This is my submission to the Valentine's Day contest, and the first piece of writing I've ever completed since college. There are hockey elements to it, and some parts that may be considered corny, but it's romance, right? Sometimes it's cheesy. Enjoy!
Casey removed her hat and shook the snowflakes from her strawberry blonde curls as she stepped into the dimly lit bar.
"Fuck, it's freezing!" she yelled out as she went about unfurling her scarf and stripping off her coat to reveal her Avalanche jersey. She smiled and waved to the regulars that were littering the bar as they cheered her apparel.
"Then move back South!" her boss Mac jokingly called out from the storeroom.
Casey laughed in response. It was a familiar exchange, one they had daily for the last three winters since she started working at the Wunderbar. "Fuck that, it's too hot!"
The Wunderbar was in the middle of LoDo and near the Pepsi Center, but it was such a hole-in-the-wall that they rarely got new patrons. Casey worked there nearly every night. She was so far away from her real family that Mac and the regulars made the little bar feel like home.
Mac's hearty laugh reached Casey's ears above the others. She scuttled around the bar and stuffed her coat in the back office. A resounding crash immediately followed, and Casey's heart jumped as she ran the short distance to the storeroom.
Casey struggled not to laugh as she found her boss on the floor, covered in heaps of red, pink, and white decorations with a look of utter shock on his face. She somehow managed to pull him to his feet before the giggles started.
"Oh shut up and help," Mac muttered as Casey's laughs continued. She could only manage a nod in response, but did assist him in getting the lurid decorations back in their box.
"Tell me we're not decorating for Valentine's Day again this year, Mac," Casey pleaded.
"I would, but I hate lying to you," he said as his eyes twinkled.
"Dammit Mac, the customers hate that shit! I hate that shit!" came Casey's irritated response. She heard a few of the regulars murmuring in agreement from their stools, though none of them spoke up. "This is a sports bar for God's sake!"
Mac just laughed and shrugged. "The old lady likes them. Put 'em up, Case."
Casey growled and begrudgingly took the overflowing box from her boss' hands before he retreated to the office. After refilling a few beers and turning on the pre-game show for the Canucks-Wild game, she started hanging garlands and spreading confetti. She rushed through her work, anxious for the game to start. Playoffs were still a couple of months away, but every point the Wild could keep the Canucks from amassing was nothing but good for her beloved Avs. The Avalanche and the Canucks had been switching places for top spot in their division for weeks.
She was so preoccupied in quickly getting the decorations up that she didn't even hear the door open. It was only when she heard voices and felt a rush of cold air that she realized they had more customers.
"Are you sure this is a sports bar?" one voice queried above the rest.
Casey laughed, unable to help herself as she continued working on one particularly irritating string of pink lights. "Did you hear that, Mac?" she yelled.
"Fuck off, Casey!" his voice echoed through the office door in response, setting off another round of laughter.
"I'll be with you guys in a sec!" she called to the still unseen customers. "Fuck!" she cried to no one in particular as one corner was just beyond her reach, even standing on a chair. Casey abandoned the lights and threw her hands in the air in frustration before jumping down to the floor.
"What can I get you guys?" she called as she turned around and looked toward the front door. Casey briefly registered a few familiar faces before she promptly fainted.
When Jason first stepped into the Wunderbar with his teammates, he wondered if they had the right place. It looked like Cupid had exploded, covering every available surface with pink and white.
"Are you sure this is a sports bar?" he asked Kellan as they all huddled into the entry. He was the one who suggested going out to watch the game in the first place.
"Did you hear that, Mac?" a woman yelled out. That was when he registered a strawberry blonde hanging up decorations in the corner, her cute little ass just peeking out from underneath an Avs jersey. It took him a moment to realize it was his old one, before he had given up his number to Stratton so he could honor his father. Jason smiled, feeling a little flattered. He was a defensemen, and a damn good one too, but rarely got the same amount of press and fans as Stratton and other forwards.
He couldn't help but watch her continue to try to reach the corner furthest from her, mesmerized by her movements. Jason wasn't paying attention to the rest of the talk or laughter surrounding him; he was content just watching the woman continue to try to extend her arm out far enough to hang the ugly decorations.
