Monday, August 29, 2011

Chapter 15

Think you know everything
You really don't know nothing
I wish that you were more intelligent
So you could see that what you are doing
Is so shitty, to me

Stop being a dickhead,
Why are you being a dickhead for
You're just fucking up situations
Why are you being a dickhead for
Stop being a dickhead,
Why you being a dickhead for
You're just fucking up situations

(lyrics “Dickhead” Kate Nash)

It was the third or maybe the fourth group of people that had literally stepped in front of them, ceasing their forward progress that had started it. The first time had been fine, expected really, and she’d put up with it without comment. The second group she’d seen coming before he had and had merely stepped to the side with her friend and found someplace to buy deep fried Coke and had just watched while he’d stood, with Brooks and Nicky, dead centre of the midway and posed for pictures, signed autographs and accepted people’s well meant advice on how he and the rest of his team could play better. He’d wanted to suggest they take their suggestions to Iggy and the rest of their down in Flames home team but had kept his mouth shut, nodded and smiled, just like he’d been trained to do. 

The third time they’d been stopped she’d moved in front of him, tried to shield him and he’d thought it was cute. He’d also known it wasn’t going to work. He’d shot her a look, as she was swept aside that he hoped she’d understand meant that he wasn’t enjoying this anymore than she was, but the scowl on her face clearly said that she doubted it. 

“Oh my god, oh my god. You have to let me take a picture with you. No one is going to believe I was hanging out at Stampede with Mike Green.” 

He didn’t correct the bubbly blonde that was currently hanging around his neck, didn’t point out that she’d raced across the midway with her girlfriends in tow, screeching at the top of her lungs and drawing a crowd. He also didn’t point out that there was no way in hell that he would ever hang out with a girl who did things like that. He just stood there and let her hang off of him like a cheap necklace while her girlfriends took turns taking pictures on their phones. 

“Sorry ladies, we have to go. Our friends are waiting.” It was Nicky, of course, and not Brooks, predictably, who peeled the young fan with the fake tan and the bright pink lipstick off of him. Mike gave her one of his patented ‘what can I do?’ shrugs and let his friend drag them off towards the beer garden. 

“I’m really sorry about that,” he apologized as he slid onto the bench beside her. She didn’t look up and when he tried to press a kiss to her cheek she pulled away. 

“You looked like you were enjoying it,” she charged quietly but firmly. Mike stared at her profile, at the way her lips were pursed and her gaze was focused on the beer in front of her that he noted was untouched.
“They’re taking pictures of me. What am I supposed to do, not smile?” he asked, irritated. She muttered something under her breath that sounded a lot like ‘it might help’ and his hands curled into fists on his thighs. 

He looked across the table for some help but Nicky only raised an eyebrow at him that made it clear he wasn’t going to help and Brooks smirked in a way that Mike knew meant he didn’t want the help the big man was willing to give. Taking a deep breath, he reached for her hand under the table. She resisted, at first, but he didn’t let go and her fingers finally relaxed enough to allow him to peel her hand off of the bench and take it in both of his. “Chels, babe, you know there’s no one else I want to be with right now. Not even these goombahs,” he added, making a goofy face just to make her smile. She glanced at him and rolled her eyes but he could see that she was fighting not to grin. “That’s better,” he whispered, leaning closer. This time she let him press a kiss to her cheek. 

“You’re gonna have to get used to that fangirl shit if you’re gonna hang out with boy genius here,” Brooks interjected, turning that ghost of a grin suddenly upside down again. “This shit is nothing compared to the attention he gets from the ladies back in Washington,” he added, reaching forward to steal a fry from in front of her. Mike shot him a withering glare but Brooks just grinned back as he chewed. 

“I...I don’t know that we’ve talked about that.” Mike felt her hand being pulled from his and he shot another murderous glare at his teammate. 

“Babe, you know I meant to...I was totally going to. I just didn’t see any need to rush into anything,” he stammered as she stared at the untouched beer in front of her. 

“Oh wow man! Sorry, did I just drop you into it with the little lady?” Brooks chuckled like he’d done it on purpose, like he was enjoying stirring shit up. Mike was seriously beginning to wonder why he was friends with the guy. “I just assumed that now you’d found someone who could, y’know, cook and clean that you’d be dragging her back to Washington whether she wanted to or not.” 

