Bo sat in his ridiculously small car and watched the doorway of the cafe, waiting for Natasha to approach. He imagined she'd walk in front of him, but checked his rear view mirror regularly.
As the clock ticked by, he started to become anxious, wondering if she was going to stand him up. It had been a long time since that had happened. It was a long time since he'd felt so unsure of things. Maybe he needed to look around? Maybe she was watching him from a doorway. Was she nervous? Suddenly he really wanted to know that. Probably because he was nervous himself.
As he shut the car door, he heard a noise behind him, Natasha emerging from the cafe.
"You live here too?"
She walked up to him and he wasn't sure where to look, she was wearing her lustrous hair loose, and he loved the way it curled naturally down to her shoulders, her long legs were clad in what looked like wet look leggings, either that or leather, or maybe rubber....the thought that it could be any one of them making his blood warm and his body hard.
Her eyes, blue eyes, stared up at him, and he could tell that she was nervous. Which was good, as he definitely was nervous too. If his fluttering stomach was anything to go by.
"Hey." He offered.
She stopped in front of him and smiled up at him, "hey, back. You look good."
Those words stunned him, he was wearing his favourite jeans, worn, soft, but still smart and a plain shirt, unbuttoned at the throat. He had purposely not wanted to look like he was trying too hard, another factor that surprised him. But then he clearly didn't know himself at the moment.
Lifting an eyebrow, he gave a half smile, "that was just about to be my line."
She laughed at his discomfort, "men hate compliments...."
"....which is why you gave one?" He asked.
She smiled, "I wouldn't lie, but it has taken away a little of the anxiety on my part. Making you a little on edge."
"I don't know you, that's a little scary. I don't do things like this...."
He watched as she bit her lip, obviously worried that she'd said too much, "me either."
With a sweep of his arm, he gestured to the car, and as he offered, "your chariot awaits," she glanced almost comically between his six foot five frame and the tiny car in front of them. Rolling his eyes, he activated the locks, "I've been given this, and I have to drive it. There is nothing you are thinking that I haven't said to myself, as recently as on the drive over."
Trying to hide her smirk, she moved to the passenger door, "so manual gears, other side of road, and no room in the car....this must make for a perfect drive."
Folding himself in to the vehicle very carefully, he replied with, "it's not my first choice....it wouldn't be my tenth. But that's the rules at the moment."
After a little silence, she directed him across to a livelier part of the city, filled with bars and restaurants, and broken dreams is how Steph described it, but she left the latter part off. It was cool there, some bars over looking the renovated canal, some boutique shops, restaurants in a two story plaza, but tucked away in a corner was the greatest Italian restaurant in town. The epitome of a hidden gem. Through her connections in the food world, she knew she'd get a table at short notice, even on a Friday evening without a reservation.
Bo parked in a designated bay that she gestured to, then despite the tight fit, managed to drag himself out of the car, and get around to her side to help her out. He wasn't big on chivalry, but for some reason it seemed right. His mother would be proud of him, that was for sure.
"So this is the place to be?" He asked her as they, strolled along the street, past the bars, spilling out onto the pavement. Workers and revellers alike enjoying the evening sun, drinking and eating, the chatter floating around them as they walked along the waterfront.
"These pubs are old, they've been here for decades, but the restaurants, the shops, they're all a few years old. This was originally quite a run down part of town, but the development dragged everything up with it, then there are the apartment blocks behind, it's become the most popular place in town now."
He nodded, "I like it, it's got a good atmosphere here, I can feel it all ready."
Looking up at him she grinned, "it's cool."
And suddenly it really was, for the first time in weeks, if not months, he felt relaxed.
"And this," she flourished with her arm, "is Carmella's. The best Italian restaurant in town. Family owned for three generations, and the only place worthy of some one new to this place."
"Italian....my favourite." When she smiled, he added, "should we have booked? It looks busy."
She shook her head, "I know the owners, we'll be good."
