“Don’t be like that.”
Looking up from the book I’m reading, balanced against my knees, I shoot my mother what I know is a dirty look, the kind of look that says ‘get out of my room’, the kind of look that says ‘don’t even ask me again or we’re going to have a fight’.
“I told you I’m not going. I don’t know how much clearer you want me to be on this.” I look at her in her best black cocktail dress, a strand of pearls around her throat like she’s just stepped out of some kind of fifties style magazine, like she’d give June Cleaver a run for her money. All she’s missing is the cute little white gloves. Thank god she doesn’t have a beehive to go along with it. Instead her hair is carefully clubbed at the back of her neck in a neat pony tail, the kind where you can’t even see the elastic. “Aren’t you a little overdressed for a barbeque mom?”
“It’s a celebration with the Stanley Cup there and everything. It is a pretty big deal,” she replies with this silly grin on her face like that explains everything.” I thought you’d be excited for him?” This makes me clench my teeth and drop my gaze back to my book. Sure, there was a time I would have been, and yes, secretly, somewhere in my heart, I’m happy for him, but I just don’t need to actually tell him that.
“That’s okay mom, I still think I’ll skip it. I’ve got some homework to do and I have to read this chapter for tomorrow,” I add, holding up the history text by way of providing proof.
“Everyone will be expecting you,” she says in that ‘this is your last chance to snap out of it’ voice, but that stopped working on me when I was like…twelve. Rolling my eyes, I shake my head and pretend my attention is entirely glued to the page open in front of me.
“If there’s really going to be that many people there I’m sure no one will miss me. Besides, it will give you something to complain about and we all know how much you love to do that.” I can hear her make that huffy little noise that isn’t even aimed at me. It’s more just that motherly frustrated ‘I can’t believe that evil child is even mine’ noise that I’m pretty sure all kids are immune to, especially twenty year old college students.
“The least you can do is show your face Melody,” she says, using her ‘I’m mad and disappointed’ tone.
“Like I said, no one’s going to notice I’m not there and before you even say it, I’m not going to play that game again where he pretends not to remember me, okay?” I hiss as my teeth grind together. I don’t even have to look up to know that she’s trying to think of some way around my argument, that her gums are flapping but no sound is coming out and that she’s staring down the hallway at my dad, hoping that the nutless wonder will help her. Of course he won’t and she doesn’t, so instead she makes another I am so pissed off at you huffing sound and turns and heads down the hall, muttering under her breath about wishing she’d never even given birth to me.
I listen to the click of her high heels fade down the hall before putting aside my text and flopping down on my bed, grabbing a pillow to muffle my scream of frustration. When I can breathe again at last, I throw the pillow across the room, knocking a framed picture of me in a sandbox with three boys. It only reminds me of happier times, more innocent times. That was then.
This is now and the last thing I need is to stand there and watch him grin at me and do that whole song and dance about ‘my how you’ve grown’ and ‘do I know you?’ just like he does every summer when he comes back here.
Yeah, that’s definitely the last thing I need, especially now when I’m finally over him. I am. Really this time I am. I’ve so moved on. I am definitely not that pathetic mousy girl next door with the silly school girl crush on her next door neighbor. Nope, that’s over. I’m in college now and there are a lot of cute guys in college and I’m too old for puppy love.
Besides, Sidney Crosby doesn’t even know I’m alive. Or at least he doesn’t seem to remember from one season to the next. Once upon a time I would have counted him among my best friends, but that’s the thing about once upon a time…it’s like a fairy tale. It’s like it never really happened, even though I have the embarrassing evidence of photographs to prove that it did.
Yes, once upon a time me and Sidney Crosby were in the same bathtub. My mom loves to show that fucking picture to everyone she knows. Once upon a time her darling daughter was that close to greatness. Of course that’s always followed up by ‘I don’t know what happened. They used to be such good friends. But I guess he has so much to do and Melody…well she’s so…bookish.’
Bookish. That’s my mother’s substitute term of endearment for nerd. She thinks she’s being nicer to me but the way she says it, she may as well just be saying that I wear coke bottle glasses and never leave the house. It’s the same thing. It’s still her way of saying I’m this huge disappointment because I’m not Miss Nova Scotia material.
