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.
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.
“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.”_