Ashley and I do our best to steer clear of the game day routine – God forbid I’m the reason this game gets messed up. We sleep in, partially because I’m hoping to ignore the news of the day. When we finally surface around 11 AM I have three text messages and four voicemails. Not a good sign.
“It’s Paul. I spoke to Jon and he knows the drill for tonight. Look happy, don’t talk to anyone with a camera or a microphone. Call me if you have any questions.”
“Hey Kat, it’s Dave. I’m pretty sure Paul doesn’t think you need to know this, so don’t tell him, please. They’ve spoken to Versus and the camera will know where you are in the arena. They’re not too interested in the story – yet – but they were going to mention it. Now Paul has them set to show you looking all lovey-dovey and hopefully they’ll say Marie’s story is crap.”
The other two are work-related and have nothing to do with Jon, so I ignore them. I’m definitely working today, but it doesn’t mean I will get anything done. I delete everything and explain the situation to Ashley. She nods resolutely and I’m stuck by the urge to hug her.
“You know what this means?” she says. “We’re getting our hair done.”
Ashley buys a paper on the corner and folds it quickly. We choose a nearby diner for breakfast, she slides into the booth next to me and ceremoniously unrolls the Toronto Sun. My heart does a little flip, but settles down when I see we’re not on the front cover. Ashley starts turning pages – and stops at page six. A photo of Jon and me is cracked open like a broken heart, with a small one of Marie stapled into the rift.
The Chicago Blackhawks bring their Stanley Cup rings to Toronto tonight, but the real story may be off the ice. Captain Jonathan Toews has recently been accused of spoiling the blossoming relationship between Marie Diamonte and Hawks teammate Patrick Kane. The crime? Aggressively pursuing Diamonte despite her repeated refusals. The victim? Aside from Diamonte and Kane, Toews is presently flaunting his first-ever public relationship with Katherine Banning, employee of the Chicago team’s charity division. She may well be the real charity case here – if Toews is looking to step out on her, he’ll find plenty of women perfectly willing. The question? Diamonte was definitely involved with Kane, but the Hawks are keeping quiet about their internal relations. Toews’ reputation as a genuinely nice guy is rivaled only by Sidney Crosby’s, but as he wades into the world of celebrity dating for the first time he may find there are sharks in the water.
Calls to Diamonte for comment were not immediately returned.
Ashley shuts the paper as food arrives. I take a bite of my scramble and just shrug at her. She shrugs back and asks me to pass the syrup.
I let her lead us to a salon for wash & dry. They do a really nice job on my waves – the kind of thing I always think I can do, but fail miserably. I’ve got a #19 shirtzee for tonight, so I may actually look okay for the first (hopefully only) installment of this shit show. At five, we meet the guys in the lobby.
“Charity case?” Duncan says, trying to make light. “Guess they haven’t seen those jeans on you.”
Everyone is really supportive, and I get the feeling they’ve already talked to Jon and Pat. When Pat sees me his face falls, and I promise myself that someday, somehow, I will spill a drink on Marie’s favorite dress or put gum in her hair. Something. I give him my biggest smile. Nothing keeps Pat down for long and he’s already doing his best to rally.
“You look great,” he says.
“I was going to sew two jerseys together – yours’ and Jon’s – but I thought that would look slutty.”
Jon strolls into the lobby, looking like a million damned dollars. My mouth gets a little dry. He’s wearing a tan suit with a maroon tie and what might actually be a pink shirt. Ridiculous, I tell myself. The guy wears pink and I want to rip it off him. He walks right up and kisses me, hands at the back of my neck. Duncan wolf whistles. It’s all I can do to keep my tongue out of his mouth and my hands out of his pants.
