Patricia Tabitha Kane is the best freaking hockey player in the NCAA, and it is ridiculously unfair that her brother is the one with an invitation to the Blackhawks prospect camp.
“I’m so fucking jealous,” she says for maybe the millionth time this summer, while they’re lounging on one of the deck chairs her parents probably should have thrown out years ago. There’s only one that doesn’t give you splinters, so they’re both crammed on it: Eric leaning back, fiddling on his phone, and Pat sitting on the end, doing her nails.
“It’s only prospect camp,” Eric says.
“Only prospect camp.” Pat jerks the polish thingy a little too aggressively, and red sparkles spatter on the deck. Eric can take the blame; he’s the one being ridiculous. “It’s prospect camp for a fucking original six team. Do you know what I would give to be in your shoes?”
“My skates, you mean,” Eric says with a smirk.
“Exactly.” Pat draws a stripe of red down one of her toenails. Yeah, red looks really good on her. She was born to wear red.
“Actually, I’m thinking about not going,” Eric says, and Pat jams the nail polish wand into the space between two toes.
“You’re—what?” she says, voice rising into a squeak.
Eric shrugs, his eyes stuck on his phone. “I’m just not sure it’s worth it.”
Pat’s having trouble breathing. And not because of the nail polish fumes. “Are you—” Okay, this is the thing: the thing where she isn’t supposed to yell at people just because they’re being fucking idiots, but Jesus, is her brother ever being a fucking idiot. “Eric. This is, like.” Okay she needs to not overplay this. “The best thing that will ever happen to you. What do you mean, it’s not worth it?”
He’s looking at his phone, like it has something more important to say than she does. Or maybe like he can’t meet her eyes when he’s being this stupid, God. “I was drafted a hundred-fifty-sixth. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of.”
“It’s exactly the stuff dreams are made of,” she says. It’s the stuff her dreams are made of. Watching him walk up on that stage and pull a Blackhawks jersey over his head, she had cheered so much she blew her voice out. And now he wants to—what? Throw it all away? “You’ll have a chance to prove yourself. You’ll be skating with actual NHL players. You’ll—”
“You know I’ve never cared about that stuff like you have,” he says, kind of mumbles toward his phone, and she stares at him.
“Okay, you know what, I—’ve got to go,” she says, and gets up and flees for the house.
She lies face down on her bed for a while, until she’s not breathing like she just ran a marathon.
It’s not fair. It’s not fair of her, maybe, to make Eric feel bad about his life choices or whatever, but it is not fucking fair that he has the chance to go to an NHL prospect camp and he doesn’t care.
Okay, so it’s not like he’s been dreaming of professional hockey the way she has. It’s always been something he does for fun. Pat doesn’t actually understand why that wouldn’t translate into wanting it for a career, why loving something even a little bit wouldn’t make you want to work at it every day of your life to do it the best you can, but Eric’s never been that way about hockey.
Maybe he doesn’t love it at all.
That thought makes her feel a little sick, so she rolls over and starts picking at the lone stripe of sparkly red on her toenail. Hockey is, like, life. Eric always teases her when she says that, but it’s true. She always thought he was teasing her just to tease, because it’s obviously true, but maybe—maybe he actually doesn’t think that. Maybe hockey actually isn’t life to him.
It’s a weird thought to have about someone you’ve known for eighteen years. Like finding out you secretly have different parents or something. But it’s not like—Pat’s not a tyrant or anything. She gets that maybe some people have different interests than her. And if one of those people is her little brother, she guesses that should be okay.
It’s just—if that’s the case, why does he get to be the one who was drafted?
She closes her eyes and imagines that she was the one whose name was called out on draft day. That she got to pull the jersey over her head to the sound of her family’s cheers and know that she would have the chance to prove her worth as a Blackhawk.
Imagining it makes her feel kind of empty, so she opens her eyes again and scrubs at her toe. The little bits of leftover nail polish are starting to make her look like she has some kind of toenail disease.
She rolls off the bed and goes to apologize to Eric.
She finds him watching TV on the couch in the living room, with Jesse and Jack. She slides in between Eric and the arm rest and smooshes herself against his side. They’re basically the same height, so she doesn’t really fit under his arm, but he puts it around her shoulders anyway.
“Sorry I was a douche,” she says.
He scoffs. “Not like I’m not used to it.”
“Asshole. You know what I mean.”
“Patty was a douche?” Jesse asks. “I’m shocked.”
“Hey, only a little,” Pat says. She does have a reputation to uphold, after all.
She slumps against Eric’s shoulder as they watch the rest of the stupid Nickelodeon cartoon that’s on TV, and then Jesse and Jack clear out to do whatever it is teenage boys do with their time. Eric nudges her with his shoulder a little when they’re gone. “It’s just not really my dream, you know?” he says quietly.
Pat does not know. Well, she does now. But it’s not like what he’s saying isn’t still blowing her mind. Eric’s always been the brother she thought she knew best. “Why did you…you know, all those years?”
“It was fun,” Eric says, and yes, yes, that. That is Pat’s point. What’s more fun than hockey? But then he goes on: “It’s just kind of a crappy career, you know? Maybe if I were really good. But I don’t want to go out there, land on an AHL team and never move up, get a bunch of concussions or something. Miss my chance to go to college and do something else with my life.”
“You could still go to college after,” Pat says.
He looks really uncomfortable. “Maybe. But I want to do it now, when all my friends are doing it.”
She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get it at all. Hockey is where you make friends, where you…
Pat is not a tyrant, and she’s not someone’s mom. She knows when to let things go. She rests her forehead against his shoulder. “Yeah, okay,” she says.
She knows when to let things go, but she still feels shitty about it, and she sulks in the bathroom that night instead of watching the movie everyone else is watching. She’s trying a new thing with her hair, this new curling iron that’s supposed to keep it from being a frizzy nightmare, and it’s maybe kind of working? As well as anything ever works on her hair.
It just sucks, is all. Sucks, sucks, sucks. It’s nothing new. She’s always been better than Eric, and he’s always gotten on the better teams, because he’s a boy. She should be used to it by now. But it stings more than usual this time. Maybe because it feels like the end of the line.
She puts down the curling iron and lifts up her sweatshirt to look at her body. It’s just as strong as Eric’s; they’ve had plenty of weight-lifting competitions over the years to prove it. It’s solid in the right places, at the waist where you need core muscle control, and God knows she has the glutes. This could be the body of an NHL player. Hell, you take away her A-cups, and it could be the body of a boy.
There’s a knock on the door. “Patty, come on, I need to brush my teeth!” Jack whines, because he’s still kind of a baby and thinks bedtimes are mandatory.
“Go away, I’m trying to make myself beautiful in here,” she says.
“And I have to peeee,” he says, and she sighs and opens the door.
“What do you think?” she asks, fluffing her hair.
He looks at her for about half a second. “Urgh. You still look just like Eric.”
Pat’s already picking up her stuff to leave, but she stops at that. Lets the curling iron clatter to the counter.
Eric’s already asleep when she sneaks into his room. “Hey, Eric, wake up,” she says, pouncing on the edge of his bed.
Eric blinks his eyes open. “Huzzawha?” he says.
“Eric I have a brilliant brilliant plan,” she says, bouncing some more to make sure he doesn’t go back to sleep. “You have to hear it, come on, come on.”
“What?” He puts his hand over his face. “Go away.”
Actual words. She’s making progress. “No, really, you have to listen,” she says. “You know how you don’t want to go to prospect camp?”
He takes his hand away from his eyes only to roll them at her. “Yes, we’ve been over this, I don’t want—”
“No, wait, this is different,” she says. “Okay. You know how I would basically chew off my right arm to go, except that I couldn’t shoot without my right arm, but you get the idea, right?”
Now he’s scrunching up his forehead at her. “Yes.”
“So!” she says, and bounces some more and looks at him with wide eyes.
He just looks confused. “So what?”
“Sooo,” she says, because, come on, how much more obvious can she get? “So I’ll go to prospect camp. And you won’t.”
Eric’s face goes through about five different versions of sleepy and baffled. “That didn’t make any sense at all.”
Pat sighs. Little brothers are useless. “It’s simple. I basically look just like you, right?”
“No, really, I do.” She shakes his leg. “Right?”
He considers her for a moment. “Yeah. I mean, we knew that.”
“So who’s going to know if I show up at prospect camp in your place?”
He sighs. “Why are you in my room right now, again?”
“Eric, come ooon.” She leans into him so that her elbows dig into his stomach and he has to roll on his side. “Who would even know?”
“Um, everyone,” he says. “Because you’re a girl.”
“Not if I bind my chest and cut my hair short,” she says.
He’s silent for a moment. “Wait, you’re…actually serious about this.”
She snorts. “You think I just wake you up in the middle of the night for no reason?”
“Um, yeah,” he says, and aims a kick at her hip.
“It’s only like eleven-thirty, anyway.” She pinches him in retaliation for the kick. “You’re so lame.”
“Yeah, too lame for you to want to imitate at prospect camp, so go away and let me sleep.”
She launches herself across his stomach and pins him. “Not until you say you’ll at least consider it.”
He tries to shove her off, but Pat’s got like ten pounds on him, and she does the trick where she makes all her muscles lax. “Jesus Christ, you’re heavy.”
“The better to make weigh-in with, my dear,” she says in her best evil wolf voice. Then, “So? So?”
Eric’s silent for a minute. Pat bounces on his stomach a couple of times in encouragement. “Fuck, stop it, all right,” he says. “Get off me already.”
“You’ll think about it?”
“I’ll think about it,” he says, and she lays the grossest open-mouthed kiss she can on his cheek.
“That’s not helping!” he calls after her as she runs out the door, but she’s giggling too hard to care.
She might be going to prospect camp.
Of course, there’s some work to be done the next day.
Eric glares at her over breakfast so much that Jack starts looking all worried about it and asks what’s wrong. And yeah, Jack can be kind of a baby, but that doesn’t mean Pat doesn’t hate it when he starts looking worried.
“No, really, what’s wrong?” he asks when Eric’s stomped out with his cereal.
She reaches across and ruffles his hair. “Nothing, my little hockey puck,” she says.
Jack makes a face. “Did you eat something weird?” he asks.
She laughs. She’s going to convince Eric to let her to go to NHL prospect camp; she doesn’t need to eat anything weird. “Not a bit, my precious little half-chewed mouthguard,” she says, and slings him over her shoulder and carries him into the living room at a run. He screams a little bit, but come on, she dumps him on the couch. It’s totally humane.
She manages not to bug Eric until halfway through the morning, when he’s on the back steps trying to fix a piece of his remote-control car. “Have you thought about it?” she asks as she sits down next to him.
He scrunches his nose up and keeps fiddling with the car. “Haven’t you forgotten about this by now?”
“As if,” she says.
“But it’s, like, totally ridiculous. You know that.”
“It’s not, though,” she says.
He turns and casts an eye over her. “You can’t really make people think you’re a boy.”
“Yes, I can,” she says, and she says it seriously enough that she starts to see it: the flickering doubt behind his eyes. “But look, okay, say that I can’t. What do you have to lose?”
He opens her mouth, stares at her for maybe a solid minute. “Nothing, I guess,” he says at last. “But—”
“But it’s crazy for you,” he says. “I mean, Jesus, Pat, if they catch you—”
“Then what do I have to lose?” she asks.
He’s silent for a moment again.
“You know they won’t give me a chance any other way,” she says. “It’s not like I’m burning any bridges if they figure it out. And I have to try for it. I have to.”
He clenches his fingers around the wheel axle of the tiny car, loosens them again. “What if they catch you on the first morning?”
“Then I’ll have had a morning of skating with NHL prospects,” she says.
Eric puts the car on the ground and puts his head in his hands. “Fuuuck,” he says on a long exhale.
Pat tries to tamp down on the spark of hope in her chest, but she feels a smile growing on her face. “Wait, is that a yes?” she says.
His cheeks quirk in the beginning of a smile. “I mean—it’s your funeral. It’s not like I’m losing anything by it.”
She squeals loudly enough to wake the neighbor’s dog and throws her arms around him.
“Yeah, yeah, get off me,” Eric says, and, okay, she’s probably hurting him, so he does. But she doesn’t stop smiling.
She’s going to Chicago.
Well, after she puts a few other pieces into place, that is.
“Hey, Mom, remember my friend Amy?” she says later that afternoon.
Her mom’s folding laundry. Pat’s nearby on the staircase, flipping through a magazine. It would put her mom in a better mood if she helped with the clothes, but Pat knows this game: try to be too goody-two-shoes about asking for things, and her mom gets suspicious. You have to play it cool.
“I think so,” her mom says. “She’s the one who twisted her ankle last year, right?”
“She got better,” Pat says automatically. Not that Amy’s injury status is relevant here, but hey, a hockey player’s injury status always matters. “She wants me to come visit her in Chicago.”
“In Chicago?” Her mom stops folding and looks up. “That’s a long way. Aren’t you going to see her in the fall?”
“Yeah, but I guess she’s having a rough summer?” Pat waves a hand. “Something with her parents’ relationship.”
Her mom’s mouth turns down. “Hm.”
Pat bites down on a grin of glee. That was a really good line. Eric came up with that one; Pat wanted to say it was a divorce, but Eric pointed out that then their parents might say something the next time they saw Amy’s parents at a game. Better to go ambiguous.
“I don’t know,” her mom says. “It’s still a long trip.”
Pat travels way farther than that all the time with her team, but she knows better than to make that argument. “I know,” she says. “But Eric’s going out there anyway for prospect camp, and I was thinking it might be fun if I went along. Then neither of us would have to travel alone, and we’d have the other one around in case anything happened.”
Her mom tips her head and lifts her eyebrows a little. “Now there’s a thought.”
Pat has to fight down the urge to fist-pump and pulls out her phone. It’s probably time to give Amy a heads up.
Obviously Amy wants her to come visit. Amy squeals into the phone a little, and Pat has to squeal back, and then some combination of brothers shouts at her to shut up already, so she does, sort of.
“So you’re, what, doing a camp out here?” Amy asks when the squealing portion of the call has mostly ended.
“Yeah, it’s kind of dumb,” Pat says. “I’ll tell you more about it when I’m there.”
“Whatever, as long as you’ll save me from having to hang out with the kids from high school who think I still wear headgear,” Amy says.
“You wore headgear?” Pat demands, and okay, there are some serious pictures she’s been missing.
“It was because of hockey!” Amy says, but nope, Pat’s got chirping material forever now.
Her parents aren’t totally on board yet, but Pat’s basically playing a waiting game there. She hears them talking about it that night, her dad using that serious voice he gets whenever he wants to make sure they’ve considered all the sides of something.
He comes up to her the next night after he gets back from work. “Your mom and I have been talking about this trip to Chicago,” he says. “We think it’s great that you want to go out there and support your friend.”
Pat straightens up. She can’t read anything from that tone of voice. “And?”
“And the thing is, we’re just a little worried about you being okay around your brother that week,” he says.
Pat blinks. “What?”
He puts his hand on her shoulder. “Sweetie, I know you’ve always wished you could play in the NHL. Do you really want to be around while Eric’s at camp?”
Pat almost laughs. Of all the things that might screw her over here. “I think I’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure?” He’s giving her his ultimate worried look. “I know how much playing has always meant to you.”
“I am playing,” she says. “In college, remember?”
He just looks at her, concern-crinkles still in the corners of his eyes.
“Really. I’ll be fine,” she says. “I just want to be there for him while he goes through this. And, you know, Amy and I will be able to train together. It’ll be great.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” he says, and Pat tries to look as sure as possible while he squeezes her shoulder.
“Okay, so we need a plan,” she says to Eric the next day.
“Does it involve me playing this game and you going away?” he asks, steering his Mario Kart around a bend.
“Will you pay attention?” she says. “We only have two weeks to work everything out.”
“Pretty sure the plan is for you to pretend to be a boy,” he says. “Don’t see what I have to do with that.”
“There’s other stuff, too,” she says. “Like, where are you going to stay when we’re in Chicago? I bet Amy would put you up, but if you wanted to stay somewhere else—”
Eric crashes into the side of the mountain. “I’m going with you?”
Pat stares at him. “Well, yeah.”
“But—” Eric stares back. “I thought the whole plan was that I wasn’t going.”
“No,” she says slowly. “The plan is that you aren’t going to prospect camp. You still have to come to Chicago.”
“What for?” he asks.
“Well, for one thing,” she says, “they make all the new prospects go through a physical.”
Eric makes this prolonged choking sound in his throat. “This is the absolute worst plan you have ever, ever had,” he says.
“Okay, I take back everything I ever said,” he says the day before they’re supposed to leave for Chicago, when she’s standing in front of the mirror with a pair of scissors. “This is the worst plan you’ve ever had.”
“Just stand still,” she says. “I need to see where to cut.”
Eric throws his hands over his head. “You can’t cut guy-hair with scissors!”
“I don’t have guy-hair,” Pat says.
“No, you can’t cut a guy haircut—you—you know what, I’m just stealing these.” He grabs the scissors while they’re open, which is totally a safety hazard.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Pat says.
“No. You’re not getting these back until you make an appointment with an actual barber.”
“Fine.” If only because she doesn’t want to start a fight over the scissors. “We’ll do it once we get there.”
Pat wears the frilliest, girliest thing she owns to go to the airport. Inside her suitcase, on the other hand, is a week and a half’s worth of t-shirts, hoodies, jeans, and Under Armour.
Eric’s stuck carrying her hockey gear. “You just had to bring everything, didn’t you?” he hisses as they’re walking towards the terminal.
“Like I was going to not bring my gear to prospect camp,” she says. She’s practically bouncing along. Chicago, prospect camp, Blackhawks. Blackhawks.
“You kids be careful,” their mom says outside security, and Pat rolls her eyes.
“I’m sure we’ll have a very interesting time,” Eric says, giving Pat a significant glance, and she kicks his ankle. She doesn’t need this. She just needs to get through security, and then it’s the plane, and then—
Pat can barely breathe as they walk out of the airport. Eric says that’s the smog, but Pat knows better. That’s hockey.
Amy gives her a big hug and gives maybe half a glance to Eric and helps them with their luggage. “So?” she says when they’re in the car. “Tell me more about this camp or whatever.”
“Later,” Pat says, because she’s not doing this with Eric there. He’s already rolled his eyes at her enough.
She waits until they’re in Amy’s room, in the very nice house where her parents are not having difficulties, thank you very much. Eric’s been sent off to the guest room or is maybe wandering the streets or whatever; Pat doesn’t care. This is girl time.
She waits through Amy’s story about the guy she almost hooked up with last week but who turned out to be a total dick. She waits through Amy telling her about the awful protein shakes she’s supposed to be drinking this summer but hasn’t been able to gag down. Then, finally, Amy says, “Oh yeah, so are we going to be able to hang out at all? What’s the deal with this camp?”
“Well,” Pat says. “I’m going to prospect camp for the Chicago Blackhawks.”
There’s a silence, and then Amy frowns at her. “No, you’re not.”
“No, you’re not!” Amy shrieks, mouth dropping open. “Wait, did you—they never do that, oh my God, I can’t believe they—”
“Um, they didn’t actually,” Pat says. “It’s not—they didn’t invite me. I’m going as Eric.”
There’s another pause, and Amy leans back, eyes wide and head shaking. “No. You’re. Not.”
Pat gives a sheepish shrug.
“It’ll never work,” Amy says, and then Pat has to open her suitcase and get out the specialized compression band she got for her chest. She puts it on, along with the jeans she brought—boy jeans, of course—and a loose-ish t-shirt. She pulls a baseball cap on over her curls and stands and grins at Amy.