“Brooksy!” It was Nicky who hissed at their friend which Mike appreciated because he didn’t think he could actually speak he was so mad. Not to mention caught between a rock and a hard place while he tried to decide which to do first, kill Brooks or try and avoid digging a bigger hole for himself with Chelsea, and he had, he could tell by the bright red spots of fury blooming on her cheeks. 

“Babe...,” he began, not knowing where he was going or what he was going to say and then those green eyes turned towards him, glowing like something unearthly. 

“What is with all this babe shit? Is that the way you talk to your little sluts back in DC?” she hissed. He opened his mouth to dispute it but he didn’t have an argument. She was right. “You know what, don’t say anything. I’m’s possible I’m overreacting.” He was being given a gift and he knew it, for once. So he shut his mouth, changed the subject and decided the first chance he got he was going to do something really painful to Brooks, he just hadn’t decided what yet.


You’re always blowing things out of proportion baby’

It was her mother’s voice she heard in the back of her mind when she looked into his teddy bear velvet brown eyes and Chelsea eased back on the firing pin of her anger and took a deep breath. She was embarrassed and a little hurt, but she didn’t need to toss a grenade at something that had, so far, been a good thing.  

This was exactly when she missed her mother most. This was the time a girl needed her mother most. Who else could she talk to about something like this?

“We can talk about that stuff later, if you want,” he whispered as they walked, hand in hand, towards the livestock barns. She bit her lip and nodded as she leaned into him and laid her head on his shoulder.  She reminded herself that this was still fragile and new and he was right, there was no need to rush things.

“We totally don’t have to,” she said, giving his hand a squeeze. She thought she felt his entire body go slack with relief. 

“Oh, shit, thank god,” he mumbled half under his breath, as if she’d just put the safety back on the gun and taken the barrel away from his forehead. “I mean, not that we can’t talk about it but, you know, no need to rush into anything,” he added, his voice an octave too high not to be taken as abject terror. That was probably the appropriate emotion, she thought, but it wasn’t the one she was currently experiencing.

“Your friend’s kind of a dick,” her friend added as she and Nicky fell into step beside them. 

“He’s not, usually,” Mike told them both but he was still staring daggers at the back of his friend’s head. Chelsea felt her friend reach for her hand and she gratefully tangled her fingers with Shannon’s so that all four of them were walking along holding hands. It didn’t take long for them to start swinging their arms in unison and laughing, lightening the mood. 

“Greener! Bet you can’t beat me!” 

Stopping in their tracks they all turned to see Brooks standing in front of one of those carnival games, the one with the mallet and the bell at the top of a post. 

“Whatever man, we’ll be in the barns petting the cows or whatever,” Mike called back and gave Chelsea’s hand a tug. Not that she needed convincing. She followed him, grateful not to have to watch the testosterone show.

“Chicken!” Brooks’ voice followed them. She felt Mike bristle beside her but he didn’t turn. 

“Oh my god, Mike! You totally have to do it!” The same blonde with her too bright pink lipstick suddenly appeared at his other side, digging her glitter dusted fingernails into his arm. “Hey who wants to see Mike Green hit the bell?” Mike staggered and tried to pull back against the girl dragging him away but it was as if the tiny thing had a five hundred pound weight tied to her, or maybe it was just that Chelsea let him go. 

“Don’t let that little cunt get away with that!” Shannon hissed beside her. Chelsea watched Mike being swallowed by a crowd that had suddenly grown up around him like a fog. 

“Doesn’t matter,” Chelsea shrugged, ignoring the roar of approval that went up when the bell rang. She didn’t know who’d hit it, Brooks or Mike, and she didn’t care. “Let’s go see the cows. I hear they have that one with the window in one of its stomachs.”


He accepted the blow up bright yellow mallet and held it up over his head to the acclaim of the crowd. He leered at Brooks, who was leaning on the real, heavy wooden mallet and smiling. 

“Welcome to the gun show!” he laughed, striking a pose that showed off the work he’d been doing on his upper body strength. He was about to turn and press a kiss to one of his biceps when that same girl was suddenly hanging off of it. 

“Oh my god, I can, like, barely wrap my fingers around it!” The look in her eyes told him that she wasn’t just talking about his guns. For a moment he looked down at her and wondered what that lipstick would look like on his dick and then he gave his head a shake, peeled her fingers off of his arm and looked around for the woman he’d come with. 

