Meghan glanced in the mirror to see John leaning against the doorframe, watching her. He wore just shorts, his hair messier than ever as it got longer. She smiled and he smiled back.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” he said.
She shrugged, fastening a simple teardrop earring into place. It was part of a set her parents have given her at university graduation, the matching necklace glinting above the scoop neck of her cream-colored silk top, tucked into a smart black skirt. Meghan reached back and gathered up two handfuls of her long hair.
John could have watched her for days. The skirt hugged her hips, sensible hemline doing nothing to disguise what she looked like underneath it. Those long legs he loved so much ended in classic black pumps. She pulled her hair into high ponytail then flipped the end forward and pulled it back through the middle to fasten with a bobby pin. The updo looked effortless and slightly mussed - approachable, he thought. This was the kind of girl who could dress up but liked to dress down. The kind of girl a guy wanted to know.
Meghan’s last surprise for the weekend was a good one: Monday morning she had an interview with a financial firm in Manhattan. Her boss from London had set it up - said it might be purely informational, but Meghan needed to network. She tugged her hair tight and leaned in to check her makeup.
“You look terrific,” John said.
She found his reflection again. “Says the mostly naked professional athlete with bed-head.”
He walked up behind her and carefully used his big fingers to slide the delicate clasp of her silver chain to the back of her neck. In her heels they were nearly the same height. John wrapped his arms around her waist, his bare chest bleeding warmth through her thin shirt. He wanted so badly for Meghan to stay. Their few days together - his birthday, the game, long nights - left him feeling half-awake. His regular-season life in New York was overlapping with memories of summer, promising something better for the future. John wasn’t greedy but he wanted all that right now.
Meghan knew how he felt - it was so close she could taste it. The end of being scared that somehow, despite their commitment, this could still fall apart. She turned in his embrace and settled her arms around his shoulders.
“I hope you get it,” he said.
She kissed his lips. “I hope there’s even a job.”
The elevator took Meghan up and deposited her neatly before a long, dark reception desk. A woman behind it quickly finished a call on headset and took Meghan’s name, then pressed another button. A second woman came to get her. They walked past cubicles, offices and conference rooms, all the way to the corner office. A view of the East River swept outside the huge window. She knew better that to be intimidated - this company was actually smaller than her London firm - but Meghan was certainly impressed.
“Ms. Fuller for you.”
Instead of leaning across his desk, the man in the suit came around to introduce himself. “Meghan, I’m Rick Abernathy. Colin’s told me all about you. Sit, please.”
Meghan was put immediately at ease by his tone. She adjusted her black blazer as she took a comfortable leather wing chair before a big desk trimmed with photos of kids and dogs and boats. Her eyes drifted up the wall at the back - and caught on a photo in the center: Rick was smiling alongside Mark Messier, Mike Keenan and the 1994 Stanley Cup.
“Ahhh, yes,” Rick followed her gaze. “Colin tells me you’re quite the hockey fan.”
She smiled. "I am very Canadian.”
"Guess there wasn't much of that in the UK."
"No, but with the lockout there wasn't much here either."
He sighed. "You are right. I'm a lifelong Rangers fan myself. Glad to be done with all this coaching nonsense and looking forward to a new season. Who’s your team?”
“Hmmm,” Rick grimaced kindly. “Good luck with that.”
She thought of Steven and the Bolts not making the cut, John and the Isles losing in the first round, Del Zotto and the Rangers in the second, James and the Pens being swept by the Bruins. Yes, the Leafs had imploded. With a few months perspective, it was hard to say which team hadn’t.
“This could be our year,” Meghan said.
Talk turned to work - her university, time in London, strengths and weaknesses. Rick had worked with Colin on several deals, he knew the structure and could see how Meghan had fit into the picture. She’d studied up on some particulars of the American economy just in case, but Rick spoke mostly about their international division dealing with commodities markets in the so-called Commonwealth countries, including Canada and the UK. Meghan certainly knew about those. He showed her some documents from a recently finished deal, asked a few questions to gauge her ability to sort and interpret the data. After about forty minutes, which Meghan knew could be billed to a client at upwards of four hundred dollars, Rick took back the spreadsheet and placed his hands on the desk.
