Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chapter 18 - Let Him

Jordan and Kris were in the lobby waiting for us in Montreal. It was still early morning, and few people were around to notice us.

“Foxy,” Jordan said to me. “Am I the ONLY guy on this team you haven’t kissed? Is it because of Cara? I could ask her, you know.”

“Salut, belle,” Kris said as I sank gratefully into his arms. He took my bag and led us upstairs. Cara was checked in and ready to go to the morning skate. When she saw Kris wheel my bag in behind me, she developed an urge for coffee and promised to meet us downstairs.

Kris stood my bag against the wall and turned to me. I couldn’t help myself. I went right up and pressed a simple, solid kiss to his mouth.

“Sorry, but I really needed that,” I said. He pulled me in close and stood there, holding me. He didn’t make a joke about needing another kiss, didn’t see it as an open invitation. Kris was serious about us, and that felt like the foundation I needed after what had just happened with Sidney.

“You looked beautiful in the newspaper photos,” he said quietly. “Sid looked like the luckiest guy on earth.” Kris had said he was fine on the phone. He clearly wasn’t feeling so strong anymore. I pulled him over to the bed and sat down.

“I’m sorry, Kris,” I repeated from the phone. “He didn’t try anything again all weekend. I promise you, nothing happened.”

He gave me a thin smile. “I believe you. I just didn’t like seeing it. Now I know why Max was so upset when I kissed you at the diner.”

I leaned my full weight against him. Kris was always taking the time to understand other people, to see where they were coming from. It was impossible to compete with his patience and acceptance.

As I was thinking, Kris lay back, taking me with him. He settled me on my back, then lifted his torso so he was looking down at me. He leaned over very slowly, looking into my eyes the whole time. He kissed me as I’d kissed him – simply, fully on the lips. It was over in a few seconds and I felt disintegrated against the bedspread.

“Sid’s little sister thinks you’re dreamy. She called you a ‘hunk’.” I managed weakly, completely agreeing with Taylor as Kris loomed above me.

He smiled, turning a little pink. “Belle, even I cannot wait that long.”

Kris boarded the bus, and most of the guys were already on board. Cara and I waited in the lobby to see Max and a few stragglers. We planned to see them off then catch a cab from the taxi stand. Coach Bylsma came back into the lobby and walked over to us.

“Kahlan, still have my entire team wrapped around your finger?”

“Only the really good looking, famous ones,” I replied.

“Then I guess you haven’t seen Talbot.” Laughing, he jerked his thumb toward the bus. “You ladies want to ride with us? Maybe that’ll hurry Max along.”

Cara went up first. Friends and family didn’t usually ride on the bus, but it wasn’t unheard of. She smiled at me then jetted to the back leaving me high and dry. Everyone knew what was coming. I climbed the stairs, and as soon as my head cleared the railing…


“Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss!”

“Oh Sidney! Kiss me again!”

“This is the best Christmas ever!”

I stopped at the front, rolled my eyes, and gave the team a little bow. They whooped and whistled. Bylsma came in behind me.

“I wanted you all to see that Kahlan is not the reason Max is late,” he said and they went crazy again. He smiled at me, and I glared back mockingly.

“Empty seat right here, Kay,” Jordan yelled, pushing Cara out of the way.

I gave him the finger and sat down next to Kris. He laced his fingers in mine. Finally Max and Cookie boarded. Bylsma must have told him we were on the bus, because he sped down the aisle and dove into the seat with me and Kris. He lay across us, feet up, and yelled for the bus to “go already!”

He righted himself, right onto my lap. “Kiss?” he said, loudly. I covered my face with the hand that wasn’t holding Kris’ and shook my head no. He kissed the back of my hand with an exaggerated “MWAH!” and sat across the aisle.

Cara and I found hot chocolate in the lounge and carried it up to the stands. I wore my Canada mittens against the chill in the empty arena.

“So, you have a date with Kris tonight,” she said. I looked alarmed with a mouthful of hot chocolate. “He’s been talking about it since yesterday. Wanna know where you’re going?”

I shook my head. “Nope, surprise.”

Cara smiled. “You’ll like it. Now the question is: do you like Kris?”

I sipped my drink. “As much as ever. Maybe more, after what happened with Sid. That was scary.” I thought about it for a minute. “Did Kris talk to you about this?”

