Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Meghan pretended not to notice as John fixed the collar on his golf shirt for the third time.  He’d chosen a white top and navy shorts with a Blue Jays hat.  Meghan smiled at that too - he was really trying to impress.  The traffic light turned green and John put his hands back on the wheel at ten and two.

“You ready for this?” she asked.

“Should I be worried?”  It’s only hours of golf with the father of the girl I intend to steal away to another country and keep forever.

“No,” she squeezed his arm, “My dad was the one who suggested I stay with you!  Either he wanted to get rid of me or he likes you.”

“Could be both,” John pointed out.

Back when he’d first met Meghan’s parents, John had been as mildly intimidated as parents ever made him.  They had been friendly and relaxed.  John knew he was the type of guy parents liked to see their daughters with - but the stakes were higher now.  Luckily Meghan had invited herself along, outfitted in a ridiculously cute pair of pink bermuda shorts and a white v-neck t-shirt.  Her ponytail was laced through the back of an Islanders hat she’d taken from his closet.  Her parents were just getting clubs from the trunk of their car when John parked next to them.

“John, nice to see you,” Ben said, offering a firm handshake.  He turned to Meghan and asked, “Who are you again?”

“Your pride and joy, highlight of your life, best thing you ever made?” she razzed.

Caroline gave John a big hug.  Meghan resembled her mother, especially the green eyes, and the similarity put John even more at ease.  They headed for the clubhouse, four people and three golf bags.

“Are you renting clubs?” Caroline asked.

Meghan scoffed.  “I don’t golf!  You guys really have forgotten who I am.”

“I don’t know, maybe you learned this summer.  You two have to be doing something with all the time you spend together!”  Caroline winked and John blushed on command.  Meghan laughed loudly and bumped against his side, sliding her hand into his.

“I’m just here to drive the cart and make sure you don’t get fresh with my boyfriend, ya cougar.”

Ben looked at John.  “See what I have to put up with?”

They got two carts, a couple of beers and headed for the first tee.  John approached golf like he did hockey - calmly and methodically.  He’d always been an avid golfer and by the end of every summer was at the top of his game.  This year was no different.  He hit a few beautiful tee shots, long drives and was always near the center of the fairway.  Meghan’s father wasn’t bad either, and they each played more to beat the course than each other’s scores.  Caroline was decent, busier laughing and talking with Meghan than focusing on the game.  It lightened the mood, but after six holes John found himself in the cart with Ben while Meghan and her mom made a bathroom run.

“So,” Ben said, in that heavy way that dads do.  

“So,” John replied.  He’d been thinking about this moment, waiting for the chance to follow what he considered to be proper boyfriend protocol.  “I would like to ask your daughter to move to New York.”

Ben lifted an eyebrow.  “You haven’t asked her yet?”

They reached a shady spot near the seventh tee and stopped the cart on the paved path.

“I, er, I have, I guess.  We’ve talked about it.  But I….”

“Good! Jeez,” Ben sighed, “I’d be worried if you hadn’t.”

“Well I wanted to ask you too, and Caroline, if it’s okay.”  John had chosen the words carefully.  He wasn’t asking for permission so much as for their blessing.

Ben put one arm atop the steering wheel and turned to John.  This young man - talented and rich, on his way to earning fame in North America’s most important city - acting like an old-fashioned teenager.  He was serious, too.  It was almost more than a dad could hope for.

“You really like her, don’t you.”

It wasn’t a question but John answered anyway.  “Yes sir.”

“Good, because she really likes you.”

John’s heart thumped hard.

Her dad said, “Meghan does what she wants - always has.  I bet you know that already.”

This time John was laughing when he said, “Yes sir.”

“So you asked her.  What’d she say?”

John adjusted the brim of his hat, using the moment to keep a victorious smile off his lips.  “She started looking for jobs there.  A few others places too, but mostly New York.”

Ben clapped John on the shoulder.  “Good work!  I bet a hundred bucks you’d ask her to go.”

John barked a surprised laughed.  More than any blessing her father could have given, that was the best possible reply.  He felt completely at ease now, knowing Meghan’s family supported this.  “With who?”

“Her mom.  She thought Meghan would invite herself along first.”

Meghan steered along the cart path, making room for a pair of golfers walking toward the eighth green.  Her mom leaned back in the seat.

“John asked me to move to New York,” Meghan said.

“You made him ask?”

“I didn’t make him, mom.  He wanted to.”

Caroline shaded her eyes from the sun with one hand.  “I mean you didn’t volunteer?  What did you say?”

“I said yes, if I can find a job. And I started applying.”

“Applying to everything,” her mom added conspiratorially.

Meghan nodded.  “Everything.”

They giggled like girls.  It meant a lot that her parents liked John - it didn’t seem so crazy to take off after a boy if her parents approved.  They were both young but going about this the smart way.  Meghan would have a job, a life.  And she would have John.

