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“Do you really think this is a good idea?” I ask as the waitress places my martini in front of me and takes the menus away from the table. She’s pretty, in that fragile porcelain doll sort of way but Max doesn’t even look up at her or watch her go. He just smiles across the table at me while I sip at my caramel apple martini.
“Well if he calls and I’m not with you, then we’d have some explaining to do, d’accord?” I have to admit he’s right, but it still seems like an unnecessary expenditure of his time to carry the ruse this far. “Besides, your friend and Jordy seem to be having a good time,” he adds, glancing sideways at where Kennedy and the big blonde are sitting near the window laughing and talking animatedly. I feel a twinge in my stomach as I recognize the look in my roomie’s eyes. If only….
“I can’t believe he minds her wearing that jersey,” I mutter, thinking of the tall reserved red head that seemed so different from his younger brother.
“I’ll tell you a little secret,” Max whispers, leaning across the table and grinning in that conspiratorial sort of way. “If Jordy gets lucky with your friend, he’ll never let Marc hear the end of it.” I have to laugh. Brothers; I may not have any biological ones but the way I grew up with Newt and Sid and some of the other boys from the neighborhood I have had plenty. “You’re thinking about him again,” Max sighs, leaning back in his chair, seemingly becoming fascinated with his ice water.
“Is it that obvious?” My own drink becomes infinitely fascinating as I feel the slow burn of blood rising from my neck into my face. This is why I don’t play poker.
“It will be hard you know,” he begins, tracing the lip of his glass with his finger tip before looking up at me. “He’s always doing something for somebody. He’s always thinking about hockey. He’s not even easy to be friends with never mind…more.” Max’s gaze holds mine and I suppose he’s trying to let me know that he’s serious about his warning, but for the second time tonight, all I can think is, don’t you think I know that? Don’t you think I’ve already thought about that? But instead of saying any of that and risking sounding like a whiny child, I bite my lip and merely shrug.
“I know,” I add, quietly, in response to which Max lets out another sigh before once again leaning forward and closing his hands over my own.
“Don’t get me wrong, Sid’s one of my best friends but…why go through all of this for someone who…who hasn’t even taken the time to keep in touch with you?” It isn’t exactly a knife to the heart but it is certainly painful to hear it said out loud, especially with Max looking at me like…well, like he pities me and that seems to make it worse.
“I wish I could explain it,” I reply sheepishly, because to say that I’d forgive Sidney almost anything sounds pathetic enough in my own head that I’m afraid to say it out loud.
It’s clear that it’s not enough of an explanation for Max because he puts on his determined face and I brace myself for the lecture, the same one all of my friends have already given me a hundred times, but then he seems to think better of it and sits back, letting go of my hands and changes the subject, to talk about himself and the game and lets me off the hook just like all of my girlfriends do when they know that no matter what they say it isn’t going to get through.
Except it does, just a little bit; enough to make my chest get tight as I think about it because Max knows him, the new, grown up Sidney that I don’t know and if he thinks I don’t stand a chance…then maybe I’m actually going to have to face up to the fact that I’ve wasted all this time on a dream that’s never, ever, going to come true.
“Why are you doing it?”
Max pauses, his jersey half on, half off, and then I hear him chuckle and that, if I wasn’t already angry at him, makes me furious. As it is, I've already decided that I was going to try to behave like a gentleman over this, no matter what he might say.
“I suppose I don’t have to ask what you mean by that,” he smirks as he turns to face me, tugging his jersey down over his pads. “I’m assuming you mean dating Mel, which, I’ll remind you that you told me you were okay with it.”
“Yeah, I know but why are you making such a…such a fucking spectacle out of her? That’s not…her. Just explain why you’re trying to turn her into something…else.” I hate the way the corner of his mouth turns up and he sort of shakes his head at me like he can’t believe I’m harassing him about something like this. Like it’s none of my business or worse, it’s not important, she’s not important.
“Un spectacle? You think I am making a spectacle of her?” His grin grows wider and then he laughs as he reaches out to tap the flat of his hand on my cheek. “Mon ami…you have a lot to learn about women.”
“If you want a puck, there are a lot of them out there. Take your pick but…why do you have to try and make her into….” Max’s hand slips from my cheek to my shoulder where his grip tightens and his expression turns from wry amusement to very serious.
“If I wanted a hockey whore, I’d have one. Maybe you should get your head around this. You don’t know her. You haven’t bothered to know her for a long time. Maybe you should be the one making a adjustment, pour un changement, mmm?” I open my mouth to argue, but I have nothing to say and the smile that appears on his lips tells me he know it too. “She misses you mon ami. Le seigneur sait seulement pourquoi.”
With that he gives my shoulder another pat and then walks past me, leaving me staring after him, feeling like a heel. Not that it means I forgive him for dressing her up like some kind of puck fuck Barbie doll but I guess I don’t have much of a leg to stand on either.
“If it helps, at all,” I turn at the feeling of another hand on my shoulder to find Jordy standing behind me watching Max turn to leave the room, “I think he really likes her. He wasn’t pulling all that Casanova shit he usually does and when we took her and her roomie back to their place, he didn’t even try and go in.”
