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we might be hollow but we're brave

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i.

Auston never went to college but he did pay attention the day his fifth grade class visited the planetarium in downtown Phoenix. This guy in fucking cargo pants and long hair told them about how stars can get so big they explode into supernovas or black holes and everything around them is totally fucking screwed. And listen, he's never been very good at metaphors, but it kind of feels like his stomach goes all imploding-super-nova every time Willy wears a mini skirt. 

"You're drunk," he tells Willy who, it must be said, is leaning against a street pole. 

"No, you're drunk," she says back which. It's not not factually accurate. 

Anyway, Auston isn't a creep because his mom raised him right so he never would. He keeps his eyes to himself and does not stare at the place where Willy's leather skirt has pulled up and he calls her dude and is like - respectful. Auston's super fucking respectful.

"You're a goddamn mess," he says.

"Gimme a piggyback ride," she says. "My feet are killing me."

Everyone else is up ahead, going to this place in Kensington where some elementary school friend of Brownie's is going to DJ a set or something. Fuck if Auston knows. 

"You could have like, not worn high heels."

"They make my butt look amazing," Willy says - which. Yeah. "Come on."

He bends down and she clambers up onto him. Her legs are covered in nylons and they're cold under his hands as he hoists her up. Willy's hair is all stupid and long and nice smelling and it gets all over Auston's face. 

"Onward," she says, voice gone mushy, mouth against his neck. There is a ninety-four percent chance that Auston is going to exit this interaction with a boner the size of the moon and it will be entirely Willy's fault. 

"Hey!" Auston looks up and Marns is facing them from up ahead. Her huge Mitch Marner mouth is wrinkled in a frown. "Are you fucking coming or-?"

"Hurry up, Matty," Will says, laughing and like- 

Supernovas. Fucking black hole in his tummy. This goddamn girl is going to wreck him. 

 

He splits a cabbie with Marns when things inevitably get slow and late and weird and Brownie's left with his shitty Etobicoke friends. He fully fucking intends to go back to his place but then there's a point in the drive when Marns is chatting with the cabbie and all Auston can think about is how blue Willy's eyes looked when she was falling asleep with her head in Kappy's lap at the club and like-

He needs to shoot at something on an Xbox or he's going to lose it. Also Marns always has fancy snacks in her apartments. Like - kettle chips and shit.

"You've got lipstick on your cheek, you know," Marns says eighteen minutes into Fortnite. She changed into sweats the minute they got in the door and her hoodie is covering her head. 

Always comfortable, no matter where she is. That's Marns. 

Auston rubs at his cheek, pulls away to see red smudged on his fingers. "It's just Willy's."

Marns doesn't say anything for a minute. She's weird about Willy and Willy's kind of weird about her and it's like - it's none of Auston's business. It's just something he's noticed, is all. 

"I don't know how she can wear skirts this time of year," Marns eventually says. "S'too cold."

"I guess."

They blow up some zombies. Marns is really good at sniping, can cleave the head off something super fast. She's the best teammate Auston's ever had. 

It's already late but it gets later and then Mitch is bringing him blankets from her linen closet and Auston's stretching out over her unreasonably comfortable sectional. She throws a pillow at his head.

"Night Aus."

"Night."

She pauses at the door to her bedroom. "Hey, you and Willy aren't like - hooking up, are you?"

"No, of course not," Auston says. "I wouldn't like - she's a teammate. And I wouldn't."

"Okay."

"Mitch."

"Yeah, yeah, I know, Matty."

Marns has little ankle socks on her feet under her London Knights sweatpants. They have little avocados on them. She looks like - like Marns. Like his best friend. Someone to beat in Fortnite and wrestle with on roadies and get McDonalds with when they're drunk and it's 2am. 

Willy, with her red lips and leather boots and banana coloured hair down to her waist, doesn't look like that. Didn't tonight and doesn't ever, really. 

"You're on breakfast duty tomorrow," Marns says, before she closes the door to her bedroom. 

Auston's sweating from pores he didn't even know he had the next afternoon after practice. He bumps into Zach on his way out of the shower, dressed in Underarmour and a lanyard with the keycard to the girls showers around her neck. 

"Babs worked us pretty hard out there," Zach says. She's got these warm currant eyes, Hymie does, and Auston always feels like a kid brother around her. 

"My knees have turned into rubber," he says and she laughs, leading the way back into the locker room. 

It's a Wednesday and they have a game tomorrow so everyone's mostly just meandering. Patty's on the phone with his wife, Brownie's arguing with Dermott about the fucking Raptors or something. God knows.

"Lunch?" Marns says as he sits down next to her. 

"Sure," Auston says. 

Across the room he hears Kappy, voice elevated just above the usual locker room din, say, "Hot date there, Will?"

Auston's eyes flick over to the mirror on the far wall, where Willy's painting her mouth red. She's got this fancy maroon sweater on and these leather jeans and like fuck. Auston's so fucked. 

She laughs, flicks her hair out of her eyes. "None of your beeswax."

Marns rolls her eyes. Like subtly but still. 

See? Weird about each other. 

"Just let me know if I have to break any bones," Naz says. She's doing her eyeliner next to Willy, keeps frowning at her own reflection. 

Auston follows Mitch down to the carpark but hangs back to brush his arm against Willy's. She's stopped, digging into her purse for keys. 

"Have fun on your date," he says. "You look, um, great."

Willy grins before she looks up at him. She's got this golden skin, right, and a gorgeous fucking smile. Auston's life was much much easier before he was drafted to the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

"My aunt's in town," she says. With her chelsea boots on they're just about the same height. "I'm going to pick her up for dinner soon."

"Oh." 

"But thanks for thinking I look great," Willy says, smile bright and tilted like she knows how much of an idiot Auston is. "You look um great too, Matts."

"Fuck off."

Willy giggles, looks over at where Marns and Zach are leaning on their cars, shooting the shit. "Think your lunch date's about to leave without you."

"They'll survive."

She smiles at him, winks, and says, "See you on the flip side, liney," which would be fine but when she walks past Auston she touches his elbow and-

Fucking goddamn Crab Nebula where his liver used to be.

It's not just that Willy's stupid hot and one of five girls in their locker room and looks so pretty in the French braid she does before she steps onto the ice.

It's like - they get each other, plain and simple. He knows where she'll be and she knows where he'll be and sometimes when they're flying together after a goal Auston feels like he's on fire. And her laugh is goofy and she loves her little sisters and she's sweet and Auston has a big dumb crush on her. It's possible he's had a dumb crush ever since they met at the Draft, her hand smaller and capable in his.

"I'm Willy," she said, all blonde and strong and cool in a black swing dress like someone out of the movies Auston's Grandma watches. "Alex's sister. Welcome to the Leafs, bro."

And Auston said something back, who the fuck knows what, because he was tired and frazzled and his jaw was somewhere near his knees.

Like okay, here's the thing. It super doesn't help that Willy's also the hottest person he's ever seen. Because if he ever told her that he would be like every single asshole she's ever had to beat in a face-off or shove in a scrum. 

It's a lose-lose situation anyway he looks at it and he's looked at it. He's looking at it even as he's looking at Marns stuff her face with salad, laughing at something she's scrolling through on Instagram.

"Matty, you gotta look at this-"

"Close your mouth, who raised you?" Auston says and then he watches it and it's pretty funny. Marns is good at finding funny shit, even if it's probably only that funny because she watches you with this goofy look on her face the whole time. 

They're in Raleigh and Auston's watching American Vandal on his phone because he can't find his iPad when there's a knock on the door to his hotel room.

It's Willy. 

"Kappy's having phone sex with his girlfriend," she says, holding a pillow in her arms. She's in the same Leafs on Leafs look he's in. "Can I hang out with you?"

"Uh yeah," Auston says and she ducks under his arm, jumps on the bed next to where he's carved out a little nest for himself. "Make yourself at home."

Willy laughs. Their shoulders touch when Auston gets back on the bed. Will presses closer, the automatic cuddler. She's such a sister, can't be left alone for too long or she gets antsy. Auston doesn't mind so much. 

"We never hang out."

"Not never."

"You're always with Mitch and Patty," Will says. Her fingers tug at the ends of her hair. "No time for your liney."

"Please."

Willy grabs his arm, turns it so she can see his ink. "You're getting quite the collection here, Mr. Matthews."

God, she's going to end his life. And then Babs will like raise him from the dead so he can kill him again for missing their game against the Hurricanes. 

"Did you want to watch something?" he asks because he doesn't know what else to say, besides can I please kiss your neck I've been thinking about it since I opened the door . Lesser of two creepies. 

"Sure," she says, so they watch an episode of Bob's Burgers. And then another and another until they're both under the covers and Willy's cheek is pressed against his shoulder and she's texting Kappy to let him know she's not going back to his room.

"It's okay, right? If I stay here for the night?" Willy asks, eyelashes making shadows on her face. 

"Of course," Auston says. This is how it feels to die. 

Willy sits up and slides her hands under her sweater and then holy shit she's pulling her bra out from underneath the layers. Auston looks at the ceiling so fast his eyes almost get whiplash. 

She snuggles back in close to him as he shuts the bedside light and then it's just the two of them and the darkness. 

"How's Alex?" Auston asks after a minute. He feels Willy smile against his shoulder.

"Good," she says, "happy, I think. He started watching Grey's Anatomy because this girl he was wheeling watched it. They broke up but now he's hooked."

"You miss him?"

"Duh." Then: "You're so warm."

"Uhhhhhh thanks," Auston says. 

"You're welcome."

He waits a beat. He's so fucking wide awake now, can't sleep while Willy's breath is hot against his arm, "How was your aunt?"

"She's doing well," she says. "We ended up going to Byblos for dinner."

"Oh that place is nice."

"It is nice. So it's a good thing I looked so great."

Auston coughs out a laugh. He would like to, very much, be eaten by a crocodile at this very minute. "I didn't mean to like. Sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

Willy shifts and some of her hair brushes his neck and then her lips are pressing against his shoulder like a whisper. 

"Don't apologize," she says, quiet, moving to lay back down. "I thought it was kind of sweet."

And oh. 

Will isn't wearing any lipstick because it's midnight and she's about to go to sleep, but it kind of feels like she's left a mark through Auston's shirt. Something that burns through his skin and sends a flush down to his toes. 

"Good night, Auston," Will says before pressing her ear against his chest and sighing. 

He's heard her call his name - on the ice and she's slapping her stick for the pass, loud in his ear when she's drunk and he's carrying her down College, laughing next to him on the arm of Zach's sofa with a Stella in her hand. But never this soft. 

Auston doesn't breathe as he slides a hand over to carefully tuck Willy's hair behind her ear. 

"Good night, Will," he says and then does not sleep for hours. 

 

They beat Carolina in overtime, JT to Naz, backhand to the back of the net and she shouts like they just won the Superbowl. 

Marns splits a headphone with him on the plane to watch this documentary about the Beatles so obviously Auston falls straight the fuck to sleep. Then it's the long corridors of Pearson and the team bus and finally the yellow lights of the car park. 

Auston goes towards his car, already imagining his condo and his soft sheets when behind him he hears, "Hey Matty!"

He turns to see Will smiling all bright at him before she throws her arms around his shoulders, gives him a hug. It's instinct, like when they've just connected on a powerplay goal, his arms around the curve of her waist. 

"I'll see you tomorrow," she says, pulling away to give him a smile and then, deliberately, she puts her hand in the pocket of his coat just long enough to put something in it. 

"Train's leaving!" Kappy shouts, and Auston watches over the top of Willy's head as he waves his keys. 

"I'm coming," Will says, rolling her eyes. "Bye."

She's gone then and the air smells like the hair perfume she spritzes all over the locker room that makes Hainsey and Zach sneeze. Auston shakes himself. 

He waits until he's home to check his pocket, even though it feels like it's burning a hole through the fabric. And Spadina's busy even at this hour which is just so fucking Toronto of it and Auston can't remember the keycode to the underground parking garage and why does God hate people who just want to read the note that their smoking hot teammate wrote them?

Auston trips over the welcome mat his mom bought for him and leans against the wall to his foyer and turns on his hall light and then, finally, he takes out the note Willy left for him.

It's a folded piece of Air Canada notepad paper from one of the lounges they were waiting in before the plane. It says Auston on the front of it, not Matty or Matts, and that makes his breath go kind of funny. 

If you asked me out I would say yes.

Auston reads it again, then a third time, then sits on the floor for fifteen minutes. 

 

"Hey Marns, can we talk?"

Marns lets out a vaguely positive noise. To be fair to her, she's driving on the Gardiner and everyone in this city is a fucking moron who can't drive. They don't usually carpool anymore but Auston also doesn't usually receive handwritten notes from teammates and need help psychoanalyzing them so. Carpool it is.

"It's just like. You're a girl."

"Well fucking spotted there, Matts."

"Shut up. I just mean," Auston bites his lip. "Have you ever like dated a teammate?"

