Maggie -- Cole, he reminded himself, he wasn't going to call her Maggie -- Cole cornered Tony three weeks into the season, while he was finishing his post-practice duty of sorting the tape and gum bins. The other guys were in the showers or change room already, which was great if you wanted to enjoy some peace and quiet while you separated Dubble Bubble from Joe Blow, but not so great if someone you were trying to avoid wanted to get you alone to talk.
Which brought Tony here, with Cole standing over him, watching as he picked out a handful of Dubble Bubble and deposited them in the right bin. He ignored her, refusing to be the one to break the heavy silence.
When it had stretched thin and taut between them, Cole let out a frustrated huff of breath. "So that's it, then?" she said, her voice sharp. "We're not going to talk about it?"
Tony didn't look up from his task. "What's there to talk about?"
"You don't like me." A statement, not a question.
Tony glanced up at her and immediately looked down again. "It's not a matter of liking you."
"Then what is it?" Cole demanded, though she had to know the answer already. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her right hand rubbing at the band over her left wrist, which covered her Name. Tony resisted the urge to scratch at the matching band on his own arm. Names weren't necessarily secret, but the league mandated that all players kept them covered so they wouldn't be a distraction. Some guys balked at the restriction, but Tony was grateful for it, especially now. It was no one's business but his own whose Name curled over his wrist.
"The boys should all be out of the showers by now, if you want to clean up," he said. He looked up in time to catch a flicker of hurt before Cole turned for the showers, her long ponytail swaying behind her.
Tony waited until she disappeared around the corner to pull his armband down. He rubbed his thumb over the Name there, the looping letters of Maggie Cole in indelible indigo on his skin. His parents had taken him to a Namer two days after his thirteenth birthday, a standard rite of passage in New England. He'd wondered then who Maggie Cole was and how they might be connected. A part of him had thought she might be his future wife, like in the romance novels his older sisters read. He hadn't counted on her being his rival.
"Hey, Tony!" Jonesy's head appeared at the door to the change room. His eyes flicked to Tony's bare wrist, though he was probably too far away to make out the words on it. "We're going for pizza, you want us to wait?"
Tony hurriedly pulled his armband back over his wrist. "Nah, man, I'll catch up when I'm done."
"Okay, dude. Catch ya later."
Jonesy ducked out of sight, leaving Tony in silence again. He leaned back against the bench, sighing heavily. This wasn't how he'd imagined his season would start. He should have been captain, and Maggie Cole should never have shown up, not now, not when he wasn't ready. It wasn't fair that she'd come in and messed everything up but he was the one who was being punished for it. It wasn't fair that she could do no wrong when he could get nothing right.
"You're still here?" Cole stepped out of the showers in her base layers, still towel-drying her hair. Her armband was missing, and Tony could see her Name -- his name, in elegant calligraphy, in the same unmistakeable blue ink. He was staring, but Cole made no move to cover it. "It's not a bad thing, you know," she said, glancing at her arm.
Tony tore his gaze away from her arm. "Aren't you mad about it?" he asked. "That we're Named, and this is it? Sixteen and we've already met?"
Cole shrugged. "I'd rather meet now than wait forever, wondering who has my Name on their wrist. My auntie didn't meet hers until she was nearly fifty. She spent years trying to find him, and they met when he rear-ended her in a parking lot."
Tony scoffed. "Really?"
"Really. They're best friends now -- she vacations with him and his husband in Florida every year." Cole sat down beside him and reached for a piece of gum from the bin. "It doesn't mean we have to be best friends or anything," she said. "It just means we're connected. Partners. A pair." Cole nudged Tony's arm. "Maybe it'll give us an advantage in the playoffs."
"Maybe," Tony allowed. A thought struck him. "Does Coach know?"
Maggie shook her head. "Not unless you told him."
Tony ran a finger under his armband, imagining he could feel the pattern of Maggie's name under his skin. When he first got it, her name had felt like a promise, like a future, but he hadn't expected the future to come so soon, nor in the shape of his defensive partner. He wasn't sure he was ready for it. He looked up at Maggie again and saw the same uncertainty in her eyes.
He guessed they were going to find out.