The party is almost over and no one really notices that Jon has gone. I talk to a few people, just saying that Jon is “here somewhere” until almost everyone leaves. We direct some of the clean-up and collect all the things that need to go back to the office. My head is spinning – our agreement, our kiss, Jon taking off like that and me not stopping him. I guess I’m too quiet.
“Okay Kat? Where’s Jon?”
“He left,” I say, trying to brush it off. “This part isn’t his responsibility.”
Dave nods. “Well you did great tonight, thank you. It looked like you guys were having fun and everyone was talking about what a great couple you make.”
I shake my like that’s unbelievable, but my heart pounds.
I’m stuffing goodie bags with Hawks merchandise at 8:30 AM when there’s a knock on the conference room door. My blood goes cold – I think it’s going to be Jon. Instead it’s Ashley Sharp, doing her wives-and-girlfriends duty volunteering to help with the Hawks Kids Club visit this morning.
“Hey Kat,” she says, joining in my effort. “How are you?”
“Fine,” I shrug. “Their bus will be here in half an hour, we’re almost finished.”
Ashley nods and I know that wasn’t her real question. “So… you and Jon?”
“We’re not dating. He and Rachel broke up for good and I was literally the only person to fill in last night. We couldn’t send him out there alone.” I try to laugh.
“Right, I know what Dave said. But that kiss…,” she prompts. “I saw his face, Kat. Your eyes were closed but we were watching him kiss you like he meant it.”
“Decoy. Jon asked if I would be his decoy girlfriend for a while, since everyone already knows me from last night. Then when he’s over the Rachel thing, we’ll fake break up and move on.” It sounds like a decent plan as I say it out loud. I’ve taken it apart in my head so often it seems like swiss cheese.
“If you ask me, he’s been over Rachel for a long time,” she offers. “And I never saw him kiss her like that.”
You should have seen the real kiss, I think sadly. It was definitely real. And then it was definitely over.
“I don’t know if we’re even doing the decoy thing anymore, it might not work,” I tell her. Jon hadn’t called last night and I didn’t call him. He wasn’t even here yet this morning. I knew he was embarrassed for getting carried away, and I was embarrassed for wanting him to. Why did I tell him I didn’t hear the question? As soon as his lips touched mine I knew what he’d asked, knew what I’d agreed to. My answer would have been the same if I really had heard. Why did I throw that in his face like he did something wrong?
“Decoy what?” Dave Bolland’s girlfriend Joanna walks into the room. She’s definitely dressed for a kids’ visit: three inch heeled boots and a sweater that would have made the 1950s jealous. “You don’t think anyone’s buying that fake-girlfriend stuff, do you? Except Kaner, because he hasn’t nailed you yet.”
I close my eyes. Joanna’s got a mouth on her like a truck driver and she tells it like it is.
“Toews was looking at you last night like you were a Timbits-flavored stripper. I swear he asked Kane for condoms,” Joanna waves a little stuffed Hawks mascot doll. “You did look fucking hot in that dress. Don’t suppose you kept it on all night?” She raises her eyebrows at the stuffed animal and makes it cover its ears like its hearing something dirty.
I toss another full bag into the plastic bin. “We did not leave the party together.”
“Good thing,” Tommy Hawk nods at me with Joanna’s voice. “Because you know Kaner never gives away his condoms.”
Dave comes into the conference room as we’re cleaning up the last of the leftover items. He tosses a copy of the Chicago Tribune onto the table. “Showtime, ladies.”
“Blackhawks: Champs for Charity – Page 3,“ reads the front page. There were about ten photos from the night, group shots and action shots from the stage during the auction. A color photo of Ashley and Patrick is tagged with a tiny graphic of bells and the words “Just Married.” In the left margin, largest of all the photos, is a shot of me and Jon kissing.
“Whooo,” Joanna says, almost under her breath.
I have to admit it’s a great photo. The background stage lights make it look like we were in a music video and Jon seems causal cool and looks like a million bucks in that dark, fitted suit. My pink dress pops on paper and my shoes really are fun. I’d shaken my hair back over my shoulders so it fell down my back. Jon’s hand was around my waist and mine on his arm.