I know what he’s saying is supposed to make me feel better, but somehow it doesn’t. Not at all.
“I thought we were going to the game?” Kennedy pushes the door to my room open to find me still in my jammies, tucked up in my bed, book in hand, tea on my bedside table.
“Yeah, about that, I’ve kinda decided that isn’t a great idea,” I sigh, turning my book over and putting it down so that I can reach for my tea.
“So is this an ‘I’m not feeling good’ jammie session or is this an ‘I’m feeling sorry for myself’ kind of thing?” she asks, kicking aside a pile of clothes on the floor so that she can climb onto the bed beside me, from which perch she studies me with a tilt to her head that tells me she knows damn well which it is, so I refuse to answer and continue to blow across the top of my cup. “Gee, let’s see, you’ve got a totally cute professional hockey player who wants to take you out to top restaurants and give you front row tickets to his games and you’re sulking because….?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” I mumble, taking a sip of my tea and then wincing when I realize I’ve burned the top of my mouth.
“You’re right, I don’t get it at all. Max is cute and he obviously digs you and….”
“No, actually, he doesn’t,” I sigh, putting my tea aside and grabbing my teddy bear instead, dropping my chin onto the top of his head. “It’s all bullshit. It’s a fucking act. I was just trying to make someone else jealous and…and it’s not working so I’m going to do it anymore.” Kennedy looks at me for a moment and then she turns so that she’s totally facing me, crosses her legs and gets comfortable.
“You’d better spill chickadee.” Rolling my eyes I cuddle my bear closer and shake my head.
“It’s such a long story and it doesn’t matter anyway. He doesn’t care about me so…so that’s it,” I reply firmly, almost as if I have to tell myself again, and again. Which I guess I do or I wouldn’t be in my jammies pouting about it. Kensy gave me a long hard look and then turned to look up at the jersey hanging on the back of my closet doors.
“I’m guessing now that you didn’t score that from ebay?” she asks, and all I know that yet again, my transparent as glass face has given me away.
“Not exactly,” I reply with a sigh as I feel the tension build in my shoulders at the thought of the story I’m going to have to tell now.
“Well then,” Kensy grins, pushing herself up off of the bed and holding her hand out to me. “You can tell me on the way, if you want to that is, but in the meantime, get dressed. We’re going.”
“Now that’s more like it.” Normally I pay very little attention to Max’s comments on the women in the crowd, but I realize as I follow his gaze up the stairs behind the bench that I almost can’t wait to catch him looking and point out to him that I don’t think Mel would appreciate his leering at other women. “You’re right, mon ami, she does look cute as un bouton dans des combinaisons.”
Mel and her roommate are being shown to their seats by the usher and even he can’t stop himself from grinning at the pair of them even though neither of them is wearing a stitch of makeup, or at least that’s what it looks like from where I’m sitting, and Mel is looking…well almost exactly as I remember her, in a plain t-shirt and a pair of faded overalls, although there’s something about the way the bib of the overalls fits across her chest that’s…well completely different from what I remember.
Her hair is even pulled back into a simple pony tail and she’s wearing a pair of scuffed and faded high-tops that remind me of the ones she used to wear everywhere, even to school dances, and I can’t help but smile.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tap that when you had a chance,” Dupers sighs, gazing up at her with a look on his face that makes the warm, fuzzy feeling of reminiscing disappear. “C’est une pitoune.”
“Not you too,” I snarl, turning back to the ice and forcing myself to watch Jordy line up for a face off. “She was my friend, okay?” I add, forcing the words through my teeth. “You don’t do that with your friends.”
“Friends with benefits do,” Max replies, elbowing me in the ribs before he gets up to climb over the boards and hit the ice. It makes me shutter, to think of Max and Mel and…benefits; a reaction I know that isn’t strictly fair, but as I turn for another glance back at where Mel and her friend are settling into their seats, I can see the men around them in the stands glancing at them too and that sets my teeth on edge.
She just wasn’t like that before and you don’t look at your friends that way. You just don’t. I’m even feeling bad about that kiss during the summer now. I don’t even know where that came from anymore. I don’t just go around kissing girls.
I’m not Max for god’s sake.
“Ma chère,” Max kisses my cheek and then leans over Kensy’s hand and presses his lips to the back of his hand. It’s quite a show, especially when Jordan hip checks him out of the way to get to Kennedy and sweeps her up in his arms, throws her over his shoulder and carries her off, squealing and kicking. As if she really wants to get free. “Don’t go anywhere. I will be back shortly and then…dinner?”
“Uh, Max, we should talk,” I mutter, glancing around the hallway, looking to see if there is some more private spot, or at least one not so crowded with media, equipment managers and family members.
“Ah, I recognize that look,” he sighs, and hangs his head, shaking it one before peering up at me with one eye, just so I can see the hint of a mischievous smile on his face. “Are you breaking up with me already ma petite? I’m wounded to the core.”
“This is just as bad as what he’s done to me my entire life. I’d rather just tell him than play this game any longer,” I sigh, smiling despite the butterflies in my stomach at the idea of actually confronting Sid, again. “Not that I don’t appreciate your help,” I add, reaching up to touch his be-whiskered cheek. “You’re very sweet to help me but…I don’t honestly think it would work anyway.”
