I opened the door. My hair was a flat, sleepy mess and I still wore Sid’s sweatshirt. Max looked like he’d been waiting up for me. It seemed like ages since Max and I really talked. Not since the phone call, when he whispered in the dark. He gave me a sad little smile. I went over and sat on the couch, halfway down from him. It was the same place Kris had been when he’d come home after finding out about me and Max. I thought of karma and mentally gave her the finger.
“I’m sorry,” was all he said. He voice broke a little.
I rolled my head to one side. “Me too.”
When he looked at me, there were tears in his eyes. “Kahlan, I wish I could take back what I said. I didn’t mean it. You have to believe me. I got so mad, I flipped out. He… he kissed you. In front of everyone! I never thought about it…” he trailed off, opening and clenching his fist. “That should be me, Kay. That’s all I could think of. I should get to kiss you in front of everyone. I should get to be the one.” He brought his closed fist down onto his knee. “Same old arrogant asshole, putting my claim on you like I own you. I didn’t realize till after.”
He took a deep breath. “When I said maybe you’re not worth it… Kahlan, please forgive me.” His stormy eyes were swimming. A crease marked his forehead, and I reached up and smoothed it with my thumb. He closed his eyes as I did, and a tear rolled down along his nose.
“I said the same thing about you.” My voice was liquid in my throat. “I didn’t mean it either. Forgive me.”
He pressed his face into my hand. “I don’t care if something happened with Kris. He’s right – I acted like I was better, but I’m not. You have both called me out and been completely right.”
“And…” he continued. “And Kris defended you. I was screaming at you and Kris was trying to hold your hand. He really is a better guy than me. It’s so obvious that I am screwed up. I keep screwing this up! But Kris is just there for you every second of every day. He means what he says and keeps his word.
“I know you didn’t sleep with him. Kris does not lie. How he manages it… to be near you… there’s no way I could do that.”
Max put his hand to my cheek.
“Kahlan, I think you should be with Kris. I love you and I want you so badly, but I am going to mess this up a million times. I am trouble. You should save yourself from that. Kris already knows how to take care of you.”
I closed my eyes. Here was my out. It may have been a crying, begging, opposite-of-a-fight moment, but it would hold up in the daylight. If I took this chance, Max would stand by it tomorrow. And maybe he’d even be happy for me, eventually.
“Max, do you know why I can’t choose between you and Kris? Do you know how I can actually be in love with both of you at the same time?”
He shook his head.
“Because I can’t give up on either of you. I keep waiting for something to show itself, some colossal character flaw, some betrayal, something, anything. But I already know you both too well. I know all your flaws, Max,” I touched his throat, just inside the collar of his shirt. “And I still think you’re perfect.”
Max laid his head against the couch. I lifted myself onto a knee, leaned over and kissed the side of his head. Then I went to bed.
I woke up to a noise in my room. Still half-asleep, I rolled over. Kris was sitting in my desk chair, feet propped at the end of the bed. He was in sweats and a t-shirt, probably his pajamas. It was still dark in my room, but I could see slivers of light under the curtains.
“Salut, belle,” he said.
I sat up. “How long have you been here?”
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. A little late, I checked to see that I’d gone to sleep with a top on. Luckily a blue tank was covering most of me. I caught Kris smiling at my wardrobe check. I patted the bed next to where I sat. Kris in the chair made me feel like I was in the principal’s office. Not that I should be inviting him into my bed. I wasn’t. I hoped. He settled in, propped against the headboard.
“Kris…” I didn’t really have anything to say. “Kris.”
He laughed softly. “You know I like it when you say my name.” He shifted in his seat. “I will go first. I am sorry for yelling at you at the diner. I wanted to tell you those things, but not like that. Let me try to tell you now, and you can decide if you are still mad at me.
“I liked what happened between us. At first, I wanted to prove something. To prove to myself that I could compete with Max. To prove to you that I want you as much as he does. But then… I forgot about all that. And I just wanted you. You didn’t do anything, but you didn’t push me away.”