“Captain Not-So-Serious: Hawks captain Jonathan Toews too busy to smile for cameras last night at the Hawks first charity event of the season.”
“Fuck,” I say out loud.
Twenty five third graders have their noses pressed to the glass. The Hawks are practicing three-on-two drills and every once in a while someone shoots a puck into the boards, making the kids scream and jump back. Before practice is over, we climb the stairs and circle around to the ice. I go down the hallway to make sure the guys have stopped shooting pucks before we bring the kids to the bench.
“Whooop!” Kane shouts when he sees me. “Somebody’s famous this morning!”
A few other guys make comments or laugh, Bolland applauds sarcastically, extra loud and slow. I don’t bother looking around the ice for Jon, I don’t want to see him with all these people watching. Instead I motion for the kids to follow and they file in behind the boards. All the guys skate over and start saying hello while I make my way to the far end and lean against the glass. Two seconds later, Jon turns up.
“Hi,” he says. We’re not looking at each other.
“Hey,” is the best I can do.
“WOAH! Jonathan Toews!” one of the little boys shouts, drawing the five kids next to him into a huddle around us. I step back and let the kids freak out over Jon. He has his helmet off, his hair dark with sweat and plastered to his head. The helmet goes into a pile with his gloves so he can sign autographs. They ask a million questions at high speed. Behind the boisterous boys, two little girls stand shyly.
“Jon.” He looks up and suddenly I’ve forgotten what I was going to say. His eyes are the color of hot chocolate, his fair skin is flushed with the exertion of practice. Half a smile tugs at his lips, the kind of smile that asks forgiveness. One of the little girls is totally on to us. She pulls on the leg of my pants and stares at me expectantly.
I point down near my waist. “I think you have some more fans back here.”
He moves the boys aside and gets the girls up to the boards. Then he squats down till he’s even with them and starts talking. They are wide-eyed like he’s an exotic animal in the zoo and one girl chews the end of her pigtail. “Boys, do you know these girls?” The boys nod, noses in the air like they’re too good to hang out with girls. “Do you think girls like hockey as much as boys?”
“No way!” they chorus.
“What about Kat here? She likes hockey so much she works here. Girls, you like hockey that much?” They both nod enthusiastically. “Want to work here someday?” They agree again. “And boys, maybe someday you’ll play hockey, and you guys will be friends when you’re grownups.” He’s talking to them, but he’s looking at me.
“Ew, girls have cooties. I’m not gonna be friends with any girls when I grow up,” a little blondie in a Hawks t-shirt promises.
“Cooties, eh? I bet you’ll change your mind. I think girls are pretty great. I think you should be really nice to these girls in case one day you decide they are awesome and you really want to be friends with them and never mess it up.” They look like they might think about it later, when their moms make them eat their broccoli. The girls stare at Jon like he fell from Heaven.
“Miss,” the one with the pigtail in her mouth says, “our teacher says you’re his girlfriend. She says it was in the newspaper. Are you?”
“Yeah, are you?” the blonde boy asks, narrowing his eyes at me suspiciously.
I wonder if Jon can read my face. He’s talking about friends and never messing it up, they’re talking about boyfriends and girlfriends. When did the line between the two disappear? How can I say yes when I don’t understand the question? Last night our misunderstanding led to some serious kissing and serious running away, I don’t know if I can handle another.
“When his cooties aren’t too bad,” I say before moving down the bench to make sure all the kids are having fun. I can feel his eyes on me but I don’t turn around. When we’re finished, the kids pile back onto their school bus. Dave and I wave goodbye from the doorway, then he clears his throat. Jon’s standing behind us, dressed to head home in jeans and a Hawks hoodie. Dave’s exit is almost graceful, as if he can sense that something strange has happened and hopes it isn’t really his fault.
“Kat,” Jon starts then stops. I let him hang there for a moment. “I’m sorry about last night.”