They got back to the seventh tee to find John and Ben taking practice swings, discussing technique.  The guys didn’t look any worse off for having been left alone for a while.  Meghan swung her legs out of the cart and walked right up to John for a kiss.  When she turned around, her parents were both watching.

“Where’s my hundred bucks?” Ben asked.

Caroline smiled. “Oh shut up.”

Days passed.  Meghan and John both knew it was bringing them closer to the inevitable but blithely ignored the fact.  They spent days and nights together - no more pretense of Meghan staying at her parents’ after their golf outing had gone so well. Meghan talked to a few people about jobs, got a few warm leads.  She felt confident something would shake out and, for the first time since admitting that she wanted John in her life, no real hurry to make that happen.  They were together, and they would stay together however and wherever.

Now John was in the kitchen, leaning over the island to balance on his elbows.  He had a peanut butter sandwich in one hand and turned the pages of a magazine with the other.  The black t-shirt he wore stretched over his shoulders, giving Meghan quite a view.  

“What are you doing?” he asked without looking up.

“Admiring you.”

John lifted onto the toes of his flipflops, flexing his calves so the big muscles rippled to life.  Meghan groaned. “There’s no time for your sexy legs right now, we’re meeting them in twenty minutes.”

John turned his head and was caught off-guard by the sight of Meghan.  She wore the same yellow spaghetti strap sundress as she had way back at the start of summer to James’ house party.  It barely touched her golden tanned skin, the swell of her breasts accentuated by the small row of buttons down the bodice.  It was in that dress John had first fantasized about Meghan - envisioned kissing her in the garage, pressed against the fridge.  That night he’d first seen her with Del Zotto, first been asked by Steven if he was going to make a move.  Everything that had happened since that night was leading up to this.

“That dress,” he said softly.

Meghan looked down.  “Like it?”

“You wore it at James’ party back when we first met.”  He stood up straight.  

“The night you got drunk and slept over.”  Meghan’s memory of the night was just as vivid: John had been wearing a checkered shirt buttoned one too high at the throat - she’d gotten bold, opened the top button.  John had said he didn’t like the way Del Zotto was looking at her.  He’d also said something else before he fell asleep.

John reached for her.  His palms grazed her hips and came to rest against the small of her back.  That touch was so familiar now, but back then he’d dreamed of such a simple thrill.  
“God, I wanted you so badly that night.”

“You told me you liked me, drunk, right before you fell asleep.”

“I don’t remember.”

Meghan lifted her fingers to John’s face and gently touched the jagged white scar above his lip.  “Then you don’t remember that I kissed you either.”

John’s jaw dropped open.

“Mmhmmm,” she nodded.  “It was a little problem I had, always kissing you.”

He kissed her now, wrapping his arms around her slender frame.  Meghan slid her hand to the back of his neck and parted her lips.  It was a deep, seeking kiss, holding each other tightly; both remembering when they couldn’t do this and that they always wanted to.  When they broke apart, John brushed the hair back from her face.  She looked through lashes darkened with mascara, those green eyes so full of the same smile as her face.  He thought the words.  He almost said them: I love you.

Meghan knew how close she had come to missing this.  “So stupid, I almost let you get away.”

John settled for another kiss with a bit of groping, before they headed to his car.  Twenty minutes they walked hand-in-hand up to the Oakville Street Fair.

Four blocks had been closed down and were lined with booths and vendors.  It wasn’t yet dark but lights flashed on fried dough and cotton candy stalls.  Local artists had set up tents selling every manner of artwork and clothing, from photography and etchings to funny screen-printed shirts.  The local radio station booth was giving away branded items and asking people to spin their prize wheel.  Just beside it, Kaylynn and Steven were talking.

Kaylynn looked effortless in a flirty black skirt, faded denim button down over a white cami and a thin tan belt.  She wore the dantiest strappy sandals Meghan had ever seen.  Meghan was glad to have chosen her yellow dress, especially after John’s reaction.  Steven wore a t-shirt and shorts like he was paid to do so, plus a baseball hat pulled down low over his brow.  It was largely useless - he was every inch Steven Stamkos, no hiding that.

“Hey guys,” John got their attention.  Steven and Kaylynn turned from their conversation and Meghan noticed it took a moment for smiles to come to their faces.  They quickly delivered hugs though, erasing whatever Meghan had seen.  

Each vendor had something to stop and shop over.  The fair seemed particularly up Kaylynn’s alley - handmade jewelry, vintage pieces mixed in with the junk.  She even knew a few of the sellers from her searches as a stylist.  Meghan could tell this was the part of her job that Kaylynn really enjoyed.  

“These are beautiful,” Kaylynn held up a pair of chandelier earrings, glinting in the setting sun.  Meghan agreed.  Steven was close behind and Meghan saw him slide the artist’s card into his pocket.  He didn’t say anything though, just hung back - that slight tension still apparent between them.  John announced his intention to find drinks and walked off; Meghan took the opportunity.

