaningfully over the top. Then she started singing “Love Story” by Taylor Swift at the top of her lungs. Other diners turned. People’s conversations stopped. Devin scrambled to grab the makeshift microphone, as if it were actually projecting Mel’s voice, but she dissolved into giggles.
“Come on, Dev. You wanted a prince for your story, and you got one. Now he’ll row you away in his Viking ship and I’ll be stuck here by myself waiting for a care package of reindeer meat.”
Devin’s laugh petered out. “He, uh… he didn’t say anything about the summer.” She struggled to explain in a way that still painted Nicky in a good light – she was freaking out, but didn’t want Mel to do the same. Surely Nicky wouldn’t do this. She ended up saying it in a rush. “I don’t know if he’s staying here or leaving tonight or what is going on.”
Mel considered her sandwich for a moment. There was a tiny part of every girl’s heart that thought, no matter how great the guy, he could still get you. Could still do something heartless and pull the rug out from you, even if he loved you. That was the price of putting your heart on the line and it backfired all the time. But her friend seemed to consider the possibility and shake it off.
“Not Nicky,” Mel said.
Nicky looked around the almost empty locker room. Every time he left here for the summer, the taste of disappointment was caustic in his mouth. Superstition said you took everything, because a hundred reasons might keep you from coming back. The first thing he did was remove his nameplate, taking his name from a place it didn’t deserve to occupy anymore this year.
“Hey,” Mike mumbled. He looked worse for wear, unshaven with a knit cap pulled down very low. “Your girl wait up for you last night?”
Nicky clapped him on the shoulder as he passed. “Yeah, she was at my house.”
“You’re lucky man.” Mike sat down heavily as other people started to trickle in. “Going home to an empty place… thank God it was the middle of the night. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough today. Nice to have someone waiting for you.”
“I told her I love her.” Nicky just blurted it out, though his voice was low. He said the words more easily in a story than Mike would ever say them in his life. The defenseman’s dark head jerked up and he whistled – long and slow, the sound of a falling bomb.
“You think I am crazy?”
But Mike shook his head, smiling. “Nah, that’s great, man. I’m proud of you. You’ve known the girl two weeks and you’re turning down a lot of hot tail, but hey… more for me.” He stopped what he was doing and looked right at Nicky. “Really though, I can tell. Since whenever you started emailing with her, you’ve been different. And more awkward, which I didn’t think was possible. But you’re coming out of your shell, Nick. She’s good for you.”
Nicky ducked his head, blushing as furiously as he ever had. Mike didn’t think that way. Mike thought about bra sizes and twin sisters and notches on the bedpost. He certainly didn’t envy guys who were actively looking to give that up.
“What did she say?”
“She said she loves me too.”
“Yup,” Mike nodded. “Sounds about right. What did she say about the summer?”
This is why he came. Not for his stuff, not for the ritual although Nicky knew it was important to leave this season behind if he was going to move forward. The broken finger on his right hand throbbed – this was the first day there hadn’t been a trainer around to look at it. Nicky would have to do some things on his own this summer.
“I haven’t asked her yet.”
“Did you say anything at all about the summer?”
Nicky shook his head.
“Where did you leave her?”
Mike tilted his head, the way dogs do when you swear they can almost understand what you’re saying. “So you told a girl you love her then left her in your bed with no idea at all what’s going to happen tomorrow?”
With a groan, Nicky put his head in his hands. He’d been so worried about which summer to choose – go together, stay together – that he hasn’t considered the obvious. If he said nothing, maybe Devin thought they were doing nothing. At least not anything together.
“Shit,” he said.
Mike swiped an armload of to hair gel containers and junk off the locker shelf into his bag. “Well at least I know you still need me. Now go, fool.”
Nicky hauled up his bag, said goodbye to the guys in the room in case he didn’t see them again. Most wouldn’t leave DC for a few days and likely as not they’d be drinking together the next day. He hit the speed dial as he pulled out of the player’s parking lot.
“Hey. Where are you?”
“Home,” Devin said. He might have been imagining it, but she sounded sad. Or disappointed. Maybe that was the sound of her hating someone for playing with her emotions – he had no idea. He didn’t really know her well at all. But he knew he wanted to know her, and there was only one way to do that now.
