“And then what happened?” Chloe asks, breathlessly hanging on my every word, her blue eyes wide as she stares at me across the table, her lunch left entirely untouched on her plate. Shrugging, I dig into my chowder, lifting a steaming spoonful to my mouth and blowing across it, eyeing a large chunk of lobster hungrily.
“They called him up to the stage,” I reply nonchalantly, putting the spoonful of creamy seafood filled goodness into my mouth and chewing thoughtfully.
“And then what?” she asks urgently, her doll like eyes fringed with almost bat-like fake eyelashes opening even wider as she waits for me to go on with my story, wanting the Hollywood happy ending that, God only knows, I wish I could give her. Hell I wish I could give me the romance novel ‘and she lived happily ever after with her prince charming’, except that isn’t what happened and it isn’t what’s going to happen either. Because life isn’t like that, remember? It’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.
“Then nothing. He got called up to the stage, there was a bunch of hoopla and crap and speeches and then the Troymeister got a hold of him and there was some corporate shit and…and then I don’t know, I didn’t see him again,” I reply honestly, digging into the bowl of soup again but this time not quite as fervently. My appetite seems to have dissolved with the telling of the not so happy ending and very unsatisfying ending to my ‘what did you do over the summer’ story.
“What? Are you serious? All night? He never tried to see you again all night?” Shaking my head, I stir my soup and try not to dwell on the sour feeling that last spoonful of chowder has left in my stomach. Not that it’s the chowder’s fault. Every time I eat anything lately it ends up the same way, leaving me with that sort of queasy ‘this isn’t going to stay down’ sort of feeling. “Well then he is just as big a weasel as you always said he is,” Chloe sighs dramatically and goes back to munching thoughtfully on a plate of poutine. I’d agree with her, but as I lift my fingertips to my lips, I’m having a hard time getting past that kiss. That kiss that made my toes curl and my heart beat so hard that I thought I was going to have a stroke. That kiss that I wake up in the night feeling all over again, sure I’m going to wake up with his arms around me and his soft lips pressed against mine, only to find myself alone, in the dark, again. Finally Chloe catches on that I haven’t answered her and she stops chewing, mid fry, and looks up at me with that look that says ‘wait a god damn minute’ and then chews faster, so I know it’s coming, the speech.
“Don’t,” I mutter, poking my spoon back into my soup and avoiding her accusing stare. “Don’t tell me that you can’t believe that I’m still letting him get to me and that I’m way too good for him and all that. Just…don’t okay?”
“Well you have to admit, kiss or not, he certainly could have acted like a little more of a gentleman!” she sputters, indignant on my behalf. I shrug, because what else can I do? I agree but I’m past the indignant stage. In fact I’m past the tears and I’m almost past the feeling sorry for myself stage too. Almost. “Melody Kelly, you are too good for him and you know it. You are too educated, too sophisticated, too mature for some knob who can barely remember your name. Now snap out of it, this minute. There is a big sea of fish out there and you could have your pick.” I smile, because you have to love when your girlfriend is solidly in your corner like that and it’s not like I haven’t stared in the mirror in my room and told myself exactly the same thing. The problem is, I didn’t believe myself so what hope does she have of convincing me of the same thing?
“Well then you would have approved of what happened later that night,” I sigh as I finally give up on my soup and push it away from me reaching instead for the cellophane crackers.
“I thought you said he didn’t come back?” she asks, her hand stalled halfway to her mouth, a soggy fry waiting to be eaten dripping cheese curds back onto her plate.
“He didn’t,” I correct her, munching thoughtfully on a cracker, partly because I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it and partly because I know it’s just going to drive her insane to wait. “His friend, Max, did. You know, the one that said if Sidney didn’t try to get me out of my dress….”
“O.M.G!” The fry drops to her plate and Chloe pushes the entire plate aside. “You bitch! You’ve been holding out on me!”
“Yeah well…I’m not even sure how to explain it,” I admit, popping another cracker into my mouth.
“Well you had better figure it out lady. Now spill.”
“Was that…did they call me?” I don’t know if it’s really someone calling my name or if it’s the angel or the devil on my shoulder wondering just what in the hell I’m doing kissing my little sandbox pal. When I turn back to her, the tips of Mel’s fingers are just brushing her lips, like she’s wiping away the kiss, and she won’t look me in the eye.
