“Good Morning!” Nora said. She was at the stove with a spatula in hand.
Genevieve strutted into the kitchen - fully dressed this time - and tossed a withering look her way. The blond had taken a few moments to brush her hair out to maximum volume and pull together an outfit. Not a full effort, but it wasn’t ratty pajamas.
Nora had to turn away to hide her smile. She’d woken up early and laid awake wrapped up in Claude. His chest rose and fell evenly against her side while she thought about what to do.
Genevieve was clearly after Claude. Though Nora had never liked the girl, she wasn’t sure until last night that Genevieve not only wanted Nora gone, she wanted Claude for herself. There was no other reason to wander around a man’s house at night in your underwear. The look in Genevieve’s eyes had been priceless - she actually thought she was winning before Nora turned that corner. Nora went from mere annoyance to serious threat in that moment... now she just needed a plan of attack.
In the end, Nora’s plan was not to attack at all. Claude was oblivious, so anything she said would sound like an out-of-the-blue accusation. Nora needed to tread carefully and let Genevieve do damage to herself.
“MMrrnnnggg,” Claude mumbled, his mouth full. Another moment and he swallowed. “Nora made eggs, they’re great. Want some?”
“I’m not really hungry,” Genevieve said as if she’d just been offered a dish of poison. Instead she slammed a few cabinets looking for a glass, then sat and poured some orange juice.
Nora moved her two sunny-side up eggs to a plate, next to toast and half an avocado. She had put her jeans and GIROUX t-shirt back on, but her hair still looked like it had spent a wild night in the sack. Claude pushed the chair next to himself out for her, grinning.
God damn. It still caught Nora off-guard sometimes: the pure joy in his smile, even over unimportant things. He had a beautiful face but it was nothing compared to that smile. In a blue t-shirt and black sweat pants, barefoot, Nora just wanted to drag him back to bed.
“Thanks babe,” he said, kissing her cheek and stealing a bite of her avocado. Nora looked right at Genevieve, who scowled into her cup.
Give her enough rope and she’ll hang herself. Nora’s plan was to keep Claude blissfully unaware of any trouble brewing while letting Genevieve know that she’d have to come and get him. And no doubt, Genevieve would - it was just a question of how desperately she would act. The more surprised Claude was, the more honest his reaction would be. Genevieve was quickly running out of time.
“What are you guys doing today?” Nora asked.
The words registered on Genevieve’s face - “you guys.” As in Nora was not going. She glanced up but Nora was intentionally looking away like she didn’t care.
“I have practice, then I think we might just walk 2nd and 3rd Streets, look around, grab some lunch. Can you meet us?” Claude asked.
“I wish, but I’m so busy at work. Can you run me home in a minute? I have to change.”
Claude looked at her shirt for the thousandth time, still loving how happily his name was stretched across her breasts. Right where he’d like to be. “Just wear that.”
“They’d have me carted off for a brain exam. I’ve got a Bruins clock on my wall. ”
He sniffed, which he did often and it twisted his face into a very unflattering bird-like expression. Clearly disgusted. Nora laughed and finished her breakfast, knowing Genevieve was counting all the ways that Nora was just giving it away.
Five minutes later they were in the car. Claude stopped at the end of his block, turned right and immediately pulled over to the side of the road.
“What are you...,” Nora started.
Claude unbuckled his seat belt, leaned over and kissed her. It was quick and forceful - the way she’d kissed him the first time, back in the restaurant above Casino Night. And just like that kiss it took her breath away. His tongue slipped into her mouth: seeking, almost demanding she return the kiss with equal force. Nora popped her own seat belt and gladly obliged.
“Whew,” she giggled when he finally let her go, one hand still bunched in her hair.
“Last night was fantastic,” Claude said. His hazel eyes seemed darker so close up. “Then I woke up and you were gone.”
She shrugged, thinking hook. “Next time you can make me breakfast.”
“Can I come over tonight?” Line.
And sinker. “No, you should stay with Genevieve. I think she was a little miffed to see me this morning, I don’t want to intrude.”