“John told me,” she whispered conspiratorially to Kaylynn.  

“He - what?” Kay’s dark hair fanned out as she turned quickly.  “Told you what?”

“That you’re applying to jobs in Tampa - Steven told him,” Meghan said, pretending be engrossed in a painting. “It’s so exciting!”

If anything, Kaylynn has the one who seemed distracted.  “Yeah,” she nodded.  “What about you? What’s your plan?”

“I am too!” Meghan heard her voice get louder, knew she was smiling like a giddy schoolgirl. “Sorry.  I’m just excited, I guess.”

Now Kaylynn reacted, grabbing Meghan’s shoulder and pulling her into a hug.  “That’s amazing!  I didn’t know you were, that you were applying in New York.  Have you heard anything?”

“A few bites, some leads,” Meghan bobbed her head. “I’m not worried yet. There’s still time.”

A concerned look shadowed Kaylynn’s pretty face, her brows knitting together under straight bangs.  Of course that was it - the tension between her and Steven - she was worried about finding a job.  Kaylynn has no less independent than Meghan, she wanted this move to be on her own terms too.
“Hey,” Meghan said, “I wouldn’t worry, Kaylynn. You’ll find something.”

Kaylynn started to say something, but right then John arrived and she clammed up.  Even as a potentially important conversation was cut short, Meghan couldn’t help that little swoop of butterflies in her stomach every time she saw John.  He had two giant ice teas in striped paper cups - the girls hadn’t ordered anything, but John would never think only of himself.  Meghan leaned in and took a sip from his straw.  He offered one to Kaylynn but she declined, so Meghan got her own.  

“Thanks baby.”

“Anything for you,” he said.

Kaylynn shot them a grin.  “That someone else turns down first.”

The girls stopped to admire a display of photography - colorful pictures that had been blown up into canvas wall hangings.  Many featured brightly painted doors from Caribbean towns: plaster crumbling at the edges, beautiful despite being past their primes.  They reminded Meghan that John had never really traveled.  She filed it away to fix in the future.

“Excusemehi,” a young voice said.  Meghan turned to find a boy of about eight years old at John’s elbow.  “Are you John Tavares?”

Meghan reached for Kaylynn.  “Oh my God, I’m gonna die.”

The little boy had a bowl haircut and freckles.  All John had to say was hi and he was nearly bouncing up and down.  The kid produced a piece of paper and a pen, glancing back at a thirty-something couple waiting a few meters away.

“Hello,” John said to the parents.  The dad looked about as excited as his son, clearly trying to hold it together for the sake of propriety.  John asked the boy his name, how old he was.

“We live near your school.  I play hockey too.  For the Rangers.”

“The good Rangers,” John clarified, looking at Meghan.  She felt weak in the knees watching this happen.  “The Oakville Rangers.”

“Yeah,” the boy nodded.  John signed an autograph, took a photo and gave him a very manly handshake.  Then he shook the dad’s hand too, for good measure.

“If you keep your eyes open, Steven Stamkos is around here somewhere,” John said before they left.

Kaylynn had moved on to the next vendor and Meghan had lost track of Steven - probably buying Kay something he didn’t want her to see.  She just stood there beaming at John.  He pressed his lips together sheepishly.  “You’re amazing,” she said.  “You made that kid’s whole summer!”

“Cute kid,” was all John said.

“Oh stop.  Hero,” she teased, linking her arm through his.  Of course John would go out of his way to be kind to kids, treat them like grown-ups.  But to see it happen reminded her that people dreamed of meeting John, he was their idol.  Maybe not as many as wished to meet Steven, but John was quickly catching up.

“That’s your old team right, the Oakville Rangers?”

“Yup.  Rangers when I was little, then I went to St. Thomas over there,” he pointed left in the general direction of his high school, “Played for about every team around here at some point.  How’d you know?”

“I memorized everything about you on Wikipedia.  And your mom showed me pictures at your house.”  She wrapped an arm around John’s waist, holding him still and examining his face for traces of the little boy she’d seen in those photos.  He was there in the shape of the nose and jaw, behind those changeable dark eyes.  “And now I’ve been to your hometown.”

John knew it was cheesy, but he was in that kind of mood.  “Home is where the heart is.”

Meghan rolled her eyes for show, essentially admitting she loved it.  In fact, she hated to see anyone feeling less than enamoured on such a great night.  With that in mind, she freed John from her embrace.  “I’m going to find Steven.”

John’s hand trailed down her arm until briefly catching her fingers.  “Don’t get lost.”

It was easy - she knew right where to find Steven Stamkos, NHL superstar.  Despite his exquisite build, all broad shoulders and fair skin, he was hovering around the jewelry booth where they’d stopped before, looking as indecisive as any guy had ever been about a gift.

