Thursday, February 2, 2012


This story is a spin-off from You Started It.  It's not required reading, but you might like it.

“This is evil.”

Fiona leaned against the island in the Sharp’s kitchen, looking at possibly the most irresistible sight she’d ever seen.  It was strategically designed to render her weak in the knees.

“Think it’ll work?” Victor asked, tucking the extra blanket around baby Maddy’s little body nestled in the stroller.  He glanced up and thought that it was a damned shame things hadn’t gone the way he’d hoped between him and Fiona.  He’d have no need for this.  But the baby made a happy gurgling noise and Viktor knew he’d have done it anyway.  Just for fun.

“You have no idea,” Fiona laughed.

He stood, unfurling his 6’ 3” height and the full width of his upper body.  If the Scandanavians were still Vikings, Viktor would have fit right in rowing a wolfship.  He wore dark jeans, black work boots and a black sweater.  His dark blond hair flopped over his forehead, pushed back repeatedly in an unconscious move that made Fiona’s heart sigh.

She slipped into her winter white coat and pulled a hat down over her ears.  “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

“Tall coffee with cream,” Viktor ordered.  The barista, a teenage girl with glittery lip balm, stared at him blankly for a moment before she remembered her job.  She nervously asked for his name, scribbling it onto the side of the cup like it was the only thing keeping her anchored to the Earth.

Fiona watched from her spot at the back of the line, smiling to herself.  Stalberg had that effect on people.  She stuffed her winter hat into a pocket and advanced as Viktor moved the stroller toward the coffee pick-up station.  Doubtless another young girl would revisit puberty while delivering his drink.

She ordered while Viktor claimed his coffee and sat down at a small empty table.  No one else would know he was uncomfortable or nervous at the prospect of sitting alone, talking to strangers.  He pulled Maddy’s stroller close and fussed about unbuttoning her little coat so she wouldn’t overheat.  The baby cooed at him.

I know how you feel, Fiona thought, pretending not to know them.

When her own latte was ready, she slowly doctored it at the condiment station.  Viktor shed his coat and was sipping from his white cup, one hand resting on Maddy’s little belly and moving the pram gently back and forth.  Fiona rolled her eyes then squared her shoulders for the approach.

“Oh, she’s so cute!”

The look of surprise on Viktor’s face was perfect and Fiona almost laughed.  Oscar-worthy performances all around.  Fi set her cup on his table and squatted next to the stroller.

“How old is she?”

“Six weeks,” Viktor answered.

“You have a beautiful daughter,” Fiona laid the bait.

“Oh, she’s not mine,” Viktor said loud enough for people to hear.  “Just babysitting.”

Fiona kept her eyes on Maddy .  She didn’t need to see every woman from fifteen to fifty turn toward the strapping, gorgeous young dad who was not in fact a dad.  She felt it down the back of her spine like someone turned the estrogen tap wide open.

“What’s her name?”

“Madeline.  Maddy.”

Fiona gave Maddy’s arm a squeeze.  “Aren’t you the lucky girl, Maddy?”

Viktor tried not to smile too widely.  Fiona was really selling it. If she’d ever approached him like this, if she were really a stranger, he’d have already invited her to sit and asked for her number and possibly set a wedding date.  He’d like to think he could master his shyness like that.  But Fiona had that appeal – sexy and smart, like you’d better snap her up before someone else came around.  That someone had just barely beaten Viktor to the punch.

Fiona thought she saw a gleam in Maddy’s eye, like the little girl knew exactly what was going on.

“I’m Fiona,” she said.

“Viktor,” he said.  “Nice to meet you.”

And now anyone within hearing distance who was even remotely aware of the Chicago Blackhawks had their greatest wish confirmed – this swoon-worthy specimen was in fact Viktor Stalberg, local hockey hero.  His play had been especially well of late and just a few weeks ago scored his first NHL hat trick.  Weapons set to maximum.

“Pleasure,” Fiona stood, making it clear to all that she was walking away from fresh meat.  “And you, Maddy.  Have a good day.”

