Two chapters, one day. Who loves you, baby?
“Oh fuck you, Stamkos!” Mel screamed.
Devin’s stomach dropped.
The first period had been an even fight. In the second, the Caps hit their stride and started clicking - they got three goals from three guys and took a 3-2 lead. Now Stamkos had tied the game just five minutes into the third.
And twenty five seconds later, Ryan Malone fired another bullet right on the mark.
“Shit,” Devin swore under her breath. Things had been going so well... but all at once they’d blown a tire. Even a tiny lead felt huge when it was gone. Then Tampa Bay dug their teeth in and held on.
“God damned one-three-one!” Mel threw herself back onto the couch during a commercial break. Devin agreed. The Caps couldn’t get an inch of space in the offensive zone, couldn’t hold onto the puck long enough to complete a pass. Mel’s cursing got more creative as the clock wore on.
“Mother fucking beach-combing shitface!” she threw a piece of pizza crust at the screen. But her invectives were powerless and fourteen minutes spiraled right down the drain.
Mel was face down on the floor in front of the television. Brooks had given her a game jersey and it pooled around her like blood. Devin tipped over till her head was resting on a throw pillow. She felt like she’d been run over by a truck.
“The Capitals now face a huge deficit against a Lightning team that has won seven games in a row.”
“Uugggghhhh,” Mel moaned. “We fucking know, you assholes!”
They lay like dead bodies while the commentators slathered all over the Lightning’s odd defensive setup and the Caps’ inability to solve it. Or the Pens’. They all but sermonized the next round opponent falling prey to it, as if this series were already over. Mel levered one arm up high enough to switch off the TV.
Devin stared at the ceiling. Her stomach felt empty despite the beer and veggie supreme they’d eaten. Every time they’d shown Nicky on screen, even just skating past, her heart lurched. By the first intermission she was sure medical attention would be necessary. But it hadn’t been a great game for him, or really for anyone, and the network focused more on guys like Ovi and Semin struggling. By the end it seemed ages since she’d seen his face.
Eventually Mel rolled onto her side. “What are you going to do?”
“What are my options? Call in a bomb threat so game four gets delayed long enough for you stuff St. Louis is your purse and head for Cuba?”
“I meant about the summer.”
Devin sighed. “I have no idea.”
That was a lie. She had plenty of ideas. She just didn’t know which ones might be shared by the man in question. It might feel like things were perfect but they had only know each other a week. You didn’t cancel summer over a week. You didn’t revamp a training program and stay in the States for a girl who recommended good restaurants. You didn’t quit your job and move to Sweden just because a guy blushed before he kissed you.
But she would. Of course she would. If only he would ask.
Devin moved like a zombie, assuming zombies get ready for bed. She lay in the dark like she’d laid on the couch - lifeless, eyes open but seeing nothing. Sometime around eleven o’clock, her phone rang.
“Hey,” she said without looking at the screen.
“Hi.” His voice was so small. Her heart all but broke.
“If we were home I would come over now. Here there is only Mike for hugging and he is not so pretty as you.” Nicky laughed weakly and Devin knew the strain of making even a little joke at a time like this. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too, Nicky.”
They talked for a little while - Devin gave him some new names to call the Lightning, courtesy of Mel’s potty mouth. She could tell he was as tired as he was frustrated and disappointed. They just couldn’t catch a break.
“You’ll win tomorrow,” she said.
Nicky lay in bed, Mike already snoring across the room. He didn’t want to talk about the game but his options were limited. It was either think about losing or about how much he missed Devin.
It was visceral, and that made it worse. She’d been a huge, sudden presence in his life since the first email, but the physical aspect of having her near had quadrupled his attention. He was quite literally obsessed with her and for the first time since being overwhelmed by her arrival, they were apart.
She told Nicky the Caps would win tomorrow. It made him smile for the first time since Stamkos tied the game.
“I hope so.”
“Good night, Nicky. I’ll be here when you get back.”
Either way, they were going home tomorrow. It could be the last time he went home from an away game this season. And for the first time ever, Nicky was going home to someone.
He slept like a rock and woke to blankets that had barely been moved. Mike was already up and they headed to the team meeting over breakfast in one of the hotel ballrooms. There was still really nothing to say except “Win.” But it might be the last chance Bourdreau got to tell them that.