“Holy shit,” Amy says.
Amy goes with her to get her hair cut that afternoon. They still have two days until camp starts, but Pat doesn’t want to waste any time.
“I’m so jealous,” Amy says, for maybe the third time. “I could never get away with something like this.”
Pat elbows her in the side. “You’d need like five compression bandages,” she says, and Amy sighs. Her boobs are kind of a team joke. They’re only like a C cup, but that’s more than most hockey players manage to have, with the body fat ratios they have to maintain.
“What about in the showers, though?” Amy asks, and yeah, Pat’s been wondering about that. Whether it would be too weird just not to shower at the rink, or whether she can keep some clothing on. Whether…well. She’s going to have to wing it. That’s how she does her best stuff on the ice, anyway. Letting the moment move her.
They call her name for the haircut, and she hands the hairdresser a picture of Eric.
“You want it like you used to have it, huh?” the woman asks, and Pat grins widely.
“Yeah, that’s right,” she says.
The hairdresser flips her pink-tipped hair over her shoulders and plays with Pat’s curls a bit. “You know, that look is a little severe on you. I could play with the angles a bit, make it more feminine.”
Pat presses her lips together to keep from laughing. “No. That’s really, really okay.”
Eric drops the cup he’s holding when he sees her walk into the house. Pat takes that as a good sign.
Doesn’t mean she’s any less nervous when the actual first day of training camp arrives. She should be afraid because of the physicals later that morning, but what’s really terrifying her is this: walking through the door into the locker room.
Pat can hear voices on the other side, the new prospects changing. She can also hear the vague echo of footsteps in the tunnel behind her that are going to mean she has to go through the door pretty soon. But right now she’s stuck: standing on the wrong side of the door, staring at poorly painted wood.
She’s walked into a lot of locker rooms in her life. Some of them have even had boys in them, though that hasn’t happened in about a decade. But she knows locker rooms. She knows hockey players.
She belongs here.
The footsteps behind her get closer. She tightens her grip on the bag in her hand and goes through the door.
A couple of people glance up, reflexive, responding to the door opening. No one really looks at her, though. Pat crosses the room to a stall that has her name and a number taped on it: 12, Kane. Well, the last name is right, anyway.
Pat takes off her hat and sweatshirt and pulls her t-shirt out of her jeans. Her mouth tastes like the surface of the lockers: cold metal, chipped and dinged and going towards rust. She can feel the eyes of the room that aren’t even on her.
She spent a long time looking in the mirror last night, Under Armour on over the compression band around her chest. The band has specialized panels meant to flatten her boobs but still keep them separate, like pecs. Nothing like her sports bra. It might even be less tight. And she got her Under Armour one size too big just to be extra careful. She’s not sure if the illusion is perfect, but she kept catching her chest out of the corner of her eye and being disoriented. Like it was some other body she was looking at. A male body.
Now she gets her hands on the hem of her t-shirt and drags it up. She could wait longer, try to hide for a while, but it would just make the fear that much worse. She needs to do it now.
Her pulse jackhammers in her ears as she crumples the t-shirt in a ball. The urge to turn toward the lockers is strong, but she stands there, all five-foot-ten of her in sneakers and jeans with her hair curling unfamiliarly around her ears, and waits for the calls of protest.
They don’t come. After a long moment she looks up, dares to rake her eyes around the room. No one’s looking at her. There are no eyes on her chest, no one jeering or whistling or yelling about the girl in the room. No one even squinting at her funny.
Pat lets out a breath. It’s not like she’s safe now—but if it’s not blindingly obvious, they might never notice, because she knows sports dudes, and one thing they’ll never do in the locker room is look. Not if they think anyone might notice them. They might stare at her boobs in normal life, but they wouldn’t be caught dead staring at her pecs.
“Hey.” The guy next to her taps her on the shoulder, and for a second she startles, thinking maybe she thought too soon. But he just says: “Uh, do you think we’re supposed to go out there if we’re ready, or what?”
Pat grins at him. Half relief—but also half bravado, because what comes next is another of the tough parts. She and Amy worked on this last night: Pat lowering her voice and playing with tones until Amy said it sounded believable (“and not like a goddamn cartoon character, come on, Pat.”) “Fucked if I know, dude,” she says. “Wanna try it and see?”
The guy doesn’t look at her weirdly or anything. He just shrugs. “Sure,” he says, and she follows him out of the room towards the ice. Just two guys, about to show the Hawks what they can do.
The morning is drills, straightforward stuff that’s meant to give the coaches a sense of their skills. Pat can see the coaches’ eyes measuring up the line of prospects, and she can tell that they’re not stopping on her. Not on the short one, the one who was drafted one-fifty-sixth and barely figured in the scouting reports.
Her hands tighten on her stick. She’s going to change that.
She doesn’t embarrass herself at the shooting drills; top ten, maybe, but nothing that’s going to make her stand out from the crowd. Speed is better: she can feel the others falling away behind her as she powers across the ice, and she can’t hold back the grin when she crosses the goal line before anyone else.
They can’t all race at once, so she goes back to the bench to watch the other groups. There’s a clear winner in the second group as well: number nineteen, tall and fast. Toews.
Pat knows him. Not knows, knows, but she knows as much about him as anyone in the hockey world does. Drafted third overall, played with UND last year. Shoo-in for the team this year.
He doesn’t look at her as he goes back to the bench. She smirks. She’ll show him shoo-in.
So she did well at speed. That’s not what she was really excited about. The main event is next: puck handling.
They set them up in groups of three, one forward against two playing D. It’s sloppy: the D men don’t know each other, but the forwards have no one to pass to. Most of them give up the puck after a few seconds.
Not Toews. He’s up right before Pat, and he powers through the two guys in front of him like they don’t even matter. Like nothing’s going to stand between him and the goal. It’s not at all how Pat would have done it, but it’s kind of beautiful.
She jiggles her leg against the boards, wanting to go over. Wanting to do better.
The puck hits her tape with a thunk as soon as she’s on the ice. The D men are right in front of her, huge, way huger than the women she usually goes up against. For a second all she can see is their size—and then they’re just obstacles, shifting patterns on the ice, complications for her to deke around.
She sees the opportunities open up barely an instant before she takes them. The puck is on her stick, easy and smooth as butter, and she plays with it: dancing around the D men, lightning-quick slaps to the puck, tucking it between their legs and picking it up on the other side, fast turns to keep it out of their reach. She’s showing off, she knows it; but it’s wonderful, feeling the mastery of the puck through her stick. Knowing the D men can’t touch her.
They don’t. She ducks around them, leaves them in her dust, and then it’s just the goalie before her. She slows a little, light, easy, not enough to let the D men catch her, and then just when the goalie is off his guard, she slams into a spin-o-rama.
She doesn’t even need to look to see that the puck is in. But it is: sliding away from the net, neat and pretty in the center of the goal.
Pat can’t help it. She goes into a celly.
She has their attention now: she can feel it, the eyes on her as she goes back to the bench. That’ll teach them to underestimate her.
Toews comes up to her on the bench, while some prospect from Vermont is utterly failing to control the puck. “Where’d you play?” he asks.
It’s on the tip of her tongue to say Northeastern, but she swallows it down. “Honeybaked,” she says.
Toews nods. “You’re good.”
She laughs, the low laugh she and Amy practiced. “You don’t have to sound so disappointed about it.”
“I’m not,” he says, looking cagey.
She punches him in the shoulder. “Get over yourself, Toews,” she says. “Got the puck in, didn’t you?”
His eyes go glare-y. “Better than you.”
“In your fucking dreams,” Pat says, and she’s grinning. She’s going to like this.
They have their physicals after lunch.
Pat’s been texting Eric throughout the morning, whenever they have a break and she can get to her phone. He knows when the physicals are, and he’s promised to be there. Which doesn’t explain why she’s the one sitting outside the trainer’s office, waiting to hear her name.
She’s the last one in the A through K group. The second-to-last guy just went into the office. Her stubby nails are leaving crescents in the skin above her knee. If Eric doesn’t show up in about sixty seconds, that door is going to open, and there’ll be nothing for her to do but go through it.
There’s a clunk behind the door, like maybe someone’s coming towards it. It doesn’t open, but she pops to her feet anyway.
“Bathroom,” she says to the startled guy in the L through Z group sitting down the row, and ignores the bathroom two feet away for the one down the hall and around the corner.
She’s so rattled she almost goes into the women’s room. Jesus.
Her phone is out as soon as she’s in the stall. Where the hell r u? she texts to Eric.
Omw, traffic, he texts back, and she wants to text every mean thing she can think of, but instead she fumbles the phone back into her pocket (big pockets, the only good thing about guys’ pants) and presses her hands against the cool surface of the stall barrier.
Eric knows how to get to the trainer’s office. She’s told him what he should be wearing. There’s nothing more she can do to make this work. She just has to wait.
She makes it two minutes before she’s pulling her phone out again and jabbing at the keyboard. ARE YOU HERE YET??
It’s thirty more seconds before she gets a response, and then it’s Yes walking in now, and that’s it, she should be relieved, but she’s not because all she can think is that someone’s going to call them out. It’s not like Eric looks exactly like her. It’s maybe enough for someone who’s just met her, but what if it’s not? What happens if they take one look at him and are like, “You’re not the guy from before. Get out of here”?
They won’t let her skate this afternoon, that’s what would happen.
Pat sits down on the toilet seat (ew, boys’ toilets, but it’s not like girls’ are much better) and draws her feet in so they won’t be easy to spot. All she can do now is wait.
She waits for freaking forever without hearing from Eric. She texts Amy about a billion times, because Amy’s being a lazy person at home and can totally take the time to witness Pat’s slow death by anxiety, but that maybe makes it worse because it means her phone keeps buzzing and every single time she thinks it’s going to be Eric, telling her they got made.
When it finally does buzz with his name, she almost drops it. She turns it right-side-up again and sees: They want us to gain some weight.
Pat snorts a laugh and sends back, HA.
How do I get out of here, again? Eric sends back. Or did you want me to hang around, meet the team?
Very funny, moron, go back the way u came, she sends, and then she remembers he’s doing her a favor and sends, Thanks.
She waits for a minute or two for the :P she’s pretty sure she’s going to get back, and when it doesn’t come, she goes out of the stall and washes her hands. She would really love to be able to leave the bathroom now, but it’s probably not safe when Eric could be wandering the halls. No matter how much they look alike, no one’s going to think they’re the same person if they see both of them together.
?? she sends after a few more minutes, and she taps her fingers on her phone, waiting for a response.
When the door opens, she jumps a little. The guy—Lavin or something? She can’t remember—gives her a weird look, and she gestures with the phone and rolls her eyes. “Girlfriend,” she says.
“Yeah, I hear you,” Lavin says, even though he’s barely eighteen and pimply and has probably never been touched by a girl in his life.
It would be weird now, though, for her to hang around while he pees, so she goes back into the corridor and heads away from the trainer’s office. Maybe there’s a room she can duck into. Wtf are you? she sends to Eric, and then she pulls up short, because oh, that’s where he is.
He’s right in front of her—close enough, anyway, that she can see his face. He’s standing by some trophy cases, caught in conversation with a couple of the prospects. She turns away before she can see much, but the look on his face is forcedly amused verging on terrified.
Pat turns around and starts walking in the other direction. She doesn’t want to meet anyone going this way—what if they pass her and then see other-her?—but she can’t exactly make herself disappear. There’s a wall recess by a door, and she leans into it casually and hopes Eric gets away soon.
“—and that was a sick pass,” one of the guys is saying to Eric. “Where have you been training?”
“Oh, I, you know, I train with my sister a lot,” he says, and Pat smirks. But not that hard, because OMG, they can compliment her later, she needs Eric to—
She pulls out her phone and punches savagely at it.
“Oh, I should take this,” Eric says, and she could kiss him for that, especially when she hears his voice going in the other direction as he answers. “Hello?”
“Get out of here, asshole,” she hisses into the phone.
“Oh hi, Mom,” he says, and his voice is way too happy, but whatever; the echo of his voice down the corridor is getting farther away.
“I’ll see you at Amy’s,” she says, firmly, and hangs up and relaxes against the wall.
Now she just needs those guys to scatter for long enough that they won’t think it’s weird that she, like, teleported or whatever. Just needs to stay put—
Pat snaps her head up. It’s Toews, in his pads, and he’s looking at her with a weird expression. Pat’s stomach drops. He looks at her, then down the hall. “Weren’t you just—” he says.
“Hm?” she asks, widening her eyes in a way that sometimes works to get her the last cookie in the dining hall.
He shakes his head, like he’s brushing it off. “Um, nothing.” Then he frowns. “Why aren’t you in your gear?”
“Fuck.” Pat forgot how late it was. She pushes off the wall and hurries to the locker room.
So that could have been smoother, but at least they got through it. By the time she gets home at the end of the day, she’s tired enough to wave Eric’s apologies off. “You were golden, dude,” she says into the couch pillow she’s faceplanted on, and she stays there until Amy drags her upstairs to take a shower.
“Props for not, like, doing it at the rink and flashing your boobs at everyone, but I have to live with that couch,” Amy says.
The shower feels amazing, even if Pat almost falls asleep while she’s rinsing her hair. It feels so good to let her boobs free of the compression bandage, and she spends a minute running her hands over them under the hot water where the bandage has left little red lines. “Sorry, babies,” she whispers, and then feels silly for talking to her boobs, but hey, if a woman isn’t allowed to be silly about her own boobs, when can she be?
Amy ambushes her as soon as she gets out of the bathroom. “So? How was it?”
Pat doesn’t hold back her huge smile. “Amazing.”
“Ugh, jealous,” Amy says. “Jealous, jealous, jealous.”
“You should be,” Pat says, and then she has to endure Amy revenge-poking her for the next fifteen minutes until she cries uncle and Amy finally lets her take a much-needed nap before dinner.
The next few days go pretty much the same way—without the physical, thank God; Pat’s heart can only take so much of that. But she gets to skate around in a Kane jersey and run circles around all the guys. (“It’s like when the four of us used to play street hockey,” she says to Eric one night, and he tells her to go fuck herself.)
It’s pretty clear by the end of the second day that she would be the best one there if it weren’t for Toews. Pat doesn’t mind, exactly: she’s going out for a team, not trying to win a skills competition, and they’ll need some other good players. But she’s starting to think maybe Toews minds, the way he glares at her every time she does something well.
Pat doesn’t let it get her down. She’s probably skating better than she would be without the competition to spur her on, and it’s getting the coaches to notice. Savard pats her on the shoulder near the end of the second day and says, “Good work out there,” and Pat doesn’t stop smiling for like ten minutes. Especially after she catches sight of Toews’ face.
Not that it’s all perfect. Basically every inch of her body aches, and Amy winces on Tuesday night when Pat peels off her shirt to reveal the nasty bruise on her ribs from the scrimmage that day. And it’s weird not being able to shower with the team, and having to keep her guard up and her voice low in the locker room, and generally feeling like she’s impersonating someone else.
But fuck, is it ever worth it.
On Wednesday the coach plays her and Toews on the same line. Pat’s a little annoyed by it; Toews has been ignoring her in the locker room and on the bench since that first day, and she doesn’t want to look terrible out there because some douchebag has ego issues and won’t pass to her.
As soon as they’re on the ice, though, it all changes. Toews isn’t ignoring her anymore; he’s not exactly looking at her, either, but it doesn’t matter, because his passes fly to her without his even turning his head. It works the other way, too: he’s always exactly where she needs him, exactly in the right spot to avoid the opposition, and she passes to where she guesses he’s going to be and hears the sweet crack of the puck on the one-timer.
He wraps her in a hug as soon as the goal light goes, and maybe she would rather it were her goal, but this feeling is too perfect for her to wish it too hard.
“We should do that more often,” she says after they climb back over the boards.
He looks at her, all seriousness, and for once it’s not the glare he’s been giving her for the past three days. “We will,” he says, and it sets up a warm glow in her stomach. She’s been dreaming, working, scheming, hell, changing her gender expression for this chance, and it’s always been there: the distant possibility that this will all work out. But for the first time, she actually believes it.
“And, oh my God, it was gorgeous,” she says to Amy that night. She doesn’t have enough energy to move, exactly, but talking doesn’t count. Even if she is waving her hands. “Like, you know that moment of instinct where you just know something’s going to work before you do it? I didn’t even know he was going to be there, except that I did, and he was, and it was perfect.”
She pauses for breath and notices that Amy’s looking at her funny.
Amy has this little smile on her face that Pat is sure means nothing good. “Oh, nothing,” she says. “Just that you’ve been talking about Jonathan Toews for like half an hour.”
There’s no way it’s been that long. “So? Didn’t you hear about the goal?”
“And also about how well he skates, and how he can see plays, and how he likes to stare at you across the ice.”
“Glare,” Pat says. “I said ‘glare,’” and what is Amy saying?
“Just…be careful, is all,” she says, still giving Pat that knowing little smile.
“Oh, as if,” Pat says, and, aches be damned, kicks Amy onto the floor.
It’s the last day of prospect camp when Coach Savard calls Pat into his office. Dale Tallon is there, and Pat’s stomach starts doing weird stuff under her Under Armour.
She sits down in the chair in front of his desk and grips the arm rests. “You wanted to see me?”
Savard leans over the desk, hands clasped in front of him, face very serious. Pat’s hands start sweating on the arm rests. “So, you weren’t drafted very high,” he says.
“Yeah,” she says, and her stomach sinks.
“Frankly, we weren’t expecting to see the performance we did this week,” he says.
Okay. Okay, that’s not bad, yet, unless it’s followed up with, clearly you’re not the real Eric Kane. “Thanks?” she hazards.
“You have a lot of skill out there,” Savard says. “Small, but you’re good with the puck, good speed, fast enough to avoid the hits you might not be able to take. I think you bring a lot to the table, and we’d like to see more of it in September.”
Pat stares at him for a moment. “Really?” she says, and she can’t even be embarrassed about the squeak in her voice.
He gives her a gruff look. “Come to training camp. Then we’ll see.”
There’s some other stuff, contract stuff that Pat kind of tunes out. Then Dale Tallon is shaking her hand, and Pat floats out of the office.
Amy whoops when she hears, and Eric pulls Pat into a hug so tight she almost can’t breathe. “I knew you would do it,” he says, and that’s such a lie that Pat has to hit him multiple times for it. But not very hard, because she did it.
“We’ll show ’em women can’t play in the NHL!” Amy crows, and she and Pat dance around the living room.
They celebrate that night, Pat putting on her skimpiest dress and loading her face with makeup and grinding with guys at a club. It feels good being a girl for a change, not having to worry if her voice is low enough or her walk is masculine enough or if she’s accidentally checking out guys. But not half as good as it’s going to feel to take to the ice in September.
Of course, there’s still a major obstacle in her way.
“Sorry, run that by us again?” her dad says.
He and her mom are at the kitchen table, looking at Pat with matching confused expressions. Pat takes a deep breath.
“I went to Chicago and went to prospect camp in Eric’s place,” she says for the second time. “And—and they want me at training camp in September.”
They’re still staring at her, like words have totally deserted them, and she knows well enough what they’re going to ask next.
“And…they might not know I’m a girl,” she says, sinking down into one of the chairs.
Her mom winces. Her dad gives her a heavy look.
“Well, they couldn’t figure it out in a whole week of playing with me,” Pat says. “I don’t think they’re going to figure it out now.”