“See anything you like?” she asked from close behind.

“Jesus!”  Steven jumped.  His head immediately whipped around, waiting to be caught shopping by Kaylynn.

“Don’t worry, just little old me.” Meghan drawled.  “Looking for anything... special?”  Steven’s only response was an uncharacteristic, almost annoyed shrug.  She immediately dropped the playful tone.  “Hey, are you guys okay?  You seem kind of….”

It didn’t take much prompting.  Steven sighed and said, “Kaylynn got a promotion.”

Woah.  She’d just been talking with Kaylynn about jobs - new jobs, not current or better jobs.  “What happened to Tampa?”

Steven glanced toward the vendor, indicating that he had a card and would call.  Then he steered Meghan and their suddenly private conversation back into the anonymous crowd.  
“Kaylynn says it doesn’t change anything - she’s applied for everything she can in the whole Bay area,” Steven explained, shoving his hands in the pockets of his grey shorts. “She says it’ll just be until she gets something in Tampa.”

The corners of his eyes were creased with fatigue, or maybe frustration.  Steven had been fighting an uphill battle since the minute he met Kaylynn, sometimes finding a plateau but always with higher to climb.  Meghan had thought maybe they’d finally reached the top, where they could walk together on even ground.  She wanted Kaylynn to give in - something she wasn’t willing to do herself.  But there were ways to make it work.  Meghan knew Kaylynn wanted this, maybe more than the other girl realized herself.

“Steven,” Meghan said sternly, bringing him up short. “Remember after the ball game, when I came along to watch you, with Kay?”  He nodded.  Meghan knew she’d made his day when she said that. “Didn’t I say that I believed Kaylynn would somehow, some way, end up with you in Tampa?”

He didn’t look so convinced now, hanging his head. “Yeah,” he said softly.

No pouting would be allowed tonight.  Meghan lightly punched his rock hard abs, doing as little damage as if she’d really tried.  It was meant to lighten the mood.  “You know it’s going to happen, Stammer.  You know I’m right.”

“Right about what?” Kaylynn’s voice asked.  Meghan spun to find her and John with cartons of poutine in hand. “That there’s no way Gary’s finding out about this cheater meal if we don’t tell?”

Steven glared at John, Meghan just looked surprised.
“Not my idea, man,” John held up a hand, pointing at Kaylynn, “it was Kay. Your girl’s damn persuasive.”

Kaylynn grinned innocently at Steven, as if trying to prove right what Meghan had just said.  Meghan hoped Kaylynn could see that the guy in front of her, with the kids’ smile and the man’s body, was anything and everything she would ever need.

John simply handed Meghan a fork.  She almost said she loved him them.

On the way home, John drove Meghan’s new car. She insisted on calling it “their” car but John didn’t listen.  Stuffed with food and fun, they rolled the windows down and let the late August heat flow along arms and shoulders.  John glanced over: Meghan had her head back against the seat, a long piece of dark hair twisting aerodynamically in the breeze.  That yellow dress still reminded him of that night at James’ party months ago.  He never would have dared to imagine the summer would lead to this.

Lucky, he thought.  Lucky that circumstances had brought them together, lucky that Meghan had found something in him when she could have had anyone.  He thought of the things he hadn’t done for her: hadn’t ever really asked her out properly, hadn’t made the first move.  And the things he was asking her to do for him.  Being with Meghan had made him more confident, maybe even bold.  But not quite bold enough to tell her the truth about how he felt - not yet.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked.

John kept his eyes forward.  “Same thing I was thinking last time you wore that dress.  Only tonight I plan to actually to do it.”

Monday, January 20, 2014


Mondays had never bothered John.  He’d never been much for sleeping in.  He liked school, and after school there was always hockey.  Since hockey wasn’t a normal job, Mondays were just another day he did or didn’t have a game.

This summer, Mondays had taken on a new meaning.  They came after Sundays - and Sunday was John’s favorite day.  He could sleep in late with Meghan, spend every minute with her if he played his cards right.  No workout, nowhere to be.  Then Monday came around.

At least Meghan was here today, tapping her fingers to the music on the radio as John drove to the gym.  They hadn’t talked about it, just gotten up and dressed.  She wore the same outfit as they day they met - black leggings and a pink and black striped running tank.  That’s how John knew that Meghan knew.

This was the first time since the cottage John was back at his normal workout - with James.  Meghan wasn’t about to let him walk in there alone.

“Okay?” she said when they were just inside the door.

“Yeah,” John hoped.  Right there in front of a lot of people paying no attention, people they’d seen all summer long, Meghan kissed John square on the mouth.  

Since Kaylynn’s party, something changed between them.  Once Meghan said she would start looking for a job in New York, their relationship felt stronger.  Sturdier.  The ticking clock had slowed considerably, quieted a bit.  In that quiet, John realized his own heart had been racing for months, like his mind, toward the end of whatever this was.  He was afraid.  While there was no guarantee even now, the fact that she wanted to try let him finally stop holding his breath.