Marns' hands go real tight on the wheel and she shoots him a look.

"No, god, Marns-"

"Why the fuck would you ask me that-"

"I just, ughhhhh." Auston puts his head in his hands. "I don't know why I'm talking to you about this. This is a bad idea."

Marns grumbles a bit, has a sip of her Timmies. They both listen to the radio for a couple minutes, some shit Drake song about a girl who seems way fucking cooler than him, and then Marns is opening her giant mouth again. 

"If you want to ask one of the girls on our team about dating teammates, I would ask Willy," she says. Auston looks over, but her eyes are the road. "Her and Pastrnak were a thing, so."

Auston doesn't know quite what to say to that, but Mitchy keeps going: "And Brownie told me about her on the Marlies, like. I don't know, it's Willy. She blow drys her hair."

Mitch looks at him as she says that and raises her eyebrows like it's significant which - okay. Clearly he's going to have to ask someone else about this.

"So Jack," Auston begins. "You're like - a girl."

"I'm going to kick your ass," Jack Eichel says back. She sounds like she's eating a bowl of Cheerios. "I'm gonna drop kick you in the actual asshole Auston Matthews."

"I don't know why everyone is so mad at me today," Auston says.

"I'm going to punch you in the nuts next time I see you."

"Okay," he says. "Cool. I was just wondering if you had any, like, advice for me about potentially asking out a, like, teammate on my, like, team, potentially."

It's all quiet down the line. Auston imagines Jack with her frizzy red morning hair under a beanie, head hanging over a cereal bowl. She used to wear these thick wool socks on her feet when they lived in Michigan and he's never asked but he's sure she's still got them.

"You and Mitch finally fucked, huh?"

"Oh my god no what the fuck."

Jack does not say she is sorry. Instead she says, "Okay calm down. Mitch is a fucking beauty."

"Obviously Mitch is a fucking beauty," Auston says. "That's not the point. I'm not asking out Marns. I'm thinking about asking-"

"No no I want to guess," Jack says. Auston closes his eyes, asks God for a little patience please. "Did you finally succumb to the inevitability of being a bisexual hockey player? Are you trying to bone Mo?"

"I am hanging up on you-" 

Jack laughs and it echoes through Auston's ears, reminds him of hotel rooms in foreign countries. 

"It's Willy," Auston says. He checks over his shoulder, makes sure no one is listening when he continues: "Nylander."

"No way."

"Huh?"

"It's never gonna happen bro," Jack says, crunching through Cheerios. "You can let that dream die now."

"Jack."

"As a bisexual hockey player, I can confirm she is far out of your league, bud," Jack says. Then: "No offence." 

"She's like - made a move on me," Auston says, "So jokes on you."

"Are you sure she didn't think you were Freddie?" Jack asks. "Because Freddie's, like, an attractive person?" 

Auston sighs for eight years and says, "Look, I'm not asking for my odds. I'm literally just like wondering - I don't want to make her uncomfortable. I don't wanna like - make her more of a target for shit people say."

"Matty," Jack says. "She's a person, not a houseplant."

"Oh Jesus."

"Houseplants don't choose to come home with you, but Willy can," Jack says and then, through another mouthful, "But let her know she has options, okay, specifically me. Like - I'm right here." 

"It seems like she wants you to ask her out," Freddie says, mask pulled up so Auston can see his warm acorn eyes. 

"I mean, duh," Auston says. "But like, I don't want to fuck up the team? And she's like. Okay, listen Fred. You and I both know she's out of my league."

Freddie nods. 

"And I don't know if she wants to date me or just have fun or if this is going to make it, like, more difficult for her to be like, a woman in the NHL? You know?"

"I don't know," Freddie says. "Because I'm not Willy and I feel like only Willy would know the answers to those questions."

"I want to kiss her so bad, man."

"You've mentioned that," Freddie says because he has an excellent memory, even when they're drunk in the Caribbean. 

"So I guess I'll just like," Auston trails off, watches Willy skate in circles around Zach, laughing about something. "Go slow. I can do that."

Freddie puts his mask back on and skates to the crease. Auston's not clear if it's an agreement or a dismissal. 

Auston waits for Willy outside the locker room door. This is easier said than done, as after a few minutes he gets bored of fucking around on his phone and everyone who passes by has to like interrogate him because they all have no lives and need to live vicariously through him. 

"Do you need directions to the car parking?" Travis asks him because he's a dick.

"Marns is looking for her other sock, if you're waiting for her," Patty says, putting a hand on Auston's shoulder like the grandfather he is. 

"Oh good," Kappy says, headphones in and beard looking fucking rough. "You better be waiting for her, she's curling her hair and everything."

When Will does leave the locker room Auston stands out of his slouch against the wall. Her hair is curled, like Kappy said it would be, and it looks like waves over her shoulders, her lips a shiny pink, her stupid cute glasses on her nose. 

"Oh hey," she says, like Auston didn't know she was getting ready for him and like he didn't know she knows that he was here for her. "I hope you aren't waiting for me."

"Yeah, I just uh," Auston says, blinking to get the dumb out of his brain. "I was wondering if you wanted to hang out, like, now."

"Hang out?"

"Go out," Auston says and Will smiles. 

"What were you thinking?" she asks, putting her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket. 

"There's a gelato place near me."

"It's November."

"There's a coffee shop too," he says and she laughs, bright and happy. 

It's nice, that even in this reality where Auston gets to look at her and be next to her and maybe if he's really lucky will get to kiss her, that she's so easy for a laugh. Like Marns. He doesn't even have to think about it. 

He drives them and Willy plays some weird sister folk group from Stockholm over the AUX cord. She keeps looking out the window as she tells a story about the last time they were in Philly and Kappy made her go back to his old stomping grounds. 

"He was like, 'This is the basketball court my friends and I used to shoot hoops at,' and I had to pretend to give a shit because he's my best friend. It was the worst." 

They park at Auston's place because like hell he's paying twelve dollars for street parking and then he's holding the door open for her at this super indie coffee place down the block from him. It's like - the chairs are uncomfortable and everything is made out of wood. No one is going to recognize them here. 

"I'm buying, so get anything you want," he says to Will as they get in line. 

"Oh boy am I spoiled," she says. It's a small place with seating around the front windows and in the little garden in the back, and Auston's going to blame his big shoulders on why he stands so close to Willy.

"An americano, please," he orders when they get to the front of the line. The barista has an asymmetrical haircut and a septum piercing. "And…"

"A hot chocolate," Willy says, smiling. Her nose is still pink from the November air. "And one of those brownies with two forks, if I can convince him to share." 

It's like - super nice and cute and fine and then they sit down across from each other and Auston loses the ability to think or speak. Willy's unlayering, peeling her leather jacket off and hooking her purse over the back of the chair. She has one of those big scarves that girls love to wear in the fall, plaid and fluffy, and she hooks that over her chair too. 

"It's cool outside," she says, hands around her mug. The barista loaded it up with whipped cream and sprinkles and Auston is in fucking hell watching Willy dip her finger in it. "Finally, huh? I thought it was going to be August forever."

Auston nods. Sips his coffee. Oh god. 

"I really love fall though. Do you?"

He nods again. Fuck.

"I guess you were probably used to like, really different falls when you were a kid. Right? Like does it get that cold in Phoenix in November?"

Auston - he swears to god - fucking shrugs. What the fuck is wrong with him. 

"Are you doing anything for American Thanksgiving?" Willy asks, after a long moment. 

"Uh, no." Auston clears his throat. Speech, finally. "Not yet. Um. I'll keep you posted."

Willy nods. Looks at him like she's waiting for him to say fucking anything and then, when he doesn't, down at her plate. This is possibly the worst date in history. 

"I'm sorry about the note," she says, in a rush.

"What?"

"I kind of thought that you were into me," Willy says, blinking with her big eyes. "And I knew you wouldn't ask me out on your own, because you're not like - like you wouldn't want to be that guy. But you're obviously not into - this - so."

"No no no no," Auston says. Oh fuck how has he already screwed this up. "I am."

"Auston," Willy says, patient voice like when she's talking to kids. "You haven't said anything since we sat down."

"I'm just like - nervous."

Will's eyebrows furrow. They're perfect because she gets them threaded with Naz and Naz has connections, but that's not the point right now. "What are you nervous about?"

"You're the prettiest girl I've ever met," Auston says. "I've had a thing for you for like. Fucking forever."

He's never seen her blush before. It's only a little bit of rose across the tops of her cheeks but it's something. 

"So." Auston looks at his fingers around his cup. It's possible this is the least chill he's ever been. "It's uh. Bear with me."

Everything's still for a few minutes until Willy picks up one of the forks and digs a little bit of brownie onto it. Auston looks up enough to see her dunk it in her hot chocolate before popping it into her mouth. 

"I used to have a crush on Zach," she says, through her mouthful of brownie.

And excuse fucking what - "What?"

"When she first came to the Marlies I was like -" Willy makes a whirring noise. "Obsessed. She's so smart and cool and cute, I couldn't deal. I was so stupid around her." 

Willy nods toward the brownie and Auston takes a bite out of it too. It's sweet with something other than sugar so there's probably fucking dates in here, which should be illegal but like. It's not bad. 

"When she got engaged I like, moved the fuck on," Willy says, laughing at herself. "Like obviously. But I get having a crush on teammates. I mean I have a crush on you too, so."

There's two parts of Auston's brain right now, okay? Like there's the part of him that's going on a date with an absolute dynamite girl with really nice hair and a sick fucking six pack. But then the other part of him is going on a date with a teammate who he's seen asleep on planes and sweaty at the gym.

He imagines, for a second, that it's Marns across from him and says, "You have a crush on me? You're so soft, Will."

"Fuck off," she says, laughing and kicking at him under the table. "We're literally on a date, what did you think was happening here?"

"Was it my stunning good looks that won you over?"

"Yeah, Matty, your bigass forehead really does it for me," she says. Weak. 

"You think I'm so hot."

"A little," she says, and then: "I just feel safe around you, I don't know."

Auston can't even fucking deal. He looks down at the brownie, cuts the last part in half and skewers it on his fork. Then he plunks it into Willy's hot chocolate and holds it out for her. She grins, eats it off the fork. 

He drives her home. It's cool and getting dark, the sun melting over the trees even though it's barely five. Willy's playing her weird European hipster shit again and it's like they're not holding hands but she's holding his, tracing the lines on his palm in her lap. 

She doesn't let go when he pulls up to the building her and Kappy have lived in since the Marlies. "This was fun. Like, once you started speaking again."

"I'll do better next time," Auston says. 

Willy nods, looks out the windshield. Her fingers curl around Auston's thumb. "I don't want to screw anything up with the team."

"Me neither."

She nods. Looks at him. Tilts her chin a little and okay, Auston can like read the fucking room. 

Her grip tightens on his hand as he reaches over with the other to touch her cheek. She's so fucking soft and her mouth is so warm and she tastes like hot chocolate and autumn and pretty girl. He slides his hand down to her neck and she's soft there too and he could kiss for days but she's pulling away, just far enough for their noses to touch. 

She rubs their noses together, giggles. This fucking girl. 

The next morning Auston wakes up and feels like a God.

And then he drives to practice and there's like delays on the Expressway but not that many so he keeps feeling like a God. And then at practice Willy gives him this super cute fucking smile and Kappy's wiggling his eyebrows and he's just like - he's a fucking God. 

"I am a God," he tells Freddie in the showers after practice. "No mortal can stop me."

"Stop talking to me in the shower," Freddie says but then afterwards, when they're dry and in the locker room: "I take it things went well with Will?"

"She's like - a fucking daydream. I can't even deal."

He goes to Mitchy's for Chel and subs and he wins four straight games and can't keep the grin off his face. 

"Yuck they gave me pickles," she says, picking them off and throwing them onto the wrapper. 

And now he's got free pickles. Everything's coming up Matthews. 

"Why are you smiling so much?" Marns asks. 

He looks over at her. They're sharing her couch so their feet meet in the middle, ankles intertwined. Her hair is out and short, because Marns likes it just long enough to fit in a ponytail. She never wears makeup, Marns, not unless they're going somewhere fancy. 

"It's nothing."

"Like fuck it is."

She's like - his best friend. He would be really unhappy if she wasn't in his life.

"I'm just having a good day," Auston says, grinning at the tv. He knows he probably looks like a dick, all sprawled out on the couch with this lazy smile on his face. "It ain't no thing."

"You're lying."

"Never."

Marns' mouth goes all sideways and then she's leaning up, poking him in the stomach. "Tell me!"

"Leave me alone."

"Tell me tell me tell me-"

He grabs her wrists and then she jumps on top of him and they're wrestling. He twists her around until her back is against the couch and then goes for her armpits, makes her giggle. But Marns wouldn't be Marns if she didn't have some dirty sneaky trick up her sleeve and she kicks out, knocking Auston back, and smushes her fingers in his face. 

