I wake up before the alarm. Jon is wrapped around me from behind, one arm under my neck, the other over my shoulder coming together in front of me. His knees are bent behind mine, our bodies describing exactly the same shape with no space between. Low, even breathing whispers in my ear. Laying in the dark, I feel yesterday lingering in my bloodstream – fear, nerves, relief. I’d turn Jon over and wind myself around him if it could protect him from something like that ever happening again. Lost in my thoughts I don’t realize he’s awake until he speaks.
“Okay?” he mumbles, tightening his embrace. I nod my head into his arms.
“More sleeping,” he whispers. “No leaving.”
I drift back off and when the alarm rings, I feel rested. Jon swings three times before he hits the snooze button. “You never snooze, do you?” I ask.
He gives me a raspberry on the neck. “I would if you were here.”
Eventually I get up and dress in last night’s clothes. Ashley and I are flying commercial back to Chicago about an hour after the team leaves. It’s a little too early, but I kiss Jon and sneak back to my room so no one knows he’s become a rule-breaker. Ashley’s asleep when I get in the shower and already packed when I finish.
“Dirty stayout,” she smiles.
We have a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant with the team, who are headed for Ottawa. Jon eats an egg white omelet and then half of my pancakes. I don’t let him have any butter. Brent comes in with a newspaper: there’s a photo of me and Ashley cheering madly, the #19 on the back of my shirt partly visible, and a little circular picture of Jon celebrating his goal.
Katherine Banning, girlfriend of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, did not appear a jilted love last night at the Air Canada Centre as she cheered her boyfriend’s team to a 4-2 win. Rumors surfaced this week alleging Toews ‘aggressively pursued’ another woman, who was at the time dating teammate Patrick Kane.
“I’m putting this on my fridge,” Jon says, taking the paper. Before they head for the bus, he pulls me into a corner.
“Call me later, tell me how boring Ottawa is without me,” I say.
“I’ll call you from the bus in ten minutes.” His kiss is soft and sweet, making my knees a little wobbly.
Ashley flips down her tray table and reaches across me to take a cup from the flight attendant. She’s busily arranging peanuts and a napkin, looking down. “That girl in the bathroom yesterday said she heard you stole Jon from someone else. What was she talking about?”
“Did she say that?” I pause, mid-sip, trying to remember the exact words. In real time, I’d been more worried about keeping my cool and not adding any fuel to the fire. “Yeah, I guess she did. Must have been made up, one lie leading to another, because there’s no way she knew anything about Rachel. She and Jon were never public.”
Ashley crunches an ice cube. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Have you looked at any of the puckbunny web boards? I can only imagine what they’re saying about you.”
My half-day at work is a blur of catching up. Dave and Paul congratulate me on a job well done in Toronto, even though I didn’t have to do anything. I work late and talk to Jon when they’re done with team dinner. The next day is the same, only Jon calls me before the game against the Senators.
“I saw a Mountie today in full dress uniform,” he says, “thought of you.”
“I saw a stripper today and thought of you. Naked.”
Four days later, I’m sitting on the floor in the conference room, surrounded by a seating chart for the Fall Ball. Each player, his real date and his “donation date” sit at a different table, joined by various others paid tickets. I’m trying to spread them out evenly, so people who aren’t sitting with a starting lineup guy are at least near one. Every time I move my own name I feel idiotic.
The intercom clicks on, the voice coming automatically from every phone in the department like a PA announcement. “Katherine, could you come to Paul’s office?”
“Sorry for the page, I looked at your desk…” he says, motioning for me to sit. “Do you have a minute?”
I’m suddenly nervous. I look at Dave, but he avoids my gaze and confirms that this is not another pep talk. Something is wrong.
“I’ve just been on the phone with the Sun-Times. It was almost a courtesy call, because they have stepped in on something rather late and they’re not too happy about being scooped. Do you know a Rachel Farnsworth?”
I freeze. What the what? “Yeah. She used to date Jon.”
“Define ‘used to’,” he asks.
“They dated for about two years, but they had problems for a long time. He hardly saw her this summer, and they broke up right before the auction. Rachel was supposed to be Jon’s date – she didn’t show, so I filled in.”
