The rink seems to be on the cusp of being invaded, still as it is, as though suspended among the joyous roaring of his teammates shooting to their feet—regardless of their having played until the buzzer had gone off—the echoing crowd and the remnants of adrenaline still spiking within all of them. It’s maddening; in fact it nearly makes him dizzy.
Even immersed as he is in this particular atmosphere, savouring it before it comes undone, his name reaches his ears. “Connelly,” a voice drawls. As familiar as the ice beneath him. “As hard as it is for me to say,” she softens, and he turns just in time to catch the smile that bends her lips. The red around it sends his heart into a gallop. It’s my armour, she always says. “That was one hell of a game.”
He smiles. Clears his throat. “Come around to that, have you?”
Brenna rolls her eyes. “I know hockey. And that,” her arms cross over her chest, “was a well played game, if I do say so myself. Anything else to add, Captain?”
If he grins any wider, his face might crack in half. “I’ll take that, Hottie.”
Walking off the ice, adrenaline somewhat subdued, the smile seems to have been carved into his skin and limbs as one thought drifts away from the post game jumble that has taken residence in his brain. Maybe, it says, some red should go up on the bracelet, too.
“Pizza,” he repeats, as if unconvinced. “That’s your grand idea—you, me, your friends,” by friends he obviously means Summer (who’s clearly trying to pry details out of them both; she’s been like that since they were—exposed. Jeez, that sounds ominous; thanks, Coach Pedersen) Fitzy, Hollis—maybe Nate. “And a pizza?”
“Brooks got scrabble,” she reminds him. Her hands idle on his torso, tracing all kinds of undefined shapes. “And there’s no way anyone else will lay eyes on me butchering bowling.”
He wraps a strand of hair around his finger and tugs—lightly. “You do know Summer will try and interrogate us, right, Jensen?”
“I’ve avoided that long enough.” Her eyes gleam. “Doing it alone, though? No way in hell, Jakey. You’ve never seen Summer when she’s curious about something—she’s relentless.”
“Hmm.” His hand curls along her cheek, a thoughtful kiss to her brow in tow. “Reminds of someone else I know, honestly.”
She pinches him in the bicep. “Ow—Hottie. That isn’t fair,” he pouts. And flicks them, the cad. She’s about to snark back, but the aforementioned cad is staring. When he stares concentrating can become... complicated, if he is far enough. This close? It’s like asking her to watch Ed Mulder spew idiocy and not have her brain catch fire in the process. Yes—a mouthful that stands for im-fucking-possible, thank you very much.
“And you weren’t very nice, either,” she retorts, the smile on her lips hidden as she raises enough to kiss the curve of his throat.
A hand grips her hair, his breath hitching and blowing some backwards as he moans, “call it even if I promise to answer the most of what she asks?”
His head lowers and their noses bump, his mouth on the way to her ear. It stops there, stilling; warmth radiating as circles in the water would follow a pebble. “How about,” his fingers trace the side of her neck before he starts kissing his way down—oh-so-slowly. “You take the pizza and I take the Q&A?”
She shakes her head. “We split both—I have a daily snark quota to fill.”
He stills, grinning. “Far be it from me to interfere with your health, Jensen.”
He kisses her, still grinning. “And I happen to love your snark.”
Her heart doesn’t flutter; no, it damn near soars its way out of her rib cage, the sneaky piece of muscle.
“Why exactly,” moans Hunter (do he and Hollis have a schedule or something?) bleakly, “are we doing this?”
“Uh,” Fitzy ventures, mock torn. “Common decency might be involved?”
“Nope,” Hollis shuts it down—expectable.
“You guys are really taking pizza out of the equation,” Nate notes. He sounds disappointed. “As in, food heaven—” Summer nudges him. “And of course, the company. Duh.”
“You’re doing this,” Brenna says, as though it’s the one-hundredth time while still trying to muster up some patience, digging her elbows into the table, “because this is a public place and Summer would ask the most embarrassing things right here nonetheless.”
“Hey,” her friend pipes up, “I did play a part in how you two met, didn’t I?”
Okay, she has a point.