Claude released his grip on her hair and let his fingers brush along her neck. “No, she’s okay with it! She doesn’t expect to have me to herself all the time.”
“Have you asked her?”
“No, but she’s always....” Claude protested.
“Boys,” Nora rolled her eyes but pressed her lips to his again. “You think you know everything.”
There was barely a moment in practice to breathe, forget ask a question. Claude was winded and gulping down air after a set of suicides when he ran out of gas next to where Danny leaned against the bench. They were way past the point in a friendship where words were chosen carefully. Claude had seen Danny in some of the worst moments of his life, post-divorce.
“What’s up with you, dragging ass today?”
Claude swished and spit a mouthful of water. “Nora stayed over last night.”
The older man just laughed. “Anything left of her today?”
“I think I got the worst of it, actually,” Claude admitted. “Or the best. Either way I’m fucking dying out here.”
Nora had gotten to Claude in his most vulnerable spot - after a loss. He’d needed her, craved her to feel better. He’d shown up unannounced and uninvited at her door, carried her away from her best friend to his bedroom. Yet when he’d woken up in the darkness to her already riding him, begging him not to hold back, Nora had turned all those negatives around - he felt powerful and confident for the way he’d made her come, moaning. He felt wanted.
Danny smacked him hard across the shins with his stick. “Good problem to have, mon ami.”
It wasn’t easy to walk around afterward either, but Claude gamely strolled with Genevieve as they browsed the stores. She carried the bag he’d bought her the day before - in truth, he always seemed to buy her something when she visited. Not that it could make up for him moving away, which they’d always known would happen. But he liked to share the wealth he had, otherwise what was the point in having it?
Today, everything he saw made him think of Nora. She’d like that shirt, so he bought it. A black and gold tie hung in the window of a shop - he got it thinking maybe he could blindfold her with it, or she’d let him bind her hands and have his way with her. That made him think of...
He lifted his head to find Genevieve staring back at him impatiently. The dress in her hand went right back on the rack.
“Where are you today?”
He shrugged. “Sorry, Gen. Just tired.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have sleep overs after games,” she said in a gentle tone. “I’m worried about you. You play so hard and if you let everything take over your life.”
They’d had the conversation many times before - Claude’s focus sometimes got the better of him. He still had fun, of course, but balancing hockey vs. life wasn’t always easy, especially under the pressure of a sports city like Philadelphia.
“I know you like Nora, but she’s new and I think she’s taking up the time you should be using to relax.”
Claude was already shaking his head. “No, no, she’s a good thing. A very good thing. When I’m with her I don’t think about the game at all. It’s weird, but she clears my head.”
“More like clouds it,” Genevieve said as they entered a new store.
“You don’t like her.” Claude stopped dead in his tracks at this brand new, unthinkable idea. “Gen, you don’t like her. Do you?”
The face he’d known so long looked back at him. He knew she was pretty, he’d long stopped noticing. Now in the trendy boutique, with her hair spilling in waves down her back and a drapey sweater over super slim jeans with heels and that purse she’d wanted, he was reminded she was in fact very pretty - and still very familiar. But not because she was Genevieve. Instead because she looked so much like every other WAG he’d ever met.
Claude blinked at her, thinking how much she’d changed since they were kids.
“It’s not that. I just think you’re getting ahead of yourself. It’s been what, two weeks? Don’t you think it’s a little soon to be so serious?”
“No,” he said confidently.
Genevieve smiled sadly and shook her head. “Falling too fast. You always do this.”
The words were out of his mouth before he thought. “It’s been a long time since you’ve seen me do anything.”
Her expression flashed, then her jaw set like stone into a cold line. He hadn’t meant it as an offense to their friendship, to say that she didn’t know him as well as she thought. It wasn’t Genevieve’s fault he lived so far away. But one or two weeks a season didn’t meant she understood his life. And summers in Ottawa weren’t real life. They were spent waiting to get back to it, to Philly.
Genevieve looked like she’d been slapped. She calmly put down a shirt and walked out of the store. Claude ducked his head and followed. The street was pretty empty, it being cold and the middle of a work day. Still Genevieve went ten yards to a quieter spot before she turned on him.