“The girl who stood Jon up at the auction was a long-term girlfriend?” Paul’s eyes are wide, half in surprise and half in annoyance. “How did I not know that Toews had a girlfriend for two years?”
I shrug. “They were never public. I knew her from outside work, and some of the guys knew her, but they were always fighting and she was hardly ever around. I mean… she didn’t come to any official team stuff, even though she lives here. She came to a few playoff games, but never as a WAG. And she missed the parade.”
“Which of the guys know her?”
“Pat and Brent for sure, and Duncan. And Sharp, I think. Kris Versteeg definitely, and… shit,” I look at Dave. “Shit!”
“Marie knows her.” I close my eyes. How did I not think of that?! Marie was around at the end of the last season, and during some of the summer’s Cup festivities. She knows Rachel. And she was really surprised to see at me backstage at the auction… ‘When did that happen?’ she’d asked. ‘Guess I missed a lot this summer.’ “Oh my God.”
“So Marie knew that Jon had a girlfriend. And then you turned up at the auction and we told everyone that you were Jon’s girlfriend,” Paul spells it out.
“I told her the truth at the auction, but she definitely didn’t believe me.” I remember her giggling backstage like she’d just discovered a secret. “No wonder she thought it was open season on getting with Jon – she thought he was already cheating with me.”
“Was he?” Paul asks. He’s all business now.
“No, they were done. Jon said they were ‘finished. Finally’ and that’s why Rachel didn’t come to the auction.” I remember the look on his face –hurt, defeat, fatigue, relief. He was definitely done.
“Well the Sun-Times heard about Rachel from Hello! Canada. Apparently, Marie offered to sell the Sun-Times more of the story, but they didn’t believe her. So she went to Hello – won won’t pay a dime unless Rachel will talk. Hello called the Sun-Times to talk about pooling money and approaching Rachel with an offer, splitting the exclusive story for the US and Canada.”
This is not happening! my brain screams.
“Does anyone really care about this?” Dave interjects, having stewed this whole time. “I mean, we’re not talking about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie here – no offense, Kat – I don’t understand why this is a story!”
Paul folds his hands on his desk like a school principal. “Canada cares. And Chicago cares. Everybody made a fortune off the Tiger Woods scandal, and now they’re sniffing around for a new story – especially one that would sell without costing them a lot. Do you think Rachel will talk?”
“I don’t know her. I mean, I met her a bunch of times but I don’t know how it was with Jon, or what she’s doing now. Jon hasn’t said.”
“We need to talk to Jon. Five or ten grand isn’t a lot to these magazines, but it might a lot to Rachel.”
My stomach sinks. It would be a lot to me, I know. It’s a fortune. But what would make we want to sell Jon out? Please, please, please don’t let Rachel be mad. “Let me do it. Please let me call Jon.”
Paul shakes his head. “Sorry Kat, this one is out of your league.” He puts the phone on speaker and dials. Part of his job is always knowing where the team is, and by my guess they landed in Edmonton about an hour ago. Jon picks up on the third ring.
“Hey Paul.” The sound of his voice, happy and normal, makes my throat tighten.
“Jon, you’re on speaker phone. Something has come up that need to talk about.” I close my eyes and listen to him lay out the situation. Jon doesn’t interrupt. When Paul is done, he asks, “I hate to do this Jon, I know this stuff is personal, but we really need to have a straight story. Can you give us a timeline with Rachel since Marie came into the picture? Help us figure out what Marie thinks she knows.”
Jon sighs. “Ugh. Marie would have met Rachel… last March? She came to a party at Kaner’s house.” I remember that party, Pat had picked Marie up at a coffee shop a few days earlier and wanted to show off and impress her. “That was the first time any of us met Marie. A few days or a week later Sharpie had people over for a barbeque, Rachel came to that too. I actually thought things were getting better with us, she was accepting a lot of invitations. Then we had a fight that night and she left early. After that… ugh. Rachel and Marie sat together at two playoff games – Pat didn’t want Marie with the
WAGs yet, so he asked if she could sit with Rachel. Funny, they were the only two games Rachel agreed to come to. They saw each other maybe twice over the summer. That was it.”