“It seems like Colin was right, you know your stuff. And I like you. So I’m going to give you the truth here - we don’t have anything at the moment.”
Meghan kept her smile in place as her heart sank a little.
“But, we have an employee who isn’t quite working out. We’re working on a move for that person into another division, which would free up a spot that could dovetail nicely with your experience, plus give you a chance to get into some private fund management. I can’t say how long that will take - I’m hoping it will be very soon.”
Me too, she thought.
“You’d have to talk to the VP in that department - but I can’t set that in motion until this person is moved. The walls have ears, if you know what I mean. Still I’d like to tap you for consideration there. Or if something opens in the meantime.”
“I’d really appreciate that,” she said. Hope was rising again.
“Now, about the move from Toronto. We could do the visa, that’s no trouble.”
“We don’t offer relocation, though. Is that a cost you’d be prepared to absorb?”
“And if it gets turned around, we will need a body in that slot right away. Our teams can’t be down staff. Could you make the move that quickly?”
“Okay,” Rick stood. “I only have so much pull but I’ll put you in the running. The rest you’ll have to do yourself.”
“Thank you so much.” Meghan needed to get out of his office before she did a dance.
“Oh, and Meghan? When you meet Kevin, go easy on him. He’s an Islanders fan.”
“I’ll call him,” John said. “I’ll go up there right now and knock on his door. Does he want season tickets? Hell, does he want to coach us?”
Meghan threw an extra pair of clean underwear from her suitcase - the delicate material fluttered to the ground well short of where John stood. He’d been hatching plans since she admitted how well the interview went and it was winding her up. She didn’t want to get her hopes up too high when it might come to nothing. Rick had been enthusiastic but he didn’t own the place.
“Do they do a golf tournament? I’ll play in it. I’ll let him win.”
“Ha!” she barked. “You would never intentionally let anyone beat you at anything.”
John walked up and tackled her onto the bed. Her suitcase bounced once and fell to the floor, open-side down. “For you, I would.”
“Maybe,” she allowed. “But you’d hate it.”
John kissed the nearest part of her face, along her temple. His voice got soft. “Not as much as I hate taking you to the airport.”
She lifted her head, hair falling around both of them. “I will see you Sunday.”
Meghan had sent a thank you note on the way to the airport, so there was nothing left to do but wait for the phone to ring. She did some more digging, got another call to set up a phone interview. The initial excitement began to wear off, so Meghan and John just talked about the weekend and the Isles split-squad game against the Senators. John had made sure his line was on the Barrie exhibition team playing just an hour and a half from Whitby.
“Do you want to, um…,” he faltered.
“Yes,” she interrupted. “I want to come up Saturday and stay over in violation of every ‘no sex before the game’ rule.”
“Haha, good.” That had been what John wanted to know. They were both grateful for the easy, obvious chance to see each other again so soon. It would be the last time for a while if nothing happened in Meghan’s job search. At least it was something to look forward to.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Meghan was texting with Lucy to organize the arrangements for Sunday’s game in Barrie. Lucy was driving up to be Meghan’s date. The phone rang and Meghan picked it up without looking.
“Uh, hello. Could I please speak to Meghan Fuller?”
She froze. “This is she.”
“Meghan, my name is Kevin Dewilde, from Carson and Lowell. Rick Abernathy passed your resume on. I believe he explained we were undergoing some staffing changes.”
“Yes sir,” she tried to sound professional.
“Well we’ve completed some shuffling more quickly than expected, and it’s left us in a bit of a lurch. I wonder if you might be available to meet on rather short notice.”
“Of course, I’m available anytime.”
“How about Friday morning?”
Friday. It was a day and a half away, a perfectly normal business day. Anyone already living in New York could be present to interview at a moment’s notice, so Meghan knew she needed to meet that bar.
“Yes. I can be there Friday.”
They made arrangements to meet at half past ten. Kevin told her she may meet with multiple people in his department and not to schedule her return to Toronto too quickly. As he spoke, Meghan pulled up the Islanders schedule on her laptop - they had a home pre-season game Friday night. She could be at that game. She could be at that game with a job.
When the call was done, Meghan hit another number in her contacts. But it wasn’t John.
