The next morning, I was on my way to the Mellon. Max had asked me to come to the morning skate, and Kris nodded. I was not in the mood to relive this awkward moment. I’d just ridden in a car thick with tension after being with Max, Kris unknowing. The current twist of fate was not funny to me.
As I had for Kris, I tried to be normal for Max’s sake. He was even more upbeat that usual, perhaps sensing my reticence. He dragged me into the locker room and enlisted my help in taping some new sticks. I held the top, he did all the work. Still it was nice to be around them all, laughing and joking. At the end of practice, Max waved me down from the stands. I leaned over the railing separating the seats from the hallway to the dressing room.
“Go put some skates on,” Max said. “Let’s play.”
I started to protest, but he skated away. Downstairs, the equipment manager fished me out a pair of skates from the supply for charity events. I carried them to the bench. Max kneeled down and slid one onto my foot. He tied it ridiculously tight, crossing the laces around and under like some origami pattern. He wore his sweaty practice jersey without pads. When he’d finished the other skate, he pulled me to my feet.
“Step into my office,” he said.
I was a decent skater. I could turn, cross-over and even go awkwardly backwards. But I could not stop. My tactic was to grab the boards, fall or simply glide till I ran out of momentum. Max gave me a stick, which made balancing easier. We’d played around before, but being on the ice at the Mellon always gave me goosebumps.
Watching him skate up close was like watching ballet. Hockey is so fast, so physical that it’s easy to forget how beautiful the motion really is. As natural as walking, only more graceful.
We shot some pucks at the net – mine barely made it, but I scored a few goals. Mostly I moved around, trying to improve my coordination and quiet that small constant fear of falling. A couple of the guys trickled out onto the bench to watch. Marc called out that I was making Max look bad with my shooting. Jordan tossed a helmet onto the ice, which I dutifully picked up and wore.
Kris finally emerged, showered and changed. Sidney suggested lunch at a nearby diner. I teetered into the locker room, where Sidney untied my skates while Max hit the shower.
“Something else happened, eh?” he asked without looking up.
“Fuck, Crosby,” I hissed. “You are worse than a woman. You fucking know everything!”
He laughed and carried away my skates. On the way to the cars, he just winked at me.
The diner was starting to fill up for lunch. The guys came here a lot, and were usually stuck way in the back where they’d cause less of a scene among the crowd. Marc checked there was room for us, then waved everyone up the stairs.
I was halfway up when I realized Kris was behind the car, talking on his phone. He hadn’t seen us go in. I went back to let him know.
He growled something in French, and I thought I caught Vero’s name. He shut his phone, turning toward me.
We hadn’t spoken since the day before. I’d done nothing but sleep between being in his room and the car that morning. And maybe I’d been hiding a little. I didn’t know what to say, what to do. I wanted to hug him, thank him, kiss him, slap him.
Instead I said, “We’re going inside.”
He gave me a flat, mocking look. “Go ahead, you don’t need me.”
I stopped. “What?”
“I said, you don’t need me. You’re doing just fine on your own. Right back to Max, didn’t miss a beat. Didn’t say a word.” His posture was aggressive – leaning toward me, forcing out his words. He wore a dark green fleece jacket with jeans, the wind blew his hair around.
“What are you talking about?”
“You haven’t said a word since yesterday, Kahlan. Not a word. After that!” He practically stomped, spinning away from me. “How can you have nothing to say after what happened?!”
“YOU are mad at ME?!” I was yelling, affronted. Yesterday had been a shock to the system, like plunging into a frozen lake. And suddenly, again, it was all my fault. I know it’s my fault, I wanted to scream. I know that all of this is my fault!
“You come out of nowhere with all that and now you are mad at me?” I called him out instead.
It was taking all of his effort not to get right in my face. Kris' temper rarely flared off the ice but I knew he wanted to punch something. I was distantly aware that we were now screaming at each other in a parking lot.
“Where are they?” Max asked.
Jordan stood up and moved to the window. “Uh, they are shouting at each other.”
“I thought I was doing what you wanted! I was breaking the ice, making a move… and then I couldn’t even go through with it.” He was mad at himself too, I could see it on his face. “I know what I said on the phone, that I understood. Well now I REALLY get it.”
“Kris, who are you? Who was that yesterday?” I tried to lower my voice.
A pained look crossed his face. He shut his eyes like I’d punched him in the stomach.
“It was Max,” he said. “I mean, I was doing what I thought Max would do.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I am sick of being last! I am sick of being the good guy! I don’t want to lose because Max does what he wants. Because Max is not afraid.”
“Damn it, Kris.” I pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes, trying to force hot tears back in.
“I am not sorry, Kahlan. I am not sorry that I want you. I tried to let go yesterday, I tried. I couldn’t do it. I still feel like that’s cheating you, making you… making us something cheap. I wanted to so badly, Kay. God help me I wanted to.”
Tears were falling. “I am so ashamed I didn’t stop you,” I said, the volume of my voice rising. The feeling that had been in my gut since the day before welled up – shame. “I just froze. I knew it wasn’t you but I didn’t do anything. You must think I am horrible. I am! I’m the most selfish person in the world! I wanted you to do it. I wanted you. And I wanted you to hurt me.”