As the door closed behind her, Fiona snuggled down into her jacket and giggled.  How her role had changed.

“I feel awkward,” Viktor whispered to Maddy.  She batted her long baby lashes at him, on to his game but willing to participate.

Abby Sharp had suggested it.  Viktor suspected she just wanted a few hours to herself.  The birth of the Sharp’s first child had been a reason for the whole team to celebrate; now it would be a chance for many of them to pitch in and help.

“It’s like a man with a puppy.  They’ll be falling all over you,” Abby said on the way to an autograph signing.

“Girls are already falling all over him!” Patrick said from the driver’s seat.  “He scored that hattie and I thought they’d throw their panties on the ice.”

Abby slapped her husband on the arm.  “I’m just saying.  If you want to take Maddy for a walk, you’re welcome to.”

It had been Fiona who turned the idea into a plan of action.  Every time he’d seen her for the past month, since she turned him down and shacked up with Jon, the corners of her mouth had frowned slightly.  He knew she felt bad.  He knew he’d do it all over again the same way if given the chance.  But the game was now about keeping Fiona in his life as a friend -  a delicate balance to strike.  Her offer to help was a brick in that road.

“Okay Fi,” he’d said.  “You owe me one anyway.”

Now her part of the bargain was done and he was alone in the coffee shop with Maddy.  Viktor enjoyed playing with Maddy - she was the happiest baby he’d ever seen.  She just took everything in with a grin.  A few people smiled at her, at the two of them.  A pretty brunette approached, but then her own toddler ran up from behind to see what was in the carriage.  One white-haired older woman stopped to pinch  Maddy’s cheek.  The coffee shop was much busier than he’d expected, so Viktor picked up a newspaper with one hand and settled in.

“Hi there.”

Viktor looked up as a blond woman was bending down to meet Maggie.  Her hair was curly and long, falling over the shoulders of her black coat.  She wore black pants tucked into boots and carried an oversized purse.  At first, he couldn’t see her face.

Well that didn’t take long.

“You’re just gorgeous, aren’t you?” the woman continued, to Maddy’s delight.  Then she lifted her head and Viktor nearly jumped.  She was at least twenty years older than him.  Too much makeup was carefully applied and her face had been smoothed in some artificial way.  She was pretty for sure, but trying to appear a generation younger than the truth.

Uh oh.

“I’m Andrea,” she said with a smile that had cougar written all over it.  “Who’s this little darling?”


“Well, Madeline, it’s nice to meet you.  You’ve got quite the escort today.  A lot of girls would be jealous, you know.”  The woman said all this without taking her eyes of Viktor.  “And you are?”

“Uh, I’m Viktor.”

“It seems babysitters now are a lot more handsome than I remember,” Andrea cooed, sliding her hand along the back of the chair opposite, like she was waiting for an invitation to join him.  If she sat, Viktor knew she’d never leave.  He’d gotten caught before, being too nice to someone while his teammates ditched him for greener pastures.

“I’m not... not babysitting.  She’s mine.  My daughter.”

“Oh.”  Andrea raised a perfectly waxed eyebrow in either surprise or skepticism.  “You’re not wearing a ring.  Single dad?”

Warning, warning.  She was looking for something to grab onto.  The words came out of Viktor’s mouth without thinking or planning, his brain going into defense mode and delivering them to his tongue.

“I’m engaged.  We’re uh, a little ahead of ourselves,” he jostled Maddy’s stroller, “but it’s been so great.”

I’m spoken for and happy and please go away.

“Yes, well, that is great.  If it were me, I’m not sure I’d let you out of my sight.  So many... things, can come up.  You know?” Andrea still had a grip on that empty chair.

This is why Viktor didn’t lie - because he wasn’t good at it.  His tone didn’t turn people away, it invited more conversation.  More questions.  Which required more, and more complicated, lies.

“My fiance is on her wa....”

“Hi honey!”

Out of nowhere, a hand was on the back of his neck.  He’d been facing away from the main door, his attention directed at Andrea.  Now fingers were brushing across his hairline.  He turned and saw a brown-haired girl with a wide smile sparkling back at him. Iit seemed so... genuine.

