After skiing or roller skating, when you lay down, it still feels like you’re moving. For hours after a boat ride, the solid ground beneath your feet seems to pitch and roll. That’s how I felt after Kris.
I lay awake in the dark, replaying every kiss, remembering the silky fall of his hair and the downy brush of his beard. If you move a sparkler quickly enough, you can leave a trail of bright fire in the sky. The imprint tonight reads Kris’ name.
I wonder if he’s thinking of me. I wonder if he compares me to her, the girl who left wounds still fresh and stinging. Maybe I’m a stitch meant to seal, maybe I’m just a salve to ease the pain. Everything about Kris says that he is deeply invested in us already. But I have never known someone so sensitive, so open about his own vulnerability. Perhaps this is simply Kris’ way to being, if it were possible to make the entire world fall madly in love with you. Tomorrow’s date cannot come fast enough.
The next day I have a message after my noon appointment. Kris is done with practice and wants to know if he can pick me up at six. I dial his number.
“Hi Kris. I got your message. Six tonight is great.”
“Is there anything you don’t like? I was thinking about Italian food.”
“That sounds perfect.”
My hands shake as I snap my phone shut. The afternoon drags on, my mind wanders through the story of last night then spills into predicting tonight’s events: tt goes well, then badly, then another good scenario. I’m making myself crazy. By five thirty I’m laughing at myself in front of the bathroom mirror. I choose a cute black dress with boots and a chunky necklace of green beads. There’s even time for half a glass of wine before my phone rings and Kris is here.
He stands at the passenger side of his car waiting for me. His hair is pushed back and he wears dark slacks under a long jacket with a red scarf. He looks like the mysterious love interest in a foreign movie.
“You look beautiful.” His voice has no edges, just waves and curls.
“Thank you.” I gather my bearings before kissing his cheek, but that only lasts only a second. We both turn and our lips connect gently, melting into a real kiss. Everything I have goes toward not opening my mouth and fully making out with him on the sidewalk. My next job will be training the Army to withstand torture.
His hand closes around my wrist – not body contact, surely we couldn’t handle that, but the imperative that he wants me to keep kissing him. In reality I can’t or I will lose my mind. I press my lips together and smile, his cheek still touching my nose. He laughs softly and licks his lips.
“You taste like berries.”
I could climb this building like Spider-Man and have his clothes off faster than a paramedic in an emergency. Instead I press one more short kiss to his lips and lower myself into his sexy car.
We talk a little on the way to dinner. If hormones were liquid this car would fill and we’d both drown. By the time we reach the tiny Italian restaurant I am gasping for air. Our table is for an intimate two-some, so small that sitting across from each other is like sitting on each others’ laps. The low lighting makes everyone look beautiful, and thus turns Kris’ already perfect face into something resembling the white light you walk toward when it’s time to ascend to Heaven.
Gorgeous dark hair falls into his face so that I almost miss it. He breaks a piece of bread, looking down at the dish of oil and vinegar mixed on the table. There’s surely garlic in it. A shy little smile crosses his lips before he dunks the bread and eats it. Now I can have some too, and still kiss him later.
“Tell me about growing up in Montreal.”
Kris recounts his childhood, playing hockey on any available surface like all the other kids. He is an only child, so hand-me-down equipment came from neighbors and that embarrassed him. Still he says everyone had cast off jerseys with duct taped rips and battered, scuffed helmets. It wasn’t until he got to juniors that he ever played with anything new. He talks about his mother and step father traveling to games, waking up before dawn to drive to the ends of the frozen north. Their support obviously meant a lot to him. I picture this soft-spoken kid, gangly in the way that only teen boys can be, searching the stands in some windswept town for his parents’ faces.
The first course arrives and it’s delicious antipasti, accompanied by a glass of red wine. When the food is gone but the wine isn’t, Kris reaches across the table for my hand. He tells me about being drafted in the third round and how hard it was to sit and wait, feeling like he’d been punched every time the name called wasn’t his.
“No one drafted before you was the number one All-Star vote-getting defenseman in the NHL this year,” I point out. It makes him smile.
Riley is a really good listener. I usually don’t tell too much of this to girls I’d dated – it wasn’t a sad growing up at all, it just wasn’t flashy. Probably my childhood was like everyone else’s – not very sexy. More than anything I worry girls will find me boring. Of course when I ask about them, they tell me what they had for lunch every day in grade eight and the license place of every car they’ve ever driven.
Over entrees of pasta and cream sauce and other things I shouldn’t be eating, she tells me about growing up in New Jersey and going to college in California. She studied English but got into massage therapy there and pursued that education later. Her light eyes seem darker in the sultry lighting and her skin is smooth where I circle my thumb over hers.
“I missed the winters, so I moved home. But it was too much like high school – most people never left, still the same stupid fights and stories. I visited Pittsburgh for a wedding and decided it was the place for me. Massage therapy is not the highest-paying job there is, but it goes a pretty long way here.”
I’m struck by an urge I never get – to tell her about my best friend Luc who was killed in a motorcycle accident. This story is sad but it’s important to me and I feel at this point I’d be keeping it from her. So I start the short version, the one I can get through without crying. As always, the mention of his name makes the tattoo on my arm tingle like the needles are etching my skin again. Her fingers tighten around mine.
“I know some of this, about him. If you don’t want to talk about it.”
I lean over the tiny table and kiss her. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about Luc and Riley has already seen me vulnerable. But I really don’t want to tell a sad story on our first real date, when we should be having fun together. I’ve been a downer since we met, with the exception of last night in the bar, and I know she’ll quickly tire of me moping around. So I catch her soft lips to mine with relief.