They run out of breath between one move and the next. She rolls off him until they're both lying on her hardwood, chests rising and falling. Their arms are still touching, kinda, and Marns feels like a million degrees. 

"For real though bro," Mitch says between breaths. "I'm happy you're happy."

"I just like - I don't know. Life is good right now."

Marns' eyebrow goes all the way up. "You sound like you want to share with the class."

"You know when you've been thinking about something for forever? And then it finally happens and you can't really believe it? So you're pinching yourself but it's like - naw man, this is real life."

Mitch swallows. She's got really long eyelashes. "Yeah, I know what that feels like."

Auston nods. Turns his head so they're looking at each other properly. "Can I tell you a secret, Mitch?"

"Always."

"No but like. You can't tell anyone. Not yet."

Marns' mouth goes all solemn and her eyes dart around Auston's face. He's never seen the look she's wearing before. "Yeah, Aus, I promise."

"I like - " he laughs. Can't help it. "I made out with Willy last night. And it was sick."

Marns blinks and says, "Oh. Oh, cool."

"We didn't just make out. Like I took her out, held the door. I'm a gentleman, Marns, I treat a lady right."

"Huh," Marns says, half laugh half nothing. She sits up then stands. "I'm going to get some water, you want any?"

"Uh, sure?" But she's already padding off to the kitchen. 

 

ii.

Two days after Auston Matthews kisses her, Will's at Insomnia on Bloor and Kappy keeps falling asleep into his eggs benedict. 

"It's your own fault for going out last night," Willy says, scooping up a few potatoes. She bites daintily because her mother raised her right. "No one put a gun to your head and forced you to do all those shots."

Kappy says something to his eggs. 

Will takes another bite, feels someone's eyes on her. She looks at the table two over and there's three guys. One of them grins when he notices her looking, winks. She looks away.

"I regret nothing," Kappy says, lifting his head high enough to sip at his caesar. He's got a bit of egg on his face and Willy giggles at it. 

They wander out and down Bloor. Kappy's still complaining about his head and Willy doesn't want to go home to watch game fill yet, so they pop into Snakes and Lattes. She gets a hot chocolate and thinks about Auston's smile when she put whipped cream on his nose. 

"So," Kappy starts, after he's had an espresso and they've begun a game of Catan. "Are you hanging with Matty again tonight?"

Willy smiles. "Maaaaybe."

"I'm surprised you didn't go out last night after the win."

"I had Skype plans with my sisters," Willy says. She rolls a set of die onto the table. "And he was hanging out with Mitch, I think."

"Huh."

"Put that face away Kasperi."

"I'm not making a face."

"You absolutely are," Will says. She takes a sip of her hot chocolate, wipes away the foam. "We like, texted a lot after I chatted with my fam."

"If he breaks your heart just let me know," Kappy says, looking like a strong wind could knock him over. "I'll break his face."

Auston orders in Thai because there's snow on his balcony and it doesn't really seem like he knows how to make anything without a barbecue. Willy's pretty easy though and she likes Thai food and Auston's cupboards are full of ceramic plates with flowers on them.

"My mom got them," he whines, mouth full of garlic shrimp. 

"They're nice," Willy says. "They go with your pot holders."

He knocks their hips together and holds out his plate so she can dump more rice onto it. Auston topples his rice with curry, then moves so Will can pile pad gra prow on hers. 

Willy's been here a couple times for pre-drinks and potlucks, but never by herself. Matty's got a wicked view out the floor to ceiling windows; the CN tower all lit up and the moon reflecting off the lake. He's got a squishy couch and a giant tv and -

"You have a gas fireplace?" Willy asks. 

"Yeah," Matty says. He shrugs all no-big-deal.

"We have to make a pillow fort," Willy says and then Auston's shaking his head. "Like a nest thing. Like a big pillow nest, why are you shaking your head."

"Noooo Will."

"Whyyyyy."

He sits on his couch firmly like the no-fun police. "Because when you go home I'll have to clean it up and I won't so it'll just be on my floor for a month, Will."

"Ridiculous," Will says. She puts her plate down on the coffee table and starts picking up the couch cushions around where Auston's sitting. "Where's your linen closet? Can we use the pillows off your bed?"

Auston's a lot easier than Kappy. Whenever Will wants to do something fun at home with Kappy she can't use her smile or her eyelashes or her hair flip trick because Kappy is immune to it all. Auston's not like that. 

"Please," she says, hardly fluttering her eyelashes at all. She smiles her extra dimpley smile. Like - Willy knows what she looks like. She's wearing a leather skirt and thigh high socks for fucks sake. She could convince Auston to jump off a mountain right now, if she wanted.

He sighs and stands, says "You're such a brat," over his shoulder as he leads her to his bedroom.

The nest is soft and perfect. Auston has one of those crazy fluffy blankets from the weird homeware section of Indigo and Willy snuggles under it like a cat. After they finish their Thai, Auston unearths a bottle of red from the back of his fridge and then the nest is even more fun. 

"Okay okay," Auston says, the bottle of red in his left hand and gesturing with his right. They didn't bother with glasses because they're classy as fuck. "Block an Ovi slapshot or be the only one back for a 1-on-1 with McD?" 

Willy reaches out for the bottle. She's getting sleepy and the fire is making her skin warm and Auston's smile is making her tummy warm. "McDavid. At least I've got a shot of walking after." 

"Fair."

"You know Kappy and I usually play a different version of Would You Rather with hockey guys," Willy says and then raises her eyebrows. 

"Oh god," Auston says, flopping onto his back on the nest. 

Willy giggles, crawls over to be right next to where his head has landed. "I always choose you if you're an option," she says, loyally. "Unless you're up against Roman Josi. Because like, Matts, I'm not going to lie. It's a sacred game." 

"You're something else, aren't you," Auston says but he's smiling and how is Will not supposed to kiss him? Impossible. 

His mouth tastes like shiraz and shrimp but his hands feel so good when they push through her hair, fingers long over her neck. The last time they kissed he was so far away but this time she can move until her elbows are on either side of his head, can press her chest against the side of his arm. 

She pulls away and he tries to follow her. She laughs because he's a dork and an idiot and because her hair is pooled around him like a curtain. 

"Come back," he whispers. 

With one finger she traces his eyebrow. He's looking at her mouth and he's got a hand migrating south, sliding down the slope of her back. 

In Willy's experience kissing a teammate has only lead to two endings: heartache because they were assholes or heartache because they were sweet and kind and made her feel safe and then crash boom over.

She moves downward, licks at the round of Auston's nose. She already knows which one Auston is going to be. 

"Brat," he says, rolling them and then oh. 

The only sound in the apartment is the hum of traffic far far below them and the wet noise of Auston's kisses on her mouth, her jaw, along her neck. Willy can feel herself slipping. Everything's just so warm and Auston's so warm and the wine has made her vision soft. Like - rose. That perfect spot before tipsy, where she just wants arms around her and something gold in her vision. She's sleepy and everything feels so good, the way Auston's hands push her sweater up so he can kiss at her stomach. 

Willy closes her eyes. 

She lets herself feel: the edge of Auston's thumbnail as his hand drags underneath her sweater, catching her nipple underneath her bra. She can hear herself breathe, hears that breathing go louder as his mouth moves up, little kisses climbing her sternum, sucking through lace.

"That feels nice," she tells him, quiet like the room. 

He breathes against her neck. "I'm glad."

"Hey, Auston?"

"Mm."

"Take your shirt off," she says, smiling at the ceiling.

She feels his laugh against her skin and then he's moving up to nudge their noses together. He peels his shirt up and here's the thing. Willy's seen him shirtless approximately eighteen hundred times. But she's never allowed to do anything about it.

"Oh," she says, staring at him. "Nice."

He laughs again and then they're kissing, dirty right away, his hands in her hair, her hands skimming over warm skin. She's never kissed someone so big before, never felt like she could duck her head into a neck and disappear from sight. 

It's hot and kinda weird and mostly scary, how much Auston is. 

"Hey, Will?" he says into her mouth. 

"Mm?" 

One of his hands is still in her hair but the others moved down. Along the side of her stomach and around to her belly button and then over to where the waistband of her skirt is. 

"Can I go down on you?"

Willy laughs. "Holy shit, Matty," and then, "yes, obviously, oh my god."

The fire feels hot against the skin of Willy's upper thighs, her hips, across her stomach. Auston leaves her skirt and underwear in a neat pile on the hardwood because he was raised right, probably, and then Willy's covering her mouth to hide another wave of giggles. 

He gets his big shoulders between her thighs and Willy tips her head back, looks out his big windows. She can see the CN Tower and it's all lit up and then his mouth is on her and she's screwing her eyes shut. 

It doesn't last long. 

She doesn't last long, her socked toes pressed into his back, thighs shaking. It feels like a storm coming across a sea, except the storm is Auston and she's standing ankle deep in the water and she can see the forty foot wave coming closer and closer. 

Willy feels rather than hears Auston mutter, "Fuck," and maybe it's because her legs must be gripping him too hard now, or maybe it's because she's so wet she might die, or maybe it's the noises she can hear herself making.

The wave knocks her off her feet. She doesn't quite know how to recover. 

"Fuck," she hears him say, again, because her eyes are closed. Her breaths shudder through the room. Everything was rushing and pulsing and now everything is quiet. 

He's moving and her legs fall into their dumb pillow nest. She opens her eyes and he's over her, staring at her everywhere, his fingers at his zipper. She's reaching out to touch hot skin and then he's coming on her, white across her stomach.

It's quiet. Then-

"Holy shit," Auston whispers near her ear and he is kissing her like he doesn't ever plan on stopping.

Willy wakes up the next morning with a bad back because pillow nests were not made to sleep in. Light is coming in through the windows behind her, crisp grey sky greeting the morning. She blinks at it, then the ceiling, then the boy next to her.

Auston's still asleep, back rising and falling, face turned towards her. Sleep looks good on him, soft and warm. 

Willy looks back up to the ceiling.  

Everything felt like soup last night - slow and warm and comfortable. Willy's not sure about the sun and breakfast and morning practice. She's scared about the Auston who's not asleep. 

His hand is over her stomach, over the USA Hockey t-shirt he held out for her to sleep in the night before, smile huge across his big dumb face. It shuffles as she does, moving until their faces are inches apart. 

She waits. 

It takes a little bit. He wakes up with his shoulders first, bone shifting under skin as he moves the pillows. Then his face - wrinkles around his mouth, his eyebrows. And then his eyes are opening, just a little, almost grey in the morning sun. 

"Hi," Willy says, really quiet. 

Auston closes his eyes, smiles. His arm is sluggish as it comes around her, pulling her closer to his warmth. 

"Good morning," he says and Willy breathes. 

Auston drives them to practice. 

"No one's going to notice," he says, looking at her skirt, her socks. The outfit she had on yesterday. "Those guys wouldn't notice if you dyed your hair green, Will."

Willy nods but can already imagine Mitch Marner's face. She'll notice. 

"You okay?" 

"Tired," Willy says, and she waggles her eyebrows to make him laugh. 

No one notices. Well - 

Zach furrows her brow and looks at Willy then Auston then back at Willy with big eyes. So. Willy's got a conversation to have. Mitch ropes Auston immediately, prodding him into arguing against Brownie with her. She looks at Willy for a second before looking away. 

"Hey," Kappy says. He's holding out a coffee and a plastic bag. "Figured you could use this." 

Willy would like to hug him for the rest of the day but she figures that would be confusing to the entire locker room. So instead she sits as close to him as she can and holds his hand between her hands a little. 

"Thank you," she says and then, looking into the bag, "You know this outfit doesn't match, right?" 

"Your closet is a fucking mess, Will." He takes a sip of his Frappuccino. "You came very close to getting a pair of my jeans. I wouldn't push it." 

Practice is okay with coffee and friendship in her veins. Even talking to Zach is - fine. 

"I am here to support you always," she starts off with, which is so Zach it makes Willy smile. "I just feel like the friends with benefits thing doesn't usually work out with teammates." 

"You're so cute."

"William."

"We're not doing that," Will says. She bites her lip. "At least, I don't think so. He asked me out on a date, so. I think we're dating." 

Zach narrows her eyes. "Are you sure?"

Will shrugs. "I thought we were. Or are. I don't know. I guess I should ask him, huh?"

"Yeah maybe," Zach says, careful. "Maybe you should."

So practice is - it's whatever, it's fine and then it's - it's nothing. There's just a part near the end when Auston is standing in the crease with Freddie and they're talking and Auston is smiling, laughing. 

It makes the air leave Willy's lungs really fast, is all. 

"Hey Fred?" she asks, standing next to the workout machine Freddie is tearing up. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Freddie nods and lets go of the weights. Willy sits on the machine next to him. 

"I was just wondering what you and Auston were talking about in practice," she says, looking down at her fingers. 

"You mean with the 2-on-1 thing?" 

"No, no," Willy says. She swallows. "I just wanted to know if he told you anything about our da- last night." 