“Hi gorgeous,” he smiles. Okay, we’re going for confident. I can do this, I think. I can do this for Jon and Pat. He laces his fingers into mine and pulls me away from the crowd, over near some couches and chairs. I could swim in the deep brown of his eyes, which are full of concern and pinched at the corners in concentration. “Will you be okay? You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
I touch his face. I couldn’t stop myself if I wanted to. My fingers brush the flawless skin and push through the short hair just above his ear. He presses his face into my palm, seeking comfort. Thank God he is so honest, I think, because there’s something I need to say.
“I want to do this. No one is going to get away with something like this on my watch,” I tilt his chin slightly so he’s looking right into my eyes. “I’m crazy about you, Jon. I meant it when I said I would do anything for you.” There is it, openly declared. I hope he already knows this, and that we're at the point where we can say it to each other out loud.
He moves so fast I don’t get a breath in before his lips are pressed to mine, strong and sure. Now I feel the confidence I saw in him before, now I feel like I could take on the world.
“I’m crazy about you too, Kat. I have asked for so much already, but I really need you on this one.” The small crease between his eyebrows adds five years to his gorgeous face. He’s trying to see through me, see how far he can go before he hits a dead end.
It’s my turn to kiss him, hand under his suit jacket and pressed to his back. “You got me. I promise.”
The Air Canada Centre is a scary place. We stand in the zamboni gateway looking up at the arena – there must be a million people crammed into this place, every one of them wearing a Leafs jersey or shirt. I’ve cheered for the away team before, but never in a place like this. And never when anyone cared.
“Damn,” Ashley says next to me, her face close enough to fog up the glass. “That is a big crowd.” She gives me an I can’t believe we’re doing this look and adjusts the #10 jersey on her shoulders. Ashley’s been to almost every building in the League, but the Wags usually don’t wear team paraphernalia. It’s like we’ve put targets on our backs. The guys are on the ice for the pre-game skate, and game time is in half an hour. More people are coming, I know as I look around the see where they could possibly fit. A maintenance man scoots past us with a sideways look. A puck smacks into the boards, making Ashley jump back. Patrick skates by with a big smile on his face.
“Moron,” she shakes her fist like a cartoon character.
“There you guys are!” a voice calls from behind us. It belongs to a small blonde and judging by her clothes, she’s definitely a WAG. She’s got a big smile on her face and I think of the straight-A student assigned to show the new kid around on his first day of school.
“I’m Molly, Kris Versteeg’s girlfriend. I guess Toews asked him to make sure you two were alright.” She shakes our hands and gratitude floods through me – toward Molly for being nice, toward Jon for even thinking of it. This place is more than intimidating and I’m already a little flipped out about our situation. “You must be Kat. Saw your picture in the paper today. There are crazies up here all the time saying things about the guys. It’ll blow over, you’ll be okay. I’ve never met Jon but he seems like a nice guy.”
Molly chats with us until the skate finishes. A couple of the Hawks tap the boards on their way past to say hello. Or good luck. Or nice knowing you, my brain says. Jon skates right over like he’s going to stop and talk to us, which I know will get him in trouble. The look on his face is equal parts good luck, sorry and I will make this up to you. He approaches the boards very slowly, then bends down and comes up with a puck that must have been sitting right in front of us. With a silly grin, he tosses it up over the glass and I catch it.
Show him you’re okay. I put the back of my hand to my head and pretend to faint.
“Let’s see if I can get you upstairs without passing any media.” Molly leads us around some corners and through a service corridor to an elevator. We ride up with a huge cart of soft pretzels. The vendor lets us off first and we snake through some kegs of beer until we reach a carpeted hallway. The club level lets us circle the entire building until we’re just above our section.
“You guys are in that one,” Molly points to the section behind the Hawks bench. “And I’ll be two more over.” The WAGs sit where the Leafs shoot twice, closer to the goal on the same side as us. “If you need anything, call me. Or just yell for help.” She gives us each a hug before she leaves and I promise that when the Leafs come to Chicago I will take her out for dinner. When she’s gone, Ashley and I stand around looking at each other in our Hawks jerseys.
“Here goes nothing,” I say.
