First and foremost, for those of you who've made it all the way through, thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for caring about the characters and the story and thank you especially to those of you who took the time to let me know that you were reading and caring and taking sides. It is a great privilege to know that you are out there.
I think this is as far as the road goes for this story but I hope to have the first chapter of my next story up soon, so I hope to see you there.
Merci, thank you!
“Are you sure about this?” Max asks as we gaze up the steps of the beautiful old gothic cathedral.
“No,” I reply honestly, “but I feel like it’s something I have to do,” I add, taking a deep breath. If it wasn’t for the warm, firm grip Max has on my hand, I know I couldn’t go through with it. But I also know that if I don’t, I won’t have that closure that I’m sure I need. I glance over at Max in his dark, pin striped suit with his stylin’ fedora and feel a genuinely happy smile grow on my face.
The ceremony is over, not that I’d had the stomach to watch that. We’d waited, outside, until the guests started streaming out, including Jordy and Kennedy, though they’d both told us they wouldn’t go. For Jordy’s sake we’d told them they should. After all, Jordy wasn’t the one who’d asked for a one way ticket out of the city.
Max’s hand tightens around mine as the ‘happy couple’ comes out of the cathedral to the sound of loud cheers, both from the hundreds of guests standing on the steps but also from the thousands of fans who have been waiting outside all morning behind security lines. We are somewhere in between. Too well dressed to be thought of as mere well wishers, and besides, he is Max Talbot and so we’d slipped by security and waited in the antechamber, slipping out just before the rest of the guests.
“She stood there and dabbed at her eyes the whole time. It made me want to hurl,” Kennedy hisses as she finds us at the bottom of the stairs, looking up to where the hired professional photographer is only getting slightly better position than the rest of the media for shots of the young phenom with his new lady love.
“If you just signed away your right to all his money in a prenup in the limo right before the wedding you’d cry too,” Jordy offers, creating a vision to which it’s impossible not to grin. Sidney had never talked about such legal necessities with me. It made me wonder if he had been going to spring them on me this morning too or if he’d really never thought of me as a threat to his millions. Daddy dear would have, I’m sure, at some point. I stare up at Sidney and I can’t help but see that boyish smile of his, all dimples and teeth and I can feel a flutter inside of my chest.
“Do you think she’ll make him happy?” I ask, more to myself, not that anyone knows her well enough to know any better than I do, standing here, thinking I should feel scorned or whatever they call it. I don’t. It feels sort of like I’m watching a show, a movie or something else that I’m not invested in. Like what I’m watching doesn’t affect me at all.
Except that it does.
But then again, does it?
The photographer wants a shot of just the bride and her bridesmaids and shoos Sidney away to the side and I feel Max give my hand a hard squeeze.
“You don’t have to do this,” he reiterates, but I do. We both know that I do. So I smile at him, hoping he can see that I appreciate his standing by me this way, and then I let go of his hand as I take a deep, deep breath and then it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until I find myself standing in front of Sidney, looking handsome but just a little bit like a boy getting dressed up in a man’s suit.
It takes a minute for him to notice me. Not that I can blame him, considering the zoo around us, but if nothing else, it makes it clear to me that if we had ever had any kind of special bond, it was truly broken now. In fact it took a sharp elbow from Flower in Sid’s ribs to snap his attention away from watching his new wife ,who, I had to admit, albeit a little grudgingly, very beautiful in her huge princess dress with its full skirt and all of the crystal beading on it. It wasn’t my taste, but I was willing to bet it had filled the aisle of the church better than mine would have.
“You look…great,” Sidney says at long last, his gaze finally settling on me after cautiously gazing around to see who else might be watching I suppose. “Did you wear that on purpose?” he adds, glancing down at my dress, and I allow myself to smirk, for a moment before shaking my head.
“Yes, but not for you. Max likes it,” I explain, smoothing my hand down the light purple dress that I’d worn that fateful night, the night of the two kisses…. “And we’re on our way to Bali and I wanted to wear something…light,” I add by way of a better explanation that I hope doesn’t make it sound like Max ordered me to wear the thing. He didn’t. He asked and the look in his eyes had made it impossible for me to turn him down. “Look I just wanted to say…I mean…that there’s no hard feelings. I don’t blame you any more than I blame myself,” I begin, the speech I’d prepared in my head failing me utterly as his gold flecked gaze holds mine and a sort of sorrow and pity stare back at me through his eyes.
“We could have worked on it,” Sidney says quietly, reaching for my hands, holding them in his own, the pads of his thumbs stroking along my knuckles in a way that used to be relaxing, comforting, but now just makes me want to pull my hands away.
“We would have ended up like our parents,” I reply honestly, withdrawing my hands slowly and dropping my gaze from his while I take another, long, deep breath to steady my nerves. “I don’t think that’s what either of us wants,” I add, finally managing a smile as I look back up at him.
