Sam shifts gears, gesturing to me. “Did he tell you he’s a pool shark? I met him when he was laying down bets with some of my customers about two years ago.”
“Is that so?” Fitz asks, enjoying these details.
“I can’t resist a wager now and then.” Then I look at Sam. “And who are you to talk? You bet me that I couldn’t beat you, and I did. And the prize was—wait for it . . .”
Sam huffs, annoyed but not really, as he points at me. “This dickhead gets to eat free here forever.”
Fitz gives me an approving nod. “So, Dean, you’re a hot date, a smart date, and a cheap one. Excellent.”
Sam laughs. “On that note, let me know if you’re ready to order.”
Fitz picks the chicken sandwich, hold the bread, offering a faint apology of “I try to lay off carbs during the season.”
“In that case, bring me all the extra bread you have,” I tell Sam. “Just to taunt him.”
“Do you want me to tell him you’re a health freak too?” Sam asks in a stage whisper.
“No, please keep my secrets,” I say, then mumble, “While you bring me the salmon and veggies. And a beer.”
Fitz groans in frustration. “Now you’re tempting me with my favorite carb. Fine, I cave. Beer for me too.”
“Coming right up, gentlemen.” Sam nods, then turns to Fitz. “Don’t forget—get us the Cup.”
“I’m on it.”
As Sam leaves, I drum my fingers on the bar. “So, hockey. How did you get into it?”
“I thought hockey wasn’t your thing, Dean?”
“It’s not, but I still want to know how you got started, what about it makes you tick.”
“My dad was Canadian. Loved the sport. When he moved to San Diego, he couldn’t stay away from the rink. He took me there when I was four. Put me in skates and said, ‘Let’s see what you can do.’”
“And was it love at first . . . blade?”
Fitz smiles. “That’s how my mom tells the story. She didn’t want him to take me then, but he insisted, since apparently I insisted on learning at such a young age.”
“Ah, that says so much about you too. Insistent from a young age.”
“Persistent,” he corrects.
“And you loved it?”
He snaps his fingers. “Instalove. I had a ton of energy as a kid, and channeling it into skating was the perfect thing. It took focus but also intensity, and that’s what I had.”
“And still have, I presume?”
“Absolutely. And my dad was obsessed with hockey. He taught me some of my best moves. When to go for the goal and when to pull back. How to take a hit. And, of course, he taught me to always put the team first. That’s when the best players do their best work.”
The server returns with our beers, and I lift mine. “To your dad.”
Fitz clinks back. “To my dad.” He takes a drink, looking a little lost in thought.
“You miss him still?”
“From time to time. I think about him when I hit the ice though. I’m one of those guys who always does this,” he says, then taps his chest and points heavenward, “before each game.”
It warms my heart, that kind of remembrance. “It’s good that you still honor him in that way.” We talk a little more about his family, then as the waiter brings our food, we thank him and dive in. In between bites, I return to something Fitz said.
“So he was Canadian, and your mum is American?”
“Yup. He moved from Vancouver to San Diego after he met her. Fell head over heels in love.”
“Sounds like my dad when he met my mum. The head over heels bit, at least, as he tells it.”
“Is she from Australia? You said she took off for there.”
I shake my head. “No, she’s Swiss,” I say, then gesture to myself. “I look more like my father. Mum’s white, Dad’s black.”
Fitz shrugs. “And you’re hot.”
I laugh. “Thank you. And ditto.”
As we eat, he glances around, taking in the decor—contemporary and sleek, a well-lit, modern pub in rich blues and greens.
“I like this place. But not as much as The Magpie.”
“You’re only saying that to get in my trousers,” I say between bites.
A laugh bursts from him, and he shakes his head. “Don’t mean to be cocky, but I think you’re a sure thing. I said it because I meant it. I like what you’re doing with The Magpie. It feels unique—a little vintage, a little modern. Like you’ve made it your own.”
I can’t help but grin. I’ve poured my blood, sweat, and tears into that place. “I love that bar.”
“I can tell. What made you decide to go for it?”
“Maeve and I made a plan way back in uni. We always wanted to own our own business, someplace where we could have regulars and chat with them, get to know them, give them a place to come at the end of the day. And I’m chuffed we were able to do it.”