Do I know her?

Viktor wasn’t the type to bring home girls from bars, but he’d done it a few times. Who hadn’t?  This girl couldn’t be a one night stand, he’d remember.  He’d remember that smile.  And none had been recent enough for someone to call him “babe.”

Unless she’s crazy.  Or a stalker.  Fucking great.

“How’s my girl?”  The brunette squatted right down next to the pram and reached in for Maggie like they were old friends.  Maggie squealed in delight and grabbed for the girl’s fingers, which she latched on to like a little koala bear.  “Having fun with Daddy?”

Viktor looked at Andrea, who was still in attack position and scowling at the back of the new girls’ head.  The moment she caught Viktor looking, she rearranged her face into something like a fake smile.

“It was nice to meet you, Viktor, and you too Maddy.”  Her eyes didn’t agree.  Then she was gone.  Viktor watched her go, all the while the brown-haired girl and Maddy giggled at each other.  The coffee shop door swung closed with a tinkling bell.

“Wow! I thought she’d never leave!”  The brown-haired girl gave Maddy an extra squeeze and got to her feet.  She wore skinny jeans with snow boots and a purple quilted North Face parka zipped up to her chin.  Her straight hair was well past her shoulders as she pushed it back and pulled a knit cap from her pocket.  

“Uh, yeah. Hi.  Have we met?” Viktor was aware he sounded like a 1980s video game, stuttering in robot-speak.

“No,” she laughed.  That smile again.  “I’m Nicole.  I was in here when she started talking to you, then on my way out you started about your fiance and I thought you could use a rescue.  Sorry, did I mess that up?”  Her dark eyes were getting wider as she spoke, realizing she may have done exactly the opposite of what she meant.

“No, no!  She was, uh... no.  Thank you.”  He stood up, suddenly feeling impolite and unprepared, and extended a hand.  On his feet he was a good eight inches taller than her.  “I’m Viktor.”

Nicole smiled and narrowed her eyes, but she shook.  “I know.  Nice hat trick.”

He blushed.  Like a teenage girl.  He even turned his face to his shoulder a little, though trying to hide  makes everything more obvious when you’re a giant.  She just smiled up at him and he felt all his cool points slipping away.  Maddy squawked, laughing at his discomfort.  He gave the baby a dirty look.

“Do you, uh, want to sit down?”  Suddenly that empty chair was looking pretty lonely across the table.

Nicole made a face and bounced on the balls of her feet.  “I have to go, actually.  Sorry.  But it was nice to meet you.  And this little cupcake.”  She gave Maddy a quick belly rub, flashed that smile at Viktor and disappeared out the door.  It wasn’t until the bell tinkled her exit that he thought to ask for her number.


Nicole called out hello as she entered the store and headed straight for the back room.  It was only a block from the coffee shop and no amount of Chicago winter air could have cooled her down after that encounter.

Viktor Stalberg!

And holy hell, there was a lot of him.  She’d seen him at games and of course on TV, but never casually in person.  Never up close, standing on the same floor, comparing the size of his body to hers and looking up into those gray-green eyes.  

She’d spotted him as soon as she walked into the shop - strategically positioned to catch everyone’s eye without appearing to try.  And the baby carriage, it was almost too much. He was genuinely making faces and cute noises at a very happy child.  A very lucky child.  She’s recognized him immediately.

Nicole wasn’t in line one minute before the woman in the black approached his table.  At first Nicole didn’t pay much attention; she had no interest in watching that go down.  But the woman never sat.  By the time Nicole had her drink, their body language had changed.  Viktor was sitting straight-backed and rigid, clearly uncomfortablen.  The woman pressed hard against a chair, leaning forward as if to tease or challenge.  Nicole was headed for the door when she realized the woman was quite a bit older and heard Viktor speak.

“My fiance is on her way...”

Nicole knew it was a lie, but she couldn’t leave him there.  And now she was hiding at her job, unable to believe that had just actually happened.  She played it back in her mind, more and more confident that she hadn’t humiliated herself.  Maybe she’d been cool even, and she had helped.  