“That’s not the only problem, pumpkin,” her dad says, and oh no, it’s a pumpkin conversation.
“There are reasons they don’t let women play in the NHL,” her mom says.
“There’s no actual rule against it,” Pat says. She’s checked. Thoroughly. Or at least had Amy and Eric check thoroughly, because they’re better at this stuff than she is.
“There might be a rule against signing a contract under someone else’s name,” her dad says. “And what about your brother?”
“You know he wants to go to college,” Pat says. Eric is smart; he got into NYU, and not even for hockey. “Look, the worst thing they can do is kick me out. Even if they do that—I’ll still have gotten to play.” She looks at her dad. “In the NHL, Dad.”
He looks back at her, and she can see he gets it. He’s always known how much she’s wanted to play in the NHL. When she was little she thought maybe there would be women in it by the time she grew up, but then she was a teenager, and draft age, and—well. This is the only way she can do it, now.
“Sweetie, is it safe?” her mom asks.
Pat hesitates because, of course not. It’s a professional sport; it’s not safe. “Would that have stopped you with Eric?”
Her mom is making a twisted mom-face. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“It’ll hurt more if I don’t play,” she says.
There’s a long pause. “Let us talk about it,” her dad says at last.
Pat has to sit through way too many logistical conversations over the next few days. She tries to pay attention, but she kind of sucks at logistics. And the important thing is: they’re going to let her do it. They’re not going to stand in her way.
“I still don’t know if this is a good idea,” her mom says at one point, but she doesn’t say it like an objection. More like it’s eating at her.
Pat gets it. She’s not sure this is a good idea, either. But she’s sure that not doing it would be a bad one.
She’s on the exercise bike in the basement one day when Eric trails down the stairs. “Apparently if this is going to work, I have to give you my passport.”
“Oh.” Pat sits up straight on the bike. “Oh, shit, Eric, I didn’t even think.” She’s going to be crossing the Canadian border all the time; of course she’ll need a passport. And not one in her own name.
He collapses on the couch and waves a hand. “Eh, it’s okay. But if I decide to do junior year abroad, I’m going to need that back.”
“Like I’ll make it that long,” Pat says, even though she wants to. She wants to make it all the way, win the Stanley Cup, play for years, retire when she’s old and broken at thirty-nine or whatever. But, realistically, the thing she should be worried about right now is making it through training camp.
She makes it through training camp.
It’s kind of a surprise—not because she’s not awesome, but just because it’s so much harder than prospect camp. That wasn’t easy, either, but there she was so clearly at the head of the pack. Here, she’s skating with NHL veterans, most of whom are way older than the baby-faced eighteen- and nineteen-year-old prospects and have way more muscle and years of experience smashing into people on the ice.
But that’s why Pat skates fast: to avoid people like that. Or to work with them, to pull her weight in the scrimmages, to get the puck to the goal and in as often as she possibly can.
And for some reason, skating with Jonathan Toews helps with that.
She thought, back in July, that skating with any of the real Blackhawks forwards would feel like it does with him: the effortless connection, not needing to think about where the other person was to make passes connect and goals go in. She thought it was just about how good he was. And some of the other forwards are great: she likes having Patrick Sharp on the other wing, and Lang is a solid center. And fuck, she’s starstruck by them all, can barely get over being able to use their nicknames to their faces.
But no one’s like Tazer.
The two of them are unstoppable on the ice. The coaches definitely notice, and by the end of the camp, Pat isn’t surprised anymore when it seems like the two of them are sticking around.
Off the ice, he’s still kind of distant with her. But at the end of the week, the players who are still around go to Seabrook’s—Seabs’—house for beers, which means the underage rookies can actually get drunk. Which they do.
Tazer’s drinking faster than she is, and he’s maybe half a dozen beers in when he comes and sits next to her, kind of squishing her into the corner of the couch. “Dude,” she says.
He smacks his lips together and looks at her blurrily. “Think I’m drunk,” he says.
Yeah, no doubt about that. “Didn’t you, like, go to college?” Pat says. “You should be able to hold your liquor better. Shame, Tazer, shame.”
“Jonny,” he says.
“Jonny,” he repeats, poking her and slurring a little. “Should call me Jonny.”
Pat’s not really sure what to do with that. His face is smushed into her shoulder, and she’s pretty sure he’s drooling on her shirt. “You don’t like Tazer?”
He makes some noise into her shoulder that might be a no. Which is weird, since he seemed pretty thrilled when the guys gave him the nickname earlier that week. With his particular crazy-eyed version of thrilled.
“Okay,” Pat says, because whatever, she can call him Jonny. “You should call me Kaner, though.” Because hell if she’s going to let anyone call her Eric.
“All righty,” Jonny says, and pats her on the chest. Pat panics for a moment before remembering that he doesn’t think she has boobs. This is just a guy thing. A bro-pat. It’s nothing. And she’s wearing her compression band.
“Aw, look, rookie bonding.” Sharpy leans over the back of the couch and pushes their heads together. “We should take pictures.”
“Fuck off,” Pat says. “And everyone stop giving beer to Jonny. He’s super wasted.”
“Enjoy it while you can, little Peekaboo,” Sharpy says, because he’s a dick who comes up with nonsensical nicknames. “Three years before you can do this in bars.”
Three— “Fuck,” Pat says. She forgot about the thing where she’s now officially a year younger than her actual age. She won’t be able to drink in bars until she’s twenty-two. Unless she goes out under her own name, without the team.
Well, she knew there would be trade-offs. And it’s probably safer if she doesn’t get wasted, anyway, if she doesn’t want to give away her cover.
Jonny stirs beside her and pats her on the chest a few times. Pat removes his hand, but then he gets hold of her thumb, so she lets him keep it. “Seriously, Seabs, time to put your rookie to bed,” she says, because she’s sure it doesn’t look like anything, but—well, Jonny would probably be embarrassed if he knew he were doing this, with a girl. Sitting this close and touching this much. She should probably put a stop to it.
“Comfy here,” Jonny mumbles. And…he does have her thumb in a pretty tight grip, so there’s not a lot she can do about it. She guesses he can stay where he is.
“Obviously,” Amy says over Skype when Pat tells her she made the opening roster. “I mean, we’re all kind of mad at you here, so officially I’m not happy for you. But obviously you were going to make it.”
Pat draws her knees up onto Amy’s desk chair. The team wanted to billet her with one of the players, or maybe the Bowmans, but Pat didn’t think she’d be able to keep up her façade twenty-four hours a day. The Koppels already know she’s a girl, and apparently Amy told them about the whole cross-dressing NHL thing (the traitor), so it just made sense for her to take Amy’s room while she’s away at school. A friend of my sister’s, she’d said to the guys, and they’d made leering faces at her before she told them Amy would be off at school anyway. Except Sharpy, who kept leering anyway.
“I’m really sorry to abandon you guys,” Pat says.
“Oh, please,” Amy says. “Like we wouldn’t all do it, given half the chance.”
“You didn’t tell the team about me, did you?”
Amy sighs. “I knew you weren’t over the thing with my parents.”
“No, I’m just—making sure,” Pat says.
“I’m not an idiot. I know the team couldn’t keep it a secret,” Amy says. “I told them you’re on, like, a gap year or whatever. You might have to deal with some questions about how you’re backpacking across Asia, if you run into any of them.”
Pat makes a face. “You couldn’t at least have chosen something easier, like Europe?”
“They won’t know the difference,” Amy says, which is only maybe true.
The start of the season is really ridiculously freakishly almost unmanageably exhausting.
Pat thought she knew what it was like to keep up a heavy schedule. She was playing and going to school full time last year, after all. But NHL play is a whole different thing, and her body’s not used to it. She drags herself back to the Koppels’ house to sleep every second she can when they’re at home, and on the road she and Jonny are too tired to even be weird about sharing a room.
Being so tired also makes it hard to do other things, like constantly edit her life history when she talks with the guys.
It’s weird. She feels like she’s friends with them already—impossible not to become friends with people you’re playing and fighting alongside every day of your life, and besides, she likes these guys. Especially Sharpy and Burs, and Duncs and Seabs have some kind of weird symbiosis going on but seem pretty cool, and of course there’s Jonny, who’s kind of a pill and yells at her on the ice all the time but is still sort of okay, she guesses.
She likes hanging out with them, and they seem to like her—if Sharpy’s teasing is anything to go by—but she can’t actually tell them anything real about her. It’s not just the gender thing, either. Everything she tells them about playing hockey before the Hawks has to be about Eric’s teams, and even with non-hockey anecdotes she has to think through them first to make sure there’s nothing gendered about them, and thinking before speaking has never been her strong suit.
“My friend Julia—” she starts to say one day in the locker room, and Burs cuts her off.
“Fuck, Kaner, how do you even know all these girls?”
Pat’s brought up short. She doesn’t talk about girls that much—not like some of the guys, who are always talking about who they picked up that weekend (and how, and what happened next). But she does tell stories about her friends. And most of her friends are female hockey players.
She puts on a grin. “Just got game, I guess,” she says.
Sharpy raises and eyebrow. “Yeah, right,” he says, flicking the curls that really don’t stay in place any better now that they’re short. “That I’ve got to see.”
Huh. Pat did not think this through. “Whenever you want,” she lies.
If only Sharpy were someone who’d let a promise like that go. But Pat’s already known him long enough to know that’s not going to happen.
Fortunately, games keep them busy for a while. They’re still winning some, losing some, but Pat’s playing well—really well. Better than she ever did for Northeastern, which Amy is less than happy to confirm. Part of it is that the NHL pushes her to be better. But Pat knows another big part of the reason is Jonny. He’s just so good, and so is she, and they’re the kind of good where they’re better together. The games they do win, it’s Jonny and Pat getting a lot of the points.
Every time she scores, she feels like she’s getting away with something. Every time she looks up at the stands and hears the cheers, she wonders if they’d still be cheering for her if they knew she was a girl. If Jonny would still be next to her, glomming on for a celly and yelling in her ear.
There’s a big part of her that wants to tell them. That wants to shout it from the rooftops: look, you said girls couldn’t play in the NHL, you said girls weren’t good enough at hockey, and here I am, leading the Blackhawks in points. Playing like a fucking NHL star.
But she doesn’t, because that would be the end of everything.
In one sense, it’s awful to be living on borrowed time—to know that the end of this could come at any moment. In another sense, it makes everything more memorable. This isn’t just one game of the hundreds she’ll probably have in her career; this is the game that could be the last. But it’s still one more game she gets to play. It makes losses harder, but it makes everything clearer, sharper, fiercer.
It’s mid-November before Sharpy gets her to make good on her promise. Pat’s feeling kind of down after practice, because it’s almost her real birthday and it’s just sinking in that she won’t be able to tell anyone. On top of that, it was one of those practices where nothing could quite come together, and she’s about to slink out the door and go lick her wounds at home when Sharpy collars her.
“Okay—wait. Ew,” he says, scrunching his nose up. “Ugh, I know you have some weird thing about public showering or whatever, but that is just foul.”
Pat waves her hand, because she’s decided the best way to work around the whole shower issue is just to be very casual about it. Get in her clothes and go home right after practice, and let them come up with their own theories. “You had a thing?”
“Oh. Yeah,” he says, and grins, shark-like. “The thing is…we’re going out tonight.”
They go out all the time. But she can tell from the look in his eyes that this is a particular kind of going out. “Sure, sounds good,” she says, as if she’s not flailing inside.
“Can’t wait to see that game of yours,” Burish calls, and half the locker room laughs, which Pat thinks is excessive.
“Your lucky night, then!” she calls back, and goes home to panic.
“How the fuck do guys hit on girls?” she asks Eric as soon as he answers the phone.
“Hi, Pat, nice to hear from you, why yes, I am enjoying having you borrow my identity, it doesn’t make for awkward conversations about my hockey doppelganger at all, thanks for asking,” Eric says.
“Whatev—wait,” she says. “Are people asking questions?”
“Just the kids in my class who think it’s hilarious that I look just like this hockey player that has my name,” he says. “And also some tourist who asked me to sign a thing.”
“Did you?” she asks.
“Of course,” Eric says. “It was hilarious.”
“Huh,” she says. It’s possible that this is the kind of thing she should tell someone about, like maybe her agent—but the thing is, her agent doesn’t actually know she isn’t Eric, and she’s not going to tell him unless she absolutely has to. “Um, so. Back to the point. How do I hit on girls?”
“I don’t know, talk to them?” he says, which, thanks, Eric.
“I knew that much, dickwad,” she says.
“Look, you’ve been a girl in a bar,” he says. “If you can’t figure it out, how do you expect me to?”
“Interesting,” she says.
Which doesn’t mean she isn’t sweating into her moderately nice guy-jeans and button-down later that night. (And didn’t those take forever to find, because shopping as a dude sucks. Everything is boring, or slouchy and full of holes, or so stuffy she can’t imagine wearing it anywhere other than Wall Street. Or some combination of the three.)
“C’mon, li’l Kaner,” Sharpy says, elbowing her. “Let’s see those fancy moves.”
It’s a dark bar, loud music playing and a small area for dancing in the back. The team is clustered near the bar, waiting for a table or booth to open up. Pat likes being in the center of the cluster: all the guys are taller than her, so she feels insulated from the rest of the bar. From what Sharpy’s expecting her to do out there.
“Okay, okay, jeez,” she says. “You have a target in mind?”
She’s expecting Sharpy to answer, but it’s Jonny who says, “Brunette by the corner of the bar.”
Pat looks, and fuck. That girl looks angry. She’s beautiful, but she’s glaring at her drink like it personally offended her. Or, more likely, like someone else did.
“Give me a tough one, why don’t you,” Pat chirps, and the guys all ooh at her.
“Hey, you’re the one who said you could pick up anyone,” Jonny says, and okay, that’s not what Pat said at all. She would never say that, because it’s dumb. It’s not like “picking up” is a skill that works on everyone. Either someone will like you, or they won’t. And this girl doesn’t look like she’s in the mood to like anyone right now.
But Jonny’s looking at her all challenging, and Pat can’t back down now. And hey, maybe this girl could use someone to talk to.
As she gets closer, she can see just how much this girl is a girl in a different way than she is. Pat could never get her hair to flow like that, even back when it was long, and there’s no way she’d fill out a dress that well. And she likes wearing eye shadow, but she never got it to highlight her eyes the way this girl has. It makes her glad she’s in disguise as a guy, suddenly, so that she doesn’t have to compete.
“Hey,” she says, coming to stand next to the girl but not too near. “Are you okay?”
The girl gives her a brief glare—not quite get away from me, but close. “Sure. Why not?”
Pat tries to think of what she would do if she were able to talk to her as another girl. “You want to go find a couple of guys to hit on?”
That’s clearly not what the girl was expecting. She gives Pat a swift glance of open-mouthed surprise, and then laughs. “You’re gay?”
“Actually, no,” Pat says, which is true. If a confusing thing to say at the moment. “Sorry, you seemed like you needed a laugh. Want me to leave you alone?”
“No, that’s okay,” the girl says, though she still seems grumpy. “Just had a guy be kind of a dick earlier.”
“Need someone to beat him up?” Pat says. “Because I’m awful at that, but I have some friends who are really good at it. They actually get paid for it.”
She wrinkles her nose. “What, like in security?”
“Hockey, actually,” Pat says.
She nods. “Ah, similar,” and Pat laughs.
“Hey, you wanna come meet them?” Pat says. “A lot of them are, like, kind of settled down and stuff, so they’re pretty chill. I bet I can get them to cheer you up.”
She gives him a hard look. “Is that a euphemism?”
“Not even a little bit,” Pat says.
She studies Pat for a moment. “Okay then, I guess,” she says. “I’m Aleja.”
Maybe it’s because Pat hasn’t spent much time talking to other girls since she came to Chicago, but she puts her lips together to say her actual name. “Eric,” she manages to say instead, and takes Aleja’s hand. “Come on, they’re right over here.”
She takes Aleja over to the group, which is still clustered near the bar. “Hey, everybody, this is Aleja,” she says, and the guys all say hi and smile at her, some more leeringly than others—except for Jonny, who’s glaring. Pat will have to investigate that later. “She had a guy be shitty to her tonight, so we’re each going give her a compliment to cheer her up.”
Burs perks up. “What, like—”
“Like clean compliments, douche,” Pat says, and a bunch of the guys laugh. “Sharpy can start.”
It’s supposed to be punishment, because Sharpy started this whole thing, but Sharpy looks delighted. He puts out his hand. “Hi, Aleja,” he says. “I’m Patrick Sharp. And I have to say, you have fantastic hair.”
She giggles. “Thanks, Patrick. I was actually just thinking the same thing about yours.”
Sharpy’s face lights up, and everyone laughs. Especially Pat. “I think you just became Sharpy’s favorite person,” Pat says. “Okay, you next,” she says to Duncs.
“What? What do I do?” Duncs gets a deer-in-the-headlights look.
“What, you’ve never given a compliment before?” she asks with a stern look at Duncs.
“Uh, right,” Duncs says. “Um…your dress is very, uh…sparkly.”
Aleja giggles some more. Pat makes a face. “Weak, dude,” she says. “But I guess we’ll take it.”
“For fuck’s sake, Duncs, stop being pathetic. I’ve got this,” Seabs says, and Pat’s pretty sure he does, so she turns to Jonny.
“Hey,” she says in a low voice. “You don’t have to bore holes through her head.”
Jonny looks startled, and his face softens a little. “I…oh.”
“Jeez, did you not even realize?” Pat starts to smile. “Oh my God, is that just what your face does naturally when you’re not at a hockey rink?”
“No,” Jonny says, and then, because he is the king of good comebacks, “Shut up.”
There’s a burst of laughter from the guys, and Pat turns to see Aleja bent at the waist from laughing. Burish is grinning smugly, so Pat’s guessing he just got his compliment in. “Okay,” Aleja says, “you guys are really good at this. Especially you, with the hair,” she says to Sharpy.
If Sharpy were smiling any more broadly, he’d be blinding passersby on the street. “Okay, that’s it, I have a girlfriend, but such good taste in hair can’t go unrewarded. Come on, we have to go dance.”
He grabs her hand and leads her to the dance floor. A couple of the guys have snagged a booth, so Pat sits down and watches with a grin as Sharpy leads Aleja in some kind of complicated dance that Pat’s pretty sure he’s getting the steps wrong for. Not that Pat knows any dances, but that can’t be right.
“I could never do that,” Jonny says, and Pat turns to see that he’s slid in next to her.
“Um, are you watching this?” Pat says. “Because clearly, neither can Sharpy.”
“No, I mean…” Jonny fiddles with the napkin under his beer. “What you did.”
Pat raises an eyebrow. “The thing where I…brought her over to meet the guys? Got them to compliment her? It wasn’t that hard.”
“No. Just.” Jonny looks up and fixes her with a glare. “I’m not good at talking to girls, okay?”
Pat lets out a snort, because, well. “You realize it’s not, like, a different thing, right? It’s just talking to people. Who happen to be girls.”
Jonny looks at her like she’s crazy. “Are you kidding? It’s totally different. It’s, like…a minefield, or something.”
“Um, no,” Pat says. “No, it’s really not. Maybe if you’re, like, trying to figure out exactly the right things to say to get in her pants, sure, but if you’re just trying to have a conversation, to see how you two connect? It’s not that hard.”
Jonny rips at the edge of the napkin. “I don’t think I can do that, either.”
Pat rolls her eyes at him, because how does Jonny even exist, honestly? “Look. How would you strike up a conversation with a new guy on the team?”