She nodded. “He was worried. He found me as soon as I checked in yesterday.”

Wow. Kris didn’t know Cara all that well. Considering how long it had taken me to become Kris’ friend, I was a little jealous that he was opening up to Cara. I looked down at him on the ice. He must have felt like he couldn’t call me. I don’t blame him.

“Max freaked out too. He called Jordan after he heard from Sid, and asked for my number. He called me on Christmas Eve, Kay. He wanted to know if I thought you might go back to Sidney.”

My eyes flicked to Max on the ice. “He only joked with me, like it was all so funny. I bet I’m in for it later.”

“Not too bad,” she said. “He has a date with you in two days.”

Knock knock. Cara let Max in, then she left. I stood in front of the window.

“Hi Max,” I said.

“Fucking hell, Kahlan. I don’t know if I should kiss you or just walk away,” he said heavily. “Are you okay?”

I nodded. “A narrowly avoided disaster.” Max looked unconvinced. I knew he wondered if there were things I wasn’t telling him. I sat down at the end of the bed. “Max, I’m sorry,” I said without looking up.

“I don’t know what to think anymore Kahlan. I feel like you’re getting farther away since we fought in the kitchen. I know I went too far. I got mad at you over Kris, I was arrogant and stupid.” He came over and knelt down in front of me. “I know that I’m ruining this. And it’s killing me.”

“You aren’t, Max,” I said. Why is he on his knees? This is too much. My heart was fit to burst. His face was level with mine, closer than it seemed he’d been in a while. How could four days feel so long? But it been before then – since he’d called me a liar in the fight about the diner kiss. Tears were forming in my eyes. It’s been at least a week since I cried. Seems like a long time these days.

“Kay, please don’t give up on me,” he whispered. “I was lonely without you over Christmas. I don’t want that to happen again.” He tiled my chin up and tears spilled from by lashes. “Cherie…” and he kissed me. Down on his knees in my hotel room, Max kissed my lips gently. It was the sweetest, most chaste kiss Max has probably ever given anyone. And it spoke more than any other kiss.

“Now show Tanger a good time,” he said, very close to my face. “Poor kid has been mess without you.”

Stupid hair, lay flat, I scolded. I was one flat iron pass away from being ready. And then I’d be putting a hat on anyway.

Kris had told me to wear flat shoes, so I had my tall brown boots on over dark skinny jeans. A new, drapey dark brown sweater promised to keep me warm. I smoothed the last hair and pulled my white wool cap over it. I wore my winter white long dress coat, which always made me nervous. I had brown mittens today.

I will choose. I will be as good as they think I am, I repeated to myself as Kris knocked on my door at exactly 6:30 PM.

“Belle, you look beautiful,” he said. He wore a long dark overcoat. I could see black pinstripe trousers and the collar of a green shirt peeking out under his scarf. He too had a wool hat over his ears. We were heading out early to be back by Kris’ curfew. We walked down a few streets, and Kris pulled out his phone.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said, pressing send. “Oui, nous sommes ici. Bien.” Two minutes later, a red car pulled up at the end of the block. A man about my height with gray haired climbed out and waved us over.

“Kahlan, this is my stepfather Gerard,” Kris said. He laughed at the look of surprise on my face.

The man took my hand and kissed it. “A votre service.”

“Enchante,” I managed. Kris opened the back door for me.

We drove about 30 minutes, crossing the river into the suburbs. My rusty high school French was a hit with Gerard, who also spoke some English. From across the water, the lights of downtown Montreal twinkled back at us.

Gerard parked in front of a darkly shingled house with white clapboard shutters. Kris again opened my door and helped me out of the car. As we walked up to the door, he didn’t let go of my hand. I could smell food. Inside, a shortish, dark-haired women rushed out of the kitchen.

“Kahlan,” she exclaimed and hugged me.

“Maman, calmez!” Kris laughed. “Kahlan, my mother Marie.”

“Bonsoir, merci pour votre hospitalite,” I said.

“You are very welcome,” she said. “My English is not perfect, but I learn more when Kris is home. He tells us you are coming, so this year I learn extra!”

Kris tossed my coat on the couch and showed me around. The living room had a roaring fire and deep pile carpet. On the mantle was a photo of Kris and his parents, holding the Stanley Cup on a sunny day. Nestled in the backyard was a diamond-shaped swimming pool.

