What says I’m sorry I dumped you because I was afraid you wouldn’t respect me anymore when you found out I was a liar and a criminal but also it turns out I love you so take me back? And sex with you is pretty fantastic and I’d like to keep having it?
Hell, I don’t know. She wears a lot of black, gray, blue. Except when she’s teaching. Then it’s the opposite. I feel like after two months of dating I should know this. The hell have I been doing this whole time? Eating her pussy, mostly.
Seemingly sensing my discomfort, the woman says, “Well, she’s a Taurus, so pink and green are usually a good bet. She’ll appreciate something earthy yet sophisticated and refined.” Hippie Lady weaves about the store between displays of flowers, touching them all, tilting an ear to them as if she’s listening for something. “Snapdragons,” she declares. “Foxglove and pink roses. With succulents. Yes, that’d be perfect.”
I don’t have the vaguest idea what those are. But I understand the word roses. “Sounds great. Something big,” I remind her.
The bell over the front door jingles as the hippie darts into the back room. I glance over my shoulder to see none other than Coach Jensen walk in.
He has a nervous aura about him, like the night of the family dinner. It’s odd seeing him that way, when in the locker room or on the ice he’s a stone wall of confidence. I guess women do that to us.
He lets out a heavy sigh. “Edwards.”
Yeah, relations haven’t warmed since the infamous fire. I get it. During the off-season Coach would rather not have to deal with his unruly band of misfits. Running into him around town is a lot like seeing your teacher at the mall during summer vacation. Once the season’s over and the semester ends, they don’t want to know us.
“Here for Iris?” I ask. “Taylor told me she and her mom share a birthday.” Which further supports my theory that Taylor is in fact the product of a Russian human engineering experiment to create some sort of super sleeper agent. She has neither confirmed nor denied.
“No,” he mocks, “I just like to come in a few times a week to gather petals for my bubble bath.”
I like to think sarcasm is Coach’s way of showing he cares. Otherwise this guy can’t fucking stand me. “You two got big plans?”
He turns his back, exploring the arrangements in the cases. “Dinner in Boston.”
“Well, you two kids be safe, and don’t stay out too late. Remember, arrive alive.”
“Don’t be cute, Edwards. I still got a trashcan with your name on it.”
My asshole puckers right up when he says that. “Yes, sir.”
We stand around in awkward silence for a few minutes, both of us pretending to browse the tiny shop while we wait for the florist to return. I can’t imagine what it must be like for Brenna’s boyfriend, Jake. He’s lucky they’re in a long-distance relationship while he’s playing pro for Edmonton, because Coach strikes me as the kind of man who might sit polishing a gun at the kitchen table when a guy comes over for his daughter. And then Brenna struts out the door after a kiss on his cheek with a pocket full of bullets.
Iris was easy as far as meet-the-parents horror stories go. I mean, what’s one little fire between family, right?
“What are your plans with Taylor?” he barks, so abruptly I wonder if I’ve imagined it.
“Dinner first. Just the two of us. Then meeting friends later at Malone’s.”
“Uh-huh,” he says, then clears his throat. “Well, don’t show up at the table next to us, you got that?”
“No problem, Coach.”
Finally the florist returns with a heaping armful of flowers in an enormous vase. Perfect. The damn thing is almost as big as I am. I’m going to have to put a seatbelt on it.
Coach looks from the flowers to me and rolls his eyes. The arrangement is so enormous and cumbersome I end up needing his help to get it out the door and to my Jeep parked at the curb. I’ve just got the flowers strapped into the front seat when across the street I see a face that doesn’t belong. And he sees me.
He waits for a couple cars to pass before jogging over to us. My heart’s in my throat and I’m seriously thinking of hopping in the driver’s seat and peeling out.
“Conor,” he says. “Finally caught up with you.”
Fuck my life.
A glance at Coach. “Hey there. Nice to meet you.” He offers his hand to Coach as they both look to me for a response.
“Coach Jensen,” I say, feeling like I’m going to choke on my own tongue, “this is Max Saban, my stepfather.”
“Great to meet you, Coach.” The thing about Max is, he’s so goddamn nice all the time. I don’t trust it. No one smiles that much. It’s fucking weird. Anyone who’s in a good mood that often is hiding something. “Conor’s told his mother a lot about you. He really loves your program.”
“Chad,” Coach says, introducing himself. “Good to meet you.” He slides me a questioning glance, which I can only take to mean he senses the awkwardness of this shitshow and wondering why the hell is he getting dragged into more of my personal drama. “Conor’s a great addition to the team. We’re glad to have him coming back to us next year.”
Ha. If only he knew. I can’t bring myself to meet Max’s eyes to read his reaction.
“Well, I’ve got to get going,” Coach says, leaving me out on this floating ice sheet alone. “Nice to meet you, Max. Have a good one.” Coach strides back inside the shop, and I’ve got nowhere left to hide or anyone to hide behind.
“When’d you get in?” I ask Max. I keep my tone casual, because he’s here now and I can’t avoid him anymore. The last thing I want is for him to see me squirm.
So I tamp down the anxiety. I got good at this when I was a kid, following Kai around through abandoned buildings and dark alleys. Getting into shit that scared me, all the while knowing I couldn’t show weakness or I’d get my ass kicked. It’s the face I put on every time I hit the ice, lining up against a guy ready to do battle. It’s nothing personal, but we mean to cause some havoc. Pain is part of the game. If we didn’t want to lose some teeth, we’d stay home and knit.
“Just this morning,” replies Max. “I took the red-eye.”
Fuck me, he’s pissed. In that quiet WASP-y way. The softer they speak, the more your life’s in danger.
“Stopped by your place but you’d already left.”
“I have early classes on Thursday.”
“Well,” he says, nodding at the diner a few storefronts away. “I was going to grab a coffee before trying you again later. Since we’re here, will you join me?”
Can’t very well say no, can I? “Yeah, sure.”
We grab a booth by the windows and the waitress comes around right away to fill our mugs. I don’t even like coffee, but I drink mine too fast, too soon, scalding my tongue because I don’t know what else to do with my hands and it stops my knee from bouncing.
“Guess I should start,” he says.
The second most obnoxious thing about Max is how he always looks like he just walked off the set of an early 2000s family sitcom. He’s one of those perpetually cheerful dads with an upstanding gentleman haircut, plaid oxford shirt, and a vest from an expensive outdoor brand, not that you’ve ever seen the man hike.