Soundtrack: I know there's a reason to change, I know there's a time for us. You think about the good times and you live with all the bad. You can feel it in the air, feeling right this time of year. – Better than Ezra, “This Time of Year”
Perfect summer days passed at Sidney’s house – barbeques, swimming, Ski-Doos. Kris woke up before Ginger most mornings, taking the cooler hours to work out with the guys. They ran or hit Crosby’s gym, challenged each other to contests swimming the width of the lake. Most afternoons Ginger, Dani and Vero put themselves in charge of snacks, carving watermelon and making smoothies. The nights stayed warm and clear.
“You’re bluffing,” Max said.
Ginger arched an eyebrow, her expression barely changing. “So bet.”
“There’s no way you have a third queen, and you can’t beat me without it.”
She drummed her fingers on the back of her cards, which lay face down on the table. “You seem pretty confident.”
“I am,” Max replied. “You’re bluffing and I’m willing to make this interesting. If I win, you have to strip, run to the lake and jump in naked.”
“Hey!” Kris stood up from the arm of the couch.
Max turned his cards down. “And if you win… name your price.”
Ginger smiled wickedly, like she’d been waiting all night for that. “If I win, we all strip and skinny dip.”
“Whooooooooooooooo!” Jordan shouted. Sidney blushed furiously and opened his mouth to protest. Ginger threw up a hand.
“INCLUDING Crosby. Or I’m not going!”
Jordan tried to pants Sid on the spot, but he was luckily wearing a belt. “Crosby, these are the only naked chicks I’m gonna see this month! Don’t you ruin it!” Sid relented, laughing. He held Dani in front of him like a shield.
Max looked seriously impressed. “I think I love you,” he said. “So let’s do this. I’ll call your bet, $50 bucks. Now let’s see ‘em.”
Max flipped his cards. He had tens over queens – one ten and one queen in his hand, one of each on the board. Ginger slowly smiled. She flipped up one of her cards: queen. Max hissed. He had a strong hand – she needed a jack, another queen or a nine-ten suited to beat him.
“Head start. Take your shirt off,” she said, tapping her last hidden card.
“No way, no freebies,” Max said, though he had absolutely no problem getting naked at any moment.
Ginger lifted the card to her face and spun it between her fingers: queen.
“Merde!” Max shouted, jumping up from the table. He ran around to Ginger’s side and grabbed her. “You had that up your sleeve! Take off your shirt so we can see where you hid it!” Ginger wiggled free, pulled her top off and threw it in Max’s face. With him temporarily slowed, she screamed and ran for the door.
They all barreled out of the house at full speed and top volume. Ginger jumped the stairs, unbuttoning her shorts as she hit the ground. She was less than two steps ahead of Jordan, who was covering ground like Usain Bolt. Ginger stutter-stepped out of her cutoffs.
“If you’re getting naked, I’m getting there first!” he yelled, shirt off and sandals flying. She turned halfway and tossed her bra at him. He was so surprised he almost stopped. Sidney flew past them both, shirtless and working on his mesh shorts.
“That’s what I’m talking about, Crosby, show us your best side!” Dani yelled from somewhere behind.
Ginger’s feet hit the planks of the dock at the same time as Jordan’s. Crosby was three steps ahead almost to the water. They screeched to a halt next to him, right at the end, and looked at each other.
“One, two, three!” Sid yelled. They all dropped their underwear and jumped into the lake.
Kris was two seconds behind them, followed by Max and then Dani. Flower and Vero reached the end of the dock, fully clothed.
“Cheaters!” Kris yelled, splashing up at them.
“In a few weeks, I have to see you guys naked all the time!” Marc ducked behind Vero as water flew in all directions. A wave hit her and she screamed. She emptied her pockets onto the dock, wrapped her arms around Marc and threw them both into the lake fully clothed.
“Get away from me, Staalsy! I know you’ve had a dry summer, but I am not that French!” Max shouted. Jordan threatened to head back first and lock them all out for the night.
Kris swam up behind Ginger and wrapped his arms around her. The lake was cold enough he had no problem keeping himself in control. But he did kiss her deeply.
“You are going to make Pittsburgh a lot more fun,” he said.
“Do you have a lake? We can do naked polar bear club!”
They lasted fifteen minutes in the water. Max and Jordan walked naked back to the house like they were out for a Sunday stroll. Ginger pulled her underwear and bra on before dashing past and slapping Jordan’s bare ass. Kris chased her right inside.
“Uh, I dropped my contact lens,” Dani yelled.
“Yeah, in the lake. We’re gonna look for it,” Sid helped.
“Then we’re eating all your ice cream!” Vero shot back.
