The Unlikely Romance of Jason Arnott

By: Tammy

Disclaimer: Mara's mine, though my sister borrows her from time to time, but Jason, sadly, is not. Btw, I don't know Jason, never met Jason, and this is all *fake*.

Summary: Boy meets girl. Boy befriends girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Simple? Is it ever?

Challenge: Zee challenge? To use as many romance cliches as possible!

Rating: PG-13 to R for profanity, sexual situations, and a derrogatory slur.

AN: Written before Robinson was fired.

Jason laced up his skates, pulling the laces taut. Yawning, he grabbed his helmet and stick, and headed out onto the ice. He took a few quick laps to help wake him up, before helping himself to the pile of pucks the trainer had set out for the morning practice. Normally he wasn’t the first man to practice, so he had gotten a strange look from Fetisov, the assistant coach, when he had arrived in the locker room.

He took a couple of slapshots from the blue line, and then a few from the top of the circles. After fooling around with a couple of Elias-like moves, he looked around the rink. One of the rookies was talking to Matthews, the equipment manager, and didn’t seem to be paying much attention to Jason.

Jason grabbed a puck from center ice and glided towards the empty net, whispering to himself. "Double overtime, how long can this go on for folks? Dallas so far has played solid defense, but New Jersey keeps on coming and-wait, what’s this? Arnott gets past his man, receives a perfect cross-rink pass. He shoots, he-" The puck left his stick and, with a resonating clank, hit the left post. He slapped his stick hard on the ice in frustration.

He whipped his head around when he heard the mock whistles and clapping behind him. "Great shot, Arnie. Maybe next week you’ll be good enough to play against a goalie."

Jason rolled his eyes, ignoring Bobby Holik’s comment, and turned around to concentrate on hitting a few more pucks in the net. That missed shot was just one of many during the previous season. Of course, it didn’t help that he wasn’t getting the ice time or line mates that he was used to. If there was one word that Jason Arnott knew completely, it was frustration. Only three seasons earlier he had been flying high, scoring the game-winning, cup-winning goal in Dallas. The following season he had been hit in the head with the puck-a fluke injury that would keep him out two games during the Stanley Cup Finals. And when he did return for game six, his team had had the possibility of winning the cup on home ice. But instead, they had blown it and ended up losing to the Avs in game seven.

The season after that, last season, wasn’t much better. The team seemed to fall apart over the summer: Mogilny was sent up to Toronto and the team began to distrust their coach and management. For most of the season, he and Bobby Holik had their contracts looming over their heads. Eventually both were resigned, but to Jason’s disgust they ended up missing the playoffs. The team blamed management; management blamed the team, but in the end Jason could care a less either way: his team had missed the playoffs and missed another chance at the cup. He partially felt responsible.

The Devils had been fighting for the final, elusive, eighth playoff spot and were playing the Rangers in their final game. The Rangers, too, were fighting for the very same spot. If Washington lost, and the Devils won, they would be in the playoffs. With 3:56 to play, and Atlanta up by five over the Capitals, Jason’s line jumped on the ice. Sykora needled a pass perfectly to Jason, who split the defense, creating a break away opportunity. He deked once before going stick side and clanking the puck off the left post. Going full speed and unable to get an edge on the ice, he slid past Richter and into the boards behind the goalie. When he picked himself up he could only stare in horror as Theo Fleury, on a two-on-one, beat Brodeur glove-side.

They pulled Brodeur with one minute to play, tied the game off a goal by Pandolfo, but lost in overtime. Jason shook his head as he remembered the Rangers flooding the ice to congratulate Lindros, just as his teammates had done to him in Dallas. He knew in the back of his head that if he had only gotten that one goal, it would have won the game.

"Deep in thought, eh?" Martin Brodeur said as he skated into his crease. "Still trying to figure out how the post psyched you out?"

"Yeah, that’s it, Marty."

"I’ll let you in on a secret, Jase," he said as he tapped both posts with his stick. "It’s ‘cause these posts have my back."

"Exactly," Bobby continued, thumping Jason on the back. "You’d be surprised at how fast those posts can throw up a blocker."

Martin and Bobby both laughed. "Exactly," Brodeur mimicked. "How else do you think I won two Stanley Cups between these pipes?"

Jason grimaced at the memory, which didn’t go unnoticed by either teammate. "You aren’t still thinking about that Ranger game are you? I thought you were going to go up to Ontario this summer and forget that stupid ‘it’s my fault we aren’t in the playoffs’ bullshit." Holik watched Jason hit a loose puck into the left side of the net.

Jason looked up from the ice to meet Bobby’s eyes, "I did; I forgot. I was just thinking about Saturday’s game."

"Ah, the Stars," Brodeur remarked, his eyes sparking. "I love beating Dallas, especially in front of their home crowd."

Jason smiled. "Well, if you’ll stop them, I’ll be sure to put a few pucks into their net."

"Getting cocky, already?" Jason opened his mouth to reply, but the coach’s whistle interrupted their conversation.

"All right, boys, let’s do some drills!" Robinson barked out. "White, Rafalski, Sykora…"


Jason pulled his shoes on and threw a few of his personal belongings into his duffel bag. He was one of the few still left in the locker room. Fetisov made a flippant remark as he passed through to Robinson’s office about Jason arriving early and leaving late.

He smiled, "Don’t worry, it won’t happen again."

He turned towards the door as it opened, hearing Randy McKay’s voice, "Yeah, go right in. I think he’s ready to go." A tall brunette wearing shorts and a tank entered the room a bit hesitantly. However, once she spotted Jason, she smiled and confidently walked over.

"Do you always take this long to get ready? I’m starving—let’s go get some lunch."

"Well, I-"

Jason was interrupted by a voice behind him. "Starving? You weren’t the one running drills for the past hour."

"Whatever, Scotty. You know if I don’t eat every two hours, I pass out." Embarrassed, Jason undid and retied his shoes as Scott Gomez laughed behind him. He was such an idiot, assuming that any attractive girl who entered the locker room was going to want to talk to him. When he looked up from his shoes, the girl had her eyebrow raised questioningly. "I’m sorry. Were you trying to say something?"

"Me?," he managed to stammer out, flushing to the amusement of the five teammates still in the locker room.

"Watch out, Gomie. Smooth Arnott is trying to make a move on your girlfriend."

Jason shot a glare over to Holik before glancing back at the girl standing in front of him. She was rolling her eyes while Scott was half-laughing, half-snorting behind him. "Mara my girlfriend? When hell freezes over."

"Feeling’s mutual, Scotty."

Jason felt Scott’s hand clap him on the shoulder. "Actually, Jason, Mara’s a huge fan of yours."

He smiled, puffing his chest out a bit, "Really?"

"Yeah, I loved it when you got hit in the head with that puck," she replied, eyes snapping. His teammates howled in the background. "Seriously, though, when you show up, you aren’t half-bad."

He wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or an insult, so he didn’t respond.

Scott threw his own duffel bag over his shoulder. "Anyone else wanna go out to lunch?"

"No, I’m watching Hannah this afternoon," Holik responded, before leaving. The other guys had similar responses, and Mara and Scott were about to leave when Jason piped up.