“I may not be here to see you play the superstar,” she hissed. “But I don’t need to see the puck sluts fall at your feet to know that it happens, Claude.” She pronounced his name like a punch to the face.
Claude waved his hands, trying to surrender. “I didn’t mean it like that, Gen. I’m sorry.”
“I would be here if I could.” She didn’t add that she’d be here if he asked.
“I know, I’m sorry. But Nora isn’t like that. You have to trust me.”
Genevieve rolled her shoulders back, recomposing herself. With a toss of her hair she seemed to regain her cool demeanor. There was considerable confidence in her voice when she said, “I trust you. But I don’t trust Bruins fans.”
Claude made a concerted effort to pay more attention to Genevieve for the rest of the day. She was just being protective and he appreciated it. That’s what old friends are for. And he was glad she’d spoken her mind - another thing he depended on people from home to do. Philly was full of hangers-on who wanted to bask in the limelight, and those people said whatever anyone wanted to hear. Some of his teammates loved that - no one told them no or when to stop. That kind of sycophantic behavior could spiral past common sense. It had cost Richards and Carter their careers in here.
He and Genevieve had a great rest of the day and neither one brought up Nora. Claude did text her before dinner, but he did it from the bathroom. She brightly replied that he should have fun and call her tomorrow.
Well, she’s definitely not a puckbunny, Claude thought.
They ended the night watching TV at home, then Claude succumbed to his fatigue and trudged up to bed. He had practice in the morning, but it would be lighter. The following night’s game against New York was a Winter Classic re-match and he needed to be ready. As he settled against his pillow, Claude reached for his phone.
Claude: Any chance you’ll come by and wake me up like last night?
Nora: I think we woke everyone up last night.
Claude: They don’t need sleep.
Nora: But you do. I hate the Rangers almost as much as I hate the Flyers.
Claude: Then we’ll be sure to beat them. Anything for the lady.
Nora: Sweet dreams. ;)
Claude closed his eyes and hoped to dream about the previous night’s reality.
Nora worked. Her job had always been an odd kind of solace - she worked in finance and it turned all the gears in her brain. She got in the zone, so to speak, and once she had her teeth into something it completely occupied her mind. So it was after three in the afternoon before she realized she hadn’t heard from Claude.
Be cool, she told herself.
So instead of calling, she Googled him. Bad idea. The screen instantly filled with pictures of his face - action shots, smiling shots, one of him with a puppy, one of him with a baby. Nora opened a glamor shot of him standing on some rock pile in a blue t-shirt, holding a hockey stick against a brilliant summer sky. He wore sunglasses and a roguish smile. With a yelp, she closed the page and put her head down on the desk. It was bad enough he looked so hot, but he’d been wearing that t-shirt when she made him breakfast the morning before.
She took her phone, turned it off, put it in her purse. Then she walked into the office kitchen and put her purse in the cabinet under the sink, behind some paper towels, and left it there.
Or I will never concentrate again.
At the end of the day, Nora went to the gym then went home. She didn’t turn her phone back on until eight o’clock and not ten minutes later, it rang.
“What are you doing?” Emily asked.
“Nope. Not acceptable. Let’s go for a drink.”
Nora looked around her living room. She was sitting on the chair, she wanted to lay on the couch. Or the floor. If she could be bothered to reach the remote, maybe she’d even turn the TV on, probably mute it and then fall asleep.
“Don’t care,” Emily was already moving around her place, “You can’t be home doing nothing when Grilled Cheese calls. He probably took the Fembot to dinner in Paris. You’ll have to make do with me.”
Nora took a quick shower but skipped washing her hair, threw on jeans and a sweater and met Emily at their favorite Irish bar thirty minutes later. Quite a few people were out, and soon they were laughing over a beers and bobbing their heads to the jukebox. This is what they’d always done before she’d met Claude. Could it really have been just two weeks? When her phone vibrated in her pocket, Nora laid it on the table between them.