I helped.

She started laughing.  A little jerky dance move shook the nervous jitters that lingered in her arms and legs.  Then she unzipped her coat and went back to finish her shift.

“Brrrr!” Viktor said out loud.  Then he shook his head, because he was talking to a baby as if she might talk back.  He pushed the stroller into the strong wintry breeze.

The warm and cozy coffee shop had eventually become boring.  He’d talked to a few more people but was distracted thinking about Nicole.  She’d done him a favor and then run off before he could get himself in order.

“I blew that one,” he told Maddy.  She nodded wisely.  They went the long way around the block since Viktor knew that Abby Sharp wouldn’t be home for another half hour yet.  The sky was already darkening though it was just after five in the afternoon.  

They passed restaurants and happy hours that Viktor knew might be good places to meet girls.  But that scene was tough for him - everything seemed to be assumed.  If you spoke to a woman, or bought her a drink, you were obviously going home with her.  And most girls were ready to go way too soon for his tastes.  He was tired of trying, tired of working at it.  But he really wanted to meet someone who could become important.  Hence the stroller and the baby when he could have been holding a beer and a blond.  Viktor steered around a group of people headed for a trivia night.  

He looked up and stopped, suddnely, right in the middle of the sidewalk so people had to avoid him and the carriage.  In the window of the closest store was Nicole.

No way.

She was on a step stool, pasting paper hearts to the inside of a street-side store window. The display advertised stationary, cards and craft supplies for the upcoming Valentine’s holiday.  She had a roll of tape between her teeth, leaning forward with her arms out to affix the little red shape.  Her boots and jeans were the same, her brown hair still tossed over her shoulder.  But she had her jacket off now.

Another bell tinkled as he entered the store.

“Nice shirt.”

Nicole jumped so hard her hand slipped an inch down the glass with a loud squeak.  Viktor stepped forward to catch her, but she steadied herself and climbed down.  

“Hi.  You scared me.”


“No, no.  People are supposed to come in!  It’s just always quiet the last hour.  And, uh...,” she looked down at her shirt.  “Thanks.”

Viktor glanced around the store.  Every surface was filled with decorative papers and ribbons, stamps and stickers and tools he couldn’t identify.  Examples of the projects were scattered around, obviously put together with care and an artistic eye.  The small shop was as cluttered and comfortable as a magic shop.  Nicole crouched down next to Maddy and gave the baby a little roll.  Maddy cooed.  Nicole glanced up to see Viktor looking over her shoulder.

“Did you make that?” he asked, gesturing to a shabby chic hutch balanced atop a nearby table.  On the second shelf was a paper elephant made from various cut out pieces of circular paper in all sizes.

“Yeah.  There’s a book,” Nicole reached for it, “that shows you how.”  She handed Viktor the paper elephant; it was light and the size of a piggy bank as he balanced it in his wide hand.

“It’s beautiful.”

“Thanks.  And there’s this, for Maddy.”  Nicole took a little stuffed duck from another perch and put it right in the baby’s hands.  Maddy looked at it with wide-eyes, then tried to put the whole thing in her mouth.  They all laughed.

“Did you make all of these things?”

Every surface held something.  A mosaic in jewel tones that showed a red crab on a blue background and said “kitchen” underneath.  An antique compass rose embossed on heavy cream paper printed with a moving announcement.  By the counter, a wire cupcake tree held a bright paper flower blossoms.

“A lot of them.  There’s another girl too, she just left.  We close at six.”

Viktor was the only customer.  Nicole was the only employee.  Judging by the frigid temperatures, the people outside seemed more interested in drinking and eating than shopping.  This was his chance to make up for the coffee shop and he had all the time in the world.

“Show me how?” he asked.

Nicole circled the store, pretending to consider her options while she really contemplated dragging VIktor into the back room where the only place to be was on top of each other.  But Maddy’s stroller would never fit.  


She stifled a nervous laugh.  Teach me how.  She’d probably faint first.  