"I could go for lunch." Scott looked a bit surprised since he and Jason didn’t hang out on a regular basis, but he shrugged anyway.

"We’re going to Bill’s."


"So, uh, how did you two meet?" Jason asked as the waitress set their plates in front of the three of them.

Mara smiled, grinning from ear to ear. "Two-timing boyfriend." She let out a gasp and grabbed her shin, glaring at Scott. "I mean, mutual friend."

"She means I know her ex," Scott said pointedly.

Jason popped a fry in his mouth. "Oh, so friends with the ex? Weird?"

"Well, they’re not friends anymore." Mara glared at Scott again, grabbing her ankle.

Jason looked back and forth between the two of them, still not picking up their silent conversation. "Because he cheated on you?"

"No, because he cheated on-" She scowled and rubbed her shin again. "Yeah, because he cheated on me."

The three fell into an uncomfortable silence as they ate their lunches. "What do you do for a living, Mara?" Jason asked in the hopes it would break the ice.

"Social work down at the center on 9th. You know, finding homes for kids, checking out prospective families."

"What made you choose that profession?"

"Nothing really in particular. Majored in sociology in college and I always knew I wanted to work with children. So it was either this or become a teacher."

"You know, I always wanted to be a teacher. I figure after my career is over I could teach physical education or art."

Scott half snorted, half laughed again before yelping out in pain. Jason gave Mara a bemused grin, enjoying the two’s antics.

"So you’re into art?" Mara continued, "There’s a-"

Scott cut her off, "No, he’s not. He just uses that line to pick up girls. ‘Hi, my name is Jason Arnott. I may be a hockey player, but I’ve got a sensitive side too.’" He laughed. "And let’s not forget, ‘hey baby, would you like to be my nude model?’"

Mara threw a fry at him. "You’re such a loser. No wonder Brian dumped you." Scott paled and Mara went wide-eyed, turning to gage Jason’s reaction. "I mean…Brianna."

Jason took a sip of water and cleared his throat uncomfortably before meeting Scott’s eyes. "Brianna, eh? Strange name for a guy." He smiled, letting his teammate know he wasn’t going to blow his cover. "Just don’t be checking me out in the locker room."

Scott groaned and Mara slapped her forehead. "Ugh, that is such a typical remark. What makes you think Scotty is even attracted to you?"

"Shouldn’t the question be, how can he not be attracted to me?" He laughed as the two both rolled their eyes.

"You’re so full of yourself."

"Am I? Are you saying that you aren’t attracted to me?" He watched as he struck a nerve. She sputtered for a few moments before regaining her composure. Her eyes seemed to light up as she began talking animatedly, pointing out all of his flaws. She was on a tirade about what kind of gall it took to even ask such a question when a short blonde came up to him, asking for an autograph. He signed her white shirt right above her left breast. He noticed that Mara had stopped mid-sentence to stare, or rather, glare at him. He capped the pen and returned it to the blonde, giving her a charming smile that visibly made her weak in the knees. He turned back to Mara, "Oh, don’t stop on account of me. Where were you? Womanizer? Egotistical?"

She smirked. "Manwhore."

"Wow, now there’s one I haven’t heard in a while. Did they teach you that at college?"

Her eyes narrowed and he returned the gaze while Scott laughed softly in the background. "I think you two are going to be great friends."


"Hurry up with the snacks!" Mara called over her shoulder. "We’re hungry and the game starts in two minutes."

Jason set several bowls down on the coffee table, but found he had no where to sit with Petr and Scott in the two chairs, and Mara sprawled out across his couch. "Move," he grunted out.

She ignored him, scanning the table. "Hey, where are the Milano cookies? Did I not stress the importance of Milano cookies last time we watched a game?" She cried out in pain as he sat on her legs. "You big oaf!" She smacked his arm with the pad of her hand. He obliged her by standing up so she could pull her legs back.

"If you want cookies, go to the store and buy them yourself. This is my apartment, not a grocery store."

"Son of Ole, catch," Scott called from the opposite side of the room, throwing her a bag of Milanos. She rolled her eyes at the nickname, and Jason couldn’t help but laugh.

"Son of Ole? Son of Ole?" His voice went up an octave higher on the second ‘Ole.’

"Shut up." She threw Scott a look, "I thought I told you to stop calling me that."

"Where did you get that-" She cut him off by raising the volume on the t.v. screen. He knew better than to bother her during the game. She got mad when anybody tried to talk to her during a game, even if it was taped.

Jason nearly laughed when he saw the look on Petr’s face. Petr had never watched a game with her, so he was rather shocked when Mara began screaming at the officials thirty seconds in. "Are you blind? That’s not a penalty! It was a dive, a dive, I’m telling you!"

"The ref cannot hear you. He is in Buffalo. We in Jersey."

"Your talking is not helping my team kill that penalty, Petr," she snapped. She was, literally, sitting on the edge of her seat watching the p.k. unit on Jason’s big screen. She cried out in agony, covering her eyes with her hands as the Sabres scored a goal.

"Good goal," Petr remarked, nodding his head.

"Are you freaking insane?" Mara yelled. "That was not a good goal! That was a-" Her attention was diverted away from Petr momentarily as her team entered the Sabres zone. She cheered as Satan was charged with a tripping penalty. "Alright! Great call, ref. Great eyes, ref."

"But you said he was blind."

"Are you here to watch the game, Petr or gab all night?" Not knowing what to say, Petr sat back in his chair.

During the first intermission, Jason and Petr were in the kitchen getting drinks while Mara and Scott made fun of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. Jason uncapped and handed Petr a beer. "That one is, uh," Petr took a sip and pointed his bottle at Mara, "uh, spirited."

Jason uncapped a beer of his own, nodding. "Hey, Gomie! You wanna beer?" He pulled another one out of the fridge after hearing Scott’s reply.

"I want a Shirley Temple, Jason!" Mara called from the living room. "Come in here, you have to check this out. Barry Melrose has some type of animal growing on his face."

Jason shook his head to himself, grabbing her a water bottle and following Petr back out into the living room. He dropped the bottle in her lap before climbing over the backside of the couch and sitting down. Mara was gesticulating wildly, something about the Isles’ power play. It was so strange, the way the two of them had become friends. They were practically complete opposites and, startling, Jason had no desire to sleep with her. That first lunch they had together had set up a pattern of banter and insults between the two of them. Surprisingly, their sparring only seemed to make them closer—as if their constant ribbing made them understand each other better. Mara had been to several of their games, courtesy of Scott Gomez, practices, and this was her fourth time over to his apartment to watch a game.

Scott, too, had been surprised that they had clicked so well. He may have said he thought they would be great friends, but he thought by the end of one week, they would be ripping each other’s heads off. Granted, they did, but they always managed to end up laughing over each other’s insults.

Mara held up the water bottle, waving it in Jason’s face. "What is this? I asked for a Shirley Temple, bartender."

"Bar’s closed." Jason took a long swig of his beer.

"Why don’t you two just have sex and get it over with?" Scott groaned.

Mara stuck out her tongue, a disgusted look washing over her face. Jason felt himself involuntarily bristle. Sure, he didn’t want to sleep with her, but why didn’t she want to sleep with him? What was wrong with him? He knew plenty of women who found him attractive and would want to sleep with him. Hundreds of puckfucks, too.

