Tuesday, July 30, 2013


James surveyed the dregs of the party.  Most people had left, and a few others sat alongside the pool talking in low voices.  One couple was making out alongside the deck - it looked like Del Zotto and one of the girls that had come with Stamkos.  Her friend and Steven had left a while back.  James had talked to the girl a bit, he liked her.  She was certainly pretty but then Stamkos always knew how to pick them.  A few other girls had hung around, maybe still hoping to hook up.  James smiled to himself.  The late shift.

In the middle of the yard, picking up beer cans and napkins, was Meghan in that incredible yellow dress.  James knew she’d gotten it at Target and that she had no idea how good it looked.  Tavares did, of course, which was why he was following her around with one bag for trash and another for recycling.  James watched them - if that’s what it took to land Meghan, he definitely didn’t have the energy.

“Hey,” whats-her-face from that thing at the place said, appearing at his elbow.  She was someone’s friend: Beth or Britt or Bree.  “Great party.”

“Thanks,” James told his last chance to pull for the night.  She seemed nice enough - her blond was natural, her clothing covered at least fifty percent of her body.  Friend of a friend was more vetting than James usually did.  He was about to say something charming when Meghan laughed.  James lifted his head to see her running across the lawn, John hot on her heels with his hand outstretched, palm up.  

Must be a spider, he thought.

He turned to the girl.  “Can I call you a cab?”

Meghan was breathless, clinging to the porch railing.  John had long since dropped whatever hideous bug he’d picked up with a paper towel after she wrapped her hand around the empty can it was using as a bed.  It was such a childish thing to do, chase a girl with a bug, but somehow she had expected it from John.  She’d been running before he was.

John sat down heavily on the wooden step.  Running while drunk in a yard full of debris and a pool was not a good idea.  Running after Meghan was though - the way she’d yelped and taken off, the chance of catching her - at which point he would have ditched the bug - and possibly touching her were worth the ache it caused in his head.  He needed some Advil, a gallon of water and a place to crash.

“What’s your plan, dude?” James walked around in front of him.

“I’m supposed to wait for her and get us a cab to Steven’s,” John pointed toward the girl who had almost completely disappeared inside Del Zotto.  “I have keys.”

“Uh, that chick is not leaving with you,” Meghan said.  She needed to lean against something so she chose James.  He put an arm around her shoulder and they held each other up.  John didn’t even care.  “She’s getting the shark story.”

“The what?”  John wondered if drinking could affect his hearing.

“The shark story,” Meghan repeated.  “DZ’s got a scar right here,” she pointed to a rib on her left side, just below her breast.  John tried to focus.  “Got cut with a skate in a game.  Tells girls her was bitten by a shark.”

James laughed.  “I can’t believe girls fall for that.”

“Once he’s got his shirt off, you think they care?” Meghan pinched his waist, tickling him.  James flinched, then stood still and let Meghan punch him twice in the arm as payback.

“Okay, I guess Steven knows him, so if Michael kills her it won’t be on me,” John started to stand up.  “I’ll cab it to his place myself.”

“Stay here,” Meghan said.  James and John looked at each other then at her.  

“It’s one less place for those two to do it,” Meghan told James.   They all turned toward the esophagus inspection currently taking place nearby.

James shuddered.  “Fucking hell.”

Meghan directed John upstairs to the second guest bedroom.  She went to the kitchen, grateful for James’ addiction to blue Gatorade, and got three bottles.  A stop in her bathroom yielded aspirin and she went off on her rounds.

John was flat on his back, fully dressed.  The bathroom light was on so she knew that had happened.  He cracked an eye when she set the juice on the bedside table.  “Take these.”  She handed him the pills and he swallowed them dry.

“Hopeless,” Meghan smiled, opening the Gatorade and enticing him to sit.  John rolled onto one elbow and propped himself up.  He took a loud gulp.  His eyes were squinty and he looked about ten years old, ready to pass out.  Meghan sat down next to him on the bed.

John was so guileless.  She had never in her life known anyone like him.  He had no idea he was hot, no idea he was sweet and funny and kind of fucking perfect.  She wondered if he even knew how good he was at hockey - they could pay him millions and nominate him for trophies but John seemed like the kind of guy to shrug it off, say it was just luck and hard work and good timing.  It was so much more than that and everyone else knew it.  He flopped down onto his back and Meghan scooted closer.  She touched the side of his face, tracing the hairline to his temple then along his jaw, where she knew his beard would end.

His eyes fluttered open.  “You’re pretty.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“I like you,” he said.

Meghan stopped, her hand just shy of his chin.  The hint of a smile played on John’s lips so she leaned down and kissed him, even more slowly and softly than the kiss at the gym.  Maybe she imagined it, but the smile got a little wider.  Then he was out.