Our seats are in the middle of the last row of the section, backs against the wall like we’re afraid the mafia will try to sneak in and bump us off. A few people boo as we walk by, giving us a hard time for climbing over them. The last few seats before ours are a couple of very big guys.
“Ladies! You’re making a terrible mistake in those jerseys!” one guys says very loudly, causing everyone around us to turn. “We’ll have to spend the game making Leafs fans out of you.” He’s smiling though, and gives a little bow as he lets us through. “What do you think, eh? Can we turn them into Leafs fans?” he asks the people in next row.
“Not that one,” a girl my age says, pointing at me from down the line. “You’re Toews’ girlfriend, right? Saw you in the paper today.” Now really everyone looks, even the people who were pretending not to listen. I smile and nod nervously – I don’t want to spend the game getting heckled. Instead, the girl smiles. “Good for you, he’s fucking hot!” Everyone laughs and I blush madly.
“Team Canada! ” The guy next to us shouts to the section attendant, “Beers for the ladies. They’re gonna need ‘em when the Leafs win! ”
We trade jokes back and forth with our section-mates and I’m grateful for the wall behind us – we can stand and cheer a little less noticeably. The place goes predictably crazy when the Leafs take the ice so that no one hears us cheering as the Hawks come out. By the time the puck drops, I’m feeling better and I’ve finished a beer.
The first period is hard and fast, with a lot of hitting and end to end action that makes me completely forget about Marie, cameras and gossip. The Leafs score first, earning us a few told you so’s from our new friends. With five minutes left, Schenn takes a tripping penalty and the Hawks go on the power play. Jon and Pat fly down the ice 2-on-1 and Jon roofs the puck into the net behind Giguere.
I jump out of my seat like we’re in Chicago. It’s a reflex, a gut reaction, and at the same time it’s total relief. We shout and wave and hug each other. Instantly, we are on the Jumbotron. Half the place starts booing lightly, like they always do to opposing team fans. The camera zooms in on me and I swear I hear the crowd say “Oooooh,” like they do when an opposing player gets creamed with a clean hit. It means “ouch.” All around the arena, heads start turning to see where we are. It only lasts a few seconds and as the puck drops again, I drop into my seat.
I didn’t realize until Jon scored that I was really, really worried I wouldn’t have anything to cheer about and had been holding my breath since yesterday morning. Instantly I feel fifty pounds lighter. Our neighbors reach over the pat me on the shoulder and someone passes me a fresh beer.
“Thank God,” Ashley says, looking as surprised as I feel. She squeezes my hand and I make a mental note to name our first child after her.
There’s a play stoppage and the announcer comes on with the goal details: “Blackhawks goal scored by number 19, Jonathan Toews…” and instead of showing Jon on the ice, the Jumbotron feed shows me and Ashley again. We cheer like idiots for the entire readout.
“Okay, okay, you’ve got what you came for. Now back to the Leafs!” our neighbor yells and the section agrees.
When the buzzer sounds to end the period, I have text a text from Steph. That was it – they all but called M a liar. PS: you’re smoking hot.
“I have one from Joanna.” Ashley reads, “Tell Kat nice ass and that Versus loves JT.”
The teams trade another pair of goals in the second period, this one by Brent. By the second intermission, I really have to pee. We debate the merits of taking off our jerseys, but decide not to – we’d have to do it on the concourse because the cameras might be on our seats. By then, what’s the point?
Last time someone recognized me in a bathroom, it was teenage girls in Toews t-shirts. Ashley said they’re so nice when they’re young. As we get inside this bathroom, I feel a different vibe. Chicago loves their Cup champs, but this is city lives and breathes hockey. There must be twenty girls my age, all fixing their hair and looking like they actually know the game. And they definitely read the papers. One catches my eye in the mirror and recognition crosses her dark eyes. She turns, blonde hair trailing behind to crash over her far shoulder.
“Nice jersey,” she says. “I hear you boyfriend’s giving those out all over town.”