“Brooks, where’s Chels and Nicky?” He scanned the faces around him and didn’t see the features he was looking for. He didn’t see her leaf green eyes, or her full, soft lips. He didn’t see her blood red curls or her pale, moon kissed skin. 

“Who knows man? Who cares? They were just being a bummer anyway. Besides, I think you’ve got a fan there looking for an autograph.” Mike looked down at the woman who was looking up at him with that expression that his body immediately recognized, even if his brain was sending mixed signals. It would be easy, so easy, he thought as he watched her grin grow at the thought of winning that night with the hockey star she’d be able to brag to all of her friends about. Much easier than what faced him with Chelsea he thought as he mulled over the idea of just grabbing this girl who was offering easy, free, no strings attached sex and taking her up on her offer. Was it wrong to feel relieved by the idea of returning to his free and easy bachelor ways, he wondered as she wound her arms around his neck in anticipation of providing him her own sort of prize.

“Come on the Ferris Wheel with me,” the blonde purred, licking her lips as if he was a big, juicy steak. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while.” Mike felt his body react, urging him to take the tiny blonde in her too short denim skirt and her midriff revealing tank top up on her offer. His hands twitched at the thought of sliding up under that thin fabric and toying with her perky breasts. His cock twitched at the thought of...other things.

“I probably shouldn’t,” he muttered, feeling light headed as all of the blood in his body raced south. 

“You know you want to,” she purred, pouring her body against his and reaching down to cup his growing erection. Good girls like Chelsea didn’t do things like this in public and maybe that was the problem he thought as he found himself reaching around to grab a piece of her tiny tight ass in his hand. Maybe he wasn’t meant to be with good girls, making plans and thinking about his future. He liked being in the here and now, especially this now. 

“Ferris Wheel eh? I bet I can bribe the guy to let us be at the top for a little while,” he chuckled, grabbing both of her ass cheeks in his hands and laughing as she climbed him, wrapped her legs around him and let out a whoop of victory.


Chelsea leaned against one of the gates as she held her friend’s purse and watched while Shannon and Mike’s friend Nicky went around and around in circles on some ride she knew was designed to make her puke. She could hear Shannon’s shriek from where she stood and thought ‘at least one of us is having fun’

She’d thought Mike and his other friend would have caught up to them by now. ‘No you assumed they would’, she told herself firmly, ‘and you know what they say about assuming’

Yes, she’d made an ass of herself. She’d already decided on that as she turned to watch the crowds go by, the girls in their daisy dukes and straw cowboy hats, the boys in their tight white t-shirts and even tighter jeans. ‘You have no business pushing anyone into anything’ she added, berating herself for her little melt down at the beer garden when his friend had brought up the inevitable end of summer and what it might mean. She’d decided she didn’t want to marry Jimmy and that Mike was a better option but she hadn’t actually thought about what his going back to Washington might mean. Now, as she watched her friend teeter and weave as she made her way off of the ride, Chelsea was also feeling a little green around the gills, but for a completely different reason. 

“Do you think that Mike thinks that I want to move in with him or something?” she asked his friend as she shoved Shannon’s purse into her hands. Nicky looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook his head. 

“No, it probably didn’t even enter into his head that he had to think about the end of the summer at all until Brooksy brought it up. Mike’s not a real big planner,” he added with a thoughtful sort of lop sided grin. 

“Because I didn’t. I mean, I hadn’t thought about it all either. I mean I knew, y’know, eventually we’d have to decide if this was even something worth pursuing but I honestly hadn’t thought about anything like moving in or even going back to Washington at all.” Chelsea clapped her hand over her mouth. It felt like she had a bad case of diarrhoea of the mouth. 

“I don’t think it’s me you should be telling this to,” the blonde answered with a shrug, but his ever present easy going grin made her at least feel like he wasn’t judging her for saying it. 

“I know,” she muttered, digging in her own jeans for her phone. “I wonder where he and that asshole wandered off to?” 

“You know what we should do,” her friend suggested, linking arms with both Nicky as well as with Chelsea and then looking over their heads. “We should go on that. I bet we’ll be able to spot them from up there.” Chelsea followed her friend’s gaze to the top of the Ferris Wheel which was now lit as the sun went down. 
“Two guys in t-shirts and jeans?” Chelsea laughed. 