“I think so. I mean, yeah, I’m pretty sure they are,” she adds, sounding confident and…well like she’s brushing me off, like she can’t wait for me to leave. I open my mouth to tell her that I don’t need to go, that whatever it is can wait, but she’s already scrambling to her feet, straightening her dress and pretty much doing anything but looking at me. Like she can’t or doesn’t want to. “You should go,” she adds, glancing towards the bandstand where I’m pretty sure I can make out the solemn figure of my father standing there, waiting for me to step up to the plate, to be the dutiful son and heir, to do my duty by my family and sponsors. And yet….
“Mel…I…,” my voice fails me, or rather I can’t decide what it is I want to say. Part of me wants to tell her that my heart is racing and that I’ve never felt like this before and I want to tell my friend how crazy this to feel like this but the look she suddenly gives me makes me swallow all of those words. Christ, if looks could kill….
“Just go, okay? Mustn’t disappoint daddykins,” she says in a dismissive tone that says she doesn’t want to talk about it. That what just happened never happened. So…okay then.
“I’ll see you later?” I don’t really mean to make it a question, but it just sort of comes out that way and she shrugs and waves me off like…like yeah, maybe. Like maybe she doesn’t want to. I stand there for another minute, watching as she stoops to pick up her shoes and wait for her to follow but she doesn’t. She just stands there looking out across the lake, like she’s waiting for me to go and I stand there, my hands clenched at my sides, still wanting to grab her shoulders and turn her around and press my lips against hers’ again, but I don’t. I mean, I won’t. Not if she doesn’t want me to.
I mean…fuck her if she’s going to be like that.
All I can think is go…just go if you’re fucking going.
If he can just drop everything and run off after kissing me like that, then I’ll fucking die before I let him see that I can hardly breathe, that my hands are shaking, that my heart is racing and I feel like I’m about to pass out.
“Mel…I….” Oh god, here it comes, he’s going to fucking say he didn’t mean it and I swear to god if he says that I’m going to get very unfucking lady like and kick his ass or better yet, throw him in the lake. But I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of seeing that I care, or letting him say it either, because I don’t care or at least I won’t, after I’ve got myself under control.
“Just go, okay? Mustn’t disappoint daddykins,” I snarl, glancing up towards the stage where his dad is looking down at us, literally and figuratively. Oh yeah, I can hear it now, just like always. Troy telling Sid about how he can’t be running around sewing his wild oats, how he needs all his energy for hockey and how a player of his import can’t be out carousing with women because they’re all after two things that his precious son has, money and fame. No wonder Sid’s still single with that view of women.
“I’ll see you later,” he says, because it’s what you say, because he is his mother’s son and even though his father is a gruff, foul mouthed fish wife, his mother had sense enough to raise him to be politic at the very least. I shrug, because telling him to stick it up his arse isn’t going to help the situation and god forbid I should actually tell him what I think of him, because then we’d be here all night and people might actually overhear us fighting and that…well that my mother would never let me hear the end of. God forbid the neighbors should ever hear you fight.
I can feel him watching me, waiting for me to follow obediently so I can stand in front of the stage, just one more admirer among literally a hundred. As fucking if.
I thought, for just one minute, that maybe, just maybe Sidney Patrick Crosby had finally realized that I’d grown up and that we could be more than friends. Well I will not make that mistake again and I will not…I absolutely will not let him see me cry.
(back to the present)
My best friend is asking for permission to date….well, my other best friend. This is the true meaning of awkward.
“I didn’t know…you didn’t tell me something happened between you two,” I manage, which isn’t easy considering that I’ve been imagining myself with Mel ever since the barbeque and now all I can think about is her with Max and I kinda think I threw up in my mouth, just a little.
“I wasn’t sure anything was happening but,” and this is where Max gets that gleam in his eyes and even though I can tell he’s trying not to smile, he is, “we’ve been emailing and talking and…. “Why, is it going to be a problem?” Max asked, kicking the toe of my skate with his. I couldn’t look up at him. I knew that the fact that it was going to be a problem would be written all over my face.