Maybe if I was he’d have taken some notice by now.
No, that’s not strictly fair. It’s not that he doesn’t notice me, or that he’s never noticed me it’s just that even when he does it’s obvious that he still thinks of me as one of the boys, the one with the pig tails that tagged along with his little group of friends. I’m still the girl with the grubby hands and the band-aid on her knees.
And I guess I can’t totally blame him for still holding that impression. Right up to graduation I was most likely to be found in sweats or jeans or worse…a band uniform. I never wanted to be one of those girls with the bubblegum flavored lip gloss and bleach blonde hair but that doesn’t mean I’m less of a girl…no, woman, but you wouldn’t know that by the way he ignores me.
Although to be fair I didn’t give him a chance last summer. I went to Europe, on my own, a sort of gift to myself for getting through my first year of university. Funny thing is - men noticed me there. At first it was sort of…weird, hard to get used to. But then, well I got to like it, maybe even got used to it and that’s when things started to change for me.
Maybe that’s why I don’t want to go down the street to his little shin dig. I don’t think I could just let him ignore me again. Of course there’s the outside chance that he wouldn’t, that he might finally see me and then I could rub his nose in it and turn him down.
It could happen, which means I have to get something on other than a pair of worn overalls.
“Mr. and Mrs Kelly,” I hold a beer out towards my parents’ oldest friends, glancing behind them to see if their four eyed daughter is in tow. It sounds mean but I don’t mean it that way. It’s just…that’s what I’m expecting to see; Mel with her thick glasses and her braids in her tatty jeans, looking miserable to be with her stylish parents, especially her mother. I know Pam, Mrs. Kelly, would rather that Mel was the head cheerleader type and would get excited about fashion magazines but that’s not her. “So…where’s Mel? Parking the car?” I ask, craning my neck to see if I can catch a glimpse of her old beat up Duster. Her pride and joy, even if the quarters are rusted out and the thing sounds like a canon’s going off every time she changes gear. I still remember her sixteenth birthday when her dad told her that he was going to help her buy it. It was maybe the happiest I’ve ever seen her.
“She didn’t want to come,” Al, Mr. Kelly, says quietly, like apologetically, as he takes the beer from me and heads over to where my dad is still standing by the Cup, like he won the damn thing. I watch him walk away realizing that I’m kind of bummed out by what he’s said.
“She has homework,” Pam says, laying her hand lightly on my shoulder and giving me that fake smile of hers with her too white teeth and her spray on tan. I nod, and smile back at her like it doesn’t matter but it kind of does. We’ve been friends since we could walk. Well, since she could walk, chasing around after me in the back yard. But then, I guess I can’t blame her. It’s not like I’ve done a good job of keeping in touch. An email here or there but I just figured she understood that I have a lot on my plate and not a lot of time for myself.
“Maybe you should go see her,” a voice says out of the darkness. I turn to see my teammate and friend Max watching me from beneath his stylin’ fedora. Or at least he thinks it’s stylish.
“Who?” I ask, wondering why I let myself get so maudlin when I come back home. Maybe I just have too much time to think.
“The girl, your neighbor girl, the one you’re always telling us stories about. If she can’t come, why don’t you sneak out and go see her?” he suggests, absolutely dead pan, like it’s an actual option.
“Well, for one thing, because my parents put this shin dig together for me and second, because you know, if she’s busy or whatever…then she’s busy,” I reply, shrugging it off and turning to head back into the crowd. It looks like one of the bands is getting ready to play and I still have plans to check out a couple of the girls that came with the catering company.
“For one thing,” Max repeats at me, raising his eyebrow and giving me the Dwayne Johnson / Rock look, “there’s so many people here, no one’s going to notice if you slip out for a while and for another thing you are the guest of honor so if you want to take off for a bit, who’s going to tell you that you can’t?” He has a point, but at the same time, it’s just not that big a deal. Not a big enough deal to skip out on this party and take a chance on upsetting anyone. I mean…it’s just Mel. We were tight once but that seems like a long time ago now and nothing to make a big deal over.