He looked like he was going to cry. Like he might drop to the ground. All that rage fell away and devastation wrecked his beautiful face. Big, strong guys are not supposed to be weak. Professional athletes are not supposed to cry. I was seeing behind the curtain, where the Wizard lived, where bravado was gone and only fear left behind.
“I wanted to hurt you too,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Kris….” I choked.
He ran the eight steps to where I was standing and wrapped himself around me. He didn’t ask, he didn’t wait. He just kissed me.
“And now they’re kissing,” Jordan said.
It only lasted ten seconds. When he pulled away, I caught a glimpse of Jordan’s face in the window.
At first I was paralyzed. My head was spinning: Fight or flight? Fight or flight? And then I ran. I ran to the far corner of the parking lot, where a bus was pulling up. Right up the stairs, I was gone.
I had to change buses three times to head in the right direction. Still, I got off a few stops early and walked slowly home. The truck was not in the driveway, so I went into my room. Shortly after, I heard someone come home. They walked around but didn’t open a bedroom door, so I couldn’t tell who it was. The footsteps went back past my door toward the kitchen.
Twenty silent, horrible minutes later, I heard Max’s voice before the front door even had a chance to slam behind him.
“Thanks for the show!” he bellowed.
A flash of rage blinded me. I climbed out of bed and threw open my door. The kitchen sink was running, so I went that way.
“… pathetic… disgusting…” I could hear Max saying to Kris. I reached the doorway and they both turned.
“Here she is. Kris here thinks I should give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said savagely. “So I will ask, though I already know the answer. Did you fuck him?” He pointed at Kris, standing with his back to the sink.
“No,” I said, staring him down.
“Don’t lie to me, Kahlan. I knew something was up this morning. I just didn’t know it was you, taking everything I said and throwing it back in my face. Last chance: did you fuck Kris?”
“Why Max, because that’s what you would do?” I spat. “You can’t imagine a world where sex means anything but possession and reputation? Where it might actually matter to someone who they choose to be with?”
Max sneered at me. “Because you’ve chosen very carefully.”
“Fuck you, Max!” I roared. “I am going crazy trying to work this out. Trying to be the way we used to be. Maybe you’re not fucking worth it anymore. Maybe I’m not.”
“Maybe you’re not!” He shouted back.
It was probably the loudest noise Kris Letang had ever made. “Stop it. Stop apologizing,” he looked at me, “and stop being a bully,” he said to Max. “I am sick to death of this. Kahlan and I did not have sex. But you two did. So stop acting like you’re better than she is, like she and I would be so wrong just because you did it first.”
That shut Max up.
“Kay, we are both acting crazy and jealous and angry. And you are not making this any easier! We’re pushing you around, and I’m sorry. Max is being an asshole, but I know that he loves you. We both love you.”
“Well stop!” I tried to scream, but it choked in my throat. “Stop….”
The fury that had been holding me up collapsed. It was like a trapdoor opened beneath my feet. I sank to the kitchen floor, head in my hands, and sobbed. Kris and Max both took a step toward me, then stopped. I heard one sit down, then the other.
I knew I sounded like a child. Stop loving me… wait, I love you back… yes, him too. No I can’t choose… choose for me. But don’t tell me what to do.
I felt a hand on my head, someone kneeling in front of me. Without looking to see which of them I was, I turned and jumped to my feet. I grabbed my coat and slammed the front door behind me.
A car slowed to a crawl just behind me.
Kidnap me, kill me. I am ready to disappear. Instead I heard the electric window roll down.
“Want a ride?” Sidney asked. I stopped walking and he put his SUV in park in the middle of the road. He was wearing a blue baseball cap, looking at me sadly. I must have been a mess – I had been crying for most of my twenty-block walk.
“Who called you?”
“Max. Thought I was the mostly likely person you’d actually get in the car with. And he figured you were going to mine anyway, it’s the only place in walking distance.” I looked around and saw I was halfway to Sid’s house.
“I didn’t even realize I was,” I said. I sighed and went around to the passenger side. Sid had his phone out as I climbed in.
“Hey… yeah. Okay.” He disconnected. “Calling off the search.”
“Flower?” I asked.
He nodded. “And Jordan.”
I let out a huge breath and leaned my head back against the seat. Sid turned left and headed for the highway. He turned on to US 30 and drove. I stared out the window, trying not to think. Half an hour passed. We crossed a bridge and a sign for ‘Raccoon Creek Wildflower Preserve.’ Sid stopped at a gatehouse, paid $5 and turned into a parking lot.
“Let’s go for a walk,” he said.
He gave me a pair of gloves and a hat. We took a path marked Old Wagon Road and wandered through a forest. It came to a creek, and beyond the water was a huge meadow covered in snow. Rolling away from us, it looked like a desert made of white. I watched my breath float up.
“This is beautiful,” I said. The low afternoon sun set fire to the field.
“I thought you might like it,” he said.
We sat in companionable silence for a while. Sid was always ready with a wisecrack, but he could be contemplative too. I wondered how he knew about this place, who else he might have brought here. I decided not to ask.
