Gracie arrived halfway through practice and sat in the second row by their bench. She talked with one of the other player’s girlfriends, a sad-looking girl with long black bangs. Occasionally Gracie cheered for Riley or Shane, whoever was responsible for the puck at the time. She did this at most of their practices. When she wasn’t there, neither of them played as well. This afternoon the color of her sweater reminded Riley of the stripe in the middle of an Andes mint.

Practice wasn’t going well. Sidiak was blocking Peeler, and Mylo was moving too slow, so Riley tried to score from further than he usually attempted. He hit the puck hard and fast, but Shane instantly flung it back out onto ice. Riley knew Shane’s face was smug under his mask. They ran another drill, and this time Peeler shouldered past Sidiak and Riley passed to him, but Shane blocked that too.

“Motherfucker,” Peeler cursed.

On the last play before their break, Riley took one more shot, this time at closer range while both Peeler and Mylo tried to fling off the defense. Shane didn’t react fast enough, and the puck flew past his right skate before he could slide to his knees.

“Fuck!” Shane hissed through his mouth-guard as Peeler thumped Riley on the back.

Riley could hear Gracie and the sad girl cheering for him, even though their voices were muted by the sound of skates scraping against the ice. Riley started to skate towards Gracie as soon as their coach blew the whistle, but he heard Shane behind him, skating fast. Too fast. Riley turned—and was momentarily blinded by the pain as little silver stars erupted from the corners of his eyes. Shane had jammed an elbow into Riley’s ribcage.

“Shit, Kublewitcz! What the fuck?” Riley yelled.

Shane grinned at him. “Good shot, Williams,” he said, giving Riley another thump on the back before he skated away, in Gracie’s direction. He dropped his mask on the ice.

“Fuck you,” Riley muttered. Coach Ortman was yelling something at the team, but Riley wasn’t listening. He moved slowly, a few feet behind Shane as he did a few spins and sprayed ice and made Gracie laugh. Even the sad girl laughed. Riley almost whacked Shane’s mask with his stick.

Gracie waved at him as he skated passed. “Go Williams!” she cheered.

But Coach Ortman’s voice drowned hers out. “Williams, get your ass over here. Huddle up,” he yelled. “Kublewitcz, pick up your shit.”

Riley joined the huddle. He watched Shane snatch up his mask and skate over.

“Save your cutesy shit for after practice, Kublewitcz,” Coach Ortman muttered, when Shane finally joined the circle, next to Riley.

“You’re playing well,” Shane muttered. “Especially after being a yuppie for so long.”

Riley knew that Shane expected him to laugh, but ignored him. Riley was just as good as some of the guys who went CHL right after college; he was better than some. He was better than he thought he would be, and so far into the season, the Cutthroats were undefeated.

···

Riley slowed the Dodge to let people pass. A few of them stumbled, and some laughed and waved at the car. They were bundled in coats and jackets, though a few of the girls were wearing short skirts. Gracie shook her head.

“It’s freezing,” she said. “And it’s not even late enough to be drunk.” She glanced at her phone before throwing it back in her purse.

“Check mine,” Riley said, handing it to her. “Maybe he texted me.”

Riley wanted to be pissed at Shane for making him drive through the crowded bar district on a random Wednesday night when the temperature was fifteen degrees below freezing. But he wasn’t.

“Not a word,” she said.

“Weird.”

Shane had texted Riley earlier saying that he and Gracie should meet up with them. He and Peeler were already at the Three Lions. Riley asked when they should meet. Shane had responded, “Now.” Gracie had halfheartedly agreed. She’d muttered something about having to change out of her leggings into a dress. Then they’d driven twenty minutes and walked around the bar, upstairs and down, but Shane wasn’t there. Neither was Peeler.

Riley had to slow the car again for more jaywalkers.

Gracie sighed. “You should just pull over. This is stupid.”

“I can just drop you at the apartment.”

Gracie shook her head. “Just pull over. I’ll call him.”

Riley pulled into the almost empty parking lot of a Chinese restaurant and waited as Gracie dialed Shane twice.

Her mouth turned into a straight line. “What the fuck is he doing?”

Riley looked down at his phone. He thought about the time when Shane was supposed to meet up with him at Boone’s Tavern and never showed. Two and a half hours later, Riley found him playing trivia with a teammate at Buffalo Wild Wings. They were in third place and wanted to win. Shane was just stupid sometimes. Riley didn’t tell Gracie that, even though he wanted to. He wanted to apologize to her about the leggings. She could’ve worn them under the dress, but he didn’t mention that either. He just stared at his phone and thought about how warm the car was. He wanted to take off his coat.