Ginger changed into one of Kris’ t-shirts and a pair of shorts. Vero lined glasses up on the counter and Kris scooped coffee ice cream into each one. Ginger followed behind, filling each with root beer then topping them with whipped cream. Vero found straws and carried the drinks to the porch.
Jordan scooped whipped cream into his mouth with the end of the straw and looked at Ginger. “I saw you naked.”
“I saw you naked,” she said.
“I told my brothers.”
“I’m telling your mom.”
Ginger stood on the porch, watching the guys make their way down the road toward the house. At barely 8 AM the air was just beginning to heat up. It was time to head back to Montreal for the last two weeks of the summer – Ginger had to pack up her apartment, her roommates had found someone to take her place before school started. Most of the stuff she guessed would go to Kris’, since she didn’t know what he had or needed in Pittsburgh.
Need, she almost laughed. Kris makes $3.5 million a year. I don’t think he needs to borrow my toaster.
Dani came out and sat on the porch railing. “This is weird, eh?”
Ginger nodded, leaning against the post. “I’m nervous. Is that stupid?”
“No, you’re off to live in a fairy tale. If I didn’t know you and Kris were new, I’d think you’d been together as long as Marc and Vero. Don’t be scared, the guys will take good care of you.”
“I’ve never let anyone take care of me before, except my parents. It’s going to be weird, him spending money on me. It’s sweet, I know he means well, but I don’t want to take advantage of him.”
Dani swung her feet. “He thinks he’s taking advantage of you. Like he’s asked you to leave your whole life to be with him, which you can do because you’re normal. He’s not. He couldn’t leave the game, the team… he has no control. They have to do what they’re told. If you didn’t want to go, there would be nothing he could do about it. So really, Ginger, you have all the power.”
Ginger sat next to her. The guys were getting closer. “Did Kris tell you that?”
“Sid told me. He’s very… romantic. He likes the idea of something like that happening to him, but he’s too guarded.”
“What about you two?”
Dani shook her head. “Nah, not me. I mean, he’s great and gorgeous and we definitely have chemistry, but this is not a long-term thing. We talked about it last night. He called it a ‘game changer’ – that thing he’s looking for. When I didn’t beg and cry to be taken with him, I think he liked me even more.”
Ginger put her arm around her friends’ shoulders. “Your crazy summer with Sidney Crosby.”
“I prefer to think of it as his crazy summer with me,” Dani said.
The guys hit the lawn, walking around the cool off. Ginger tossed out a couple of water bottles. Sid came close, poured the bottle over his face so it drenched his already wet shirt, showing off his perfectly sculpted physique. Even Ginger couldn’t help but give a small gulp.
“Whatcha doing up so early?” he asked.
“Talking about how we missed our chance to have a threesome with you,” Ginger said.
Crosby spurted out a mouthful of water, so Max slapped him on the back. He came up sputtering. “You could always visit,” he told Dani.
“Eh,” she shrugged. “I’ll wait till Kris and Ginger come home for Christmas.”
“I’m coming home for Christmas!” Jordan volunteered.
Ginger shut the back of the Jeep. They hadn’t brought much stuff and were on the same plane as Max, Marc and Vero, so they piled everyone’s bags into one trunk. Dani was going home with Jordan. She did a final check around their room, then grabbed a soda from the kitchen. She couldn’t resist putting the few dirty glasses into the dishwasher when Sid came in from the garage.
“So, see you in the ‘Burgh?”
Ginger smiled and gave him a little nod. She didn’t want to leave, didn’t want summer to end. She didn’t want to rock a boat that had been sailing so perfectly. Sid reached out and wrapped her into a big hug. He was so strong, she suddenly felt like crying.
“You’re going to love it, I promise,” he said into her hair. “It’s not just you and Kris, it’s all of us. We won’t let anything bad happen.” He pulled back and held her face in his hands. She nodded, her eyes wet.
“I still kinda wish you were coming with me,” he said, with a big smile. That made Ginger laugh. She gave him a quick hug.
“Thanks Sid. You perv.”
Jordan leaned into the Jeep and honked the horn. Max and Vero were in the back, seat tilted forward to let her in. Marc and Kris would ride up front. Ginger hugged Dani goodbye, then Jordan.
“See you at home,” he called as she climbed into the car.
Kris pulled up to Ginger’s apartment building right from the airport. It was early and they wanted to get a feel for how much stuff they’d need to move. He followed her up to the third floor and into her life before him.
The living room was neat – three separate DVD collections on three separate bookshelves, slightly worn couches with soft throw blankets. Pictures hung in frames showing scenes of Montreal, New York and countless smiling faces. Her room was small but bright; she’d painted the walls yellow and strung flowers around her mirror. It looked like she’d left it just this morning: hairbrush on the dresser, one shoe sticking out from under the bed. Kris sat down on her red comforter.