Jonny stares at her. “I would talk to him about hockey. Duh.”
She tips her head to acknowledge that, because, yeah, bad example. “But, like, if Duncs came over here with a friend who was a guy. What would you say?”
“I guess I…” Jonny says. “I’d ask him about his life. Or whatever.”
“Right,” Pat says slowly. “So you do that with girls.”
He glares at her. “It’s not the same.”
“Ugh,” Pat says. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Pretend I’m a girl you just met.” She pitches her voice high, even higher than her normal speaking voice. “Why, hello, Jonny, so nice to meet you.”
His eyes widen. “Okay, no one should never, ever make that sound.”
“Shut up, dickbag,” she says. She shoves him, but it’s kind of like trying to shove a rock. “Fine, I won’t do it like that.” She switches to her normal voice, the one that now feels a little weird and unpracticed, and this is probably a terrible idea, but Burs slipped her a beer earlier, and that makes it seem not that stupid. “Hi, Jonny, nice to meet you.”
He blinks. “Wow.”
She laughs in her normal register. “What did I say?”
“You’re just…whoa,” he says. “You’re really, really good at that.”
Pat bites her lip to keep from grinning. “Thanks,” she says, still in her girl voice. She slides her hand onto Jonny’s arm. “So, you were saying?”
Jonny’s eyes fix on her hand on his arm. “Um,” he says, and then he opens his mouth, but nothing else comes out.
Pat lets her hand and her voice drop. “Fuck, you really are terrible at this. How do you talk to people? Ever?”
“Better than you do,” he says with a glare.
“Yeah, right.” Pat looks over at the dance floor, where Aleja is talking to both Sharpy and Burs. She thinks Burs might be making a play for her, which, well, Pat would never advise any girl to date a hockey guy, but Burs is pretty okay. She’ll let it happen.
“Are you going over there?” Jonny asks.
“Huh? No, probably not,” Pat says.
“Not your type?” he says.
She snorts before she can think better of it. “No,” she says, and Jonny looks relieved. “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, I’ll stay here and keep you from having to talk to real people for a while.”
“I could if I wanted to,” Jonny says, and Pat just laughs at him and leans her head on his shoulder, because beer makes her sleepy.
“Way to not close on that girl last night,” Sharpy says the next day at practice. “Thought you were going to show us your moves?”
“Hey, I got her talking to all of us, didn’t I?” Pat says. “You never said I had to go home with her.”
“I think it was implied,” Sharpy says.
“Eh. Not my type,” Pat says. She sees Jonny looking at her, so she drops him a wink.
He blushes scarlet and almost drops the skate he’s holding. That guy, seriously. Pat has no idea how he survives life half the time.
Pat’s family and her friends from school send her happy birthday wishes, which is nice, even if half the ones from school include questions about her travels in Asia. She still can’t believe Amy stuck her with that story. She has to spend half an hour on Wikipedia making sure she’s referencing the right cities in China before she can reply.
The Koppels have some work thing on her actual birthday, and most of the guys have other stuff planned, so she’s lounging around the house in sweats trying to decide if she has the energy to go and get some more-interesting-than-ramen food for herself when the doorbell rings.
She assumes it’ll be a neighbor or a salesman or something, but it’s Jonny. “Oh my God,” Pat says, only remembering to lower her voice to guy range halfway through the phrase.
“Oh good, I wasn’t sure if this was the right place,” Jonny says.
“It, uh, it is.” Fuck, she isn’t wearing her compression band. She tries to hunch her shoulders forward so her boobs will be less visible under her sweatshirt. “What are you doing here?”
“I was just…earlier, you seemed like you kind of wanted plans for the night?” Jonny seems weirdly tentative, though maybe Pat would be too if she showed up at someone’s house uninvited. Which she wouldn’t do, because she knows how to use a phone. “And I thought, if you still didn’t have anything to do, we could order some food and play some XBox. Or, er, whatever game system you have.”
“Nailed it,” Pat says, because the Koppels do have an XBox, and with Amy and her older brother out of the house, Pat’s claimed sole possession. “Um, yeah, come on in. I just have to run upstairs for a sec.”
The compression band is kind of uncomfortable, and Pat doesn’t want to wear it for lounging around on her birthday, but she wants Jonny to notice her boobs even less. She straps it on and goes downstairs.
Jonny’s sitting on the couch, typing something into his phone. “What kind of sushi do you like?” he asks.
“All of it,” Pat says.
Evidently he takes her at her word, because the guy who shows up twenty minutes later basically has all of the sushi. “Wow,” she says. “You don’t do things by halves.”
“It’s good protein,” Jonny says defensively.
They make a valiant effort at demolishing the sushi during a vicious Call of Duty marathon, until Pat declares that best of eleven is the highest she’ll go (which means she won, thank you very much, no matter how often Jonny says that the one who quits first is the loser). Then they make fun of terrible reality TV until Pat can’t stop yawning anymore.
It’s surprisingly nice. Pat hadn’t thought of Jonny as someone who would be fun one on one, off the ice, but actually she can’t remember when she had a better evening that didn’t involve winning a game.
“That was awesome,” she says when Jonny’s leaving. “We should do it again.”
His face lights up, and wow, she’s not sure she realized how great he looks when he smiles. “Yeah? Okay,” he says.
Pat watches him go to his car, then shuts the door. All in all, her birthday could have been worse.
It becomes a thing: Pat and Jonny playing video games together, or working their way through the many TV series Jonny insists have to be watched exactly linearly from start to finish. They go to Jonny and Seabs’ place more often than Pat’s, because even though Seabs is around more than the Koppels, he’s less likely to call Pat by her real name or accidentally misgender her (or, you know, correctly gender her. But whatever.)
Seabs calls them rookie dates and sometimes leaves popcorn for them. Pat ignores the mocking and eats the popcorn.
They’re on the road over Thanksgiving, which sucks, because she can’t go home and she also doesn’t get to see Amy during her break. But a couple weeks later they play in Buffalo.
Pat’s dying to see her family. If she could see her family and not have to face the rest of her hometown, she’d be thrilled. As it is…she’s kind of terrified.
Her family meets her in the lobby of the Radisson, and she can’t help running as soon as she sees them. It’s just—it’s been so long. Her little brothers are teenage boys and hate hugs in general, but they’re willing to take them from her. Her parents both give her long hugs, squeezing tight, and for a moment Pat forgets that she’s supposed to be hiding.
These are people who know her: the real her, not the person she pretends to be for the team every day. It makes her feel exposed, like anyone who saw her with her family would immediately know.
She talks about the season to distract from it. Jesse and Jack are happy to join in on that conversation: they think having a sibling in the NHL is the coolest.
“All my friends want to meet you now,” Jesse tells her.
“They’ve already—wait,” she says. “You didn’t tell them it was me, did you?”
“Of course not.” He looks at her with the kind of scorn only a sixteen-year-old could muster. “I’m not stupid.”
Pat knows that, but—some of their friends are kids she’s known for years. They would never think she was Eric.
“Let’s eat at home, okay?” she says.
Even not eating out, she still feels paranoid that someone’s going to see her and know she’s not Eric. There are kids in this town she went to school with for twelve years, and they’re not going to be fooled by a new haircut and pads. She keeps her helmet on at the rink more than she usually would. It’s not like they can’t see her on TV normally, but this feels different.
Maybe it’s because she’s feeling so wrong-footed, or maybe it has nothing to do with her, but they lose to Buffalo. They’re all quiet in the locker room afterward, and Pat’s dreading the press—not just because she has to talk about losing in her hometown, but because if she’s ever going to get caught, this is probably it.
She spends her whole interview twitchy, expecting every question to come with narrowed eyes and a confused, “Hey, aren’t you that girl…” She’s so on edge that when Jonny taps her shoulder afterward, she almost jumps out of her skin.
“Sorry,” he says, looking horrified. “I just, um, is that your family, the people you were with earlier?”
A good part of her wants to answer that no, those are the other teenage boys and middle-aged couple she hangs out with. But she just says, “Yeah.” And then, when Jonny keeps looking at her, she says, “Um, did you want to meet them?”
Jonny gets this hangdog look, and she laughs. It feels good to laugh after that game. “You are so weird,” she says, and claps him on the arm before she takes him out to meet her family.
They love Jonny, of course. Jonny’s the kind of upright guy that parents are always going to love, because they didn’t see him when he was downing shots in Sharpy’s living room last Thursday night. Jack looks at him with big eyes, and Jesse tries to pretend he isn’t impressed but fails, because sixteen-year-olds suck at that.
“I hear you’ve been rooming with, uh—with Eric on the road,” her father says, and Pat winces, because he has that glint in his eye, like maybe he’s going to talk about his daughter’s honor or something.
“Um, yes, sir,” Jonny says.
Pat’s father gives a slow nod, and, oh no, he’s staring at Jonny in a way that can only be challenging. Like he thinks Jonny’s going to try—
“Jonny, Jonny,” Jack says. “Will you sign my program?”
“Of course,” Jonny says, and at least two people let out a sigh of relief. Pat being one of them.
Pat got permission to stay at her family’s house tonight, so the team is pretty much gone by the time she goes back into the locker room. Which still doesn’t mean it’s okay to take a shower, really, but—well, her clothing feels like it’s stuck to her with a layer of congealed sweat, and it’s going to be a close car ride back to her parents’ house. And there’s basically no one here.
It’s still kind of risky, but she waits until there’s no one around at all, and it feels so good to peel everything off. It was a long, shitty game, made even longer by the interviews, and there’s nothing quite like standing under hot water and letting it all wash away.
Until she hears footsteps in the hall.
She has the water off so fast she might have trained in this. She grabs a towel and almost—but no, she can’t tie it around her chest. That’s a dead giveaway. She has to tie it around her waist, which means—
“Hey, Kaner,” Jonny says, a split second after she throws the second towel over her shoulders. “What are you still doing here?”
Pat’s heart is still racing, but she knows how to play things cool. “Um, showering,” she says. “You?”
Jonny makes a face. “Missed the team bus,” he says, and—and his eyes drift down to Pat’s chest.
Pat goes rigid. Tries to control her breathing. There’s no reason for panic—the towel’s draped over anything that would give her away. But then what is he looking at?
Her stomach is churning. “Um, Sharpy’s going to be all over you for that one.”
He blinks a little, and, thank God, moves his eyes away. “Yeah, I know,” he says, and then…doesn’t leave. Just stands there, like he’s waiting for something.
Pat has never felt more exposed. She’s been naked in a million locker rooms—if not with this particular team—and she didn’t think she had a lot of body modesty left, but right now she feels as if she’s basically wearing the equivalent of a Kleenex over her junk. “So, uh, I guess I’ll go then,” she says.
“Right,” Jonny says, and this time he actually does take a step back from the doorway. “Did you want to split a cab?”
Oh God, he’s going to stay there while she changes. Pat is not stealthy enough for this. She should have remembered that before she took a shower in a fucking locker room.
“I’m going home with my family,” she says.
“Oh, right.” His face falls a little. “I guess I’ll—go then?”
“Okay!” she says, voice a little too high, but he’s finally, finally leaving, and Pat can go out to the locker room and throw on her clothing absolutely as fast as she can.
Her family is still waiting when she comes out. “Took you long enough,” Jesse says.
“Sorry,” Pat says. Her heart is still racing. “Let’s get out of here.”
Amy comes home for winter break a few days before Christmas. “Okay, we’re going out,” she says on the first day, even though she already knows Pat’s aching from a game the night before.
“Why?” Pat whines, only in part because it’s fun to whine in her normal voice again.
“Because I want to meet this Jonny,” Amy says, and Pat makes a face.
“It’s not like he’ll just be out,” Pat says.
“He will be if you invite him,” Amy says, and Pat grumbles but reaches for her phone.
She doesn’t get why Amy even wants to meet Jonny; it’s not like he’s that interesting. And—well, okay, maybe Pat’s a little terrified about what Amy’s going to tell him.
Turns out she’s right to be terrified, if only because Jonny’s brought Sharpy and Burs along. “They heard me talking about it,” Jonny says, and Pat grimaces. Then tries to smile.
“Hey, guys, meet my sister’s friend Amy,” she says.
They all like Amy a lot—naturally—especially after they find out she plays for Northeastern. “Yeah, that’s how I know Pat,” Amy says, and Pat panics for a second before she realizes Amy is referring to the supposed sister.
“Kaner has a sister who plays hockey?” Sharpy asks, with a swift glance at Jonny.
“Yeah, can we meet her?” Burs asks.
“You wish,” Pat says, trying not to choke on a bubble of hysteria.
“She’s backpacking across Asia right now,” Amy says. “She’s super cultured.”
Pat kicks her a little, and Amy beams.
She really, especially doesn’t get why Amy wants to meet Jonny, because he’s sort of awful tonight. He’s glowering at everything and seems to be the one person in the bar who doesn’t love Amy.
At one point, when Amy’s up at the bar flirting with a guy—and Pat’s watching jealously, because it’s been forever since she’s been able to pick up—Jonny says, “Are you okay with her doing that?”
“Um, yeah?” Pat looks over at the bar—it’s not like Amy’s doing anything crazy, or like the guy she’s talking to seems like a creep or anything. “Should I not be?”
Jonny just gives her a skeptical look, and Sharpy leans over and says, “I think he’s asking out of concern for your poor Peekaboo heart.”
“Ohh.” Pat laughs. “No, I’m really not into Amy that way.”
Sharpy quirks an eyebrow at her, and Jonny says, “Oh. Really?”
Pat can see where they’re coming from: if she were really a guy and were as friendly with a girl as she is with Amy, it would probably be because they were dating. But: “Not at all.”
“Intriguing,” Burs says, and he looks over at Amy.
“Oh, no,” Pat says quickly. “Nope. You are not doing that. Too weird.”
“Like you could stop me,” Burs says with a smirk.
“I have some stories I could tell,” Pat says, and Burs’ smirk drops a little.
“No one is hitting on Amy,” Jonny says, all growly, and Pat shoots him a worried look because—but no. He’s barely said a word to her all night. He wouldn’t be like that if he were secretly into her. Unless…
“Psst,” she says to Amy a few minutes later, by the bar. “Um, maybe I don’t need to say this, but you probably shouldn’t date any of my teammates, okay?”
“What?” Amy looks back over at them. “Why would I do that?”
It should be a reassuring answer. Except, “I think Jonny has a crush on you,” Pat says.
Amy’s eyes widen. “Seriously?”
“He’s really bad at talking to girls he likes,” Pat says, and she shouldn’t feel so weird talking about this, like the not-so-virgin margarita she was able to coax out of the bartender is churning around in her stomach.
Amy gives her a long look—really long, like, long enough Pat wonders if she should repeat herself. But, “Right,” she says finally.
Amy doesn’t go home with Jonny, so Pat’s counting it a win. No way could she weather her teammate sleeping with her real-life friend. Too much crossing of the streams.
They don’t see Jonny again while Amy’s at home, except after a home game Amy comes to, when she’s too busy squealing and congratulating Pat on her goal to do anything else. Jonny stays on the other end of the locker room, so maybe Pat was wrong about his crush.
Very wrong, it turns out. “I don’t like her,” Jonny says that night, when they’re all out at a bar to celebrate their win. Amy had a thing with some other friends, so she isn’t there, and Pat isn’t sure who he’s talking about at first.
“What, Seabs’ date?” Pat asks, lowering his voice, because she’s the only girl at their table. Well, except for Pat.
“No. That girl you live with,” Jonny says.
Pat frowns at him. “Amy’s the best,” she says, and Jonny’s eyebrows go more furrowed. “And I don’t live with her. I’m billeting with her parents. She doesn’t even live there most of the year.”
“Still,” Jonny says, and, all right, this isn’t cool at all.
“Okay, first of all, you’ve spent like three hours with her, and most of that was spent frowning at your drink,” Pat says, and Jonny blinks. “Where do you even start to judge? Second of all, I’m allowed to have friends who aren’t on the team.”
Jonny’s face opens up a little. “I didn’t mean…”
“Yeah, I think you did,” Pat says, a little too high. She’s angry now, and that always makes it harder to stick to her guy register. “I’m allowed to have other friends, and you don’t get to judge them, unless you think they’re putting my life in danger or something. And Amy is not about to poison my breakfast cereal, so if she rubs you the wrong way, you can shut up about it.”
Jonny has the nerve to look hurt. “Fine, whatever,” he says, and he gets up and goes to the bar.
He avoids Pat for the rest of the evening. Pat tries to pretend it doesn’t twist in her gut that he’s doing it—it’s not like she doesn’t have other friends on the team—but she goes home early, and she doesn’t stop when it looks like Jonny might be about to ask her to split a cab.
He apologizes the next day. Pat doesn’t expect him to—it’s not like he ever apologizes to her for the shouting matches they get into on the ice—but she guesses she’s never gotten really angry at him before about a non-hockey thing.
“I shouldn’t have said that about your friend,” he says in the locker room, shoulders hunched and eyes not meeting Pat’s.
“Yeah, you shouldn’t have,” she says. “But it’s okay. It’s not like I didn’t already know you were a tool.”
His eyes jump to hers. “Douche.”
“Asshat.” She kicks his ankle, and he punches her in the arm, not really hard enough to hurt. She grins, stomach swooping, because they’re all right again.
The team is doing all right, too. They win almost all their games in the second half of December, and Pat’s playing is awesome. She finally feels like she’s settling into something, here. This is what she dreamed of, playing in the NHL, and every day it feels like it could slip through her fingers, but right now she has it. She’s doing it.
Then Jonny gets injured, and they start to lose.
He goes down in a game against the Kings while they’re on the road, and that means he spends the next three days grumbling through games and plane rides and hotel rooms and trying not to trip over his crutch. “Come here, you big baby,” Pat says when he’s hobbling through the hotel in Anaheim on his way to the bus to the airport. She’s pulling her bag, but she can still handle a single hockey player draped over her shoulder.
“I can do it,” Jonny says.
“Yeah, but being a stubborn ass isn’t actually a good thing,” she says. “Not sure if you knew that.”
Jonny glares, but doesn’t stop her when she insinuates herself under his arm and takes some of his weight.
“See, better, right?” she says when they start walking again.
“I guess,” he says, but he grips her shoulder more tightly and pushes against the line of her body. Pat steadies herself and keeps them moving.
Injured Jonny is kind of annoying, but after the second straight road trip without him on it, Pat has to admit she misses him. It’s just not the same, being in a hotel room alone, and the other centers aren’t as good as Jonny. Or at least, they aren’t as good with her.
They get back from Nashville—where they finally, finally won a game—and Pat lasts like two hours before she does what she’s been thinking about for the past ten days and heads over to Jonny’s.
Seabs answers the door and raises his eyebrows a little when he sees her. “He’s in his room,” he says.
Jonny is in fact in his room, looking more pathetic than Pat has ever seen him. “You are allowed to shower with your knee like that, right?” she says from the doorway, because she’s never seen his hair look quite this bad.
Jonny glances over at her. Even his head movements are pathetic. “Took you long enough.”
“Yes, sorry, some of us were orchestrating a stunning comeback in Nashville,” she says, starting to climb onto the bed next to him. She does it without thinking, but as soon as she puts her knee on the bed, Jonny kind of goes stiff all over, and she pauses. “Sorry, is this…?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s fine,” Jonny says quickly, and he scrambles to make room.
“Stop it, geez, you’ll hurt your knee more,” Pat says. “I’ll fit here. I’m not that wide.”