Freddie frowns. "A bit."

"I'm not looking for you to break his trust or-" Willy meets his gaze. "I'm not fishing for compliments. I just wanted to know if he told you what we - did."

"You got Thai food."

"Yeah. And?"

Freddie frowns again. "I think he mentioned you made him build a pillow fort." 

"That's it?" 

"He said you looked amazing," Freddie says. "And then he asked me if I thought Roman Josi was more handsome than he is."

Willy laughs. It feels like relief. 

"I told him yes," he says. "He didn't look thrilled." 

"Thanks," Willy says. "Sorry. I know that was weird." 

"Matty wouldn't," Fred says. His eyes are so brown. "He's an idiot sometimes but. Not an asshole."

"I know," Willy says. "Just checking." 

"Hey," Willy says, holding out her hand as Auston walks by. "Can we talk a sec?" 

It's after practice and she hasn't dried her hair, hasn't put any makeup on. She feels more awake than she has all morning.

"What's up?"

"I wanted you to know that-" she takes in a breath. Auston's eyes are amber in the fluorescents of the parking lot. "I asked Freddie if you told him that you - that we had sex. Yesterday." 

Auston's face goes twelve different ways and then, "What?" 

"I saw you talking and-" 

"You thought I would tell him about that?" Matty asks. He looks not happy now. "What the fuck, Will? That was like - a private - thing." 

"I know it was."

"So why would I tell Fred?"

"I-" she starts and then: "I trust you."

"It doesn't seem like it."

"I know," Willy says. "And I'm really sorry."

Auston's arms are folded across his chest, his jaw tight. Willy wants to tug the bottom of his shirt, wants to be closer. He says: "We're teammates like first, you know, and I would never fuck that over."

"I know that." She does. "It's just that when I was fifteen I let one of my teammates - do stuff. With me." She looks at Auston's arm, the one with the swirling ink. "And the next day he had told the whole locker room."

It's quiet and then, "That's really shitty."

"Yeah."

They probably look like fourth graders, eyes on their toes. 

"Do you have his address? I can go fly to Sweden and beat him up for you."

Willy laughs, closes her eyes. When she opens them Auston is only a foot away, his hand out like he wants to touch her. 

"I am sorry," Will says. "I trust you."

She's going to keep saying it until she believes it. It's like - Willy trusts her family and she trusts David Pastrnak and she trusts every girl she's ever met. And that's like - that's the list. 

But Auston's arms feel safe when she's flying into them after a goal and after last night, too, when he hugged her before falling asleep. So. She's working on it. 

Auston looks at her for awhile before nodding. He says: "You got any plans right now?"

"What were you thinking?"

"Well," he says, taking a big breath in and letting it out in a sigh. "I still have a pillow nest on the floor of my living room because some crazy lady took over my apartment yesterday and didn't offer to clean up."

"She sounds wise and super beautiful."

"She's something alright," he says. His fingers grab onto her hand. "We could watch a movie and eat lunch, if you wanted."

"What kind of lunch?" Willy asks. She's already moving closer, already on board. It's nice when people like her and want to be near her and aren't mad at her. 

"Well I picked first and second date. I guess it's only fair if you get third."

"You live near a Loblaws, right?"

"Mhm."

"I wanna make pancakes."

"Okay."

"And we should watch The Princess Diaries."

Auston's brow furrows. Willy doesn't know what she's expecting when he opens his mouth, but what he says is: "That's the one with Anne Hathaway?"

Willy nods.

"She's hot."

"Smoking hot."

He grins, tugs on her fingers. 

They're in Winnipeg and Zach's not feeling well which isn't - it's not ideal. Zach's an irritating sick; she's one of those infuriating people who claims she feels fine even when she's vomiting into the toilet. 

But also, and where Willy comes into play, is that Zach ends up quarantined to her own room on the road which means that her roommate, Mitch, needs a new roommate, and since Willy has been kind of riding solo after Sosh was traded it means that-

"Where can I put my stuff?" Mitch asks, backpack slung across her shoulder. 

Mitch has always been super super nice and funny to everyone who isn't Willy. Okay, so she isn't a total ass to Willy, but she doesn't talk to her very much or laugh with her or say very nice things when she thinks Willy isn't listening. 

And it doesn't really seem like dating Mitch's best friend has helped at all. It's probably just made it all worse. 

"I can take either bed," Willy says, sitting on the one closest to the balcony. "We can swap if you want to-" 

"It's chill," Mitch says and it's not a comma. She drops her things off on the bed and then heads towards the door, "I'm playing euchre with the boys, don't wait up." 

The door closes. 

Mitch has one of those laughs that makes the whole room feel brighter and her smile makes Willy feel warm inside. It's just - not ideal. 

But there's no use crying over cute mean girls so Willy grabs her coat and her phone and jumps off the bed. She goes to the bathroom, looks at herself for long enough that her reflection starts to seem like a stranger. The stranger in the mirror has dark under her eyes from where mascara smudged on the plane and her hair is messy. 

Face towels are rolled up tight along the lowest shelf next to the shower. She runs the edge of one under warm water, dabs slowly under her left eye where her mascara has left a ring of black.

It takes ten minutes to make her face pretty again and then her phone is ringing. 

Kappy and she walk around downtown Winnipeg and it's cold. They pick up coffees at this cute place with wooden tables and sit on a couch in the back. 

"How's my girl?" Kappy asks. 

Will wiggles and squirms until he puts his big dumb best friend arm around her. "S'fine." 

Kappy takes a sip of his latte and gets a moustache of froth over the crusty ass thing he's trying to grow. Willy laughs so loud the whole shop looks over. 

"How's Mitch?" he asks. 

"Ugh," Willy says and Kappy grins. "She's just. I don't know. She's Mitch. She's - the problem is that she's never really rude to me. She's just not. Friendly. I don't know what I did to make her hate me."

"You ever talk to her about it?"

"Did I ever go up to Mitch and say 'Hey just wondering why you hate me because I literally don't know what I could possibly have done to make you hate me?' No Kap, I haven't."

"It's weird."

"Yeah."

"Mitchy's great," Kappy says, taking another sip and. And yeah. Willy knows. 

 

"Hey," Auston says. He's leaning against the door to her room as her and Kappy unravel their scarves. "I figured you must be out." 

"Site-seeing," Kappy says and Willy laughs. "What's up?" 

"Mo wants to go to this place Schieffle told him about," Auston says. He shifts over so his elbow touches Willy and she feels herself light up. Dork. "Up for it?"

Willy raises her eyebrows at Kas. When they were walking back through the bitter cold that is Winnipeg in late autumn, Kappy had said something along the lines of "I'm getting in bed and never fucking leaving again." 

Now he says: "Let's fucking go."

Kappy wanders back to his room and then Auston's crowding Will against the wall, mouth kissing the cold parts of her face. 

"What'd you guys do?" he asks against her cheek. He's so warm. 

"Not much," she says before sliding her hands up Auston's shirt. 

He yelps and it's funny and then he kisses her laughing mouth and then Mitch is opening the door-

"Oh," she says. "Sorry." 

"Sorry," Will says back. She wipes her mouth off. "I didn't realize you were in." 

Mitch shrugs. Cool. 

"I'll see you tonight," Auston says to them both and lets go of Willy's hip. 

Will turns back to Mitch to laugh or apologize again, but before she can speak Mitch is saying, "I was gonna shower, if you don't want to." 

"Oh," Will says. "Yeah, uh, go for it." 

Mitch turns back into the room. Willy follows. 

 

"What were you thinking of wearing tonight?" Willy asks, later, when the silence of their room has crawled inside her throat and made a home. 

Mitch gives her the briefest of looks and then looks back at the TV. "I don't know. Probably just jeans or whatever." 

There's something deep in Willy that's telling her to push this. It's probably dumb - Mitch has never wanted to get pedis with Naz and Will before or really do anything that seems to come with a gender label - but hey. Mitch already doesn't like her. It's not going to get worse. 

"I have a really cute shirt you could borrow," Willy says, after taking a breath. "It's the same blue as your eyes so I think it would look really nice." 

Mitch doesn't say anything.

"I mean you don't have to. Obviously. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. I just think it would look really nice on you. Not that you don't look nice usually. It's just that we're kind of the same size and it's really fun to share clothes on the road with roommates and I thought I would offer. But like. You don't have to."

It's like - she's out of breath by the time she finishes. When she looks over Mitch is frowning a bit. But instead of saying no she says, "Maybe." 

Willy will take maybe. She'll throw a party for maybe. 

"You look so pretty in that," she says a few minutes ago, looking at Mitch in the mirror over Mitch's shoulder. It's blue and white striped, something Willy got in Oslo one summer with her mom. "And look-"

Willy reaches around and tucks the shirt tails into the front of Mitch's jeans. 

"Now it looks cute as hell," she says. "I got that off Queer Eye."

Mitch's face is red like after a bag skate and she doesn't say anything. 

"You know," Willy says, "I know how to do this braid crown and-" 

"Willy." 

"I swear it's super not annoying and it'll get your hair out of your face." 

Mitch looks towards the ceiling but feels at the ends of her hair. As long as Willy's known her she's had a messy bob and Will's been dying to get her hands on it. 

"Nothing too frilly," Mitch says and Willy grins. 

She sits Mitch at the end of a bed and kneels up behind her. Her hair is soft and it feels sacred to brush through with her fingers. 

Mitch doesn't say anything so Willy fills the space: "My sister had lice one summer. Her hair's so fine that my mom had to cut it and she was devastated. So I learned how to braid shorter hair."

It takes a couple seconds but, really quiet, Mitch says, "That's sweet of you."

"I used to practice on Alex too," Willy says and Mitch laughs. 

"Poor Alex."

"He looked awesome. The coolest fourth grader on the block."

The braid isn't perfect but it's nice. Willy can see Mitch's entire face which is pretty rare. 

There's something delicate about the way Mitch looks at herself in the mirror. Her face usually has the biggest smile Will's ever seen but she's quiet now, touching where the braid pulls back at the front. 

"You know what will complete the look?" Willy asks. "Red lipstick." 

She figures this will be it, that Mitch will roll her eyes and flounce off to wrestle with Naz or annoy Auston. But she just sighs and says, "Nothing glossy okay? I hate having shiny lips." 

Mitch sits back on the edge of the bed but Willy grabs her hand, tugs her up. "The lighting is better in the bathroom, come on." 

Willy gets her up on the counter and stands between her parted legs. Mitch is so warm; even her knees burn through her jeans and heat where they're touching Willy's waist. 

"Close your eyes," Willy says, quiet, because it feels like this moment could break with a noise. Like a souffle - all sugar and delicate folding. 

Mitch's breath hits Willy's fingers as she swipes red across her bottom lip. She smells clean, like Mitch always smells except after practice. Nothing hides her, not like Willy who has a perfume for every mood.

"Now rub your lips together," Willy says and Mitch does. "Red lipstick is my favourite thing. It's like - I can have messy hair and a shirt I haven't washed in a week, but if I have red lipstick on it becomes a look. Like - capital L, look."

Mitch laughs, opening her eyes. She's got killer eyelashes and she's really really close. 

Willy ducks her head to hide the blush that's spreading across her nose. "You want eyeliner?" 

Mitch sighs, "Might as well, now."

Willy's hand shakes a bit and she has to wipe off the left and redo it. Mitch has a freckle on her eyelid and it's so cute Willy might just pass out. 

"What do you think?" Willy asks. She hasn't stepped away, doesn't want to, so Mitch has to turn to see her reflection. 

"Oh," she says. "I look so weird." 

"I don't think so," Willy says. "Just a bit different, that's all." 

Mitch nods. She's gone all quiet again. 

Willy touches her thighs with both hands and slides out from between them. She steps just over, so she can do her own makeup. 

"What do you think?" Willy asks, holding up the red she used on Mitch. "Lipstick bros?" 

Mitch laughs, "Do it." 

She paints her lips with it. It was on Mitch's mouth and now it's on her mouth and if Willy gets too caught up in that line of thinking she just might have to sit down. 

"You're really good at that," Mitch says, a bit later, as Willy's adding gold to her eyelids. 

"Thank you," Willy says. "Years of practice." 

She's going for bright, big. Something that will make it so Auston doesn't look away for the entire night. Something that will keep Mitch impressed and staring. 

"How come you don't wear any makeup usually?" she asks, after a little while of Mitch watching her. 

Mitch shrugs. "I mostly grew up around boys."

Willy waits for more. "So? Me too."

"No I just mean," Mitch says and then pauses. She's watching as Willy does her other eyelid. Willy flutters her eyelashes at the mirror; glittery and gold and ridiculous. Just what she wanted. 

"What do you mean?"

"It sucked being the only girl," Mitch says. She's looking down at her feet, clunking against the cupboard under the sink. "On every team until I joined the Knights. And I didn't really want to stand out because of like - that. I wanted to be the best, I didn't care about everything else."