It was a dark, intimate building, a room filled with small tables, red gingham clothed, all in small half secluded booths, separated by vines and screens, it was the perfect place for a date, which this clearly wasn't. So for a long moment, she wondered if she'd done the right thing, chosen the right place.
Opening the door, she was met by Marco, he and his brother, Paolo ran the business.
"Ciao, bella signorina, how are you? It's been too long."
She grinned, "Ciao, Marco. This is my....friend, Bo." She struggled over the words. "He's new to town, can you squeeze us in? Show him some magic?"
Marco grinned, taking her hand and kissing the back of it, "for you, bella, always." He shook Bo's hand a little more formally, "I hope you find our food to your liking."
Bo nodded, "this place is eclipsing anywhere else I've seen since I've been here."
Marco, a balding man in his forties, laughed, holding his stomach, "flattery gets you everything, especially a table in my establishment. Anthony," he called to a young man laying a table in the corner of the room, "table fifteen for my esteemed guests."
Natasha watched Bo lower himself to the seat opposite her, she wasn't lying when she told him he looked good. He was all power and muscle, and the worn jeans, the fitted shirt, they left little, and yet everything to the imagination. His eyes seemed to study her, so much. It made her blush for the umpteenth time in his company.
"It's cute. You blushing."
She sighed, "it's kind of my trademark."
They glanced at the menu for a few moments, before she relaxed a little.
Finally, she broke the silence, "so how did you end up here?"
He glanced up from his menu, "you mean the Hornets? This town? Or this night out?"
Grinning, she folded her arms, "all three?"
Bo tapped his finger against his lips for a long moment, then offered her, "I have played hockey since I could walk. But three years ago, I got injured, wasn't sure I could play again. Coop, the coach here, used to play with one of the coaches at my team back in the US, they were talking, and he recommended I come here, try out for a season."
"But this isn't a great team." It was statement not question.
And it made him grimace, "it's a stop gap. I'm not here forever."
It was quite a final comment, and she fought the urge to shiver at his finality. There was no missing that message.
"And you know hockey." It was his turn to enquire when she was suddenly silent, and she could only nod. So he added, "no one here knows much, even some of the fans. It's a new sport...." She nodded, as his eyes stayed on her, so she sighed, "I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a few years as a teenager. Watched a fair bit then. Haven't seen any in years though."
Anthony arrived with their drinks, a glass of wine for her, a water for him. They both paused, whilst he placed them on the table.
"That's a shame."
She shrugged, "as I say, it's not that big over here." She didn't mention that she'd consciously avoided hockey in all forms.
"Don't I know it." There was anger, a hint of venom in his voice, and it only made more questions formulate in her mind.
"You don't like it here?"
Pausing for a long moment, he eventually replied, "it always rains. And it's never warm."
It was a subject change, but one that made her laugh, "we're not renowned for the best weather, but we still have a lot going for us." When he stared at her, appreciatively, she added, "hey, it wasn't my country that went cuckoo over Harry and Meghan marrying!"
He chuckled, "my mother did tell me she wished I'd been in the country for that. She'd have loved to be in London."
"You Yanks and the love of our history, hey?" He laughed again, and it made her smile, "so you're from the west coast?"
"You can tell?" When she nodded, he shrugged, "Ah, I thought my accent was more discreet than that. Born and bred in LA, but with a Swedish mother who loved hockey. I was drafted to the Mid West at eighteen, lived there since."
"But you're still a surfer at heart?"
He nodded, "still am, I love the ocean, love the fun and way of life."
Anthony returned for their order, and Natasha giggled when she realised neither of them had even glanced at the menu. He retreated, giving them another few minutes.
"What do you recommend?"
She pondered for a second, "the risotto is amazing, the pizzas are the best I've tasted, but my favourite is the linguine vongole, - clams, wine...." she lifted her pursed fingers to her lips and kissed them in what she hoped was an authentic Italian fashion. It made him smile, and she realised that he didn't do it very often. Smile. Genuinely.