“Sorry. Right,” Jonny says, and he calms down a little. Stops moving, anyway.
Pat flops face down on the comforter. She’s still sore from the game, and it feels good to collapse. “That thing feeling better yet?” she asks, poking his knee. Very, very lightly.
Jonny shifts his leg a little. “Why, do you guys miss me?”
“You wish.” She does miss him. Anyone can tell from her game play that she misses him on the ice, and as for the other stuff—well, she’s gotten used to having him around, is all. “Like we ever needed you in the first place.”
He hits her on the head a little. “You’re probably crying into Sharpy’s Under Armour every day.”
“It is soaked with the tears of a thousand times I didn’t get to be better than you on the ice,” she says.
“You’ll just have to keep chasing that dream,” he says, and his hand, the one that whapped her on the head a moment ago, comes to rest on her hair.
It feels…surprisingly nice, the pressure of Jonny’s hand on her head. She—um. Wow. Hm.
She scrambles up. “Wanna watch something shitty?”
He frowns at her, and yes, there’s the frown she’s been missing: the slightly offended glare, the one that would be insufferable if it weren’t so Jonny. “We should watch something good.”
“Yeah, whatever, same thing,” she says, and settles against the headboard. She sits a solid foot away from him at first, and then that feels too deliberate, so she lets herself shift closer. Then it feels like it’s too close: like she can feel the heat of his arm across the inches separating them, and, okay, she’s being crazy and needs to stop thinking about this so much. It’s only Jonny.
She distracts herself by arguing with him over Disney versus Pixar, and winning, of course, because Pixar is the best. Then they watch most of Monsters, Inc., proving her point. Her victory is a little dulled by the way she falls asleep halfway through, but, hey, she won a game yesterday, okay?
She wakes up a little before the end to find out that she slumped down in her sleep. Her head is on Jonny’s chest, and he’s let his arm rest on her back, and his hand is in her hair.
Jonny’s fingers are tracing patterns across her scalp, little tiny movements that wash her body in shivers. Every once in a while one of his fingernails will catch, and it lights firecrackers along her nerves. Pat lets her eyes sink shut again. This is, just maybe, the best any person’s touch has ever made her feel outside of sex.
Actually, considering that most of the sex she’s had has been with drunken frat boys, this might actually be better.
She swallows, hoping Jonny can’t hear it, and tries to keep her breathing down to something normal and sleep-like. But the next time his fingernails catch she gives a whole-body shiver that there’s no way he misses.
Jonny’s hand stills. Then it starts moving again, a little lighter. “You back with us?”
“Mm.” She tries to pick words out of the haze she’s in. “Didn’t want to miss the musical at the end.”
“Super dumb,” Jonny says, and Pat snorts a little.
“Yeah? Then why didn’t you change the channel while I was out?”
“Well.” His fingers rub in tiny arcs, teasing at the base of her curls. “I wanted to see how it turned out.”
“Sure,” Pat says, because she knows Jonny’s seen this at least twice already, but she can so readily believe that he wanted to see how it turned out even though he already knew. The rush of warmth in her chest is really not helping with the whole inappropriate bodily reaction thing. Nor is the rush of heat somewhat lower. “I, um, I should probably go, huh?”
“Yeah,” he says, but his fingers dig more firmly into her scalp, and she sucks in a sharp breath that she hopes he can’t hear. His pec is really comfortable under her cheek.
This is really not okay. It’s Jonny; she’s not supposed to react this way to Jonny. He’s just a teammate. The one who’s currently making her pulse beat fast and a tingle start up somewhere way too low. The one who doesn’t know she’s a girl.
“Yeah,” she says, and this time when she swallows, there’s no way he can’t hear it. “Going. Right.”
Pulling herself away from him is like trying to separate molasses: a thick, treacly string of warmth dragging her back in. She blinks against it, and makes the mistake of looking at his face. He’s looking back at her, his eyes open and a little hazy with sleepiness. It’s not different, really, from a thousand other times he’s looked her, on planes and in hotel rooms and waking up from their naps. But this time it jolts through her, a lurch like she’s plummeting down a hill in a roller coaster, and she can’t help the way her breath catches.
“See you later,” she says, and stumbles out of there.
She shouldn’t worry too much about it. It didn’t mean anything.
The thing is, it almost definitely didn’t. Jonny just thought he was cuddling with a male teammate, and, okay, maybe that’s a little weird, but the two of them are close, and sometimes it can suck, being so far away from family and not having anyone to touch. That doesn’t explain Pat’s reaction, but hey, she hasn’t had sex in months. She can’t even hit on anyone, with the life she’s leading now. Not a surprise that she’s about to explode.
“Hear you and Tazer spent some quality time together yesterday,” Sharpy says at practice the next day, and Pat looks at Seabs, who has the decency to look ashamed.
“Pixar time is, like, the ultimate quality time,” Pat says.
Duncs nods and leans over with a fist for her to bump. “Preach.”
“Um, you read books about serial killers,” Seabs says to Duncs.
Duncs shrugs. “They’re not mutually exclusive.”
“Now that would be a twist on a Pixar movie,” Pat says. That sparks a discussion of what Pixar could make a movie about that would legitimately involve serial killing, and whatever Sharpy was trying to say about Pat and Jonny gets dropped. Not that that was Pat’s plan or anything.
It would be nice if Jonny were back on the ice so that Pat could make sure their relationship is back to normal, after she went and made it all weird in her head. But he’s still out, and she still misses him, and it would probably be a dick move to ignore him just because she had weird cuddling feelings, so she comes and visits a few more times. She makes sure they stick to video games, though. It’s not like she’s drowning in lust every time she looks at his face or anything—but it just seems safer.
Word in the room is that Jonny might come back for their road trip at the beginning of February, but word in the room is always an unreliable indicator, so when Jonny does show up in the airport for their flight to Edmonton, Pat can’t help the huge smile that breaks across her face.
Sharpy nudges her. “Happy your better half is back, Peekaboo?”
She elbows him right back. “Sad you aren’t on our line right now, Sharpshooter?”
“There is no bucket large enough for my tears,” he says solemnly.
Pat could probably find a comeback for that, but Jonny’s coming over to them, his smile almost as big as Pat’s, so she lets it go. Having Jonny back on the team is enough of a win.
They start winning more than they lose, after that, and this might not be their year for the playoffs, but the team feels good. Really good. There are times when the whole thing starts feeling normal to Pat—like, oh yeah, another game, time to pull into the players’ parking lot at the UC and heft her stuff into the locker room and make sure she didn’t forget her socks. And then there are the times when she stands back and thinks, holy shit, she’s been playing with the NHL for almost five months and they don’t know she’s a girl yet. Those are the times that make her a little dizzy, like she’s looking down at it from a really high cliff that could crumble any moment.
Then there are other times, times of pure awesome, when she gets the puck on a breakaway and slams it into the back of the net and raises her arms in a celly, and in no way does this feel routine but it feels like hers, a giddy challenge she was born to excel at.
People are talking about her, definitely—this kid who was drafted one-fifty-sixth and is now a front-runner for a Calder nomination. Pat starts getting that question more and more often, now that it’s clear that her stats aren’t a fluke: how does she explain the huge improvement in her play since last year?
It’s a weird question, because it’s not based in truth—she’s better than she was last year, sure, but not as much better as they think she is—but it’s also what media training was made for. She’s been around the block enough times to know that now is when to start blatantly talking up other people. “I think if you’re in the right place at the right time, great things can happen,” she says. “I’m playing with some amazing people. Jonathan Toews, you know, with him at center, anyone would be better. And Savvy’s been fantastic. He really gets my playing style.”
“So you think it’s a question of context?” one sharp-eyed reporter asks her.
Pat gives him a level look, because talking up other people is all well and good, but obviously she deserves some credit. “I’m just lucky to be here,” she says. “I want to make the most of it.”
And she is making the most of it, because now that she knows what it feels like to be here, she wants to hold onto it. All the things she did at the beginning to keep herself safe are routine now. She almost never messes up the voice thing, and no one even blinks anymore when she goes home or back to the hotel room to shower. There’s a unisex razor in her toiletries bag that she runs under the faucet every morning without thinking, even though she doesn’t even use it for her legs or armpits anymore. She has a routine with one of the more cursory doctors on the team where she keeps her Under Armour on for her monthly physical and describes anything that’s feeling weird, and he doesn’t look twice at any other parts of her body.
It should feel safe.
Pat tries to tell herself that it is, when she sits in her bed in shared hotel rooms and watches Jonny do exercises in his underwear. That it’s too late for anything to make her waver. That she feels just as little as she did in October when Jonny drops into a pushup, muscles of his shoulders bunching and glutes clenching to keep his body rigid. That there’s nothing about the corded muscle of his thighs that draws her eyes more than it used to, that she doesn’t feel her own skin prickle with sweat at the sheen of his back.
She tells herself this, and then he goes off to take a shower and she shoves her hand down her underwear, gasping as her fingers dip into her slick and she rubs one out, fast and urgent, as the colors fly behind her eyelids and she sees, all over again, the crunch of Jonny’s abs and the dip where his waist meets his glutes. And, most dangerous of all, the little space between his lips as his mouth parts in exertion.
She always comes, panting and trembling, before the shower even turns off.
Around Jonny, she’s pretty much normal. Or at least she tries to be. They still fight like crazy on the ice and snipe with way less vigor off of it, and maybe Pat should put a stop to hanging out one-on-one, for the sake of staving off stupid crushes that are mostly physical anyway, but she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t have that many close friends in Chicago. And the way Jonny smiles at her, sometimes—eyes lighting from within, corners crinkling, like he’s inviting her into private joy, just for the two of them—well, she can’t quite give that up. Even if she should.
She should at least give up the thing where she sleeps on his shoulder on flights, but her first attempt at that doesn’t go too well. She tries it on the way to LA in the middle of February: leans her head against the window instead and tries to pretend the pane of glass or plastic or whatever isn’t insanely uncomfortable. Of course, that just means she doesn’t sleep, and when she finally gives up and opens her eyes, she finds Jonny staring at her.
“What are you doing?” he asks, like she’s being ridiculous instead of, you know, trying to sleep. “You’ll be exhausted for the game. Come here.”
Pat opens her mouth, if only to say, among other things, that the game isn’t until tomorrow. But Jonny’s looking at her like she’s crazy, and his shoulder is really comfortable. She leans over and lets him pull her in.
He arranges her against his shoulder with his arm around her shoulders, and Pat wishes it didn’t feel so very, very good.
Pat goes out with the team pretty often, even though she still can’t drink in the U.S. under her real or fake identity. She doesn’t pick up, though—she’s just not sure what she would do with the poor girl once she got her home, and she feels like rumors about Eric Kane taking girls home and not sleeping with them would probably be more damaging than never picking up at all. Even if the second one gives Sharpy way too much ammunition.
She could bear the teasing more if it didn’t suck so much, not being able to pick up. It sucks not being able to find someone to make her forget about the way she keeps staring at Jonny’s jawline, and it sucks going home alone every night and lying to herself about what she thinks about with her fingers inside her. It even sucks dancing at clubs, because what she wants is to dance with the guys, rub up against them and feel their hands on her waist and maybe even the outline of a half-hard cock pushing against her, and what she gets are girls.
Girls are fine. She likes girls. She just isn’t attracted to them, and believe her, after playing on girls’ hockey teams all her life, if she were, she would know.
She does it anyway, because it’s what the rest of the team does. And because she doesn’t want Sharpy to have too much of a field day with her.
She’s dancing with a girl one night, not really touching, just dancing near, and she’s looking across the dance floor at this really built guy whose hands would probably feel awesome on her, when the girl she’s dancing with says, “Wow, I’m really not your type, am I?” and Pat looks down and sees that it’s Aleja.
“Oh my God, sorry,” Pat says. “It’s—I didn’t recognize you in the dark.” It’s half fair: Aleja’s hair is pulled back and highlighted completely differently, and the lighting in this place is pretty bizarre. Also, she looks happy this time. If somewhat mocking of Pat.
“Aside from ignoring your dance partners, how have you been?” Aleja asks with a grin, and it’s actually fun to catch up with her. It’s so weird every time Pat talks to a girl these days and realizes how rarely she does it. Girls used to be her team, her life, and now she’s surrounded by dudes all the time, unless you count the dance floor, which Pat usually doesn’t.
Naturally, Pat has to bring Aleja over to see the team, and naturally, they’re delighted to see her—especially Sharpy, who gives a loud, “What? No!” and smothers her in a hug.
“Where the fuck did you come from?” Sharpy asks when he lets her go.
“This one keeps finding me,” Aleja says, sliding an arm around Pat’s waist.
“Some guys have all the luck,” Sharpy says with a sorrowful shake of his head that makes Aleja grin, sharp and understanding. Even people who’ve only met the team once know that no one gets in between Sharpy and Abby.
Aleja asks them about the season, and they all go off about that, Burish with a gleam in his eye that means she might need to start rebuffing him soon. Pat is making a note to keep an eye on that situation when she notices Jonny glaring daggers into his drink again.
This time the look isn’t directed at Aleja, or anyone, but it’s enough to make Pat stiffen. She extricates herself from Aleja’s arm and walks over, because, jeez, he needs to get over himself and stop being so jealous every time anyone who isn’t him talks to a girl.
“Dude,” she says. “You need to get laid.”
Jonny’s head snaps up. “What would you know about it?” he asks, a surprising amount of acid in his voice.
Not much lately, but he doesn’t need to know that. “Plenty,” she says lightly.
The bitterness drains out of Jonny’s face. He looks…kind of lost, suddenly. He looks at her, and oh, she hates that he can do this. That simple eye contact can make her feel so much when she knows it isn’t like that for him.
“It’s not that easy, for me,” he says, and she wants to pick at that, to find out why not, but she doesn’t trust herself to have a real conversation with him right now. Doesn’t trust herself not to slide closer, lean in, press her mouth to his. Quiet the clamoring in her belly.
“Want to get out of here?” she says instead. “I’m kind of beat, and I’m pretty sure there’s at least one video game I haven’t kicked your ass in yet this week.”
His face lightens immediately. “Try all of them,” he says, which is both weak and untrue, but he follows her out as she says her goodbyes to Aleja and the team.
He slings his arm around her shoulders while they’re waiting for a cab in the cold. It’s such a normal kind of touch, a team touch, a friend touch, and it shouldn’t make her nerves come alive like this. But she can feel his heat all along her side, and fuck, this was what she was missing when she was dancing with those girls inside. A touch that made her muscles go lax, her whole frame melting into his.
“Kaner,” he says, his mouth close to her ear, and it sparks inside her belly. Her eyelids flutter shut before she realizes he’s just telling her their cab’s here.
They slide in, and she says, “You know, I really am kind of beat. I should probably just go to bed. Rain check?”
“Oh,” Jonny says, blinking at her from across the cab seat. “Okay,” and his eyes are wide and brown, and his mouth looks soft in the light from the street, and she is so, so fucked.
She sleeps horribly, just really awfully, and she texts Amy the next day. Emergency, she sends, and, Skype soon?
omg they found out?? Amy sends back right away.
Haha, I wish, Pat says, and the Skype ringtone comes from her computer like two seconds later.
She clicks to bring up Amy’s face. “What the fuck, something worse than them finding out?” Amy asks.
“I mean, I don’t know that it’s worse,” Pat says. Her eyes ache from lack of sleep, and she blinks to clear them. Maybe Skype was a bad idea, now that she thinks about it. “Just…stupid.”
Amy’s eyes narrow. “What did you do?”
“I sort of, um,” she says, shifting in her chair. “I may slightly, a little bit…have a thing for Jonny.” She finishes in a mumble.
Amy laughs. “Well, took you long enough to tell me.”
“What? I didn’t—” Pat straightens in indignation. “No. I mean, this is new.” She pauses. “Well, sort of new. January-new.”
“Oh.” Amy pauses, frowns. “Wait, you really haven’t been into him all along?”
What even. “Obviously not,” Pat says. “Did you think I was?”
“Well, yeah,” Amy says. “Since, like, July.”
Pat gapes. “I have not had a thing for him since July!”
“Sorry, sorry,” Amy says, though she grins and doesn’t seem all that sorry. “You just got all starry-eyed over him, and I thought…”
“That was hockey,” Pat says.
“Okay, okay fine.” Amy’s laughing now. Pat glares at her. “But you are now, huh?”
Pat just continues glaring.
“Hm.” Amy looks like she’s thinking it over now. “Too bad he thinks you’re a guy, huh?”
Pat groans and puts her head in her hands.
Okay, but it’s not that bad. Pat’s had plenty of crushes before. None of them have ever made her feel as sick all the time as this does, but she’ll probably get over it, right?
It’s tempting to think about how it would go if Jonny knew who she really was. That maybe she could ask him out, do the normal flirting thing. Except then she’d be putting him in the position of lying to the team or betraying her, and she knows Jonny would hate both those options. She can’t do that to him.
And then there’s the way he’d look at her when he found out.
So, yeah, no. She can handle this, the way things are. The important thing is not to let it mess up anything else. She can deal with the all the fucked-up feelings inside her, as long as she doesn’t give it away on the outside. As long as she doesn’t stare too long or sit too close or let her gaze drop to his mouth.
She’s not too good at any of those things. But, you know, she’s trying.
It seems like a good time to get some space, maybe hang out a little less. But they already have lunch plans that Tuesday, and on Wednesday Jonny’s gotten some new DVD box set he’s really excited about, and Pat doesn’t want to stomp on his fun. (God knows he does enough of that himself.) And then on Thursday they’re driving home from practice arguing about special teams and Pat doesn’t notice they’re going to her place until they get there, and then maybe she should go inside without him but Jonny is so wrong about the power play that she has to set him straight, and by the time she’s done they’re already settled on the couch and they might as well stay there.
The argument fizzles out eventually, and she’s left leaning against his arm and lazily surfing through channels.
They’ve watched half an episode of some home-improvement show when Jonny shifts a little against her and says, “You know, no one else argues with me about this stuff.”
Pat rolls her eyes. “Jonny. Everyone argues with you about this stuff.”
He takes in a breath, lets it out. “Not as well, though,” he says, and Pat feels a surge of warmth in her throat. She should probably say something back, but her head’s gone fuzzy, and she has to look down at the couch until she can think again.
Jonny must pick up on her weirdness, because he clears his throat and takes the remote, and Pat’s too flustered to even make fun of the fishing show they end up watching. Which is saying a lot.
She might think about it a little after he’s gone. But she’ll never admit it.
The next night they don’t have plans, but Jonny texts her after practice to see if she wants to grab dinner. Pat really shouldn’t—she still can’t think about that moment on the couch yesterday without flushing—but before she can think better of it, she’s typing back, As long as it’s not the boring health food place, and Jonny sends her a :P.
They go and get steak. Pat’s feeling weird about everything—more so than usual, tonight—and she’s trying hard not to act like it, so it takes a little bit for her to notice that Jonny’s being weird, too.
He’s always kind of weird, as a human. Pat’s used to that. But tonight he seems off, almost nervous, and that isn’t like him. He doesn’t get nervous around her.
She talks maybe a little too much to make up for it during dinner, and by the end of the meal Jonny’s relaxed a bit. But when they go out to the car again he tenses up and basically stops talking at all. It’s Pat’s car, and she slides into the driver’s seat and is about to put the key in the ignition, but she pauses. Jonny is—she looks over at him, and he’s twisting his hands together. There’s a quick intake of breath, like he’s about to speak.