"I get that," and she does. It's hard being the only girl in a dressing room and it only got harder the older she got. "I guess I just - I don't know. Just because I played hockey didn't mean I couldn't like makeup. You know? I like looking pretty."

"But I-" Willy looks over and Mitch. She's biting her lip, looks like she's about to say something.

"Don't ruin your lipstick!"

"I won't."

"Mitchell."

"Sorry," Mitch says. She checks herself in the mirror before continuing: "I hear what guys in the league say to you."

Willy shrugs. "They're assholes."

"Of course," Mitchy scoffs. "Total assholes."

"They're not saying it because I wear lipstick, Mitch."

"No but-" Mitch looks down again. Her brows are all scrunched up and Willy wants to be allowed to put her finger between them. "I don't know. It feels different."

"Maybe," Willy says. "Different shades of the same shit. Like, you get people telling you that you're weak, that you don't belong in the show, and Naz gets racist shit and I have people telling me they want to - to do stuff to me. It's just noise, Mitch. It's not going to stop me from looking cute on a Saturday night."

Mitch looks at her so long Willy's hands shake a little. "That was a really smart thing you just said, Nylander."

"Thanks," she says, smiling. If she could, Willy would lock up this moment in her heart for only her to watch, over and over. "Now, come on. I want everyone to lose their minds when they see how great you look."

 

"Holy shit, Marns," Brownie says when they get to the lobby. "You look like a chick."

"Fuck off," Mitch says and Mo laughs.

"Ah, there she is."

Willy slinks off to stand next to Auston, who's looking at Mitch. He's looking at her like he's the quarterback in a high school movie and he just realized his best friend was hot under her glasses and sweater vest. 

"Doesn't she look wicked?" Will says and then Auston's eyes are on her. 

"Yeah," he says and then: "Look at you, fuck. You trying to kill me, Will?"

"Always," she says, fluttering her eyelashes. He slides his hand under her jacket, over the cotton of her shirt on the small of her back. "But enough about me, check out Mitch. She let me do her eyeliner."

"You're a miracle worker."

"She just needed a little nudge, that's all," Willy says. She's looking at Mitch now, who's standing with her arms crossed, listening to Leivs and Brownie. Willy grins when she's caught, puts her thumbs up. Mitch rolls her eyes, smiles. 

They go to a bar restaurant hybrid and Willy sits between Auston and Mitch and like - Mitch is still talking to her. Mitch is still smiling at her. It feels like everything Willy has ever wanted: Auston's hand on her thigh, a cute girl being nice to her. 

"Want to split an appetizer?" Mitch asks and Willy nods like a bobblehead figure. 

"Aw fuck, I love spinach artichoke dip," Auston says four seconds after the waiter's dropped it off. He piles a pita chip high with dip, shovels it into his mouth. Willy turns to Mitch, to make fun of him, but she's doing the exact same thing, mouth filled to the brim.

"You're both monsters," she says, laughing, reaching for her own chip.

It's like - it feels like how it was in Auston's living room, when the fire lit them up and his hand on her cheek felt like nothing could hurt her. Now it's his arm around her shoulders as he laughs at something Mo says, Mitch's thigh against her own and her smile bright in Willy's direction.

And then Mo's shepherding them out in the freezing Winnipeg air and Auston and Mitch are shoving each other, laughing. Willy can't hear what they're saying from where she's shivering behind them but it makes her smile.

"I'm cold just looking at you," Freddie says. "Do you want to share my coat?" 

Willy nods and he holds open his parka so she can snuggle into it. They walk like a human crab, Freddie's chin on her head, her nose all caught in the warm nook of Freddie's neck. 

"You're the nicest smelling person I've ever met," Willy says, as they're waiting for a red light to change. 

"Thank you," Freddie says, sincerely. 

The club is fine, loud and busy and dark. Willy ties her leather jacket around her waist and follows the boys to the bar. She keeps in between Brownie and Mo while they order beers for the table, hooks her chin over Mo's shoulder.

"Can I help you, darling?" He asks her, reaching up to bop her nose with a finger. 

"This is gonna be the best night," she tells him. She's not even really that drunk yet but she can feel everything and everyone thrumming in her veins. "I promise."

"I'll drink to that," Connor says, reaching for one of the shots they ordered. 

An hour later or maybe less or maybe more and Willy is no longer not even really that drunk. It's possible she has moved past it and is firmly in the area of maybe possibly a little bit drunk. Like she's moved into the area. She's got a condo here. 

"You're my best friend," she tells Kappy. 

Kappy blinks his eyes open. "Hngh?" 

He's mostly asleep, his arm around her shoulder and his face smushed into the top of her hair. It's so nice but also Willy wants to go out and dance. Everyone else is. Even JT is doing a two step next to Naz. 

"I want to go out and dance!"

"Okay," Kappy says. He tugs her closer, gets all comfy again. "You do that."

It takes a passing Dermott to untangle Kappy from her and then Willy's on the prowl. The bar has gotten more packed, groups of students mixed among young professionals in button-downs. Willy goes on the tips of her toes to see to the bar and yep - there he is.

Auston's leaning against it, shooting the shit with Freddie. He's smiling and he looks so so good.

She sort of crashes the landing, stumbling into Auston's arm instead of approaching all cute and hot. Whatever. It's fine. Subtlety was never her strong suit.

"Dance with me!" she shouts in his ear.  

Auston's hand is so big in her own when she grabs it, yanking him towards the dance floor. She hears Freddie laugh as she pulls him away. 

"I don't really dance, Will."

"I don't really care, Matts."

She tugs him until they're just off from the middle, near where Naz is getting low with Mo, but not too close. Then she looks up at his face, all shadowed in the bar lighting, and hooks her arms around his shoulders. 

Auston shuffles closer, puts his hands low on her back. Like, real low. They're almost the same height and it's really really hard not to kiss him. 

"I want to kiss you really badly," she tells him, looking at his mouth. 

He does the stupidest slowest smirk and puts his mouth to her ear, "We got time for that later, babe."

Maybe it's the drinks in her and maybe it's the boy in her arms and maybe it's fucking Winnipeg, goddamn magical Winnipeg, but Willy can't stop smiling. Even as Auston's stepping on her boots, and as some stranger brushes up behind her too close, and as she looks up into Auston's face and he's looking down at her chest. 

"Yeah," Willy says and Auston looks up at her like: who me? "My tits are great."

His face turns the colour of a really ripe raspberry. "I wasn't."

"Are you saying my tits aren't great?"

"I-" He looks like he would like to die. Willy plays with the dumb hair at the back of his dumb neck. "I don't know what you would like me to say to that."

"It's a simple question."

"Please, Will-"

"I think we need a second opinion," Will says, looking around, and god, her guardian angel better get a raise because Mitch is passing through the dance floor. Her hair's still braided and her lipstick has held and she's holding the neck of a beer bottle and-

Willy lets go of Auston to reach out for Mitch's hand. 

"Mitchy," she says, "I've been looking for you. I need you to settle something between Matty and I."

"For the love of-"

"I was just in the bathroom," Mitch says. She's blinking up at Willy, her cute Mitch Marner nose all cute, her big Mitch Marner mouth turned all sideways like she's being asked a hard geography question. "What's up?"

"You think I have great boobs, right?" Willy asks.

"Uhhhh-"

Willy lays Mitch's hand, the one still in her hand, over her right tit. She holds it there. "See?"

Now Mitch's face is the colour of raspberries. Like the kind of raspberries that were on the dessert they split tonight, a chocolate cheesecake with red raspberry blood drizzled all over it. 

"I don't want to be a part of this survey," Mitch says but she's not tugging her hand back. 

"Fuck all you jokers," Willy says. "Where's Kappy? He knows my tits are-"

"Jesus Christ, Will," Auston says, laughing in her ear. His arms go around her, just below where Willy's hands are still clutching Marns' to her chest. "I wasn't finished dancing with you, you know."

"Oh," Will says. "Okay." She looks to Mitch. She doesn't want Mitch to leave. "Do you want to dance with us?"

Mitchy blinks a few more times. She usually looks so pretty but the eyeliner Willy did is making the blue even more blue. "How can you dance with three people?"

"Easy," Will says.

She moves Mitch's hand down, until her hand is on top of Auston's on Willy's waist. She moves her own hands to Mitch's waist, slides them around until Mitch is a couple feet closer, in Willy's arms, Willy's hands on her back. 

Their faces are so close to each other. Auston is so warm against Willy's back. 

"How's this," Willy whispers. Auston's fingers tighten on her waist, under Mitchy's, and his hips start moving against her ass. Mitch's eyes are as wide as Willy's ever seen them. 

"I-" she says, and then her hips are moving too. 

Willy giggles, delighted. What she said to Mo, earlier, was right. This is the best night of her life. She runs one hand up Mitchy's back so she can cup her neck. Then, before she can really think about it, she's pressing her lips to Mitch's cheek. 

When she pulls back she can see the imprint her lips left behind. "Lipstick bros," she says before meeting Mitch's eyes. 

They're so blue and so close and they look at Willy, then over her shoulder to Auston, before they close for the rest of the song. 

The night washes over Willy as they taxi back to the hotel. She's still in between them, her boy and her girl and they're talking about something. She doesn't know what. She's not as drunk as earlier but it's - everything's golden. 

"This is the best night," she tells them and Mitch laughs. 

"I think you had a few too many," she says. 

Willy reaches out, grabs Mitchy's hand. Her nails are bitten short and her cuticles are really bad. Willy does not tell her this. Instead she links their fingers together. Mitch has soft hands. Willy has dreamed about them before. She imagines, now, her fingerprints on Mitch's fingerprints. 

"Do I get to hold your hand too?" Auston asks because boys always need attention. 

"No," Willy says. She giggles, once, then again because it's fun to laugh. She's happy. "No, you get something better."

She leans forward until they're nose to nose. He's easy to kiss. His mouth feels like maybe it was made to kiss Willy's mouth, like they should always be kissing.

It feels like forever before Willy hears the driver ask, "Is it this on the left here?"

She moves away from Auston's mouth as Mitch says, "Yeah." Mitch is still holding Willy's hand but she's looking out the window. Willy squeezes it, friendly, but Mitch doesn't squeeze back. She doesn't look at her. 

Mitch drops her hand when the car stops.

 

"Are you okay?" Willy asks.

Auston walked them to their door and left. Now it's just Willy, sitting on the edge of her bed, and Mitch, washing her face in the bathroom, and the hanging silence. Mitchy hasn't said anything to her since the cab. 

"Mhm," Mitch says, short. 

No one has ever mistaken Willy for a genius but she doesn't think Mitch is okay. Her dumb drunk brain says, "You don't seem okay."

Mitch looks at her like she's cutting through her. Like Willy's nothing. "I'm fine."

"You don't seem fine."

"Can we not?"

"I don't understand," Willy says. She still in her clubbing outfit, all black mesh and leather and gold bracelets. "It's like - you were talking to me all night? And we were hanging out like friends? And now you're not really talking to me."

"I'm tired."

"Okay."

Mitch sits on her bed, takes her socks off. She looks like herself, not the soft version who let Willy get so close to her. Not the girl who let Willy hold her hand. She's sharp again as she strips off the blue and white striped shirt and tosses it to Willy's bed. 

"Thanks for the shirt," Marns says as she turns to rifle through her stuff. 

Willy looks at Mitch's abs for a second, and then down at her own hands. Everything is cold for the first time this evening. 

"Are you mad at me?" she asks, quiet. 

Mitch keeps her back turned. "I'm not mad."

Willy thinks about the cab, about how everything was fine until it wasn't. She's so tired. 

"Are you mad at me because I'm dating Auston?"

Mitch is still just in her bra when she stands up, turns. It's fitting, that Willy has to have this conversation while Mitch is all hot and pretty and her hair is still in a braid crown. 

"Because it seems like everything was fine and then I like - I kissed Auston and you weren't anymore," Willy says. "So are you - are you jealous?"

Mitch's cheeks are red. 

"You like him, right? That's why?"

It seems like an eternity, Mitch staring at Willy unblinking, before she says, "Yeah."

"Oh."

Willy wishes she had changed before this conversation. She wishes she had wiped off the gold makeup around her eyes and got into her sweatpants and brushed her teeth. She feels stupid, all dressed up in front of Mitch. She feels stupid for dressing up for her in the first place.

"I didn't know," Willy says. "You didn't tell me."

Mitch looks at the wall, annoyed. "Would it have mattered if I did?"

Willy opens her mouth to speak but Mitch is talking over her - 

"You do whatever you want all the fucking time, Will," she says, arms folded over her stomach. She's still in her dumb mom jeans and she doesn't like Willy. She doesn't like her at all. "You wear your skirts and you smile and you get whatever you want."

"I-" Willy doesn't know where to look. "I didn't know you liked him. I wouldn't have gone out with him if I knew."

