It’s what I signed up for I guess. An NHL team had drafted me, and part of that is making myself available for marketing opportunities. Like this one. On Valentine’s Day.
Just a quick meet and greet, they said. Some photos in your Eagles uniform, and maybe an interview for our website, and we also need to work with you on twitter, and of course Instagram.
It was as if they didn’t know I was good at all that stuff. I was careful what I posted, and I certainly never left my phone unattended. I went out of my way to not look stupid in any social media, apart from last Halloween when I’d dressed up as Snow White in a dress way too small for me which much like a hospital gown wouldn’t do up at the back. But that’s a whole other story.
“Valentine’s Day,” Jacob repeated. I think that was the fifth time he’d said the same thing.
“Not all of the day.”
He looked so disappointed, and I wanted to say to hell with the Raptors marketing machine. Why they wanted to highlight me I don’t know; they should spend time sorting out the players they had first. My most desperate hope was that they somehow turned around and said they didn’t want me after all. How I was going to be in the same building as that asshole who’d hurt Ten, I don’t know, let alone possibly have to talk to him and play with him on the ice.
I pulled Jacob into a hug and held him tight. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“It’s okay.” He eased me away so we could look at each other. “When you’re a famous hockey star, you’ll earn so much money you can build a house on my land, and we can be together every single day you’re not playing.”
I knew he was worried about things. He was finishing college soon, and we still didn’t have a plan as such. I’d gotten so used to being with him all the time, that the thought of him not being there with me was like a knife to the gut.
“A big house,” I said, “big enough for Ten and Dad to visit.”
“As big as you want it; we have a lot of land.”
It was a familiar discussion, the idea that one day we’d have a place of our own. It was never a maybe; we were certain that we’d be together forever. We were soulmates, destined, and happier than I could have imagined.
“Will you come with me?”
“To a photo shoot where they’ll be pawing at you, and making you stand in ridiculously sexy poses, probably with your shirt off? You sure you want me there? What if I kill someone who touches you.”
I know he was joking, but I also know he had a possessive streak, and I loved him for it. He never failed to make people aware we were together. Not with huge PDAs, not like me who would climb him like a tree in broad daylight. No, it was a gentle supporting touch of his hand, or a soft kiss to my head, or the fact he’d defend anything I said. Well mostly anything, he still wouldn’t admit that coffee with cream and sugar was a good thing, but I let it slide.
“I’d like you there so that I can…”
I sounded like an idiot. I sounded like I was scared, or nervous, and I wasn’t either of those. I was mostly frustrated with the fate which had me selected by the Arizona Raptors. Why couldn’t the Railers have got there first? I’d love to play on Ten’s line one day, but no, I’m stuck with the most toxic team in the entire NHL.
I know the real reason why I’m feeling anxious. The Raptors were putting so much store in what their team was looking like in the future, with me front and center. Well, not just me, I wasn’t their first choice, but me and a couple of other younger guys apparently were the future, and we were going to save the Raptors. Hence the photoshoot.
Stars of the future and all that shit.
“I’ll be there,” Jacob confirmed and hugged me again. “Just have 911 on speed dial.”
They’d booked out a lecture room on campus, and when I stepped in, I felt like I was in a film. This wasn’t one guy with a Canon taking informal shots, this was makeup, lighting so hot it felt like it burned my skin, and worst of all, it was a whole mess of posing.
They had me in my Eagles uniform, the photographer tutting over the fact it was brown. I think it’s a nice brown actually, but I didn’t argue. Jacob took a seat by the window, a book in his hand as usual, and settled in for the afternoon. Every so often I would glance at him, and he would look up and smile at me.
“Can you put the stick over your shoulder, Ry.”
“Ryker,” I repeated. “My name isn’t Ry; it’s Ryker.”
“Okay Ry, let’s get you pouting. Can you pout?”
I thought I heard a small snort of laughter from Jacob. He often called me on the particular pout I would use if I wanted the last one of his fries. He called it cute, but when he’d taken a photo of me doing said pout, I was horrified at what an idiot I looked.
“I don’t pout,” I said, with heat, and the photographer nodded.
“Okay, look mean then. Look like a Raptor.”
I did as I was told, whether I looked mean enough I don’t know, but the fact he wanted me to look mean like a Raptor was telling.
I just wanted to be doing Valentine type things with Jacob, I wanted to kiss him, and tell him that I love him, and I want to be sappy and stupid, and I wanted to share fries, and give him my carefully wrapped gift. He’d be mad at me when he opened it, although covering a hockey stick is kind of hard and he’d know what it was before he saw inside. He’d be cross that I’d gotten him one of Ten’s sticks, but he had to know I’d gotten it because he deserved the best. I hadn’t had to pay anything for it, but it was taped it just like he liked it, and it was just the right curve, and…
… he’ll kill me.
“One last sultry look at the camera, for the girls now.”
I gave the same look as I’d been giving all along, but the photographer seemed happy.
When I was done, when I could force all the insecurities back inside, I took Jacob by the hand and tugged him from the room, and we hugged for so long.
I needed that. I needed Jacob.
What would I do without him?