“Okay, well maybe not, but the reception might be better up there.” 


Her lips didn’t taste the same. Her touch didn’t burn his skin. Her gaze, as she looked up at him from her knees didn’t make it hard to breathe. 

Mike sat back, his arms out along the back ledge of the car and stared at the sky. The sounds of the midway were far below but the sound of the woman slurping away at his dick was too close. 

It wasn’t working. She wasn’t working for him. Since triple-A he’d been able to able to get it up and blow his load at the drop of a hat. It hadn’t mattered what girl had been on her knees with her mouth wrapped around his dick, he’d been able to enjoy it. Now, as he tapped his fingers impatiently on the edge of the cup shaped car that was swinging ever so gently in the warm breeze, he knew that she was having to work too hard for this. 

He’d heard of this kind of thing happening, to other guys of course, but it had never happened to him before. It was just as embarrassing as he’d always thought it would be and there didn’t seem like a good way to get of the situation he’d gotten himself into.

“You, uh, you can get up now,” he muttered, turning his attention back to the blue eyed blonde who was unsuccessfully pulling his pudd. She stopped, mid stroke, and stared back at him. 

“You can’t fool me,” she grinned at him like he was trying to make a joke. “You’re not done yet mister,” she added, moving her mouth back over him. Mike groaned, but not in a good way. This chick was quickly disproving the old adage that there was no such thing as a bad blowjob. 

“Look, get up okay? It’s not gonna happen,” he grumbled as he reached down to pull his half mast schooner out of her mouth. “There’s just too many people around,” he added by way of an explanation as she wiped saliva from around her mouth and rolled her big, doe like eyes at him. She stuck her bottom lip out as she got slowly up from her knees. Mike moved over on the plastic bench to give her room to sit beside him but she only climbed onto his lap instead, setting the car swinging. “Whatareyoudoing?” he asked, reaching back to grab hold of the ledge, as if he could stop himself from falling if the car tipped. For a moment he imagined himself as a grease spot on the concrete below and his stomach began to churn even more violently. 

“What we totally should have done in the first place,” she purred as she reached for his hand and began to guide it up under her barely there tank top. He opened his mouth to object, to argue that this was not a good idea, even that he didn’t have any protection; not that a girl like this one cared about something as trivial as that. 

This was the kind of girl that would probably give him a case of the clap and come back nine months later with her hand out. She was exactly the kind of girl that the coaches and legal staff warned guys like him about. His brain knew it. The problem was that now his dick didn’t care as she began to grind down onto him. 

“Bad idea, bad idea,” he muttered as her other hand fished his now hard cock out of jeans and started to guide it towards her probably pestilent ridden snatch. “Jeeezzzuuzzz,” he moaned as he felt her slippery heat surround him. “Nonononono, not a good idea.” Whimpering like a kicked puppy he physically removed her from his lap and was setting her down as he felt the car give a wild swing and realized they were no longer at the top of the wheel. In fact the car below them was just unloading, and a pair of very, very green eyes were staring up him, blazing with fury. 

“You sure you don’t want the change ma’am?” 

Chelsea shook her head and waved mutely at the cabbie as she gave him a weak smile. He was giving her that look that said he pitied her, like he had a daughter her age and he wanted to maybe give her a hug. Right about now she’d have accepted it if he hadn’t smelled like cigar smoke and had forced her to listen to Rod Stewart for the entire drive. 

Turning towards the driveway made her shoulders sag once more. She’d asked the cab driver to drop her at the bottom of the hill in hopes that by the time she reached the top she’d have gotten herself under control but now as she stared up the gradual climb in front of her it seemed insurmountable. With a sigh, she squared her shoulders and told herself to put one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t as easy to do as it sounded when every bone in her body seemed to ache and her vision was still blurred from tears. She wiped her nose across the back of her arm and made a face at the snot bubble she left behind.    

“You’re so pretty Chelsea,” she mumbled, wiping her arm with the hem of her t-shirt as she started to laugh. It was one of those times she heard her mother in her own voice and brought back better memories. All of those times when she’d come into the house covered head to toe in mud and worse and her mother had just shaken her head and smiled. 

