How Do You Like Me Now?

Let’s talk about this photo James Neal posted on Twitter the other day, after a backyard hockey game at Gary Roberts’ house.

First of all, Gary Roberts, why aren’t you my father?  Also, if you have any daughters I presume you’ve locked them up before inviting your padawans over.

Secondly, this would never work on me because I’d spend my life on Google learning how to break out of more traps than Houdini.

Really though, James Neal is that guy you’re both excited and terrified to see at home over the holidays.  Pretend you knew (of) him in high school, but he isn’t on TV or online or this blog every day.  Pretend you’re not really into hockey.  So it’s been a while since you’ve seen a picture, and longer since you’ve seen the Real Deal in person.  But back in the day, you probably had a crush so awkward it was only rivaled by the way you hid behind your locker when he walked past.

Let’s just guess that James hid from girls a few times too.

Back then, hockey players made you nervous.  And that time he borrowed your 500 cl beaker in chemistry class was not enough to break this ice.  You settled for yearbook photos and coded texts from friends.

And you started watching a lot of hockey.  When James was drafted on ’05, you screamed like they’d announced an *N Sync reunion tour and that Facebook was cooler than MySpace all at the same time.

Your mom knew what was up, but she never said a word.  Just gave you that look when you made her drive you and your friends to another game.

By the time you could drive yourself, James was getting noticed professionally.  Even when he had frosted tips.  We all fell for that once.

Then you lost track of James.  By 2007, he’d moved to Iowa and you weren’t sure where that was.  Certainly it did not have Orlando Bloom or Zac Efron, not any more than your local mall.

You grew up.  College consumed your life.  Your best friend from high school called when James started playing for the Dallas Stars, and you guys looked him up together on your dorm room laptops.

You said, “See, I told you he’d grow up to be cute…

… mostly.”

Then your parents moved and high school friends scattered.  Someone told you James made the Young Stars All-Star Team.  If only you’d had the guts to ask him to sign your yearbook, it might be worth something now.

College ended, you moved and got a job, maybe a boyfriend, probably a roommate.  Making ends meet with enough money to go out three nights a week was a full time commitment.  Hopefully you got promoted, got a raise, a nicer apartment and stopped eating ramen noodles.  You’re pretty well established and proud of yourself now.  You hear about the hockey lockout in the news, briefly think of James but are quickly distracted by flying home for the holidays.

Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, you walk into the local bar.  Everyone will be there but you never once think of James.  The first thing you see is your high school best friend, dressed to the nines and handing you a drink.  The second thing you see is this, wearing this exact expression:

And you’re like:

Shy circa 2004 comes rushing back, minus lockers to hide behind.

There’s a moment of total:

Until he abandons his friends,

Walks over, and just says hi.

You struggle for a moment.

But manage a hello.  You’re rewarded with:

End of story.  You’re either dead (99%) or you’re with this.

Either way you knew it all along.

(Please excuse me.  Slow work plus a lockout equals tangential journeys and pictorial essays.  I hear Twilight’s left a hole in the market, perhaps I should be writing a YA novel.  I didn’t even mention Stamkos!)

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

  1. Alison Reply

    My friend played hockey with JN18 when they were little. Now my friend is a police officer in Whitby and I make him tell me every time he sees Nealer out and about.. which is apparently a lot now that he’s still at home due to the lockout.


  2. I really dislike all the feelings I get when I look at him.

    And I think you just inadvertently summed up my ten year reunion experience.

  3. Perhaps a series of James Neal fan fics? EVEN BETTER! Make them “choose your own adventure.” ‘Turn to page 9 if you get so nervous that you drop your books and hide, or turn to page 24 if you fall helplessly into his dreamy eyes.”

    Literary gold, I tell you!

  4. Text from my friend, just now:

    “Pants is a wonderful writer.”

    You really should get in on the YA racket. This piece gave me all sorts of feels. Not hockey feels. LIFE feels. I’m actually a little emotional (because I, at 30, am the target demo for YA). You have The Gift.

  5. Jacki Reply

    This post is pretty much a summation of why I visit (stalk) this site every day.

  6. jana Reply

    I can only dream that the guys from my high school have grown up this well. The guys just aren’t aging well. It’s the girls who have gotten better with age. Myself included, of course. 😉

    But here’s what I like about James Neal: He seems like a dork–who happens to be a really good athlete. And that’s a great combination in my book.

  7. Lorelei6903 Reply

    I LOVE this! I actually thought the frosted tips were kinda sexy. Its just a fact, though, as soon as a player puts on that Penguins jersey they become hot, hotter and hottest. I do love me some Nealer for sure:D

  8. I didn’t think it was even a possibility, but Mr. Neal looks hotter in this most recent pic then I ever though would be possible!!!! I remember fanning myself when I saw this pop up!!
    Soooooo when does the bus trip up to Whitby leave???? Cuz I’m on it!!
    And Pants, this post has absolutely made my crappy week so so so so much better!!!!! For that, I thank you!! 🙂

  9. Molly Reply

    This was hilarious. And full of feels. I read it with a big goofy grin on my face-the kind that sappily cute rom-coms usually inspire in me. I’m now requesting that Stamkos be added to the equation!

  10. MouthGuard Reply

    It’s called creative license and yes you’re also allowed to dream and even LIVE the dream if you want. I feel like I’ve read this before (like you wrote it before!) or maybe I’ve been expecting it from you for so long that it seems like deja vu at this point. Either way, it’s a fun read and I encourage you to indulge in more of the same!