“You are going and that’s final. No arguments,” Beth hung up on me.
Billy laughed. He was in on it. “This guy is really hot, Laur. And he’s a Mountie. You know you love a man in tight pants who can ride a horse.”
I had to laugh. “You two are ridiculous. Where did you find this guy?”
“He’s a friend of a friend of Beth’s. Someone from her work knows him from the children's hospital. The children's hospital! I bet he rescues kittens in his free time and carries them home in his big hat.” Billy pretended to pet the stapler.
I agreed to their blind date. Probably a good idea, I knew. Just in case. The hockey season was about to start and I’d be seeing a lot more of Alex soon. As if I hadn’t already seen enough.
Thank you, Beth! I almost sang as I climbed into Jake’s SUV. He was, as advertised, gorgeous. Dark hair, dark eyes, tan skin like he spent a lot of time outdoors saving the world. He was tall, strong and wearing something that smelled delicious.
We had dinner at an Italian restaurant. Jake told me about his job – he was a detective and did not ride a horse. Damn, I laughed to myself. But I didn’t doubt that he could. He was also a volunteer at the hospital where he knew Beth’s friend and helped clear national park trails in the summer. He was funny, articulate and chose an excellent bottle of wine. After dinner, we went to the movies. Jake seemed happily surprised when I picked the big-explosion, stupid-story action movie.
“I’m like an 18-year old boy when it comes to movies,” I admitted.
“I’m an 18-year old boy when it comes to everything,” he smiled.
We stood in line for snacks. How is it that people come straight from dinner and need more food? I was lost in thought when I heard my name.
“Lauren!” I turned to see Adam Pardy squeezing through the next line over. He’d been with the Flames for two seasons and was a really nice guy. Kara wanted to set us up at one point, but I told her I’d had my fill of hockey players for a while. Robyn Regehr was close behind him.
“Hey Lauren,” Robyn said. They budged right into line with us. I think people recognized them. Jake certainly did.
“Lauren, you didn’t tell me you knew the Flames,” Jake said, introducing himself. “Nice to meet you guys, I’m a big fan.”
“You don’t talk about us? Are you ashamed? Do we embarrass you?” Robyn pulled me into his body and tried to give me a noogie. When he was close to my ear, he whispered, “Are you on a date?”
I nodded and he let go. “Come on Pards, our movie’s going to start.”
“You’re in the same one we are, you have time,” Jake said. He and Adam went back to talking hockey.
“Really, we should…,” Robyn continued. His hand was still on my arm and as he stopped talking, he squeezed. I looked up to see Alex and David Moss coming toward us.
“Hey Lauren,” Alex said, sounding a little excited. I think my mouth was open, but I wasn’t speaking.
Pardy, who’d only been around since Alex left, didn’t know a thing. “Alex, Mossy, this is Jake. Lauren’s date that we are very rudely interrupting.” He laughed. David and Jake laughed. Alex, Robyn and I were silent and still.
“Hey guys, great to meet you,” Jake shook their hands. Suddenly he sounded like Dudley Do-Right to me – overly enthusiastic and naively sincere. I wanted to run. “Why don’t you guys go get us some seats? Lauren, what did you want?”
“Uh, I’ll just have some of yours,” I stuttered and ducked away. The theater was not too full – plenty of places to sit far away from the guys. I was on a date after all.
“There’s 6 here. Let’s take these,” Pardy suggested.
“She’s on a date, I don’t think she wants to sit with us.” Alex was not looking at me.
“Ppppfffftttt. Her date definitely wants to sit with us. Sorry Lauren, you’ll have to make out with him during the next movie you go to.” Pardy angled himself to reserve what was left of the row. I quickly sat down in the last seat so I wouldn’t have to sit next to anyone but Jake. Alex went to the other end of our group.
I willed time to pass more quickly. Please get dark, I prayed. Once it did, I wished for the movie to be over. I was so uncomfortable I couldn’t have said what was happening on screen. I laughed when everyone else did, too late but at least I tried. Halfway through the movie, Jake put his arm around the back of my chair. His hand rested on my shoulder like we were teenagers on our first date. Twenty minutes later, I excused myself to the bathroom.
“Be right back,” I whispered. I made it halfway down the hall.
“Lauren,” Alex called in a soft voice. He wore a dark brown pullover with dark jeans. If I was honest with myself, he looked great. I stopped moving. “Sorry about this. Pardy doesn’t know.”
Alex stood in front of me, hands in his pockets. In that moment, I felt there was no chance for me and Jake, no chance for me and anyone ever again. I saw all the work that had gone into two years with Alex. Relationships are not easy. Especially not with professional athletes who travel endlessly, have quixotic moods and handle tons of pressure. It hadn’t been all roses with Alex, but the good times were what I remembered most. The work had been worth it. And I was still working on it when it disappeared.