I open my mouth to speak but Paul holds up a palm. “Why did you and Rachel never go public? How come I never knew about her?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” Jon groans. “At first, neither of us wanted her to be in the papers. Then the offseason came and it wasn’t an issue until suddenly I was named captain. I think that freaked her out. She started complaining I wasn’t around enough, paying enough attention, all that. But I couldn’t be with her and keep our relationship private, not with how well we were playing. She wanted both. Then we started falling apart and I stopped asking her to things. I let it drag on way too long, getting more and more famous all the time and she was getting more and more resentful. We practically stopped seeing each other. I thought she was going to dump me any day, so she’d rather if no one knew. But she kept hanging on, and I kept hanging on… finally, this summer was it – I worked practically the whole time. She complained. I said that for someone who didn’t make time for me, she certainly needed a lot of my time. We fought two or three times in about ten days and I just gave up. I decided not to fight with her anymore.”
“And then the auction happened,” Paul prompts.
“Well… we had a huge fight, didn’t talk for a few days and then I called her the morning of the auction. She said no way in hell was she coming out as my girlfriend when I couldn’t find any time to spend with her on my summer vacation. Like I was laying on the fucking beach somewhere!” Jon takes a deep breath. “So that was it – I went to the auction, Kat saved my ass and then… do you guys really need to know all this?”
I’m hiding my face in my hands, asking the same question.
“Better now that later,” Paul says. “And not because we like it, you sound like a chick flick and I feel like Dr. Phil.”
Jon almost laughs. “I felt crazy at the auction. I kissed Kat for the photos, then I kissed her again in the back room. I forgot that kissing someone could feel like that. I knew then it was absolutely, completely over with Rachel, even if Kat didn’t want me. So I called Rachel the next day, made her meet me the day after and told her we were done for good.”
Awww, that’s so nice… WHAT!?
“Did you just say that you and Rachel broke up AFTER the auction?” I ask without permission.
“Kat?” Jon asks. “Have you been there this whole time?”
I realize that Paul told Jon he was on speaker, but never who was present. I don’t care. “Yeah, hi. Dave’s here too. Can you repeat that last part? You told me at the auction that you and Rachel were ‘finished. Finally.’ I thought that meant you broke up.”
“We were finished. We both knew it. But I didn’t officially end it until after I kissed you. I didn’t think… I wasn’t expecting you, Kat. I didn’t know I would want to….”
I cut him right off, I can’t hear anymore love notes because I’m seeing red. “We went in front of the cameras and told them we were dating… and you were still technically seeing someone else? Did Rachel see those photos before you broke up with her?”
I hear Jon put his face in his hands. “She did, but I told her that we were faking it. I told her that you did what she couldn’t, you stepped up when I needed someone and that you were willing to do everything she wasn’t when you were just my friend. She believed it – she liked you, Kat. She knew you.”
“Oh my God,” I can’t get any other words to come. My brain is melting down – Jon is the last person on Earth I would have ever expected to do something like this.
“She also knew Marie,” Paul points out. “And we all know Marie is full of shit. Do you think that Rachel will sell her story?”
“No. She never wanted to be in the papers. That was our biggest problem – I guess you can’t be with me and not be photographed. Not anymore, at least.”
“Okay. Jon, don’t talk to anyone. Kat, don’t talk to anyone. I will see if they’ve gotten a hold of Rachel. Jon, you may need to call her but let me find out what Marie has been saying before we stick our foot in anything.”
“Kat, I’ll…” Jon says but I’m already out of the room.
I ignore my cell phone as it rings three times in a row. Without asking, I take my purse and walk out the door, wandering around the blocks that circle the arena with my collar up all the way and Jon’s words running through my head: He broke up with Rachel after he kissed me. She saw the photos of us first. How would I feel? What would I think? We weren’t cheating, but technically we were. He cheated on her. He cheated with me.
Ten minutes and one lap later, I listen to the first of three voicemails.
“Kat, I’m so sorry. I didn’t even think it was important. We were over long before that, I swear to you. When I kissed you – Kat, please. Pick up the phone.”
Delete. Message two.
“Please talk to me. I understand what you’re thinking. She was angry about the photos, but she understood why you did it. You were just being there for me. Rachel couldn’t do it herself, so… ugh, this sounds stupid. Please call me.”