“‘Night John,” she whispered.

James was scrubbing his face with a washcloth when she came in.  He was so tall and lanky, he took up the entire bathroom mirror.  She leaned against the door, considering that Neal was a pretty fine specimen himself.  Of course he knew it, and cultivated it, but that didn’t make it any less effective.  He watched her in the reflection.

“You lock Michael out?”

“Nah,” she shook her head.  “I blocked the stairs though.  You’re probably gonna need a new couch.”

James grimaced.  “Maybe they’ll do it on the lawn.”

“I hope I’m drunk enough to sleep through it,” she said.  “Here.”

Meghan put two Advil and a Gatorade on the counter.  James studied them for a minute, thinking.

This was the time to bring up the fight.  They were being quiet and honest and fair.  The probable object of the argument was snoring in the next room.  James turned to look at Meghan and they both knew this was the opportunity to put it behind them, but someone had to start.  Which meant someone had to say what was happening: she liked John.  James was jealous.  Things were changing.

Neither of them was ready.  Meghan gave James a tight smile.

“Night, James.”

He felt a heavy sadness in letting her go - but James wasn’t quite sure he wanted to keep her either.

“Night Meg.”

Snoring.  Meghan woke to a chorus of snoring, a symphony of horns all trying to outplay each other.  Her bedside table said it was ten o’clock.  No one had workouts today so they boys could sleep for hours.  But she couldn’t, not with this noise.  

Her head didn’t hurt, a testament to the time-honored remedy she’d given out the night before.  Hopefully it had worked on everyone.  In her t-shirt and shorts, she tiptoed into the hallway and opened James’ door.  He was on his back, one arm over his face to block the light from a window he hadn’t closed.  She crept across the room and pulled the curtains shut.  James huffed in his sleep; she took it as a thank you and left.

The next room was a question mark.  Meghan didn’t feel right intruding on John’s privacy but she just wanted to check on him.  The snoring indicated she couldn’t wake him if she tried.  Carefully turning the knob, she stuck her head inside.  John lay on his side, curled into a ball.  She almost awwwww-ed at the sight.  Sometime in the night he’d knocked his pillow onto the floor so Meghan picked it up.

“Lift your head,” she whispered.  The power of suggestion always seemed to work.  John tilted his head slightly, subconsciously, and she slipped the pillow underneath.  He shifted slightly.  Meghan knew her kiss was still on those lips.

Downstairs was a different story from the adorable, comfortably passed out boys upstairs.  Michael Del Zotto was sprawled out, face down in his underwear on the biggest couch in the living room.  It was bright as day and he was wearing some very inspirational boxer briefs.  Meghan was glad he wasn’t face-up, she wasn’t sure it was safe to see the rest of him without a trained medical professional nearby.  That mop of hair was a mess and he more inhaling the sofa cushion than he was snoring.  The floor shook.  Meghan glanced around - no sign of the girl.  She checked the bathroom - empty too.  Then she noticed a note on the coffee table.

Until next time... watch out for sharks.  

She laughed, putting the note back.  Heaven help them if Michael found a girl anything like himself.

In the kitchen, Meghan made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of juice.  When that was done she loaded the dishwasher, cleaned up what was left of the mess in the yard and left all the full bags and boxes for the boys to carry out.  After a shower, she pulled on emerald green shorts and white tank top.  The snoring continued.  She carried her book outside, brought a chair into the shade and relaxed.

Or tried.  How was she supposed to relax with these guys sleeping nearby?  The snoring was contained - barely - by the walls of the house but that didn’t change the fact that three of Canada’s most desirable bachelors were asleep in various states of undress within mere meters of where she now sat.  It was like a game show where every decision was a bad idea but would make for great television.

Michael was the bad boy with the heart of gold, the one girls loved despite the warnings.  He would never make promises but in that way, he would never lie.  What you saw was what you got and any girl knew that boy was a bargain at twice the price.

James was  more difficult.  He cared more than Michael and so he worked harder against it.  Sometimes people got hurt.  Inside he was a good guy and a good friend.  That lead girls to believe he’d be a good boyfriend and James Neal was anything else.  Selfish, a little egotistical -  hey, he had the goods to back it up.  Just his sales pitch needed some work.

Then there was John.  Meghan had no idea how John Tavares ended up being John Tavares in this world.  He was like a kid in a fairy tale, following a trail of gumdrops through the woods and accidentally defeating evil at every turn.  The idea made her smile.  She didn’t really know him yet; he was probably even more perfect.

Last night in the garage she thought he was going to kiss her.  Add that to the time in the pool and the time in the bar - at least three possible kisses had been missed.  In the meantime she had given him two - one at the gym and one last night, which he wouldn’t remember.  Meghan counted it still.  There was an imbalance here.  Every sign seemed to say John liked her, but she was the one who kept kissing him.