Oh, fuck. Pat lets the keys slide back into her pocket. This is it: he’s figured it out—the girl thing, or, oh, fuck, the thing where she’s in love with him; either one, she’s going to have to hear him—
Jonny opens his mouth a little, like he’s going to say something, but he doesn’t.
If he’s going to do this, she wants him to do it fast, not make her suffer too long. “Dude, are you okay?” she asks, her voice a little thready, but there.
“I,” he says, and she can tell it’s going to be bad from how tense his body is. She wants to shout at him, tell him to just spit it out, but she bites her lip to keep it back. Her knuckles ache around her seatbelt strap.
“I’m gay,” Jonny says.
And Pat—Pat freezes.
Stares at him. Keeps staring.
Jonny shifts, licks his lips a little. Pat tries to get her brain back online through all the static. She blinks. “You’re…”
“Yeah,” he says, mumbling. Low.
“Wow,” she says. Her mouth tastes like iron, like copper. Like it’s not even hers. Like everything is backwards.
Jonny looks at her, a lightning flash of a glance. He looks—he looks frightened, and she realizes how much she’s fucking this up. How he needs something from her, how he’s the one putting himself out there here, and she can barely breathe, fuck—
“I, uh, I didn’t know that,” she says.
He gives her another glance, and this time it’s faintly derisive. “That’s why I’m telling you,” he says.
Right. Right. She can do this, even though—
“Well, that’s cool,” she says, trying for a smile, and she can hear the false heartiness in her own voice. “I mean, obviously. Though it’s, um, hard? I guess?”
“Yeah,” Jonny says, a soft exhale, and she flashes back on him at the bar: It’s not that easy, for me. That’s what he’d been thinking about, when they’d stood outside waiting for the cab and she could feel his touch vibrating against every inch of her skin. How he wasn’t attracted to women.
She feels sick, like her stomach might actually turn on her. She takes a deep breath, trying to keep everything down, and—and he’s looking at her again, eyes soft, still with that edge that might be frightened. Like he’s waiting for something.
Fuck. She’s still doing this wrong. She has to—she has to talk about this, like it’s normal, like it’s okay. “Does anyone else know?” she asks.
“No.” He scrubs his hands along his thighs. “I need to tell my parents. But, uh. Not yet.”
“Oh man.” It’s…the first time he’s told anyone. The first time, and it’s to her, and she’s fucking it up so badly. “I’m, uh, glad you told me.”
“Yeah?” His eyes flick up to hers, and there’s that look again. Frightened, but…hopeful. Waiting on her. Like she can make this better, if she just finds the right thing to say.
She wants to. Wants to make him feel better about this. But she can’t think, can’t find her way out of the leaden blankness that’s surrounding her, the way the whole world has suddenly gone heavy and dead. She…
Fuck. She needs to get out of here.
She closes her hand around the keys in her pocket. “Wanna head home?” she asks.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Jonny says, so quickly that Pat feels sick about doing this to him, but she can barely string two words together inside her head and so she just starts the car.
It’s easier, once she’s driving. She can stare at the road and it’s fine. She doesn’t need words. Jonny puts on the radio, and that helps even more, but then they get closer to Jonny’s apartment, and the panic edges back into her stomach because she’s messing this up, she’s messing him up, she’s going to hurt him and make him not want to talk to her anymore.
“Wait,” she says, when the car stops, and he freezes halfway out the door. “I just.” Her throat is closing around the words.
She’s not looking at Jonny, but she can feel him waiting.
“I just want you to know that I’m okay with it,” she says. “I really am, all right?”
She looks at him then, and he looks back, full of feeling—and oh, how can it still feel like this, even when she knows she’ll never have him? How can he have this effect on her when she’ll never—
“Thanks,” he says, softly, and the door shuts behind him.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
It’s a good thing she can drive on autopilot, because she barely remembers the drive back to the Koppels’. She just drives back with those words echoing in her head, trying to make them into something she can handle.
She would say she doesn’t believe it. Except if she didn’t, she wouldn’t feel like she’d been boarded by a three-hundred-pound D-man right now.
That’s just bruises, though. This is worse.
It’s so stupid. She’s told herself so many times before this that she could never be with him. But it turns out that she didn’t believe that at all, because now it feels like a plug has been pulled and all her air is draining away.
Gay. Jonny is gay.
The Koppels are watching TV in the living room when Pat gets back, and she stumbles past them up to her room. She wants—she wants to talk to someone, and she’s half a second away from Skyping Amy before she realizes she can’t. She can’t tell anyone about this. Can’t out Jonny.
Fuck. She feels like this and she can’t even tell anyone. She leans forward in the desk chair and puts her head in her hands.
She hopes Jonny’s okay. Hopes she didn’t hurt him too badly. She wants to be mad at him, but she can’t—because he was just doing his thing, being brave, telling his friend something painful that he needed to tell. He didn’t have any idea that it was going to break her.
She wants…she wants a lot of things. But right now, the one that’s sharp on the tip of her tongue, she wants to talk to Jonny.
She wants to talk to him. It’s a totally stupid impulse. They’ve never been confessional friends—not when she can’t tell him the most significant secret in her life. But he’s the one she wants to talk to anyway. Wants to lean against his shoulder and listen to his voice go soft, gentle, and then hard again, determined, making plans for how it’s going to be better. Wants his intensity to wash over her.
She draws her knees up to her chest and closes her eyes.
They have practice the next day, and Pat tries to be okay for it.
She tries really, really hard. She doesn’t want to make this weird for Jonny. It’s not his fault there’s this emptiness tripping her up, that her smiles keep falling flat and her voice is wavering on jokes. All he did was find the courage to tell her the truth about himself. It’s not his fault—
Sharpy definitely notices something. He corners her in the locker room after and gets an elbow around her neck. “You okay, Peeksy?” he asks.
“Yeah, ’course, why wouldn’t I be,” she says, only trying to dislodge him a little.
“Just getting a weird vibe in Kanertown,” Sharpy says. It’s light, not overly solicitous. The kind of thing she could answer seriously or laugh off, and it would be fine either way.
Answering seriously is out. And normally she’d make a joke about how she doesn’t know how he can notice anything weird, with Tazer being the weirdest guy in every locker room ever, but—not right now. “Maybe I just finally got a good look at your face,” she says instead. “That’d be enough to traumatize anyone.”
He makes a faux-shocked expression. “Peeks, you wound me. I know you’re jealous, but don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll grow into your face someday. There’s hope for everyone, you know?”
Trying to wrestle Sharpy to the ground does make her feel better for a few minutes.
After she extracts herself, though, she gets a glimpse of Jonny: just his back, by the door. Not waiting for her, not laughing at her and Sharpy, not inviting her over for video games or lunch or whatever like he usually does. Just walking out without looking at her.
It makes her head go kind of numb, and she has to sit down on a bench until she can think clearly enough to do anything else. She didn’t think they were that bad, but—he’s probably just feeling awkward. He’ll get over it.
It’s not any better the next day, though. He’s still not looking at her, and she feels it way more than she should every time she looks up and his eyes are cast down. They have a game, and Pat scores a goal—awesome—but Jonny doesn’t even hug her properly, just taps her on the helmet. He never just taps her on the helmet.
It’s really dumb to think that he hates her body or doesn’t want to touch her, because he doesn’t even know what her body is really like. But it still kind of feels like it, when he skates away so fast from their celly and turns away from her in the locker room.
She pulls her shirt up in front of the mirror that night, after her shower. She’s still got all the core muscle she’s used to, even more of it now, and without the compressor band her breasts are little swells on her chest. She strokes her hands over them, over the V of her legs. These are the things Jonny wouldn’t like, if—if they were making out or something, and he felt her down there, he would want to feel a dick, not—
No. You know what, no. Fuck this. Pat steps back from the mirror, balling her hands into fists. She is not going to let some stupid guy (because even if Jonny’s not stupid, she can call him that in her thoughts) make her feel self-conscious about her body. She is awesome. And she’s going to fucking do something about it.
When she comes down from her room, Amy’s mom looks up and drops the pot she’s washing with a clatter.
“I’m going out,” Pat says, in her real voice. She hasn’t been using it lately, even around the house, and it sounds weird to her ears.
“Is that…safe?” Mrs. Koppel asks, and Pat sucks in a breath because there’s a part of her that wants to scream. It’s the same part of her that thinks, sometimes, that her chest compression band is a cage.
“I don’t look much like Eric Kane right now, do I?” she asks instead.
Amy’s mom smiles a little. “No, you certainly don’t,” she says, and Pat smiles back, a tight, pressed-down thing, and slips on her heels and heads out the door.
She goes to a club the team never goes to and flashes her real ID at the door. She’s not sure she even looks much like the picture on the front right now—hair clipped back with barrettes, eyes lined and glittered to within an inch of their life—but they don’t give her any trouble. Just put a marker X on the back of her hand and let her through.
It’s late already, after the game. She feels self-conscious, standing in the dimly lit room with all these people around. She hasn’t let anyone see her in clothes like this for so long. The dress is one she brought along just in case, short and sparkly, and she keeps looking down, expecting to see the flatness of her compression band across her chest and seeing her boobs instead, push-up bra turning them into something worth squeezing.
It feels almost like she’s naked: letting people see her breasts. Letting people know she even has them.
It’s only been like half a year since she last did this, and it’s not like she’s forgotten how. She orders a drink at the bar and then leans against it, hip out—she’s allowed to have hips here, it’s crazy—and surveys the room. She’s never been everyone’s cup of tea: too tall, too built for people who like their girls small and wispy. But there have always been guys who’ve been into what she’s offering, and some of them are here tonight.
Some guy asks to buy her a drink, and she lets him even though she’s not that into him, partly to be nice and partly to ease her way into things. She dances for a song or two with him after, and then she makes her excuses and spins out, zeroing in on another guy who looks like he might be up for a little grinding. And then another one after that.
It’s weird, but—she keeps expecting them to call her on it. To see through her disguise. Even though it’s not a disguise: this is her real body, who she really is. But when they’re asking her questions and she’s giggling in their ears, she feels like she’s playing a part.
These guys don’t know the version of her who takes to the ice in a flurry of skates three times a week, who fights with every fiber of her being to get the puck into the goal and is so elated when she does. The version of her who’s part of a unit with twenty-some other guys, all spending their days working for the thing they love.
They don’t, and they can’t, and that’s—it’s okay, it’s fine, but Pat still feels like they aren’t really seeing her.
It’s not until a couple hours into the night that she finds someone who really turns her crank. He’s taller than she is, and he has this really nice, open face. If he reminds her of someone, she’s not thinking about it, and she grinds with him until they’re both panting and turned on. It’s fantastic, having big hands on her again, moving her around a little and not afraid to be pushy. She leans in and presses her mouth to his neck—not far to lean; he’s just the right height—and then they’re kissing, one of his hands holding her head where he wants it and the other on the small of her back to keep their hips pushed together. Pat grins and circles her hips.
They end up pressed against one of the walls of the club, making out. The guy is caging Pat in in the best way, and she loves having someone else’s tongue and lips against hers again. He’s good, too. A little forceful, guiding her where he wants her to be, a little bit of teeth—
A little like how she’s imagined Jonny would be.
The thought makes something lurch inside her, and she shuts it down. She opens her mouth wider, giving the guy a little more tongue, kissing faster. This is what she wanted, a guy’s hands on her body. The heat of him pressing up against her. It doesn’t matter who he looks like, or who she might have imagined here in the past. This is who’s with her now, and she just needs to kiss him, needs to lose herself in him until—
“Whoa, hey.” The guy pulls back, and his voice is the wrong timbre. “What’s up?”
What’s up is that her chest is heaving, her pulse pounding in her temples, and she needs to be kissing him again so she doesn’t have to think about this. “Look, can we just,” she says, but she hears the crack in her own voice, and she’s not surprised when the guy pulls away a couple of inches.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asks.
Pat laughs, short and bitter. Fuck, of course she’d have to try this with a guy who wouldn’t push his advantage with a girl who’s obviously upset.
Of course she wouldn’t be able to do this right even when she’s being a girl.
“No, it’s not you,” she says, and he puts his hands on her arms, but not like he’s going to start something up again.
“Something you want to talk about?” he asks. It’s ridiculous, because they’re both practically shouting to be heard over the club music, and talking was definitely not why he started dancing with her. But he’s asking.
A part of her wants to tell him. But she couldn’t tell him the truth, not really—not without spilling secrets that would ruin at least one person’s career, maybe two. And it wouldn’t do her any good, anyway.
“No,” she says. “Thanks. But I think I’m just gonna go home.”
Pat does go home, and she washes off her eye makeup and falls into bed and thinks about making herself come but is too wiped to go for it.
So, that wasn’t a way out, after all.
She thought she would feel better after blowing off some steam, finding some people who appreciate her for being a woman. And that part was kind of nice. But all it did was reinforce that there’s nowhere she can go and be her entire self. No one she can be with right now who knows both parts of her. Either she’s Kaner, and can’t be with anyone she wants to, or she’s Pat, and she can date whomever but the person doing it won’t really be her.
And of course, in no universe can she be with the person she really wants.
Jonny’s still weird with her, in the days that follow. Pat guesses it must be tough, having told someone your biggest secret and then having them know—she’s trying to tell herself it’s because of that, not because she screwed it up so badly. This is just Jonny needing transition time. It doesn’t stop her from wanting him around so much her stomach aches, but it helps a little.
When he finally does wait for her after practice one day, and ask her to lunch with a tentative smile, though, she says no.
“Oh,” he says, face falling. “I didn’t mean—”
“Oh, no, I just have plans,” she says, even though she doesn’t—it was really just because she panicked, because she didn’t know if she could handle being around him. But she definitely can’t handle him looking like that. “But, um, let me see if I can change them.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Jonny says, but he looks so relieved that she pulls out her phone anyway and pretends to text someone to move their “plans.”
Lunch is a little awkward. Jonny’s quieter than usual, but Pat starts talking to him about their D pairings, and Jonny always comes to life when they talk about hockey. It’s like everything he’s trying to be, everything he thinks he should be, just falls away, and he’s nothing but himself.
If that makes something twist under Pat’s ribs, well, maybe that’s something she has to learn to live with.
Hockey is a good distraction. Hockey is always a good distraction. It’s even better now that there’s no reason for Jonny to be weird about her on the ice. They win a few, and then lose a few, and all of a sudden the end of the season is only a month away and they’re not making it to the playoffs.
The whole team goes out for sympathy drinks the night they’re mathematically eliminated. Jonny is usually one of the guys who needs to be talked into coming, especially lately, but tonight he’s fearsome in the locker room, prowling around and making sure everyone knows that they’re not allowed to go home without having at least one beer.
“It’s tradition,” he growls, which is patently ludicrous, since this is his first year on the team, but no one calls him on it. The older guys just fall quietly in line, and Pat sees for the first time with blinding clarity what a great captain Jonny is going to be one day.
She hopes she’s there to see it.
It makes it extra hard, toasting the season they had and knowing how improbable it was for her to have had even just this one. Sure, everyone’s career is uncertain—any of the guys might get sent down, or get injured, or whatever. But hers feels extra precarious, and if she ever gets caught, there’s no chance she’ll ever make it back to the big leagues.
She just wishes they’d made the playoffs this year, is all.
She’s not about to be all sulky, though. That’s not why Jonny dragged them out. So she gets up and dances, pulls some other guys to the dance floor, finds some girls who want to dance with them, pretends to be excited about that. Does a pretty good job, because, hey, dancing is always fun.
When she looks over a little while later, though, Jonny is sitting in their booth, not talking to anyone and looking down at his beer.
Pat rolls her eyes and goes to slide in next to him. “For fuck’s sake,” she says. “Is this why you dragged everyone out?”
He looks startled. And then angry, a little. “Fuck off,” he says. “I’m allowed to be pissed.”
“Not right now, you’re not,” she says. It’s true: when you singlehandedly get the team to go out for cheering-up drinks, you don’t get to sit in the corner and be depressed about it. Though, to be fair, she guesses he has some extra reasons for not wanting to go dance. She leans in a little closer. “Want me to help you find a dance partner more your type?”
He looks back at her with wide, surprised eyes. It’s the first time either of them has made reference to his coming out since it happened—Pat because she didn’t think she could talk about it without giving things away, and Jonny, well, it’s probably a tough thing to talk about. “Um, no. What? No.”
Pat’s embarrassed by how relieved she feels at that. “Okay, well, at least come dance with the team. It doesn’t have to be girls.”
“It’s not—whatever,” Jonny says, but he follows her out of the booth, so she’s counting it a victory.
Jonny is a super awkward dancer, which Pat should not find as charming as she does. She knew that already, of course, but he seems extra awkward now, maybe because of the whole coming out thing. Even if it was just to her. Everyone seems happy to see him out there, though, especially Sharpy, who shouts, “Toes!” and starts grinding with him, for some definition of grinding that involves not a lot of contact and Jonny looking really weirded out.
“Okay, Jonny, now I’m sorry I dragged you out here,” Pat shouts over the music. “No one should have to go through this.”
“Insulting my dance skills?” Sharpy says. He swings around so he’s still sort of humping Jonny but can give Pat an offended look. “Let’s see you do better,” he says, and drags her in.
It takes Pat a second to realize he’s trying to get her to grind with Jonny in his place, and then she goes hot all over. She catches a glimpse of Jonny’s face, and—and he’s horrified, staring at her like this is the worst thing that could ever happen, and then Pat’s all up in his space, Sharpy’s hands pushing her firmly forward.
It’s not something that she wants, not like this, and so it shouldn’t affect her, but of course it does. Her hands go to Jonny’s hips automatically, and his face is really close to hers, breath hot on her forehead. There’s one short-circuiting moment when she feels Jonny all down her front, from chest to groin, and then she flinches back, gut lurching and heart pounding.
“Like Jonny could possibly handle my dance moves,” she says, and shimmies desperately down into a crouch and back up again. It gets the guys laughing, and it has the more important effect of getting her away from Jonny, away from the feeling of too much.
She lets herself think about it a couple of minutes later, when they’ve all gone back to dancing in an amorphous blob. She can still feel where Jonny’s body was pressed against hers, like a phantom heat. Like her nerve endings are still reaching out for more. She imagines what it might have been like if she’d leaned into that heat and gotten even closer: slid her arms around Jonny’s neck and let him anchor his hands around her waist. Felt the circling of his hips against her. Maybe even the bulge of his cock, hard from the way they’d be rocking into each other, looking for friction.
She shivers and grabs Burs’ arm. “I think we need shots,” she says, and his face lights up predictably.
An hour or so later, they’ve all had a lot of shots and are pretty sloppy because of it. Pat doesn’t think she’s that drunk: just buzzing, loose, kind of happy. She thinks Jonny might be worse off, though, with the way he’s holding onto the wall as they head toward the bathrooms.
“How many shots did Burs give you?” she asks.
“I’m not that drunk,” he grumbles, and, okay, he’s really not, then, because very drunk Jonny stops grumbling and starts being really happy. This is Jonny still trying to fight against the drunk.
“Prove it,” she says. “Let’s see you walk in a straight line.”
Jonny glares at her. “I don’t need to do stupid tests, Kaner, I’m fine.”
“Yeah?” She grins at him, wide and taunting. “I think you’re just saying that because you can’t do it.”
Jonny of course gets that intense gleam in his eye. “All right, you want to see it? You’re on.”
He pushes off the wall, quick as anything, and staggers to the side before Pat gets under his shoulder to catch him.
“Okay, so maybe I’m a little drunk,” he mumbles while she laughs and repositions his arm over her shoulder.
