Page 27 of The Keeper

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“Thanks. You look tired.”

“I am. I had a strange weekend and a strange practice today. I’m having a hard time settling in here.”

“I gathered that. Sorry it hasn’t been an easy transition for you. I read about you. You got a crazy-good deal when you came here. Most pro players would be thrilled.”

“Most pro players would, you’re right.”

Her beer arrives, and she clinks it against mine before taking a swig. “Do you like this band?”

“They’re okay. The energy is better now than when they started.”

“That happens sometimes. Bands get energy from the crowd, for better or worse. This crowd seems good.”

“Do you know them?”

“No.” She shakes her head. “As much as we play out, you’d think I’d see more live music, but I really don’t. This is the first time I’ve come out in a long while.”

“By yourself?”

She looks around and gestures. “Me and all my friends,” she jokes with a laugh.

“You surely have friends, Billie.”

“I do, but no one wanted to come out tonight, and I was in the mood for a drink and a listen, so here I am. And here you are. Small world.”

“Small world,” I repeat for lack of an original thought of my own.

Things feel awkward as we sit next to each other, drinking our beers, listening to the band. It’s not a bad feeling, so much as I don’t know what to say to her. I’m glad for her company, though.

We have a few more drinks, commenting on certain songs or funny things people in the crowd are doing. As the night goes on, it becomes more comfortable between us, and I enjoy her company, the conversation, the music vibe of the club. It’s a good time with her. Even more than that, if I’m truthful. I’m fixated on her lips, remembering the kisses we shared on that first night we met.

I try to shake it off. I am still, technically, with Emily. I am still, technically, committed to trying to make our relationship work. And Emily is still, technically, with me, though her actions over the weekend certainly gave a different impression.

When one particularly good song comes on, Billie jumps up and claps her hands over her head, her hips swaying. She crooks her finger to get me to dance with her, but I shake my head, unable to stop myself from grinning. She rolls her eyes and dances in front of me for at least three songs, shaking her butt and being silly before grabbing my hands and saying, “I’m hungry!”

“Want to go get food?”

“Yes, sir, that’s why I said it!”

I stand, tossing money on the bar to close out our tab as she tows me out the door.

“I want chicken and waffles,” Billie announces, holding my hand and pulling me down the street to a small take-out place.

“Chicken and waffles?” I frown at her. “That just sounds weird.”

“You’re gonna love it, I promise.”

“I’m not so sure…”

Twenty minutes later, I’ve devoured my portion, a whole fried chicken breast, and a crispy waffle, both slathered in maple syrup.

“I stand corrected.” I rub my stomach. “That was tasty.”

“See? You need to let loose and try new things.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I can tell you’re a little uptight. You like your life to be tidy and predictable. Which is why I have a hard time figuring out why you play hockey. How you play hockey. It seems like the inability to control the outcome would drive you crazy.”