No Place I'd Rather Be

Chapter Four

Clean out day was never easy for any guy in the NHL because it meant that a shot at winning was over. That's what it was. Game over. Interviews took place all around the locker room and heavy baggages filled with gear were carried out. James had finished all that and the next thing on the to-do list he had been keeping in mind was to call Jo.

She had sent him a text once the final buzzer rang, letting the Penguins know that their time in the playoffs had run out. James didn't read it until he got home. He must have read it at least fifty times before replying with the same thing he always said each time they lost, There's always next season.

On the other side of the country, Jo felt the burden of sadness from what she witnessed on her tv. She could see the disappointment in their eyes and the anger they projected. At that moment, she wanted to be in Pittsburgh and be there for James like she knew he would if she ever needed him. She got his text at two in the morning. She refused to sleep until he replied. Even as she stared at his reply, all she could feel was his feeling of defeat.

She never replied back. She gave him space and the time to reflect. All she had left to do was to wait for the morning to come and wait for her phone to ring.


James stood in the cold with his hoodie covering his head. It was a chilly, rainy morning in the city of Los Angeles and all he had packed in his suitcase were a bunch of t-shirts and one hoodie. He always thought California would always be sunny and out of all the times he had arrived, it was pouring out.

It had been almost two weeks since they got eliminated and clean out day. He had called Jo the morning after they lost and all his disappointment dissipated in an instant. Just hearing her voice was the ultimate cure for him. She always sounded so happy and it was contagious. It didn't even take a second before he was smiling himself--something that would have never happened the day after a loss, all alone in his house.

He stood by with the rest of the people who were waiting for their rides at LAX. Jo was picking him up and told him a description of her car so that he could immediately spot it. Five minutes passed when he finally saw her pull up to the curb. She motioned for him to hurry since there were a lot of cars pulling up and traffic was bound to start soon. Once he had thrown his suitcase in the backseat of her car, he hopped into the passenger seat, immediately greeted by her charming smile.

He wasted no time and leaned in for a kiss he had been anticipating. She happily returned his kiss, lingering a little too long. A car beeped right behind them which eventually got them to pull away.

"That's the best welcoming greeting I've ever gotten," James said, beaming.

"Me too," Jo said as she drove out the busy airport. "I hope the weather isn't too disappointing."

James looked out the window. The skies were gray and rain continued to beat down against the windshield.

"It's not that bad. At least I brought my hoodie."

Jo took a quick look at him and noticed the dark gray jacket he had on.

"You look good, James." She admired.

He was thankful that she was focused on the road and not so much on him at the moment since he started to blush. He casually wiped his hands on his jeans, suddenly nervous to be in such a close space with her. One simple compliment and that was the effect she had on him.

"You too," he responded. "I must say you're pretty brave for just wearing a t-shirt."

She chuckled, "I forgot my jacket at home. I didn't want to be late on picking you up."

James' smile faded. "I could've waited, Jo. I rather you not get sick."

It was Jo's turn to blush. Caring James was one of the things on her list on why she liked him so much.

On their way to her apartment, she told him that according to the weather man, it would be sunny on the day of her graduation. She revealed that her parents and younger brother would be there. She mentioned that she has an older sister but she wouldn't be able to attend because of work. James took that as a cue to talk about her family. Out of all the things they talked about when they were getting to know each other, family never came up. James would briefly talk about his brothers but never got into too much detail about them.

"My sister is four years older than me and my brother is four years younger than me," she started. "It makes it easy for our parents to remember how old we are."

James laughed and told her about his three younger brothers and his little sister. Jo asked him what it was like to be the role model for his siblings.

"I think it puts a lot of pressure on them especially for my brothers." He answered. "Everyone expects them to be like me and go pro. I just try to help them with whatever it is they need and just keep pushing them to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. Whether that's going pro or just graduating from school."

"You sound like a great big brother." Jo said honestly.

"Thanks," he accepted. "Maybe you could meet them soon."

"I would love to." She said as she took his hand and gave it a squeeze for assurance.


James effortlessly carried his luggage up two flights of stairs to get to the third floor. Jo, on the other hand, was completely humiliated because the elevator in their building decided to stop working. She felt bad that she made him carry up his luggage, which she assumed must have been heavy. As far as first impressions go, Jo was positive that James thought her apartment was a complete shit hole compared to the house he has back in Pittsburgh.

Jo slipped her key in and opened the door.

"Welcome to my home." She said lamely. Just keep your mouth shut, Jo!

James parked his luggage by the door and looked around. It was a nice, little studio. The kitchen was right next to the door and he saw that the living room was set up right in the middle of the room. He noticed that there was a room divider which probably was her only way of separating her "bedroom" from the rest of the place. It was definitely small but still looked great. The floors were wooden and the walls were pristine white.

"I know it's kind of small," Jo noticed the way he took in everything in the room. "But it's definitely home for me."

"It looks nice. It's very...well, you." He noted.