"Don’t worry, feeling's mutual," he said with a bit more venom than was necessary.

She looked hurt for a moment, but shrugged it off, biting into a Milano.

"Well, Bill, it certainly has been nasty tonight," Gary Thorne droned on, his nasal voice breaking the silence of the room.

"Exactly, Gary. If the Sabres want to win this game, they’re going to have to come out with more intensity in the second period."


He was an idiot. It was the only way he could figure out why he had said what he did, or even why he felt the need to.

Mara had watched the rest of the game in silence, and Scott kept shooting him daggers during the commercial breaks. Petr just shrugged at him, enjoying the silence during the game. When the final horn sounded, and the Sabres shaking their heads at a 6-2 loss, Jason thought he saw a smile grace Mara’s face.

Petr made a quick exit at a glance at his watch, and Scott pulled on a coat while Mara helped Jason gather up the bowls and glasses around the living room. She placed them on the counter, and turned to leave as Scott jiggled his keys in his hand.

Jason grabbed her wrist, "Wait." She turned and raised her eyebrow. "I’m uh…" he looked down at his hand that encircled her wrist. "Um, I didn’t mean what I said back there."

"Oh." A beat later and with a smirk, "So you do wanna have sex with me?"

"What?" He scowled, "You know, I was trying to be serious here-"

"Jason, if my hanging around you all the time, with you wanting to have sex with me and all, is going to cause a problem, tell me right now. We can even work out a schedule. You can see Scotty Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays-"

"Forget it. Last time I ever try to be serious around you."

"Good." She placed a chaste kiss on his cheek. "When you try to look serious, your eye does that freaky twitch thing." She laughed, giving his stomach a light punch, before following Scott out the front door.

Jason stared at the door, his cheek searing from her lips. The kiss had meant nothing, right? It didn’t seem to bother her and he was so not attracted to her. He had clearly established that the first time she had insulted him.

Okay, so maybe she was attractive, but they were just friends. And friend weren’t attracted to each other. Or maybe they were and there was just some unwritten rule that you weren’t supposed to sleep with them. Or at least keep the sex casual. But Jason didn’t see Mara as a casual sex kind of girl. And even if she was, he’d probably screw that up anyway. There was a reason he didn’t have a lot of girl friends.

Jason threw the empty bottles into his trashcan and the bowls into the dishwasher. So now he had established that he may or may not be attracted to her, but no matter what, he would probably screw it up. "Great," he said to himself. ‘I am not attracted to her. I am not attracted to her,’ he repeated to himself. ‘Then why do I keep on wishing she had moved her lips a little to the left?’

Jason shook his head: entirely too much thinking and too little sex for one night. He pulled out another beer and then flipped open his phone book to the ‘C’s.

"Hey, Christy? This is Jason. Yeah, I know it’s late, but I was wondering if you were busy…"


“Great game, Scottie,” Mara congratulated, entering the locker room after the media and half of the guys had left.

"Thanks. Enjoy the seats?"

"You betcha." She gave Patrik Elias a high-five. The guys had become used to seeing her around the locker room, as had their wives. She made small talk with them during the game, knew more about hockey than a puck bunny would, and so far had only really hung out with Scott Gomez and Jason. From their point of view, she was the perfect girl to join their group: she wasn’t trying to get into any of husband’s pants and was helpful in setting up charity events and fundraisers. "Loved the move you pulled on Blake, Patty. I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard."

"Not everyday Blake fall on his ass," Patrik replied, smiling.

She slapped Jay’s hand. "Great hit on Joe in the second period. If you hadn’t-"

"Hello? No congrats for the guy who scored two goals and had an assist?"

Mara rolled her eyes, "Big whoop. I could have scored on Roy tonight. Even Marty did."

Martin laughed, but Jason continued to protest, "It was an empty net!" He turned around and pulled a shirt over his head as his teammates razzed him.

"Ouch, Arnie. What animal gave you those scratches?"

He looked over his shoulder to survey the damage. "A blonde with breasts the size of-" he motioned with his hands, "last night."

"Last night? I was over at your house last night and didn’t see any blonde," Scott piped up.

"Well, you left around eleven, but I didn’t go to bed until four."

Bobby threw a glove at Jason’s head, "The night before a game? You’re lucky you scored any goals tonight."

Jason took a sideways glance at Mara to see if she was listening, but her back was turned and she was talking to Jay. Part of him wanted her to hear and the other was glad she didn’t. He groaned inwardly to himself. He couldn’t believe he was starting up on that again. Maybe he needed to call Christy up again to get rid of his crazy thoughts.

"Great game again, boys. Thanks for the seats, Scotty." She waved and stood up from the bench, but Jason's voice stopped her.

"Hey, you want to go get dinner?"

"Nope, I ate before the game." She slung her purse over her shoulder.

"Dessert? I know a-"

"Work tomorrow. Later." She was out the door before he could finish his sentence.

He pulled his jacket on, well aware that Scott was boring a hole in the back of his head. "What?" he finally asked him.

"Do you have a thing for Mara?"

"What? No, we're just friends. Why would you think that? Besides, she's not even that attractive."

Scott rolled his eyes while the rest of the team tried to stifle laughs in the background. "Then-"

"I think what the kid is trying to say is," Holik interrupted, "why was there such a tinge of desperation in your voice? 'Dessert! Dessert! I'll buy you ice cream!'"

"So? I ask a girl out to dinner and that means I like her?"

Bobby laughed. "No, normally it means you want to sleep with her."

Jason threw Bobby's glove back at him, hoping that would shut him up.



Mara looked up from a disheveled desk to see Jason’s impish grin. "Hi."

"What are you doing?" He took a seat in the chair opposite her desk.

She rolled her eyes and returned them to the folder in her hands. "Work."

"Are you busy?"

She made a notation on a piece of paper, refusing to look up. "What do you think?"

"When are you going to be un-busy?"

She threw the pen on the desk, obviously annoyed. "Jesus Christ, Jason. You sound like a freaking five-year-old. Wait," she paused. "Why are you here?"

"To see you." He picked up the pen, clicking and unclicking it.

"I got that much." She leaned over and grabbed the pen back. "Let me clarify: why are you here, at my place of work, bothering me?"

"You come to practice all the time and it doesn’t bother me." She sent him a look as if to tell him not to beat around the bush. "You haven’t been to any of the games or practices in a while."

"You have got to be kidding me. You do realize that I have a life, don’t you? And as you can see, I’m busy right now. So shoo." She motioned her hands towards the exit.

"Well, you could call if you aren’t going to make it." As soon as the words left his mouth, he realized how idiotic they sounded.

"What? Are you crazy? I work for the city, not the New Jersey Devils-" The phone interrupted her. "Hello?" She swiveled her chair around to give herself a sense of privacy. "Oh, hi, Sandy. I don’t have time for—good looking guy?" She swiveled the chair back around. "I don’t see any-" Her eyes locked on to Jason’s. She started laughing and swiveled around again. "Are you high? That’s just—of course, I’m not dating him. That proves it, you are high. What? I’m not going to-" She turned back around and hung up the phone, apparently cut off. "Okay, Jason, cut to the chase. Why are you really here? Do you want me to hook you up with someone who isn’t a vapid princess?"