Finally she settled on an idea.  Clearing binders of wedding invitations off a table, she made a workspace and pulled up two chairs side by side.  Viktor wheeled Maddy over while Nicole collected a few different colors of cardstock, scissors and some markers.  When she came back, Viktor was sitting with his hands folded in front of him like a grade schooler, smiling.

“Don’t you have someplace to be?”

He shrugged those broad shoulders - a dismissive gesture that nearly made Nicole collapse.  “I had practice this morning.  There’s a lot of off time, really.”

She arranged the supplies and took the stool next to Stalberg, then slid left a few inches because she’d underestimated his size.  She had to lean over his arm  to turn a few pages in the book.  Viktor looked down at the back of her shirt and shook his head.

“How’s this?”

It was a plane.  Not just a paper plane, but each piece connected to another, cut and folded out of cardstock and fitted together with notches.  It was very cool and probably the manliest thing in the store.  On the side, the example plane even had a pinup girl drawn in outline.  

Viktor laughed.  It looked pretty difficult.  “You first.”

Nicole showed him which pieces to start with and he followed the book’s instructions.  There were patterns but she didn’t trace them, just freehanded the basic shapes on a few pieces of cardstock and handed him the scissors.  Viktor felt like he was all thumbs, but managed to follow her guide and even round the edges out so they matched the picture.

He leaned close to the paper as he edged around, making tiny adjustments with his huge hands.  Even the scissors looked child-sized in his grip.  Dark blond hair slipped down over his forehead and he shook it back, unable to lift a free hand.

“Nice,” she nodded.  She wasn’t talking about the art.  Maddy agreed with a gurgle.

When the pieces were done, they had two sides, a top and bottom for the plane, plus two short wings for each side and one to go over the top to make a World War I bomber-type plane.  Nicole showed him where to notch the struts and Viktor fitted the wings together, all they needed was the body to fit into place.

“Wait,” Nicole said.  She gave him one side of the fuselage and a handful of markers. “We have to decorate.”

He picked up a black marker but just watched Nicole go to work on her piece.  The tiny pink tip of her tongue poked out between the corner of her lips.  She deftly inked a red 25 on the side, just below where the pilot would go, in very neat form then outlined it with a thin-tipped black marker until it was perfect.  His number.

Viktor looked to his side and carefully drew a little half-circle balanced on two spindly legs that ended in tiny wheels.  He added a cover arching over the open half in a reasonable icon of a baby stroller.

Nicole connected the pieces, slipped it into place and Viktor slotted the wings into the body.  She pushed a small silver metal brad through the plane’s nose and attached the propeller, spinning it freely.

“It’s perfect,” Viktor said, impressed.  It looked like the plane in the picture and was, in fact, pretty damned cool.

“It’s for you,” she said, holding it out.  “You just participated in my last workshop of the day.”

He held the paper plane in his hand, looking at where she’d drawn his number.  Without asking what it was.  Of course she would know, look what she was wearing.

“Is he your favorite?”  Viktor nodded toward the big number 19 on her shirt.

Nicole blushed.  She’d almost forgotten.  And if anyone else had asked, anytime before an hour ago, she might have said yes.   Not that there had been any 25 shirts available, just 88s and 10s along with Toews’ number.

“Don’t worry,” he smiled.  “Happens all the time.”

It was nearly closing time.  Viktor balance the finished plane on top of Maddy’s stroller and helped Nicole clean up.  He carefully put the book back on the shelf, open to the page displaying their project.  Maybe she’d see it at work tomorrow and think of him.

Nicole completely missed the trash.  Scraps of cardstock fell all around her feet from hands that were nearly shaking.  She bent down behind the counter to retrieve them, grateful for the moment of privacy.  It only took a few breaths her to calm down.

“So you’re done?” Viktor asked.  She looked around the mostly clean shop.  Usually the last hour was so quiet and in the winter darkness she couldn’t wait to get home.  Now it seemed like a cozy little place to hang out.  It was the first time she could remember ever wanting to stay at work longer than necessary.

“Yeah, just gotta lock up.”

“Can I walk you home?”

“Uh... you can walk me to the El, if you want.  I live across town.”