“Not too much stuff,” she said, looking around. Her voice caught. Kris didn’t have to get up to reach out and pull her down. He pressed his face to her neck.
“We can take photos and put it back together exactly like this in Pittsburgh,” he said. Her laugh was a little gurgly with unspilled tears.
“It’s okay, Kris. I’m okay.”
“Whatever I can do to make this easy for you, please just tell me.”
Ginger brushed his hair back and kissed him lightly. “So far, you’re doing great.”
Over the next week, Kris helped Ginger sort books, movies and clothes. She packed her photos and shoes, left her ironing board and clothing rack. Every day they took a few boxes to Kris’ house, but most of what was in the house wouldn’t make the trip.
“Colleen!” Ginger called down the hall. One of her roommates stuck her head around the door. All the personal touches were gone, but the room still seemed full of furniture. “Whatever you want, it’s yours.”
Ginger had thought about putting her stuff in storage – furniture, etc. But that implied that she’d be back to living on her own someday. Neither of them liked that idea, and Kris had promised that if anything ever, ever happened and she wanted to leave, he would set her up again. She wanted to joke about moving in with Jordan, but instead she just kissed him.
When the last bag was stowed and her roommates had picked the place clean, Kris and Ginger dragged the leftovers to the sidewalk and had a little yard sale. They made $42 and at the end of the day the Salvation Army came for whatever remained. They locked the door for the last time and drove to Kris’ house. Inside, a huge bouquet of flowers was on the table. They were all shapes and sizes, bursting with color, contrasting with the dark, modern tones of Kris’ dining room.
“Welcome home!” he said after she was done squealing about their beauty. “Now this is officially your home, until we go. And when we come back.”
Ginger selected a rose from the vase and smelled it. “Thank you, Kris.” She leaned in to kiss him, but stuck the rose between his teeth. Then she took his hand and pulled him upstairs.
They went to Ginger’s favorite restaurant, a Thai place near her old apartment, for their last meal in Montreal. At a small table near the window they ate from each other’s plates. Outside, a light rain peppered the sidewalk as people dodged the drops. Ginger speared the last pot sticker and offered it to Kris.
She’d quizzed him about everything in Pittsburgh: favorite restaurants, bars, clubs, the library. He said she could buy books, but she insisted she liked the ultimate non-commitment of the library. They discussed where they’d eat, where Ginger could study, everything. When the waitress cleared their dishes, Kris put an envelope on the table.
“This is for you. Starting tomorrow, okay?”
Ginger looked at him sideways as she lifted the flap. Inside was a card with a little heart on the front and inside that was a credit card. In her name. She didn’t know what she’d been expecting. He’d told her she could under no circumstances pay rent or for anything in the house.
Kris held his breath. Please go okay, please go okay, he chanted in his head. He needed this because he had one more surprise for her. She looked at him evenly.
“Ginger, I want to take care of you,” he said, slipping his hand into her empty one. “This is just a little part of it.”
She exhaled. “Okay. But I’m buying my own clothes and stuff.” Kris knew better than to argue, he’d just have to find a way around that. So he smiled and leaned in for a kiss.
Whew, he thought.
It was 3 PM when they landed in Pittsburgh. Ginger held Kris’ hand and he kept his head down – he could get recognized here and was not equipped to handle it on such an important day. Sidney picked them up at the airport.
“You made it,” he said over his shoulder to Ginger.
“Almost home,” she smiled.
Sid drove thirty minutes as Ginger peered out the window at every house they passed. Big, small, dark, light – she couldn’t picture what Kris’ house would look like. She’d refused to see a photo, preferring instead to be surprised. They turned onto a side street, then into a driveway.
The house had a flagstone walkway to an arched front door. Pale brown brick covered the front of the building up to its gabled second floor and dark shingle roof. Windows lined the front, looking out onto a medium sized yard with a neat hedgerow. It was adorable in the East Coast style. Kris and Sid both looked at Ginger expectantly.
“I love it!” she squealed.
Sidney helped them dump their bags inside the front door, but declined their invitation to stay. When he was gone, Ginger raced around like she had at the lake house. She shouted from every room that she loved it. Kris just stood there and laughed, relieved by her enthusiasm. When she finally made it back to the entry way, Kris held out his hand. A Penguins keyring dangled from his finger.
“Thank you!” she tackled him in a hug.
“This one is the front door deadbolt, front doorknob, back door top and bottom,” he showed her each. There was a fifth key on the ring.
“Okay,” she nodded, trying to memorize the order.