“No,” I muttered, trying to keep at least my voice level and unemotional. “No problem.”
“I didn’t think the whole little sister thing was going to be a problem,” he continued, sounding so pleased with himself that it made me grind my teeth. “I didn’t think you would really pull the whole big brother thing on me. Mel said you might but I told her you’d be cool,” he added, poking me with the blade of his stick until I looked up at him and I could tell by his reaction that my urge to kill him slowly and painfully was clear in my eyes. “Whoa, mon copain, I thought you weren’t hung up on the girl. If you are just say the word, but….”
“I’m not,” I insist, going back to tying my laces, tugging hard on them, enjoying the pain as they bite into my fingers. “If she wants to go out with you….”
“C’mon man, you know how irresistible I am to the ladies,” he crows, puffing his chest out and walking around like he’s done something amazing, and if he has, I don’t want to know. “One taste of Superstar and they’re ruined for life.” One of the laces snaps in my hand and I stare down at the torn end, cursing silently. If she really thinks so little of what happened that night that she’d sleep with Max….
“I don’t want you to chew her up and spit her out like you do all those other girls,” I growl, standing up and getting in his face, a loop of skate lace still digging into my hand. “She’s not like them. She’s different. She’s….”
“Whoa. Slow down mon ami. I know, okay? I’m not just interested in one night stands and easy lays. Well not all the time at least,” he adds with that grin of his that is the exact reason why my stomach is churning at the mere thought of him, together with her. “It happens to all of us one day,” he continues with a shrug, getting a far away look in his eyes and it sends a shudder down my spine. “That girl comes along that we know is the mother of our unborn children.”
Now I know he’s fucking yanking my chain. Maxime Talbot is not now, and probably never will be the marrying kind. Shaking my head, I turn my back on him and start hunting through my kit, looking for a spare set of laces.
“I don’t know what I’m worried about. You’d never make a long distance thing work anyways,” I mumble, grabbing a pair and sitting back down, intent on finishing up with my skates so that I can get out on the ice and hit someone that isn’t my teammate, although I’m getting close to making the exception and hammering Max in the face.
“Well New York, Pittsburgh, it’s not that far.” My hand freezes, mid air, and I stare up at him, incredulous.
“You mean Cole Harbour. I know you Quebecois think you’re from the centre of the fucking universe but….”
“No, no, c’mon now. You really don’t keep in touch do you?” Max shakes his head at me and furrows his brow. “Design school, the fashion district of New York. C’mon man. Keep up.”
“Fashion…Mel?” I shake my head, laughter bubbling up in my chest. Those two words…no those two worlds just don’t make sense. Even after seeing her in that dress I can’t make myself think of her getting involved in that industry, unless of course it’s in an Ugly Betty sort of way and that…well I can hardly think of her like that after…well after some of the dreams I’ve been having.
“She’s right,” Max sighs, shaking his head at me again and, seemingly giving up on me, walking away. “You don’t know her. Not at all.” It’s true. I know it’s fucking true. After seeing her looking…well fucking amazing in that dress, I guess it’s true that I don’t really know what she’s been up to lately, but not knowing her? Fuck that. I know Mel. I’ve known her my entire life. She might be a little curvier than she used to be but somewhere in there is still the girl I’ve known all along. I know she is.
“Whatever Max. If she is in New York…you still won’t be able to make it work with her. You haven’t got it in you to be true to anyone and I’m telling you right now. One fuck up, just one,” I grin up at him, knowing how fiery Mel’s temper is and how quick it is to light, “and you’re fucking history.”
“I told you he’d be cool.”
I can practically hear him grinning on the other end of the line and I wish that it actually made me happy to talk to him, but it doesn’t. I can feel the grip of disappointment around my heart, like cold dead fingers stilling the beating of that muscle and, like a wraith, dragging me down into the darkness of the grave.
“That’s…great,” I lie, silently cursing Sidney Patrick Crosby for not caring, for being so blasé about it. For fuck’s sake would it kill him to have given Max a hard time at the very least? Maybe not a black eye but…at the very least the whole ‘I’ll kill you if you hurt her’ speech. I mean, at the very least he owes me that fucking much.