“A booty call? It’s barely five o’clock. Hope you plan to last all night,” Michael Del Zotto answered in a husky voice.
“Well not tonight… but how about tomorrow night?”
He laughed. “One of these days I am going to hold you to all this teasing. Now, why would you want to see me tomorrow night?”
She paused. Really her first call should have been to John and already she was dying to tell him, but a part of Meghan also wanted to protect him. This was a big lead - huge, even - and the first she’d gotten. So soon, was it too good to be true? There was no guarantee she’d get the position. The chance to show up at his Friday night game with their future in her pocket made her heart race. She couldn’t put him through the process. If she got the job, hooray. If she didn’t, she could still promise she wasn’t giving up.
“Can you just trust me on this one?” she asked.
Sounding every bit the Michael she knew, he said, “You should worry about trusting me.”
Early Thursday afternoon, Meghan stepped off the plane at LaGuardia. This time she wasn’t looking for a teammate’s wife or a friend but for the sleek black town car Michael had sent to fetch her. He insisted that a trip to Manhattan was a far cry from a trip to Long Island and he intended to prove as much. The car whisked across a bridge, through a warren of Midtown streets and eventually rolled to a stop in front of a twenty-five story glass and burnished bronze tower. The driver opened her door as a doorman took her suitcase from the trunk.
“Ms. Fuller,” he said as if they’d met, “welcome to New York.”
This guy, she thought of Del Zotto. The doorman put her in the elevator, pushed the button for nineteen and winked. Michael probably had this guy scheduling all his conquests so they never crossed paths in the lobby.
There were eight apartments on the floor. In places like Whitby and Stouffville, hockey players were the richest residents. Maybe an occasional businessman from the city bought a country house, but NHLers returning home victorious were the usual big spenders. Here it was easy to assume that behind every door was someone who made more that Michael’s several million dollars a year. Before she could knock, one door opened.
“Hmmm,” Michael looked her over. “Hottest one yet, I owe Andrew a big tip.”
“You are a perv.” She stepped into a solid hug that quickly turned into a noogie and Meghan wrestling herself free, laughing out loud. Michael looked tan and fit, busting out of a too-small t-shirt. Sunlight flooded into the apartment where floors and fixtures gleamed. This New York was quite the life. He showed her around proudly, stopping before a small, modern fireplace in the living room.
“What, no bearskin rug?”
“I pictured you as more of a ‘trail of roses to the bedroom’ kind of girl,” he grinned.
“Take a lot of roses to get to Long Island.”
MDZ sat down on the couch, sprawling out like boys do. “So, you haven’t broken up with Tavares but you’re not at his place. Either you want to surprise him or you want one night of what you’ll be missing for the rest of your life.”
Meghan took the space next to Michael, kicking off her shoes and tucking her bare feet up under her legs. He waited patiently, like she might be considering his offer of one last, wild night.
“I have a job interview tomorrow.”
Michael lifted his eyebrows. “That would be some surprise.”
She didn’t mention John’s game tomorrow night, or that she planned to go if she had good news. Michael certainly didn’t have the Isles schedule memorized. It was Meghan’s fail-safe, in case she didn’t get the job, in case she needed to chicken out. Just in case.
“What time’s the interview?”
He picked up his wallet from the coffee table and handed her what was underneath: a ticket to the Rangers pre-season game starting in six hours.
“Aw, thanks DZ. I’d love to watch you flop around the ice all night.”
“I promised to show you exactly what you’ll be missing - I meant a winning hockey team. Were you,” his jaw dropped in mock surprise, “where you talking about sex?”
She shook her head. “Is that what you call that thing you do in bed? ‘Cause I’ve heard some stories.”
Michael looked pointedly at his watch and stood up. “It’s time for me to be in bed right now, if you’d like to read that story out loud.” He offered her a hand.
Meghan took it, got to her feet, then let go. “I’ll have to live with just the legend of Michael Del Zotto.”
“So I should pick up those rose petals I put everywhere?”
The game was fun. Meghan wore one of Michael’s old Oshawa Generals shirts instead of the Rangers jersey he kept trying to put over her head. John had played for the Gennys too - she figured it was good luck. Michael sat her with some players’ girlfriends, who all assumed she was just another MDZ flavor of the week. That was fine with her. Meghan shouted and cheered without caring who thought what of her - or if they’d hire her tomorrow.