He was about to offer her help when she threw up her arms in apparent frustration and hopped down from the chair in one swift movement. Jason saw her lips move but didn't hear a thing she said as he was struck speechless by her face. Holy shit she was beautiful.
He had just taken in her sparkling hazel eyes and pouty lips when Jason saw her collapse.
Thank God for his quick reflexes, because he barely cradled her head before it hit the floor. Jason heard somebody yell out for Mac, but he was more preoccupied with propping up the girl's dead weight against his chest so she wouldn't have to lay on the dirty ground.
An older man approached them with washcloth in hand. "What happened?" he asked, his forehead creased with concern. The man started gingerly pressing the towel to the woman's face and she started to stir.
"She just fainted," was Jason's response.
The man nodded and continued his work with the washcloth as the woman stayed cradled against Jason's chest. Jason watched in fascination as her eyelids fluttered open, revealing her beautiful eyes again.
"Good morning sunshine," the man with the towel teased.
"What the fuck happened, Mac?" she groaned.
"You fainted, genius," came his response as he stood up, satisfied that she was okay for now. "You alright? Do you want to go home?" he offered. The woman immediately shook her head no. "Then thank your knight in shining armor with some free drinks, huh?"
They both watched as Mac threw the towel on the bar and went back into the office.
Jason turned his gaze back to the woman as she started to realize that she wasn't lying on the floor, but rather in his arms.
"Oh, God," she mumbled as she immediately flushed with embarrassment.
"Jason will do," he responded as he grinned at her. The woman scrambled up and out of his arms.
"You're Jason LeBlanc," she almost accused as she stood up. She looked over to his teammates and flushed. "And you're Kellan Quaid and Rory O'Brian!" Jason watched his teammates smile and wave at her. "Pinch me?" she squeaked and the bar swelled with laughter.
"I would, but I don't think you'd appreciate where," Jason teased in an undertone as he raised an eyebrow. He watched the woman blush again and felt some blood rushing to his groin. Holy shit.
"What can I get you guys?" she offered as she scrambled behind the bar, seeming desperate to create some space between the two of them.
Jason and the other guys ordered their drinks and sat in a booth along the wall. He couldn't help but watch her move as she poured their drinks, mesmerized. Only a few minutes later she was handing them full glasses. But right as Jason was going to start talking to her again, she scurried back to the bar, flushed. Jason smiled to himself. She couldn't dodge him all night.
Casey was beyond mortified. Why did she have to faint in front of three of her favorite defensemen? She felt Jason LeBlanc's eyes following her as she continued putting up lights, probably waiting to see if she would faint again. Any other day, she may have sat to talk with the players, discussed their playoff chances, rehashed their last game, or complimented their brutal hits. But no, she had to go and fucking faint. Casey would have buried her face in her hands if they weren't full of those stupid Valentine's Day decorations.
And so she busied herself around the little bar, trying to avoid any eye contact or eavesdropping on their conversation. Finally the box of red and pink was empty, and Casey could retreat back to the safety of her bar to watch the game.
She knocked on the office door to alert Mac that the puck was about to drop and silently replaced the hockey players' empty drinks with full glasses, avoiding their eyes as she did. Still she felt the weight of LeBlanc's stare as she settled in behind the bar for the first period.
The Wild won the initial face-off and Casey felt herself relax a little. This was familiar territory. Everything faded to the background as she immersed herself in the game, screaming at the refs for bad calls, loudly berating the players for fumbled passes and missed power play opportunities. It was quickly becoming a defensive game with few shots on goal; as a result, the score was 0-0 going into the first intermission.
Reality returned and Casey made her rounds at the bar, pouring beer and mixing drinks for her regulars before eyeing the Avs in the booth. She sighed at their near empty glasses and went over to serve them another round.
"If you're that hard on the Wild, I'd hate to hear you when we play," Kellan Quaid teased as she set their drinks on the table. Casey laughed, unable to help herself.