"I don't know what I expected," Mitch says and when she looks back over her eyes are all shiny. Willy can't remember how drunk Mitch is, can't remember how much she had. "You have a pattern of dating guys on your team, right?"

It's like everything goes still for a second, the room, Mitch, the air in Willy's lungs. 

"What are you talking about?" Willy hears herself ask, quiet.

"Leivs said you and Kappy were sleeping together before he got a girlfriend."

Willy stands up, her heart pounding. "Leivo's a fucking liar."

"Why would he lie about that?"

"He doesn't know anything," Willy says. She can feel her blood and it's like fire under her skin. "We haven't, ever."

"Okay, fine," Mitch says and her face is so red. They're used to other people fighting for them. "But I know for a fact that you and Pastrnak fucked."

Willy blinks. Takes a breath.

Mitch is still in her bra. Her face is all red and angry but it's mostly tired. She doesn't know what she's done. 

"I have to leave," Willy says and she does. She steps over her suitcase and opens the door and closes it behind her. 

The hallway is too bright. It's the same colour as every hallway of every hotel Willy's ever stayed in. She breathes and breathes and the air feels stale. It's a place of transition and she doesn't know where to go. 

Willy can't stop hearing it, what Mitch said. How cheap it sounded. How easy it was, apparently, to summarize three years of Willy's life into a sentence. Three years of laughing and feeling safe and feeling good and grocery shopping together and swimming in her parent's pool and sleeping on the train home and then, after, staying up with the sunrise when he was in Boston and she missed him so much she was sick with it. 

Her fingers come away black when she reaches to brush away the wetness on her face. 

Willy doesn't go to Auston's room. She doesn't go to Kappy. She checks the groupchat for room numbers and knocks when she finds the one she's looking for. 

It takes a second. Mostly everyone's asleep. Then - 

"Will?" Naz says. Her hair is all braided and her face is clean of makeup and she looks a little pissed. "What the fuck, girl?"

"Can I sleep here?"

"Uhh," Naz looks behind her, at the bed. "If you want? Why aren't you in your room?"

It's easy. It's just like when she wanted Auston to make a pillow fort in his living room: she smiles.

"Mitchy snores," she says, adding a bit of a whine to her voice. "Please? I promise I don't kick in my sleep."

Naz laughs, lets her in. 

Willy washes her makeup off with the bathroom door closed. She's all streaky and raccoon-like, gold dust in her hairline and along the ridge of her ears. She wets a cloth and works slow, meticulously, the way her older sister taught her. 

And then she's her again. Not bright or golden. Just Willy. Blue eyes and a long nose and cheekbones. She looks like her mom. She looks like herself and not at all like herself. 

 

"Will?" his voice is sleepy down the line.

"Hi," Willy says, quiet. "Sorry for waking you up."

The bathroom tiles are cold under her legs. It's weird, how well cold and quiet go together, when it's late and she's calling someone she shouldn't. 

"Are you okay?" he asks.

"Not really," she says. 

Willy counts her heartbeats. On seven, Pasta says, "Where are you?"

"In a bathroom," Willy says. She presses her toes against the side of the tub. "In Naz's hotel room, in Winnipeg."

"You are safe?"

"Yes."

"Okay," he says. There's some shuffling noises, like he's rolling over in bed. She doesn't remember how many time zones away he is. It feels like too many. "Why are you calling me?"

"I missed you," she says. 

"I miss you too, Will."

"I had like - a long night." She looks at her toes. "And I wanted to talk to someone I trust."

"You want to talk about it? Your long night?"

"No, that's okay."

Pasta hums. 

"I'm dating Auston," she says, quickly. "By the way."

He's quiet. She tries to imagine what kind of face he's making, in his big Boston apartment, in his big Boston bed. When he does speak, it's with a softness that makes Willy's eyes tear, "He's a good guy."

"I know. I like him a lot."

She does. He holds her hand. He calls her a brat and kisses her sweetly. He didn't tell Freddie. 

"He's lucky to have you, Will."

Kappy's good too. He's a good best friend. He loves her like a fire. She doesn't think he ever told the boys about the one time she kissed him, right after she broke up with David, when she was crying so much she couldn't breathe and he held her until she could. She hopes he didn't.

"Do you ever wish we could go back? To when we were younger?"

"You do not like how things are?"

"No, no," Willy says. "I just meant for an afternoon. Like when I visited you and we took the train to Krakow and you bought me that weird ice cream."

"That ice cream was delicious."

"It was gross," Willy says, laughing. "It was so sour."

Pasta laughs too and then, soft, "Yes. It would be nice to go back."

She listens to him breathe, matches them with her own breaths. It reminds her of the first few weeks when he was in Providence and she was at home and everything felt so fragile like it would break in a moment. She doesn't think she's ever going to stop being in love with him. 

"Thank you for answering."

"I'll always answer," he says. 

 

Naz is passed out when Willy slides into bed. From her side she can just see where the curtain peels away from the window, can see dark sky and pinpricks of stars. It's nothing like the view she fell asleep to at Auston's condo, his arms around her. 

Willy knows what people say about her. She knows how they twist her with their words, how they make her something they can hold and control and own. 

She looks at her hand. Looks at the spaces in between her fingers where Mitch's had been. She looks at her skin and wonders if it can remember everyone who ever held it or if it can only remember the good ones.



iii.

The first time Mitch met Willy she was in an arena she didn't know and there were signs in Finnish everywhere and she couldn't find Chabby. She turned a corner but instead of seeing Thomas Chabot she saw David Pastrnak and Willy Nylander kissing like the world was ending. 

They sprang apart and then Willy was laughing, covering her mouth. 

"Whoops," she said. "Sorry."

Her mouth was pink and her hair was the same colour as a peeled banana and Mitch couldn't stop staring. She was so so much prettier in person.

"Oh hey," Willy said. "You're totally Mitch Marner, right?"

Next to her David Pastrnak was mostly looking at the floor, one hand still holding onto Willy's waist. Mitch looked at him for maybe half a second before her eyes went back to Willy. She had like - her eyes were so blue. 

"Uhhhhh, yeah," Mitch said. 

"I can't wait to play with you," Willy said. "Like, when we both make the Leafs."

She smiled and Mitch's heart almost fell out of her chest. It sounded so loud she was surprised they both couldn't hear it. 

"Yeah. Yeah that'll be cool."

"Sorry about like - this," she said laughing. "We didn't think anyone was going to come down this far."

"I guess you were wrong about that," Mitch says and it comes out flat, flat enough that the smile on Willy's face slides a bit. "I'll see you later."

She turns then, goes back around the corner. Walks down corridor after corridor until she finds an empty one and then she leans against the wall, hand on her heart, breath coming fast. 

Willy Nylander was the prettiest girl Mitch had ever seen and she was a goddamn idiot. 

 

So. It's possible that Mitch has fucked up a little. 

"It's possible, uh," she tells Zach over breakfast, "That I have fucked up. A little."

Zach blinks at her over a bowl of oatmeal. 

Two tables to Mitch's right Willy is sitting with Auston, smiling over an omelette at him at his giant Auston Matthews head. She looks tired and her hair is in a ponytail and she's so fucking pretty. 

"Messed up how?" Zach asks, because she tries not to swear before noon on game days. 

"Uhh," Mitch says. There is ketchup on Willy's chin. "I may have possibly gotten into a fight with Willy last night."

Zach's face goes sideways. "Mitchell."

"I know."

Auston uses his thumb to get the ketchup off Willy's chin. Mitch would like him to not, please, and also to move far far away.

"Women need to back each other up," Zach says. She did a minor in gender studies at Michigan. Sometimes she makes Mitch read articles and it's like. They're long. Like - twenty pages. "Especially in this league."

"I know."

"What did you fight about?" 

Mitch thinks about Willy's face when she asked about Kappy, about how hard her jaw looked. She's never seen Willy look like that before. 

"Oh you know," she says. "This and that."

Zach looks unimpressed.

"So like," Mitch continues on. "What should I do?" 

"Apologize, probably," Zach says. "Unless - was it a mutual thing or a one-sided thing?" 

Mitch screws up one side of her face and thinks about the cab ride, about how Willy's laugh sounded all pressed up against Auston's dumb mouth. 

"Uhhhhh," she says. "I think this one was on Mitchy."

"Apologize, dumbo."

"Uh huh."

"And maybe clear the air," Zach says. "You could put the team in jeopardy, you know. If something happens to Matty, she could be our center." 

"Like-" Mitch imagines sitting across from Willy at a cafe, how easy it would be to make her laugh into her coffee. "Like, I should invite her to shoot some hoops together or something?"

Zach's head tilts and it almost looks unconscious. "Shoot- no, Mitchell. I meant like, dinner."

Willy in candlelight. Willy in a cute sweater and her hair all curled like she does for Matty sometimes. 

"Uh."

"Maybe a group activity," Zach says. The way she says it makes Mitch think she wants to finish the sentence with "you dumb motherfucker." 

"Okay," Mitch says. "Yeah. I can do that."

 

"Hey," Mitch says. "Can we talk for a minute?" 

She has been watching Willy, not unlike a lioness stalking a gazelle across the Serengeti, from her seat for the last forty-eight minutes. 

Well, like she's been multitasking by beating Freddie in cribbage but like. Mitch is thorough as shit. 

"Auston's just in the restroom," Willy says and she's looking at Mitch but not really. Her eyelids are really downcast, like she doesn't want to make eye contact. 

It sucks.

"I'll be like four minutes," Mitch says, sitting in Matty's spot. It's so warm. Dude's butt is like a space heater. "I wanted to apologize about last night."

"Mitch-" Willy says and Mitch talks over her:

"No, I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have said any of that shit." 

Willy tugs on her sweater sleeves. "No, you shouldn't have."

"I was being a dick," Mitch says. "Like a - a big dick. A gross one."

Willy laughs, looks at Mitch finally. She has really pale eyes and they're so warm. 

"Just a giant penis," she says and Mitch laughs. 

"Yeah. And I'm really sorry. I shouldn't like - women need to stick together."

Willy's eyes narrow a bit, like she's heard that come out of Zach Hyman's mouth before. She smiles slowly, though, says, "I agree."

"So hey, uhhhh, I'm hosting a sleepover," Mitch says. "Tomorrow night. Wanna come?" 

She blinks. "Just you and me?" 

Mitch isn't going to even fucking touch that one. If she wanted to die she'd jump off a cliff, get it over with. "Nah, like you and me and Hyms and maybe Naz? Leaf ladies only." 

"That sounds fun."

"Wanna come?"

"Come to what?" asks Auston from behind Mitch because he's got like super great timing. 

"You're not invited," Mitch says, turning to look at him. He looks eighty-four percent asleep and from this angle his nostrils are the size of the sun. He is Mitch's best friend in the universe. "Suck on that, loser."

Willy laughs. "Do you want me to bring anything?"

"Oh." Mitch didn't even think about like - food. Substance. She mostly just wanted Willy to like her again and appease Zach and play beer pong. "Um. I figured we'd order pizza. So maybe like, uhhh, salsa?"

"If there's going to be salsa I have to come," Matts says. "I own salsa."

"No boys allowed," Will says and she's grinning at Mitch when she says it, like they're sharing a secret. This goddamn girl is going to end her life. "I think Kappy's mom has a good salsa dip recipe. I'll make that."

"Sweet," Mitch says and Auston flicks her ear. "Alright alright alright." 

She's up and halfway down the aisle, back to her spot next to Mo when Will calls her name. Matty's sat at her side again but she's looking at Mitch.

"Thanks," she says, smiling.

 

Mitch must be the dumbest motherfucker this side of the DVP. Will being mad at her sucked like a bruise sucks, present and sore and helplessly Mitch's fault. There's no way it was worse than this though: Willy on the floor of Mitch's living room in pajamas while Mitch just has to deal with it. 

Willy's pyjamas are little plaid shorts that look like they would be soft if Mitch pressed her face there. She's got this big shirt that has Ariana Grande's face on it. 

"Ouch!"

"Relax," Naz says. She's making complex dutch braids all over Willy's hair, Willy between her thighs. Naz's tongue is between her teeth. "Baby."

"Hurts," Willy says, pouting, but she smiles when she catches Mitch's eye. 

Death death death. 

"She's the Man?" Zach asks, shaking the DVD. Her hair is back in a headband and her eyes are so round. "Or Clueless. If no one makes a decision, I will make the decision." 

"Clueless," Will says, "I'm obsessed with Alicia Silverstone. She was my first crush."

Mitch looks at Willy's tan legs and then at the ceiling. She stuffs eight chips into her mouth and says, through them, "Me too." 

"What?" 

"Okay! It's Clueless! No other votes!" Zach says all shouting even though she secretly loves when she has to micromanage. 

"There you go," Naz says, patting Willy's head. Kids in America is playing as the movie begins over Mitch's sweet 70 inch TV. "All done, you wuss."