“You guys have been in these games for forty fucking minutes. Figure out how to make that last. Because they are not winning. They are not getting lucky bounces and fluke shots. They are fucking beating us. The only way to win is to play better and you know how to do that. But you’ve gotta fucking do it tonight.”
After breakfast, Nicky went for a walk. Grateful that he’d packed a pair of shorts, Nicky walked the few blocks to the beach and wandered around some of the shops. As it had in New York, his mind drifted to Devin. He hadn’t even given her the NYU photo album yet, nor had he worn the shirt he’d bought himself. These stores were full of bikinis and sunscreen they had no need for yet in DC. But summer would be come finally, and be brutal. In a store decorated like a mermaid’s cave, Nicky picked out a bright yellow sundress with black trim he thought would look fantastic against her tanned skin, when she got a tan.
What am I going to do?
If he had a goal for every time he’d asked himself that, they wouldn’t facing elimination. From the first time he saw Devin he knew his summer would change.
His plans weren’t really plans at all, they were just what he’d always done. He went home to Sweden, trained for the coming season, hung out with his family and friends. None of the guys stayed in DC, they all had people and places to go back to. Their families - or girlfriends if they had them - went with. Some of the families stayed put in Canada for the winter, with Dad just visiting over the summer. It wasn’t ideal, but whose life ever was? At least no one ever worried where their next meal was coming from.
The sand was hot in the afternoon sun and felt luxurious between his bare toes as he walked toward the tide line. He couldn’t stay out long; aside from needing a nap, he needed sunblock. But he left footprints in the wet sand at the water’s edge for a while.
The easiest solution would be for Nicky to stay in DC. He was already set up, and his training program could be moved. The only problem was that he didn’t really no anyone who didn’t play hockey. And when they were all gone, he would only have Devin. He’d either be lonely or smother her, probably both. His initial shyness around new people would see to that.
He could travel back and forth. But a single hockey season contained a lifetime worth of traveling and Nicky knew it would quickly wear thin.
Or Devin could go to Sweden with him. His mom would have a heart attack with joy, then spend months pestering him about getting married. His grandparents would have to be lied too - there’s no way they could know Nicky was living with a girl. And they would of course live together, which meant he’d have to find a place. He’d been renting for the last few years, lacking the energy to spend his precious summers house-hunting. Maybe they could just rent something bigger, maybe Devin loved to shop for real estate.
Maybe we’ll win tonight. How about that for a fantasy?
His friends and family would love her. Sweden was beautiful and he was proud of his home country. But Devin would, in turn, give up everything. She could keep her apartment, Nicky would gladly cover the rent, but what would be the point? If they lived together in Sweden they weren’t coming back in September to live apart. And her job would have to go. The WAGs always did.
Nicky wanted her enough to make it work. But it seemed like everything had to work in his favor. There’d have to be a pretty big prize to make it worth her while.
“I’m going to throw up.”
Devin insisted on sitting on the floor for the game. The night before she’d been on the couch and they’d lost. Mel got the drift and switched. They even traded clothes so as not to retain any negative injury - Devin wore Brooks’ jersey, the sleeves balled into her fists.
At first, it wasn’t bad. Twenty solid minutes took them to the locker room tied at one. Devin’s heart rate was manageable, though she did shred an entire copy of The Washington Post into confetti. Her fingers were black with the ink.
The Caps played a solid second, but ended up down by a goal. It just isn’t fair, Devin wanted to scream. They played well and they were still losing. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Between their efforts and her wishing, something should be going right. But she was a long way from giving up. In the first few games, the Caps had really fallen apart after forty minutes and the Lightning had just picked up the pieces. Everyone held their breath to see what would happen tonight.
But the story was the same. The Lightning scored just five minutes in. For one of the most offensively talented teams in the League, a 2 goal deficit seemed insurmountable. They started getting ragged on the edges. Some players, including Nicky, were ineffective at every turn. Others like Ovi were everywhere, doing to much, trying to force things. Both tactics failed. The Lightning got another, the Caps couldn’t come back and the Bolts poured onto the ice to celebrate their series victory.