“Morning.”  James opened the screen door, glassy-eyes and wild-haired.

“Feel okay?”

“Yeah.  You?”

“Fine.  See Michael?”

James made a face.  “So much of Michael.”

Meghan giggled.  “The girl left a note.”

“Fucking sharks,” James grumbled.

He dragged another chair into the shade and sat down.  James had not showered or eaten or done anything constructive.  Meghan hadn’t left much to do.  That was the thing about living with her: things seemed to be done, by themselves, all the time.  He was getting very used to it.

“Thanks for cleaning up,” he said.

“No problem.”  Meghan figured that James basically paid her hundreds of dollars a month in free rent to do very little around here.  If the party had been at someone else’s house she would likely have done the same anyway.

“Tavares still here?”

Meghan nodded.  She tried not to smile at the memory of his little boy face - either last night or this morning.  James was watching her carefully though, and he saw the twitch of a smile.  It sank in his heart like a stone.  He might not be sure he wanted Meghan, but James sure didn’t want to see her with someone else.  He didn’t want to lose one of the few things he could keep, when he threw everything else away like so much shiny trash.

“Snores like a motherfucker,” she said.  “You all do.”

“I do not,” James scoffed.  Meghan looked at him like he’d just said the sky was green.  “Well no one has ever complained!” he said.

Meghan shook her head.  “I’m sure they don’t have anything else to complain about.”

They sat for a while, each of them thinking about the thing they weren’t saying.  Just like the night before.  It wasn’t too long before that thing appeared in the doorway.

“Hey guys,” John said.  He had shed his button up in favor of a t-shirt that Meghan had not realized he was wearing a shirt underneath it.  That’s how far up it had been buttoned.

Unbelieveable, she thought.  John raked one big hand through his bed head and sighed.  “Got anymore Gatorade?”

James told him to help himself.  John examined the fridge, considering the other inhabitants for anything that his body might want: cheese, eggs, milk, veggies.  It all sounded gross.  He was weighing the pros and cons of cereal when Meghan let herself in.

“Hungover?” she asked quietly.  John hated to admit it when she and James were obviously fine, but he did feel like the dirt under someone’s fingernails.  

Meghan wanted to hug him, but this was not the place - and not the time if there was a chance he was going to be sick.  That would kill any romantic feelings she might be harboring.  Instead she took a Gatorade and steered him back upstairs, following.  John went obediently into his room, concerned when Meghan didn’t follow.  She came back a few seconds later with the bottle of Advil.

“Drink that,” she said, like this was Alice in Wonderland and John wanted to fit down the rabbit hole.  He chugged most of the Gatorade.  She held out two aspirin and he tossed them back, chasing them with the last of the sports drink.  His head throbbed.

“Lay down,” Meghan instructed.  

John did.  The room swam a little as his equilibrium fought for control.  Meghan sat down next to him and turned him on his side.  Then she started rubbing his back.  After a minute, the dizziness went away.

“Better?” she asked.

The pressure of her hand was soothing, like an anchor keeping him in place against the roll and current of everything in his head.  Why did he drink so much?  Why could everyone else handle it?  Just another way in which they were cool and he was not.  Awesome.  Exactly what he wanted Meghan to see.

Meghan felt John’s shoulder blades beneath her palm; the hollow of his spine, the span of his rib cage.  His eyes were closed, mouth knit into a hard line.  She shifted a little closer, as much sitting next to him as she was holding him up.  Hangovers were the worst.

“Sleep for half an hour, you’ll feel much better,” she said quietly.

John fell asleep to her whispering in his ear.

Meghan wanted so badly to lie down behind John and wrap her arm around him.  She too was exhausted and even though she wasn’t sick, she was drained.  The guest bed was big and firm, taunting her like a cloud.  Plus there was John.  He was adorable in his neediness, valiant as he tried to act normal.  She’d seen right through it to the beaten guy inside.  Luckily John was not afraid of being told what to do.

She thought about James, how sensitive he was.  More than once she’d nursed him back from a hangover worse than this, worse than death.  Then she wasn’t even living with him.  By comparison John was tame and manageable and required much less effort.  That deserved a hug.  Instead she sat there, rubbing small circles against his back until well after he was asleep.

James knew instantly the footsteps approaching were not Meghan’s.  Unless she’s turned into a yeti.

“Dude,” Michael said.  James was relieved to see he’d gotten at least half-dressed though DZ’s t-shirt was still missing.  That girl had probably ripped it off, or maybe he’d flexed right out of it.  He looked capable.

“You owe me a new couch,” James shot back.