"No." He tried to look offended, but couldn’t, so he ended up staring at his hands. "It’s just that…me, you, and Scott…we haven’t hung out in a while. So…" He tried to think of something that wouldn’t make him sound like an idiot. ‘I miss you?’ Well, it didn’t make him sound like an idiot, but it made him sound desperate, which was worse. "Scott’s been missing you."

"What? I see Scotty like every weekend."

Jason’s eyes snapped up. "That’s impossible-I haven’t seen you in weeks."

Her eyebrows scrunched together as she tried to figure out if he was really serious. "I have a phone. See, Scott calls me up when he wants to do something. You should try it sometime."

"Fine." He leaned across the desk and picked up her phone. "Hi, Mara? Yeah, I was wondering if you wanted to go to lunch? You would? Great." He placed the receiver back.

"Cute, but no. I’m busy." She picked up a stack of folders for emphasis.

"Hey, Mara." A short ashy blonde approached Mara’s desk. "Here are those paperclips you needed."

Mara rolled her eyes, accepted the box of paperclips, and threw them in the drawer with her other box of paperclips. "Thanks, Sandy" When Sandy didn’t leave, she continued in a falsely cheerful voice, "Sandy, this is my friend Jason. Jason, this is my friend Sandy. Jason plays hockey, but aspires to become an art teacher." She turned to Jason, plastering on a smile too wide for her face. "Sandy is one of my dear coworkers who likes to bring me paperclips."

Sandy was shooting daggers Mara’s way until Jason clasped her hand and smiled. "Nice to meet you, Sandy."

"Nice to meet you too," she replied, beaming.

"Hey, I’ve got an idea," Mara drawled out slowly. "See, Jason asked me out to lunch, but gee, Sandy, I’m just swamped…"

"Oh, I’d love to go out with you, Jason," Sandy finished. She clasped his hand tighter, "To, um, lunch that is."

Jason glared at Mara and through clenched teeth replied, "Fantastic." Through the corner of his eye he could see her laughing as Sandy practically dragged him towards the elevator.


"Surprise." Jason dumped a white plastic bag on Mara’s desk. "Sandy had the greatest idea to go get Chinese and bring it back here."

"Oh, she did, did she?"

"Yeah, aren’t I thoughtful?" Sandy’s voice, while jovial earlier, was now rather monotone. She grabbed a box from the bag. "Thanks for lunch, Jason." She turned on her heels, stalking off back to her own desk.

"I think she’s disappointed she didn’t get your number."

Jason shrugged, putting his feet up on the desk before diving into his own box. "Technically, I’m not supposed to be eating this."

"Then why are you?"

He smiled. "What can I say? You have that effect on me."

Mara raised an eyebrow, "Effect?"

"You know, that thing where you make me do things, think things, that I’m not supposed to."

She threw a wad of napkins at his head, laughing. "You are such an idiot. Please tell me that cheesy line has never worked."

He held up his index finger. "Once."

"If this shu mai wasn’t so good, this box would have made a dent in your head."


The next day at practice, Jason lined Scott Gomez up in the corner, and followed through on his check.

"Nice hit, Arnott, but that was a no-contact drill," Robinson yelled.

Jason raised both hands in the air. "Sorry, forgot."

His coach blew the whistle and most of the guys headed into the locker room. Scott adjusted his helmet and Jason held out his hand to help him up. Once he was, Jason pushed him back down again.

"What the hell was that for?"

"I thought you said you hadn’t seen Mara in weeks."

Scott pushed himself up off the ice. "I haven’t. Last time I saw her was when you were begging her to dinner after the Avs game."

"Wrong." He pushed Scott again, but this time into the glass. "I talked to her yesterday-you saw her on Friday."

Scott pushed Jason out of his way and headed towards the locker room. "So?"

Jason grabbed his jersey and spun him around. "So, why have you been lying to me? Do you have a problem with me being her friend?"

Scott wrenched his jersey free and pushed Jason back. "No, if that’s all it was." Expecting Jason’s reply, he continued. "Look, Mara’s my friend. I don’t want her to get hurt."

"She’s my friend, too."

"No, she’s a woman you haven’t slept with yet."

Scott skated off the ice, leaving an angry Jason behind.

"What was that all about?" Martin asked, gliding up behind him.

"Nothing," he snapped before stalking into the locker room. He practically ripped off his jersey and pads, his teammates staring on questioningly, but not stupidly enough to ask any.

He spun the knob on the wall and water sprayed out of the nozzle and onto his head. He placed his hands on either side of the wall near the spout, leaning in such a way that the water rolled down his neck and onto his back. Fuck Scott. And fuck any of his other teammates who thought so little of him. He and Mara were just friends. He enjoyed a woman's company, and for once it wasn't about sex, but his dumbass teammates couldn't get it through their thick heads.

Well, fuck that. He would show them that-

He rubbed his hand over his face, smiling at his idiocy. Show them what? What a great friend he was? Scott must have gotten him more riled up than he thought.

Which brought to mind more questions-why had he been so upset that Scott had lied to him? Was it just that? Because his teammate had lied to him? Thought so little of him? Or was this all about Mara?

He refused to allow himself to answer that question. No, this was about Scott and his obvious problem with Jason.

Turning off the water, he exited the shower clad in a towel. He pulled on his boxers and then checked the clipboard hanging on the wall at the end of the room.


"What the fuck is this?" he asked his captain, Scott Stevens, pointing at the paper.

"Roomates for the upcoming road trip. You aren't exactly a rookie, so why are you asking?"

"There's no way in hell I'm rooming with him."

Stevens looked from Jason to Scott, back to Jason again. "You need someone responsible to make sure you make curfew this road trip."

"I don't need a babysitter." After a look from his captain, Jason acquiesed, "Fine. Give me a rookie because I'm not rooming with that faggot."

He pulled on his clothes, dressing at a leisurely pace, while Scott hurried into his clothes to leave as quickly as possible. While the other guys on the team assumed he was just angry and spewing at the mouth, both he and Scott knew his real undertones. Scott had realized that getting on Jason's bad side could pose a big problem considering he knew one of his biggest secrets.

As Scott was leaving the two shared a brief, but pointed look as if to say, "don't fuck with me, and I won't fuck with you."


It was the day before the road trip and Jason was quite astounded to be outside since he normally spent it inside just lounging around. Jason kneeled over, double knotting the shoelaces on his running shoes. "I can’t believe this. Your first Saturday morning off in two weeks and you want to go running." Mara shrugged and began a few stretches. "You really have to talk to your boss about giving you more days off."

She laughed. "Just like you, I don’t have the typical nine to five, Monday through Friday job. Doing work Saturday mornings doesn’t bother me."

"It would bother me," he replied, trying to touch his toes. "You work that nine to five day, plus weekends, and overtime. How do you even have a life outside of work?"

Mara bit the inside of her cheek, mulling his question over. She smiled, "I don’t. Which is why I’m hanging out with you."

"So I can pull you out of this rut you’ve become accustomed to?"

