Pucked Page 74

We make our way up a narrow flight of stairs to the third floor. It’s an awesome room if you’re an eighteen-year-old boy. It looks like nothing has changed since Alex moved out. The ceilings are high and angled, and large windows frame either end of the wide space. Hockey paraphernalia hangs everywhere, and posters from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition have the prime spot above his bed.

Alex drops our bags on the floor beside his double bed and pulls out his laptop.

“What are you doing?”

“Checking for the article Sunny was talking about.” He clicks furiously for a few seconds. His brow furrows as he scans the screen.

I sit down and read with him. Very little of the article has to do with the fight, the mystery of the locker room is much more interesting. There’s nothing concrete in the article. It’s speculation apart from a few grainy photos of Alex smuggling me out of the arena’s emergency exit and a few more of him ushering me onto the bus. My face isn’t visible.

He heaves a sigh of relief and squeezes the back of my neck. “No one will recognize you.”

“That’s good. What about Buck and Sunny? Do you think there will be pictures of them, too?”

Loads of pictures flood the screen when he puts their names into the search bar together. “Shit. This isn’t good. Buck better watch himself.”

They’re all pretty harmless as far as I can tell. Nothing like the ones of Alex and me mouth fucking.

“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think Buck has ever done the whole ‘brunch with parents’ thing.”

“He’s probably doing it to get back at me.”

”Maybe they genuinely like each other.”

“If he does anything to hurt Sunny, I’m going to kick his ass.”

“Totally reasonable. I’ll even help.” I really hope it isn’t something I’ll have to follow through on. I change the topic, not wanting this to ruin the rest of our day. Honestly, I would feel the same way if I were Alex.

“Why don’t we go out? You said you were going to show me around Guelph. I’d love to see where the Hobbits live.”

Alex takes me to The University of Guelph, where there are no Hobbits. Spread over the expanse of a square mile, the campus is a stunning fusion of old architecture and modern design. He even takes me to the hockey rink where he was scouted for the NHL. I try to imagine what it would've been like to be offered millions of dollars a year to play a game with blades on my feet barely out of high school.

Every time Alex runs into someone he knows—which is often—he introduces me as his girlfriend. It’s sweet. No one takes photos or asks for his autograph. They treat him like a normal person. It’s a refreshing change from the scene after the games. Especially considering the whole locker room debacle.

“I’d like to take you out to meet some of my friends tonight, if that’s okay,” Alex says once we’re back in the car.

“Sure, that sounds great.” This is big. Family is huge, but friends are the ones you end up hanging out with.

We head back to his parents' to freshen up after our little adventure. Alex won’t tell me anything about our plans. All I know is that I should dress casually and we’re having dinner with whoever we’re meeting up with. He’s being too vague. These are the kinds of surprises I don’t like.

I have an idea. I’m not above using methods of half-naked persuasion to get the intel I need. Excusing myself to the bathroom, I strip down to my undershirt and underwear.

Alex is sitting in a pint-sized computer chair with his back to me, talking on his Bluetooth when I come out. I’m definitely going to make fun of him later.

“Publicity spots? The timing's pretty inconvenient.” He taps restlessly on the desk. “Yeah. I know. You didn’t hear the shit he was spewing—Fine. I get it. I’ll keep my temper in check.”

Alex cracks his neck. Clearly he’s unhappy with whoever he’s speaking with.

“It’s all conjecture. There aren’t any pictures from last night. It was only the two of us—” He swivels in his chair. “Hearing and seeing aren’t the same. Just email the questions and tell me what you want me to say.” He pauses. “Why would I need to tell you about her? It’s pretty self-evident, isn’t it? What? Why would I do that?” Alex clicks the mouse in his left hand, opening an email attachment. I recognize the picture from the other night. The one of Alex and me where my face is obscured. “So what? How would that impact either endorsement?” Another long pause ensues. “What’s a couple of weeks matter?”

They’re talking about me in relation to endorsements. It makes me uneasy, especially with how agitated Alex has become.

“That’s not fair. You should’ve said something long before now if this was going to be an issue. It’s not like I tried to keep it a secret. Motherf—No. Yeah. I get it.” He runs his hand through his hair. “I know it’s good exposure, but—yeah. The money isn’t the issue . . . Well, what the fuck am I supposed to tell—”

I take a step backward, rethinking my plan. The floor creaks under my foot, and Alex swivels in his chair.

“I don’t like—” His jaw drops. “I gotta go. I’ll call you on Monday.”

He takes off the headset and drops it on his desk. He misses, so it lands on the floor.

“Who was that?” I finger the hem of my tank.

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