"Well, it hasn't been that bad lately," came her retort before she could process what she was saying. The guys all laughed along with her as Casey's cheeks turned pink. She avoided LeBlanc's stare but couldn't help but register him reaching back for his wallet. "On the house, boys," she threw over her shoulder as she returned to the bar.
Casey heard Jason say 'boys?' and laughed all the way back to her stool.
Jason was smitten, there was no other word for it. He had tried to focus on the game, but he kept having his attention diverted by the woman's yells at the TV. Jason would have been irritated if she wasn't so sharp. Every exclamation was spot on and more often than not echoed his own thoughts.
As the game wore on, he found himself focusing less on the TV and more on the girl. He loved the way her cheeks flushed when she egged on a fight, how she would let out a little 'oof' every time someone was slammed into the boards. And when the Wild scored and she jumped up and raised her arms in celebration, he even caught a peek of her pale stomach. She gave off an aura of a tomboy, just one of the guys. And she was all the sexier for it. The fact that she was wearing his jersey was just the cherry on top.
"You going to actually watch the game, LeBlanc?" O'Brian snickered as he elbowed Jason's side. Jason responded with an unapologetic grin and a shrug.
"You guys doing okay?" the girl's voice lilted as she came over during a commercial in the third period.
Jason inspected his drink before he nodded. Her eyes met his for the first time since she had fainted and Jason responded with a lopsided grin, enjoying the flush it brought to her cheeks before turning away. Too soon, she was scurrying back to the bar again.
He had to stop himself from following her, and then spent the rest of the evening wondering why he was stopping himself in the first place. The game ended with the Wild pulling out a double overtime victory with some truly spectacular shots, complete with hilarious commentary from the beautiful bartender. How had he been here for four hours without yet learning her name?
"You coming, LeBlanc?" Kellan asked. Jason was so caught up in his own thoughts that he didn't even realize that his teammates already had their coats on and their keys out.
"Nah, gonna stick around for a while," he responded, reluctant to leave without finding out something about the girl.
"I wonder why?" O'Brian asked loudly as he rolled his eyes.
"Fuck off, Rory. I'll see you guys at practice," he finished as he waved them off. The guys were gone barely two minutes before the girl approached his table.
"Another round?" she offered, still having trouble meeting his eyes.
"No, I'm good," he replied with a smile, silently willing her to just look at him.
She stood there for a few moments, saying nothing, her eyes on the post-game wrap up. The woman seemed to be deliberating something when she blurted out, "Can I have an autograph?" with a blush.
Jason chuckled. Her eyes finally met his again, and her cheeks turned a deep red.
"Of course," he responded with a smile. She made her way behind the bar, presumably for a pen. "You know, if you weren't so shy before, you could have gotten theirs too," Jason offered as he nodded towards the door.
"I know," was her simple reply.
"Can I ask you something?" he queried, unable to help himself.
"Well, you already did, but go ahead," she responded, a smile playing on her sinful lips.
"What's your name?"
Jason nodded in reply before applying pen to paper. "Here you go," he finished as he handed her notebook back to her.
"Thank you," she nearly whispered, refusing to meet his eyes again as she scurried back to the bar.
Jason smiled to himself as he pulled on his coat and hat before making his way into the cold, a plan already forming in his head. "Fuck it's freezing," he murmured to himself as the door closed behind him, and he made his way down the street to hail a cab.
Casey stepped into the bar from the cold, shaking the snow out of her hair as she always did. She was about to make her usual complaint about the weather when an explosion of red sitting on the bar made her stop in her tracks.
"Oh fuck no, Mac, I draw the Valentine line at red fucking roses," she called out.
Mac stuck his head out of the office, a smirk on his face. "I didn't order them, Case."
"Well then what the hell are they doing here?"
Casey watched as his smile widened. "Maybe you should read the card and find out," Mac finished before retreating to the office.
Her shoulders heaved into an irritated sigh, almost dreading the discovery of who might send her flowers for a holiday she hated. Casey dragged her feet to stuff her coat into the office before finally facing the offensive roses on the bar. A few of the regulars watched with interest as she lifted the card from its holder.
Casey Taylor, it read. Why haven't you called me yet? A phone number followed with a little #4 as a signature.
