Felli turns up on her doorstep just over a week after the game. It’s not the first time Paula’s seen her since then; there have been meetings about starting a semi-pro league, about tryouts and publicity and what kind of sponsorship they think they can drum up. But they haven’t really had a chance to talk about what happened, so Paula’s not surprised to see her when she opens the door.
Paula waves her inside and leads her to the kitchen, pulls two beers out of the fridge and sets them down on the table before she takes a seat and gestures for Felli to do the same. For a few long moments neither of them says anything, but Paula’s fine with that. She never expected or really wanted an explanation, but if Felli feels the need to confess all of a sudden, she’s willing to listen.
“Remember the night of the Invitational?” Felli finally asks, and that’s definitely not what Paula was expecting her to say. But she does remember, so she nods and gestures for Felli to continue. “Right before we left the bar, in the Ladies’?”
Paula remembers exactly the moment she’s talking about. The surprise is that Felli remembers after the number of beers she’d downed in the name of freedom. She’d been on the edge pretty much the whole night, and at the time it had thrilled Paula as much as it scared her. So she remembers, but she doesn’t get what it has to do with where they are now.
“You remember that, huh?” Paula says, smile wry, and it doesn’t falter when Felli huffs and looks away, even though she doesn’t feel much like smiling anymore.
“Listen,” Felli finally says, straightening up enough to reach for her beer and take a long pull. “I owe somebody a lot of money. He’s not the kind of guy who’s just going to let it go, you know?”
Paula figured as much, because there’s nothing that would make Felli throw a game except a serious threat, and the only kind of threat Paula could think of involved cash. She’s not sure what it has to do with that night in Calgary, but she’s willing to let Felli change the subject anyway.
“Joining the league going to help with that?” she asks, careful to keep any accusations out of her voice. “Or do I need to worry about a repeat of last time?”
Felli scowls, but it’s not like she doesn’t deserve it, so in the end she shrugs and doesn’t argue. “He’s not going to show up and kneecap me or anything, at least not right away.”
“Right,” Paula says, pausing to figure out how to word her next question. “Does this have anything to do with that guy who scared my kid out of his own house?”
She still doesn’t know Felli all that well, in spite of the amount of time they’ve spent together in the past couple months, so she’s not sure if the way Felli’s jaw clenches is anger or guilt. Either way Paula doesn’t have time for it, because her only concern is protecting her kid and making sure he never feels like he has to run from her again.
He told you about that?"Felli asks, like she's the one who's been betrayed, but a second later her shoulders slump. “Yeah, that was him. I shouldn’t have let him come here, I know. And I shouldn’t have skimmed from the pot to pay him to go away.”
That’s news to Paula, but it’s not like Felli’s the only one who stole from the team, so she lets it go. “I can’t have that kind of stuff around Stewie.”
“I know,” Felli says, and yeah, it’s definitely guilt she’s feeling. “I get it, okay? I fucked up.”
Paula nods and takes another swallow of beer, stalling for time while she studies the set of Felli’s jaw and the raw look in her eyes. She’s just as proud and defiant as ever, but she looks a little hopeful too, and Paula has to bite back a smile as she leans back in her chair and crosses her arms.
“Where have you been staying?”
“With a friend,” Felli answers, but Paula can tell by the way she looks down and away that it’s a lie. And maybe it’s stupid, because she’s already been burned once, but they’re going to be teammates, and Paula wants to be able to trust her.
“Well I said you could stay here as long as you want and I meant it. If you want to move back in, at least for the season, you can.”
Felli’s just staring at her, mouth open and eyes wide, like she either thinks Paula’s high or crazy. “Are you fucking with me?”
Paula shrugs one shoulder and downs the rest of her beer, then she gets up and starts digging in the cupboards for something easy to make for dinner. “You only get one more chance. You bring your bullshit around my kid again and it’s over.”
“Yeah, okay,” Felli says, like she means it. She probably does, but Paula knows it’s not a guarantee. She also knows that Felli likes Stewie, probably as much as Stewie was starting to like her, so she wants it to work out.
They don’t talk about it anymore as they make dinner side by side, though Felli’s contribution is mostly opening a can of green beans and heating them in the microwave. Still, it’s nice to have somebody around besides her kid or her mom while she makes dinner, and it’s nice to have someone to eat with while Stewie’s at his dad’s.
They take their plates to the couch with a couple fresh beers, sitting shoulder to shoulder while they eat and watch the local news give the latest on the women’s league and how it’s going to affect the town. When they move on to the farm report Paula turns off the TV again, then she takes their plates to the kitchen and grabs the last two Canadians out of the fridge before she joins Felli on the couch again.
“So,” she says, handing a cold bottle over and wiping the moisture from her fingers off on her jeans. “That night in the Ladies’?”
Felli scowls and looks away, but she can’t hide the flush turning her ears red. “I figured you just wanted to forget it happened.”
Paula’s shaking her head before she realizes what she’s doing, but the truth is she doesn’t really want to take the out. Maybe it’s crazy; she’s got Stewie to think of now, and it’s not like Red Deer is a big town. But she’s already playing hockey for herself, so what does it matter if she takes one more thing she wants?
“I didn’t forget,” she finally answers. “But you were drunk and you were going back to lock-up, so I wasn’t sure if you meant it.”
“Yeah, neither was I,” Felli says, still staring off at a point on the wall away from Paula. Then she takes a deep breath and turns back to face her, fixing her gaze on Paula’s mouth instead of her eyes. “But I’m sure now.”
Later she won’t be able to say which one of them leaned in first. All she knows is that one minute Felli’s staring at her lips and talking, and the next their mouths are pressed together. It’s nothing like that first time, in the bathroom in some bar Paula never even knew the name of. That was sloppy and fierce and almost angry, just the way Felli had been back then. She’s just as fierce now, but her hands on Paula’s thighs are careful, and her mouth is soft when it parts to let Paula in.
It’s sweet in a way Paula never would have expected, and she wants to laugh, because ‘sweet’ isn’t a word she’d ever associate with Felli. She’d probably get punched in the face if she said it out loud, so she keeps it to herself and smiles against Felli’s lips before she pulls back to look at her.
“Yeah,” Felli answers, pressing forward again to kiss Paula a second -- third, technically -- time, harder this time, like she’s trying to prove a point.
Paula parts her lips and lets her in, tastes the beer and pasta sauce on her tongue and thinks to herself, ‘I could get used to this’.
“So,” she says when they part again, a little breathless, as a hand snakes its way under her shirt to rest against her ribs. “You staying the night?”
“Do I have to sleep in the basement?” Felli asks, and when Paula laughs she grins back at her.
“I think we could probably work something out,” Paula murmurs against her lips, then they both stop talking for a while.