Devin hadn’t moved in almost an hour. Even Carlson’s goal late in the third hadn’t roused her. She focused all her energy on believing and supporting, but by then she knew the curtain had come down.
“Kill me. Please just let me die,” Mel mumbled, curled into the fetal position.
Devin wanted to crawl under the rug. She wanted to pull it over her head, block the light, and let walk all over her. One foot was asleep and those pins and needles were the only thing she felt at all.
The teams lined up for the handshake, reminding Devin of when the Penguins had not at the Winter Classic. Even in defeat her boys were still classy. But the looks on their faces told a different story - they were ruined. Devastated. They’d been rolled over by the Tampa Bay Express. Lives on the line and they’d barely even managed to fight back. The camera followed Ovi, the Neuvy, then Boudreau. It panned out and caught Mike, who hadn’t played due to hip injury, wearing his Eeyore face with a dark suit and bringing up the rear. When he finished the line, he circled toward a Caps jersey: Nicky.
Devin’s breath caught. It was hardly a moment of TV time but Nicky’s expression broke her heart. He looked in that second like his heart was broken.
She got up. Moving with purpose for the first time in days, Devin threw some clothes into a bag and kissed Mel’s forehead. Then she drove to Nicky’s house and let herself in. She stripped off her clothes, pulled a clean t-shirt from his drawer and got into his bed like she owned the place. It would be hours before he was home, but she’d be right there.
The silence of the car engulfed him. It had been quiet on the plane, though everyone was awake, as the entire team started out the window in shock. They’d barely said goodbye to each other, knowing that a day or two would give them back their words. Nicky slid behind the wheel because he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
It was after one in the morning, Devin would be sleeping. He didn’t know what he was going to say anyway, now that the time had come, so he just hoped her dreams were better than reality and left her alone till morning. Until he saw her car in his driveway.
There was nothing left. The season had run him over, backed up and done it again more times than he could count. Playing hockey was like being in an abusive relationship - it beat you and degraded you and still you came back every day, asking for it’s prize. Somewhere beyond all that Nicky found the energy to run up the stairs.
His suit littered his path through the house. The bedroom door was ajar, and he leaned an elbow against the jamb. She was fast asleep on his side of the bed, wearing one of his t-shirts. Her hair was a twisted mess - she’d obviously been tossing and turning. Nicky shed his socks and t-shirt and climbed right in next to her.
He hadn’t intended to wake her. But his 200-plus pound frame was hard to ignore. He slid one arm under her, turned her toward him and reached around her back until he was holding her as close as possible. She half-woke, moving with him, and blinked her eyes open.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered as the first tear fell.
Nicky pulled her right up onto his chest. Her body shook with tiny sobs and he couldn’t help when a tear rolled from his own eye. A million emotions ran though his heart about the season, but one stood alone.
“I love you,” he said.
Insane. Obvious. True. It was all of those things and more. The second the words were off his lips he felt a tiny bit better.
“You’re crazy,” Devin answered, lifting her head to see him. “And I love you too.”
Those were the last words they shared that night. Nicky kissed the wet tracks her tears had left, made sure she was comfortable in his arms and fell asleep like he’d been knocked out.
He woke to Devin moving. Her back was still to his chest but she was stretching toward the bedside table. Then she was opening her phone.
“Hey,” she whispered, thinking Nicky was still sleeping. “I... yeah. I can’t. Thanks.”
She was back in sleeping position before he spoke. “Okay?”
“I’m not going to work.”
Nicky knew that he’d dropped the L-bomb the night before. Devin had seemed like the only thing in his life that was working right and he wanted to be sure she knew how important she was. And now, she was putting him before herself. Everyone loved a day off work, but this was something different. It was more than crazy. But in the early hours of the morning after, it was still true.
“I love you,” he said.
Devin rolled onto her back, looking up at him with those deep brown eyes, and gave him the full wattage of her brilliant smile.
“I love you, Nicky.”
If ever a moment were perfect, that was it. The opening was right there for him to ask her anything and get the answer he wanted. Come with me. Stay with me. Go with me. Whatever was going to happen next was happening now, all he had to do was tell her.
He kissed her instead. It was the only time he would ever think that sharing a kiss with Devin was not quite what he meant to do.