Now I was doing it again. I was remembering all the good things and letting the bad memories slip away. It hurt to focus on them, to continually call them up to squash any new thoughts forming about Alex. I’d spent two years trying to get past those feelings, and I guess it had worked. Now that I needed them, they were slow to respond.
“It’s okay.” What else could I say? Doesn’t this happen in one of the Twilight books? Bella ends up at the movies with a boy and a werewolf?
“Thank you for being so nice to me. I know it can’t be easy,” he was looking down at the floor. “I didn’t want to come back here, in case it would hurt you again. But I still want to play. I still can play. It’s just that my options are limited.”
I wanted to cry. Alex had been on top of the world once – in high demand, a rising star. I had loved him them. Now he was in danger of being known as someone who never reached their potential.
“And this place, it feels right. I know that I ruined everything. But the last time my life was really good was here. With you.”
I had tears in my eyes now. He’d apologized a million times – I was numb to that. But when he brought up the good stuff, I knew how good it had really been. The pain of being cheated on, lied to, discarded had buried all those things so deeply. They’d been packed away for years. Having him back was helping me take them out, dust them off and see that not everything about my time with Alex had been a waste.
“We had problems that had nothing to do with you cheating. I’m not taking the blame off you – you were a coward and a liar and I still hate you for that. But a lot of things were broken. I was just the only one trying to fix them.”
“Those things were my fault too, Lauren. I have known that for a long time now. My game was going downhill and I tried to take you with me. Misery loves company. I took it out on you because there was nowhere else to go,” he leaned against the wall. “I finally figured it out after a few months in Montreal. I should have loved playing there, my home team. But I was miserable. Nothing helped my play and I had absolutely nothing left in my life. Tampa was more of the same, plus injuries. It was awful, on and off the ice. To be honest I am surprised the Flames took me back.”
I had been surprised too. So had the media and the fans. Alex returning to Calgary looked like a classic case of history repeating.
“I am not the person I used to be, Lauren. When things fell apart with you I was new to all this – not playing well, not getting what I wanted, being scared. I obviously didn’t handle it well. But now I’ve had plenty of practice at not being the player I want to be. In two years you can get used to almost anything.”
He stopped short, realizing what he was saying.
“Two years has not made me used to what you did to me,” I said quietly. “You humiliated me. You made the time we spent together a joke. There’s no getting used to knowing someone could throw you away like a piece of trash.”
Alex wanted to hug me. We’d been together so long I recognized every move his body made. Like watching a favorite movie from years ago, you remember things you forgot you ever knew. His shoulders rounded, hands came out of pockets. I felt like a deer in the headlights – I didn’t know what my reaction would be if he moved.
And he did. He took three steps toward me, folded his arms around my back and pulled me in. The second my face touched his chest I started to cry. It was like one of those trust falls, where you’re not really sure someone is going to catch you before you hit the ground. His embrace was the same, exactly what I had craved and coveted for so long. Exactly what I had scrubbed and picked and peeled away for months after we ended. A time machine could not have done a better job. These were the same arms that held me a million times before.
“Losing you was the worst mistake I ever made. If I never play another game, it was worth it to come here and say that to you.”
I sobbed quietly a few times before I could pull myself together. He’d caught my arms in near my body, so I wiped my eyes without breaking away.
“You were the best and worst thing that ever happened to me,” I told him honestly. “And now I think you should go.”
With a kiss to the forehead, Alex left. I sat for a few minutes, regaining my composure, and went back to my seat. “Long line,” I whispered to Jake as I settled in. I didn’t hear or see anything for the rest of the film.
I invited the guys for a drink after the movie. I explained that I’d seen Alex in the hall and he hadn’t felt well. They looked surprised that I would invite them on our date, but Jake seemed fine. And I wanted them around – this date was already ruined and I couldn’t be alone with him just then.
Jake was genuinely a great guy and they all hit it off. Shots and beers turned our once-date into a night of pretty big drinking. I held off a bit, and when everyone else was pretty well sauced, Robyn came around the far side of my chair.
“You were gone a long time,” he drained his beer. “For what it’s worth, I think he’s really sorry Laur. He apologized to me for the way he left last time. I think he’s apologized to everyone who was around. Even Jarome. Let’s just say Alex won’t be pulling any shit this season.”
The next day, an arrangement of wildflowers was delivered to the library. Billy rolled his eyes without asking who sent them. The card was in Alex’s handwriting:
Someday, if you’ll let me, I owe you a movie.