“Feeling better?” he finally tried.
I smiled. “I am. Thanks Sid. If I’d known this was here, I might have walked in this direction instead.”
He leaned back on the bench and tilted his face to the sun. “Wanna talk about it?”
I knew I would have to eventually. And that Sid would probably be the best person for it. I closed my eyes and nodded.
“Lunch was rough for Max. I actually couldn’t believe he stayed,” he started. “You know Jordan saw Kris kiss you.” I nodded. “Well he knew a little from Cara. And Flower knows most of it. But Max just looked at me, like he didn’t know what to do. He really wanted to go after you.
“Kris never came back inside. I think he got on whatever the next bus was. Jordan saw him walk away after you bolted.” He stopped. “Nice move, by the way. I think that’s what I would have done.” A smile played at his lips. I almost smiled too.
“We all tried to talk about something else, but I could tell Max was working himself up. He said he laid into both of you the second he walked in the door.”
“I was waiting for it,” I admitted.
Sid sighed. “I know it sounds stupid, but I think the fact it happened in public bothered Max the most. Not that he cares if we see. But that Kris is telling everyone, calling you out. It’s crazy, really. Max is the most public person alive. Every girl he’s ever been with – he used to flaunt it all over town. He’s being a hypocrite, and he knows it. No one has ever hurt him before, Kay. Not that I’ve seen. He has probably hurt plenty of girls, but he didn’t care about them. Now, he doesn’t know how to be careful with you.”
Dusk was starting to fall. A few hearty souls were passing behind our bench on their way back to their cars. Sid stood and held out his hand to me. I really didn’t want to leave.
“Kris stood up for me, in the fight,” I said. “Max was yelling and I was yelling, and Kris… Kris was defending me.” Sid was still holding my hand, swinging them between us like kids.
“Well Kris did kiss you in front of half of Pittsburgh. I can promise you he didn’t plan that.” That made me smile. Shy Kris. No way he’d ever do that rationally.
Sid reached into the backseat of the car and handed me a black hoodie. I zipped out of my coat, pulled it on and breathed in – it smelled like him.
“Damn boys,” I said, snuggling down into the oversized sweatshirt. “All your clothes smell so good.”
On the way home, Sid sang along to the music like always. I thought I wasn’t in the mood, but by the time Bon Jovi was singing ‘Bad Medicine’, so was I. Loudly and badly, like always. He pulled into a McDonald’s drive thru. We got chicken sandwiches and iced teas. Sid was a very healthy eater, but I ate a full meal as we sat parked in the lot. He had two of my fries. By the time we were back on the highway, it was nearly dark.
“I have another idea,” he said. He changed highways and took the exit for Moon Township, drove a ways up and pulled into a drive-in movie theater. The double feature was ‘2012’ and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox.’ He bought two tickets and backed into a spot in the front row. He opened the window at the back of the SUV, doused the cabin light and unfolded a blanket. There were even two collapsible camp seats, designed to keep you sitting upright on the ground.
“What kind of drive-in is open in winter?” I asked.
“Only if it’s not actually snowing, we’re lucky.”
The drive-in had old-fashioned speakers that hung over the windows. Sid pulled one from each side of the truck and set them on the open tailgate, then went for snacks. I saw him typing on his phone one the way back. Wrapped in his hoodie, I climbed into the back of the truck next to him. He put his arm around my shoulders and we settled back just as the previews started.
Suddenly, I got it. “Why do you have all this stuff in your car?”
“Did you bring someone here on a date?!”
He smiled, big and goofy.
“Crosby, you are smoother than I thought. I’m impre… wait. Did you get it on in the back of this truck? Did you wash this blanket?!”
Sid laughed out loud and even in the dark, I could see him blushing. “No Kahlan. We just watched the movie.” He paused, considering. Then he went for it. “Not every girl is as easy as you are.”
I gasped theatrically. I had known that was coming.
He mocked. “Come over for dinner, sit on my couch and WHAM! Kay, I should have tried that two years ago. If only I’d known!”
I punched him in the leg. “Damn! That is cold!” I was laughing though. I was relieved he could still joke with me, that he didn’t hate me. He was certainly watching me make the same mistakes over and over, but he was still my friend.
“Believe me, Sid. If I’d known you were going to be like that, I would have too. I take back every joke I ever made about you having no game.”
That settled him, happy and grinning that dopey grin. He snuggled in next to me and the movie started.
Sometime into ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, I must have fallen asleep. I woke up in the front seat, wrapped in the blanket as we were driving home. The clock said 12:15 AM. Sid smiled at me from the driver’s seat.
“When that’s out on DVD, we’ll rent it. It was funny.”
“Sorry! Some date I turned out to be,” I looked around. “Did you carry me into the front seat?”
He nodded. “Copped a feel too. So you’re not the worst date ever.”
I punched him again.
He rolled to a stop at the end of my driveway. “Unless you want to come over? Guest room, I promise.”
The living room light was on. I shook my head and leaned over. Sidney kissed my forehead and I climbed out.
4 years ago