“Sorry that you kissed me or sorry that you fled in terror?” It’s not fair for me to treat him this way, since I was confused and surprised too. But I’m hurt, thinking that he really had no interest in me outside the heat of the moment. As if I’d had any interest in him before.
He looks down at the floor. “Both, I guess. I got carried away. Can you give me another few weeks of fake company before we pretend to break up? Or are you too mad? I promise, I won’t kiss you again. This isn’t important enough to ruin our friendship. If you want to stop right now, fine and I don’t care if people think I’m a loser who gets dumped every day.”
I won’t kiss you again. It’s amazing how much it hurts to hear him say that, when 24 hours ago I would never have had him kiss me in the first place. It’s true what they say: you can’t lose what you never had. Now I’d had it, for a second, and it was gone. He ran off last night and today he’s talking about our kiss like it was a big mistake. What can I say to that?
“It okay, Jon. “
He smiles with such relief that I think he’s going to hug me. He even takes half a step in before he stops. Instead he just says goodbye and goes out into the lot, the door locking behind him.
The phone on my desk rings at 3:45 PM and I am summoned to the Communications Department. Dan is there when I arrive. “So, I heard about your little plan with Toews,” the Communications Director, Paul, says. “Surprisingly it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard. And the photos certainly got a lot of play.” A version of the same picture had run in all the major local papers, eight or ten local websites, about forty hockey blogs and three TV news broadcasts. “So people are watching. We’re going to have to make this very convincing.”
They both look at me expectantly, but I have no idea what to do next.
“I think you should drive home and let Jon pick you up for the game. You can be seen arriving with him through the players’ entrance, the fans will like that.”
“The fans will try to kill me,” I point out. Some of our very best puckbunnies had their sights set on Jon.
“And,” Paul ignores my protest, “you should sit with the wives and girlfriends tonight.”
My brain and my stomach hurt in equal measure. I knew this would be big, but it could have also been fun. We’d share a secret, have a few laughs and get to spend more time together. Now the prospect of all this seems like salt in a wound. How did I manage to get so messed up in twelve hours?
“Okay,” I say weakly.
By the time Jon beeps in my driveway I have convinced myself that I am going to be fine. I have a little crush on him, nothing major, over two kisses. No one comes unraveled over two kisses, right? And he’s on the rebound, I don’t want that guy. I get dressed with care, figuring that if the fur is going to fly at least I can look the part. On the way out the door, I remind myself to smile.
“You really pick up your girlfriends by honking?” I ask as I climbed into his Jeep. “How romantic.”
He smiles, seemingly glad that I am making a joke. “Next time I will come up and carry you.” Today his suit is black and his tie striped. My heart does a tiny backflip at the sight of his face.
We are two blocks from the arena before he broaches the subject of tonight. “Paul said you’re sitting with the wives and girlfriends. Thanks for doing that.”
“No worries. Joanna and Ashley are there. And there’s free snacks.”
His hand is on the center console and I really want to hold it. It’s the kind of thing I would have done before yesterday, so I bite the bullet and put my fingers into his. “Are you okay?” I ask. “We never really got to talk.”
“I was too busy kissing you,” he says.
He means it as a joke, something to break the tension that keeps rising between us. Instead it’s like a kick to the stomach and I instinctively pull my hand away.
“Kat, sorry, I…” he smacks that same hand on the steering wheel. “Shit. Why can’t I talk to you anymore? Yesterday we were fine and then I fucked everything up.”
Despite my best efforts I am inches away from tears. “No, Jon….”
“I cannot lose you Kat, not over this. I know things were shit with Rachel for a long time, but she was still a big part of my life. Now that she’s gone, I can’t let anybody else get away.”
Jon’s rise to fame had left him surprised at his isolation. He’s too young, rich, famous and hot for his own good. Everyone wants something. And he’s is usually too nice to say no. He values his friends highly because there aren’t as many of them as he might like.
Pull it together, Kat. “I’m not going anywhere, don’t worry.”