“Well, now there you would be wrong,” he replies, quietly, leaning in so that he’s practically whispering in my ear, sweat dripping from his brow onto my shoulder. “I think our little ruse is working very well,” he adds, pressing his lips to the thin skin just below my ear, which, despite the fact that it’s Max and not Sid, causes my eyes to flutter close and a small whimper to be emitted from my lips.
“Maaaxxx,” I sigh, pressing my hands to his chest, pushing him away only to open my eyes to find Sidney standing across the corridor, staring at us and the look on his face is…well, unfriendly.
“Mon ami, elle semble merveilleuse, ne penses-tu pas?” I find myself looking from Max to Sidney and back, wondering how in the hell I got myself into this position and how in the hell I’m going to get myself out of it. Something in my expression, probably panic, must have tipped at least Max off because he did one of those things he does and kissed my cheek before turning back to Sidney with a much less enthusiastic expression. “She just broke up with me, can you believe that? Elle est ton amie, parles-elle pour moi, s’il vous plait.”
I can’t help but smile as I watch Max walk away and I have to give him credit for his ability to turn on a dime and I remind myself that I will owe him a very big favor some day for his acting skills, but by the time I turn to look back at Sidney, I manage to school my features into something that looks, I hope, more or less blank.
“You broke up with him?” He looks so damned pleased with himself when he asks the question that I truly want to reach out and smack him as hard as I can just to wipe the self satisfied grin off of his face.
“You’re not honestly surprised are you?” I shrug, turning my face away so he won’t see how infuriated with him I am.
“Not really. I did try and warn you though,” he adds, softening his voice as he draws nearer to me and then that smell…that funk of moldy hockey gear, sweat and ozone fills my head and my entire body sways towards him, looking for that underlying scent that is all Sidney and when I find it, that unmistakable mixture of Fierce Wild Berry Gatorade and Speedstick, the world goes sort of star filter and I have to dig my nails into the concrete wall behind me to stop myself from falling.
“Yeah, like you care,” I mumble, doing everything I can to keep my voice from trembling as I force myself to look up into those burnt caramel eyes of his.
“What’s that mean? Of course I care or I wouldn’t have said anything before,” he insists and the stricken look on his face tells me that he might actually mean it.
“I’m not going to give you grief about it, if that’s what you’re waiting for,” I shrug, and turn to go but his hand closes around mine and I find myself looking down at the those thick fingers of his, curled around my hand and my heart begins to race.
“Mel, if you need to talk….” Dragging my gaze away from our clasped hands, I search his face and even though he looks sincere, I just don’t believe it.
“You haven’t been there for me…ever. Why start now?” I ask, swallowing the giant ball of emotion that suddenly threatens to force tears from my eyes. “You don’t even see me now, not really. Just go Sidney. Go to your friends. Leave me alone.”
“I do see you,” he insists, looking hurt at the idea that I would say such a thing to him, which only makes it hurt more that he still isn’t getting it. “You’re right here. You’re hurt. I’m your friend. You can talk to me.”
“Really? Really Sidney?” This rush of emotion, mixed with the fluttering of wings in my stomach and the familiar scent of him filling my head crashes through the walls I’ve built around my pain and my lips open before I can force the thoughts back behind the safety barricades. “Do you remember, in sixth grade when Tommy O’Sullivan gave me that big bag of cinnamon hearts?” I ask, wincing when he grins back at me and nods like a bobble head, seemingly pleased that he’s remembered and thinking I will be similarly appeased by his remembering that grim day. “Well he didn’t. I bought them. They were for you. But the fact that you actually thought a male of our species might actually find me interesting enough to buy me cinnamon hearts on Valentine’s day made me so happy I ate the whole bag and I hate cinnamon hearts,” I explain, watching and waiting for it to dawn on him, which of course, it doesn’t. He just stares at me, expectantly, like I’ll have something else to add. Some shocking stat that will make it all make sense to him. So, with a sigh, I try another tactic. “Do you know how broken your dad was when you went to Shattucks?” I ask, to which he shrugs and lets out a sigh. He liked it there. Of course he did. It was away from prying eyes and the media and all the parents who cursed at him and made him cry. “Who was the first person was that you went to see, after you got back?” I ask, waiting for him to remember, and again, like an eager Labrador puppy he smiles warmly and affectionately and nods his head.
“You. I’d missed you,” he adds, like that should matter, and it does and it did then but that doesn’t change anything.
“Do you have any idea what that might possibly have meant to a thirteen year old girl?” I ask, searching his gaze which goes from happy to confused and I wait, wait for it to dawn on him but he just stands there staring at me like I’m a puzzle with missing pieces and all I can do is shake my head. “You still don’t see me Sidney and I’m tired of waiting.”
Leaning forward I press my lips to his soft cheek, hating that tears squeeze out from beneath my eyelids when I do, and then I turn and walk away from him, feeling his eyes boring into the back of my head until I slip between the coach and a reporter and dodge my way out of a fire escape and out into the bitterly cold night.