After the game, she and Michael had a drink with a few of the guys. He claimed they had a long, exhausting night ahead and took her home after one beer. In the guest room of his condo, Meghan crawled into bed and set an alarm on her phone.
Michael brought in a bottle of water and set it on her bedside table. In a t-shirt and basketball shorts, his curls a lovely mop, Meghan couldn’t help thinking this guy was just another little boy inside. He was more confident and comfortable, but when she looked at him she saw James all over again.
“Stop,” he said.
“Worrying about me.”
“I’m not.” She moved her feet so he could sit down. “I don’t worry about you.”
“Then you’re worrying about Nealer.”
“Have you talked to him?”
Meghan hadn’t been avoiding James, nor had she reached out. Their last meeting on his birthday had been bittersweet. Everything between them had changed - once a net, the invisible strings they’ve woven during a lifetime had been cut and they’d both fallen through. Now Meghan wasn’t sure James would even want to talk to her, finally away from the only thing he couldn’t have.
“He’s okay. You know him, full of shit most of the time. Texted a couple times last week. Once the season starts he’ll get it together. You should worry about Stamkos instead - I hear that chick did a number on him.”
Meghan thought of Kaylynn, their last conversation at the coffee shop and what she’d told Steven over Skype. He shouldn’t give up. He clearly hadn’t. Maybe tomorrow after the interview she’d call him. “I have a feeling Steven and Kaylynn are not done yet.”
He squeezed her foot beneath the covers. “Then all you have left to worry about is that interview tomorrow.”
It was 1 PM on Friday afternoon when Meghan pushed through the doors of Carson and Lowell’s office building. She turned left, walked to the corner and only then did she allow herself to exhale.
The interview had been 2.5 grueling hours - and she’d known it all inside and out. The job, the markets, the analysis required to show her decisions were based in solid experience. Kevin had been tough - and without a mention of the Islanders, not that Meghan would have taken the opportunity - and the other analysts she spoke with were thorough and exacting. She had nailed it every time.
Please let me get this, Meghan thought in full for the first time. Not only because she wanted it but because it was right. Whatever had brought her here first had completely renewed her confidence in the plan she and John had made. If she didn’t get this job, there would be others. She would be qualified.
Meghan traded her heels for the roll-up ballet flats in her bag and headed west toward 6th Avenue with a clear destination in mind: the NHL store. There was one display table of womens’ t-shirts - Crosby, Stamkos, Subban, E. Staal, Ovechkin, Kane and Tavares. She smiled, knowing James would be jealous. It didn’t have a C on the shoulder yet, but a quick look in the mirror holding the blue Isles shirt and Meghan was sold.
She took her purchase to the Pret-a-Manger across the street, then took her sandwich and walked eleven blocks south to Bryant Park. It was late for lunch, so she claimed a bench on the gravel walkway surrounding the small green space behind the New York Public Library. She and John had gone inside, wandering through a display of antique maps. He’d pointed out the distance between Toronto and New York wasn’t that far. She hoped it was about to become much shorter.
By the time her food and drink were gone, Meghan had regained some of her calm. It was too soon to get ahead of herself with the job - her senses were returning but she was still flying high. Across 5th Avenue was the book lending branch of the library. Meghan wandered the magazine section for twenty minutes while she waited for a public computer to open. When it did, she used Stubhub to buy herself the best available ticket to the game on Long Island that night.
With nothing to do for a few hours, the Macy’s at Herald Square served as quite the distraction. When five o’clock passed, and with it Meghan’s Cinderella dream of getting hired right away, she bought something racy at Victoria’s Secret and turned toward Del Zotto’s place.
Two blocks later, her phone rang. A 212 number, Manhattan area code.
She ducked into a Williams-Sonoma kitchenware store and headed for a corner behind a display of food processors. “Hello?”
“Ah Meghan, Kevin Dewilde. You haven’t left for Toronto yet.”
“No,” she managed to say over her pounding heart, “I’m staying in the city tonight.”