He drives into the players’ entrance, past a handful of fans. Recognition lights up their faces when they see me. His spot is down close to the door in pretty plain sight of anyone watching. Instead of getting out, he leans back in his seat. “I’m doing okay, thank you. Honestly we’d been over for a long time and it feels, I don’t know… lighter now that we’re really done. I don’t know why we kept it up for so long, we should have ended it last season. Stupid me, I kept trying. Now I just need to get my head around the idea of being alone. It’s a good thing I have you.” He turns to look at me. “They’re all watching us, you know.”
My sarcasm surfaces. “Yup. Waiting to Tweet about how fat I am or my ugly jeans.”
He cranes his neck around. “Not all of them, there are some guys and kids. And you look fantastic. Better than I deserve.” He pulls me in and kisses my cheek, sending a shower of fireworks through my system and those tears right back to my eyes. From outside, it surely looks like we’re kissing on the lips. My heart drops like a roller coaster.
“Ready, rookie?” he asks.
I fall into a seat next to Joanna on the end of a row. The attendant for our section rushes over. I order a beer, though I’m probably not supposed to, and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar. Marion Hossa’s wife leans down from two rows behind us. “I knew it, I knew it was not a joke,” she says proudly like she introduced us. “Good for you Kat. And you two sure can keep a secret!”
Knowing the other WAGs were convinced lets me relax a little. I’ve sworn Ashley and Joanna to secrecy about our arrangement, but they don’t really seem to buy it either. When the team takes the ice for pre-game skate, I cheer as loudly as everyone else. The drills always amuse me, and the way they interact with fans despite the glass separating them. A couple of the guys toss pucks to little kids, except Kane who throws them to the girls with the biggest racks. I’m halfway through my ice cream when Jon catches my eye. He almost smiles, but shakes his head slightly. I’m confused.
By the time the skate ends, the stands are filling up for the sell out game. Most of the people near our section are season ticket holders and they’ve all seen the newspapers. I’m pretending not to feel their stares when my phone beeps.
Jon: No more ice cream.
Jon: You eat it like a porn star. What will the press say? ;)
Me: Right, like you’ve watched a porn.
I want to punch him but instead I laugh. Maybe if I can have a little fun with this it will help me feel better. God help me I’m at the point where I crave any kind of attention from him. Already? That’s like step five on the crush scale.
During the first period my phone buzzes again. It’s my roommate.
Steph: You’re on TV. Like right now. Hair looks good.
Steph: Suck it up, Yoko Ono.
During the first intermission I don’t leave my seat. I really don’t want to wander around the concourse full of people just waiting to say bitchy things about me. It doesn’t help that Steph texts me every 5 minutes with another highlight from the Twitterverse:
She’s kinda plain, guess JT wants to be the best looking one in that relationship.
Toews’ girlfriend can’t even wear a jersey to the game? Too cool for school.
But she sends me a few nice ones too:
Stop hating on Jon’s girl – she’s cute and she’s way luckier than any of you bitches.
Toews’ GF is in my kickboxing class. She def works hard. 24HR Fitness on Michigan, Tues at 12 PM.
I shut it off completely, wondering if I’m going to have to give up my gym membership. The attendant brings us another round of drinks as the second period starts. Jon gets an assist on the first goal of the game and Joanna grabs my arm like I should be on cloud nine – instead I’m feeling tired and crankly. I cheer and wave, then sit down the instant it’s socially acceptable. I remain in place through the next intermission despite really having to pee. Sharp scores in the third, giving us a 2-0 lead and then the game ends with the typical early-season fanfare as we hustle from the stands. When we reach the locker room level, I’m practically running for the bathroom. I’m going to have to give up drinking or grow enough spine to leave my seat.
Tons of people I don’t know are waiting in the lounge and I feel conspicuous. Whispers fall quiet as I pass to tuck myself in next to Joanna at the end of a couch.
“You did it,” she smiles.
“Nothing to do,” I shrug.