Viktor said okay too enthusiastically, like a boy scout who needed to earn a badge for helping an old lady cross the road.  He’d almost gotten comfortable, between glances at the corners of her mouth as he hoped for another smile, and now it was already time to go.  If he’d been driving, he’d have offered her a ride.  Nicole shut down the register and turned off a few lights.

“Okay, that’s it.”  She followed him out and threw the bolt, then reached up for the gate that retraced over the large window.

“Let me.”  The handle was well within Viktor’s reach.  Before he pulled it down, he considered the display she’d put together in the window.  The hearts started out large near the top, falling toward the bottom where they appeared to burst into a greater number of smaller hearts that bounced back up.  It must have taken forever.

“Did you do all these?  It’s beautiful,” Viktor said, then pulled the metal shutter down and hid her work away.

Nicole noticed how easily he closed the security gate.  She had to practically swing on it with her entire body weight to get it started then haul it to the ground.  Viktor seemed to tug lightly then simply push it past halfway.  Easy peas.

She locked it down and turned, Viktor was leaning against the stroller.  Under the streetlight, bundled into his coat, Nicole thought she’d still recognize him from a mile away.  No one else seemed to notice as they made their way a few blocks to the El stairway.  Maddy blew raspberries at the cold wind.

Viktor didn’t know what to say.  Should he ask now to see her again, or wait until they were saying goodbye?  Ask for her number, yes.  Offer his too?  He’d make himself wait a day or two before calling, but what if she wanted to talk sooner.  Or see him sooner.  If she didn’t have his number, he’d never know that, and he was leaving in a few days.

Nicole was at a loss.  Could she talk about hockey?  It would be easy and common ground, but she didn’t want Viktor to think she was only interested in him because he played hockey.  For her team.  Because she was wearing that damned Toews t-shirt.  Or was it more weird to talk about something else, like they hadn’t just met?

“Could I see you again take you to dinner?”  He said it all at once without punctuation or pause, but his feet slowed.  The El was still two hundred yards away.

“Yes,” she answered too quickly herself.  Deep breath.  “Okay.”

He already had his phone in hand.  She rattled off her number, wondering if she should un-mitten to find her own.  Or was that too much to ask, having his number?  Before she could decide, her phone vibrated inside her pocked.  Viktor looked at her and smiled, then turned again toward the El.  They walked the last way in silence only slightly less awkward.

“Thanks again for uh, saving me,” Viktor said as the carriage rolled to a stop.  A big metal staircase next to them climbed one story to the train.  “And for the lesson.”

“I always wanted to make that plane.”  

Nicole shifted on her feet.  They stood there looking at each other for a moment each wondering what to do.  The chilly atmosphere  was charged with something - a connection, a slight current, a question.  Yes?  Maybe something?  Without admitting it to each other, Viktor and Nicole were each silently jumping to all sorts of conclusions.

“Um, goodnight,” she said with a little giggle.  “I guess.”

Viktor gave himself a mental shove, closed the small distance between them and kissed her cheek.  His hand gently squeezed her arm, the puffy sleeve of her jacket giving way beneath his fingers and making her seem so small.  She smelled like paper and paste and something flowery.

“Bye Nicole.”

Hi everyone! Sorry this took so long, I was on my honeymoon. Watching the Hawks game now, seemed an appropriate time to start posting.


  1. O my goodness now I just want to craft! I love the saving because someone needed to save Viktor from being alone after Fiona chose toes. So cute! Can't wait for more

  2. So glad you're back and hope you had a nice trip! I already love this story and can't wait for the next update!!

  3. Hope it was gorgeous! And yay for new stories!!!

  4. Oh goodness, Im pretty sure if I ran into him at a coffee shop with Sharpies daughter, Id save him in a situation like that. Im starting to love him! Cant wait for more!!

  5. Aww this is ridonkulously cute... from picking up girls in coffee shops - I advised one of my guy friends to get a labrador puppy - girls love men with baby dogs. The picture at the top is lipsmackingly good :)

  6. Putting her in a Toews shirt was brilliant. Such perfect irony. You are quite the writer!