John was in love.  He didn’t want to be the only one.

Meghan glanced over her shoulder in time to see John shaking hands with Gary.  She said a little prayer that James would be okay.


She nearly walked right into him.  He’d been waiting near the pilates room, leaning against the wall and making every girl headed to class giggle and shake.  The hair-tossing used to catch his eye.  Now James kept his eyes down.  He’d seen Meghan and John come in, looked away before the inevitable kiss.  He started at the floor until her sneakers came into view.  Even so the first sight of her face hit him like a hammer.

“Hi,” she said, her voice breathy with surprise.  In the week since the cottage, he’d cut his hair - it was short and messy on top, close-cropped along the sides as back.  She’d gotten so used to the longer curls.  It made him look younger, more like the James she had always known.  God, he was gorgeous.  He also looked tired: his gaze felt too heavy to lift, like the sad commas etched into the sides of his mouth.

“Look, Meg, I’m…,” he started the speech he’d practiced all weekend, “sorry.”

“I know,” she sighed.  All the fight had gone out of her by the time she and John were back in Toronto.

“The things I said - I didn’t mean them.”

The words came back to Meghan, both what James had said to her and what he’d said to make John so mad.  He claimed she didn’t need John, that she’d never go New York or his train wreck of a team.  He dismissed John as her “hobby.”  She immediately countered by calling John her boyfriend for the first time.  Had that been only eight days ago?  The word ‘boyfriend’ seemed laughably inadequate.  

“Yes, you did,” Meghan replied softly.  She’d tried to be kind of James all summer and it backfired.  He heard what he wanted.  Now it was time to be clear and, finally, honest.  “But it doesn’t matter what you say.”

“You’re going, aren’t you?”

“I’m going to try.  My way,” she said.

James expected that but it still felt like a pit opening to swallow him.  “So I’m losing you.”

“You don’t have to, you just have to learn to share.  And be nice to John.”

James shook his head ruefully.  “He’s a good guy, okay?  Fuck.  We all know it.”

“I love him.”

The words slipped out, brushing her lips as John’s had so many times.  They hovered, almost visible in the air, like snowflakes seeming to defy gravity.  Meghan’s eyes got wider than James’ did.

He exhaled, disturbing the delicate stillness and erasing her statement.  He pushed out the hope and frustration he’d been holding since that moment, in this same gym, two months ago when Meghan kissed John like it was no big deal.  It had in fact been a very big deal.

“He’s so lucky,” James said.  

“Me too,” she answered.

It went like it always had when James was sad or low.  He opened his arms and Meghan came into his embrace without hesitation.  She held him tightly and he rested his chin on the top of her head.  It still felt like the place she really belonged.

“I don’t think we should see each other for a while,” she said into his t-shirt.  He nodded, knowing it was already time to let go.  Meghan only stepped back a few inches though, her hands still clasped behind his back.  “But when you’re ready,” she said, “I’ll be waiting.”

“You’ll both be waiting, you mean,” he tried to joke.

Meghan finally released her hold on James.  “He’s a good guy.  You’ll like him.”

Gary ignored the empty spaces next to John while he explained the day’s torturous plan, and he kept ignoring it when James materialized there just a minute late.  John figured Robs was a mind reader.  Jedis could do that, right?  He didn’t ignore Stamkos’ arrival a whole four minutes late.

“Nice of you to join us, Stammer,” Gary grinned. “Your girl must be pretty special if she still let you show up today after the party you threw her.”

Steven barely reacted, didn’t chirp back.  John and James momentarily forgot their animosity and exchanged a confused look.  Steven was usually the lighthearted one - what was into him?  Gary went back to detailing their punishment, not caring if the boys were in a bad mood. When the speech was done, John felt a little bump against his shoulder.

“Sorry, man,” James said, making intentional eye contact this time.

“It’s cool.”  John appreciated this wasn’t easy for Neal to do.  Nor should it be.  “But don’t ever talk to Meghan like that again.”

Neal’s trademark shit-eating grin flashed.  “So I’m allowed to talk to her?”

John suffered through the workout.  The guys barely spoke but it was more likely the endless squats and sprints than any lingering anger left from the cottage weekend.  When Gary finally released them, James took off to the locker room without a word.  John spent a full minute on the floor next to Steven’s lifeless body and groaned.

“Dude,” he rolled his head towards Steven’s. “You barely said a word since Gary nearly kicked your ass for being late.”

Stamkos struggled his way into a sitting position.  “I wasn’t… sorry.”

“What’s up with you today?”

“Kaylynn’s applying for jobs in Tampa.”

John’s heart swooped in his chest, probably dangerous after so much physical exertion.  A smile split across his face.  “Stammer, that’s great!”