“It’s no biggie, honestly,” I grin at my friend and give him a little shove. “It’s not like you to give me advice over chicks anyway.”
“Call me curious,” Max replies, smiling slyly. “You talk about her so much I just want to see what the glorious Mel is all about. I mean, who is this mystery woman that played in the sandbox with the mighty Crosby? You know?” he laughs, slapping me on the back and giving me a little shove towards the tables where we’d abandoned our burgers.
“I don’t talk about her all the time. Like…once in a while. Once in a blue moon,” I correct him but he only shakes his head.
“All the time, mon ami, all the damn time,” he laughs, shaking his head at me as I begin to protest. Shrugging, I shut my mouth before I start to swallow flies. I don’t talk about her all the time. I mean…maybe things I do or learn about remind me of her once in a while but I don’t talk about her all the time. How can I? I’ve hardly seen her at all in like…three years. What could I possibly talk about that has anything to do with her? Maybe cars…maybe movies or shows or something like that. Yeah that has to be it. We watched a few horror flix when our folks weren’t home, scared the shit out of ourselves a couple times and had to go to bed with all the lights on. The guys on the team like to get together to see movies and they always want to go to that kind of shit when I would prefer something a little more historic or at least realistic.
Yeah that has to be it. But I don’t talk about her all the time. I just don’t.
I hate this dress. Mom got it for me to wear to my cousin’s wedding. Apparently you can’t wear jeans to a wedding. If I ever get married, it will totally be more casual than that. Of course I’ve gotten over my phobia of dresses since then. My trip to Europe cured me of that. You can start out in jeans, but pretty soon you realize that’s not the way women dress over there. I mean, on the weekend or out in the country but not every day. You just…look weird and stand out when you do that and I’ve never been one to stand out. I mean…everyone stares at you when you do that and I am so not about being the centre of attention.
Blend in. That’s the name of the game. Do as the natives do and when in Rome and all that.
So a dress, a light purple dress with smocking and eyelets and spaghetti straps that sort of…floats around my knees and a pair of strappy sandals that tie around my ankles because it’s a garden party, a barbeque, casual and yet it’s a party. This is what people, well women, wear to something like this.
Europe also taught me about heels. Oh my god the shoes you can buy in Paris and Milan! They might cost a month’s salary but your legs look amazing when you’re wearing them and men whistle at you when you walk down the street.
Not that that’s what I’m going for as I walk through the gate and into the crowded yard. I mean, first of all, I can’t compete with my mother and second of all, the idea is to get in, see him, prove to myself once and for all that I’m totally over him, and then get out. Okay, so maybe I’m hoping he’ll be a little impressed, just enough to make him remember me, but that’s it. That’s all. I’m not even hoping for him to ask me out, because I have to face facts, I’m not that cute. My mother never lets me forget that. So I’ll settle for surprised, maybe even pleasantly surprised if I’ve done my job with the new shimmering lip gloss and the latest technology in mascara.
But I have to remind myself to breathe when I walk across the grass to where he’s standing with a couple of the other guys from his team. Rubbing my hands nervously down my dress, I almost lose my nerve altogether.
What if he laughs? That’s all I can think as I watch his full lips turn up in a way that I know that he’s already laughing, especially when he sort of ducks his head to the side. That’s when he’s really letting loose. I know that body language as surely as I know my own. I also know the sound of that laugh, a giggle really, high and boyish. I also know the way his hazel eyes crinkle when he laughs, and how he sort of squeezes his shoulders together.
My heart flutters in my chest when those bright, laughter filled eyes turn on me and his big boyish grin gets impossibly wider. Christ he’s so damn handsome and I can tell by the greedy look in his eyes that he has no idea that beneath the hairspray and the lip gloss that the woman facing him is just me and that just makes me mad.
My hands clench into fists at my side as I wait for it, wait for him to ask my name, to do that thing he does when he’s trying to introduce himself to someone he doesn’t know and he acts all professional and business like. I hate it and I swear to all things holy that when he does it this time I’m going to smack him. I’m just going to haul off and let him have it.