He wasn’t looking at me. It was like before, when we’d talked in his bed, both of us staring into space just to get the words out. Looking at each other would have made that impossible.
“Tell me, Kay. Tell me you didn’t want that. You didn’t stop me, but now I see that doesn’t mean you were saying yes.”
I leaned forward. “I told you today, I wanted it.”
“Well we were yelling in a parking lot. I just wanted to make sure I heard you right.”
He slid down on the bed. Turning toward me, he put his head on the pillow and pulled his knees up a little. I took a deep breath and did the same. It was an extra moment before I could open my eyes.
“Thank you for sticking up for me,” I said. In the midst of all that screaming and crying, Kris’ words had stuck with me. He had been mad at me too, probably furious. “It means a lot to defend someone even when you know they are wrong.”
“I think you’re trying to scare us away. You’re hoping that at least one of us will really stop. Every time you do something crazy, or beat yourself up about it, you’re pushing us away.” He paused. “It’s not working.”
I smiled ruefully and pressed my face to the pillow. “You sound like Crosby,” I told him. “He keeps pointing out everyone’s craziness and then explaining it away.” I pulled the comforter up, tucking it higher under my arm. Kris slid his hand up and rested his head on his arm. His expression was serious.
“I know about you guys,” he said quietly.
If I’d had anything left – any energy, any dignity – I might have reacted. But I was spent. And a little relieved. I didn’t want to keep it from him, but I couldn’t explain it. There was nothing to say in my defense, and it was a while before Kris spoke again.
“Okay, now I really know,” he said, almost smiling. “I think I knew that day. Remember I asked you about it in the parking lot? I was ready to be mad. But then I would be like Max – saying what you were allowed to do. And… well, I don’t like it, but it seems to have worked. I know you need someone besides me and Max, and I am glad it is Sidney. He would protect you if I couldn’t.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Stop forgiving me so easily. For everything.
“Another reason I won’t have you until you are mine.” He put his hand on my arm, in the space between our bodies. “But you are making it very hard for me to wait.” He smiled a little, willing me to smile back. I finally did.
“I can’t do anything right. I’m sorry for screwing all this up so much, Kris,” I said. It felt good not to be mad, or afraid. Just the confused feeling I’d actually become accustomed to.
He sat up next to me. “Will you come to the game tonight?” I nodded. “I like to know you are there.”
I made myself scarce all day, afraid of ruining the delicate peace we’d momentarily established. Before the game, I snuck down and found Jordan in the equipment room.
“Hello, minx,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows at me. Jordan Staal was never mad a day his life. “Nice runner you did. I would’ve had $50 off Crosby if I’d found you first.”
“I need a favor. Do you have a jersey I can wear tonight? I don’t want to play favorites.”
He ducked into the locker room and came back with two black jerseys - #11 and #29. “They’re even clean,” he said. I took his #11, held it up and even he laughed at the size. I handed it back and pulled Flower’s jersey over my head.
“I see you’ve finally chosen a real man,” Vero said as I sat down next to her in the wives and girlfriends section. Most of the women never wore jerseys or Pens gear. They were mostly decked out in stylish, expensive street clothes. I was not in the mood today. I looked around, but Vero shook her head.
“Those girls are not here,” she examined her fingernails. “Too bad really, I think the boys would like to see you in a fight.”
The Pens had lost the last two games, and I knew the guys were anxious to get a W and break any kind of streak that might be forming. They always played better in front of the home crowd. During warm-up, a girl about 15 years old in a Letang jersey was bouncing around by the glass, trying to catch’s Kris’ attention. TK finally bumped him and pointed over. I could see he wanted to smile. He skated to the glass and waved to her, then tossed a puck over. She caught it and grinned enormously. Vero and I clapped.
“Looks like you’ve got competition,” she said.
I looked at myself in the mirror – winter white loose-neck sweater, dark skinny jeans, high brown boots. I put a red Santa cap over my flat-ironed hair and prayed for no static. I picked up my coat.