It took Steven a puzzling moment to reply.  “You’re right, it is. It’s just…,” he pulled his hat off and raked at his sweaty hair, “I thought there might have been a chance she could have come work for the team and -”

“There isn’t?” John guessed.  He knew that wouldn’t work for Meghan, but it made sense for someone in Kaylynn’s field.

Steven nodded. “She’s applied to other places but I don’t know. I had just thought….”

“I get it,” he leaned back on his hands.  “Meghan’s in the same boat.”

“The same…,” Steven turned, surprise in his light blue eyes. “What do you… like she’s applying for jobs? In New York?”

John almost laughed - he’d been so happy, he’d forgotten to mention it to anyone.  Maybe he wouldn’t have chosen Steven, who hoped so desperately for Kaylynn to do the same, but now it seemed like something to celebrate.

“Yeah,” he nodded, “said she’s starting this week, too.”

They stared at each other for a moment, neither really believing the summer had gone this way.  Both were in over their heads - and well aware of it - but now there was a chance it could work out the way they’d spent the last two months hoping.

Steven relaxed visibly, his shoulders rounding down and posture loosening.  “That’s amazing, man.  When did she -”

“At Kaylynn’s party,” John shrugged, giving Steven some credit for the night where everything went right.   “But like you said, there’s no guarantee. Who knows if she’ll even find anything?”

Steven got to his feet.  John reluctantly did the same.  “It’s not easy, that’s for sure.”

John felt like he’d said the right thing if Steven was joking about it now. “With these two? Has it ever been?”

James was gone from the locker room.  Steven worked a clean shirt over his head, while John retrieved his bag and dug out his phone.  Meghan usually let him know if she was done first because he felt weird about perving into the pilates room to look for her.  All those girls in tights stretching - he didn’t want to be the creep who made it a spectator sport.

There was indeed a text.  He scrolled through.  “Uh oh.  They’re at it again.”

“Who?” Steven asked, sitting on the bench to change his shoes.  John simply raised his eyebrows -one look and Steven knew: Kaylynn and Meghan.  He tried to look skeptical, but he was smiling.  “What now?”

“Double date. Tonight.”

Stamkos’ mood had definitely turned around. “You and I invited, or did they find two other players to tag along?”

“Wouldn’t put it past either of them,” John muttered, still reading.  Then his eyes shot up to meet Steven’s.  “Oh shit - mini golf.”

“Oh man, Meg must have twisted Kay’s arm to get her to agree to that,” he laughed. “Who knows what she’ll be getting in return.”

John gave Steven a look that said
are you kidding?

“As if Meg is the one who’ll be paying for it.”  John knew Kaylynn would be taking out any reluctance on the guy in front of him. “You know it’s not that easy, Stammer.”


In the car, John asked about mini golf and Meghan simply promised to wipe the course with him.  They didn’t talk about James on the ride home.  They didn’t talk about him over turkey sandwiches for lunch on the deck, or when Meghan finished hers and stood up, stripped off her gym clothes and jumped naked into the pool.  They didn’t talk about anything for a while after that.

Later in the day, John leaned over the back of the couch and put his chin on Meghan’s shoulder.  She had her hair up, feet up and was tapping away at her laptop, scrolling through a page of new car ads.

“You are the most stubborn person I’ve ever known,” he said, eying her screen.  Since her car was rear-ended, she’d been driving a loaner.  The insurance company was sure to come back and say that boxy old ride wasn’t worth fixing - but it wouldn’t be worth much money either.  All John’s hints about her car situation had been ignored.

Now, Meghan smiled.

“It’s always going to be like this, isn’t it?”

Still smiling, she nodded.  John turned away, patting the car keys in his pocket loudly enough to jingle.  She didn’t react until he was out the front door.

“Where are you going?” Meghan called, running after him.

“Nowhere.”  John climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Don’t do it!”

He rolled down the window, face all innocent.  “Do what?”

Meghan stomped her foot like a child.  She looked so casual in white shorts and a yellow t-shirt, barefoot in the driveway, trying not to smile.  Daring him to do exactly what she told him not to.  Eventually John knew he’d have to break this little pattern of always following her lead.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity - so he rolled up the window and waved as he backed away.

His phone rang twice before he reached his destination, John ignored both calls.  If Meghan thought this was a spontaneous decision, even better.  Really he’d been thinking about it for a while and had even done some research.  He was smiling when he pulled into the dealership…

… and when he pulled back into his driveway two hours later.  In a new car.  Meghan opened the front door and stood there, hand on her hip, giving him a glare.

“Like it?”

The corner of her mouth twitched.  The dark gray Acura RDX luxury compact SUV glinted in the sun like a spaceship.  It was smaller than a truck but built like a little tank.  Of course Meghan liked it - it was gorgeous.