Players start to trickle out of the locker room, picking up their girls or their families and friends. Jon is among the last, since he’s always giving the most interviews. I don’t relish the prospect of hearing his take on our un-relationship on Sportscenter.
“Ready?” is all he says. I follow him down the hallway, trying to keep my head up. The suit he wears hangs from his shoulders so perfectly, like he’s one of those presents you paid someone to wrap. He walks with authority. A security guard opens the door for us and fans at the top of the parking ramp start screaming. He gives them a wave and follows me around to the passenger side.
“Seriously?” I ask.
“You made fun of me for honking,” he smiles as he opens my door. “Should we give them something to yell about?”
If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was making a pass at me. That he was using the excuse because he actually wanted to kiss me. But he’s so casual, almost flippant, and that is not the Jon I know. Instead this is a game – one I am losing again as I nod silently and let his lips touch mine. The spark is there, the sizzle through my stomach like a lit fuse as my brain plays the Mission Impossible theme. I try my best not to let it bubble over like champagne.
“You okay?” he asks, his dark eyes searching mine. Spotty overhead lighting throws weird shadows across our faces. I nod again, apparently mute for life, and climb into the car.
He gets on the highway and drives right past my exit. I bet he thinks it’s weird that I don’t protest or question, I just let him go wherever he wants as I stare out the window, trying to look into apartments. It’s twenty-five minutes to his house and we don’t say a single thing. He pulls into the garage and for a moment I consider simply staying in the car all night. Until he opens my door again. I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing. He goes upstairs and I find myself wishing I could follow, wishing that I knew at all what to do now. When he returns, he’s wearing sweats and a t-shirt and carrying another set for me.
I’m clearly sleeping over. This would not have been weird before, I’ve stayed here a few times when I was way less accountable for my actions than I am now. As I put on his clothes, folding the waistband over a few times to account for the inches between our heights, I can’t help it. The heels of my hands press to my eyes like tears are tangible and I can physically hold them back.
Have I lost all of this? Somewhere inside I know I’m going crazy. I’ve lost touch with the reality that used to keep all this in proportion – friends with famous people, friends with hot guys. It was all okay when ‘friends’ was the key word. Now I can’t stop thinking about how hot he is and I feel his fame like a noose around my neck. Thirty seconds pass before I feel steady enough to go back to the living room.
Jon’s on the couch with a glass of water in hand. His huge TV is muted on ESPN. In the corner, his acoustic guitar stands below a picture of his family. I sit, fold my knees and force myself to look at him.
“Now you can tell me,” he says.
“Tell you what?”
“Whatever is wrong.” He looks at me like he’s ready to sit there all night. I know that he would, if I could think of anything to say. When I don’t, he starts.
“I thought it would be fun – we could hang out more and laugh about all of this. But it doesn’t feel funny now. It feels like I’ve asked too much from you.”
You haven’t asked enough, I think.
“So I don’t have a girlfriend. As long as we play well, what difference does it make? Paul always says that half these women need to believe they have a chance with me anyway, to keep them buying tickets. And I’m sorry that I kissed you. I… I don’t have any explanation for that.”
I do, I think. He bites his lips when he’s nervous. He never does it on the ice, but in real life Jon has no poker face. Knowing that is a privilege and seeing it now kills me. I feel myself falling. Or maybe I’m jumping.
“It’s okay, I just need to get used to all this. It’s not easy, pretending to be your girlfriend.” That may be the only honest thing I’ve said all night.
He puts his arm along the back of the couch, his fingers reaching my arm. “So you don’t want to stop?”
I shake my head. I definitely don’t want to stop. I want more, not less. I want anything. God I’m pathetic.
“Really? Thank God. To have done all that for nothing… whew. You are the best friend ever, Kat. There is no one who could do this but you,” he squeezes my shoulder. “Let’s see how everyone else did today.” He turns toward the television and hits the sound. His long eyelashes cast shadows down his cheeks in the flickering light of the sports highlights as I pretend not to look at him. When the broadcast ends, he says it’s bed time and I do what I’m told.
In the guest room, I cry myself to sleep silently.