“You look…familiar,” he begins, narrowing his almond shaped eyes at me like he’s trying to remember something but it isn’t coming to him. Yeah, because he’s probably picturing himself making out with some girl behind the arena, not camping out under the stars and eating s’mores.
I clench my teeth and dig my fingernails into the palms of my hands until it hurts enough to remind me to breathe and not to lash out, even though I want to. Oh yeah, I want to.
“It’s me…Melody,” I hiss through clenched teeth, thinking that I should have come in the overalls after all. At least I’d have stood a chance of him recognizing me then.
“No way,” he grins suddenly and laughs. He laughs. Like it’s funny. Like I’m funny.
“Little four eyes?”
“Wh…what?” I stammer, staring at him, open mouthed, incredulous. Four eyes? Since when did he call me four eyes? Since when did anyone call me that?
“I just meant…wait…Mel!” I hear him but with the tears suddenly filling my eyes and with all the lights that have suddenly gone on around the stage, I can’t see him. Not that I want to, I think, as I turn and run the opposite direction.
I thought it had just been the kids in junior high that had said cruel shit like that and I’d always thought that Sidney was better than that, better than them. In fact I’d always thought he’d told them to shut up when they’d said things like that. I had no idea he’d joined in. And that wasn’t the worst of it. If I’d thought he’d hurt me before, it was nothing compared to the pain that shot through my heart now.
I’d learned to run in heels in Europe. It was that or miss a train or a tram or a bus, but I can’t outrun a professional athlete who was in better shape than I’d ever hope to be.
“Mel!” His hand presses down on my shoulder, his fingers digging in to my skin enough that it hurts but I shrug it off, pushing his arm away so he grabs my arm instead, his fingers wrapping around my wrist and I swear I can hear the metacarpals grinding together. “Mel! Will you stop?! I didn’t mean it…well not like it sounded. I was just…I was surprised. You look….”
“Not like me?” I ask venomously, turning on him as I try to wrench my wrist free of his iron grip but he doesn’t let go, not even when I tug on it.
“You look great Mel. I just…I don’t think I’ve ever seen you, you know, in a dress before.” I want to crawl into a hole and die when his gaze sweeps over me like he’s never seen me before, like I’m some kind of circus freak and he can’t believe his eyes. The amusement I can see in the upturn of his lips and the way his eyes crinkle around the edges makes me want to put my hands over my face and scream ‘I am not a monster’. But I manage, and only just, to stand there and put up with his staring.
“I’m a girl. Not that you’ve ever noticed,” I add with a sigh. “Girls do wear dresses sometimes.”
“So I see,” he agrees, his lips turning up into a smile that tells me only one thing. He’s going to laugh. “I just didn’t think I’d ever see it, that’s all.”
“Fuck you Crosby,” she snarls, turning on her heel and heading back out towards the gate but I can’t let her go off mad like this. I also can’t help it if it’s a huge surprise to see little Melody Kelly in a dress. When I think of her it’s usually a girl in pig tails and overalls or a pair of ripped and grubby jeans, her hands smudged with grease and her pretty gray blue eyes hidden behind a pair of glasses that are too big for her pretty face.
Her pretty face…. As I turn her towards me again, I can’t quite get over the girl looking back at me. Or should I say the spitting cat with her claws out? I don’t remember this girl at all.
“I was just wondering what happened to my little tomboy friend Mel?” I hear myself asking as I lean forward to tuck a wayward strand of her dark hair behind her ear. She narrows her blue eyes at me but doesn’t move away.
“People grow up, they change, kind of like you, mister high and mighty better than everyone else too big for this town and your old friends,” she snarls, finally wrenching free of the grip I had on her arm, flinching just a little, but I can see in her eyes that though I may have hurt her, she’s not about to give me the satisfaction of rubbing it and letting me know that. That’s my friend Mel, just as tough as any of the boys.
“I am not,” I begin but can’t get out the rest of my argument before Max sweeps by me and takes Mel’s hand gently between his own, massaging her wrist gently with his fingers.
