“Even nicer to live off campus,” I say with a grin.
“I’d bet,” murmurs Lisa. Her gaze flicks toward Abigail, who’s whispering furiously with Jules in the far corner of the living room. Interesting. Maybe I’m not the only one considering voting for Dani.
After agreeing to meet the girls on Tuesday, Sasha and I exit the house. Outside, I breathe in the early spring air. Release a gust of it in a slow rush.
“Conor Fucking Edwards,” I mumble.
Sasha laughs softly. “The man’s good, I’ll give him that.”
“Too good. He even had me convinced he missed me, and I know that’s not true.” Hell, he had every Kappa in that room salivating over him. One FaceTime from him and suddenly they’re inviting me to dinner.
Conor had told me how much he loves games—well, today proved he’s highly skilled at them too. Problem is, I’m terrible at games. I always lose. And the longer this silly ruse with Conor goes on, the greater the danger of it all blowing up in my face.
There’s an eerie calm on the ice Tuesday morning as the team runs through drills. Hardly anyone says a word for two hours; only the sounds of our skates and Coach’s whistle echo through the empty arena.
The tournament brackets were announced yesterday. This weekend we face Minnesota Duluth in Buffalo, New York. No one wants to say it, but I think the matchup has everyone a bit spooked. The nerves are creeping in, and we’re all on edge and hyper-focused on our individual parts of the machine.
Hunter’s been staying late every day since we made the playoffs. He wants it bad. I think he sees it as a reflection on his success as captain, like it’s his job alone to win this for us and if he doesn’t, he’s a failure. Man, I could never do his job. I generally make it a rule to minimize expectations and not take on responsibility for anyone but myself.
After practice, we hit the showers. I stand under the spray and let the scalding water beat down on my aching shoulders. This tournament might just be the death of me.
My old team in LA sucked, which means we never had to worry about a post-season. Going this long at this high a competitive level is taking its toll on my body. Bruises, sore ribs, tired muscles. I honestly don’t know how professionals do it. If I’m even able to stand up on skates next season it’ll be a miracle. There are a lot of guys who think they want to go pro. Less than half have a legitimate shot. Me, I’ve never harbored any delusions that I’m NHL material. Nor do I want to be. Hockey has always just been a hobby, something to keep me out of trouble. Idle hands and all that. Soon, this part of my life will be over.
Problem is, I don’t have any idea what comes next.
“Hey, Captain, I move to call the Relationship Status Inquisition into session,” Bucky shouts out above the noise of the showers.
“I second that motion,” Jesse calls back.
“The motion carries.” Hunter stands in the stall beside me. I feel him staring at the side of my face. “This session of the Relationship Status Inquisition is now open. Bucky, call your first witness.”
“I call Joe Foster to the stand.”
“Present!” Foster gurgles out under the spray of his shower faucet at the opposite end of the room.
“I fucking hate you guys,” I say as I grab a towel and wrap it around my waist.
“Is it true, Mr. Foster, that Conor Edwards did publicly and embarrassingly drop to his knees to profess his love to Kappa Party Girl after he was known to have hooked up with Instagram Natalie?”
“Wait, what?” Foster asks blankly. “Oh, at the banquet thing. Yeah. It was fucking gross.”
“And did he subsequently bring Kappa Party Girl home that evening?”
“Yo, Bucky, I didn’t know you could use four-syllable words,” Gavin says, ribbing him as they leave the showers.
I head to my locker to get dressed, the guys breathing down my neck.
“Yeah, they spent a long time in his bedroom. Alone.” Foster’s going to find his car stuffed full of dildos sometime in the very near future.
“And they FaceTimed the other day,” Matt pipes up, a big stupid grin on his face. “He called her.”
A round of mock gasps travels through the room.
Guess Matt can look forward to some dildos too.
“You can all eat shit,” I drawl.
“I seem to remember,” Hunter says, “you conspiring to interfere in my dick affairs. Payback’s a bitch.”
“At least I don’t need you to make out with my girlfriend to get me to fuck her.”
“Ouch,” Bucky laughs. “He’s got you there, Cap.”
“So this is a real thing?” Hunter asks, unfazed by my jab at his stupid chastity bargain. “You and…”
“Taylor. And yeah, sort of.”
No, it isn’t real, technically. And it kind of sucks lying to the guys.
But also, what makes it not real? I mean, I’m not going to sleep with other women or date, because that wouldn’t be respectful to either Taylor or those potential women. She hasn’t said as much out loud, but I suspect she feels the same way on the subject. So that checks the monogamy box.
And okay, yeah, we’re not screwing or kissing or touching at all, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to those things. I think if I could make Taylor see herself the way I do, make her appreciate her body the way I do—fuuuuuck, do I appreciate it—then maybe she’ll loosen up a little and be open to the screwing and kissing and touching part. So that checks the attraction box.
Truth is, Taylor’s fun to hang out with and I like talking to her. She’s unpretentious and kinda hilarious. Best of all, she doesn’t expect anything from me. I don’t have to be some version of me that she’s concocted in her head or meet some wild expectations that only wind up disappointing both of us. And she doesn’t judge—not once has she made me feel like she looks down on me or is embarrassed by my choices or reputation. I don’t need her to approve, just accept, and I get the sense that she likes me for me.
Worst case, I get a good friend out of the deal. Best case, I screw her brains out. Win-win either way.
“It is what it is,” I say, pulling a hoodie over my head. “We’re having fun.”
Fortunately, the guys drop it, mostly because they have the attention span of fruit flies. Hunter’s already texting Demi on his way out the door, while Matt and Foster start discussing the squid movie we all watched the other night.
On my way out of the hockey facility, my phone rings. “MOM” flashes on the screen.
“Go on ahead,” I tell Matt. “I’ll be right there.” As my teammate ambles off toward the parking lot, I slow my gait and answer the call. “Hey, Mom.”
“Hey Mister,” Mom says. No matter how old I get, it’s like I’m still five in her eyes. “I haven’t heard from you in ages. Everything okay out there in the tundra?”
I chuckle. “Sun’s actually out today, if you can believe it.” I don’t mention that the temperature is only fifty degrees—and it’s the end of frickin’ March. Spring is taking its sweet-ass time getting to New England.