Friday, August 19, 2011

chapter two

I should leave.  The minute Kristen walks in the door, I should walk out.

Within seconds of her arrival, a few things become painfully obvious.  First, she didn’t know she was coming to a setup.  Second, she certainly didn’t know it was with me.  And third, most importantly of all, she is absolutely beautiful.

Notice I didn’t say ‘hot.’  She is hot, in fact, but what registers instead is a delicate beauty that has been dimmed, as if she’s operating on low batteries.  Everything is just slightly off - her face a little pale, her posture a little slumped.  She carries these imperfections like burdens and I know at once they are not her natural state.

Then she sees me.  It’s surprise enough to recognize someone you don’t know - I get it all the time.  Peripherally, Kristen counts the people in the room.  Two girls, two guys, and me: the odd man out, until she came along.  

Her dark eyes flash.  Her cheeks flush.  She snaps up straight and all at once, the shade over her evaporates to reveal her full potential - she’s stunning.  And she’s furious.

Miranda pushes her in my direction.  “Kristen, this is....”

“Patrick Kane,” Kristen finishes for her friend.

I shake her hand - or rather, her hand shakes.  It’s small in mine and trembles slightly as I hold it for a moment too long.  Her glare falters.  I feel a gentle buzz through my system, coming straight from her.  Then it snaps off.

“Nice to meet you.”  Her voice is hard.

“Eric knows Patrick from the station,” Miranda explains, sounding far away.  Kristen has not dropped her stare, only my hand, and the anger quickly returns to her eyes.  “They were supposed to golf this summer, but....”

On cue I hold up my left wrist in it’s cast.  Minor surgery, nothing to be worried about.  But no hitting the front nine either.  So while I’m in Chicago seeing doctors and and the rest of the team is off home, I’ve been expanding my social circle.  Eric works at Fox Sports Net, and we see each other almost every day the team is in town during the season.

At the Blackhawks Convention, his girlfriend Miranda made me promise to meet her friend.  There were definitely beers, there may have been shots.  Either way, here I am trying not to wither under the gaze of my new date.

“Can I get you a drink?” I offer.

Kristen nods.  “Sure, I’ll be right back.”

I don’t even bother with a beverage.  She left the room at a run and hasn’t come back.  Miranda had a silent, nervous communication with Jane and pretended to need something from upstairs.  Jane kept us entertained for a few moments, until she heard a door.  Then she was gone too.

“Girls,” Eric shrugged.  I just smiled - it was better than awkward - and changed the subject to sports.  The guys wouldn’t notice if the girls were gone hours, though I was counting to myself.

It didn’t take quite that long for them to return.  Kristen went straight to the kitchen, made her own drink and came into the living room.  Somewhere I’m sure she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders like she was headed to a firing squad.

But when she reached me, sitting on the edge of the couch, her face had softened.  Shock had passed.  Even her voice was tentative as she said hello.

I didn’t get much out of her.  A little small talk there, then through dinner.  Jane filled in most of the empty spots and kept the pressure off our side of the table.  Kristen ate, spoke when spoken too and waited for the night to end.  Each minute seemed longer than the last.  I gave up asking questions or trying to converse, settling for polite comments that went mostly unreturned.  All the while she sat there with a twist of dark hair pushed back over her shoulder and tortured me.

Keep Out

A liar would tell you he’s never gotten that vibe from a girl.  And while it doesn’t happen often, I am no stranger to the cold shoulder.

The issue of my reputation is a dividing line for girls: love it or hate it, when it comes to getting caught up in it there is a choice to me made.  And more than a few have run screaming from the thought of being a notch in my bedpost.  Of course, there are always more waiting right behind them.

That is the problem.  Being in Chicago is like being a kid in a candy store.  Being in the NHL is like being told all the candy is free.  And being Stanley Cup Champs is like being told all this free candy won’t even rot your teeth.

Of course it does.  It even loses its sweetness after a while, and the price is pretty high.  If we’d played it might have been a different story.  But in the course of last season, I went from being a golden boy to a problem child on a team that looked more stepsister than Cinderella.

It took those a while for my attitude to catch up with my output - far longer than I’d like to admit.   The magic had run out but the parties and the girls were still there.  Then in late February, I got sick with the flu.  It happened to be after a night of partying.  Well the press put the pictures with the games I missed and plastered the issue all over town.

“Kaner,” Coach said through his bristley moustache, “I don’t think I need to tell you how serious this is.”

I sat across the desk like I was in the Principal’s office.  “I know, Coach.”

“But I’m going to say it anyway, so there is no mistaking me.  Get your shit together.  And until then get the fuck out of my sight.”

I got the message.  And I closed up my life like the suitcase it truly is, locked it tight and put it on the bus.  Parties, girls, late nights: they all but stopped and we finally hit our stride.  No one said anything, but Jon gave me the Captain Serious face that said I’d better keep fucking rowing or they’d throw me right out of the boat.  

If I expected a transformation, I was disappointed.  We struggled hugely only to make the playoffs because another team lost the last possible game.  We went down 3-0 to Vancouver of all teams in the first round.

Then there was a glimmer.  A star flickered in our sky.  We won a game, and another game.  We won three in a row.  We roared into game seven like we belonged there, another epic run, another shot at the glory still bitter in the back of our throats like bile.  Jon, our very own Prince Charming, tied the game with under two minutes left like we were running down the stairs toward that magic pumpkin.  Tick, tick, tick...

When that door slammed, I swear it hit me in the face.  Overtime loss, game seven, and everything crushed.  I slunk back to my apartment and locked the door for a week.