“What my friend here is trying to say in his very graceless way is that he’s very pleased to see you and that you look very elegant tonight, and if he isn’t, than I certainly am.” Shaking my head I think about grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and punching him in the gut but instead I just nod and agree. Mel looks up from where his fingers are still making slow circles on her inner arm to his face and then over at me and I have to bite my lip to stop from laughing out loud again because there, in that very expression, is the Mel I know. I can see it in the line between her eyebrows and the way she purses her lips that she’s thinking ‘what the fuck is with this guy?’ but the old Mel, the Mel I knew before would have said it out loud. This Mel, this creature with breasts and legs and long, luxuriant hair, looks up at me and raises an eyebrow and smiles.
“Well thank you. At least someone around here has manners.”
Oh my god. Her mother has finally done it. She’s broken my little sandbox pal Mel. She’s turned her into a zombie beauty queen with etiquette and manners and taste.
“Won’t you come into the party? Perhaps you would like to join me in having some wine. I noticed a lovely vintage of Bordeaux earlier,” Max says, offering his arm, which she takes with another look over at me that clearly says ‘your loss’ as they leave me standing there in the dark, watching one of my best friends walk into my party with…with my oldest friend?
“So you’re the famous Melody eh?” Max says, handing me a glass of something red before joining me at the end of the dock, slipping out of his shoes and rolling up the legs of his dress pants.
“Infamous you mean,” I disagree as I watch him slide his feet into the cool water of the lake, wincing like the water’s freezing or something. Inlanders….
“I don’t know about that,” he grins over at me. “The way Croz talks about you, we all feel like we know you,” he continues, rotating his feet in the water until a wake forms around them.
“We?” I ask, taking a careful sip of the rich red liquid. It’s better than anything my parents ever have in the house.
“The guys on the team,” Max continues, looking over at me, a crease forming between his bushy eyebrows. “I admit, I was expecting dungarees, braces, pigtails and a twelve year old girl, but unlike my friend over there,” he says, glancing over toward the bandstand where Sidney is talking to members of the band, “I have enough of an imagination to have added a few years to the image in my mind.” Tearing my gaze away from Sidney’s dark wavy hair, I look back at his friend to find him smiling thoughtfully at me and it makes me want to squirm. “You do know why Mr. Subtle over there ran his mouth before he could edit what was coming out of it don’t you?” he asks, raising a single eyebrow at me as if to say ‘c’mon you should know this’, like a professor does when he thinks you’ve actually done the reading for class, but I haven’t done my swatting for this and I don’t honestly know what’s going on in Sidney’s mind, other than he obviously still thinks of me as the freckle-nosed girl that followed him around every summer like a loyal little puppy dog. Shaking his head, Max seems to give up and turns his face away, contemplating some dark spot out on the lake. “You’ve never been to the ‘Burgh have you?” he finally asks, putting his glass down and leaning back on his hands. When he turns to me I just shake my head. “It’s not normal for him there. I mean, maybe in Mario’s house it’s a bit normal but most of the time he’s the big celebrity, you know?”
“Big headed you mean,” I grumble, rolling my eyes as I think about all the hoopla and hullabaloo surrounding his return to the Harbor this year.
“You don’t get it,” Max snorts, shaking his head and kicking water towards where my feet are dangling in the dark water. “This is his normal. You are his normal.” It’s my turn to narrow my eyes at him, not following his explanation. “He can’t just be himself all the time when we’re in Pittsburgh and even when he’s just with us guys, he’s always got his guard up, you know, because he’s got to assume that someone is always watching him. But here…you guys have always known him so he can be himself. You know what I mean?” I didn’t know. I didn’t know what that even meant and something in my expression must be showing what I ‘m thinking as Max shakes his head, laughing. “Well for one thing, he would never have said something so completely bone headed as he did to you if we were back in the ‘Burgh. He’d have been far more…diplomatic.”
“Sidney? Diplomatic?” It was my turn to laugh as I thought about the boy I knew who could talk a mile a minute and rarely, if ever, edited his thoughts.