Closing the menu, that smile stayed, "I think I'll take that recommendation."
Mimicking him with the menu, she asked, "so....do you get back to the west coast much?"
Bo shrugged, "my family all live there...."
It wasn't an answer, not really, "have you got a big family? Any siblings?"
His face was unreadable as he stared at her, for a long breath out, "I have three sisters. I am the oldest of the troop."
Natasha felt her jaw drop open, as an only child she could not imagine that, "Are you close?"
He shrugged, "they all live in LA, but I haven't properly for years. A hockey season is long and unforgiving, they never really came to visit me, for holidays and things, I saw them if I was ever in town, but that's about it."
Sighing, she looked up at him, "that's sad. I'd have loved a brother or sister."
"You're an only child?"
She nodded, "my parents are hugely academic, I don't think that I was particularly planned....not that I wasn't loved, but they would never have any more. I had to fit in with them."
"You say you were out in Cambridge?"
Anthony finally came back and took their orders, and it was a little while before they were alone, and she finally replied.
"Both parents teach, lecture....so I went out when they took up their jobs, I was eleven."
She reached for her drink, sipping at the wine, hiding behind her glass, if that was possible.
"I've not been to Cambridge specifically, but I've spent a fair bit of time in the Boston region. It's a nice part of the world."
Nodding, she placed the glass back down, "it's got a bit of everything, without the chaos of some places."
"Sums it up pretty well, played at the Garden a bit, had many nights celebrating and commiserating. Did you ever go there?"
"Once. My father's college had a good team, we all went to a Bruins game one night. I loved it." Her life swayed not long after that, veered off course, and took her back to her grandmother's home. That night almost seemed liked the catalyst. Everything changed, nothing was ever the same.
"Where've you gone?"
She shook her head, then smiled, "a million miles away for a moment. Remembering being young."
He mused at that, "when everything was easy."
She laughed, "and Mum and Dad could solve every problem."
He could tell that she was sad, that maybe thinking of her parents was making her sad. Hell he wished his own parents could magic his knee back to the joint it was before his accident. But nothing was ever easy.
"It's hard and cold world," he offered when she gave a wistful smile.
The food was delicious, he loved the ambience, and he was liking his current company. Other than a couple of slightly awkward lulls, the conversation flowed. They debated a few recent box set series that they'd both watched, and now Natasha was telling him all about some music act, a band maybe, local....he wasn't listening to the content, not really. He was enjoying being lost in her eyes, she was animated, sparkling, and funny. Great company.
For the first time since his accident, everything that happened after it, and before....it all paled into insignificance.
He was a man, out with a woman, talking and having fun. For one night only he wasn't a failed NHL player, he wasn't broken, he was himself again. And it was liberating.
"Shall we go for a walk? The night is young, just because I can't drink and be merry, no reason why you can't."
Anthony had brought the bill and she'd insisted on going half. He had tried to pay when she was in the bathroom, but it seemed the staff there were in cahoots. When she slipped back into her seat, he'd rolled his eyes and she'd giggled.
"I'm a modern woman."
He thought back to Daniela. The woman he'd thought about marrying, REALLY thought about. She'd never as much as bought them a pizza. He had been her unlimited wallet from the day they'd met. So different to what he had now. The meal he'd just shared.
Now they simply walked along the waterway, taking in the couples, the groups, all sorts of people talking, walking, eating, drinking. No agenda, no planning, no lies.
It was cathartic.
After an hour at a small pub, they were back in his small car, heading home.
He stopped at the kerbside outside the cafe and turned as much as he could in the confined space, towards her.
"Thanks for tonight."
Natasha did wonder if he'd kiss her, and what she'd do if he did. The almost cold and distant goodbye was the last thing she expected, and wanted. After a brief pause, waiting for something, she climbed out of the car, feeling bereft almost, hard done by. But she did smile and wave as he drove off.