“So you and Max…?” Sid’s voice trails off as he looks over my shoulder to where Max is keeping his distance and then down at my hand where the far less inconspicuous ring sits on my finger.
“Will be waiting a while before we rush into anything,” I reply, not quite able to keep the judgmental tone out of my voice or the sarcastic smile off of my face. “I’m sorry,” I apologize immediately, “maybe it’s a good thing for you to be a little impulsive for once. I’ve always told you not to over think things. I usually meant hockey but…,” I shrug and Sid nods.
“I know it seems a little spur of the moment but I’ve decided to try and be in the moment a little more often,” he explains, his cheeks turning bright pink for a moment. “I’m sorry if this seems like…I mean it wasn’t about you or anything,” he stammers and I just shrug. I may have taken it as a slight, at first, but not now.
“I only came to say that I really hope you’ll be happy. Honestly,” I reply, meaning it as I stand there awkwardly, not knowing what the right thing to do is. I don’t feel like I can or should hug him but it feels strange just standing there, staring at him.
“And you…will you be happy, do you think?” he asks, glancing past me again.
“I think so,” I reply quietly, glancing back over my shoulder and giving Max an encouraging grin. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure but…we’ll see. I want to…make sure this time, you know?” I add, realizing that that too sounds accusatory but I can’t help it if it happens to be true. Sidney nods and then reaches out to run the knuckle of his index finger down my cheek. Part of me wants to turn my face away but I don’t because the other part of me is sort of enjoying the guilt that’s now plain as day on his face. “Who knows, maybe we’ll turn out to be like Flower and Vero, the happily unmarried couple,” I add, trying to sound more jovial than I feel, and I’m afraid it must show in my face, as Sidney doesn’t so much as give me the briefest shadow of a smile.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he whispers, and I shrug, which makes his hand fall away.
“I think you’re needed,” I smile, glancing over to where his bride is now looking our way with an obviously concerned look on her face. Can I blame her? No, but I think there’s been enough third wheel stuff already in our relationships. I didn’t come here to get in the way or cause a scene. I’ve said my piece, time to go.
“Mel,” he grabs my wrist and I look down at where his fingers are digging into the thin skin, forcing the small bones in my arm to rub together, almost painfully, and then I look up at him. “I am sorry,” he insists, and I find myself smiling, despite the pain. It’s the first time in months that he says it and I think he actually gets what he’s supposed to be sorry for.
“I know,” I nod, and then look meaningfully down at my hand. I watch his fingers peel away and then I look up at him and give him a smile that I hope says something like ‘someday we’ll be friends’. I don’t know when that time will be, I just hope that someday that time will come. I turn to go, but as soon as I turn, there’s a camera in my face. “I’m just a friend of the family, you don’t need to take a picture,” I growl, putting my hand up to his lens, careful not to actually touch it, and then, without looking back, I slowly make my way back to Max and I’m glad when he doesn’t try to say anything, just offers me his hand and leads me down the steps and back down the street to the car.
“What was all that about?” Charline hisses into my ear as I rejoin her for more pictures. Oh, so now she’s going to be insecure?
“She was just saying goodbye,” I reply quietly, taking a deep breath and then putting on my best advertising smile. I didn’t expect it to hurt, today of all days, but Mel was so fucking calm, so unemotional and I can’t help it if it hurts my pride, just a little, can I?
“That was all it was?” Charline asks, her grip on my hand tightening.
“Fuck woman, I just put a damn ring on your finger and this fucking picture will be on the front page of every paper in Pittsburgh and Canada and you’ll have a five page spread in Hello magazine, what more do you want from me? She’s leaving, right now, for Bali with Max. We’re married. Enough already,” I snarl. Great, I haven’t even been married five minutes and I’m already regretting it.
“I just…it looked…it looked kind of…intimate,” Charline says quietly, sounding hurt and I guess I did snap.
“Mel and me…we go back, but she’s definitely with Max,” I sigh, turning to cradle Char’s face in my hand and I can hear the sound of hundreds of cameras going off as I do. “You have my ring. I don’t want to hear another word about it, okay?” She nods and I kiss her lips and just for a moment, I feel the same ache in the bottom of my stomach that I had when I woke up this morning and there’s that little question again. Am I doing the right thing?
Of course it’s too late now. If I’ve fucked up royally, well, it’s done.
Not that either Troy or Mario would have let me walk out on her this morning, even when I was holding fast to a bottle of JD and swearing that I couldn’t do it.
I had made my bed, they’d told me, it was time to be a man and lie in it.
I’d thought it was all better when I saw Charline walking down the aisle in the beautiful dress behind all her teammates in their red and white satin gowns. It hadn’t seemed like such a crazy idea then. Everything had been fine, until Mel was there and now….
