Anatomy of a Player (Taking Shots #2)(7)


by Cindi Madsen

I saw that flash of myself in New York City again. This time there were rows of desks and reporters typing away at their computers, in a rush to meet their various deadlines. I sat in the middle of the chaos, surrounded by pages and pages of glorious research. “Right now I’m clinging to this huge opportunity so that I don’t think about stupid guys. I need this.”

Lyla ran a hand through her hair. “I get that, I do. But I’ve met several nice hockey players this past year. Not that some of them aren’t conceited, or that a few couldn’t use a little understanding of how hard the rest of us work to get through school. Or life in general…”

“I won’t ask you for any dirt on them, I swear,” I said. “I’ll only use stuff I find myself. I just need you to help me pull off the hockey terms when I write up the games in the sports section. That’s it.” When she didn’t immediately agree, I grabbed both of her shoulders. “I’ve given up dating and sex, Lyla! Sex! This is the only action I’m going to get this semester.”

She sighed and tossed her bag near the coffee table. It landed with a heavy thunk and sent Einstein leaping off the couch. “Sorry, baby,” she said, then she turned her attention back to me. “You really think this will help you avoid the hump and dump guys?”

I cracked a smile. Last year we’d come up with a hundred ways to describe that kind of “dating” method. Humped and dumped, hit it and quit it, shagged and bagged—the list went on and on. They didn’t seem as funny since I kept receiving the treatment, but they never failed to make me laugh. “I’m so sick of being laid and played—and yes, this will definitely help me.”

Lyla gave one sharp nod. “Okay. I’m in.”

Chapter Six

Whitney

Two days of cramming hockey terms between classes hadn’t been nearly enough, but time was up anyway. I’d try to fit in a few more minutes tomorrow before the game, but my brain had shut down so I’d decided to focus on the other part of getting ready.

I walked into the living room, where Lyla sat between a stack of books and notebooks, with Einstein curled up on her lap.

“I was thinking of wearing this to the game tomorrow for my first”—I made air quotes—“sportswriting gig. What do you think?” I raised my arms the way you do when you’re showing off your outfit, even though it didn’t show off that much more and no one walked around with their arms in the air like that.

Lyla glanced up, highlighter poised above a page of equations. She pushed up her glasses as she took me in. I could tell she was having thoughts, but I couldn’t tell which way they were going—just that they weren’t very enthusiastic.

“What’s wrong with it?” I smoothed a hand down my hot-pink chiffon tank top, following the ruffle that covered the neckline and ran down the front. Yeah, you could sort of see my bra through the fabric, but I’d made sure to match the color precisely. I thought I looked rather professional.

“I get that you’re not exactly a spy, but aren’t journalists supposed to blend in? Or look a little more…serious? You look like…well, like you’re one of the puck bunnies.”

My mouth dropped open. “A what?”

Lyla flinched. “Sorry. I knew I should’ve kept my mouth shut. Just ignore me, you look great.”

When I sat on the couch, Lyla’s pile of books made a run for me. I held the stack in place with a hand and looked my roommate in the eye. “What’s a puck bunny?”

“They’re the girls who go to the games with the goal of snagging a hockey player. They get all dolled up and hang out by the locker room, each one basically waiting for a hockey player to notice her so she can take him home—I think they aim for girlfriend status, but plenty are okay with being an easy hookup.”

With every word¸ my nose wrinkled a little more. I’d assumed it involved holding up numbers on the ice or something, but that was even worse than I’d expected.

“I know you’re not like that,” Lyla said, “and that’s not your goal, but the hockey players will take one look at you and those heels and probably make the wrong assumption.”

My gaze dropped to my silver peep-toe shoes—I’d even painted my toenails pink to match my shirt. For my first seventeen years, looking my best for any and every outing was ingrained into me by my mama. As a former beauty pageant queen she knew every hair and makeup trick in the book, and she’d passed them down to me, forever telling me that a woman should look like a woman.

My deep dark secret was I’d actually participated in the Kentucky pageant circuit, until I’d finally worked up the guts to tell my mama I didn’t want to do them anymore. Really, I’d never liked them, but she was so into it, and I was trying to make her happy. But I supposed going all out, from the clothes and shoes, to the hair, makeup, and nails had become second nature.

“I hurt your feelings,” Lyla said, her shoulders slumping.

“No, it’s not that—I appreciate your honesty. In order to succeed at this, I need the cold hard facts.” My chest felt both hard and cold right now. I’d learned just how much beauty meant to my mama when she had her mid-life crisis and cheated on Daddy with a younger guy. Now she was married to bachelor number two and worked non-stop doing crazy treatments to try to look young enough for him. I didn’t want to be like her, and I realized that was why the professor’s implication that my looks were all that mattered cut so deep. I feared turning into my mama.

Shaking off those thoughts, I focused on my roommate. “I want to come across as a serious journalist.”

“Personally, I think you should try to tone down the sex appeal. You, like, exude it. Not just your clothes”—Lyla pointed at my top with her highlighter and then made a large circle that encompassed my head and torso—“but pretty much everything about you.”

Under other circumstances, I would’ve thanked her for the compliment. “Okay, so how do I tone it down? I want the hockey players to answer my questions, not think about sex while I’m interviewing them.”

“That’s probably a reach. But as for toning it down, less revealing clothes would help.” She looked me over, deep in thought again. “You could dress in sports memorabilia, but they might still take you as a super fan, so I’m thinking more professional. Button down shirts with fabric you can’t see through, slacks, conservative dress shoes—that kind of thing.”