“See?” Max laughs, glancing back at his friend and teammate with an indulgent, almost familial look in his eye. “You know a different Sid than I do, than we do back in the ‘Burgh. I mean, yeah, get a drink or two into him, just around us guys, and you can’t shut the motor mouth up.” Nodding, I thought that was more like the boy I knew, although I had to admit that that wasn’t quite the same boy that had come back after his first season in the NHL.
“Yeah, well, he doesn’t even talk to me anymore. I can’t even think of the last time I even got an email from him,” I sigh, doing my best not to show that it bothers me.
“That’s weird,” Max admits, contemplating the dark water swirling around his ankles, “I remember how bummed he was when you weren’t here last summer.”
“Bummed?” It slips out before I can edit it, or even make it sound less hopeful and surprised and I know I’ve failed miserably when Max looks over at me and smirks.
“Yeah, scouts honor,” he replies holding up his hand and making something that looks a lot more like ‘live long and prosper’ than a boy scout salute, but what do I know?
“Yeah right,” I mumble, turning my gaze away from his so I can hide the emotions I know must be showing in my face. I’ve never been one for playing poker, mostly because I can’t lie to save my life. Every single thing I’m thinking shows on my face.
“C’mon, look at this face.” Max ‘s shoulder bumps mine and I look up to see him pulling a face that makes me laugh. “Would I lie to you?”
“Oh I don’t know, I’ve heard a bit about you,” I begin, to which he nods and looks a bit proud of himself even as he glances around furtively, as if to see if we’re going to be overheard before he leans in and whispers in my ear.
“Not everything you hear is true,” he laughs, to which I can only shake my head.
“That’s not exactly a denial,” I respond, glancing over to see him grinning to himself.
“What’s the use?” he asks, holding his glass up to the moon so the silvery light filtering through it turns his face a shade of ruby. I look at him and wonder just how much trouble he’s gotten my old friend into.
“I know what you’re doing,” I tell him quietly, to which he only raises a single eyebrow and silently continues to contemplate his wine glass. “I met men like you in Europe, especially in France and Spain. You’re trying to prey on my insecurities and then you’re going to try and seduce me when you think I’m at my weakest.” I watch his eyes crinkle as he snorts with laughter before turning to me.
“I’ll tell you what. If, by the end of the night, Sidney isn’t trying to get that dress off of you, I will.” I feel my cheeks burn in response to the look the furry Frenchman gives me, but for some reason I just can’t summon any kind of anger at him for it.
At least he’s honest.
“You trust Max with Mel?” Jordan asks, pointing towards where the two of them are flirting down at the end of the dock. I nod, though my blood is actually boiling. Max knows damn well that I’ve been wanting to talk to Mel for a while now but he’s monopolizing all of her time. He said he was just going to smooth things over but it’s pretty clear from where I’m standing that Max is doing exactly what Max always does with the girls. He’s flirting and by the look of it she’s flirting back.
Mel doesn’t flirt.
That’s always been one of the refreshing things about her. She’s never been one of those girls that looks at me like…like a piece of meat. I mean, there’s definitely a time and place for that kind of thing and every once in a while a guy likes to be looked at that way but…well not every day.
Of course there’s a first time for everything. Like that dress. I can’t remember ever seeing Mel in a dress. She looks so…different. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen her but…I just keep looking down at her sitting on that dock thinking of all the times we sat on the front steps of our house, her in her high-tops and jeans and me in my sweats. Little Mel. Funny…I never really thought of her as a girl. I mean, I knew she was one I just never thought of her…girl parts before.
“Well, are you gonna go break that up or what?” Jordan reiterates, snapping me out of my reverie. I turn my attention back to the two of them, sitting out there under the light of the moon, with their heads almost touching.
“Yeah, I guess I’d better or I’ll be in trouble with Mr. Kelly,” I mutter, kicking at a rock as I stick my hands in the pockets of my jeans as I head down to the dock. Not that I know what I’m going to say, especially if she’s still mad at me, which is also just kind of weird. That’s something else I also don’t remember - Mel ever being mad at anyone but her mom and maybe sometimes her dad for not sticking up for her. But mad at me? I just don’t remember us ever fighting about anything.