“You’re a good looking couple,” Troy says putting his hands on both of our shoulders and Char turns around to beam up at him. He likes her. He approves. Well, of course he does. She’s a hockey player and a goalie to boot. The fact that she’s still a student and actually has less of her future planned out than Mel did, well, that hasn’t occurred to my father yet.
“And I hope we’ll be hearing the pitter-patter of little feet very soon?” my mother chimes in and Char’s smile gets even wider.
“We will, sooner than you think,” she says, winking at me and my skin crawls for the second time today. The first was when she whispered it to me on the way back up the aisle. She’d said that she’d taken a test this morning and it was positive. I’m gonna be a daddy. I want a big family. It was one of the things that Mel and I argued over, so why did every hair on my head stand up when she told me?
“That’s great, let’s get one of the family,” the photographer calls and I my dad puts his big ape like arm around me and I can’t help but gaze down the street to see Max holding open the door for Mel. She stops, and they kiss, a long, slow kiss and then she slides into the car and my chest gets tight.
But I’ve made my bed and I will lie in it and I’ll do my best to make it work because I hate to fail, at anything, even though I might be watching my biggest failure drive away.
“Un sou pour vos pensées?” Max asks, his warm body curled around mine in the cot on the private deck beside the private pool in our private villa near the beach. Staring out at the millions of stars that are glittering down over us from the darkest of night skies, I can’t actually put my finger on what I’m thinking, everything and nothing at all.
“Nothing specific,” I mumble, closing my eyes and laying my head down on his arm, reaching for his other hand, the one that’s resting on my hip and lacing my fingers in his. “Which makes a very nice change,” I add with a sigh and a contented smile. I feel totally relaxed, maybe for the first time in months, and am able to revel in the languid feeling of afterglow for maybe the first time…ever.
The air is heavy with heat and humidity and my body is sticky with sweat and other body fluids and the small private pool is looking inviting but I can’t quite be bothered to move. I like the feel of Max’s body pressed against mine, the occasional brush of his lips on the back of my neck, my shoulders and knowing we don’t have to worry about being found out, that the worst we have to face is a few heartbroken puck bunnies if and when we go back to the ‘Burgh.
“That was a brave thing you did today,” Max says at long last, breaking my dreamy silence as he his warm breath bathes my neck.
“I don’t know about brave,” I sigh, bringing his hand up to my lips to press a soft kiss to each bruised and scarred knuckle. “I think that I had to see it, that he was really going through with it…,” I let my voice trail off as I think about Sidney in his tux with his bride in her enormous, over the top ball gown. “They looked like something off of the top of a cake,” I muse, rolling onto my back so that I can look up into Max’s face, which, for the moment, is impassive. He unlaces his fingers from mine and traces my bottom lip with his thumb and them replaces his finger with his lips and kisses me, gently and thoroughly, until my body begins, once again, to turn into a wet noodle.
“You don’t have to be brave about it,” he whispers, his eyes, the colour of twilight, search mine as his fingertips run gently down my jaw and onto my shoulder. “You don’ t have to pretend to feel nothing at all for him,” he adds seriously, his fingertips grazing over my collarbone and then lower, making me shiver, even in this tropical heat.
“I’m not,” I smile up at him, sucking in a ragged breath when his fingertip traces a slow, deliberate circle around my nipple. “I thought I’d feel…mad… disappointed…even humiliated but all I felt was…well, I guess I felt sorry for him really,” I sigh as he reaches across to trace the same circle on my other breast. “Maaaxxx!” I hiss as I arch my back, my body no longer relaxed in his arms.
“Sorry, it’s just so much fun to play with you,” he whispers, capturing my lips with his, his mouth moving over mine, our tongues dueling for a moment before he pulls back to look down at me, curiosity brimming in his ocean blue eyes. “He did look a little…overwhelmed.”
“Mostly, honestly, I just feel bad that I don’t see he and I being friends,” I mutter as Max’s lips and teeth make their way down to my neck, making it easy to forget that it should hurt to think about that.
“So you weren’t even juste un petit peu jaloux about the dress and the bridesmaids?” Max asks, pushing himself up on his elbow so he can look down at me, obviously expecting some hesitation or some different answer than the one I give him.
“No, and don’t push Maxime,” I reply gently but firmly and Max replies with a cheeky grin.
“If you never marry me, as long as you’re with me, mon amour, je serais le plus heureux des hommes,” he purrs, cradling my face in his hand before he captures my lips with his and seals his promise with a soft kiss that slowly heats until our bodies meld into one, locking together, a tangle of sweat slicked limbs. “Mon amour, je t’aime,” he whispers and I feel my heart swell. “Thank you….”
“Je t’aime Max,” I whisper back, nipping at his ear. “Thank you for being there for me, for waiting,” I add, feeling tears filling my eyes.
“Oui, parce que je savais, tout ce temps, je savais que tu était à moi,” he whispers back, his eyes full of the kind of love I’ve always wanted and I know that my heart has its home, for now, forever.