"No, because I don’t have a life." She laughed at her own zinger, while he groaned, knowing he set himself up for that one. She jogged in place for a few seconds before clapping her hands together. "What’s your mile time?"

"I don’t know. We focus more on sprints—short bursts of speed over endurance. If I do run, it’s mainly on the treadmill."

"That’s horrible. Don’t worry, I’ll be your pacer. Six minute mile, okay?"

"Anything you can do, I can do."

She rolled her eyes and began running down the stairs and down the street. "You know, Brett Hull used to run during the summer down in Texas in a parking lot. Running shows commitment, determination—"

"Blah, blah, blah," he said coming up behind her. "Traits I don’t have, check. And how do you know what Brett Hull did down in Dallas?"

"Literacy. It’s a great trick." She sped up, and a few blocks later both were able to catch their breaths at a stoplight.

He continued as if they had never stopped talking. "You’re a workaholic, yet you know all these inane facts about hockey players. How is that? Osmosis?"

"Is that your new word of the day?" He slapped the bill of her hat, pushing it down over her eyes. She flicked it back up with her index finger. "Touchy touchy. Green light." They ran across the street and down into the park. Half way across the grass area she cried out, "Race you to the other side!" Though she had a fairly good head start, he still managed to beat her to the fence.

He leaned against it, heaving. She arrived a minute later, breathing regularly, with a big grin on her face. "Good run," he complimented sarcastically.

"Yeah, and to answer your question—it’s quite simple. I’ve always loved hockey; grew up with it. When I first got my job, I took it way too personally, started bringing the cases home. Not so much work per se, but I brought them home in my mind—I couldn’t get the kids out of my head. And if something went wrong, or if I met a kid who was really hurt or abused…anyway, yeah, so hockey became my release. For two and a half hours I get to leave humanity at its worst behind and just enjoy the game.

"Besides, I’m a fanatic about the game, practically neurotic. If I didn’t know the stats of my favorite players backwards and forwards, trade rumors, and ‘inane facts,’ I’d be bored stiff with nothing to do in my spare time."

"I knew it," he replied triumphantly. "You’re a nerd."

She punched him, hard, on the shoulder. "Loser."

He grinned at her comeback, or rather, lack of. "So I guess we should be heading back now?" He pointed back across the park.

Mara laughed and pointed at the sign behind him. "I hope you saved up some energy, because we’re taking the bike trail. It loops around—probably a good two, maybe three, miles." His eyes widened as he looked behind him, causing her to laugh again. She grabbed his hand, pulling him along. "Don’t worry; I’ll pace you."


Jason and Mara, both exhausted from the run, headed up the stairs to Jason’s apartment.

"I think I sprained my ankle. You’ll have to carry me." Jason glanced from her to the remaining stairs, and then back to her.

"You’re crazy. I don’t even think I can make it up the stairs. Especially not with dead weight."

"Dead weight?" She tried to sound offended, but was too winded to make the extra effort. She held up her hand to him, "Pull me; I’m dehydrated."

He laughed, but led her up the stairs anyway. "First you sprain your ankle, now you’re dehydrated. What next? Broken leg? I think you should give up this running thing."

"You’re fault; you were holding me back—you ran too slow. And then you drank all my water."

She leaned against the wall outside his apartment while he fumbled with the keys. "Hey, we passed by a drinking fountain. You could have stopped for a drink."

"And die from something in the water? Why don’t I just go swimming in a toxic waste dump?"

"We’ve got one of those out back. Have fun." Once inside, she collapsed on the couch and Jason went to retrieve some water from the kitchen. He gulped down some water and pulled on his right ankle to stretch out his quads.

Grabbing a water bottle for her, he returned to the adjacent room and saw her feet sticking out over the arm of the couch. He padded closer: her hair was splayed out over the other arm and her arm thrown lazily back behind her head. She was breathing deeply, her stomach—she wasn’t wearing a shirt. It had been tossed to the ground and he felt his eyes fixated to her skin-it’s smoothness, the curve of her hip. He wondered what it would feel like underneath his fingertips. He could only imagine the way the heat would radiate off of—

"Ouch." He had dropped the water bottle on her stomach. She sat up, uncapping it, and gratefully taking a sip. "Took you long enough."

"I’m going to go take a shower." A cold one, he added to himself.

"Me too," she replied, standing up and picking up her shirt and turning it right side out.

"I’ve-I’ve only got one shower," he managed to stutter out.

Her eyes scrunched together, confused. "I know. I was going to go home."

"Oh." He scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, I knew that."

She smiled, pulling her shirt over her head. "If I don’t talk to you later, good luck on your road trip."

Jason nodded and walked her to the door, closing it behind her. He leaned his head against the cool surface, mentally berating himself. "Friend," he murmurred to himself. "Friend. Friend. Friend." His murmurrings only further reminded him of his confrontation with Scott earlier in the week. He sure as hell hoped everything went smoothly during the road trip.


Jason unbuckled his seatbelt as the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. He pulled out the book Mara had recommended to him, but after a few listless minutes of flipping through the first few pages, he eventually gave up and looked around to see what his other teammates were doing. A few of the guys were sleeping, which seemed like a great idea to Jason. He adjusted the headphones on his head and closed his eyes, hoping to catch a short nap on the plane ride.

They seemed to touch down only moments later and the team was bustled into a bus over to the hotel. Stepping off the bus and onto the snowy sidewalk outside of the hotel, Jason couldn’t help but notice how far away Scott had sat from him. Grabbing their bags and heading into the lobby, Scott Stevens handed out the room numbers and keys. Most headed towards the elevators while a few stayed behind to sign autographs.

The elevator in front of Jason lit up and the bell dinged. He stepped forward, but then back again as Scott got in the same elevator. "Move it, Arnie. Your fat ass is blocking my way." Jason was pushed forward by a persistent Bobby Holik. Marty and Scott, the captain, filed in as well. The elevator couldn’t move fast enough for Scott or Jason, who both kept shooting glances back and forth.

The doors opened with a ding and Bobby, Scott and Marty walked out with their suitcases. Before Jason could, however, his captain hit the ‘close doors’ button.

"Hey, what’s the deal?" He moved forward to push the button, but Scott’s arm stopped him.

"Look, you and Scott are teammates--"

"Thanks for enlightening me. Now if you’re finished--"

"No, I’m not. This season we’re finally a team—a winning team: lines are clicking, the media isn’t riding our asses, and the locker room has been rather amicable. Something it wasn’t last year. I don’t care what problem you have with Scott, or what problem he has with you, but fix it. It’s been disrupting practice and so help me, Jason, if it affects the game tonight-"

"It won’t."

Scott gave him a pointed look. "Because you’re going to fix it. We want a good start to this road trip. It’s a long one so I don’t want petty little arguments causing trouble." He sighed. "I’m not trying to--"

"I know, Scott. Let’s just focus on the win tonight. I’ll talk to him after I settle into my room." Jason gave a tense smile, opening the doors with a push of a button, and walking down the hall to room 409. Sliding the electronic card through the slot, he pushed the door open, flicking his card onto the table. Dropping his suitcase on the bed, he looked across the room.