“Ever freeze it?” I joked.

“Too small!” he said.

Kris’ mom called out that dinner would be ready in 10 minutes. He led me upstairs and opened the first door on the hallway. It looked a lot like his room in Pittsburgh, except here his mom clearly put away his clothes after he left.

“You didn’t live here when you were little,” I said, looking around. “Too bad, no baby Tanger memorabilia. I am going to have to ask your mom.”

Kris made a face. “There are some over here.”

On the far wall, three pictures were framed. One was Kris as a baby, standing up in a crib with a gummy smile on his face. In the next he was about ten years old, standing on the ice in full gear. The last was Kris in high school, with short hair, smiling uncomfortably in a suit for an awards dinner or formal dance. By then, his shoulders were broad and promised the strong, powerful physique that had developed in the six or so years since.

“Thank you for bringing me here,” I said.

He turned toward me, sliding a hand around my back. “I have two homes, and now you are part of both. Max will be jealous – his family lives 20 minutes from here.”

I smiled, flattered and honored. Standing in Kris’ room in his parents’ house was very close, very personal. In all the time I’d felt special because Kris was comfortable with me, I had never felt like this.

He leaned in and kissed me. A sweet, simple kiss and that made my knees weak.

Kris would love me forever, if I let him. If I could love him back like that, this would be it. He and I, a home of our own, feeling this safe and sure. Leaning into those broad shoulders, waking up next to that heart-melting smile. Brushing his hair from his face. Feeling like everything I could ever want is right here in this room. Kris would be forever.

Dinner with Kris’ family was wonderful. His parents were funny and polite – no one mentioned the photos of me and Sidney. Kris’ mom told embarrassing baby stories and Kris blushed a thousand times. My French was just good enough to understand when he was begging her to stop. She didn’t. Afterward, we sat in the living room. Marie brought out a small photo album and showed me some more pictures of young Kris. My favorites were the candid shots, where his real smile was caught on film.

I helped Marie take the dishes into the kitchen. “Thank you for a wonderful dinner,” I said.

“Chere, you are very important to Kris, and so to us. I hope you will visit again soon.”

Gerard drove us back over the bridge and dropped us off in a small plaza. Kris took my mitten in his gloved hand and started walking. It was brisk, but not terribly cold. We walked through Old Montreal, cafes and restaurants blazing brightly. Music flowed out whenever someone opened a door. The cobblestone streets made our route feel like a European promenade. Kris pointed out famous landmarks, I pointed out every cute little dog that tapped past on a leash. He told me about growing up here, playing outdoor hockey in the winter, trying to learn English by watching American movies. At 10 PM, church bells started ringing, and then I saw the cathedral.

“Notre Dame,” Kris said. “Well, our Notre Dame.”

A few blocks later, Kris made a left toward a white, bungalow-style building. As soon as he opened the door, the smell of chocolate and warm cake poured from the dessert parlor. Kris helped me out of my coat and hung it on the back of my chair. He pulled his chair very close to mine, so our legs were touching, then ordered in French.

The waitress brought us a huge ice cream sundae. Hot fudge dripped from the rim of the glass, ice cream and whipped cream towering over it. Kris handed me one of the two cherries on the top.

“Tie it,” he said, after I’d eaten the cherry and was holding just the stem.

“Race you,” I countered, popping the stem in my mouth.

Kris quickly ate the other cherry and put the stem in his mouth. We both worked with tongues and teeth, trying to loop the stems over themselves into knots. Finally, I used my fingers to pull the stem between my teeth and finish the knot. It was pretty centered, and definitely tied. Kris was finished right behind me. His was looser, but clearly knotted.

I picked up my spoon. “First bite goes to the winner!”

He pretended to pout, until I let him in with his spoon. The sundae was vanilla and chocolate, covered in homemade hot fudge, whipped cream and nuts. He took a particularly decadent spoonful and held it out to me. I leaned in and ate off his spoon. Scooping a tiny bit of whipped cream, I leveled it at him. When he moved to eat it, I dabbed it on the tip of his nose instead.

With all we’d eaten for dinner, the sundae was a struggle. Kris took one last bite and a drop of hot fudge ended up just below the outside corner of his mouth.

