Oh my God. Who am I? Is this the Upside Down? Because since when do I pass up the opportunity to mock Mike Hollis?
“Did you not like any of her ideas?” I ask carefully.
He stares at me. “I didn’t even let her start brainstorming. Who makes a list of nicknames and sits around voting on them like fucking American Idol? I told her it was crazy and that she was crazy and then I suggested that maybe her nickname should be ‘crazy’ and she lost her shit and stormed out. And then she texted me later to say she can’t be with somebody who isn’t, and I quote, all in.”
“She has a point. It’s hard to be in a relationship when both people aren’t all in.” I shrug. “Also, I don’t blame her for bailing. Who wants to be called crazy all the time? It’s bound to give someone a complex.”
“She already has a complex. It’s called insanity.”
“Hollis,” I chide.
He’s suitably shame-faced.
“I bet you’ve called her crazy more times than you’ve said you liked her. Actually, I bet you’ve never even said the words, ‘I like you.’ Have you?” I challenge.
“Be honest—do you want to keep dating this girl?”
After a very long, embarrassed silence, he nods.
“Okay. Then give me your phone.”
Despite the misgiving in his eyes, he hands it over. I scroll through his contacts until I find Rupi’s name—with the heart-eyes emoji beside it. She picks up on the first ring, which tells me not all hope is lost.
“What do you want, Mike?” She doesn’t sound like her usual chirpy self.
“Hey, Rupi. It’s Brenna.”
“Brenna? Why do you have Mike’s phone?”
“I’m putting you on speaker, okay? Hollis is here beside me. Say hello, Hollis.”
“Hello,” he mutters.
“Anyway, we were having a little chat,” I go on, “and Hollis has something he wants to say to you.”
“What is it?” she asks warily.
“Hollis?” I prompt.
He doesn’t speak.
“Okay, then I’ll say it. Hollis likes you, Rupi. He pretends he doesn’t, but deep down he does. He pretends he doesn’t like all the arguing, but deep down he’s all about the drama-llama. His favorite show is Keeping Up with the Kardashians, for Pete’s sake.”
Hunter snickers from the armchair and takes a sip of his beer.
“Yeah, but his favorite Kardashian is Khloe,” Ruby says darkly. “Everybody knows that Kourtney is the best one.”
“Kourtney doesn’t even make the top three,” Mike grumbles at the phone.
“See! That’s why it can’t work!”
“Nah,” I disagree. “That’s why it will work. You don’t want to be with someone who’s exactly like you. You want someone who challenges you, who inspires you to open up when you’ve been closed off your entire life—” My voice cracks. Oh no. I’m thinking about Jake again, and I notice Hollis shooting me a strange look. I ignore it and keep talking to his stalker. I mean, girlfriend. “Listen, I know he’s always calling you crazy, but coming from him, that’s actually a compliment.”
Hunter snickers again.
“Explain yourself,” Rupi orders.
“Have you met him? He’s crazy. And from the sounds of it, his family’s crazy, too.”
“Hey!” Hollis protests. “I wish you wouldn’t bring my family into this.”
“If wishes were horses we’d all be equestrians,” I say smugly, and that shuts him right up. “So really, Rupi, when he calls you that, it’s because he’s recognizing a kindred spirit.” I wink at Mike. “He sees his soul mate.”
A breathy gasp floats out of the phone. “Is that true, Mike?”
He scowls at me, slashing one finger across his throat to signal that he’s going to kill me for throwing out the term “soul mate.” But after the Kardashian snafu, I had to bring out the big guns.
“Mike?” Rupi says.
“It’s true,” he mumbles. “I like you, okay? I don’t think you’re crazy. I think you’re awesome.”
“Then why don’t you want to give each other cute nicknames?” she demands.
“Because it’s so—”
I shake my head in warning.
“—important,” he finishes, saving himself. “It’s a huge step forward in the relationship.”