The last voicemail is nothing but a click.
Dave calls my name as I pass his office. I shut myself in and slump into a chair.
“I know you’re mad,” he says. “I’m sorry that happened in front of us.”
I shrug, wondering if I would have ever found out otherwise. Would it have mattered? If it might not be plastered across a tabloid headline, would I care? I think I would – I hate the idea of Rachel seeing a photo of me kissing someone she still thinks of as her boyfriend. Work doesn’t help clear my head, so I leave as soon as the clock hits 6 PM.
The Hawks game plays on mute as I sit on my couch, thinking while my eyes follow the puck. The camera loves Jon, shows him a hundred thousand times. My body feels tired and slow for want of being near him. I’m crazy, I think, knowing it’s been less than six weeks since he came out of nowhere and knocked me off my feet.
There’s no way I can imagine what it’s like to be with someone for two years. Even two years broken up by seasons and off-seasons, road trips and obligations seems like forever. There must have been a time when Rachel felt the way I do – overwhelmed, surprised. Not by the fame, just by Jon. My mind races as I try to get a grasp on mixed up feelings. There’s something here, something about this that hurts.
I see him on screen, my stomach flips. When he’s not on for a while my mind sizzles back to anger – I feel confused and betrayed. I go to bed when the game is over and wait for the phone to ring, but when it does, I can’t answer.
The next morning my phone rings one minute after my alarm.
“Kat,” Jon sounds surprised when I pick up. “I’m so sorry. It was already over with Rachel, I swear to God.”
I’m still half-asleep, if anything more confused than the night before. “You had a hundred fights and stayed together after every single one. Why was this one any different?”
He’s in bed, I hear the blankets move as he rolls over. “You, Kat. You were the difference. When I kissed you… I don’t know if I ever felt that with her. If I did, it was years ago.”
“So if you’d never kissed me, you and Rachel would still be together. Still fighting, still beating a dead horse but you’d still be with her if you hadn’t kissed me. That is cheating, Jon!”
“I was going to end it, really I was. I’d already given up, I was just being chicken shit.”
The pain is his voice twists my stomach. Is this really just a question of doing things out of order? Procrastination? Or did my presence in this equation really chance the outcome?
“Jon, I told the whole world we were together because you asked me to. Harmless, right? No one gets hurt. So I lied for you. I wish I’d known there was someone I was actually lying to.” I quickly say goodbye without giving him another chance to speak. I need to think, need to process. The covers go over my head and I don’t care about being on time for work.
Jon doesn’t call or text. I am able to lose myself in work for most of the day, which I need because the Fall Ball is only 6 days away. Nearly everything is finished – final food numbers are in, flowers are confirmed, music is chosen. I collect everyone’s speeches and proofread programs. The team plays tomorrow night then heads home – I’ll see Jon in three days.
“Am I overreacting?” I ask as we tie ribbons on party favors. Ashley and Joanna look at each other. They’ve clearly been talking about this without me.
“If it were anyone but Jon, I’d say no. Cheating is cheating even if you don’t mean to do it,” Ashley says. “But Jon… he’s Jon. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, right?”
I put down the tiny silver Stanely Cup-shaped charm I’m threading. “Does that make it worse? If you’re Rachel, there’s no way Jon would do this. Not in a million years. So you had another fight, maybe it’s over, but you’ll know when that end comes, right? After all, you’ve spent two years doing exactly this. Then you open the paper and BOOM. Surprise surprise.” Joanna tilts her head to the side like she’s seeing my point of view. Ashley shrugs and ties a charm to centerpiece vase. I know we’re both right – Jon didn’t mean it. But he still did it.
“Hun… I’m sorry, I have to ask. Why do you care so much about what happened with Rachel? You know the truth – you weren’t cheating on her. Not really. And you know that it was ending or over between them. Jon is head over heels for you and I’m not sure I see what you’re so upset about.” Joanna looks at me through pinched eyes, like she’s a little afraid she’s gone too far. She’d be the one to ask the hardest question.
“I thought that myself. It’s not her – I mean, it is, I feel terrible that she saw me kissing Jon when she thought they were still together. I would never do that to someone knowingly. But it’s also him – I just can’t believe Jon did something so careless. And if he was careless with her, could he do that to me?”