‘Fuck you too, Stevens,’ he thought to himself as he saw an equally shocked Scott Gomez lounging on his bed. He had planned to blow off Scott’s advice; his pride was much more important.

"What the hell are you doing in my room?"

"What the hell are you doing in my room?" Jason replied.

The two glared at each other until finally Scott threw his hands up in the air. "This is so stupid. I don’t even know why you’re mad at me. You’re just like my last boyfriend."

Jason scrunched his face. "Yeah, Gomie, thanks for the information I didn’t need."

"I thought you told Scott to put us with different roommates."

"Yeah, well, apparently he thinks I need to smooth things over with you so that you don’t burst into tears during tonight’s game."

"Fuck you."

"Fuck you. And this isn’t about me; it’s about your problem with me."

"If you weren’t trying to get into Mara’s pants, there wouldn’t be a problem."

"I’m not." He opened the closet, dropping his suitcase on the stand angrily.

"Sure, I believe that," replied an annoyed Scott. "Now tell me you aren’t attracted to her."

Jason’s mind drifted back to yesterday when Mara had been stretched out on his couch. So maybe he was attracted to her, but that didn’t mean he was going to let Scott know that. "She’s not my type. And I’m getting tired of defending myself. Why does every guy on this fucking team think I’ll screw anything that walks?"

"Maybe it’s—"

"Don’t answer that," Jason snapped. "Besides, don’t you think that if I had wanted to sleep with her, I would have done it by now?"

"Good point." Jason rolled his eyes. "But I still don’t like you hanging out with her."

"And I don’t like being lied to. Or being treated like a jerk just because I’m the easiest guy to insult in the locker room."

Scott grinned. "Hey, you made your bed."

"Yeah," he sighed, his voice softer, and sat on the bed, resting his back against the wall. "I care about Mara though, I wouldn’t know, want to screw that up with..."

"Sex?" Scott offered.

"I was thinking about a relationship beyond friendship, but either works." He smiled, before continuing, "It just irks me, though, when the guys make comments about her and me in the locker room. I don’t pissed me off when you thought the only relationship I could have with her was one that involved sex. And I have no idea why, because I embody that guy. I am that guy. So I don’t know why it’s bothering me now."

"Now don’t start waxing philosophical on me." Jason threw a pillow across the room, hitting Scott in the head.

Jason rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand and groaned. "I sure as hell hope no one thinks this is a lover’s quarrel. That would be just what I needed right now: some—"

"You didn’t tell anyone, did you?" Scott asked with a start.


"Good." A beat later, "I was wrong though."

"Wrong for lying to me? For thinking I was a self-absorbed guy who only cared about sex?"

"Face it, Jason. You do only care about sex." Another pillow made its way across the room. "No, I was wrong about you and Mara. Because had I ever sat down and rationally thought about it, I would have realized there’s no way in hell she’d ever sleep with you." Scott smiled as Jason realized he had no more pillows on his bed. "So really, I have nothing to worry about."

"Worried that we’d have sex?"

"Worried that she may like you and that, as you put it, you would screw it all up. Mara’s my friend—"

"She’s my friend too."

"Yeah, but you didn’t—screw up, that is. At least not yet."

"Give me another forty-eight hours."


The Devils returned from their road trip with a disappointing 2-2-1 record. They had hoped to gain some easy points to put further distance between them and second place team Philadelphia. The only bright spot was that Jason and Petr had both extended their scoring streaks. Jason had been on pace the year before at the half-way-point to create a career high in points, but had fizzled out, like his team, in the second half. This season, however, Jason was determined to break his rookie year 68.

Because of their recent road trip and upcoming game, practice was light and a few of the guys were planning on going out. Jason declined, just wanting to get home and veg out for the night. A few of the guys winked their eyes and nudged him in the ribs, and being typical Jason, he didn’t say anything to change their minds or prove them wrong. The roads were slick with rain as he drove home, and the dark clouds overhead suggested more was to come later that night.

Scrounging around in his cupboards and refrigerator, he immediately regretted not going out with the guys. All he had left was some cereal and some dangerous looking leftovers. Not wanting to eat alone, he decided to call Mara. He dialed her number, intending to ask her out, but got only her answering machine. Hanging up, he poured himself a bowl of cereal and turned on the t.v., looking for a decent movie or game.

He was slurping the milk out of his bowl when the doorbell rang. He looked through the peephole, then opened the door to reveal Mara balancing a pizza in one hand while holding a six-pack in another. She shrugged her shoulders. "I figured you wouldn't have anything in the fridge." She handed over the six-pack, which he gladly accepted.

"You have no idea how glad I am to see you and that pizza." Jason smiled while leading her over to the coach. Setting the six-pack on the table, he flipped the t.v. to a game, before retrieving napkins and plates from the kitchen.

The two settled comfortably onto the couch to enjoy the game.


Two and a half hours later the Stars had a decisive 4-1 victory over the Sharks, the pizza box was empty, and both Mara and Jason were buzzed.

"So then she told me to f-off."

"Really?" Mara replied. "I thought Langenbrunner scored in the second."

A beat later, "What?" She only giggled in reply. "I can't believe we ate that entire pizza."

"Hey, if we pretend it was a small, we won't feel so bad." Her words were slow and deliberate.

"Good thinking." Sprawled out on the couch, he gave her a high-five, before they fell into comfortable silence. Staring at her through half-lidded eyes, the image of her laying on his couch shirtless after their run popped into his sleep laced brain.

"I don't think I can drive home."

He grunted affirmation while watching her rub her forearm.

"Can I stay?" He nodded and she leaned closer. "I think my lips are numb." Was she drunk? Or was that an invitation? He leaned in, but paused, and she seemed to hold her breath, watching him. He moved closer and his lips brushed against hers for the briefest second before she pushed him away, thumping her hand on his chest.

"Brendan Morrow!" She laughed again, elated that she had remembered. "He scored during the second period." She yawned. "Let's watch infomercials and veg out." Mara leaned her head against his shoulder and averted her eyes to the screen.

Jason picked up the remote, flipping to some 'amazing and revolutionary cooking utensil' program, and waited for an alcohol-induced sleep to take over.


"Good. When you try to look serious, your eye does that freaky twitch thing."

She placed a chaste kiss on his left cheek. Pulling back, she smiled, before leaning in. With one hand on his stomach, her lips graced his ever so teasingly. Deepening the kiss, he placed one hand on her lower back, pulling her closer, and with the other he cradled her face.

He broke away and began exploring her neck; his trail of kisses eliciting a moan from her lips. Missing her mouth, he lifted his head and allowed himself to become lost in the feeling of it, of her. His hands roamed her body and somehow, blindly, they managed to make their way into his room. Falling back onto the bed, Jason couldn’t help but notice how good she felt to him, how wonderful she smelled, how great she tasted. He couldn’t get enough of her; even her kisses failed to satiate him at the moment.

He tugged at the bottom of her shirt and she acquiesced by raising her arms over her head. He pulled it over her head, and both moaned at the momentary loss of each other’s lips. Jason turned, rolling them both over. He pulled back, breathing heavily, and just stared at her, soaking her in. Lying on the bed, her hair fell around her head in a dark halo. Her lips were already bruised from the urgency of their kisses and her eyes were wild.