“It has all-wheel drive and a nine-point-seven safety rating,” he said, grinning.  “For driving in the snow.”

Meghan rolled her eyes.  Of course, John would buy the safest car on the road.

“Twenty-eight miles to the gallon.  Only have to fill it up once to get to Long Island.”

“You didn’t have to,” Meghan said.  

For all his bravado in buying the gift, he was still unsure he hadn’t overstepped.  “I wanted to.  And you need it.”     

She gave up and ran down the stairs, launching into a hug.  He was laughing when he caught her.  The car was extravagant to her - and she knew it was to John too.  He didn’t flash his money around.  He hadn’t made fun of her for being probably the only WAG in history to turn down a stop at Bendel’s in New York.  And she was going to have to buy a car as soon as the insurance claim on Professor McGonigal came in - sure to be a small check for an old, boxy car with a zillion kilometers on it.  John to the rescue again.  The words she’d confessed to James at the gym that morning rolled around in her mind: I love him.  Not for a gift, she thought.  Not yet.

“You haven’t seen the best part.”  John leaned in and turned the key, firing the engine.  His iPod was still plugged into the radio. “Play song: Boston,” he said.  A moment later, the piano notes of Augustana’s “Boston” filled the car.  

Meghan looked impressed.  “Play song: Spice Up Your Life.”

The radio paused, then resumed the Augustana song.  

“I don’t have the Spice Girls on my iPod,” John said sarcastically.

She kissed him anyway.  “You’ll learn.”

Night was just falling as Meghan turned her new car into the parking lot at Timber Creek Family Fun Centre.  Lights glowed all over the clubhouse and on every tree and post around the park’s perimeter.  The sign out front advertised batting cages, a driving range, gemstone mining area and all kinds of games to play.

“They got a jumping castle?!” she leapt out of the car.

“Looks like it closed at four-thirty,” John examined a sign pasted to the building’s front.

“Oh well.” Meghan took in the sight of John in a dark gray Oshawa Generals t-shirt over red shorts and sneakers - sensible footwear, of course.  “We can bounce on your bed later.”

He grabbed her for a quick, slightly groping hug.  She giggled in approval.  Her dark, wavy hair was loose down her back, grazing the bare skin of her shoulders.  She wore a simple white tank top, cut-off jean shorts that made John’s eyes cross and bright blue low-top Converse sneakers.  Tiny bits of turquoise in each earlobe brought the color up to her smiling face.

“You’re beautiful,” he said casually, setting free a flight of butterflies in Meghan’s stomach.  She gave him a kiss that was even more inappropriate than the hug.

“Hey, hey, break it up!” Steven shouted from halfway across the parking lot.  He was hand-in-hand with Kaylynn, who looked stylishly beautiful in a blousy hot-pink top with yellow flats that pulled perfect contrast from her designer multicolored shorts.  Meghan thought it was a good thing John didn’t expect her to look that put together everyday.  This girl, with her edgy fashion sense and pretty face, would make a killer WAG.  

Meghan hugged Steven with extra force.  John had shared the news that Kaylynn was looking for jobs in Tampa - and thank God.  If she and John had to do long distance for a while, Toronto and Long Island weren’t that far apart.  Tampa was another story: they didn’t even have winter, might as well be living on the moon.

“So you all know, I’ve won here before.  I’m pretty talented,” Meghan announced.

Steven scoffed.  “I’ll give you pretty, but… why would you come all the way to Stouffville to play mini-golf?”

“Del Zotto lives near here,” she said casually.  John’s head spun around, like his nemesis might actually be there, impeccably dressed and waiting to make any number of holes in one.  He didn’t ask when - or why - Meghan had been here with that guy.

“I need a beer if we’re going to golf,” Kaylynn nodded toward the bar, just beyond the check-in desk.  “Let’s get it on.”

Knowing the boys had matching mile-wide competitive streaks, Meghan suggested they go couple vs. couple for the front nine.  Steven joked about going down with Kaylynn’s ship.  She sipped her beer and rolled her eyes.  The course was themed like an old mining camp, for the most part.  Meghan went first and lined up a putt under a creaky old wooden water tower.  It banked off the far wall, rolled toward the green and ended up  three meters from the hole.

“Not bad, not bad.”  John stepped into place and took two practice swings.  His shot followed hers almost exactly, coming to rest next to her ball with a little love tap.

“Aww,” Meghan joked.  Steven and Kaylynn looked at each other and gagged in unison, then
Kaylynn handed him her beer and walked to the tee.  

“I will never understand what you guys see in golf.”  After watching two attempts, she sent her golf ball on a tighter route and hit the bank closer in, giving the shot more force.  It sped across the turf and finally rolled to a stop less than a meter from the cup.  Even she looked surprised.

“Uh, I think we have a ringer,” John said.  Steven gave her a congratulatory peck as he moved up to putt.