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she felt her heart break just a little more. She’d give just about anything to have her mother waiting at the front door right now, to collapse into her arms and cry and know that there would be no ‘I told you so’. The best she could hope for, she thought as she rounded the lower paddock and saw the house hove into view, was a dark, empty house so she could climb the stairs, pull the covers over her head and hide.

“I’m in the steer wrestling tomorrow. Will you come?” Chelsea paused, her hand on the fencepost for support. The familiar voice crept up on her out of the dark and suddenly her feet refused to take her any further. “CeeCee?” His familiar scent filled her nostrils as Jimmy appeared out of the dark, the white wife-beater that was straining across his chest almost glowing in the dark. 

“I...I don’t know,” she answered honestly, staring at the centre of his chest as he approached. ‘Don’t look into his eyes’ she told herself as he stopped just inches away. Her fingers twitched at her side. She wanted to reach for his hand. She wanted to pull his arms around her like an old familiar sweater. She wanted to press her cheek against his chest and listen to nothing but the sound of his heart beating. ‘Don’t look into his eyes’ she told herself as he took that extra step closer, as his long fingers reached to tip her chin up. 

“You’ve been crying,” he told her, she thought, unnecessarily. She braced herself for the words she was sure were going to come on the heels of that statement. She waited to hear him ask if Mike had hurt her. If he did she was going to cry again, and she didn’t want to cry. She wanted to be angry. She was sure if Jimmy felt sorry for her she wouldn’t be able to be angry anymore. As it was, all she could do was sort of look past him, the blonde bristles of his goatee gleaming gold in the moonlight. ‘Don’t look into his eyes’ she told herself again as she felt his hand tremble where it caressed her cheek. “Did I ever make you cry?”

It wasn’t the question or the statement she had expected and the disarming candour behind his words caught her off guard. Chelsea shook her head as fat, hot tears began to roll down her cheeks again. Jimmy made a sound in his throat that echoed in her broken heart as he wrapped his arms around her and cradled the back of her head as she burst into body wracking sobs and wrapped her arms around him in turn.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chapter 14

­just gonna stand there and watch me burn
that’s alright because i like the way it hurts
just gonna stand there and hear me cry
that’s alright because i love the way you lie
i love the way you lie

you ever love somebody so much you can barely breathe
when you with em you meet and neither one of you even know what hit em
got that warm fuzzy feeling
yeah them chills used to get em
now you’re getting fuckin’ sick of lookin’ at em
you swore you’d never hit em, never do nothin’ to hurt em
now you’re in each other’s face spewin’ venom in your words when you spit em

(lyrics from ‘Love the Way You Lie’ Eminem)

“Is anyone else creeped out by the shit eating grin on Greener’s face?” Brooks didn’t even look up as he stood over the dimpled white ball on the tee. He shuffled his feet, steadied his shoulders and then gazed down the fairway. “I feel like I could play in the fucking dark by the light of that thing,” the big man added, bringing his iron up and back and then, with grace and force, brought it down in a perfect arch, sending the little white ball up and out. They all shaded their eyes to watch it go. All except Brooks who just turned and headed back to the cart. 

Mike sent a sheepish look towards the gray haired, paunch over his belt business man who stepped up to the tee next. Everyone, just as they had the last eight holes, held their breath while he bent over and stuck the tee in the ground. They had a bet going on how many holes it would take before the seam on his pants gave out. 

“I’m just surprised that he’s not hungover and leaning on the car for dear life,” the other businessman who’d paid to play with the two hockey professionals knew Mike, had worked with Mike on setting up this event and shot him a shrewd look as they stood back, waiting for the old guy to take a swing. “How many times have I met you now Mike, and every time it seems to me, you’ve been hung over.” 

“That’s just my face,” Mike gulped as he tried to defend himself. “My mom says I just look tired all the time. I can’t help that I look that way,” he added, shading his eyes to follow the arc of the ball as it headed directly for the sand bunker ahead of them. He winced. The banker was his partner. Shooting a quick glance over his shoulder to where Brooksy was leaning against the cart told him just how far behind he and his partner were. This was going to end up being an expensive game. 

