The Lightning eliminated the Penguins in seven games and Kara was devastated. James took the loss hard because he felt like he could have done more and the media and the so called “fans” criticized him any chance they got. Kara managed to stay away from Craig and watch the kids when she wasn’t working her new job at the UPMC Sports Medicine complex as a certified athletic trainer.
She walked to and from work every day since the facility was right around the corner from the apartment that she had shared with James. Kara felt at peace with herself knowing Craig and Anne seemed to be doing better and she hadn’t slept with Craig since early March.
Craig and Anne had taken the kids back to Canada for a little while before they headed to Chicago to visit some of Craig’s old teammates with the Blackhawks. James went to the World Championship but just like his quest to bring the Pens the Stanley Cup, his quest to bring home a gold medal to Canada fell short as well.
Kara had the whole apartment to herself and she felt lonely. She visited Max every other day since he was still in the city doing charity work for his foundation. Visiting Max after work always put a smile on her face especially after a long day when he would make her laugh by dancing around the house or that one time he slid down the banister in his boxers lip-syncing “Old time Rock and Roll” like Tom Cruise did in Risky Business.
“What the fuck happened in here,” Kara said to herself as she picked up the empty candy wrappers and beer cans from the floor. There was a pizza box on the table with a half eaten pizza and the TV had some old NHL Network replay of a game when James was with the Stars.
“Oh shit, Kara,” James said jumping up from the couch, “I’m so sorry, I got back this morning while you were at work and I decided to treat it like my man cave. I swore I’d have it cleaned up by the time you got back.”
Kara swallowed hard noticing James’ lack of clothing. The torn jeans that hung below his hips showing his hip bones didn’t help and neither did the fact that he had a black leather belt with a large buckle undone and he was without a shirt with his hair falling freely since he had no gel in it.
“Don’t worry about it; this is your house too.”
“I’m usually never this messy but it’s good to finally have some time to myself where I don’t have to worry about hockey.”
“I completely understand,” Kara smiled tying the garbage bag and setting it by the door.
“How’s work,” James asked.
“I love it so far.”
“That’s good; any of the guys come in?”
“Max kept me company while you were gone, I’d walk to his house or he’d walk here. He stopped in a couple of times to work his shoulder since it’s been bothering him but other than that it’s been all us common folks since the Pirates haven’t had any injuries.”
“Just an injury to their ego, no offense, they suck.”
“None taken, I like the Yankees anyway.”
James laughed and Kara smiled, “I think we need to go grocery shopping, there’s not much food here.”
“I was going to go today but I got off half an hour late, want to go tomorrow? I’m off.”
“Tomorrow’s good, do you want to eat out tonight or do you want to order something?”
“Tusca was closed because it had a rat problem, so was Claddagh.”
“There has to be some other place we can eat. I’m sick of the Cheesecake Factory; Tangradi wants to eat there all the time.”
“I’ll drive, go put on a shirt and make yourself look presentable,” Kara laughed, “I’m going to take a quick shower then we’ll go.”
“Take your time,” James said flashing her a smile before she shut the door to her room.
Kara came out of her bedroom and found James standing in the entryway of the living room watching the end of the game.
“Are you seriously watching yourself play,” she asked.
James laughed slightly, “I was a lot better in Dallas than I was here.”
“You guys all go through goal droughts, you’re going to be fine next season. I got faith in you; they don’t call you ‘The Real Deal James Neal’ for nothing, right?”
James smiled and shut the television off, setting the remote on the arm of the couch, “Thanks,” he replied.
“Are you ready to go?”
“Where are we going?”
“Have you ever been to the shopping center out by the airport?”
“Can’t say that I have?”
“Ever been to Red Robin?”
“Once or twice back in Dallas.”
“Well make it three times, that’s where we’re going.”
“Such a diva,” James joked.
“Bite me, Jimmy.”
James laughed as they headed to the car, “Can you go slow so I can try to remember how to get out here if I ever need to or if I want to shop?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Kara replied pulling onto Carson Street. She showed James what street to turn down to get to the main highway before they were on the bridge and going through the Fort Pitt Tunnels.
“So basically, we’re at the shopping center I pass on my way to the airport.”
“The one and only.”
“God, I feel stupid.”
Kara turned up the small hill and into the parking lot of the restaurant. James walked ahead of her holding the door open, “Thanks.”
“Welcome,” he smiled.
“Hi, how many,” the young hostess smiled at Kara.
“Two please,” she replied.
“Follow me right this way.”
“Want to sit in the back?”
“If you don’t mind,” James spoke up, “Can we sit in that booth right over there in the corner.”
“Sure thing let me get that cleaned off for you.”
James and Kara stood off to the side as the young girl wiped down the booth and gestured for them to sit before handing them menus, “Your server will be right with you.”
James smiled up at the girl who turned away, “I bet that’s never happened before,” Kara said.
“Not being recognized.”
“It’s kind of nice, I love the fans don’t get me wrong but sometimes I just want to be James Neal the person and not the hockey player.”