“Be right there.”
He drove as quickly as the congested city streets would allow; an agonizing crawl. Intersections had so many pedestrians it seemed they must be boarding the Titanic around the corner. He hit every red light. And he kept thinking that if he’d given Devin a reason to doubt him, on the worst of days when she’d done so much for him, that he couldn’t fix it fast enough.
Finally he reached her neighborhood, did an illegal u-turn and begged his truck to suck in a breath and squeeze into a parking space one foot too short. He might never get out of it, but he might never need to. She opened on the first knock.
Nicky tipped her back and kissed her, like in a movie. It took a second, but she ran her arms around his neck and kissed him back. Her body relaxed and she became almost weightless. She parted her lips at his insistence, letting his tongue sweep into her mouth as if it could say all the things Nicky wanted to. But he couldn’t risk anything being lost in translation. So he very reluctantly let go of her mouth and held her face close.
“What do we do for the summer?”
The smile reached right up to her eyes. She pulled him into the house, toward the couch. But he didn’t want to be where he couldn’t hug all of her. Tugging one hand, he brought her back into his chest and held her there with brown us sparkling up.
“We stay here, or go to Sweden. You pick. Sweden is very nice,” he gave his hips a little shake and she laughed, “summer vacation…,” there were other reasons Sweden was nice, but he was kissing her again.
“Or here, if you want.”
“Don’t you have a training program for summer?”
“Yes, at home. But is only training, I can move it to DC. No problem.”
It was unfair of him to ask questions from so close, but he probably had no idea what his presence did to her – the wide shoulders, the huge arms and thick chest. Or those crooked front teeth and damned baby blue eyes. She could swear he was hypnotizing her.
“What about my job?”
Nicky stood very still. “This part is hard, Devin. If you want to come to Sweden, I pay for everything. My trip. Sweden is expensive, but no rent and I already have a car. Maybe your boss give you summer off? We can get Ovi to visit her.”
Devin pictured what Ovi would have to do to get her three months off and decided that it wasn’t worth it, she’d rather starve.
“Or if not, maybe you look for new job when we come back. The team helps all the time with this. It’s… not easy for you, I know. If you want to stay in DC we stay here, I like hot summertime.”
She thought of the hundred degree days with dense humidity, the burn of air conditioning that was the only relief. Sweating as you crossed the street or unloaded the car… “Yuck.”
“If we go, you keep apartment here with Mel. So she doesn’t have to move. And you have place to… come back to, if you want. You can always come back.” His eyes turned darker, almost stormy when he said it, like it was bad luck to discuss the escape plan. But two crazy weeks needed a safety net.
“If we stay in DC, I want you to live with me. Keep apartment too, that’s okay. But please I want to try.”
I’m going to die, she thought. He is like the white light at the end of the fairy tale tunnel. She appreciated his offer to stay in DC. He would do it, and not complain. Nicky was willing to alter his life for her – would she do the same?
“Let’s go to Sweden.”
Nicky scooped her up and spun her around, crushing her with kisses. Devin squealed in delight. This is nuts! People are committed for less than this!
But who cares?
Devin loved her life, but a job was just a job. Her friends would be here in September. She’d gone away or home every summer during college and it had not changed her life. Kids out of college went backpacking around Europe all the time, right? She’d figure out the coming back when it was time. Going away was an adventure, and Nicky was so excited he looked fit to burst. Devin wanted to make him that happy all the time.
“Thank you, Devin.”
She gave him a big sloppy kiss and dragged him toward the bedroom. She stopped in front of the closet but he reminded her he was much stronger and kept on moving. Then she was underneath him on the bed, giggling.
“What do I bring?”
Nicky looked around like he couldn’t see anything he liked. “What you wear now is nice.”
He twisted to one side, lifting his chest while holding her down emphatically with his hips and everything else he was packing. His soft lips pressed to her neck, just below her ear. She hooked one leg over his, locking them together. Then he started pulling off her shirt.
“What are you doing?” she pretended to protest. He got the top off, balled it up in one big hand and tossed it right into her purse.