“Except for today,” the Encana oil exec and Brooks’ partner pointed out as he took his own ball up to the box and bent to neatly place it and the tee in front of him. “Today you look well rested and like you’ve won the lottery,” he added as he straightened, gazed down the green and then settled himself over the ball. “So are the rumours true,” he added as he bent his knees and squared his shoulders over the tee, “are you getting traded to the Leafs?” 

Mike had lifted his water bottle to his lips and now spewed luke warm water towards the oil executive’s back. Luckily Grant hadn’t begun his swing and was able to step back from the tee as he shot Mike a dark look. Mike offered a towel from his bag as he sent a questioning looks to Brooks, who only shrugged and made a face as if to say ‘it’s just a rumor’ and one he obviously hadn’t given much thought to.
“I fucking hope not. I’ve just gotten my place in DC the way I like it,” Mike muttered as Grant handed him back the towel. 

“There’s always rumors this time of year,” Brooks called helpfully, closing his eyes as he tilted his face up towards the sun. “Besides, now that I’m about to sign a big motherfucking long term contract with the Caps, Mike can’t leave.” 

“You are?” Mike had the sudden urge to run and jump into Brooks’ arms. He’d been dreading the first of July for that one reason alone, loosing Brooks to free agency. Brooks nodded but continued to worship the warm rays of the afternoon sun. “You never said,” Mike added, to which his teammate’s only reply was to shrug his wide shoulders. 

“You never asked. All you’ve talked about since you picked us up at the airport is Chelsea this and Chelsea that which,” he added with a mischievous grin, “I’m assuming is what the big fucking shit eating grin is for. You get lucky last night Greener?” Mike felt heat effuse his entire face. He wasn’t much of a duffer but he was glad to step up to the tee box, if only so that he could turn his back on Brooks and the smug look on his face. “I don’t know why I’m asking,” Brooks called catching Mike on his downswing, “Nicky said he heard you two love birds whispering sweet nothings in each others ears when he went back to bed.” 

Mike checked his swing and dropped the club on the ground as he turned to Brooks with murder in his eyes. It was one thing to talk about this kind of stuff around the dressing room. It was something else altogether to talk about his private life in front of complete strangers. 

“Oh c’mon Mikey, he’s just teasing you,” Grant tried to offer Mike his club back but he shook him off. If he took it right now he might wind it around his friend’s throat.

“Yeah, Mikey,” Brooks grinned, nonchalantly marking his score on his card while he grinned like the Cheshire fucking cat, “if you wanna get tied down and get married to some hometown cowgirl and have a whole mess of brats, I’m super behind you buddy.” The flash of humor in his friend’s blue eyes suggested what he was saying was harmless but Mike didn’t believe it, not for a minute. He knew as well as anyone who had spent any time with Brooks how much he enjoyed being free, sampling the wares, playing the field. 

More than that, Mike knew how terrified Brooks had been when a girl had shown up one night with a positive pregnancy test in hand, saying it was his. It hadn’t been, but that scare had been enough to make Brooks a confirmed bachelor for life and it was a lifestyle that most of the guys on the team had bought into. Today had been the first day of his life that Mike had actually thought about a future with someone. It hadn’t seemed scary at all. 

“It gets us all some time,” the banker laid his hand on Mike’s shoulder and gave him a friendly pat. “In my experience it’s not so bad,” he added and gave him an encouraging smile before heading towards the cart. Mike finally took his club from Grant’s hand and took his frustration out on the ball, sending it wide and aiming for the same trees that his partner’s ball had disappeared into. 

“Hey babe!” She felt his arms around her middle, his cheek press against hers and then he was gone, taking something off of the plate she’d just put down on the table and walking away. Chelsea watched him go, feeling bereft. 

“Look at him, king of the fucking castle,” Shannon hissed, coming up behind her friend and staring daggers at Mike’s back. 

“Well there are a lot of people. I guess he has to be the ‘hostest with the mostest’,” Chelsea muttered. She’d said that a couple of times now and she knew she was trying to convince herself more than anyone else. 

Another complete stranger who looked like he’d seen too much sun today reached past her and grabbed a devilled egg from a plate, stuck the whole thing in his mouth and then smiled around it so that the filling seeped out between his teeth and gave her a thumbs-up before disappearing back into the crowd. 

“Has he introduced you to anyone? Or did he just leave you with a shopping list and expect you to be the hired help for the night? To be seen and not heard?” Chelsea didn’t look across the table to where her friend Mandy had appeared with yet more beer to stick into the tub of ice near the door. 