“Completely understandable, Craig does that all of the time. Anne hates it but hey you got to do what you got to do to make yourself somewhat normal, right?”
“True,” James replied picking up the menu.
“I already know what I’m getting,” Kara said, “I need the largest beer they have and some onion rings with the mushroom burger.”
“I’m getting the one with the egg on it, got to have all of my food groups somehow.”
The waitress came over and they placed their orders before falling into small talk about what the Czech Republic was like and James’ trip to Dallas to get the rest of his stuff from the house he shared with Brad Richards.
“So if Jagr comes back next season, are you going to scream in his face like you did with Kovy?”
“Fuck you, I did not scream.”
“You so did,” James laughed, “You were all, ‘HOLY SHIT IT’S KOVY.’”
“It’s not my fault he’s a childhood favorite of mine that I just happened to meet, okay.”
“Childhood favorite, right?”
“You are a smartass today.”
“I don’t blame you though for doing that, when they told me I was traded here, the first thing I thought was holy shit I’m playing for Mario Lemieux.”
“Jagr comes back, I’m asking for a ride on the mullet.”
“You seriously did not just say that,” James laughed when Kara heard her name being called.
“KAYRA,” a little voice shouted, “KAYRA!”
She turned around and saw the curly head of Rhys Adams who was standing up on one of the booths waving his arms. Craig put his menu down and looked over with a scowl on his face when he noticed Kara and James were at the restaurant together and they were laughing at something one of them said.
“KAYRA,” Rhys screamed before Craig could stop him.
“Rhys, sit down,” Anne warned the young toddler.
“But mommy,” Rhys pouted, “Kayra’s hair wiff Nealsy.”
Anne turned around and waved to Kara who stood up and walked over to the table, “Reese Cup,” she said wrapping her arms around the toddler, “I’ve missed you.”
“I miss you too,” he said into her shirt as she picked him up, “Hi Anne, Hi Craig, how are you?”
“I see you and James are all smiles,” Anne smiled and Kara laughed.
“Please Anne, he’s my roommate and my friend, nothing serious happening there.”
“Kayra,” Francesca said lifting her head from Craig’s shoulder where she was currently leaning fast asleep.
“Hey sweetie,” she said sitting Rhys down as Francesca climbed over Craig’s lap, “I’ve missed you too.”
“Want to watch them for us tomorrow,” Anne asked, “Craig’s parents are coming to town and we need a babysitter while we take them out to dinner. Are you working tomorrow?”
“No, I’m off and I would love to watch them.”
“Kayra, we come to your house,” Rhys asked, “I wanna play Wii.”
“Whatever you want kiddo,” Kara replied looking over at James who waved to Craig and Anne from the booth as the waitress set their food down, “Our food is over there but I’ll see you tomorrow okay.”
“I’ll bring them over at like five, is that okay,” Craig asked.
“Yeah that should be fine, James and I are going out shopping earlier in the day but I’ll make sure we’re home by five.”
“I’ll give you a call before we leave the house,” he smiled and Kara knew there was a secret tone in his voice but she shrugged it off and smiled before telling him that it was okay as she headed off to the table with James to eat their food.”
“I’m stuffed,” James said sitting back patting his stomach.
“Me too,” Kara laughed.
The waitress brought the check over and Kara grabbed it before James could.
“Kara,” he said, “Come on, let me pay it.”
“You already pay for the rent and other stuff around the house, dinner is on me.”
“Kara,” he tried to argue.
“Shut up James,” Kara said putting her debit card in the folder that held the check and waved the waitress over to take it.
“Is there a store nearby that sells movies or something?”
“Some of the movies I wanted to buy came out while I was in Europe and I didn’t get a chance to get around to getting them.”
“There’s a Best Buy over the hill and an FYE in the mall.”
“Let’s go to Best Buy, they have a bigger movie section.”
“Okay,” Kara said signing the receipt and taking her copy, “You ready to go?”
“Yep,” James replied and they left the restaurant and drove over to the store.
“I’m going to look at the laptops,” Kara said heading off to find the one she was looking for and desperately needed to do some of her paperwork from the office at home.
James nodded and headed off to find the movies he wanted. After James finished paying for his stuff, he met up with Kara who was talking to a salesman about a Macbook Pro.
“I have that laptop,” James said, “I like it.”
“I’ll take it,” Kara said to the salesman who nodded and went off to find the computer for her.
Kara paid for the computer and they both left the store. When they got home James asked Kara if she wanted to watch a movie with him and she agreed. She was settled on one couch and James was settled on the other. Kara’s phone beeped signaling she had a new text message from Craig.
You and Neal, huh?
Now I see why I haven’t seen you much in a month and a half, you’ve been banging him. No wonder he couldn’t focus in the playoffs
Shut up, Craig!
Tell me Kara, can he make you cum like I can?
Enough Craig, I’m done. We’re done
Do you know how many times you have said that?
I mean it, this last month and a half has been peaceful
You can’t stay away from me Kara, you know it and I know it
Kara sighed, that was the problem, he was right, she couldn’t stay away from him no matter how hard she tried and it was bound to bite her in the ass.