“Eh, I think you just need a mop a bit of floor. Where’s Megan?”

“Putting Tavares back to bed.”

Michael nodded, taking Meghan’s empty chair. James added it to the list of things he’d have to replace.

“You alright with that?”

“With what?” James asked.


So everyone knew.  Or at least they had noticed.  Of every potential couple at the party, JOhn and meghan had flirted the least.  They’d stopped before anything happened - and that made them stand out.  Of course Michael would catch on - he had radar keeping tabs on every hot girl in a hundred meter radius.

James shrugged.  “I’d rather not have to be.”

“You could always do something about it yourself,” Michael suggested.  He never understood why one of them hadn’t locked it up with that girl a long time ago.

“I’d rather not have to do that either,” James said.

Meghan returned, having stopped in the kitchen to make a big plate of toast slathered with jam.  She pulled up another chair as James and Michael gratefully dove into the carb fest.  

“I saw your love note,” Meghan said to Michael.

He mumbled, mouth full.  “That story works every time.”

John’s first thought was that he felt better.  His second was that he was a total rookie geek who couldn’t party with the big kids.  Ugh.  For as nice as she had been, Meghan must think he was a loser.  He rolled himself out of bed, washed his face and rinsed his mouth out.  A little water helped tame his hair.  There was nothing he could do about the clothes.  He followed the sound of voices back out onto the deck

“Feel better?” Meghan asked, shielding her face against the encroaching sun.

“A lot better, yeah.  Thanks.”

“Told you.”  She patted the arms of her chair.  “We were just talking about lunch.  Wanna go eat something that would make Roberts cry?”

They drove into town and headed for Starr Burger.  The breeze from the open car window felt good on John’s face; he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.  His hand lay open on his thigh, turned up, so Meghan reached over and squeezed it.  He squeezed back.

The place was crowded for lunch, but Michael flashed his smile around and got them seated rather quickly.  Word must have passed that hockey players walked in because their waitress turned up a hot second later at a run.

“Hi, I’m Katie,” she said with a half-giggle, like she was already flattered by their attention.  She was about eighteen with stick-straight hair pulled into a tight, bouncy ponytail and too much mascara for mid-day. Her eyes moved from Michael to James to Meghan then John, then back to Meghan and around the whole group again.  That smile darkened as she tried to figure out which one of these young men was not on the menu.

Meghan was used to this.  Walk into a place with some strapping hunks and instantly girls wanted to kill you with their stares.  She knew how to play along.

Katie fixed her happy mask of a face and said coyly, “How are you today?”

She obviously wanted one of the boys to say they were lonely and would meet her out back in ten minutes.  They didn’t get the chance.

“I for one had an amazing night.  I can hardly walk this morning!” Meghan said pertly.  Michael snarfed a laugh and tried to recover by coughing.  James slapped him on the back.  John stared at the table, knowing he’d crack up if he so much as caught an eye.

Meghan never broke.  “Can I have a cheeseburger, medium, a coke and fries with gravy?”  They all ordered some equally calorie-tastic dish and Katie left, looking disappointed not to have been propositioned by any of her customers.

“You are evil,” James said.

“She’s still going to give you her number,” Meghan replied.

Sure enough, when their plates were clean, their drinks empty and everyone felt much more solid, Katie slipped the check right under the corner of James’ glass.

Hope to see you again soon - Katie and her number.  And a smiley face.  Michael grabbed the check, ripped off the portion with the number and stuck it in his pocket.  Then he handed the bill back to James and walked out of the restaurant.

Timed to go along with Chapter 5 of Harder Than Stone. Enjoy! - J

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Timed to go with Chapter 4 of Harder Than Stone...

John wiped his hands on his shorts as he walked up Neal’s driveway.  Already music and noise were coming from the backyard.  John had resisted the urge to be early - like hours early - and arrived twenty minutes after James told him the party would start.  So what if he’d had to drive around the neighborhood a few times first?  He let himself in and made his way through the house.  

A handful of people had already arrived.  Some had claimed chairs around the pool while most were still saying hello near the coolers set up along the steps from the deck to the yard.  At the end of the porch, James was manning the grill while a few other guys looked on.


Meghan hadn’t meant to sound surprised.  Of course John was here - she was expecting him.  Kind of almost waiting for him, actually, even if she didn’t admit it to herself until she saw him in the back doorway.  Was he looking for her?  He wore a short-sleeve button down shirt with small red and blue checks, open only one button at his throat when it should have been two.  A little too prim.  The khaki cargo shorts fit great, finished by flip flops.  His slightly shaggy hair brushed the tops of his ears.  The whole thing was one ribbon belt shy of a J Crew catalog.