“I’m his girlfriend. I...I don’t mind.” She didn’t believe it when she said it and a quick glance at both of her friends told her they clearly thought it was crap too. 

“I say you go over there, sit on his fucking lap and make out with him in front of all of these people so they know that you’re not the fucking caterer,” Shannon snapped. The same idea had already occurred to her but Chelsea had decided against it. Instead she was still waiting for Mike to take two minutes and do something for her other than eat the food she’d spent all day slaving over while he was at a golf tournament. 

“It is for charity,” she mumbled, reminding herself why she’d volunteered at a weak moment to do this when he’d realized he’d forgotten to hire an actual caterer. His friends did seem to like the food she’d prepared.

“No, the golf tournament was for charity, these are just his friends,” Nicky corrected her, appearing at Shannon’s side as if he’d just been transported there out of thin air. He cradled her friend’s waist and looked down at her as if she was one of the chocolate cherry filled cupcakes on the table. Chelsea felt a pang of jealousy. Shannon had helped, of course, but only Nicky seemed to be grateful for it. Or maybe he was just grateful for her friend’s recent wax job. “And I will go remind him that he should be including you in his friends,” Mike’s teammate added, pressing a quick kiss to the top of Shannon’s head.

“No, no don’t do that,” Chelsea shook her head while giving him a grateful smile. “He’s busy. I mean he hasn’t seen some of these people in months,” she began but Nicky shook his head and held up a hand to silence her. 

“I love Mike like a brother but he is being very ungracious.” As if that was all there was to say, he turned and was immediately swallowed by the crowd. Chelsea watched one of the only friendly faces she knew disappear and then turned back to the table. They were running out of crackers. 


“I’m telling you buddy, treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. Have I ever steered you wrong?” Brooks squeezed his shoulder and grinned. Mike shook his head but he wasn’t sure that he was doing the right thing here. He’d actually been excited to introduce Chelsea to his friends and the last time he’d zoomed by her she’d looked so disappointed that he hadn’t stuck around. “Thattaboy. Gotta keep them on their toes.” 

“What about you last night man?” he asked, noting that the curvy little teacher from Pittsburgh had shown up unannounced and even now was keeping a sharp eye on the two of them from where she was sitting out on the deck. 

“Exactly my point man!” Brooks grinned like he’d just won the lottery and threw up his hands, sending beer suds to the carpet. “She came all the way here for me. I had her screaming last night, left this morning without saying a god damned word and she’s still here, can’t wait to get her hands on my knob. I’m livin’ the good life my friend.” Mike didn’t think that the very stormy look on the young woman’s face said that she was keen, or that she was eager to do much more than cut Brooks’ balls off and cook them. 

“I dunno man,” Mike mumbled. 

“Listen to your good ‘ol Uncle Brooks, I know what I’m talking about.” Mike felt the sting of his friend’s hand on his cheek and then he was suddenly alone in the middle of his own house party. 

“You tell her you love her but I don’t think she’s very convinced.” Mike turned toward Nicky who was holding out a bottle of Pilsner. “She did a lot of work for you tonight. The least you could do is say thank you.” Mike hung his head. Why did the advice have to be so different?

“Man...I practically cut off my own nuts and handed them to her last night. I’m freaking out a little bit here.” He looked up into his friend’s thoughtful expression and waited. 

“You were very happy this morning,” Nicky reminded him and Mike had to agree. He’d felt like he was floating when they’d left the house. 

“Dude...I cried,” he admitted in a hoarse whisper. That was something he could never have admitted to anyone other than Nicky but even knowing that his Swedish teammate wouldn’t laugh at him, he still found himself cringing as he waited for a reaction. 

“I understand that happens sometimes,” Nicky replied very quietly, guiding Mike to a less crowded corner, “when there is an emotional connection. I think this is a good thing.” Mike sighed and shook his head. 

“Yeah but now she’s gonna go all fucking hearts and flowers on me and the next thing I know she’s planning a fucking wedding and it’s all my fault because I fucking rushed everything.” Nicky’s hand felt heavy on his shoulder but when Mike looked up into his friend’s blue eyes, where he expected to see reproach he saw understanding.