She says ‘boyfriend’ like she means ‘unicorn’ or ‘leprechaun’ – something I’d be an idiot to believe in. Every face in the room is turned toward me. The girls lined up at the mirror now look like the Pussycat Dolls, tarted up and standing in a v-formation behind their leader in her baby pink Leafs jersey.
“You heard wrong,” I shake my head.
“I also heard you stole him from someone else. So fair’s fair, right? He cheats on her, he cheats on you – hell, for a piece of that I’d let him cheat.”
“For a piece of that you’d have to disappear and come back as me,” I say with a straight face.
She cocks her head to the side like she’s been practicing conversations like this since junior high. “Or just be around when you disappear.” The friend to her left, a short girl with bangs and a Leafs tank top, hands her a pen and a scrap of paper. Pink jersey scribbles on it, walks up to me and holds it out.
“In case your boyfriend’s still not satisfied,” she hands me her number. I snatch it from her hand and drop it straight into the trash can behind me. “Hmmph,” she snorts and struts away, each of her minions giving me a dirty look on their way out.
I make a face at Ashley and duck into an open stall. Once inside, I close my eyes and take a deep breath. That’s nothing, I know. I’ve heard worse in bar bathrooms from two girls fighting over a frat boy. Hell I’d be jealous of Jon’s girlfriend if it weren’t me. But it still hurts.
Halfway through the third period, Kaner gets an ugly goal in a pileup in front of the net. There’s a scrum and guys start grabbing sweaters and smooshing faces. We’re all on our feet – Jon’s got someone in a headlock while another guy tries to pull his jersey off. Kaner comes in and throws an elbow, separating them and getting tripped to the ice. Jon half-drags his guy away from the action while the refs sort it out. Duncan’s at the bottom of the pile with Phanuef. When they are untangled, each team takes a 2 minute minor. Sharp and Hossa take the first shift 4-on-4 with a lot of open ice and Patrick slides one under the goalie to give the Hawks a 4-2 lead. We cheer like mad, knowing no one will be buying us beers now. At the buzzer, the Hawks win. Ashley and I take the regular route downstairs, moving quickly, and she leaves me in our spot by the zamboni corridor while she sticks her head into the locker room.
“Ugh, cameras everywhere,” she reports. “Stanley Cup champs come to hockeytown – they’ll be in there all night.” We watch them clean the ice as the arena empties, sitting under the bleachers like high school delinquents.
Patrick comes to get us, wearing a gray suit with a blue tie. The man was not voted Chicago’s Sexiest Athlete for nothing, I think. Ashley throws herself on him in congratulations.
“Nice one, Shooter,” I say.
“Can’t let my girl down when she came all the way up here!” he laughs.
The room’s pretty empty and almost everyone is changed. Jon’s suit is black with a white shirt and a red tie – he looks like a classic Hollywood matinee idol. I move so fast across the room that Brent yells, “Coming through!” Jon’s catches me around the waist and swings me into a bear hug.
“You okay?” he puts his face close to mine and I kiss my answer.
“Could you hear us when you scored? We were crazy people.”
He smiles. “I could see you, the only two Hawks jerseys in the whole place bouncing around like maniacs.”
Pat comes in and I give him another big hug, almost taller than him in my boots. “Every single guy on the Leafs asked Jon for your phone number. If it doesn’t work out, you could totally move here.”
“Some girl gave me her number for Jon. We can give that one to the Leafs. Except Luke Schenn, he’s a cutie.” Jon throws something at me, Pat catches it and throws it back.
We’re on the bus back to the hotel when my phone rings. Jon grabs it first. “Hey Paul.”
“Hi Jon. Nice one tonight, thanks for getting us a goal. You can tell Kat that everything went fine – they only mentioned it once when you scored, but they showed her and Ashley a handful of times. It even looked like they made friends with some Leafs fans. Tell her thanks.”
Jon disconnects and gives me a wary look. “Did you make friends with some Leafs fans? How do you make everyone like you?”