“Hey. Hi.”  John felt the biggest goober smile appear on his face like a billboard lightning up.  Meghan was coming toward him, carrying a barbeque lighter in one hand and the handles of two bucket-shaped citronella candles in the other.  She wore a yellow dress, a casual cotton number that looked both thrown-on and completely incredible.  The v-neck was accented by buttons running down the center, as if he wasn’t already looking at her perfect breasts.  Thin shoulder straps made it clear she had no tan lines up top.  It clung to her waist, stopped at mid-thigh and swung jauntily from her hips as she walked.  John pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth to keep it from rolling out.

The last thing Meghan had done was give John a very quick, very chaste goodbye hug at the bar.  After two nearly-missed kisses she had thought it best to turn down his offer to drive her home.  When she and James fought the next morning, Meghan knew she’d been right.  But John just kept turning up.

“Can I help?”  His hand brushed hers as he took the candles without waiting for an answer.  Meghan held her breath as John passed closest, the faint, clean smell of his cologne reaching her nose.  Or maybe it was his soap.  Could his skin smell like that?  Would it all smell like that?  Was now really the best time to think about it?  She cleared her throat.

“Yeah, thanks,” Meghan said, but he was already out the door.

John went right to the table and put down the candles.  He had to get out of there or he would have kissed her.  This was becoming a problem.  He liked Meghan as a person too, not just someone to lust after, but it was getting so he couldn’t talk to her.  Two days had done nothing to diminish the effect - in fact, it was getting worse.  He pushed one candle to each end and headed for the grill.

Meghan circulated through the party, playing hostess.  She knew almost everyone, which meant only a few people gave her insinuating looks when they were told she lived there.  Most of them were girls who’d be excited to find that James didn’t let a roommate stand in the way of his fun.  He did, however, trust her to do the cooking.

“Hey Meg, we need ya!” he called.  

John was standing right next to him, talking about something while sipping a bottle of beer and pretending not to watch Meghan.  Her yellow dress was so easy to follow in the falling light.  Big streaks of color still clawed at the horizon but stars were beginning to twinkle overhead.  Meghan turned on another string of outdoor bulbs that had been woven into some of the railings and trees, then bounced their way.

“Out of the way, pecks,” she said, motioning to them.  A few of the guys walked off but John and James stayed close as Meghan took the tongs and began examining the grilling effort.  She flipped a few burgers, pressing them flat with the spatula to test how done they were.  A metal basket on the top rack held veggies.

“These look good.  Get a platter.”

James disappeared inside to get more food.  John quickly grabbed a large blue plate from the table and held it out.  Meghan loaded it up with burgers and dogs.  Of course it’s John who helps, she thought even as it made her smile.

“What?” he smiled too, but just from nerves.

Meghan told herself to go on and be normal.  It wasn’t her fault James got territorial, if that’s even what had sparked their fight.  Just like it wasn’t John’s fault that she wanted to kiss him every ten minutes.  A little flirting never killed anybody and John looked like he would die if she stopped.

“At the end of the summer, I’m going to award you the Lady Byng for being so polite.”

“Is there an awards ceremony?”

“Yes,” she nodded.

“Good,” he said.  “Wear that dress.”

John deposited the platter on the table where hungry guests descended.  That was a good line, he thought.  Meghan had laughed.  She was flirting with him again.  Things were going pretty well, for something that was going nowhere.  He moved some other dishes to make room for more food and turned to go back when someone shouted.

“There she is!”

Michael Del Zotto bounded across the deck and scooped a squealing Meghan up into his arms.  His really big arms.  He swung Meghan around, her feet kicking, before putting her down and planting a loud, wet kiss on her forehead.

“Hi honey!” he said.

“Hello yourself,” Meghan reached up and combed a handful of Michael’s unruly curls away from his face.  She loved his hair - loved everything about him except that MDZ was an even bigger manwhore than James.  Still there was something so genuine, so fun-loving about Michael that she could see why girls dropped their drawers over him.  In his navy shorts and tight white t-shirt, looking at him could make a girl blush.  He had a megawatt smile, a booming laugh and a body you could bounce quarters off of.  “You look great!”

“So you’ll finally go out with me?  Is this my year?”

“Out of the house, or out of my pants?” She poked his rock-solid abs.

“Well usually I get back to the house before pants come off, but we can do it your way.”

John gripped the edge of the table so hard his fingers tore the plastic tablecloth.  Of course Del Zotto was here.  He was tight with Stamkos and they trained together in the off-season, on top of what Stamkos did with Roberts.  MDZ wasn’t in the Roberts program but he was a legend in this part of town for his off-season good times.  John had been expecting he’d turn up sooner rather than later.  He just didn’t like Michael heading straight for Meghan.  Michael wasn’t just a ladies man, he was a New York Ranger.  John fucking hated the Rangers.