He returned his mouth to her neck and with his right hand, he climbed her leg. Starting with her smooth calves, he worked his way up past the soft skin on the back of her knee, up her thigh and underneath her skirt. Wait.

Wasn’t she wearing jeans earlier? Jason jerked away from her suddenly, the sound of jingling keys startling him. Scott loomed in his doorway. "I thought you said you weren’t attracted to her."

Jason’s eyes snapped open, awakening from his dream. Immediately, he noticed and remembered that he wasn’t sleeping alone.

His arm was draped over Mara’s form—it was called spooning, wasn’t it? Somehow during the night, they had moved and Mara was laying half on tope of him. He sighed, rubbing his face with his hand.

Just what he needed: a sexually charged dream about a woman who happened to be lying right next to him. Scratch that: a sexually charged dream about a woman whom, according to Scott, would never sleep with him. Ever. Jason exhaled. He needed a cold shower. He carefully disentangled himself from her. She murmured something in her sleep, but didn’t wake up.

He had just finished brushing his teeth when Mara padded her way into the bathroom. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes with the heel of her hand, and Jason couldn’t help but smile at how child-like she looked. "Morning." She grunted a reply before asking him if he had an extra toothbrush. He offered her the one in his hand, but after a pointed look from her, he managed to scrounge one up from his disheveled medicine cabinet. "I’ll go make breakfast."

She walked into the kitchen a few minutes later and Jason held up two boxes, shaking both. "Corn flakes or Lucky Charms?"

"Sugar." She seemed particularly insistent on not speaking more than one word at a time. Placing a bowl of Lucky Charms in front of her, he wondered if it had to do with what happened last night. Did she remember his failed attempt at a kiss? Had he said anything out loud while he was sleeping? He knew he didn’t go to sleep in that position the night before.

Opening the paper to the Sports section, Jason realized she wasn’t eating her cereal; rather, she was staring at the couch. He cleared his throat to get her attention. "So, uh, good game last night." She nodded, almost absent mindedly, before shoveling a few spoonfuls of cereal into her mouth.

One awkward moment later, "They talked about me in the paper." He held up the article, and she nodded again before returning to her bowl.

"Listen, about last night—"

"Mara, last night—" they both started.

"Look, I’m sorry about last night." She refused to lift her eyes from the table. Jason raised an eyebrow. What had happened last night? “I normally don’t drink, so anything that…” she trailed off and was blushing so hard, he felt like blushing.

“Wait, what do you think happened?” he asked, trying to save herself some embarrassment.

“I, well,” she sputtered. “What did you want to talk about?”

“Uh,” he hemmed and hawed. He certainly wasn’t going to bring the kiss up, if she wasn’t. Staring at her confused face, it suddenly dawned upon him. “You don’t remember what happened last night.”

She blushed again. “Never been known to hold my liquor.” He was saved from making a complete and total ass out of himself. She didn’t remember anything. “So did I make a complete idiot out of myself?” Jason nearly laughed. She was worried about last night? What did she think she could have done?

“Not at all.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “You went a little crazy when Morrow scored a second period goal, but nothing too idiotic.”

She seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. She grinned, “Yeah, well, I’m a big Mini-Mo fan.” Mara groaned and rubbed her right temple. "Got any advil? I've got one hell of a hangover."


"So you busy tonight, Jason?" Mara asked. She bit her lip while she waited for his answer. He knew she wasn't nervous: it was just some habit she picked up when she was younger. But that didn't make it any less sexy.

Jason ran his tongue along the back of his teeth in mock contemplation. He didn't actually have to think it over; as if he would say no to a chance to run his own lips over her own. He smiled, trying to give her his sexiest grin and-

"Change!" a voice screamed in his right ear. Jason blinked and instantly was pushed back into reality, back into Continental Arena.

"Move it, Arnott," an assistant coach reprimanded from behind. "You could use the practice after last night."

Jason flushed and jumped over the boards to join the green line. A week earlier at practice he had been on the red line, the top line during practice. The line that received the least amount of work and drills, and the most time on the ice to practice their skills. After yesternight's 8-0 thumping from the Columbus Blue Jackets, the assistant coaches were working the team extra hard-Robinson too disgusted to even look at them.

Jason had been a minus -5 on the night. Ever since that stupid dream, he couldn't stop thinking, or day dreaming, about Mara. He had been thinking about her and had gotten burned thrice, before finally snapping out it. Trying too hard to get his team back in the game after being responsible for their 3-0 hole, he overcompensated twice, resulting in two more Blue Jacket goals. All in the first period. Needless to say, he didn't see the ice much after that.

Today though, at least from now on, he was going to be focused. Yes, he was going to be focused.

Later during practice, the team was running through a power play drill, and Jason was playing his usual point. Actually, they were practicing their penalty kill after being subjected to four power play goals the night before. "Umbrella! Diamond!" one of the assistant coaches yelled from the bench.

Simultaneously, all the players moved to the left. Jason made a few tic-tac passes with Patrik before shoveling it over to Jay who was covering the other side of the rink. A shot deflected wide a second or two later, they began moving again. "I want more movement on that power play, boys." Jason rolled his eyes; this dictatorship routine was getting old.

He held up his stick in a shooting motion to ask for the puck. He looked up to see Elias in the corner, ready to pass it and- He blinked. Mara was looking through the glass. 'Focus, Jason,' he rebuked. 'She's not there. It's just your over reactive imagination.'

"What the hell was that, Arnott?" a voice yelled and several of his teammates groaned. Jason turned around to see the puck skittering down to the other end of the ice. He turned back to see some unknown girl with a friend, pointing. He doubted she was commenting on his great shot. He slowly skated back to the bench. "Do that in a game, Arnott, and your ass will never leave the bench." His assistant coach shook his head. "You better focus or Robinson will keep you on that third line permanently."

"Thanks for the tip," he muttered sarcastically to himself as he followed his teammates off the ice. Jason hoped to shower, change, and leave before anyone could comment on his past week's performance, or lack there of.

No such luck. He was sitting in a towel on the bench when Gomez spoke. "What's been with you this week?"

"Nothing. I'm just in a slump," he said in a clipped tone, hoping Scott would get the hint.

"No, no," Petr began. "You don't even show up this week. Your mind is not there."

"Yeah, this entire week's mishaps just all culminated last night. You must be at least a minus ten on the week," Bobby chimed in.

"I'm in a slump. Thanks so much for the support." Jason pulled a shirt and socks on.

"Well, that's what happens when you cost your team wins."

He rolled his eyes. A lecture from his captain wasn't helping matters. "Maybe if my line wasn't the only one consistently scoring, we wouldn't have a problem." Jason knew Scott couldn't argue with that.

But apparently, he was going to anyway. "Maybe you paid more attention to defense and less attention to whatever the hell you're thinking about, we wouldn't have a problem."


"Do you think my play is really having that big of an effect on the team?" Jason asked Scott as he flipped channels.

The Devils were only on a short trip up north, but they hoped to turn around their recent bad play and regain the top position in their division.

"Don't worry about it. Captain just tore into you because he wants to fire you up so you'll get out of this funk."

He settled on Sportscenter. "Yeah, I guess."