Casey knew who she wanted the flowers to be from, but she also knew her regular customers far too well. Every year, one of them thought it would be hilarious to send her flowers, knowing how much she hated Valentine's Day. Usually it was just chrysanthemums though. She stared at each of the guys in turn, waiting for one of them to reveal themselves as the mystery sender. They had all been in the bar the other night when she had embarrassed herself so thoroughly in front of the Avalanche players.
"It wasn't any of us," one of the regulars piped up from the corner, a grin on his face. "I saw LeBlanc while he was here. He couldn't take his eyes off of you."
Casey shrugged and turned away from the guys, unwilling to let them see how much she was shaken. Could they really be from him? No, it was impossible. She shoved the card into her pocket and grabbed the roses from the bar. They fell into the trash can, the shattering of the glass vase audible even over the pre-game that was blaring from the television.
Casey wasn't always such a cynic. She busied herself by pouring drinks, but still she was unable to stop herself from remembering how much she had once loved the holiday, years ago. That was before her boyfriend broke things off with her over a romantic candlelight dinner on Valentine's Day, completely blindsiding her. Casey had been expecting an engagement ring that night, not a broken heart. Ever since, she got slightly nauseous every time February came around. She compensated with anger and sarcasm, her two favorite defense mechanisms. No one in Denver knew the story; it was part of the reason why she moved here in the first place.
The sound of a whistle pulled her out of her reverie as LeBlanc was escorted to the penalty box for tripping. She had been so lost in her own thoughts that she didn't even realize that the game had started. Casey frowned; her beloved #4 wasn't usually one to rack up a lot of penalty minutes. She watched as the camera zoomed in on his face, mouthing obscenities. The replay followed, showing that the ref made the right call.
"What the fuck are you doing, LeBlanc?" she found herself asking out loud. None of the others commented, apparently too afraid to draw Casey's wrath.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing, LeBlanc?" his coach yelled at him during second intermission. Jason held his head in his hands, nearly pulling his blonde curls out in frustration. As angry as coach was with him, it wasn't half as angry as he was with himself. "If you're going to play dirty, don't do it right in front of the fucking ref!"
"Sorry, coach," was all he could mumble out.
Jason lifted his head to watch the imposing man move onto the forwards to discuss strategy. They were behind 2-0, and Jason almost felt like his shoulders were drooping from the weight of it. It wasn't completely his fault that they were losing, but he couldn't help but feel that he was a major reason for it.
"What is up with you lately, man?" Kellan asked as he nudged him.
Jason didn't trust himself to answer. It had been nearly a week since he had sent Casey the roses and still his phone hadn't rung. He had nearly given up, but still he just couldn't shake her hold on him. Jason smiled to himself, wondering if Casey was yelling at him from behind her bar. He would go to the Wunderbar after the game to ask her himself if they weren't on the road.
"Snap out of it, asshole!" O'Brian goaded as he punched Jason lightly in the shoulder.
Jason took a few deep breaths to steady himself, trying to turn his focus back to the game. An idea came to him and another plan started to form. As fruitless as the last one turned out to be, this one had to work. His heart felt lighter as he skated back onto the ice with the rest of his teammates to start the third period. He just prayed that she had kept the card.
Miraculously, they managed to get their shit together, tying the Thrashers with less than a minute left on the clock. Jason skated out to take his final shift, lining up with the others for what would likely be the last face-off in regulation. He gripped his stick in fierce determination, feeling more ready than he had in days.
Stratton won the puck for them, and they skated their way down the ice for a final assault on Atlanta's goal. His teammates passed the puck to each other smoothly before one of the Thrashers broke up the play and knocked a pass right in front of Jason. He briefly registered the goalie's stance as a golden opportunity presented itself, his path to the goal clear. Without thinking, he took a fast shot on the goal, aiming for the upper right corner. Jason watched as the goalie quickly raised his arms to block but missed. A 'ping' resounded around the rink as the puck hit the post before rebounding into the back of the net right as the final buzzer sounded.
Everything seemed to go in slow motion as his teammates surrounded him, their arms raised in victory. Boos started to echo around the arena and gained momentum as the Thrasher fans realized what just hit them.