Willy runs her hands over the two thick braids. She has perfect hair, Willy, and it makes Mitch's mouth dry to see the parts of Willy she doesn't normally see: the pale skin at the back of her neck, the softness behind her ear, the strands that fall on either side of her face. 

"Can you pass the chips, Zachy?" she asks, dropping into the seat next to Mitch on the couch. Her thigh touches Mitch's thigh and Mitch thanks the heavenly Father in equal part that there is something between her and Willy, and that she can feel the heat of Willy's thigh through the fabric.

Halfway through the film Naz finds a Clueless drinking game and then Mitch has to go get her bottle of Goose from the back of the freezer and they're taking shots every time Cher says "Daddy," which is far more times than Mitch's liver would like. 

They play beer pong after and Willy is Mitch's partner which is a shame because-

"Weakkk," Naz shouts after Mitch fails to sink the ball for the third time in the game. Willy groans next to her but her arm is still pressed up against Mitch's arm and she's so pretty how is Mitch supposed to be a fully functioning human person. "Ain't got no game, Marner."

"Fuck you, Naz."

-Mitch has neighbours and Zach is considerate so the party dies down a bit after that, everyone crowding around Mitchy's microwave to watch the popcorn pop before Willy supervises the making of a giant pillow fort in the living room.

"I'm an expert," she says, cute, so Naz and Mitch drag Mitch's mattress through the hallway.

They snuggle and the heavenly Father must be really attuned with Mitch right now because her and Willy are at one end of the bed, one of Willy's legs on top of the duvet because she runs hot, one perfect toned tan leg that Mitch wants to touch so badly. 

Instead she shovels popcorn into her mouth and fights Naz for the remote. 

Zach falls asleep first and then Willy and Naz, so Mitch disentangles herself from the pillow puddle to shut off the television and all the lights around the condo and make sure the front door is locked and everything. She stares at their shoes piled by the front door, Zach's oxfords and Naz's heels and Willy's leather boots next to Mitch's sick kicks. 

When Mitch gets back to the gals, a pair of blue eyes smile up at her.

"Hey," Willy whispers, "Cleaning up?"

"Just turning the lights off," Mitch says.

Willy's turned onto her side, hands under her head, but Mitch can't right now. She lies on her back, looks up at the ceiling, so aware of Willy's eyes on her. 

"This was really fun. I can't believe we haven't done it before."

"Yeah."

Mitch was always the last one asleep at every sleepover she's ever been too. She'd addicted to the late night secrets, the conversations whispered over pillows to the last stragglers. There's something hypnotic about Zach's quiet snores while Willy shifts her legs around under the blankets. 

"I'm sorry about everything that happened between us."

"You don't have to apologize, Willy."

"I do." Mitch chances a look over and Willy's looking right at her. She looks different than she does most of the time, soft, with a red zit just south of her mouth. "I really didn't know. I can - I can step back from the thing with Auston, if you want to talk to him. I totally understand."

"No way, dude."

Willy opens her mouth but Zach makes a weird noise in her sleep and she closes it. She nods and then curls up a bit more, her knee brushing Mitch's leg. 

"I'm sorry anyhow."

"I'm sorry. I said some shit to you."

She sticks her pinky out to Mitch and Mitch grabs it, instinctive. Her pinky is warm against Mitch's. 

"Promise not to fight over a boy again?"

Mitch wants to laugh and barely holds it in. "Promise."

Willy grins, huge, and drops her hand to the bed, Mitch's fingers still tangled with hers. Mitch is aware of every cell in her body, a culmination of every sleepover she's ever had where a pretty girl smiled at her and touched her because that's what friends do but Mitch wanted to be so so so much more than friends. 

Zach makes another noise, like a wounded animal, and Willy and Mitch's eyes meet, a giggle exploding between them. 

"I wish I could go back in time to the Marlies," Will whispers, grin wide, "and tell myself that Hyms snores. That would have cured me of my terrible crush on her."

Mitch whisper-laughs before her brain catches up with Willy's words. "Wait, you - you had a crush on Zach?"

"A massive one."

Heartbeats are not supposed to be this loud and fast, of this Mitch is certain. She can feel it in her ears and the fingers that are still trapped underneath Willy's hand and in her hip where it rests against the sheets as she turns to meet Willy's eyes. "I - I didn't know you liked girls."

"Oh." Willy shrugs, casual, as if this revelation has not blown Mitch's entire life open. "Yeah. I like people."

Mitch should say Me too, I also like girls . She should say Samesies bro . Instead she says, "Huh."

"I thought you would have heard about me and Adrian at World's," Willy whispers, and her voice is all caught up in a laugh like this is nothing, like the fact that she sleeps with girls and likes girls and that Mitch is a girl is like - non-panic attack inducing news. "Petey was telling everyone he could find, the little shit."

That image - Willy and Adrian Kempe getting caught doing, well, something presumably sexy is - it's too much. Adrian's heavy lidded eyes and William's sweet mouth, the idea of them pressed close, Willy's hands in Adrian's shaggy short hair, Willy's laugh up against Adrian's neck like it was against Auston's and - 

"Is that okay?" Willy whispers and when Mitch drags herself out of fantasyland Willy looks confused. 

"Yeah yeah yeah duh yeah of course," Mitch says quick, and then, "Girls are great." She tries to say I am a lesbian. I like girls. I would like to kiss you . Instead her stupid brain says, "Kudos, bro."

Willy giggles, soft, and Mitch rolls onto her back, closes her eyes. She's such an idiot. It would be so easy to say it, so easy to tell Willy that she's thought about her every day since she met her, that Mitch gets crushes so intense she can barely think straight and it's only been Willy for years, this kind of stupid pining that makes everything in Mitch feel hollow and achey. She could tell Willy that she gets off to her every night, imagining Willy pressed up, sweet, in her lap, her eyelashes coal black and gentle on Mitch's face. 

"I'm going to sleep," Willy whispers, shifting around a bit. Mitch looks over and she's got her eyes closed, face more in the pillow, duvet tight around her shoulders. "Good night, Mitchy."

Mitch looks back up at the ceiling. "Good night, Will," she says, feeling like a fucking idiot. 

 

"Am I not gay enough?" Mitch asks Zach, the next time they catch lunch together, just the two of them.

Zach puts down her fork. "Pardon?"

"I thought I was pretty gay," Mitch says. She gestures to herself, to her Reebok sweater and Adidas sweatpants and Red Bull hat and Jordan's. "I thought this was me being gay. I thought people could figure that out."

Zach blinks, twice. "Mitch, we all wear athleisure."

"Yeah but. But. I mean isn't it obvious ?"

"I'm - have you ever publicly dated a woman before?"

"I-" Mitch has a think about that. She must have. "I went to that party that one time with that girl I was seeing."

"Are you talking about April?" Zach asks, mouth all unimpressed. "The girl who I spent 45 minutes talking to at Hollsy's housewarming party because you left her to go get a keg with Auston and didn't notice when she went home early."

"Okay you're like, purposefully trying to make me feel bad."

Zach sighs, "No, I'm not, Mitchell, I'm just trying to tell you that your clothing does not reveal your sexual preference."

The waiter comes by and refills their water glasses. Mitch watches Zach eat a cherry tomato from her salad. She thinks about all the gay shit she used to watch in high school when she was figuring out who she was or whatever. 

"Should I start dressing like Willow from Buffy?"

"No."

Well, shit. 

Mitch tells Zach that she's going home to nap after their lunch but instead she puts sunglasses on and goes to the Value Village on Lansdowne. There's a line of people outside Sugo and that makes Mitch think about Willy again and how she's never had Sugo because it's Stupid Pretty Willy's Favourite so Mitch can never risk being there, just in case Willy's also there. It's the worst.

At Value Village Mitch buys two flannels and three Hawaiian shirts because that feels pretty gay. She finds some overalls that would make her calves look cute as fuck and a pair of heart shaped sunglasses. 

"Good haul," the cashier says. She has a nose ring and a cute smile, long dreadlocks reaching her waist. 

"Thanks," Mitch says.

The cashier is totally checking her out and surely this proves Mitch's theory that these clothes increase her gayness by at least 75%. There's a moment when Mitch thinks about ditching this whole plan, about asking this Cute Value Village Cashier girl out to dinner and dating her and forgetting all about Willy and Auston and all the complicated stuff that comes with that.

But then she sees the cart behind her and there's a chunky white knit sweater in it that looks just like the one Willy was wearing when her and Naz got back from the bakery across from Mitch's condo, the morning after the sleepover, her cheeks all flushed pink, eyes like stars. 

Fucking Willy and Mitch's fucking hopeless-ass heart. 

 

"Mitchell," Auston says, three days into Mitch's Look As Gay As Possible Scheme. "Has your patriotism reached new heights?"

"Hmm?"

He gestures to her outfit. They're in a locker room in Montreal, getting ready to leave the practice facility for the afternoon and get their tourist-ing on. There are three different Montreal smoked meat places Mitch wants to go to and she also needs to pick up some bagels from Fairmounts for her mother.

"My look is sick, bro."

"You've been wearing plaid for like three days in a row. You good?"

"Why you looking at me so much, Matty? Trying to swipe my fit?"

Auston swats at Mitch's hair so she facewashes him and his giant ass nose and big ass forehead, before his hand is coming up to grab her wrist and she's gotta use her knee to push him back and-

"Yo, guys!" It's Willy. They both let go of each other as soon as they see her. She has on one of her weird pink beanies and a leather jacket, jeans tight around her objectively perfect thighs. Mitch can feel her own face go red. "You're, like, three years old."

"Mitchy started it."

"Oh fuck you."

"Wanna join us, Mitch?" Willy asks, face all warm like it was when she helped Mitch set the table during breakfast, that morning after the sleepover. "We're going to grab a bite and wander around, maybe go up the mountain. You're welcome to come."

"I don't wanna crash your date," Mitch lies. She very much would like to crash their date. 

"Auston's been whining about not seeing you enough," Willy says, grinning at him, and he's immediately protesting: "Nah, I barely even like Marns, y'all are tripping."

 

It's nice. The three of them, walking together, Willy's arm through Mitch's while Auston walks backwards ahead of them. It feels right, this perfect balance of Auston's sharp sense of humour and Willy's sweet laugh, the brightness she brings to everything mixed with Mitch's own joy, Auston's eye rolls and secret grins. They get sandwiches from Schwartz and eat them in a haze, before trekking up the mountain from the north side. Mitch's flannel is not warm enough when they get up, the wind hitting more fierce as they come upon the big light up cross, but Willy just snuggles closer into Mitch's arm and something clicks in Mitch's heart, in her mind, in her soul and her toes and the lint in her bellybutton, that nothing feels this right if it isn't meant to be, at least a little bit. 

 

"I'm not watching Love Island ," Willy says, later that night, when they're all back in Mitch's room.

"It's so good."

"No really, Will, it's amazing."

She laughs but Mitch isn't budging because they're right Love Island is the best show on television and Mitch watches a lot of television, okay, like her opinion is valid. Auston also knows what's good like the two of them together know the definition of what's good, alright?

"We'll just watch like, 2 episodes," Auston says, "And then if you don't like it-"

"Two? Two is so many."

"They go by in a flash," Mitch says and Auston nods.

"Goddddddd," Willy whines but she snuggles in between them both, her arm linked with Mitch like she's been doing all day, Auston's arm around her shoulders. Willy has a million siblings so she's notorious on the team for being clingy but Mitch doesn't care, will take as many excuses to touch Willy as she can get. 

They're halfway through the first episode when there's a knock at the door. 

"It's open!" Mitch calls, not taking her eyes away from where Bryce and Teagan are making out on a pool chair. 

"Will, Jesus, you weren't answering your phone," Kappy says. He sounds stressed, his hair all scrunched up on one side. 

"Sorry," Willy says, sitting up out of the cuddling slump she had been in with Mitch and Auston. It's a lot less cuddly without her. "It died on our way back from dinner and I left it to charge on the desk. What's up?"

Kappy falters and closes his mouth. It feels - weird. Off. Kappy is not usually someone you need to prod into talking.

"You haven't seen Twitter recently, have you?" he asks, slow.

"No," she says, eyes darting over to where her phone is still charging. 

Another knock comes at the door. A second later, Zach is walking in, saying, "Will, you weren't answering your phone."

In middle school they learned about how the earth has tectonic plates and that when they move around there are earthquakes and tsunamis. Mitch always feels like there are tectonic plates under her skin, shifting in the seconds before a catastrophe, too quick for her to do anything but watch it. 

Kappy comes to sit on Mitch's bed and Zach does too and they all look over Willy's shoulder as she sits in the middle of it, up on her knees, and searches her own name on Twitter.

It doesn't take very long.

"I'll fucking kill him," Auston says, low.

Some fourth line fuck, some shitface on the Islanders, was interviewed on some podcast and they asked him some gross question and he answered with a gross answer, filthy words about Will that have been repeated, over and over now, on Twitter.

"Will?" 