“Taught her everything she knows,” Stamkos assured his teammate.  Placing the ball on the outside divot of the tee mat, he carefully eyed the spot on the corner he wanted to strike.  It was like picking the corner over the goalie’s shoulder in hockey.  Steven rolled his wrists, felt right and swung.

The ball went way wide, missing the wall entirely and zooming into the circular green.  It bounced once, caught a faux-rock obstacle and caromed back up the fairway.  They stared at the golf ball as it ran out of momentum just two meters in front of Steven’s feet.

“Little rusty,” John teased.

Steven leveled a hard gaze at his friend and said, “Two Rocket Richard trophies.”

Meghan swatted Stamkos on the backside with her club.  “One and a half.”

Kaylynn birdied the first four holes, showing considerably more interest in mini golf as the game went on.  Maybe it was just beating Steven, who was a solid five strokes behind her already.  He looked at his club like it might be faulty.  Meghan bumped against John’s hip, both of them enjoying the show.

“Are you any good at real golf?” Kay asked.

“I am!  I play in tournaments!” Steven insisted.

“And wear white pants,” Meghan added.  Steven had made a few bold fashion choices on the course this summer, to the delight of Stamkos fangirls.  Kaylynn nodded approvingly; he should look good even if he didn’t play that way.

Meghan and John had almost matching scores.  She knew he was a very good golfer, but apparently real course talent didn’t always translate into miniature.  Still she caught him eyeing her stance at the fifth tee.  The hole was on two levels: the first sloped down toward three holes that carried the ball in tubes to the lower level, spitting it out at one of three spots on the green.

“Suggestions, coach?” she said.

“Er, uh,” John stuttered.  He’d been looking at her legs, not the hole.  “Aim for the left one.”

“That one?” she pointed toward the right - the hole that would clearly end closest to the target below.

“Yeah, I meant that one,” he muttered.  She rocked teasingly side to side, hips rolling beneath those little cutoffs, as if unsure how to aim properly.  

“Let me help,” John said, stepping in behind her.

“Oh Jesus!” Steven laughed.

John wrapped his arms around Meghan, hands over hers where they gripped the club.  She smelled like citrus.  “Just turn a little….” They swung together and the ball went directly into the hole on the right.

Kaylynn giggled.  “There sure are a lot of balls and holes around here.”

Meghan wished she had a moment alone with Kaylynn to ask about the job search in Tampa.  If anything, she sensed a little stress between Steven and Kaylynn that hadn’t been there at her party.  The ticking clock as affecting everyone.  Meghan wanted to tell her new friend that it would work out - Steven was worth it, just hang in there.  Maybe saying so out loud would make it true for herself too.

She watched John two-putt over a little bridge and into the eighth hole.  He leaned down to retrieve his ball, flexing every muscle in his body and some muscles that normal guys didn’t have.  Such an everyday gesture, but nothing was ever normal with John.  

“Suggestions, coach?” he mimicked what she’d said before.

“Nope, you’re perfect.”

For the back nine, they switched to boys vs. girls.  The outcome was no different: Kaylynn played like a prodigy, Steven was confoundingly terrible.  John and Meghan played equally and the girls won.  Steven noticed John slip Kaylynn the final scorecard, which she tucked into her pocket.  Nice momento, he frowned.  “Kaylynn’s buying dessert.”

Meghan feigned shock.  “Steven Stamkos eats his feelings.  Who knew?”

They claimed a table in the clubhouse, sitting on rickety benches and leaning across the formica top.  Steven got a vanilla cone and Kaylynn a strawberry twist.  Meghan insisted on a hot fudge sundae; John had to ask twice before she let him share.

It arrived on their table with a big, bright red cherry sitting atop a peak of whipped cream.  They both glanced at it, then each other.  Meghan lifted her eyebrows.  John blushed.  Kaylynn elbowed Steven, then licked a big, slow swipe of frosty ice cream all the way around her cone, drawing the tip of her tongue up at the last second to swipe the corner of her lip.  Her lashes fluttered in pleasure.  When it was over, she opened her eyes to see Steven’s jaw hanging open.  Even Meghan and John had abandoned their flirting to watch.

“Shit, Kay.  That was hot,” Meghan said.

“Can you do that?” John asked Meghan.

Steven was getting up.  “We need more ice cream.”

On the ride home, Meghan had a tough time keeping her right hand on the wheel when it could be on John’s thigh.  He took up more room in the passenger seat than she was used to.

“Do you think she’s gonna go?” he asked without preamble.

“Kaylynn?  To Tampa?  I think she wants to, but it won’t be easy for her to find something.”

John looked at Meghan.  Her skin was flawless in the near-dark of the car’s interior, her green eyes still sparkling from all the laughter of the night.  He wanted to have that, have her lightness and happiness, in his life everyday.  He reached for her leg.

“I’ve never been so glad that my team is in New York.”