Kris was wearing dark slacks with black shoes and a red shirt. His hair was getting longer – it was a full handful now when he brushed it from his face. Max had chosen a deep blue button down that warmed his olive-toned skin. He was carrying two bottles of wine.
We pulled onto the Lemieux’s street and parked on the side of the road. There were a lot of cars, and most had already collected an inch of snow. I thanked my boots for being flat as we walked up to the house. Lights blazed from every window. The tree in the yard was wrapped in twinkling white bulbs. With the snow falling, it looked like Christmas card come to life. Through the living room window, I could see a huge Christmas tree festooned with decorations.
Sidney opened the door as we reached the steps. “Merry Christmas!” he shouted.
The Lemieux’s annual Christmas party was just under extravagant. Tables piled with food were everywhere. Waiters with trays circled appetizers among the many rooms of the bottom floor. Someone was playing the piano. Kris handed me a glass of wine from a passing tray.
I wandered through the foyer, made my way into the game room, and almost bumped into Cara. Behind her, some of the guys were seated around a poker table. I waved hello to TK, Geno and Billy G. Kris held up his stack of chips for me to admire. The room had dark wood paneling and the poker table looked to be regulation. The walls were covered with framed photos – highlights from Mario’s career and the Penguins since. Above the fireplace, also encased, was the stick Mario had used in his very last NHL game.
Cara and I headed for the food, loading plates with ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and rolls. We found seats in the dining room, where a waiter brought us fresh glasses of wine.
“Hello ladies,” a voice said behind us. I looked up to see Jordan, leaning over the back of my chair. He wore a headband with a fake stick attached – the kind the dog wears in ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas.’ At the end of the stick, he’d tied a sprig of mistletoe.
“Care for a go under the hat, Kay?” he leaned down.
Max pulled out the chair next to me. “Dressing as a dog to get girls now, Gronk?”
“You know the dog in the movie is named Max,” Cara offered. Jordan gave her a fist bump.
The dessert table was almost embarrassing. Éclairs, pastries, cakes, pies… I could not decide. Pumpkin pie, my perennial favorite, or a cannoli?
“You’ve been standing here for 10 minutes,” Max said, reaching past me for a star-shaped sugar cookie. “Just take one of everything.”
I surrendered to the cannoli, and put a chocolate covered strawberry on my plate for good measure. We walked over to the tree. Little Nutcrackers, ballerinas, elves, sleighs, snowflakes – every decoration known to man hung between the lights. Far above our heads, a white angel graced the top.
“Two years ago, I met you in this room,” Max said.
I hadn’t thought of where. The party was always significant to me, a way to mark the time that had passed since I’d wandered into this little family. And Max was right, it had been here in the living room where Mario had introduced us.
“I didn’t follow Mario’s advice,” I pointed out.
“I knew you’d never last,” he smiled. “It was what, three weeks before you let me kiss you? Hard to get, Kahlan.”
I laughed, and I blushed. At the time, that kiss had come from left field for me. Now that I knew Max, I wondered if he’d ever gone that long around a girl without trying something.
“Must be a world record holdout for you.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be wearing Jordo’s kissing hat by the end of the night.”
We walked back to the game room, where poker had become an all-team event. Sidney had put on a green plastic visor and was shuffling. He called me over to cut the cards. Kris stood, saying he was out. Max took his place before the next hand was dealt.
“How many desserts have you had?” Kris asked.
I put on a shocked look. “Only two.”
“Room for one more then,” he took my arm and steered me away.
The party was getting a little closer. Wine was flowing and designated drivers were having one, figuring they’d never get out in this snow anyway. The caterers were clearing away food stations and replacing them with poinsettia arrangements.
This time, I had a slice of pumpkin pie. Kris put a big spoonful of whipped cream on it, then on top of his apple pie. He walked into the back room, really just another living room on the back of the house, and claimed an empty loveseat. A waiter quickly appeared with more wine.
“No one is going to make it home at this rate,” I said.
“They’ll be sleeping in the snow banks.” Kris raised his glass to the picture window.