Surprisingly the funk didn’t last.  I knew what had gone wrong, but more than that I knew how to fix it.  The last few months of the season weren’t my high point, but they were way above my lowest.  I started working out, admitted to the wrist problem I’d been having.  I took time off, went home, relaxed.  Some of my friends seemed disappointed that I wasn’t out chasing tail every night, but most were relieved.  Not that we didn’t have any fun.  But the Patrick Kane Travelling Circus was on indefinite hiatus.

Chicago is different for me now.  I have some new friends.  I feel better, and the internet keeps telling me I look better.  I want to do right by this city, I want to bring that trophy back here again.  Not as the wild child I was but as a strand up guy they can depend on for the next twenty seasons of my career.  I’ll still do the Kaner Shuffle.  I might even take off my shirt.  But I will save it till after we’ve won.
Kristen doesn’t know this, of course.  She sees me, sees the stories and the photos and the blog posts and thinks she knows everything.

I deserve to be judged.  But I also deserve the chance to change her mind.

She fidgets over dessert, turning the spoon between slender fingers and absentmindedly running it over her bottom lip.  I want to take it from her, but my eyes keep moving to her mouth instead.  Her lips flush from the ice cream cold and despite herself, she smiles at the taste.

“Chocolate is my favorite,” I say.

“Mine too.”

But she’s out of there as soon as possible.  I try to catch her alone in the kitchen, piling dishes on the counter - she’s too quick.  Before I’m back she is hugging her friends goodbye.  Then she gives me her hand to shake; it trembles as much as the moment she arrived.  Poor thing has been freaked out all night.  With barely a goodbye, Kristen takes off.

“Well,” Eric says, turning to Miranda but so we can all here.  “That went well.”

Miranda sighs and looks at the ceiling: embarrassed, apologetic.  Jesus, I’m ruining this night for everyone!

“Be right back,” I tell them.

That Kristen stops when I call her name is a surprise.  She waits like she wanted me to follow her and a tiny flare of hope bursts in my mind.  But she doesn’t turn.  Instead she waits like the executioner is catching up quick.

“Did I do something wrong?” I eventually ask.  I know I didn’t, at least not tonight.  But my reputation precedes me and it’s more than some girls want to handle.  Putting it aside will be an uphill battle and I need all the practice I can get.  Like tonight.  I have to know why she is running for her life.

But it’s not me.  Her face crumples instantly and I know there’s nothing I could have done differently tonight to avoid this conversation in the dark.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were going to be here and then it was like a blind date and I.....”  Her voice fills with tears and I cannot stop myself.  Praying she won’t think me lecherous or taking advantage, I pull Kristen into my arms and hug her tight.  She resists a moment then gives in, leans in, and lets me hold her up.  That dark mane of hair smells like something tropical, some place I want to go.

“I’m sorry I ruined your night,” she says quietly.

Right now, the only thing I’m sorry for is whoever made her so fragile.  I have treated some girls like shit in the past.  I have hurt people.  And when you wake up the next day, or sober up the next week, it feels horrible.  There have been times when I couldn’t look at my sisters for knowing what I’d do to someone who tossed them away, the way I’d done to countless girls.  Maybe they knew what they were getting, but I definitely knew what I was doing.  And I had promised myself I wouldn’t do it again.

“Nah, you didn’t.”

Kristen’s fingers are twisted into mine - it’s a natural reaction to someone holding your hand.  For the first time tonight, it’s not shaking.  The old me would kiss her now, at her most vulnerable.  Just when I’m in the door.  But the new me, who sometimes has to shout to be heard, has a rule about not trying to pick up girls who are crying.

Yes, I had to make that a rule.

So I just squeeze Kristen’s hand and she smiles a little.  Whatever happened to her was bad.  Her friends think she’s ready for something even if she doesn’t agree.  I know what it’s like to be in a rut and I know what it’s like to change.  I also know that only good people get this messed up over something.  And I need a good person in my life.

“If I told you I would be somewhere tomorrow, no surprises, would you come?”

She blinks a few times, as if my voice reminded her I was still here. In the porch light that spills over us, her long eyelashes are glittery with the last of her tears.  Her gut reaction is to say no, of course not, that’s crazy.  She couldn’t possibly and she doesn’t want to.  The way her lips part slightly and catch makes me reconsider my rule about kissing.

But all she does is take a breath.  A million thoughts flash across her face so quickly I can’t read a single one.  It’s like Wheel of Fortune spinning in there, I hope it lands on something good.  

“Oh... okay.”  Kristen says it quickly, like it might get away otherwise.  “Okay.”

“Okay,” I repeat.  “Gingerman Tavern on Clark at four o’clock.”

“Okay.”  She still sounds scared.

I’m about to kiss her.  Rules be damned.  She looks like a good kiss might cheer her up immensely and I’ve never been one to leave a damsel in distress.  But the new me bangs some pots and pants above the roar of hormones and I settle for one more squeeze before letting go of her hand.

“See you tomorrow,” I remind her as I turn to go.  “And Kristen?”

She looks a little like she can’t believe I didn’t kiss her.  Damn it!

“Bring your baseball glove.”


  1. This is so cute! I'm really liking the Kaner angle here--this is the perfect writing for how he seems to have really gotten his act together recently. Brava!

    Can't wait for more!

  2. "She looks like a good kiss might cheer her up immensely and I’ve never been one to leave a damsel in distress." - Haha, love this. This was so well written, I didn't want it to be over. Could this perhaps be one of the best and cutest first dates ever (if I liked baseball)?

  3. Adorable! Really making me like Kane :) I loved the candy shop comparison, it was really clever; I also really liked the description of the playoffs and the transformation after.