The screen said ‘Claude’ and showed a photo he had taken of himself, holding the camera up and making his sniffing face.
“What are the odds it’s a booty call?”
“He’s my boyfriend, Em. It’s not a booty call with your boyfriend.”
The phone stopped ringing, call went to voicemail. They still looked at it.
“Call him back in five. You’re not home waiting for him to send Genevieve,” Emily said in her exaggeratedly terrible French accent, “packing. You have a life too.”
Nora lifted her beer in a toast, then drained the glass. “Two more lives, please,” she asked the waitress.
Five minutes later, Emily gave her a nod and Nora went out to the patio. Claude answered on the second ring. From the noise in the background she could tell he was in his kitchen, opening the fridge.
“I hoped you were out doing something fun,” he said so sincerely she almost felt bad for not answering earlier.
“What are you doing?”
“Just got home from dinner. I’ve got a skate in the morning, before the game.” He paused for a moment. “Are you coming?”
Nora sighed. She’d been independent for about ten minutes and she wanted to run all the way to his house. “I hate the Rangers, remember? I wouldn’t miss it.”
“I miss you,” he said seriously.
“I miss you too, Claude. Feels like a lot of nights apart,” she admitted.
“You could come over....”
She laughed. “And what, watch you sleep? Your coach already thinks I’m a double agent trying to sabotage you.”
“How about this? Tomorrow night, your place.”
Nora thought about Claude after a win, and Claude after a loss. She wanted to be there for whichever version of this man walked through her door. “Deal.”
“Deal,” he agreed. “Now I just have to make sure we beat them.”
In his kitchen, Claude smiled as he said goodnight to Nora. A little jealous that she was out doing her own thing, he was also very relieved. Hockey meant a lot of time away and he couldn’t be with a woman who needed his constant attention to keep her entertained. After five days with Genevieve he was already feeling the strain, and she was his best friend.
Claude refilled his water and padded through the house in his bare feet. If Nora wasn’t coming over then there was no reason to stay up. Genevieve’s door was closed so he assumed she was sleeping, but as he passed she called out quietly.
He stopped, turned the knob and realized the bedside lamp was on. Genevieve was in bed with the blankets pushed to one side and just the sheet over her. One long, slender leg hooked over the sheet, laying bare against the white. She sat up as he came in.
She motioned him over and Claude approached. Genevieve bent her knees and swung her feet around underneath. As she moved, the sheet fell away to reveal the rather thin fabric of her green tank top. It did little to cover her breasts. Then it was her panties, white with green edging. Claude had seen her in a bikini but this was different - this was personal, intimate, secret. Like any red-blooded guy, Claude’s testosterone surged at the sight of a scantily clad and beautiful woman moving around in bed. By the time his upstairs brain kicked in that he should stop, Genevieve was sitting on her heels with her arms out.
“Come here!” she insisted.
He stepped into the hug because that’s what they always did - they hugged. He even hugged his teammates, who were drenched in sweat and wearing moldy hockey gear. Surely this suggestive scene could still use a good hug? Claude put his arms around her as Genevieve was lifting to her knees. Her breasts pushed against him and slid slowly up his chest. She put her face against in the crook of his neck and leaned against him. His hands were clasped at the small of her back, along the bare skin just north of her panties. Claude stood very still.
“I’m sorry we fought today.” Her breath was warm, her lips nearly touching his skin.
“Me too,” he said automatically, his mind still processing what was happening.
Genevieve leaned back in his arms and tilted her face up. With almost no effort they could have kissed. In fact, Claude had never been in this situation with someone he wasn’t kissing - half-naked, in bed, full body contact. She shook her hair and the ends brushed his arms way down by her waist. Genevieve twined her fingers behind his neck and he couldn’t look at her without seeing down her top.
“I want you to be happy, Claude.”
“I am,” he repeated what he’d said all day.
She tilted her head and smiled slightly. “For now.”
Genevieve pressed her kiss to the corner of his lips, just barely on his cheek. It was so nearly a real kiss that Claude stepped back at once. Another sad smile ghosted across her face as he closed the door.