It's Kappy who says it but everyone who watches Willy, her face closed off. Mitch doesn't know what to do with her hands, wants to reach out and touch Willy but doesn't want to startle her. 

"Will," Zach says, soft, and Willy looks up at her. 

"Asshole," she says, quiet, trying for a smile.

It's hard to look at the smile so Mitch looks back at the phone, too bright in the soft lamplight of the room, sees the threads of people denouncing his words, comments about people who agree with him, one jackass called HabsFan999 whose comment is cut off but Mitch can see enough of it - i mean who hasnt thought about fucking nylanders mouth before - to feel a violent surge in her stomach. 

Willy's phone rings. 

"It's Kyle," she says, and she's standing, moving past Kappy and Zach on the bed to make her way to the bathroom. She closes the door behind herself. 

"I'm going to fucking kill him."

"You'll have to beat me to it," Kappy says, voice sharp, "That fucking jackass."

Zach looks at the door to the bathroom. Willy's voice is quiet on the other side. Mitch still doesn't know what to do with her hands so she twists the sheets up, rubbing her thumb over and over on the linen.

They sit in silence until Will comes out, her eyes a bit red. Kappy stands before anyone else can.

"What did he say?"

"The league's making a statement," Will says, hoarse. Her eyes are on her phone, wrapped tight in her hands. "He made the comments during off hours, so it's up to the Isles to do something. Kyle told me he'll let me know if he finds out anything else."

"I'm so fucking sorry, Will."

She nods. "I think I want to be alone right now," she says and everyone stands, starts leaving, except it's Mitch's bed so she says, quiet, "Do you want me to walk you back to your room?" and Willy - 

Willy says, "Can I be alone with you, Mitch?"

They go out on the balcony, just the two of them in their coats. They can see the river, can feel its cool breeze. Will leans over the railing so Mitch joins her, their arms pressed together, Will's breath going white in the cold air. 

"I'm so sorry."

Willy doesn't look at her. She says, quietly, "My parents are going to wake up to this. My sisters, too. They all have Google Alerts set for me, and they're all going to see what he said. What he wants to do to me."

Mitch swallows. "He's a shitface."

"Yeah he is," Willy says. She shakes her head. "God, I can't check my phone. I'm so worried that there's going to be more shit or - or Alex will have called me, and I can't. I can't talk to him right now."

"Do you want me to check for you?"

She nods and hands her phone to Mitch. There's a lot and it's all - 

"Adrian says she'll kick his ass," Mitch says, scrolling, "So does Gabe and Horny. The Tre Kronor chat is popping off." Willy laughs; it's a bit wet at the end. Mitch doesn't look at her, keeps scrolling, "Half the league is messaging you, Will, this dude has a death wish."

"Guess he must."

Mitch sees one from Pasta; it just says Call me if u need to . She locks Willy's phone again. Will has taken a step back from the railing, leaned over like a right angle, her head resting on her crossed arms. 

"You know my mom did this thing once," Mitch says, quiet, because she doesn't think William needs anything loud right now. "I broke my wrist during a game. And it really sucked and it hurt  a lot. So when we got home, we both got in our bathing suits and we had a bubble bath together."

William doesn't move, just looks up at Mitch to say, "I didn't bring a bathing suit."

Mitch shrugs. "So?"

 

Willy's bra and underwear don't match. Every time Mitch has ever imagined it, and she's imagined it a fair few times, Willy is always this elusive figure, in European lingerie and a come-hither face. Now though, she's in a pair of underwear with turtles on them and a lacy bralette. Her skin is golden but for the edge of white along either side of her hips, where milky skin was hidden behind the little bikinis she wears on by-weeks. 

One of Will's legs steps into the tub, then the other, and then she is sinking into the bubbles. Her hair is up, that gorgeous patch on the back of her neck soft and pale, as she rests her head against the edge of it. 

"You coming?" she asks and Mitch strips her sweats off. 

Mitch knows she's not like Willy; she's got tiny tits and skinny legs and not much happening in the butt department. She's never been shy though, not a day in her life, not really, so she steps into the tub on the other side of Willy. Her hair brushes the water.

"Oh it's warm."

"This was a great idea."

Willy stretches her legs out until they rest in Mitch's lap. Mitch puts her hand on them, just to feel, even though she knows they'll prune.

"We should have room serviced wine."

"Rose," Willy says, smiling, "like proper fancy ladies."

"Hell yeah. We're fancy as fuck."

Willy giggles. It's one of the best sounds in the world, tied with the call of the goal horn and the sound of the audience and Auston shouting in her ear, Let's fucking go baby!

"Will you be honest with me?" Willy asks, a little bit later. The bubbles brushing up against her collarbone is distracting. Mitch has never wanted to be a collection of bubbles, but. Well. She would like to be them now, if it meant she could nestle against Willy's collarbone.

"Depends."

"Mitch."

"Fine, sure. What is it?"

William skims her hand across the top of the water, sending ripples toward Mitch. It shifts all the bubbles and for a second Mitch can see William's legs, the turtles, the place where her thighs meet. They're very close and the bathroom is so quiet. 

"Why did you hate me so much when we met?" 

Mitch's first reaction is to - "I didn't."

"Yes you did. Way before I dated Auston, you couldn't stand me."

"That's - " Mitch looks out at the rest of the bathroom. It's silly, because one of her hands is still on Willy's ankle. She doesn't want to move it. "I just didn't know if we had much in common, that's all."

The water shifts, again, as Willy moves a bit closer. "You didn't have much in common with Hainsey, when she was here. You still talked to her more than you've ever talked to me."

"Willy."

"You said you would be honest."

Mitch licks her lips. The water is starting to go cooler around them but Willy's body is still so warm, her breath, her eyes on Mitch, making everything feel heavy and hot. 

"Okay," Mitch says, thinking quick. She's never been a natural liar. "I - I'm jealous. I've always wanted to be pretty like you are."

William looks at her, silent, for a second. "That's not true."

"Yes it is."

"No, it isn't. Why are you lying?"

"Willy-"

"Just tell me, Mitch, please."

And then - one second Mitch is searching for something else to say, some bullshit lie to keep the truth from coming out of her mouth, but Willy is shifting forward and everything is silent and still and Willy's lips are the colour of peaches in the summer, pink and perfect and - 

Her mouth is softer than Mitch thought was possible.

William kisses her back right away, one hand moving to Mitch's waist. She draws her legs off Mitch's lap and shifts onto her knees and then she's climbing onto it instead, Mitch's lap, and her bralette is so wet against her skin. Mitch has to lean her head back to kiss her, runs a hand up her smooth stomach and over her nipples, pink through the white lace. Willy gasps into her mouth, thighs tightening around Mitch, and oh god - 

"Wait," Mitch says, out of breath, her hands everywhere but especially all over Willy's ass. "Wait, you're with Auston."

Willy blinks, like the lights just turned on and she's blinded. Her voice is soft when she says, "He's your best friend."

"Yeah. Yeah, that's why -"

"Mitch have you liked me since we met?" Willy asks. Her hand is over Mitch's cheek. "Because I have. I've liked you for so long."

"I -" The truth, which is usually Mitch's best friend, starts bubbling out of her mouth, "I never had a crush on Auston. I - I liked you. I was jealous."

"Oh," William sighs, sweet, and then leans in again. Mitch stops her.

"Wait - what about Matty?"

"He's your best friend," she says, again. Her eyes are so blue this close up. The heat of her cunt is so much when it's pressed into Mitch's lap. "You don't think he wants you to be happy?"

"He's had a crush on your forever. He once tried to get your name tattooed on his ass but I didn't let him." Mitch runs her fingers over the lining of the turtle panties, to feel Willy shiver. "Don't tell him I told you."

Willy leans forward, presses her lips against Mitch's again. Mitch has never felt so good and so bad, guilt and lust and joy and derision all rising up in her throat. 

Teeth pull Mitch's bottom lip until she moans and then Willy says, quietly, "He wants you to be happy and he wants me to be happy. He told me that."

"He said that?"

"Mhm," Willy says and from this close up Mitch can see the little smudges of freckles on her nose. "I want him to be happy too. And so do you, right?"

"Of course I do."

"So it'll work out." Willy's thumb strokes along her hairline. "Trust me."

She leans forward to kiss Mitch's temple, her forehead, her eyelids, the bridge of her nose, until Mitch is pressing her face to Willy's chest, eyes closed, helpless against the feelings in her chest and in her mind, pressing, pressing everywhere. 

 

Mitch waits until they're back in Toronto.

"Sup bro," Auston says when he opens the door. He's in camo sweats and Gucci sliders. "Can I get you something to drink? I got a new case of purple Gatorade-"

"Willy and I made out."

Auston blinks. "Are you serious?"

"Yes," Mitch says. She feels like the devil. She feels like every bad villain in every Disney movie. She should get horns and a wart and a black cape, because everyone needs to know that she's a bad person - 

"She finally made a move on you, huh?" Auston says, considering. "Nice. I know she was waiting for the right time."

Mitch blinks. "Huh," she says. 

"Will told me I was allowed to think it's hot, the two of you, but I should check with you first. Is it okay?"

"Uh. Um."

His cheeks go pink, and he says, quick, "Not that I like, have a thing for you or something, Marns. Like. You're a fucking beauty and the best friend I'll ever have and you're welcome to have sex with the girl that I'm - that we're? We're dating? I don't know. But like I don't - I don't think of you as more than a friend."

"I'm a lesbian," Mitch says.

"Oh thank god," Auston says.

They find their way to the couch after probably too long at the front door. Auston gets them both a purple Gatorade from his fridge and they crack them open, side by side, staring through Auston's bigass window to his rad view of the city. 

"So," Auston begins, slow, "Willy, huh?"

"Big time."

"Since our first year together?"

"First time I saw her," Mitch says. She keeps her eyes forward. "It was like - like you know in action movies when the hero is dangling over a pit of lava? It felt like being dangled over a pit of lava. But like. In a good way."

"Yeah," Auston says, "Like walking into a brick wall and then getting hit by a truck."

"How is it possible to be so hot?" Mitch asks and she turns, then, to face Auston. It feels the same as when they break down a play or argue about who fucked over who in Fortnite. "Her eyes are like the fucking ocean, bro."

"Have you gotten to see her tits yet?"

"No bro."

"Holy shit, bro." Auston lets his head hit the back of the couch. "Life changing, Marns."

Mitch laughs, then, and then Auston does too. Maybe that thing Mitch's grandma says all the time, about how weights lift off your shoulders when you're honest with God, maybe that's true with bffs too. 

"I missed hanging with you," Auston says. "You fell off the face of the earth."

"I was extremely jealous that you were making out with Willy and I wasn't."

"Fair."

"I missed you too."

Mitch leans her head back against the couch too and turns to face Auston. Him and his bigass forehead and weird nose. His weird moles. Bad haircut. Shitty beard. Mitch wants him to be happy every day of his life. 

"We should call Willy."

"Fuck yeah."

 

"Let me get this straight," Willy says, later, when she's come over and kissed both of them and Mitch has put her hand under her shirt and felt the soft skin over her ribcage. They're all in a jumble on the couch, now, Willy squeezed in between the two of them, her back against Auston's chest, her legs in Mitch's lap. "You two managed to figure it all out by yourselves? Like two proper adults?"

She's wearing a skirt and Mitch is not listening very well. There is far too much knee and shin and skin and leg to look at. 

"Yeah, babe," Auston says, "we talked it out. Had a very sophisticated conversation."

"Yep," Mitch says. She runs her fingers under Willy's knee and Willy's leg jumps, her hand coming down to hold Mitch's hand. "Ticklish?"

"None of that," she says, grinning, and then, "So you both want to be with me."

"Yeah."

"Desperately."

"And I want to date you guys," she says. She keeps Mitch's hand in one hand, reaches back for one of Auston's. "Do you want to date each other?"

Mitch can feel her face go weird. When she looks, Auston is making a similar face. 

"Uhhhhhhh," Mitch says, while Auston says, "No thank you."

"I would like to have sex with you," Mitch says to Willy, her brand of blunt coming back in full swing now that there's no chance of hurting a bro's feelings. Willy's cheeks go pink, her smile a bit more coy. "And like, if Auston wanted to also have sex with you? At the same time? That'd be chill? Right, bro?"

"Threesomes are chill," Auston says, "I just like. I don't want to touch Mitch."

"An accidental touch? No problem," Mitch says, "But I don't want to - like - purposefully touch Auston's dick. That is the opposite of what I want."

Willy giggles then, too loud, joyful and warm. Mitch knows her face is doing something stupid, can see herself reflected in Auston's eyes, all soppy and dumb. There's a freckle on the underside of Willy's jaw and Mitch wants to see what happens when she kisses it.

"What am I getting myself into?" Willy asks, through her laugh. 

She leans forward to kiss Mitch anyways, one of her hands clasped in Auston's, a complicated tangle of friendship and love, and Mitch finally feels like she's right at home.