“No,” he said. “Go in the garage.”
He followed her through the kitchen, happy to see the granite counters were clean and silver fixtures polished to a gleam. He’d been sure to have it cleaned before they arrived. Ginger unlocked the garage door and Kris covered her eyes from behind.
“One more surprise,” he said, then dropped his hands.
“Oh my God,” she gasped. A brand new, champagne colored Volkswagen Touareg sat in the first spot. The red bow on its windshield was courtesy of Crosby.
“Welcome to your real home,” Kris took her into his arms and kissed her mouth before she could protest.
Oh my God repeated in her head. She knew he didn’t want to hear her argue, and she couldn’t win anyway. Instead of that, she kissed him deeply. It worked – he was fooled to distraction. When he finally broke away, she started.
“You can’t give me a car!”
“Shhhh!” he kissed her again. “You have to get to school somehow! And it’s super safe – Jordan test drove it and Sidney went over all the specs. It’s like a team car, really. From all of us.”
“Except it’s from you,” she gave him a sarcastic look.
“Then I think you should start really thanking me,” he said.
Ginger wandered slowly around his bedroom. It was a lot like his room in Montreal, probably everything from a single catalog page. But this one was lived-in – two hockey sticks were propped in a corner, someone had carefully wound the cords on the Playstation controllers. The novel on the bedside table had a bookmark in the middle and a charging station on the desk had empty cords waiting. She ran her hands over the leather chair before sitting down on the navy blue duvet.
Kris watched as she took it all in. Ginger was here, finally, in the place he really thought of as home. The place he retreated to during the long, hard slog of the season; his sanctuary. Now she was here and she would be staying. Finally, he thought as he sat down next to her.
She flopped back on the bed then turned in as Kris did the same. They looked at each other in their new bedroom.
“Since the first moment I saw you, I’ve been trying to get you right here,” he said. “Since you handed me a bowl of chips and ran away.”
Her hand moved up his tattooed bicep. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here now.”
Kris tipped up onto his elbow, leaning over. Ginger tucked his hair behind his ear. He brushed his fingers over her throat and collarbone, her skin seeming to glow against the dark bedspread. When he met her eyes, they were smiling.
“I love you, Ginger,” he said.
“I love you, Kris,” she answered.
Instantly his heart felt a hundred times lighter, like she had filled it with helium and let go of the string. His mouth crashed down onto hers. The summer had been incredible, but it was always ending. Now it was over and she was still here. She was still his.
Ginger pulled him on top of her. She could have laughed, or cried, or screamed. This was her life now and she refused to be scared about it, refused to think of anything but how much had changed in one summer. She pulled his shirt over his head as he worked at her shorts. The same smooth skin, darker from the sun, ran beneath her fingertips. The same muscles flexed in response to her touch. His belt came undone easily, as if eager not to get in their way.
Kris felt suddenly impatient. He loved her, he’d told her, and now he wanted to show her. He kicked his shorts away as she struggled out of her top. When Ginger’s knees bent over the back of his and her hands met his shaft, wanting to guide him inside her, he had the same thought again. Finally.
Ginger marveled that Kris could feel new to her after the summer they’d had. Maybe it was that everything else was new now, and Kris was the foundation instead of the question. Whatever the reason, she gasped as he moved into her, felt her own wetness coat them. Her fingers raked his silky hair, bringing his lips to her neck. He thrust hard and she cried out, almost a sob, as her back arched. Everything was speeding – he was extremely hard and she was already trembling. Kris caught her nipple between his teeth, nipping softly as she pawed at the back of his thighs. He wanted this to be slow and sweet, to christen their new home, but he should have known better. They wanted each other, wanted this, too much.
“Ginger,” he panted. He was already so close, lifting his hips as he thrust, bringing her ass clear off the bed. On his upswing, she moaned half a scream. Before he could stroke fully again, she folded her head into his chest and growled as her body tried to break itself apart on the end of his cock. She gripped the blanket, grinding against him, until it broke and rolled across her body like thunder. He lay close, moving steadily and felt the orgasm flood her system. Her momentum released him and he plunged deep as he spilled inside her, burrowing his energy, his desire into her hot core. He breathed her name.
Ginger kissed Kris’ exhausted lips. A sigh escaped her, helped by the weight of Kris’ body lying across her, as she thought that so long as they had each other, they’d always be okay. She could do the rest, she would do it. She’d even welcome to tough times, if it meant she got to be with him always.
“I love you,” she whispered again.
Kris watched the light catch her hair, deepening until it was the color of fallen, russet leaves. If she were the last woman who ever came here, who ever held him, he would be happy. He would be lucky.
“I love you too, Ginger.”