James passed him with another dish of meat for the grill.  John figured that was his opening.  He followed Neal over and when James greeted Michael, John took the food and put it down next to Meghan.

“Thanks,” she said, still smiling.  Her eyes sparkled.  John wanted to vomit.

Meghan noticed the dark look on John’s face but kept her smile pasted on as she thought rapidly what it could be.  Michael.  Of course.  He was such a showboat.  And he was a Ranger.  She tended to forget that sometimes on-ice feelings carried off the ice.  Her experience said there was only one solution - to act like the season never happened.  If John could get along with James after the playoffs, he could do the same Del Zotto.  She laid out the chicken pieces, turned the veggies and put down the tongs.

“John, you know Michael, right?”

John’s eyes flashed, but Meghan held his gaze with a fierce look of her own.  He caved and followed her lead.  “Yeah, hey.  How’s it going?”

“Tavares, eh?  Good, buddy.  You join this circus for the summer?”  MDZ waved a hand toward the party like he owned the place.

“Yup.  Training with Robs, all that.”

“Well you’re still upright, must be getting through days,” Michael joked, slapping John’s shoulder.

Meghan could tell from John’s stiff posture and tight jaw this wasn’t easy for him.  Perhaps the nice guy had a little mean streak in him.  

Turn on, her body said.

Shut up! her brain yelled.

Not a chance, her feet replied as they stepped up next to John’s, landing the rest of Meghan at his side.  If he’d put his arm out, it would have gone right around her.  The move was possessive and protective, two things that scared Meghan equally.

John felt her body against his and couldn’t help it - he smiled.  MDZ’s eyebrows went up with zero subtlety.  His generous mouth even turned down at the corners, like he was surprised and impressed at the same time.  

“Getting through,” John nodded.

Behind Michael, James frowned.  Meghan might as well have pulled a sword and left it pointing tip down into the porch like a warning.  

“Alright,” Michael said, taking the hint and backing off.  “Where’s the beer in this place?”

John and Meghan both turned back to the grill, each trying not to look at the other.  Meghan didn’t know why she’d done that - MDZ was a big, harmless lug who didn’t give a shit what team anyone played for.  John was perfectly capable of taking care of himself.  But he’d looked so....

“Thanks,” he said quietly, embarrassed.  What would he have done - left the party?  Fought Del Zotto?  No, he was going to swallow the pill and make friends with the guy, the way he’d done with a thousand other players since joining the League.  Granted those guys hadn’t groped and propositioned Meghan first, so John thought he deserved a minute to collect himself.

“Sure,” she said, relieved the moment was over.  “You, uh, don’t like him?”

John glanced from the corner of his eye and caught Meghan doing the same.  Their eyes met. He shrugged lamely.

“I didn’t like the way he was looking at you.”

John was getting bug spray out of his car when another set of tires rolled up.  It was Steven, and he wasn’t alone.

Well somebody’s getting somewhere, John thought.  Sure enough Steven hurried around the Mercedes to open the passenger door.  His hand disappeared from view and came back holding someone else’s.  She was about six inches shorter than Stamkos, dark hair swept into a high ponytail and bangs perfectly arranged across her face.  The Girl Who Was Stalked.

She was laughing now, so she must have been over getting knocked to her ass in the bar.  Steven levered the seat forward and helped another girl out of the back.  This one had a shock of bleached blond hair, black micro shorts, a  leopard print top and a wicked smile.

“Hey John!” Steven was obviously very happy.

“Hey man,” John shook his friend’s hand.  “You must be Kaylynn.”

The girl with the bangs had startling blue eyes and beautiful fine features.  John hadn’t been close enough to notice them before.  She blushed a little at the suggestion that Steven had been talking about her.

“I remember you,” the blond girl said.  “You were at the bar too.”

John held his hands up.  “Just an accomplice.”

The girl smirked, eyeing him from head to toe.  “Well you’re too pretty for prison.  Got any more bad boys in this party?”

Later in the party, Meghan found herself alone at the side of the pool, her bare feet and legs submerged in the water.  She kicked and cast shadows along the submerged walls.  With a tap, a new cup of beer appeared at her side - followed by a huge pair of thighs and a white t-shirt.

“Your Highness,” Michael said, offering a toast.  He always teased Meghan for looking like Kate Middleton, though the only real resemblance was a skinny girl with long brown hair.  She tapped her plastic cup against his and sipped the foamy beverage.

“Are you saying I look pregnant?” she scoffed.

MDZ settled in nice and close to her side.  “So, you miss me?”

“Yes,” she said.  “It’s so boring without you here.  Only ugly guys wearing clothes that actually fit them and no one ever asks me for a blowjob.”