“Well then, perhaps you can spend tomorrow looking for an apartment.”
She didn’t move, didn’t breathe, wondering if this was a stress hallucination.
Kevin chuckled. “I spoke to Colin in London. Actually I emailed him since it was after hours and he called me right back. Had quite the impressive things to say about you. Based on that and what we saw today, I think you’re the person our team could really use. That is, if you’re still interested.”
He went on to discuss some numbers, benefit package, vacation time. Meghan heard nothing but the rush of blood in her ears as she clutched a Vitamix blender with white fingertips.
“I hope you’ll take the position. I think there’s real potential for you in New York.”
“Yes,” she said.
Kevin seemed surprised, as if he expected her to consider the offer. Maybe she should have negotiated the salary or travel perks but it was all she could do not to sink to the floor in front of a wall of cupcake decorating kits.
“Great, Meghan. That’s great. We’re thrilled to have you. I know Rick mentioned it would be a tight turnaround - what’s the timeframe you think you could get here? Two weeks? Sooner would be better but I know you’ve got a big move.”
It was Friday. Meghan was having an out of body experience in a store full of pots and pans but she knew tomorrow was Saturday - she was going home, if that even meant Whitby anymore. John was traveling to Barrie she would see him tomorrow night. No, sooner now. He’d play Sunday night against the Sens and travel back with the team. Monday she could be right on his heels.
“A week. Next Monday, I can be moved in and start work next Monday.”
Kevin’s smile was audible in his voice. “Already you are exceeding expectations.”
Meghan ran back to Del Zotto’s condo, or possibly flew. Stilettos would not have slowed her down. When she reached the entrance she kept going, once around the block, to calm herself down. On her way in, the doorman looked impressed to see her again.
Michael was home; he moved through the hallway toward the sound of her opening the door. His eyebrow lifted when he saw her NHL Store bag.
"You know I can get you a shirt."
She made a guilty face. They both knew it was not a Rangers shirt inside. He rolled his eyes, came over and wrapped his arms around her.
"He makes you buy your own shirts?”
"Front pocket," she said into his chest.
He snickered, gently slipping only his first two fingers into the side pocket on her blazer. His touch grazed the waistband of her skirt and Michael groaned comedically. He came up with a folded square of paper and used both hands to opens it behind her. Meghan stayed against his body, not turning to look.
"Does he know?" Michael asked when he saw her ticket to that night’s game.
She shook her head.
"Do you know?"
"What you're gonna say when you see him?"
She smiled against Michael’s shirt. "I got the job?"
"WHAT?!" He whipped her out to arm's length, eyes wide, then slammed her back into a huge bear hug. She yelped at the impact with his indestructible body. He just laughed and didn’t let go, shaking her from side to side like a puppy with a toy. Then he suddenly grabbed her shoulders again and peered into her eyes.
"You can't live on Long Island."
"Michael! I'm not moving in with him. We already talked about it and I don't know where I would...."
"Here," he said flatly, as if it were obvious. "You'll live here." His condo was beautiful, huge, way too big for one guy and even the girl or two he brought home. It was a bachelor pad through and through, but the high-rise NYC expensive kind that lead Meghan to believe DZ would eventually settle down - at least a little.
"Thank you, but I've had enough NHL roommates," she protested.
"Are you kidding? Look at this place! We have a pool on the roof. Have I told you about the pool?"
"I can't date an Islander and live with a Ranger!"
"You can and you will,” he insisted, “at least until you get settled at work. And look at a few shitty New York apartments with ten roommates and rats for two grand a month. Then if you still want to leave you can."
Meghan's shoulders dropped. It would be a huge relief, already having a place to stay. And Michael was not lying about his place. "Okay. If - and I mean IF - it’s cool with John, I'll stay here until I find something else."
Michael gave her a big, wet kiss on the cheek. "So French maid outfits are out?"
She swatted his arm and he rag-dolled her with another hug before letting go. Then his face turned serious. "You need a ride to Long Island. I'll get a car service."
His tone brooked no argument and Meghan gave him this one. "I can get myself home though."
DZ's dark eyebrows drew together in a sarcastic way she knew well. "If Tavares lets you come back here tonight, you're never leaving again."
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! Finally! - J