"If you don't mind me asking, why are you in a funk?"

Jason raised his eyebrow. "What do you mean? Slumps just happen."

"Yeah, they do. But you aren't just in a slump; something's distracting you. So what is it?"

'Well, Scott, I can't stop thinking about Mara. I'm becoming delusional and keep seeing her when she isn't there. All I can think about her lips, her knees, her hair…' Jason coughed. That would go over real well with Scott-the-over-protective-brother. "It’s nothing.” Scott rolled his eyes. “Really.”

“Okay, then,” he said slowly, not believing Jason. “Just relax. You’re pressing too hard.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind tonight,” he drawled.

“Just score a fucking goal, alright?”

Jason nodded, turning his focus to t.v.


He didn't score on the roadtrip.

He didn't even get a single point. The fourth line was looking to become his permanent home. And boy did he ever hear it from the fans when the team returned for their first home game. The Devils managed to escape with a 3-2 win over the Rangers despite his play.

A creature of habit, Jason left the locker room after another pointless game to do what he always did when in a frustrating slump. He sat in the back of the bar, nursing a beer and hoping that anyone who did recognize him was somewhat attractive with large breasts.

Jason realized he hadn't done this in a while; so far this season he had been producing on the ice. His recent slump was increasingly frustrating, especially since he knew the root of its problem. The only solace he could find was that at least his team wasn't hurt because of it. Granted, they had lost a few games, but soon other second and third liners had stepped up. Jason, on the other hand, had been demoted down to the checking line. Again. He knew he had to turn his game around if he had any hope of breaking sixty-eight.

He wasn't to be disappointed tonight though and after an awkward conversation of "my place or yours?" he followed a redhead home in his car. Parking next to her car, she led him up to her apartment and they wasted no time in finding her bedroom.

While she moaned obnoxiously and writhed underneath him in what he guessed was pleasure, all he could think about was how he didn't want to be there. Her shrieking was giving him a headache, and he was pretty sure she was faking it. As soon as it was over, he wanted to leave, but ever the gentleman, decided that ten minutes of cuddling before telling her he had morning practice wasn't going to kill him.

She droned on about something while he draped his arm over her hip. He nodded a few times, but what was really keeping his interest and he from leaving was her bent leg. Staring at the back of her knees for a few minutes he wondered what Mara's would feel like. Soft and silky like in his dream? He touched and rubbed the back of one gently, but stopped, embarrassed when he realized she had stopped talking and was staring at his hand.

"Fetish for knees?"

He pulled his hand back and scowled. "No."

She smiled. "I'm not judging. Whatever floats your boat." She climbed on top of him and kissed his neck. Fuck, he thought. He was so not in the mood to hear her shrieking again.

He pushed her back. "I've got practice tomorrow, Sara."

She obliged, wrapping a sheet around herself. "It's Kristy, asshole."


Dressing himself quickly, Jason considered himself lucky to have escaped the girl's apartment relatively unscathed. Starting up his car he made a mental note of "remember name" on his checklist.


Jason sighed, eyes closed, and leaned against his locker, clad only in his boxers. 'Please, let the slump stop tomorrow night,' he thought to himself. He had stayed late at practice again to impress the coaches, to show them he was trying to work his way through it.

He felt a breeze as someone sat down next to him and opened his eyes. It was Kyle Richard, one of the new rookies from the minor leagues. He'd been called up temporarily to replace an injured player, but had done so well so far that he had earned an almost regular spot on the team. Kyle was dressed already and sat on the bench, hands clasped, as if he was waiting for something.

Jason hoped he wasn't going to try to give him tips on how to break out of his slump. Or worse, tell Jason how much he admired him. "What?" he hoped the annoyed tone in his voice would scare Kyle away.

"You're friends with Mara, right?"

Jason furrowed his brows. Why did this kid want to know about Mara? "Yeah, I guess you could say that." 'Or you could say, she thinks of me as a friend while I lust over her like a prepubescent teenager.'

The kid looked confused. "So, you aren't friends then?"

He rolled his eyes. "We are." Jason pulled on his socks.

"Is she seeing anyone?"

Jason would have liked to say himself just to wipe that stupid grin off of Scott's face. "Um," he tried to stall. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because he thinks she's hot and wants to fuck her," Collin interjected. The few guys left in the locker room laughed while Kyle blushed profusely. Jason glared at Collin, who sat in the corner.

"I was going to ask her to the banquet this Saturday," he replied.

"I think she's busy," he said quickly. Jason had been planning on asking Mara to the team's annual banquet, but hadn't worked up the nerve yet. Or rather, hadn't decided how to ask her-as friends, or something more.

"Oh." Jason felt kind of bad for the kid; he looked disappointed. But not bad enough to tell him it was okay for him to ask her out.

"Aw, there goes your chance to get laid, Richy."

"Shut the hell up, Collin," Jason found himself snapping.

"I bet she would have been a great fuck."

"Shut the fuck up."

Collin held up his hands in a gesture of innocence. "Merely a compliment; Mara's sexy as hell. Extremely fuckable. She’s definitely in my top five."

Jason stood up, his heart pounding and blood flowing. "Didn't I tell you to shut up?" He stepped forward, but Scott's arm stopped him.

"Maybe you should head home, Collin." Collin obliged and others began filing out. "Cool down, Jase. Collin was just being his usual self."

He sat down and began pulling on the rest of his clothes. By the time he was finished, he and Scott were the only ones left, and although lessened, he was still angry. "I thought you were Mara's friend."

"I am," Scott replied, taping his sticks together.

"And you don't have a problem with guys mouthing off about her?"

Scott paused mid-loop and shrugged. "Not really. They're just goofing around. Guys get flack all the time for their friends and girlfriends. Nobody ever really means anything."

Scott had a slight point, he had to admit. Jason nodded and added, "If Collin so much as looks at Mara, though-"

"What? You'll pound him for having obscene thoughts about her?"

"Yeah," he responded, a little miffed at the sarcastic tone in Scott's voice.


"What do you mean 'why'? Because he…he shouldn't be thinking those things about her. She's our friend; she should be off limits from harassment."

Scott laughed. "Why do you have her on such a high pedestal?"

"Excuse me?"

"Why is Mara better than all the other women we rag on?"

“She…she just is.”

“Love that reasoning, Jason. Is that the same reasoning that’s helping you score all those goals?” He laughed while Jason glared. “Are you sure she just isn’t on your most fuckable list?”


Scott stopped mid-grin, to stare at Jason and his too-quick answer. Jason held his breath, hoping Scott wouldn’t hit him too hard with the sticks he was holding in his hands. Instead of responding, though, he cleared his throat and returned to taping his sticks. He placed them into the box with the others slowly, as if mulling over what he wanted to say. Scott slipped the strap of his bag onto his shoulder. “Two reasons you’ve got her on such a pedestal. You’re in love with her, and thus blinded by her many flaws. Or two, she seems perfect because you haven’t slept with her yet.” He paused. “I think we can rule out reason number one.” He headed towards the door, but paused again. “I hope she’s not the reason for your slump.”

Jason’s mouth had gone dry and he wished there was a water bottle around. “And if she is?”

Scott shook his head to himself before exiting.