His laughed echoed across the water.  “Your life, so hard.”

“Actually Nealer’s taken to wearing some pretty small shirts, so...,” she smiled.  “Things are good, Michael.  How are you?”

“Happy to be home.”

“How’s New York?”  Meghan knew things had been had at the end of the Rangers’ season.  The players, including Michael, had staged what amounted to a mutiny and gotten their coach fired.  Their top-paid player, Brad Richards, had a beyond-terrible season and might have his contract bought out.  In a media market like New York, little problems had a tendency to explode.

“Let’s just say New York and I are on a break.  We’re free to date other people,” he said philosophically.  “Back to my first love, Canadian girls.”

“Ahhh, the luck.  New York has nothing on us.”  Meghan bumped his shoulder.

Michael turned his head toward her.  “I don’t know about that.  It looked to me like New York had you there for a minute.”

Meghan smiled shyly.  Of course John also played in New York, just not the same New York.  

“What’s that about?” he asked.

“Nothing.  We’re just friends.  John’s not as...,” she searched for the word, “rowdy, as you guys.  I just wanted to make sure you didn’t throw him in the pool or something.”

Michael chuckled.  “I’m not gonna beat up your boyfriend, Meg.”

“He is not my boyfriend,” she said in a droning voice, for what seemed like the millionth time.

“Then there is hope for me yet.”

“Not tonight, hot shot.  The friend of that girl Stamkos brought has been staring daggers at me since you came over here.”  Meghan tipped her head toward the bar, where a knot of people were chatting.

Michael sighed and started lumbering to his feet.  “Duty calls.”  He helped Meghan up so they were both standing.  “If she kills you, Tavares will die a virgin and I can’t have that on my conscience.”

John pretended not to watch MDZ and Meghan sitting together, talking like old friends.  He pretended he hadn’t been on his way over to join her when Del Zotto swooped in.  It wasn’t that John didn’t like the guy, but he was outmanned by Michael’s confidence.  MDZ had swagger and Meghan seemed to like it.  Even as he made her laugh with one last joke then went obviously off to claim another conquest, John felt like he could not compete.  All these guys were cool - they had bravado and notches on bed posts and went by full first names like they were royalty: James, not Jimmy, Steven, Michael.  John couldn’t have a nickname if he wanted to; John was the name given to unidentified dead bodies and guys who picked up hookers.  Even his name was tragic.

“Dude.  You are a sad puppy in a window right now.”  The voice was Steven, who had detached from his date for the first time all night.

“How’s Kaylynn?” John tried to change the topic.

It worked.  A moony look came over Steven’s face.  John was the kind of guy that people talked to about feelings and fears, the way they couldn’t always talk to other male friends.  “She’s fantastic.  There’s not much yet, you know, she’s still holding back but I can tell I’m getting there.”

“Good for you,” John said honestly.

“What about Meghan?  You think you wanna go for that, or...?”

“Or what?”

Steven scratched the very blond hair at the back of his very blond neck.  “Or you think Neal might flip out a little?  He was pretty off his game last night, couldn’t even close the deal with his girl.”

John’s heart was hammering.  “You think he wants to close the deal with Meghan?”

“No, no way, man.  If she wanted that she’d have had it years ago.  Still, you walk in here, she gets all gooey over you and Nealer’s probably feeling like a chump.”

“Gooey?” John repeated.

Steven shrugged.  “All I’m saying is Meghan’s one of us.  There’s no breaking up with her.”

“What if she broke up with me?”

“Nope, you’re one of us now too.” Steven drained the last sip of his beer.  “And Del Zotto, so learn to like that punk alright?”

John scuffed his foot on the deck planking and laughed.  The idea he was a permanent member of their group made him absurdly proud.  “Alright, alright.”

Steven went back to his date and John went over where some people had started a beer pong game. Almost every guy at the table had played hockey, but those who still played for a living had unbeatable hand-eye coordination.  They were in demand. On the second go-round, John was pressed into service on the team opposite James.  The girl next to him nailed her flip on the first try and John tossed back his beer.

He missed the first flip.

Across the table, James swallowed his entire drink in one gulp.

“My team beat yours in the playoffs!” James yelled, trying to distract John.  His own flip tipped over sideways.

“I had seven more goals than you!” John shouted back, missing another try.

“Stamkos beat you on that, get his ass over here!”  James fumbled again.  John hit the lip of his cup, it flipped once and landed perfectly on its bottom.  The little crowd roared.

“Number one draft pick,” John sang.

James finally stuck his own flip, but it was too late.  He gave John and mock glare, turned toward the rest of the party and  bellowed, “STAMKOS!!!!”