“Someday,” she says, making it clear she’s ready to hear when I’m ready to talk.
I order another round of wine and tell her gossip from the team. She knows a few stories about Marc, apparently he tries out some of his pranks on Vero before perfecting them. Max and Jordan are a source of endless hilarity as well – not just their drunken carousing, but some of their stunts are so highly organized she is amazed.
“Once on a high school field trip, the guys in my class wrestled this girl Megan into a chair and taped her to it. Like mummified her with tape. She couldn’t touch the floor. Then they put the chair in the elevator and just left her sitting there. It was a good twenty minutes before someone pushed her out into the lobby, but then it was even more hilarious.”
I start thinking… and she cuts me off. “You guys could get Conner, maybe. He’s little.”
When the dessert menu comes, Riley suggests we go somewhere else for a treat. I’m warm and happy here but once the dinner is over, the night is over. Probably. I’ll do anything to make it last longer – hopefully she wants to have desert in Washington, DC. She lets me help her into her coat, and I sneak my hand across the soft, inviting skin of her arm. We could wait inside, but as we stand on the sidewalk she nestles in close to my side. Totally worth the temperature drop.
“I have two ideas for dessert,” I announce. I simply cannot take the waiting anymore and I need to know where this is going tonight before I lose my mind. “There’s a great ice cream sundae place nearby, or we could go to the market and make our own sundaes.”
That’s right, I just invited myself over. Kris weighs the options like he might be trying to save me from myself.
“Market,” he says.
In the most unladylike move of the night, I laugh.
Kris drives in the direction I recognize to be toward his house. Maybe it’s because he knows where the grocery stores are. Maybe he thinks coming over to my place would be too presumptuous. Maybe maybe maybe. Damn. We’re out of place in the 24-hour supermarket, me in my high heels and Kris in his fancy coat. I settle on Neopolitan ice cream while he loads up on hot fudge and whipped cream. On second thought, this is probably a bad idea. When he adds a jar of Maraschino cherries I almost whimper. He’s gotten infinitely more playful and confident as the night has gone on, which I hope means he’s having fun. I want him to feel comfortable and safe around me.
The checkout clerk is sixteen, female and I think she gets her first orgasm the moment she sees Kris. I want to tell her I know how she feels – no one should look that good under florescent lighting. Oblivious to his own powers, Kris just swipes his card. When we get to his house, I feel awkward stomping around in my high heels. I place them inside the door, lined up next to some of Kris’ shoes and boots, and walk barefoot into the kitchen. I have the stuff all lined up on the counter before he comes back.
“So your feet aren’t cold,” he says, holding out a pair of white tube socks. I pull the socks on, slouch them down and know with absolute certainty that I have met the nicest guy in the world. I busy myself warming the hot fudge so he’ll scoop the ice cream, just a blatant excuse to watch him flex. He lines up two bowls, I spoon chocolate onto them and he shakes the whipped cream. Then he holds it upside down, in the air, toward my face.
“You want to,” he says. I let him put it right into my mouth. It’s delicious and cold and ridiculously suggestive. This is Kris coming out of his shell. When he’s done and we’re both laughing, he brings his thumb up to wipe a smear from my bottom lip then licks his own finger.
Riley is testing me. I left her alone last night and she’s dying to know if I’ll do it again. If I’m even capable of it. For all I know Vero or the boys have told her a million stories of hockey players behaving badly – some of them could have been about me, and few of them may have even been true. But I don’t sense that she’s afraid of being loved and left. If anything, she might think I’m afraid to get that close.
I’m not afraid. I’m not even hesitant. Getting to know Riley, as much as one date will allow, has confirmed everything I couldn’t believe I felt before.
She sits next to me on the couch, feet tucked up underneath her in my bright white socks. I allow myself a single victorious thought – Anna would never have done that. She’d have changed her whole outfit or frozen to death before she wore tube socks with a dress, even around me. Then the thought is gone from my mind because Riley is making me jealous of a spoon.
“This is really good,” she says. The warm chocolate is amazing on the ice cream, and I also taste vanilla and strawberry. Three flavors plus all the toppings and whipped cream – there’s a lot going on one my tongue right now. Riley makes a face like it’s the taste of pure joy and I have to know, right then, if it’s the same for her as me. I toss her bowl onto the coffee table and kiss her.
Warm and cold, the soft chocolate and the sharp bite of strawberry plus the velvety surface of her tongue – the taste is even better on Riley. Her surprise lasts a moment before she’s kissing me back. It would be so easy to pull her into my lap or throw her down on sofa, but instead I stay still and just lose myself in the kiss. There was simply no way it could have been as good as I remembered from last night. Not just sweet or sexy, the way kissing a beautiful woman should feel, but honest and fun and sure. I hadn’t had fun or been sure in a long time.
“Sorry,” I say when we come up for air, handing Riley back her dessert. “I had to see if….”
She waves her spoon. “Wait, let me get ready again.”
We laugh, but as soon as she’s gotten two bites I’m kissing her again. This time I bring her toward me until her knees rest atop my thigh, leaving enough room between us for some good decision making. Maybe. Still my hand sneaks up the smooth curve of her arm.
It’s like a car wash inside my brain. A high pressure rinse of a dingy room - suddenly there are colors I remember, places so long covered by dust I had forgotten their existence. Spring cleaning maybe; clearing the doubt that lingers after you are well and truly defeated.
I’m so lost in the kiss that I don’t register familiar sounds. A hundred cars have pulled into my driveway, and thousand people climbed the steps. Even the jingle of keys doesn’t break my reverie.
Until the door opens and Anna is standing there.
3 years ago