I’ve always sort of thought I’d like to have that in my life. Someone who just didn’t get emotional and pick fights all the time. I mean, I love my parents and all they’ve done for me, but my dad can be such a fucking tyrant and I hate seeing my mom cry and as much as I love Mario and Nathalie like a second set of parents, they bicker all the time. I’ve always thought I’d rather have a relationship like Flower and Vero but even they’ve started to snap at one another lately. What with Vero wanting to get married and Marc wanting to wait a while longer.
I never thought of having a relationship with Mel though. Not that way. I mean, I always thought we’d be friends and I liked that she was always calm about everything, took everything in her stride, at least among the bunch of us on the street. Not with her mom. Definitely not but I guess I thought that would pass when she moved out.
When did I start thinking about that?
Giving my head a shake I step off of the grass and onto the dock, the wood creaking slightly underfoot. I half expect Max to turn around looking guilty but instead he kisses her forehead and walks away from her, giving me a knowing smile before he walks by me too.
That was weird.
Stepping out of my shoes, I find myself staring at the milky white skin of Mel’s back, the slight curve of her shoulder blades, the slope of her bare shoulders and then long, wavy spun gold of her hair that falls to the middle of her back and something in my chest squeezes hard and takes my breath away, just for a moment.
Swallowing, with a little difficulty, I pull my socks off and stick them in the toes of my shoes before rolling up my jeans and heading over to the edge of the dock where she’s sitting with her feet in the water. I slide down onto the wood beside her, taking the spot that Max has recently vacated, and slip my feet into the cool water beside hers’. We sit like that for a few minutes, in companionable but charged silence before I muster the courage to speak.
“I’m sorry, about before, what I said…I was just…surprised I guess,” I explain, watching her feet, silvery white below the surface of the water, making slow circles.
“Apology accepted, I guess,” she mutters but doesn’t look up, her gaze trained on her own feet, her hands curled around the edge of the dock.
“Max is right. You look…,” the word catches in my throat and for some reason I almost can’t say it, except that it’s also like I can’t not say it. “You look beautiful.” Her feet stop moving in the water for a moment and it’s like we’re both holding our breath, like maybe the whole world is holding its breath, and then she crosses her ankles and starts to swing her legs like a little kid.
“You’re just saying that to be nice and because I’m mad at you,” she says quietly, so quietly that I have to lean in to hear her and so our arms touch and that’s when she looks up at me, just for a minute. Her blue eyes shine silver in the moonlight and I realize that she’s on the verge of tears. Holy shit, I’ve made Mel cry. I thought only her mom could do that.
Fuck me, I’m such an asshole.
“I’m not,” he whispers, after an endless moment during which I begin to wonder what he is going to say, half expecting some wise crack like ‘you’re right, you look funny in a dress. But that isn’t what he says. And that, mixed with the way he says it and the way a couple of his fingers creep over to touch mine, I start to actually believe what his friend Max said is true. Maybe he has missed me a little bit.
“Well you don’t have to say that. I mean you could just say I look nice. You don’t have to go that far.” I know it’s not the most confident thing to say but I honestly don’t feel like fighting anymore. I’m half afraid if I do that I’ll start to cry and the last thing I need to do is cry in front of Crosby and let him see how weak he makes me.
“I know I don’t,” he replies, his hand brushing against mine, “but it’s true. It’s just…you look a lot…different than the last time we hung out,” he adds, his little finger creeping over mine until they’re sort of hooked together. I stare down at our hands and then up at him.
“You can say it if you want. Everyone else has,” I sigh, waiting for it, waiting for the ‘I can’t believe you’re actually a girl’ speech that the rest of the guys have been giving me for the past year. “Go on, even the Troymeister said it so you might as well get it over with.” Sidney stares back at me with this confused look on his face. “Oh c’mon. You know you’re thinking it. Repeat after me, I can’t believe you’re actually a girl….”
“But you are. I mean…obviously you are,” he adds quickly, tearing his gaze from mine and removing his hand quickly, churning the water around his feet until I can feel the waves around my legs. I stare at him for a moment, mouth agape as I see the scarlet rush of blood racing up his neck and into his cheeks and suddenly my own cheeks are aflame as I realize that not only has he noticed but…maybe he actually…no, no, that can’t be right.