The game got sloppier and the insults more colorful.  Steven joined in, and Michael.  Everyone’s coordination got worse as they went from tipsy to buzzed, but it took the hockey players longer than the average civilian.  Still by the time John backed away from the table to a chant of “Twenty years!” since his team had won the Stanley Cup, his head was a little wobbly.  The cooler next to the table was empty anyway.

John headed for the garage, careful to navigate the porch steps correctly.  It would not do to be injured from playing beer pong.  Once he was on solid ground he walked steadily, shaking the bubbles from his bloodstream.  The door from the kitchen to the garage was propped wide.

And there was Meghan.  She stood in front of the open fridge, the only light in the room.  Two cases of beer were balanced against her shins, ready for transport.  She was digging something out from behind them, leaning forward.  Her dress outlined the curve of her ass and the swing of her breasts.

Like a contact high, John suddenly felt a lot more drunk. Only there was no contact.  He visualized himself walking over there was if it were really happening.  He saw what he would do - push the cases of beer back on the shelf, pull Meghan aside and turn her around.  John would lower his mouth to hers at the same speed his hands pushed over her skirt.  Their lips would come together at the moment he felt her bare skin, the kiss would deepen as he drew his hands up her thighs, lifting her skirt, twisting his tongue against hers.  Meghan would wrap her arms around his neck, lean back against the side of the fridge.  John wouldn’t stop.  His thumbs would each brush a piece of lace across her hip, tuck inside and gently draw her panties down.  Then he would open his own shorts.  Meghan wouldn’t let go, just allow John to nudge her thighs apart and keep kissing him as he slowly screwed himself inside her, deeper and higher, until her heels lifted and her feet barely touched the floor.  Then he would take her, right there where anyone could see them.  Where anyone could hear them.  Because even though John would never stop kissing her, in his fantasies Meghan always said his name.


The word snapped John out of his daydream.  He felt clammy.  Reality came back to him with a kick in the form of his cock throbbing.  John coughed, covering.

“Let me get that.”

He hoped the darkness was enough to hide him adjusting his junk as he walked down the two steps.  Meghan was busy again in the fridge anyway.  As John neared her he felt the cloud of cold from the open door and added that to his fantasy.  He could trace the goosebumps it left on Meghan’s body.

The sight of John’s face made Meghan feel guilty.  She’d been avoiding him, hoping he wouldn’t notice and watching as he fit right in with everyone else and had fun.  He didn’t need her, certainly not to protect him from other guys he already knew.  What a stupid impulse, even if he had thanked her for it.  Now he was here, helpful again, but it wasn’t lost on Meghan that they were alone in a dark room and it would be a while before anyone missed them.  John stepped right up to get the beer and she was caught between his body and the open fridge door.

John kept his eyes on the prize.  He easily lifted the two cases from their perch at the edge of the bottom shelf.  Meghan had a six pack of something else in her hand.  He motioned for her to put it on top.

“I got this,” she said.

“Meghan,” he insisted.  

She rolled her eyes and placed the bottles on top of the cans he was holding.  It wasn’t a lot of weight but it made nice use of the muscles in his broad chest and shoulders.  Meghan already knew she was a sucker for those biceps.  And she’d had a few beers.

“Oooh, strong,” she said, giving John’s upper arm a playful squeeze that did absolutely nothing to the solid muscle.

He nodded like he was tipping his hat.  “Ma’am.”

The view from behind was even better.  John’s arms were flexed out to the sides, delineating the v-shape of his torso.  His shirt bunched a bit there, hanging loose over his taut waist but catching where his perfect ass met the rest of his body.  Meghan bit her lip, admiring the sight, before she resigned to shut the refrigerator door.

John was amazed to have gotten out of the garage with just beers and the hot flash he was currently experiencing.  That was will power.  Meghan hurried ahead and slid open the screen to the porch.  

John stopped at the threshold, enjoying the cooler air trapped in the house.  “Hot,” he said.

Meghan barely had to move before she was right in John’s way, the cases of beer the only space between them.  She did something she’d wanted to do all night - reached up and opened one more button at the top of John’s shirt.  Her finger dipped just inside and stroked the skin beneath the hollow of his throat.  John swallowed hard, bouncing his Adam’s apple just above her touch.  Now he looked summery.  He looked like someone who had at least a clue how fucking sexy he was.

“Better?” she asked in a low voice.

John wanted to drop the beer and throw her up against the open glass door for the entire party to see.  All the better if the cans exploded and soaked them, then he could drag her into the shower next.  Meghan’s wide, beautiful green eyes watched him like they were looking for a clue if her game was working.  John knew it was sink or swim.  Flirt or flight.  He looked down - down her dress, but also down at the buttons between her breasts.

John smiled.  “Your turn.”