She rocked on her heels, nervous as hell to be around him in her own home. She cleared her throat and said, "Um, I understand if you want to get a hotel or--"

He stopped her, "Jo, I'm staying. I meant it when I said your place looks nice."

He walked further into the room and plopped right down on her couch. She slowly followed and sat on the far end. James laughed, "what are you doing? Come over here."

Jo scooted closer to where he was patting the area next to him. He wrapped an arm around he shoulders as they stared at the piece of art hanging above her tv. It was a watercolor painting of a ballerina. It had splashes of different colors that made the room much more vibrant. James' eyes traveled down to her tv set. She had a small tv shelf that had photos of her and her friends as well as a family picture. Jo followed his gaze and noticed his eyes fixated on the photos she had on her shelf.

She got up and picked up the picture she had with her family and the picture she had with her best friend. She sat back down and showed it to him up close.

"This," she pointed at her best friend, "is my best friend, Edith. I've known her since high school. She's also graduating soon but from UCLA. Business major. We're actually planning on working together and put up a store in downtown."

"You're gonna sell your own clothes?" James was interested.

She nodded, "I just hope people like the clothes I make."

"Of course they will. I've seen the pictures you sent me. They're fucking cool." The words just tumbled out of his mouth before he could censor himself. He didn't know if Jo was down with a potty mouth.

She giggled, "Thanks. Honestly, I think they're fucking cool too."

They both laughed.

Jo moved on to her family picture. She pointed to her younger brother, "His name is Rich. He's my parents' favorite, even though they don't want to admit it. They took out a bunch of loans just to get him into Berkeley."

"What does he want to do when he graduates?"

Jo shrugged, "I don't know. Rich always wanted to be everything. He wanted to be a doctor, a policeman, and even an accountant. You never really know with him. Last time we talked, he was well on his way on becoming an economics major."

"Real smart guy he must be, eh?" He said.

"Oh definitely." She agreed. "Probably why our parents love him so much."

"Oh c'mon, I'm sure your parents are proud of you too. You're about to graduate! That's a big accomplishment!" James encouraged.

Jo sighed. "My parents aren't really into the whole 'fashion' thing. They think it's a waste of time. I guess they just let me do my thing especially since tuition wasn't as expensive."

James leaned in and kissed her temple. "Deep down, I know they're proud of you. Hell, even I'm so damn proud of you. Really Jo, the clothes you make are amazing. I'd buy a shit load of your stuff if you ever made clothes for men."

That got her to laugh. "I'm working on it! My specialty right now is womenswear. But trust me when I say I make a mean pair of men's jeans."

Jo briefly talked about her sister, Leanne. She told him how she moved out of state as soon as she graduated. She said that they keep in contact and always talked on the phone every weekend. Suddenly, James realized how separated her family was. He grew up with a close-knitted family and knew how much him mom would not let any of the brothers to separate or go far away from home with the exception of going pro.

Dinner time came along and Jo prepared a special salmon dish for two. They sat on the couch once again, using the coffee table as their dinner table. By the end of their meal, Jo decided that James would be the one who would take the bed.

"No, no way!" James objected. "There's no way you're sleeping on the couch. In your own home!"

"James, it's fine with me. I already felt bad that the stupid elevator was broken and that you had to carry your luggage up the stairs. To top it all of, you were probably surprised to see how small this place really is and--" Jo stopped herself from rambling on. "Just take the bed. I'll be fine, I promise."

James shook his head, not giving in to what she's demanding.

"OK. I have a better, yet slightly crazy idea."

Jo waited for his answer with a raise of an eyebrow.

"We could share the bed. It's a queen. We could fit."


"What! I'm serious!" He remarked.

"It's your first night here and our first official time together. Don't you think it's too soon to be sharing a bed? So close to each other?" She reasoned.

James once again shook his head. "We've kissed way more than I could count with both hands. We danced close together at the festival. I think we've earned the right to share a bed. I'll stay on my side like a good boy."

"Oh James," she bit her lip. "You are one convincing mother fucker."

James kissed the smirk off her face and asked her when they pulled away, "So whaddaya say? Share a bed? It'll be a great welcoming present."

Jo pushed his shoulder lightly before finally agreeing with him.


Darkness and silence filled the room. The only source of light was the moon coming through the thin, sheer curtain covering the large sliding door that doubled as her window. The couple laid on their backs, looking up at the plain ceiling.

After quite some time, Jo turned to her side to look at James. She asked him something out of the blue, "Do you believe in love at first sight?"

James thought about it for awhile. He had never been in love--or at least he think he hasn't. He never really had a serious relationship and what he had with Jo was as serious as it could get. He had never felt such a strong connection with another person before. The moment he met her at Coachella. The moment they first kissed. The private conversations they had about their lives. Those were all the moments that convinced him that what he felt was something that was deeper than just infatuation.

When he didn't answer after a few minutes, Jo just closed her eyes. She didn't even know why asked such a question.

James turned to look at her with her eyes closed and simply answered, "I do."
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Thanks for the subs and the recs! Glad you all are enjoying reading this!