“We should probably get you to a cab,” she says.
“Don’t wanna go,” he says, and fixes her with a look. He’s right next to her, because of the way she’s propping him up, and their heads are really close together. Like maybe eight inches between them. Maybe less.
Pat feels her pulse start to speed up. The look in Jonny’s eyes—it’s really not fair of him to give her that look anymore. And it’s not fair the way her body reacts, fingertips tingling and gut going warm and loose. Not when she knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.
“It’s late, though,” she says, not even sure what she’s arguing against, too dazed by the way Jonny’s eyes are sweeping over her face. “And you’re drunk.”
“Not that drunk,” Jonny says, and then—then he’s moving closer, pushing her back against the wall. His hand goes to her chin, really gentle, and then he’s tilting her chin up and sliding his mouth over hers and kissing her.
Pat melts into it. Jonny’s mouth is warm and wet and perfect, and it’s opening against hers just exactly right. He breathes in and presses closer, his tongue doing things to her tongue that make her whole body tingle, and yes, this is exactly what she’s wanted, it’s—
“Oh fuck no,” she says, and pushes Jonny away.
He falls back a step, startled. “What?” he says.
“I don’t.” Pat runs her tongue over her lips. She feels sick. “Um.”
Jonny’s eyes are darting all over her face and body in a bewildered way. “Oh. Did you not…”
“I have to go,” Pat says, and runs for the door.
She wishes she could forget everything the next morning, but she wasn’t that drunk, and it’s the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up. The way Jonny’s mouth had molded to hers, the softness of his lips, the way her whole body had gone floaty and golden at his touch. The way she had never wanted to stop kissing him.
The way he had thought she was a guy.
“Fuck,” she whispers into the pillows.
She thought it was bad, wanting him before, but that was without knowing how he kissed. Now she knows, and it’s—
There’s a tiny, traitorous part of her that thinks maybe she could just pretend. He already thinks she’s a guy. She could pretend, just long enough for them to make out, to get Jonny’s mouth on hers some more and lose herself in it. Just feel his hands on her body again.
And then have him reach a little lower and realize the way she’s lied to him and never speak to her again.
She wants to curl up in bed and wallow, but she has practice. And that means seeing Jonny.
She goes into it thinking that the one saving grace is that he’ll avoid her again. But this time he doesn’t. The opposite, actually: he stares her down the whole time she’s taking off her pads, and he’s waiting for her when she tries to leave.
“We need to talk,” he says, voice low and inarguable.
It’s not like Pat couldn’t argue, no matter what he sounds like. She could refuse. But he wouldn’t let it go, and she does still have to see him every day and play on a line with him, so she’ll have to talk to him eventually, and it’s probably better not to drag it out. “Fine,” she says. “Meet you at mine?”
Jonny drives like an old person, so she beats him there and is in the shower when she hears the front doors open. Maybe she stalls a little after that. So sue her.
He’s sitting on the couch when she finally comes downstairs. She thinks about going to the chair, but she never sits in it—has gone on tirades about how uncomfortable that chair is, actually—and so he’d know she was avoiding him. She sits on the end of the couch instead.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” she asks.
He raises his eyes to her, and her attempt at flippancy dies. He looks—he looks like—
Fuck, he looks like this is killing him.
His face shutters over a moment later, but she knows what’s there. “Jonny…” she says.
“First of all,” he says, like he has this all planned out, “I want to apologize for what I did last night.”
“No,” she says, hand reaching out before she can think of what she wants to do with it. She pauses in mid-air, pulls it back. “No, it was—it was fine. You don’t have to apologize.”
“I shouldn’t have sprung that on you,” Jonny says. He wipes a hand over his mouth. “Not when we were both drunk and we hadn’t talked about it. That’s not how…friends do things.”
“Sometimes things happen,” Pat says faintly, remembering the wash of want that had spilled over everything when she met Jonny’s eyes last night. How willing she would have been to go with it—if.
“Not like that, they shouldn’t,” Jonny says firmly, so Pat rolls her eyes and waves a hand.
“Fine, fine, you’re forgiven,” she says. “Was there a second of all?”
Jonny’s lips press together, probably because he wants her to take this seriously. As if she could be mad at him for kissing her, honestly. “Second of all,” he says, “I think we should try again.”
Pat goes cold, ice all over her skin. “Jonny,” she says.
He fixes her with a look, the one that always makes her breath stop, only now there’s more of it. “You can’t tell me you don’t want this,” he says.
No. She can’t tell him that. Even right now, what she wants more than anything is to go and straddle his lap and finish the kiss they started last night. Maybe get lost in it for a few hours until nothing’s between them but sweat and slick. But. “I’m not gay,” she says, and it’s nothing more than the truth.
His eyes go sharp. “I didn’t think I was, either, until this year,” he says.
Pat shifts uncomfortable. “It’s not—like that,” she says. “I’m really sure. Like, a hundred percent sure.”
Jonny’s eyes don’t dim at all. If anything, they go more intense. “Look, you can lie to yourself if you want, but—it’s not going to hold. It’s going to ruin you, it’s—” He spreads his hands. “Even if it’s not with me. You should admit it to yourself.”
Pat feels lightheaded at the surrealism of it all. He’s trying to save her from herself. “How can you be so sure about me?” she asks.
“When we—” He bites his lip. “Fuck, Kaner, when we skate, when we talk, even when we fight. You can’t say there’s nothing there.”
“It’s not what you think it is,” she says faintly.
“Is that so?” Jonny says, voice dropping, and a moment later he’s up close, leaning over Pat so that his face is barely two inches away from hers. “Are you saying you don’t want to kiss me right now?” he whispers.
Pat’s mouth goes wet, and her lips part automatically. She feels her eyelids dip closed, and she tries to breathe normally, but she can smell him. The closeness of his breath, the distinctive smell of his skin that makes her hot and dizzy with wanting.
“Jonny,” she says, and turns her head away.
He stays there, poised above her, for a moment, and then he settles back, slowly, onto his haunches. She looks back at him, and she has to look away from what he sees there. Actual understanding, this time, that she means it when she says it’s not going to happen.
It’s so final that Pat wants to take it back. Wants to fall into his arms and tell him she does want him, of course she does, wants to kiss him forever. But: I’m gay, he told her, so many days ago in the front seat of her car, and he’s not going to get what he wants from her.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, and he flinches back from it, like it’s a blow.
“Yeah. Well.” He turns away, runs his hands down the tops of his thighs. “I guess I’ll be going, then.”
“You don’t have to,” she says, but he does, and she can see that. He needs to go. So that they can both fall apart.
He gives her a smile from the door, more a grimace than anything else, and that—that tiny, twisted, pale shadow of the smile he usually gives her—hurts more than anything that’s come before.
They have a game the next day, and Pat needs to focus on it.
They’re out of the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still want to win. If nothing else, there’s the Calder race, and she knows that both she and Jonny are in it. She wants it for herself, obviously, and failing that, she wants it for Jonny. Feels like she owes it to him to play as well as she can, to make up for not being what he wants. For not being a guy.
Besides, she needs the distraction.
They’re playing the Oilers, which always means it’s a bit of a shitshow. Nothing really falls apart, though, until the middle of the second period, when Marty Reasoner crashes into her.
It’s not an intentional hit: Pat catches a glimpse of him in the split second before he reaches her, and she can see how out of control he is. Out of control enough to send her careening towards Seabs by the blue line, and then there’s another Oiler caught in it, and Pat is down on the ice before she really knows what’s happening.
It’s not a very bad fall. She hits the ice all the time; that’s what pads are for. It’s made worse, though, by the way Seabs falls half across her legs, and there’s some mad scrambling above her as Reasoner tries not to land on both of them. They all slide across the ice, and then it’s over except oh—
She doesn’t get what’s happening at first. It’s like a sudden sharp heat on her right side, all her muscles seizing up, and then a moment later it hits her: fierce pain, radiating from her side, the kind that makes her close her eyes and gasp and try to hold on against it. This is broken-rib pain, not bruise pain, and fuck, Pat can’t afford that right now.
The tumble of players is breaking up around her now while she tries to breathe through the pain. “Kaner,” she hears, and then, sharp, “Fuck,” and she opens her eyes a little bit to see Jonny in front of her.
He’s looking at her with wide eyes, alarmed, and she wonders hazily what he can see to make him look like that. Then—the pain in her side sharpens, and she sees his hand come into view, and—that’s blood.
Blood, she thinks, blood, and oh, fuck, that’s her blood, and it hurts there’s pain and blood and pain and—
“Kaner, stay with me, fuck, Eric,” she hears, and the thought that sticks with her, while the pain and panic try to drag her under, is, You’ve got it wrong; that’s not who I am at all.
Pat doesn’t pass out.
She’s almost terrified enough to do it when they start loading her onto a stretcher, though. “No, it’s okay, I can walk,” she mumbles, but she’s not sure if that’s true, and they don’t give her a choice, anyway.
She’s afraid they’re going to wheel her straight onto an ambulance, but no—they take her to one of the training rooms, so it can’t be that bad. The ride is awful, though: jolting even though the stretcher’s on wheels, the pain in her right side fiery. Then there’s someone’s face over hers, one of the team doctors, and he’s saying things to her, things like: “It’s going to be all right, Kaner, you just got a little sliced up there. We’re going to take care of it. Don’t worry.”
Sliced up. Fuck. “Jonny?” she asks.
She’s not expecting him to answer, but her does. “Yeah, Kaner, I’m here,” he says, and oh, that must mean it’s really bad, if Jonny’s there and not on the ice. She wonders what he’s seeing. Whether she even wants to know.
“All right, I’m just going to cut through your jersey and get your pads off,” the trainer is saying. There are some slicing sounds, so she figures he’s doing it. Then there’s jostling at her shoulders and head, and she cries out, because it makes the pain in her side flare brilliant again. “Sorry, those were the pads, but they’re gone now,” the trainer says. “We’re just going to cut through your other layers and see what we’re dealing with, okay?”
Pat’s still panting from that last flash of pain, so she doesn’t track what’s happening until the scissors are up again. Then she tries to reach up and stop them, but something’s holding her arms down. “No—” she says, voice too high, but she doesn’t care about that right now. “Jonny—”
“It’s okay, they’re just cutting away your clothes,” Jonny says, but that’s the whole problem, he doesn’t get it, they’re going to—and then they’ll—
There’s a quick snicking sound as the scissors run up the front of her t-shirt, her Under Armour, all her layers, and then the fabric falls back and there’s cool air on her chest.
There’s a short silence in the room. Then, “What the fuck?” someone asks, and it’s Jonny, she knows that voice, and then everyone in the room is talking and—
“All right, everyone out!” the trainer roars, and Pat can hear them retreating, but she almost doesn’t care. Her face is scrunched up, and it’s only half from the pain: the other half is from the refrain in her head, the one going no, no, no. The one that doesn’t let her think about anything else.
“Okay, Kaner, I’m going to deal with this slash, okay?” the trainer says. His voice sounds weird: like he’s trying not to say something else.
She closes her eyes and lets him work.
By the time Pat gets home and is in her own bed, she’s dazed enough from the pain meds that she doesn’t have to think too much.
Two weeks, the trainer said. Skate blade in the side. The kind of freak accident that almost never happens. She got lucky: it’s just a shallow cut, just above her waist, and they stitched it up and sent her home.
Sent her home.
Amy’s parents put her to bed, but even through the Vicodin haze Pat can see the looks on their faces. Like they’ve heard things, like the word has gotten out. She doesn’t want to know what they know.
She curls up on her side and goes to sleep.
It would be nice if Pat could keep sleeping. If she could just stay under, until…until her life changed, until she didn’t have to deal with any of the things that have happened and will happen over the next few days. But there are no drugs that good.
She sleeps all that night and most of the next morning. When she wakes up, there’s a tray of food outside the door, and she ignores it and stumbles to the bathroom. Her side is burning, but she braces herself over the toilet and pees, and then eases herself back into bed and swallows another pain pill and tumbles back into unconsciousness.
When she wakes up again, it’s late afternoon.
She doesn’t know what time it is, because her phone is face-down on the night table. She put it on airplane mode last night, squinting through the haze of pain meds and ignoring the sea of texts she could see on her lock screen. She’d like to keep ignoring it. But…she should probably call her parents.
Her fingers aren’t working quite like they should, and she fumbles as she gets the phone off the table. She fumbles again and almost drops it when she takes it off of airplane and it starts ringing.
She tries to kill the sound, but she can’t remember which button it is, and she must press the wrong one because then a faraway voice is saying, “Hello? Hello?” through the speakers and Amy’s face is on the screen.
“Fuck,” Pat mumbles. She puts the phone to her ear. “Amy?”
“Oh my God, Pat. I can’t believe you answered. You have to see this,” Amy says.
Her voice is a little too loud, and it makes all of Pat ache a little more. “What?”
“This video,” Amy says. “You’ll—I’ll send it to you.”
“What are you talking about?” Pat asks. She’s not nearly awake enough for this. “Is this…what?”
“I swear you’ll want to see this,” Amy says. “I know you’re, like, probably hopped up on pain meds and avoiding the world, but oh my God, watch this right now.”
Pat tries to imagine any video she’d want to see right now, that would make going on the internet worth it. “Are you serious? What is this even a video of?”
Amy pauses, and then starts talking really fast. “Okay, fine, it’s a press conference with Jonathan Toews,” she says. “But—”
“Amy.” Pat moves sharply enough that she pulls at her stitches and has to take a moment to breathe through the pain. “Amy, what the fuck, that is the last thing I—”
“Patricia Tabitha Kane,” Amy says, and it’s her on-ice voice. “You watch this video or—or I’m coming down to Chicago to cut open your side again myself.”
Pat collapses back against the pillows. She knows better than to argue with Amy when she uses that voice. “Whatever,” she says. “Fine.”
Pat wasn’t lying. She really does intend to watch the video. Just…not right away.
Amy’s text comes through right after they get off the phone, and Pat opens to the text conversation because then at least she doesn’t have to see the other texts in her inbox. Then she calls her parents.
Her mom starts crying as soon as she gets on the phone. Pat spends ten minutes convincing her she’s really not dead, that she doesn’t need her to fly out to Chicago to take care of her. Her mom apparently talked to someone on the team last night—which is why she’s not in Chicago already—and as soon as Pat finds out it was Jonny, she goes shuddery and steers the conversation away.
When her mom finally lets her go, she drags herself out of bed and eats some of the food the Koppels left outside her door. She can smell how gross she is every time she moves, so she goes to the bathroom after that and sponges herself down.
The face that stares back at her out of the mirror looks awful. Her hair’s plastered sweatily to her head, and there are dark circles under her eyes even though she just slept for fifteen hours. There is nothing pretty or feminine about her. If the NHL could see her right now, maybe they’d—
She goes back to bed and pulls the blankets around her again.
Her phone is sitting on the night table.
Amy told her she’d want to see it. She sounded almost excited about it. Pat tries to imagine what on earth could happen in a Blackhawks press conference that she’d be excited about right now.
She could ignore it and lie here in bed with it weighing down the pit of her stomach. Or she could watch it.
Her hand is shaking when she clicks on the link to the video. She bites her lip hard to ground herself. Her eyes are kind of skittering away, not quite focusing on the screen—she doesn’t want to see this, doesn’t want to hear Jonny of all people hem and haw his way around denouncing her on television. But she can’t avoid seeing it.
Jonny’s standing at a Blackhawks podium, in front of a group of jostling reporters. He’s in his game-day suit and has his serious expression on his face, like he always does at these things. He’s trying to say something—she thinks she makes out her name, her real one—but the noise of the crowd keeps cutting him off. A bunch of people are shouting things at the stage, and finally one of the Hawks PR people comes out and gets everyone to be quiet.
“Thank you,” Jonny says. He looks even more constipated than usual. “As I was saying. I asked for this opportunity to speak, not as an official representative of the Blackhawks, but as someone who’s played alongside Patricia Kane for the last six months. I thought it was important that you hear this from me.” He pauses, and Pat’s heart is thrumming in her throat. “Patricia Kane is the best player I’ve ever had on my wing. If the league doesn’t let her continue to play because of her gender, then it doesn’t have the right to call itself the National Hockey League.”
Pat stares. The crowd erupts in noise again.
It takes a solid ten seconds for the PR people to calm them down again and call on the people who are actually raising their hands. “What about the fact that she lied to the league?” someone asks.
Jonny’s expression gets harder. “If she lied, it’s because we’re operating in a backward age where women and men aren’t given the same opportunities,” he says. “In an equal league, she wouldn’t have had to.”
Pat can barely feel her body. There’s a buzzing in her ears.
“So you really think she’s as good as anyone else in the league,” someone else asks.
“No,” Jonny says, face blanking, and for a second the world tips. Then: “Weren’t you listening? Like I said. She’s better.”
There’s a burst of sound from the crowd of reporters, and then the video ends, and…and.
Pat’s breathing hard. She stares at the screen, presses a hand over her mouth. Stares some more.
Jonny just. On national TV. He just.
She needs to check her texts.
There was a scarily large number in her text inbox last she saw. She goes over to it now, looks at the list, and—it’s not just Jonny. All her teammates are there, their names mixed with others, but she only cares about her teammates right now.
Sharpy’s name comes up first. Just want you to know we made a pact, his text says. They kick you out and we all go on strike. Jonny held a team meeting this morning. Then, No one plays without our Peekaboo.
Pat takes in a breath that might sort of be a sob.
Burish is next on the list: FUCK YEAH YOU SHOWED EM, he says. Then there’s one from Duncs, just saying, We’re with you, and Seabs: Blackhawks for life. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. And Buff, and Laddy, and Khabi, and…
Jonny’s name is there, too, dozens from the top, because his text came in last night just after the game. All it says is: I won’t let them take this away from you.
Pat can’t see anything after that. The screen’s too blurry.
Her phone rings a bunch of times after that: mostly numbers she doesn’t know, a few times an old teammate or friend from school. She feels like a total coward, but she doesn’t answer the calls.
There’s only one where she stares at the phone in terror the whole time it’s ringing, and that’s when it’s a call from Savvy.
Pat knows she should answer. But she doesn’t think she can hear what he has to say without breaking down.
It stops ringing eventually, and it buzzes with a voicemail. Pat tucks the blanket around her shoulders and presses play.
It’s short. “Kaner,” he says. “I guess you know we need to talk. Come into my office when we’re back from the road, and, uh, I hope you’re feeling better.”
It’s—well. It could be worse.
The team is going to Detroit and St. Louis in the morning. Pat knows their schedule; she was supposed to be going with them. It’s a three-day roadie. They’ll be back on Friday.
She closes her eyes and tries not to think about it.
The next three days are long. Pat hates being injured at the best of times, and this is so far from that. It’s good to know her teammates are behind her, but she knows they only have a limited amount of power to tell the NHL what to do. A very limited amount. Maybe a zero amount.
She’s still can’t watch the news. She does skim through her texts and emails, and most of them aren’t too bad—but even the ones that are supportive and excited still hurt.
There are a couple of bad ones, mostly from numbers or emails she doesn’t recognize. And then there’s the one from her agent.
She knows she should have told him the truth. Hell, there are lots of things she should have done, like maybe not lie to get into the NHL in the first place. But she can’t bring herself to regret that. Even if she never sets foot on the ice professionally again, even if they take away her NCAA eligibility, she still got to play for six months with the Chicago Blackhawks. No matter what, it was the best six months of her life, and she’ll never regret it.
Looks like she’s going to need a new agent, though. If there’s anything to need a new agent for.