“Still,” Brenna doesn’t budge. She has built a tolerance to Summer’s prying techniques—yes; even her puppy dog routine—“Let’s try to keep things...PG.”
From the other end of the table, Hunter mock-gasps. “Who are you and what have you done to Brenna Jensen?”
“When your ears start ringing, Davenport, don’t come crying to me,” she warns then, but she is smiling already. Whoops.
“So,” Summer prods; her attention split between focusing on her and Jake, who’s sitting beside her in a non-college hoodie, and on the pizza slice she’s folding. “First kiss: when, where, how?”
Her boyfriend—weird heart dance taking place right in her chest cavity: check—smirks. “As a ruse or for real?” he counters.
Summer taps her free hand on the table. “Connelly,” she complains mildly. Then, more firmly, she adds, “spill. She’s been a vault.”
“Alright, alright,” he relents. She pursues her lips. Careful. “It happened at a bar, after Mulder from HockeyNet acted like an ass at a dinner he hosted. Someone,” he nudges her on the shoulder. “Was pissed, so she ended up revenge-drinking the same drink he had offered men there...”
“At a bar you convinced me to hit,” she reminds. The memory still both stings—fuck you, Mulder is still a fav anti-frustration scream; she’ll admit as much—and makes her pulse quicken, ‘cause the boy can kiss, alright.
“Yeah, babe,” he reiterates, light even as he rubs her arm. He knows how much she’d stoked on that job. “Given that you were pretty close to setting his house on fire, you know. Or punching him, I can’t pick.”
“Fair enough. But—wait—putting a fiery show in public was a viable door number two?”
“I was involved—fiery is fact, Jakey.”
Her heart thumps as his gaze fixes on her. Deep, deep, hungry green.
A throat is cleared. “And?”
“And he was smitten,” Brenna declares. “Fact #2—and Bubble Butt’s car had a front-row seat to that.”
“Backseat, actually,” he clarifies.
“I—I can’t hear this.” Fitzy looks a little uncomfortable. “I’ll have to look at your dad, for the love of Wi-Fi.”
“I’m afraid to ask,” Nate ventures, “but—Bubble Butt?”
Jake gives her a look. “Nah, Jensen, don’t look at me. This one’s all yours.”
“Brooks—because of his butt locks,” she says, cheeky. “And that almost beats our coach run-in.”
Summer almost gapes. “Your dad? Oh, God.”
“Not even close—“
“As I remember it, we nearly had a run-in at his place, Bren.”
She turns enough to mock-glare. “Hush, Connelly.” She mutters, “Wrong story; anyway—he was caught with his face resting in between my breasts on campus, by none other than Pedersen himself,” she reveals, barely blushing. Now, that is.
Summer is hysterical, laughing so much that she’s teary-eyed “How in the hell did that happen?”
“Eh, Mr Connelly is touchy, lads. Very touchy.”
“For you?”His eyes are shining; he has something in mind. “I’m actually a lot more than touchy, babe. I’m hor—”
Nate blanches, pushing back his pizza. “I’m trying to eat, here. Damn,” he grumbles.
Jake ducks his head in the curve of her neck. “whoops. Sorry, Rhodes. Didn’t mean to do that.”
Nate waves a hand. “Yeah, yeah; whatever.” Yep, this wasn’t her best idea, but it definitely beats gang bowling. Her nearly fixed grin seems to agree as well. Crisis semi averted.
She’s been on the inside of a packed rink, before. It’s easy to let the mood carry you away, even before the puck hits the ice and it feels like your entire body is waiting for the peak of action, to either cheer or curse or boo or whistle until your throat becomes raw with one of the alternatives.
Usually, she can’t wait to be plunged into the madness that comes with a game and kind of picture herself as though she were chronicling already—to be prepared when the time comes. Being prepared to face whatever music it is she might face head on isn’t something she knew how to do one day after a nap; it’s a skill that solidified, time after time.
Tonight, though, is a peculiar little story; one that even Brenna Jensen wouldn’t have been able to foresee a while ago. In truth, someone might have had a clue—yay Summer, she guesses—but she had been dead set on filing her friend’s notion under delirious idea, because—Harvard? Her? Tsk.