The silence drags out for what seems like forever between us as I track the silvery trail of the moon creeping across the water of the lake. Finally Sidney’s legs become still and this sort of heaviness fills the silence between us that makes my skin itch. I want to say something to end the uncomfortable silence but I don’t know what that might be. I have all these questions in my head but half of them would just start a fight and the other half…I’m afraid of the answers he might give. So instead, I chew on my lip and stare at the water, trying not to think too hard about the heat of his body so near to mine or the expensive cologne he’s wearing that makes me want to lean in and lick the thin skin of his neck.
Damn. I guess I’m not over him after all.
“Mel?” My heart leaps in my chest as soon as he says my name, like I’m surprised, like he’s snuck up on me. Or maybe because of the way he says it, quietly and like he’s about to say something…important.
“Mmmhm?” I glance over to find him looking at me with this strange, wary expression on his face, like he’s worried that I might bite. It’s all I can do to stop myself from letting the nervous giggle that’s threatening to escape out of my mouth.
“I was just…I mean…do you have a boyfriend?”
My heart stop beating, literally, and the smile disappears from my face as I tear my gaze from his, turning my full attention back to water rippling around my ankles while I tell myself to breathe…just…breathe.
I’ve totally overstepped the boundary now. First I laugh at her and now I’m asking her if she’s free. She’s gonna think the air in Pittsburgh has scrambled my brain. Or worse, she’s gonna think I’m just making fun of her again.
“I mean…you know, have you been seeing anyone lately?” I quickly add, trying to sound less interested and more casual when really my heart is racing in my chest like I’ve just done a set of wind sprints. I watch her feet making little circles in the water, trying to get my thoughts straight because I don’t even know where I’m going with this or why.
“I bet you have loads of girls back in Pittsburgh,” she replies, turning the tables on me. Touché.
“Not…it’s not like you might think,” I stumble over the words in my haste to explain away any ideas she might have of my keeping a harem of puck bunnies at Mario’s.
“Most of those girls are…scary stalkers who just want to date a hockey player, any hockey player.” Mel chuckles and shakes her head, withdrawing her feet from the cool water and pulls her knees up to her chest.
“You know that’s not true,” she states softly, sounding tired as she stares across the lake.
“It is. They’re crazy. Some of the guys have had girls follow them home and….” She turns and gives me this look that stops me dead in my tracks.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t know that thousands of girls have those pictures from Vanity Fair up in their lockers and that you’re like…the wallpaper on their computers,” she says, leveling her gaze at me and raising her eyebrow, sort of like Max does when he’s making a point or being a smart ass.
The words are out of my mouth before I even realize I’m thinking them and I’m almost wishing I could take them back when she ducks her head away, but not before I’m sure I’ve seen a bright pink stain colour her cheeks.
“I don’t have to,” she replies quietly, “I’ve got that picture of us in the tub. Remember?”
Oh yeah. That.
I can’t help but cringe at the memory. Both of our mothers have that particular item of endless amusement framed and displayed in a prominent position in the living room and they both take particular pride in pointing it out. I don’t remember why we were both in the bath at the same time, and we were only like, three years old, but still….
“I guess that’s not your wallpaper huh?” I ask, trying to lighten the mood, ease this strange new tension between us and am rewarded by a shy smile that reminds me more of the Mel that I remember.
“I don’t remember you being quite so cocky,” she adds with a smirk. I start to argue that I’m not but just then the moonlight catches her eyes and makes her hair gleam and all the words that don’t really mean anything just drift away and I’m left with the words I’m afraid to say but find myself speaking anyway.
“I don’t remember you being so beautiful.” Her gray blue eyes widen and her smile disappears, replaced with a sort of doe in the headlights look that’s part panic and part expectation. I find myself reaching out to touch her, wanting to calm her, soothe her. I brush her hair back from her cheek, cupping her face in my hand and her pretty eyes flutter closed. She looks so vulnerable, like a porcelain doll that I’m suddenly filled with the urge to hold and once my arms are around her my lips brush against hers’ and then the world evaporates around us.