Page 21 of The Keeper

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“To complain and tell me how much you hate Las Vegas.”

“You’re mypartner, Emily. You’re the person I’m supposed to be able to talk to about these things.”

“And yet, you never allow me the same opportunity. You can’t even tell me what my career goals are, even though it’s tantamount to every important thing in my life right now.”

“Well, it sounds like this Nick guy is pretty high on that list right now, too. And I need you to focus on me and not some other guy, especially when I’ve just spent the money to bring you here.”

“A plane ticket is a drop in the bucket for you, Cal. You make millions-per-season money, and you hardly spend any of it. So don’t lord the expense over my head. I came here at your request when I have other things I could be working on, and you’re picking a fight with me.”

“Well, you don’t act like you want to be here at all.”

“I don’t, Cal. Every time you call, I tell you how busy I am. There’s a lot to do, and taking a weekend away puts my timeline behind schedule.”

“And it keeps you away from Nick.” The name sounds acidic in my mouth. I know it sounds that way when it comes out, too.

“Don’t be a jealous asshole.”

I sit back in my chair as the waiter approaches with our meals. Emily musters a weak smile and thanks him when he places her salad on the table. When he leaves, I apologize, playing peacemaker for the fifth?—I’ve lost fuckin’ count—time. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I am being a jealous asshole. But can you blame me? This is hard for me. I’m in a town I don’t know. I have no one here. My team seems to hate me. I have to do some dumbass public relations thing with a bunch of poor kids. Everything is so random, and I need you right now.”

“Somedumbass thing with a bunch of poor kids?” Emily asks, eyebrow raised. “You’re in rare form tonight, Calum Lefleur.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means you’re being a total dick.”

“I’m just trying to talk to you.”

“Well, you sound like a poor little rich boy to me.Wah, I make a truckload of money to play a game.Wah, I have to slum it with the poor kids to make myself look like a good guy. It’s no wonder you don’t have any friends here, giving off a vibe like that.”

I spear my steak and shove a bite into my mouth, glaring at her. A few minutes of thought, though, makes me realize she’s right. And I didn’t mean it that way. The public relations thing is whatever, but I’m not judgmental about poverty. And I like kids, usually, so I’m just projecting my frustration in the wrong direction. I much prefer interacting with kids at games than the press. I make sure to pass off pucks and the occasional stick,alwaysto a little kid. It feels good seeing their happy faces light up when they’re handed a prize from a player on the ice.

“Okay, okay. Okay. You’re right. That didn’t come out right. The volunteer gig with the kids is not a problem. I’m just frustrated.”

“Look, you’re right, too, you know? I came here in the wrong mood. I’m anxious about school stuff. My program is stressing me out and you’re kind of stressing me out, and it’s not making for a very nice reunion, I agree.”

I reach across the table and take her hand. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to stress you out. I just wanted to show you Las Vegas and spend some time with you.”

She squeezes my hand. “I’m sorry, too. Let’s start over?”

I nod and squeeze back before focusing on my now-cold dinner. We don’t talk much for the rest of the meal, but it’s better than fighting, and I’m just glad to have someone familiar here with me.

We take a long walk after dinner, exploring the Strip before going back to my apartment. As we step inside, I pull her in for a kiss. She’s stiff at first but then softens slightly. Shuffling as we kiss, we end up in my bedroom, where I pull her dress over her head and loosen her hair from that tight bun. She looks more like my Emily now in the soft light of the bedside lamp. I kiss her cheek, then her ear, then her neck, but when I try to guide her onto the bed, she pushes me away, shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, Cal. I’m just not in the mood.”

“Oh,” I say, rubbing my thumb along my bottom lip.

“It’s not…I’m just tired. And I’m having a hard time not thinking about the work I need to get done for class. Can I just…let me just get some things done and then I can focus on you, okay?”

My jaw clenches, but I put my hands up and step back, giving her a curt nod before wandering out into the living room to plop onto the sofa. I watch sports highlights for a long time, hearing the click-click of Emily’s typing on her laptop in the bedroom.

I try to focus on the television, but my mind is full of questions. Can this thing between us still work? Maybe I’m not a good boyfriend. Maybe she’s seeing someone else. Does it matter if she is? I kissed someone else, too. It’s the distance, right?Has to be.

My stomach twists with anxiety because these are all the things I can’t control. Nothing seems within my control right now, and that is very, very hard for me. In Montreal, I had routine. I had stability. I knew my place. Here? Everything is new and untested and unsure, and those are not places where I like to live.

A couple of hours after sitting down, I get up to check on Emily and find her asleep on the bed, her laptop still open next to her. As I go to move it, the screen lights up, and where I expect to find something school related, I see a Facebook Messenger pop-up, a whole slew of direct messages from Nick.

I think about reading them, but in the end, I just shut the laptop and put it in her bag. What’s the point, anyway?

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