Outside, in the Lemieux’s back yard, fat snowflakes were dropping fast. The ground was covered, and the edges of the window ledge were starting to fill up. A single electric candle was glowing in the middle of the sill.
Kris moved his glass in my direction. “Happy anniversary,” he said, as he tapped the rim. “Two years.”
The same night as Max, I thought, but I said, “You were so shy around me then.”
He shrugged. “I was shy around everyone then. And I was scared of you.” He looked at me. “A new girl, in this place, with these guys? Everyone was watching everyone that night, all the guys trying to chat you up. I was out of my league. Even without my terrible English.
“You were really nice to me. Using your school French,” he smiled. “And so pretty, that made my English even harder to remember.”
I smiled with a mouthful of pie. “I thought you couldn’t wait to get away from me! I remember being worried you might not have anyone to talk to. Then I realized that of course everyone here speaks French. Except me.” He laughed at that. “You scored two shootout goals that week, right before we met. Do you remember?”
He nodded. “My first two shootout goals ever.”
“That’s how I knew who you were,” I took another sip of my wine. “Cute guy, great hair, soft hands… easy to remember.”
He blushed a little. “You thought I was cute?”
“You were ridiculously cute. I was really nervous – and awkward, following my dad around all night. I didn’t know who half the guys were without their numbers on. But you didn’t scare me. Maybe because you were shy.” I put my empty wine glass down and Kris followed suit.
“Now you make all the guys nervous, not just me,” he said, standing up. “Let’s dance.”
The man at the piano had cued some backup music and was tinkling out old jazz standards. A lot of couples were dancing, thanks to the wine. I danced with Kris then Max cut in. The song changed to ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ and Sid tapped Max on the shoulder.
“The girl with the full dance card,” he said. He was better at slow, easy dancing than dancing in a club. And he really was strong, leading without even meaning to. “You guys are staying here tonight, we’ve got room for everybody. And I have a surprise for you. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before!”
He handed me an envelope and I pulled out a plane ticket. Confusion passed over my face – I already the last one he’d given me, we were going to Nova Scotia in 10 days. Flipping it open, I saw the surprise.
“Pittsburg to Halifax to Montreal. Then you can come to the games in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, and be with us for New Year’s!” He was beaming. “You can fly with us the rest of the way.”
I was a loss for words. I hadn’t even thought beyond Christmas. The guys had a road trip after the break and wouldn’t be back till January 2. I threw my arms around his neck.
He hugged me back. “It was all my idea,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Kris and Max were not jealous at all that I get to spend Christmas with you, then we’re away for New Year’s. They thought it was fine if you sat home alone in the ‘Burgh.”
“Merry Christmas, Sidney.” I kissed his cheek and he pushed me in the direction of the game room. Max was still at poker, and looked to be doing pretty well. Geno hadn’t moved and Jordan had been dealt in. Duper and Cookie were also seated, and Mario was dealing. I walked over, leaned down, and planted a big kiss on Max’s cheek.
“Hey!” was the general consensus.
“Where is mine? I had the hat all night!” Jordan called as I skipped away.
Going room to room, I could not find Kris. I was about to go upstairs when I saw him, sitting on the deck. He’d put on his coat and scarf and dumped the snow from a chair. I grabbed the nearest coat – it looked like one Mario used for shoveling.
“What are you doing out here?” I stepped over the drift forming against the door. All the chairs were fairly buried, so I sat on his lap. He wrapped his arms around my waist, giving me some extra warmth.
“Thanks for New Year’s. For the plane ticket, and the games,” I said, my face pressed to the top of his head.
“You’re welcome, belle,” he mumbled into the front of my coat.
“I’m really excited!” I was. And I had an idea. “Can I make a sign for you at one of the games? ‘Kisses for Kris’? ‘Marry me, Kris Letang’? What if I write it in French?”
“If you do that, I will ask you to marry me. Right on the ice, in front of 20,000 people. You won’t be able to say no then,” he taunted me.
He might, I knew, he really might. Maybe I would too.