Ryker was stressed. Which sounds really funny because Ryker is generally the one who’s laid back and working on me to chill out, kick back, and stop stressing. We were both carrying a lot of worries on our backs. I was three months from graduation, he still had a year to go. The farm called, Ryker was heading back to Harrisburg. The Raptors were keen as hell to get him on the ice, he was hating the thought of skating for that team. Our futures were up in the air but we knew one thing for certain even if we knew nothing else; whatever lay ahead we were facing it as a couple. Even if we had to fly from Minnesota to Arizona when he made the team, I was not letting him go. He was my soul, my heart, my everything.
As I held him outside the lecture hall the team had lined up for the shoot, I could feel the stiffness in him. I ran a hand up over his back, easing my fingers into his wavy hair, kissing a path up the side of his neck.
“Mm, that’s nice,” he moaned, his fingers gripping the back of my coat a little more tightly.
“I know what you like,” I whispered beside his ear, my breath forming a cloud that drifted off on a bitter cold wind. “Come on, let’s go to my place.”
“What? Why? I thought we’d head to The Aviary, chill out at the fundraiser for the team. Dance, chow down, nibble on each other’s ears…” He rose to his toes, turned his head, and took my earlobe between his teeth. A shudder ran through me.
“Mm, that’s nice.”
“I know what you like,” he parroted, sucking on my earlobe until I had to step back or risk the half hard dick in my pants growing to a fully hard dick.
“Yeah, you do, and what I’d like is for you to come with me to my room.”
He cocked his head a bit, studying me closely. “Why your room? Isn’t Ben there?”
“Not anymore.” Because I’d called him and told him to get lost. Yeah, I know, that’s a crap thing to do to your friend, but I’d wanted to do something special for Ryker and we were pressed for time. “He’s rounding up party supplies with the rest of the team.”
“But we have to be at the party…”
“We will, just later.” This time I took him by the hand and tugged him behind me to the old rental house I shared with four other Eagles. “Don’t look at the mess, okay, just keep your eyes on my ass.”
“That’s totally doable,” he replied then gasped when he saw the condition of the living room. It nearly made me stop as well, but I plowed through the pizza boxes, piles of dirty clothes, and empty energy drink cans. Up the creaking stairs we went, him making comments about my ass. When we got to the top, I spun around, took his face in my cold hands, and stared into his eyes.
“I love you.”
He smiled, and my heart did this funny somersault with a backflip thing. It always did that when Ryker smiled.
“I love you too,” he softly replied.
“I wish I had more money to spend on you. But I only had twenty bucks and—”
He kissed me into silence. “Are we going into this room or what?” He jerked his head toward the door. I nodded, offered up a short prayer that he’d like what I’d done for him, and threw the door open.
I waited for him to say something.
“This. Is. Perfect.”
My exhalation was huge. I danced around in front of him, sliding my fingers into his then leading him to the feast I’d laid out on the bed. There were tiny conversation hearts sprinkled over the cover, two cans of root beer, a tube of Pringles, a string of red heart lollipops, and a take-out bag from Popeye’s that held two chicken tender dinners with sides.
“You know me so well.” He grinned and held up the take-out bag. “I mean this is seriously the best chicken ever.”
“I know, right?!”
He bent over to pick up a purple candy heart, read it, and passed it along to me.
One & Only
I smiled and kissed him on the neck. Then I plucked a heart from the cover and dropped it in his palm.
“When we get the big house, we’re going to have a dog. One of those cattle dogs and we’re going to name him whatever you want. I seriously want that, Jacob. I want to live on the farm with you and our dog. I want to play with the chickens, put in hay, watch the corn grow, inseminate cows and…wait, that sounded bad.”
I wrapped my arms around him, hugging him as close as I could. His head rested on my shoulder.
“First time I see you flirting with the heifers we’re having us a long talk,” I teased, dropping a kiss to his beautiful hair. “Want to go heat up the chicken and sip our root beer from the fancy plastic cups I bought?”
“Such a romantic,” he chuckled, wiggling free and pouncing on the take-out. We spent an hour in my room, drinking warm soda, feeding each other chicken, and reading conversation hearts. He was stretched out beside me. Truthfully, I never wanted to move. Ever. But we had that booster club party to attend, and he was hellbent on going all the way to his dorm for something before we went to The Aviary, so we tidied up and left, jogging across the quad in air so cold my nose hairs froze.
He hustled me into his dorm room, leaving me in the living room. I padded over to the window and looked down on the Owatonna campus, suddenly feeling all kinds of bittersweet emotions. Twelve weeks and I’d have my degree but not Ryker.
“Okay so before you open it, it was free. So I spent literally zero dollars on it.”
I turned from the window and looked at the gift. “It’s a hockey stick.”
He shrugged. “Well yeah obviously. Here. Open it.”
I tore the paper off slowly, my eyes roaming over the signature on the shaft. “It’s one of Ten’s sticks.”
“Yeah, I know. Don’t be mad. I want you to have it because I always want the best for you.”
I should have been mad. Should have taken offense as I had in the past.
“I love it. It’s perfectly taped, I mean look how precise he is.” The stick balanced on my open palm.
Ryker’s eyes lit up. “Right?! He’s frigging anal about how he tapes. You’re really not mad?”
“I am really not mad. I love it. This is going to go on the wall in our house when you move to the farm with me.”
His eyes glowed with happiness and I knew my reply had been the right one. Seeing the person you love happy really is the most important thing of all…
Happy Valentine’s Day
RJ & Vicki