Waaaaaaiiiiiiiitttttttttttttt… my brain tried, but I was already moving. I leaned it and kissed the spot, getting the chocolate and most of Kris’ lips in the bargain. I didn’t have a chance to sit back before Kris was pressing another kiss to my lips. He tasted cold and creamy, like chocolate and ice. He smiled sweetly at me.

“Délicieux,” he whispered, reaching for my coat.

It was nearly curfew when we got back, and none of the guys were in the bar. I didn’t want to share the evening with anyone. Curfew meant Kris had to be in the hotel, preferably in his room, but he certainly wasn’t ordered to sleep at a particular time. He walked me to my room and we found a note from Cara:

Watching a movie with Jordan. Maybe two. As late as you want.

Kris dumped his coat on Cara’s bed, kicked off his shoes and took off his dress shirt. In a t-shirt, he climbed on my bed and settled back with the remote. I changed into my pajama pants and a tank top, keeping my bra on, and sat next to him. He put his arm around me and we watched the beginning of ‘National Treasure.’

“Albuquerque! Snorkel!” I called at my favorite part of the movie. Kris laughed and flipped the TV off.

“We don’t need the movie. You could act out the whole thing.” I got up and unrolled the blanket like it was the Declaration of Independence. Kris got up too, and went to the dresser. He opened the top drawer and pulled out a wrapped package.

“I haven’t given you your real Christmas present,” he said. “I was going to give it to you before, but when you gave me a date I thought it would be better tonight.” He handed it to me.

I looked back at the drawer. “Did Cara hide it for you?” He nodded.

That’s a bit of preparation, I thought as I sat on the bed. The temperature in the room went up five degrees.

He scooted up next to me and lay back on his folded arms. His t-shirt slid up, revealing a bare band of skin along his lower stomach. The directional muscles at his hipbones were pointing somewhere impossible to ignore. Another ten degrees.

The gift was the size of a shoebox, wrapped in white with a red ribbon around all four sides. A perfect red bow sat in the center. I popped the bow off and stuck it to my shoulder. Unwrapped, it was a plain white box. Inside that – another box. And another.

Inside the last was a small, square black velvet box. My heart stopped. A flash of ice-cold adrenaline ran through my body – from heart to fingers in a split second. I didn’t even breathe. Twenty more degrees.

“Wooo,” Kris laughed. “The look on your face! It’s not a ring. I said I’d only do that if you made a sign tomorrow night.”

“Kris,” I said like a small curse under my breath. “Not funny. And I can’t make a sign now – I’ve already been warned to lay low, in case someone recognizes me.”

“Good. Because I do not want to have to ask Sidney Crosby’s girlfriend to marry me in front of 20,000 people.”

He was on his side now, watching me closely. I removed the velvet box and put the other packaging aside. After a moment of staring, I opened the lid. Inside was a small drop-shaped pendant attached to a necklace. It was delicate, beautiful and it was definitely a diamond.

“Wow,” I whispered.

Kris pulled himself up next to me, reached over and pulled the necklace from its box. Separating the clasp, he laced his arms over my head. His forearms brushed my bare shoulders as he fastened it. With one finger, he traced the chain where it lay across my neck. A hundred degrees.

“Kris,” I breathed as he leaned in and kissed the side of my neck, right over the chain. Moving up toward my ear, he trailed kisses along my skin.

My eyes closed themselves and my toes curled as I drew a shallow, ragged breath. Alarm bells were sounding in my brain. Five more seconds and I’d be done. This ship was taking on water and sinking fast.

He hooked a finger in the strap of my tank top and slowly drew it down off my shoulder. His lips touched the bare skin of my shoulder blade, his hand grazing down my arm. Moving that hand over my shoulder, he ran it over my breast.

He is serious here. And I am seriously about to lose my shit. My brain was firing like a machine gun. I turned toward him and he turned, facing me now. He pressed me back to the pillow and followed my lips with his. I shoved the hair from his face and kissed him deeply. The shape of his upper body, those incredibly wide, rounded shoulders tapering into a tight waist… my body was practically weeping with desire.

He took me to his house. He has been so patient. I think if I started, this time he wouldn’t stop. If I wanted this, wanted him, I could let him take me right now. Or would I be making him take me?

“Kris,” I said again, a little louder.

“Do you want me to go?” he asked immediately, into my hair.

“Please,” I breathed. “Please, before I cannot ask you again.”

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