I had that amazing feeling that several glasses of wine causes – I wanted to laugh and cuddle and kiss everything in sight. Somewhere in the back of my brain I knew this was not the best place to feel giddy. But it was also the only place.
“I can’t sleep with Geno,” I whispered. “He snores.”
Sid was standing at his closet, pulling an extra blanket from the top shelf. We’d already made a pile of pillows and bedding from the linen closet in the hall. I really wanted to fall on top of the pile and sleep for days.
“Jordan and Cara are in the far room. So it’s Kris, Max or Geno. Or me.” He smiled, holding the blanket. He looked a little tipsy himself. I wanted to mess up his hair and tickle him to death.
“Ugh, Crosby,” I pouted. I was ready to lie on the ground and just laugh until I closed my eyes. “What kind of place only has four guest rooms? It’s like a third world country.”
“There’s a room on Mario and Natalie’s side, but there might be someone in it. And plus, if Tanger or Max tries to sneak in there later, Mario will think he’s going for Lauren’s room and will actually kill him. Blood and everything.” He tossed the blanket on the pile. “For safety’s sake, choose one.”
I spun on my heel and went to the first door off the hallway. Max was already under the covers, but the lights were still on.
“Need someplace to sleep?” he asked.
The bed looked awfully comfy. And warm. I was wearing Sid’s sweatpants, tied as tightly as possible around my waist. Some old t-shirt too. Max was bare-chested, I could see his shoulders. Without saying anything, I went next door.
Kris was wearing a t-shirt, mercifully, because he was sitting in bed playing with his phone. His bed looked very inviting too, and I was really, really tired. I could only see half his face beneath his hair, but he was smiling. My phone buzzed in my purse.
Kris: Viens ici!
I laughed, made a face at him and went back into Sid’s room.
“Move over,” I said, climbing in next to him.
He rolled over to one side of the bed, and moved a pillow onto mine. I slipped under the covers. His body heat had made the middle of the bed warm, and I moved into it. Our sides were touching, and he turned out the light. I drifted off to sleep, but not for long.
When I woke, Sidney was breathing low and evenly. It was dark and silent – the whole house was sleeping. I was still buzzed, a little giddy, but felt that waning. I would fall asleep again soon. I could hear Geno snoring faintly. I pulled on a pair of socks to muffle my feet and cracked open the door.
“Traitor,” Sid mumbled. I hissed and slipped from the room.
Standing in the hallway, I suddenly had no idea what I was doing. Where am I going? I actually turned from one door to the other, Max’s to Kris’, but didn’t reach for a doorknob. I felt so good and I really wanted to cuddle with someone. But either way was dangerous. We had some cease-fire going and I didn’t want to risk it. Finally I gave up and went to the rec room at the end of the hallway.
The snow was feet high now, rounding the landscape and reflecting the moonlight. I stood at the window, my feet tucked under the baseboard heater, and hugged myself. It was absolutely still and absolutely beautiful.
“I wake up every time you leave your room at home,” Kris said, shuffling in behind me. He was rubbing his eyes with his fists, like a little boy. He came up behind me and put his chin on my shoulder. We stood there, not really touching, looking out the window.
“How did you know it was me?”
I felt, rather than saw, him smile. “I know what you sound like. And Sid sounds like an elephant.”
Kris propped his elbows on my shoulders and joined his hands over my head. The weight on my shoulder muscles felt incredible, like a pressure point massage. He didn’t even realize he was doing it.
We watched the snow fall for a while, neither of us speaking. As predicted, my buzz had bottomed out and I was suddenly very sleepy. I reclined against the arm of the couch and Kris leaned his back against me. I put my arms over his shoulders and played with his hair. The blanket from the back of the couch went over both of us.
“Belle,” he murmured, “that feels good.” Almost out.
I traced my finger along his hairline and down around his ear. His eyes fluttered closed and his head turned as he fell asleep. I stayed there for a while, just holding his head in my hands, feeling his breath rise and fall. Counting snowflakes, I slowly drifted off to sleep too.
4 years ago