In the slim good-news column, the cut in her side is healing okay. She mostly spends her time sitting around, sticking to Netflix and the Koppels’ DVD library so she doesn’t accidentally catch the news. And she tries not to think.
She does have to go into the UC on Wednesday to have her side looked at—manages to wash her hair first and everything—and it feels so weird to walk into the building again. Before leaving the house, she spent twenty minutes trying to decide if she should put on one of her compression bands again, and she ended up going with a regular sports bra. It still compresses her a lot, but even so, she feels like all eyes are on her as she walks in. One of the security guards spots her and turns away, like he doesn’t want anything to do with her. She can practically hear him thinking the kind of thing that showed up in the worse emails she got: links to articles about how girls shouldn’t be allowed to play, “scientific” studies about how their bodies are too weak to face off against men, opinion pieces about how she’s an upstart entitled bitch who wanted more than what was good for her. Pat refuses to look down, but she feels her face heat as she hurries past.
The trainers themselves aren’t too bad. One of them looks at her and tells her that she seems to be healing on track. “Ready for regular movement in a week to ten days,” he says.
Meaning that’s when she’d be cleared to play. But they all know better than to talk about playing.
She watches snippets of the Detroit and St. Louis games on TV, because she just can’t keep herself from doing it, even though it hurts to see other people on Jonny’s wing. They lose against Detroit, and it sucks, and then they win against the Blues, and that almost sucks more, because they won without her. There are some references to her in the commentary—“Of course, we all know who would usually be playing on Toews’ wing”—and Pat ends up muting it after the first couple of minutes and just watching the action on the ice.
There are maybe some signs about in the crowd, too. Pat ends up looking away. Some of them are nice, but some…
Jonny comes on to do a post-game interview in St. Louis. Pat thinks about turning off the TV, almost does—but instead she punches the volume up to normal.
“Yeah, it was a good game,” he’s saying, and just the sound of his voice makes her heart speed up. “It’s not the best we can do, though, you know, we’re all still waiting for Kaner to come back.”
“Waiting?” the reporter repeats, while Pat bites her lips and digs her fingers into her thighs. “So you’re saying she is coming back?”
Jonny gives his best blank-faced stare. “She has to come back,” he says, and Pat squinches her face up and jiggles her feet and hits the off button before anything can happen to take away the giddy feeling she gets in her chest when she hears him say that.
She’s been trying not to think about Jonny. Obviously, that’s impossible, but it makes her feel like she’s going to vibrate out of her skin when she does it, so she at least tries not to do it too long or too hard. By now he’ll have figured out what she meant, all those times she told him that she wasn’t what he was looking for. She wonders if he’s disgusted with himself, or with her. Wonders, and worries, and more than anything else, keeps catching herself wishing he was there: sitting next to her on the couch, picking apart their plays or grumbling at whatever stupid Netflix movie she’s watching.
She just misses him, is all.
Her meeting with management is Friday morning at nine.
This time, it’s not enough to throw on a sports bra. She looks at the game day suits lined up in her closet, all loose masculine lines, and thinks about it. But in the end she shoves those aside and grabs something from her small stash at the back.
She feels even weirder going into the UC in a skirt suit. It doesn’t even fit quite right: she’s bulked up a lot over the past year, and her shoulders are a little too wide for the jacket now. Like she’s wearing a skin she’s grown out of already.
At least it was a late-night flight, so practice isn’t until the afternoon. It’s not that she doesn’t want to see the other guys on the team—except that no, she actually doesn’t. She’s terrified enough as it is.
Savvy is in his office, along with Dale Tallon and Stan Bowman. Pat smoothes her skirt unnecessarily as she enters, and they all stand up to shake her hand. Like—like it’s the first time they’re meeting.
Pat sits down, and Savvy clears his throat. “So, I guess we were all a little surprised on Sunday,” he says.
She tries to smile, but she feels like she’s about two seconds from throwing up, so it probably doesn’t come off very well.
“I hope you realize the seriousness of what you did,” Dale says. His tone is mild but it makes Pat want to shrink back into her chair anyway.
She doesn’t. “Yes, sir,” she says.
“Before we go any further,” Stan says, leaning forward, “is this a conversation you’d like to have your agent here for?”
“Um.” She shifts a little, grimaces when her stitches pull. “Actually, it seems like you guys weren’t the only ones upset about the news this weekend.”
There’s a moment of silence while they all take that in. “In that case,” Dale says, “I might as well come right out and say it. We obviously can’t honor the contract you signed this summer.”
Pat was expecting it, but that doesn’t mean it hurts less. “Right,” she says, more air than sound. “Um.” Fuck, she should have brought a lawyer along for this. She was thinking of being kicked out of the league as the worst thing that could happen—but she didn’t even think through the rest of it. God, what if they want the money back from her rookie contract? She still has most of it, but there’s the piece that went towards Eric’s tuition, and—
“So we’ll have to draw up a new one,” Dale says, and Pat’s head snaps up.
“Wh-what?” she says.
Dale stretches a little. “It’s a little irregular, drawing up a new contract for a player who’s already most of the way through her rookie year,” he says. “But technically, you were never drafted and you never signed anything under your own name, so some of those rules don’t apply.”
“I’m sorry.” Pat’s head is spinning like she got a concussion and not a gash in the side. “What?”
Savvy smiles at her. Smiles. “Well, we talked about letting you go,” he says, “but it turns out the team would riot.”
Pat can’t believe this is happening. She can’t believe they’d—“So it’s because…”
“No, of course not.” Savvy’s face goes serious. “Look, we definitely had some conversations about this. It’s unorthodox. But you’re one of the best young players we’ve seen in a while. I won’t say we don’t have any concerns, but…if we could play you for six months without any problems arising, I think we can handle it going forward.”
Pat wants to laugh. She wants to burst into laughter right there in Savvy’s office. She holds it back, but she can’t do anything about the smile splitting her face. “I…thank you. You won’t be disappointed.”
Savvy holds her eye. “Haven’t been yet,” he says.
They give her a contract to sign and tell her she has a week to think it over. She doesn’t think there’s anything she needs to think over, but Dale points out that she could sign anywhere, now, and there might be reasons to look at her options first.
She wants to laugh in his face. As if she’d want to play for a different team after all this. After the things her teammates have said to her this past week, after the way Denis Savard just looked her in the eye and told her she was one of the best new players he’d seen.
She manages to make it out of the office before she lets the giddy laughter out, and the jumping up and down is a little bit restrained because of her side, but—only a little bit.
She’s in the NHL. For real this time.
She’s practically cackling as she texts her mom and dad and brothers, just a picture of the contract and a string of exclamation points, and then she calls Amy and squeals for about thirty seconds before she can get the news out.
“Oh my God, you’re kidding,” Amy says when she finally gets the message. “I didn’t think they would really go for it. I mean, I saw the demonstrations—”
“The what?” Pat asks.
“You know, the ones in Chicago,” Amy says. “Let Pat Play. Did you—did you actually not know?”
Pat’s mouth is hanging open. “Um, I’ve been kind of avoiding the news and stuff.”
“Well, get on it, because the people of Chicago want you to know how much they love you,” Amy says.
Pat has to get out of the UC before she screams too much and makes security come running.
There’s a contract in her hands. A contract to play in the NHL. A contract with her name on the front of it.
She kind of wants to frame it. Or maybe emboss it. Make a million photocopies and cover a house with it.
Okay, so actually what she should do is sign it. Or maybe let her parents read it first, and find an agent, and then sign it. But right now all she can do is pace up and down the hallway of the Koppels’ home, looking at her name printed at the top of the contract and grinning from ear to ear.
Her real name. Patricia Kane. They want her.
She’s giggling and sort of shimmying with excitement when the doorbell rings. She goes to the door, face still stretched into a smile, and—and maybe she should be surprised to see Jonny, but it just feels right, because no one else would be enough for the elation that’s swelling her chest. “Holy shit, Jonny,” she says, and she’s practically gasping for how happy she is. “Holy shit, you will never believe—”
“I already know,” he says, and pushes forward, shuts the door behind him, and kisses her.
Pat lets the contract fall from her hands. It’s—God, it’s even better than the kiss at the bar. It’s fierce and warm and making everything else fuzz out of existence, and Jonathan Toews is kissing her. She doesn’t understand, but that doesn’t stop her from going with it.
They don’t stop until they’re running out of air, and then Jonny presses their foreheads together while they both gasp.
Pat can taste his mouth when she licks her lips. His hands are firm on her back. “But,” she says, “you said you were gay.”
Jonny huffs out a breath that might be a laugh. “You idiot,” he says softly. “Why did you think I thought that?”
“But—” she says, and he cuts her off with another kiss.
It’s really hard to argue with him when she’s being kissed like this. Jonny kisses like he means it: like there’s nothing he’d rather be doing, like her mouth is the only thing he wants in this world. He gathers her to him with his hands at the small of her back and she feels the echo of his touch down through her thighs. God, the number of times she’s thought about this—
He slides his hands down to her ass, and she moans into the kiss, and then he tugs her hips in tight against his, and she hisses at the pain that runs through her side.
“Oh, fuck, sorry,” he says, moving away quickly.
“No—” she says, reaching out for him, but he’s already shaking his head.
“I forgot,” he said. “We shouldn’t. I’ll just—”
“Jonathan Toews,” she says. “If you make me wait one more minute for this, I’ll—I’ll never pass to you again.”
He meets her eyes, and she sees the spark of joy at that—that it’s a threat she can make, still, that they’ll be back on the ice where they belong. Then it darkens into something more serious, a thick heat that makes her shiver.
“Can’t have that,” he says, voice a low rumble, and he steps in close again and takes her face in his hands.
He’s gentle this time: unbelievably gentle, like she might break any second, and Pat would hate it except that she loves it. She nips at his lips and tries to get some of the fierceness back, but he runs his hand so lightly up and down her good side that she finds herself shuddering. She opens her lips on his neck, her breath coming in harsh little pants, and licks at his skin. His breath is fast and shallow against her ear, and she makes a high-pitched whine as he rocks his hips forward and she can feel the hard jut of his cock. She’s drunk on him, on his touch and his feel and his smell.
“Want to go upstairs?” he whispers into her ear.
“Fuck, yeah,” she says.
They get to her bedroom—somehow, Pat stumbling, dizzy from his touch, Jonny not much better—and he slides her suit jacket off and pulls her shirt over her head. And then—then her breasts are suddenly out there, visible to him in a way she’s tried to fight against for so long.
Jonny’s eyes go to them immediately. He looks—definitely not disgusted. Maybe Pat was still expecting him to be, on some level, because it’s a surprise when he slides his hands up to cup them and run his thumbs gently over the nipples through her bra.
“Fuck, Kaner,” he whispers, and then he bends down and puts his mouth to one of the nipples and bites.
She gasps and arches into the sharp jolt of pleasure. It pulls at her side a little, but she doesn’t care, not when Jonny’s unclasping her bra and fastening his mouth over her nipple and sucking. “Yeah,” she whispers faintly.
Jonny gets his own shirt off, and then she can attack his chest like she’s always wanted to. The first time she gets her teeth into him, he makes this mewling sound, the kind that makes her think they’re going to have some fun when her side is fully healed, and then he slides his fingers up under her skirt and that’s it: they need way less clothing, right now.
Jonny pressed up against her with nothing but boxer-briefs on is exactly as wonderful as she always thought it would be. The heat of his skin makes her shiver, and that’s nothing compared to the little involuntary hip movements he’s making, nudging his cock up against her while they kiss. She’s so wet she’s sure her panties are soaked through, and it’s a relief when he slides his fingers underneath them and pushes them down. She breaks the kiss to gasp against his shoulder, because that’s his fabric-covered dick nudging against her clit, and her pulse is throbbing hard in her cunt and she can barely think anymore.
“Come on,” she says, and tugs at his underwear, and he laughs a little and lets her pull them down. His dick pops out, and yeah.
She runs her fingers over it, and he’s not laughing anymore: he’s gasping for breath and looking at her with dark, intent eyes. “Kaner,” he whispers. “Kaner.”
“Need you inside me,” she says, and he leans forward and mouths at her jaw and nuzzles her ear and wraps her up tight in his arms.
She has condoms, thank God, and she wants him in her as soon as they get onto the bed, but she gets his fingers first. He’s on her left side, so as not to aggravate her right, and he gets his mouth on her nipple and brushes his fingers over her folds, dipping inside where she’s soaking wet, making her shiver and then twitch as he skates over her clit. “Fuck, more,” she says, and he eases two fingers inside her. She clenches down, and he makes a punched out sound. His thumb finds her clit, and soon she’s shaking and moving her hips and trying not to lose it.
“Get your dick inside me now, fucker,” she says, and Jonny closes his eyes for a moment like that’s actually doing something for him, because he’s a loser and because he’s perfect. Then he springs up and gets the condom and positions himself over her.
“You have to tell me if this hurts you,” he says, but she’s so close now that she thinks she could take another skate blade to the side and not feel anything. He lines up his dick and yesss.
He feels so good inside her. He braces himself on his arms and drops his head and pants, and Pat runs her hands down his back and over his ass. “Yeah, come on, move,” she says, and he does.
It’s slow: so slow that at first she thinks she’s not going to get anywhere like this. But she should know better than to underestimate Jonny, because the strokes are gentle enough that they don’t jar her side at all, but they build, so that soon she’s not sure she’s ever felt anything like this. It’s a million miles away from anyone she fucked at school last year, and—and, wow, it’s setting up a yearning ache deep in her gut and down to the tops of her thighs, and she’s looking up at him with a look that she knows must be stupid, but she can’t help it, not when Jonny’s taking her apart like this.
At first she thinks it’s just her losing it, that Jonny’s totally in control, but then she gets a look at his face and sees what it’s costing him to stay slow like this. “Just fuck me,” she says, and his eyes fly open and he jolts a little, and the next thrust burns in the best way possible.
Her head tips back and her mouth works a little, tongue flicking out, overwhelmed by the way Jonny’s punching into her now. Jonny must see that, because he leans down to kiss her, tongue hungry against hers, and she latches on for dear life. He kisses her thoroughly and his dick rocks into her and she’s losing her grip on reality. One of his hands goes down to thumb at her clit, and she makes a broken sound that Jonny swallows up with a moan of his own, and they’re panting against each other and Jonny’s hips are starting to stutter and everything is ablaze.
She tips over the edge in a burst of color that goes on and on, her cunt clenching around his dick and forcing little moans out of him. He pounds into her for a few more strokes, and when he comes, his face is beautiful—mouth open and straining, head tipped back, and she wants to see that so many more times.
He lies on her left side after, sweaty and limp, and strokes around her navel while she runs her nails over his shoulder blades.
“Wow,” she says, breaking the silence. She can still feel shivers running up and down her legs and into her gut. “I am…wow. I am really, really happy you turned out to be straight.”
He laughs against her chest, breath making her nipple peak. “Um, I’m pretty sure I’m not straight.”
“Evidence to the contrary,” she says, nudging her leg against his sensitized dick and making him hiss a little.
“I mean…not entirely,” he says. “I, um.” She can see a pink flush climbing up his cheekbones, or maybe it was there from before. “I had some pretty explicit thoughts about your dick, back when I thought you had one.”
Something lurches in her gut, and, okay, there’s an idea to be explored. “So maybe it’s just me, then,” she teases.
There’s no trace of teasing in his gaze when he looks back at her. “Yeah,” he says. “Maybe it’s just you.”
Pat can’t say anything to that, and she leans in and kisses him, long and slow and deep. It’s what she wanted to do so many times when they were curled up on the couch together, or fighting each other over video games. Just kiss him.
“How’s your side?” he asks when they break apart again.
“Fine,” she says, which it is.
“Good,” he says. “I don’t want my winger to be damaged.”
Her chest fills up at the words, and she can see that he’s feeling the same thing. “Always your winger,” she says.
“Fuck yeah, you are,” he says, and then they have to kiss again, happy, nipping kisses, and she’s grinning when they break apart.
“Were you afraid?” she asks. “That they wouldn’t let me come back?”
“No,” he says.
She gives him a skeptical look.
“No,” he repeats, and he noses her shoulder so that the next works are muffled. “I knew there was nowhere else you belonged than at my wing.”
Her breath punches out of her a little, and she shifts her thighs on the bed a little, and— “Are you getting turned on from that?” he asks.
She bites her lip. “Well, aren’t you?”
He looks shifty. “Maybe a little,” he says, and she takes his hand and puts it to her clit again.
“Of course, don’t think I missed how you tried to change the subject,” she says as the shivers are racing over her.
“From what?” he asks.
She opens her eyes and grins at him. “From the thing where we should apparently be having threesomes with other guys now.”
“Ha,” Jonny says, but she sees the way his eyes go a little darker. “Let’s just keep this to ourselves for now, okay?”
“Fine.” She gives an exaggerated sigh. “But you’re the one who’s going to have to break it to Sharpy.”
She laughs so long and hard at the disgusted look on his face that he has to go down on her to shut her up.
She can live with that.
Going back to practice a week later is one of the scarier things she’s ever done.
It’s not like she hasn’t been back to the UC since, for checkups and some strength training. And it’s not like she hasn’t seen any of the team. Seabs made sure of that, if nothing else. Pat is pretty sure he had a schedule to ensure there were at least three Blackhawks in his living room every time Pat and Jonny stumbled out of Jonny’s room after, er, exertions.
But it’s not the same as going into the locker room.
This time, everyone turns and looks at her when she comes in. It’s enough to make her flinch a little—but they’re all smiling, and then they’re all clapping, coming forward to hug her and slap her on the back. “Welcome back,” Duncs says, and Seabs high-fives her, and Sharpy puts her in a headlock and gives her a noogie while she grins ear to ear.
Jonny is across the locker room, beaming at her, and she goes straight towards him. “Back where you belong,” he says.
“Absolutely,” she says, and it’s never felt more true.
Patricia Kane Takes Home Calder
June 12, 2008
It’s been a year of firsts for the NHL. First woman on a team roster, first co-ed draft, and now the first woman to take home the Calder Trophy, the prestigious award for the League’s best rookie season.
No one who knows twenty-year-old Pat Kane was surprised to see her win. “She’s the best person I’ve ever played with,” said teammate and fellow Calder nominee Jonathan Toews. “They’d have been crazy to give it to anyone else.”
Toews has made statements like this before: he was the first person to speak up publicly in defense of Kane after her controversial outing during the game against Edmonton on March 9. Kane’s gender was revealed after an on-ice injury, and her place in the NHL was up in the air until the Blackhawks signed her to a new contract one week later.
Now on the other side of the controversy, Kane couldn’t be happier. “I’m just glad I could bring change to the League,” she said. “All I wanted when I was a kid was to play for the NHL, and I’m happy that other women will have that opportunity, too.”
It’s a reality that will impact Kane’s life much sooner than most would have anticipated: she may be joined this fall on the roster by the Blackhawks’ newest draftee, former NCAA rival Hilary Knight, and she could be facing off against former Northeastern teammate Amy Koppel, drafted by division rivals the Dallas Stars.
“It’s a dream come true for all of us,” Knight said in a post-draft interview. “Before Pat did what she did, a lot of us thought it would never happen.”
And what will Kane do with the rest of her summer, after successfully changing the face of North American hockey? “Probably hang around Chicago and try to train harder than Tazer,” she said with a laugh. “Can’t let him start thinking the Calder was a fluke.”
After the season she’s just had, Kane doesn’t need to worry about anyone thinking that.