“I just don’t understand why he wouldn’t look at his phone for forty minutes,” she repeated. She was looking at Riley. She was waiting for him to say something, so he stared out the window at the crumbly brick building in front of them and tried to decide what to do. When Riley finally made eye contact with her, she looked amused.

“You should shut off the car,” she said. “It’s bad for the environment.”

Riley felt stupid with his seatbelt still on. He wanted to unbuckle it, but that would suggest that they were going to sit there for an extended period of time. Were they? Why was she smiling? Because she could sense his indecision? Because he looked uncomfortable? Why did she have to be so pretty and nice and also care about the environment? Riley shut off the car, and the air turned silent.

“Shane’s probably just drunk,” Riley said. He grabbed his phone. “Or maybe something is going on with Peeler. I’ll call again.” Part of him hoped Shane would answer so he and Gracie could get out of the car and walk back to Three Lions, but neither Shane nor Peeler picked up.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Riley said and dropped the phone in the cup holder.

He started to reach for the keys but stopped as Gracie unbuckled her seatbelt and slipped off her coat; it was one of those puffy ones that swished with all her movements. She draped it over her shoulders like a blanket and lowered her seat as far back as it could go.

“I’m tired,” she said, lying back and turning to her side to face him. “And this is so stupid.”

“Yeah, sorry about—”

“The seat is way more comfortable like this. Try it.”

Riley paused and looked at her for a second before unbuckling his seatbelt and reaching for the handle. He leaned back. Blood was rushing through his body. The car was quiet except for their breathing. He turned to face her.

“Yeah, it is comfortable,” he said. “Sorry about tonight—”

“Don’t apologize, Riley. It’s not your fault,” she said. “Why would you apologize for something that’s not even your fault?” She closed her eyes like she was going to sleep.

Riley didn’t know why the fuck he did it. It was so stupid and fast and presumptuous and wrong and weirdly timed and perfect and exactly what he wanted to do but never thought he would actually do. He kissed her. He did it quickly before she knew what he was doing; he moved towards her and slipped his hands around her head and pressed his lips against hers, not that gently, and waited for her to do something—and it was easily the most uncomfortable kiss he’d ever given someone because of the sweat under his coat, and the dropping temperature, and the uneven distribution of his weight against the console, and their chins scraping, and because for a split second he imagined Shane tapping his knuckle on the passenger side window—but then Gracie’s mouth moved against his, and her tongue slid against his bottom lip.

Riley’s secretary, ex-secretary, Lucy, had told him once about an idea she’d come up with when she was in a sorority. “I think there should be like a rule or something, where girls wear wristbands depending on their availability. Like we could wear red, yellow, and green ones, and red would mean ‘not available’ and yellow would mean ‘proceed with caution,’” she’d explained.

“So green means go, then?” Riley had asked, cognizant of her flirting, but overworked and apathetic and probably stupid.

“Yes. Green means ‘go.’ If all women wore them, everything would be so much less complicated.”

Riley saw green with Gracie. He felt green as she tried to unzip his coat, and he tried to help and keep kissing her at the same time. Once it was off, he moved to her side of the car, as close as he could possibly get to her lips, her hands, her breasts, her eyelashes. She let him press his warm body against her cold skin. His hands found the place where her waist narrowed before curving into her hips. Gracie was mint-green—no, she was actually almost more blue than green, and he didn’t know what that meant, but suddenly just kissing her didn’t feel like it would be enough, and he wished they were in the backseat. He pulled his lips away and opened his mouth and heard his voice make the suggestion. Blood rushed against his temples, and his body tightened while he waited for her answer.

Gracie looked beautiful and stunned, though he couldn’t tell if it was because of what had just happened or what he wanted to happen. Her dress was slightly askew, her chin and cheeks were tinted pink, and something about the surprise in her expression was so perverse and provocative that he almost kissed her again, but his confidence faltered with each of her small movements—her tug at her dress, her soft hand scraping against her mouth. A timidity shadowed her features—then he saw the tears, tiny ones, almost invisible, clustering in the corners of her eyes, where the top and bottom lashes met.

“Take me back to the apartment,” she said. She grabbed her coat from under her feet and held it against her chest.

Unsure of what to say, what exactly to apologize for, his stomach falling in circles, Riley groped at the floor for the keys. He found them, and his phone, by the gas pedal. He willed himself not to but looked at the screen anyway. He could feel Gracie watching. There was still no response from Shane.

···

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