“Never,” she shakes her head like I suggested he would murder someone. “Jon would never.”
I finish tying. “Once upon a time Rachel would have said the same thing.”
I call at curfew and he answers on the first ring.
“I would not have been able to sleep tonight without talking to you,” he says.
“I don’t want to have a big discussion, just hear your voice. I’m messed up about this and I miss you… I wish you were home already.” In truth I want to cry. Part of me so wants to be mad about this because it’s the right thing to do – there are important principles being broken. The rest of me just wants a hug.
“Don’t supposed you could fly to Calgary in the morning? Too busy at work?” he laughs lightly.
“Two more days, babe. Two more days.”
The team flies home after their game, arriving in the middle of the night. I wake up to the doorbell ringing and run through the living room in my underwear. Jon’s standing in the hall, looking tired and hungry in a rumpled suit and overcoat, huge duffel bag on his shoulder. He falls into my arms.
“At least close the door, you’re not wearing any pants,” Steph says from behind us, then shuffles back to bed.
“I called twice,” he says but I am kissing him too hard to understand. His bag and coat go in the middle of the living room floor, his suit on my bedroom floor. Thirty seconds later we are braided together beneath my sheets. “Kat…,” he whispers.
“Shhhh.” I snuggle my face into his neck, blocking out the whole world with his warm body.
The talk is coming. My body fights the morning, preferring ignorance and the deep comfort of sleep. Jon is really beat, snoring lightly with his mouth open in a way that could never be cute on anyone else. I nudge him gently and he comes around, rubbing his face into the pillow. One eyelid cracks and he looks at me skeptically.
“We probably need to talk before you’ll let me ravage you, eh?” Then he turns serious. “I am so sorry Kat. I hate that this happened while I was away – that’s the hardest part of playing hockey. Life goes on while I’m away and I miss so much. I hope that doesn’t make you want to break up with me.”
“No, of course not.” I should know better than to ask some questions, but I feel guilty for my part in this. I want to feel better and I want it to be over. “Did you talk to Rachel between kissing me and the pictures coming out?”
“So she saw them with no warning. You and another girl, kissing in full color. A newspaper article calling me your girlfriend, out of nowhere.”
“I should have. I was so confused – I went to the auction upset at Rachel and at myself. Then you… you were there. Doing everything, saving the day. I kissed you and it felt like an earthquake, but you freaked out. Remember that, Kat, you said you didn’t want to kiss me. You chased me away. I stayed up all night wondering how a kiss could feel like so much to me and be nothing to you.”
My eyes burn with tears. “It wasn’t nothing.”
He tightens his arms around me. “I know that now. But that night… I thought I’d lost Rachel for good and then immediately ruined my friendship with you too. I couldn’t talk to her about what happened when I wasn’t even sure what it was. Remember the next morning, with the kids visiting practice?”
“Well you were still my friend. I was so relieved that I called Rachel to settle the rest, but she couldn’t see me till the next day. That night, you slept at my house. That was torture; I was suddenly crazy about you and convinced that I was making you miserable, that you wanted nothing to do with me.”
“I cried myself to sleep that night because you gave up so easily. I didn’t know how to tell you that kiss changed everything.” It feels good to admit that.
“The the next day I went over there. I left you stranded at the rink – remember? I was so distracted I forgot you didn’t have a car. Pat gave me shit for that. It took a while, but in the end Rachel knew that we were finished and I had moved on, or hoped so, and it was in that order. Not the other way around.”
“I know. But what scares me Jon is that you were careless with Rachel’s feelings. You tried so hard to stay with her, killing yourself over it for months. If you wanted it that badly, how could you do that to her?”
He groans. “You’re right and I’m so, so sorry. I apologized to her a million times too.”
“If you did that to her, could you do it to me?”
“Never. God Kat, I would never. Especially not now – you’re right, I fucked up. I won’t do it again.”
His eyes are so dark they look black, like bottomless pools. That crease between them is back –he’s concentrating hard, trying to Jedi mind trick me into believing him. But I don’t need a trick, because he said the right thing. The tension in my body breaks, and ease flows through my veins like I’m a light stick cracked and about to start glowing.
“I think that’s what I really needed to hear.”