“I think maybe you should speak to her about it. I think maybe she isn’t the hearts and flowers girl you think.” 

“Can I help with that?” 

Chelsea looked at the soapy platter in the sink and shook her head. Almost everything that could fit was already in the dishwasher and the rest, paper plates and plastic cups, where in the garbage. It was a bit late to be asking to help now.

“I’ll just finish up here and then I’m going home,” she told him, keeping her gaze on the platter as she rinsed it and then added it to the drying rack. 

“Don’t go,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around her middle and pressing a kiss to her cheek. 

“I think I should,” she replied coolly, pushing his hands away from her middle and shooting him a dark look. “You made it pretty fucking clear you don’t want me here.” 

“I didn’t,” he began and when she raised an eyebrow he capitulated and shrugged his shoulders. “Okay maybe I was a little busy but I really think you did a great job.”

“Fuck Mike, you avoided me all night. Are you ashamed of me or something?” She knew enough about professional athletes to know that they dated leggy models and actresses and she was just a cowgirl from his hometown. Of course it had occurred to her that he might not want to introduce her to his pals. 

“That’s not it, totally not it,” he replied earnestly as he reached for her. She backed away, holding her hands out defensively in front of her. The last thing she wanted now was to be coaxed into forgiving him. “Look it’s just stupid, you’d laugh if I told you.” He aimed that boyish grin of his at her like a spotlight. It made her stop and then it made her wonder if he could turn that thing off and on at will, and if he could, had she fallen for some golly gee shucks routine that wasn’t even real?

“I doubt I’d laugh,” she told him honestly, moving so that the island in the middle of the kitchen was between them. “I’m not really in the laughing mood right now.” The wattage of his smile dimmed until finally he was the Mike she thought was probably closer to the real deal. He nodded, leaned back against the counter and stared at the floor. 

“I guess I’m kind of freaking about last night or whatever,” he mumbled. Chelsea took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. He was going to take it back. All the things he’d said in the small hours of the morning, promises he’d made, he was going to take it all back and then he was probably going to ask for some space, do that whole ‘it’s not you it’s me’ routine. Then he was probably going to ask her to leave. Well her father had always told her that the best offense was a good defense...or was that the other way around? Either way, she wasn’t going to let him get the last word in. 

“Totally, right? That was like...the drink talking or whatever. NBD, I’ll get myself home and you can just call me if you want to or not, you know, whatever,” she ran her hands down her hips to dry them and headed out of the kitchen, her heart racing. She hardly made it three feet before his arms locked around her middle. 

“Okay, I don’t know who that was, but don’t bring her back here. That was just creepy,” he chuckled in her ear as he pulled her back against him. “And I said I was kind of freaking out not that I wanted you to go anywhere.” Against her better judgement, she relaxed back against him. “Better,” he whispered before turning her to face him and then wrapping his arms around her again. “I guess I’m more freaked out that you’d be freaked out,” he told her and she heard a hitch in his voice that suggested this really was the heart of the matter. 

“I guess things have been going pretty fast,” she sighed, wrapping her arms around him and leaning into the width of his chest. 

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on you,” he told her with his chin resting on the top of her head. “I’m pretty sure the girl I met was running away from that kind of pressure.” She smiled and slid her hand down to smack his ass. “What? Are you denying being an escapee from a shotgun wedding?” 

“I do,” she untangled herself from him and poked her finger into the middle of his chest. “I didn’t have a gun to my head then and I don’t now. And,” she continued, grabbing a handful of his t-shirt and pulling him against her, “I’m not holding one to your head. If you wanna cool things off for a....” His lips crashing down over hers’ silenced her altogether and as his lips moved over hers’, forcing hers to open beneath his, she got the distinct impression that he wasn’t in any hurry to cool things down at all. 

“Stay,” he whispered hoarsely, pressing the long, hard evidence of the reason for his demand against her stomach. “Stay tonight, we’ll go to Stampede tomorrow and I promise I won’t be such an ass.” 

“Promise?” she looked up at him, a warning that she hadn’t forgotten her treatment tonight blazing in her eyes. 

“Scout’s honor,” he smiled, holding up his hand and making some kind of signal with his fingers that she was fairly certain had more to do with either Mork or Spock than the boy scouts but either way it made her smile and nod her head in agreement.