Ashley shouts from the back. “They loved us! Some girl told Kat: ‘Good for you, Toews is fucking hot!’”
“International relations,” I say. “Ashley and I are like NATO.”
“Let’s do something,” Jon says, back at the hotel.
“Are you going to wear that suit?” I ask.
“Uhh, yeah. I was.”
“There is only one thing I want to do while you’re wearing that suit,” I press my body in close, sliding my thigh between his and pushing my breasts to his chest. He leans in, lips almost touching mine. “I guess that could wait till later,” I turn away.
We go to a nearby bar, where the guys hang their suit jackets and loosen their ties. It makes Jon look like someone just took him out back and kissed him senseless. I think it’s a sign. We have a few drinks, the mood light because of the win and what we’re all hoping is the end of the biggest non-scandal Jon or I have ever been involved in. For the first time in a few days I feel something other than the knot in the pit of my stomach, and that something is Jon’s hand on my back.
“You were amazing today,” Jon says quietly. “Even more amazing than you usually are.”
The crease between his eyebrows is gone. Those broad shoulders create an almost private space for me to stand in, close enough for his lips to graze my ear as he speaks. No one else gets to do this, I think. Say whatever you want, this is where I stand.
“I wish you could come on the rest of the trip.”
“Me too,” I admit, but I’m going back tomorrow morning and straight to work. “When you’re back, the Fall Ball will be complete. We’ll give that lady the $8,500 date she paid for.”
“I don’t want to go eight days before seeing you again,” he says into my hair.
“Bring back that mountie costume and I’ll make it worth the wait.”
He laughs and kisses me, the kind of kiss that starts off easy and could have us rolling on the floor seconds later. We’re both thinking hotel but Jon’s nature is to be discreet. Then he takes my hand.
“Night guys!” he calls as he pulls me out the front door.
I fall onto his bed, feeling a hundred times better than the night before. I’m glad that’s over, I think. Then Jon says it out loud. He flops down next to me and I rub my fingers over his forearm to his rolled up sleeve.
“I really want to say goodbye to you…” he says, one hand in my hair. “But I am afraid I won’t be able to skate in the morning. Think you could take it easy on me, just this once?”
We kiss for a long time, lying side by side on the cool bedspread. He twists a strand of my hair around his finger as his lips gently trace mine. I slide in, seeking comfort. Today was a close call, a really bizarre experience for me and I’m pretty proud of the way I handled it. In reality, I probably got off easy – people are quick to dismiss gossip about someone like Jon, as scandalous as white bread. He was always more interesting to me, as my funny, energetic friend, but my mind flashes through scenes from the last month – the back of his car, last night in the bathroom – and I know he has more surprises in store.
We undress each other and roll under the covers. His body is like a fort – lying beneath it I feel like nothing can hurt me. We move together, so gently that we barely un-tuck the bedding. His skin is baby soft under my fingers and I trace the curves and dents of his shoulder blades and hips. He rolls me on top but holds me close, keeping our warmth trapped under the blankets. His breath sprinkles goosebumps across my neck. I feel like a treasure – he’s handling me carefully, like I’m irreplaceable.
“Kat,” he whispers. “I was so scared that I would lose you today.” His breathing is a little forced, we’re both getting close to the end.
“Not a chance. I’m staying right where I want to be.” I kiss him quiet as I come, my body filling slowly the way hot fudge pours over ice cream. A tear slips from my eye – I was scared too, without even knowing exactly what I was scared of. Now I feel strong.
Jon presses his forehead to my shoulder as his body shudders, a groan covered by a sigh that comes at the same time. My hands hold his rigid biceps, willing him to take his time. A few deep breaths later his mouth finds mine. I curl onto my side and he wraps around me like a shell, protective and warm. I will my body to absorb enough of his presence to last for the next eight days.
“Will you get in trouble for this?”
“No one would believe I actually did it,” he chuckles. “Night baby.”