But—she’s digressing. Ugh, it’s the nerves. Brenna, she wishes she could shake herself. And maybe that’s what this tapping noise is, she realises. Her foot.
She takes a deep breath. Focus, she imposes herself Tonight. Harvard vs Princeton—again. She had joked about this Romeo and Juliet resemblance, but it looks like she hadn’t been that far off, because here she is—again, part two—on the rink side, cheering Harvard on of all teams.
The gleam in Summer’s eyes when she had put two and two together flashes through her mind. She had lit up so much she could have put a Christmas three to shame. “Oooh, I see where your head just went, Bee. My brother might throw a fit if he finds out, but I’m down to help.”
How Dean DiLaurentis could become aware of his sister helping with the purchase of a hockey jersey—a Harvard hockey jersey, but still a simple freaking jersey—remains a mystery.
Note to self: once you’re calmer, do ask. She has a feeling Summer might use her own picture as a visual description of the term loose-lipped around Dean more so than Fitzy.
Back to what she’s currently digging her fingers into. To be precise—and she is—she’s torturing the hem of Jake’s jersey at the moment. Such behaviour has three reasons: 1) She has never done this before, not even for Briar—the biggest she’s ever gone for, even for her own team, was a scarf; 2) It’s a Harvard Jersey(!!!); 3) He has no clue. Absolutely none—zero, zilch; not a crumb.
She grins at the thought of him spotting her like this—and then she freezes. Not the best time, in the middle of a game. Or before, given that she is related to someone who has seen dozens of rituals—and wisely intruded on none, she hears her dad grumble in her ear. Which explains why she feels like she is standing on the very edge of a cliff, bit of rock tumbling down and down towards the void and all that.
She breaths out slowly. Time will tell, huh. Or in her case, the puck and the buzzer will.
The game is tense, even for hockey. Both teams have a lot at stake—the same lot and then some, given how deeply the latest round must be etched in most of the brains from Princeton. And how fresh the sting might feel.
She flicks her gaze towards the timer—it reads, 5:02 minutes to go. Further down, the score glares—equally stark against the black board—1-1.
Her teeth grit down, pressing on her lip; her hand almost fists around the rail. She had to lean forward—the stillness was beginning to drive her crazy.
Come on, come on, come on. Come. On. Who the hell taught you guys—Scrounge McDuck?
As if on cue, she spots Bubble Butt—he started it and now it’s stuck in her head—advancing with the puck. On and on he skates—has she mentioned, come on, Brooks. Move it.
The puck swishes away from him towards Jake, who finds himself facing Swanson, and—damn, if the guy doesn’t hold his ground well enough.
Time clicks down—2:00—and the guy is still skating close to Jake’s heels. Daaamn. The net is closer and closer, its fabric strangely still. It’s almost as though the rink itself were pausing, waiting.
The little two has morphed into an accusatory one by the time Connelly is the only player facing the goalie, and her heart thumps, furious and anxious and kicking into an unknown rhythm.
He angles the stick, almost as if to nudge the puck, and takes the shot.
For a while it feels as though seconds have become hours, but a blink later the score reads 2-1 for Harvard in dark red.
Brenna shoots to her feet, the jersey bouncing upward; her voice almost hoarse with the roar of cheering. The team has flooded into the rink, and they’ve lifted Jake and Brooks onto their shoulders, glee erupting like a volcano.
This win was important—every win is—because the final is pretty close. Getting there with even the smallest doubt would’ve mentally kicked them in the nuts.
He’s barely touched the ice again when he spots her. The white twenty-two a dead giveaway on her stomach. His gaze sparks, fixed as it is, as he makes his way towards her, beneath the rails.
He smiles and she feels herself smile back. “So,” he drawls, a little ragged. “Is this why you weren’t picking your phone, Jensen?”
“Possibly,” she counters. “And I am rocking it if I do say so myself.”
“Don’t you always say red is your armour?” he smirks. “Yet another proof, huh?”
The kiss that follows—her on her tip toes; him leaning as forward as he can—has a few heads turning. They’re both still running on adrenaline; both excited, because it’s hockey plus one another—and a beginning with no expiration date in sight.