“So we’re cool for next weekend? Dinner after the game and then...whatever.” And by whatever we’re both clear on the fact that he means sex. It doesn’t need to be said. Not after what happened before.
“Yeah, yeah I guess. Did you want to pick me up from campus or...?”
“Come on, what do you think I am? Cheap? Come by the rink, MSG. I’ll get tickets at will call for you, under Superstar,” he laughs and even I have to smile at the idea of him telling the ticketing agent that, never mind my having to say it. But then my smile disappears as I think about having to face Sidney.
“Oh I don’t know,” I begin but Max only laughs on the other end of the line.
“Don’t worry about ‘im, leave ‘im to me. I know ‘ow to ‘andle ‘im.” Mel didn’t doubt it. When it came to ‘handling’ things, Max didn’t seem to shy away from much.
“You leaving already?” Sidney’s friend Max fell into step beside me as I walked down the driveway, my arms wrapped around myself partly to keep warm and partly to stop myself from turning around and giving their house the finger.
“I can think of better things to do,” I muttered, not inviting him to walk with me but not sending him away either.
“It’s not a bad party,” he commented, neither extolling its’ virtues or begging me to stay. “Free booze.”
“I’m not much of a drinker,” I sighed, turning to head down the street, the sound of my heels on the asphalt echoing in the still darkness. I half expected Max to stop once we’d reached the end of the driveway, to turn and head back inside, but he continued to walk beside me, his hands stuffed into the front pockets of his jeans, his shoulders hunched against the damp cool air of the encroaching Fall which only further proved that he’d come from away.
“You seemed to like the wine,” he suggested, to which I could only shrug. It had been good.
“Fill yer boots. Don’t let me stop you,” I added, quickening my pace, hoping he’d get the hint and leave me to my misery. Isn’t that the truth though? When you get in a good mad on, you just want to relish it? Stay good and mad for a while? That was how I felt. I wanted to be angry and stop my feet and have a good old fashioned temper tantrum. Just not in front of anyone.
“Is it Sid? Did he do something...say something?” Max prodded not losing a step as he easily kept pace with me. I glanced over at him, to see if it showed in his face, if he knew but he kept his head down, seemingly watching his feet.
“Him?” I felt my heart quicken at the thought of someone else knowing about what had happened, that he might want to talk about it or worse, like some grade-schooler, that Sidney would have asked him to ask me about it. “Why would something he’d said matter?” Clenching my teeth I wait for his answer, sure he’s going to defend his friend, tell me to give him a break. Just like everyone else in this town does all of the time. But Max stays silent, saying nothing and suddenly I find myself the one pressing him for information. “How can you stand it? Everyone always talking about him? Bonnie Prince Crosby? Doesn’t it make you sick?” I hear Max snort and then he ne nods, glancing over at me with a half smile.
“Sure, at first it pissed me off. I mean, I ‘ave an ego too you know? But...he’s a nice guy, savez-vous ce que je veux dire? I mean, ‘e doesn’t like it anymore than I do but what can ‘e do?” Shaking my head, I let out a sigh that probably says more about what I think about that statement than I could possibly put into words. “I suppose you’ve heard it all,” he adds, at least having the decency to sound sympathetic.
“Since I was knee high,” I sigh, wrinkling my nose as I think of all the times me, or any of his other friends, would want him to come out to play, only to find TV trucks sitting in the driveway and our playmate the centre of attention, again. “The novelty wore off real fast,” I add, glancing over my shoulder to the lights and cars and noise coming from his backyard. “It’s sort of hard to be friends with someone that forgets you that you even exist.”
It’s then that Max takes a stride forward and then turns around so that he’s facing me, and then grabs my hand, quickly bending over it and fervently pressing his lips to the back of my hand before turning his eyes up to meet mine. Whether it’s because he’s caught me off guard or because I’m still preoccupied with what happened back on the dock, I just stand there, staring at him, frozen.
“How ‘e could forget about you...qui pourrait oublier une si belle creature,” he breathes, reaching out to brush my hair back from my face before cupping my cheek and kissing me, a long, soft kiss just as the breeze picks up and wraps my hair and the skirt of my dress around him as he pulls me close, into and against the solid warmth of his body.