I’m worried that Hunter might die laughing. He presses his face to his forearm to muffle the sounds.
“But fine,” Hollis says. “If you want to come up with nicknames, we’ll come up with nicknames. My first suggestion is ‘kitten.’”
“Kitten!” Hunter howls.
“I don’t know if I like that one for me,” Rupi says slowly.
“No, it would be for me. I also think—actually, wait, I’m taking you off speakerphone.” He taps his phone and brings it to his ear. “I’m going upstairs. Brenna and Hunter don’t get a say in the nickname conversation.” As he nears the doorway, he suddenly stops. He glances at me over his shoulder and mouths, Thank you.
My heart actually melts a little. For Hollis. Imagine that.
I smile graciously. Once he’s out of the room, I turn to Hunter and say, “My work here is done.”
He grins. “Solid job you did there.”
I study him. “You seem to be in a pretty good mood, considering, you know…” I nod toward his cast. “And you don’t seem pissed at me at all.”
“I was never pissed at you.”
“You sent me a nasty text about thanking my boyfriend for you,” I remind him.
“Yeah, the day after that jackass Hemley broke my wrist. I was still smarting over everything that went down during the game, and you were an easy target.”
He shrugs. “And I was indirectly pissed at Connelly. But…truthfully, he didn’t do anything wrong. He tried his best to break up the fight.” Another shrug. “That said, I still think if Nate and I were playing that night, we’d be the ones facing Michigan this weekend.”
“I think so, too.” I release a glum breath. “We were in the lead for most of the first period, until you guys left the game. We had it.”
“We had it,” he echoes, before taking a hasty sip of his beer. “And then we lost it because of me.”
“Bullshit. You didn’t get injured on purpose.”
“No, but my off-the-ice behavior cost us the game. I spent the last couple months banging my way through campus. And then when that got boring, I started hitting the bars in Boston and picking up strangers, and look what happened.” He groans. “Apparently Violet was aiming to get back at Hemley because they got in some fight. She knew who I was when we met.”
“Really?” I gasp.
“Oh yeah. And the first thing she did after I left was call him to taunt him about it. So the moment Hemley got on the ice during the finals, he started questioning me, and, well, you know the rest.”
Hunter shakes his head in disgust. It’s clearly self-directed, though.
“I never used to be like that. I hooked up, sure, but I didn’t make it my mission in life to sleep with any chick that crossed my path. I lost my head, became a ‘pussy posse of one,’ as Hollis likes to call it.” He offers a dry grin. “I need to clean up my act, get my shit together. I want to take the team to the Frozen Four next season. Nate’s graduating, and I don’t know if Coach will be choosing the next captain, or if the guys will vote on it, or what. But I want it to be me.”
I whistle. “That’s a lofty goal.”
“I know. And I plan on working hard to reach it. So…no more fucking around. Literally.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m taking a vow of celibacy.”
A gust of laughter flies out. “Um. That’s never going to happen. I give you one week, tops.”
“You think I can’t keep it in my pants longer than a week?” He looks mildly insulted.
“You’re a twenty-year-old hockey player. No, I don’t think you can keep it in your pants longer than a week.”
Hunter smirks. “Alright, then. Guess I’ll just have to prove you wrong.”
Dad, who’s cooking breakfast for us at the stove, turns sharply to look at me. It’s Saturday morning, and my phone screen is currently displaying the most shockingly unexpected news since that Toronto player Ryan Wesley announced to the world he was gay.
“Everything okay?” Dad barks.
“Holy shit,” I repeat as I reread the message. “Tansy got engaged.”
He blinks. “Your cousin, Tansy?”
“Lamar, that basketball player she’s constantly breaking up with. According to this, he got down on one knee at a nightclub last night and popped the question. He had a ring and everything.” I flip the phone around so Dad can see the picture she sent. The diamond on her finger isn’t enormous, but it’s much bigger than I’d expect from a college student’s budget.
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