The first time I met Max, Mario introduced us. I had moved in with my dad after transferring to Pitt from NYU. My dad had worked in the Pens front office for years after my parents divorced. At the Lemieux’s annual Christmas party, Mario wanted to make sure I had someone to hang out with. He introduced me to Marc-Andre and his girlfriend Vero, whom I liked instantly. They thought my high school French was hilarious. When Max heard me, he came strolling up.
“Kahlan, this is Max Talbot,” Mario said. “And he is NOT to tutor you in French. French anything.”
We’d laughed, and the rest is history.
Once, early in our friendship, something had almost happened. We definitely had a spark, but only spent brief periods of time together. Vero invited me to a party at Petr Sykora’s house. We all drank plenty, Max threw me in the pool and then helped me find some clothes to change into. There in Sykora’s room, in front of an open dresser drawer of t-shirts, Max kissed me. He put one hand on the back of my neck, the other around my back, pressed me against the length of his body and kissed me. My head swam a little just thinking about it. I wasn’t ready to take it any farther – I was new and trying to be friends with everyone, I didn’t want anyone to think I was that easy. So after the kiss, I took us downstairs and we went back to having fun. Months later, when we were close friends, we would joke about “The Incident” but over time, it was just another thing we’d shared.
My dad retired from the Pens two years later. He wanted to move to Florida “like old folks do,” he said. I was starting senior year, and looking for an apartment. Mario came to the rescue again. Max and Kris had an empty room. Why didn’t I stay there while I was looking? Four months later, I hadn’t left.
“You two finally done in there?”
I plopped down on the couch, my hair wrapped in a towel, wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt. I’d helped Max dry off, but left him to maneuver out of his shorts. He came into the living room bare-chested and held his shirt out to me. I motioned that he should sit on the floor by my feet.
“Tanger, man, you have no idea.” Max said, lowering himself onto the rug. “Never get hurt. But if you do… it was like injured man’s porn.”
“MAX!” I shouted. “You’re lucky I can’t hit you!” I had his shirt bunched up, with my hands through the sleeve and neck.
Kris, who loved to joke but was actually quite shy, blushed. “Too much information, bro.”
“Seriously. She did this thing with her hands in my hair…”
“MAX! My God!” I was shrieking.
He cowered away from me. “Dude, I’ll tell you later.” He held his good arm up over his head and I slipped the sleeve over it. I pulled it down to his body and tugged the neck over his head. He leaned forward and I pulled the shirt over his arm, still tucked against his body. No use pulling his bad arm through, he couldn’t use it anyway.
“You had better not.” I winked at Kris, who blushed again.
Back when I’d first become friends with the guys, it took Kris a while to warm up to me. I thought he was shy because his English wasn’t very good. I went out of my way to talk to him, but that seemed to make him turn farther inward. Marc had suggested that I made Kris nervous because he liked me. I couldn’t see it – he seemed to want to get away from me as quickly as possible. Then one night, after about six months, Kris asked me to dinner.
Finally, I’d thought. I can’t stand having this guy think I’m scary! When he turned up a little overdressed, I realized that I may have actually agreed to a date. We had a good time – he took me to an Italian place that had menus printed completely in Italian. His English had outpaced my bad French, but neither of us was much use with the menu and we’d had to ask for help. After that, he was much more open around me and we quickly became great friends. But he’d never asked me out again, and we never talked about it.
I poured the water into the sieve, pasta tumbling out. Pulling the pan of sauce off the heat, I dumped the pasta in and mixed it. Next was the pan of chicken parmesan - the cheese had melted nicely. I slid the chicken onto a platter and carried it to the table.
“Smells good,” Kris inhaled, coming in. “I suppose it’s the least you can do for me.”
“The least would be grilled cheese.” I replied.
Kris leaned against the counter, facing me. Hands in his pockets pulled his jeans tight across his thighs. Oooo-er, my brain said.
“I’m just jealous. Max gets porn and I get chicken parm. I’m feeling left out!”
“Ha ha. Max is making a big deal out of nothing.”
Suddenly, Kris was right behind me, pressed to my back. He put his hands on the counter at either side of my waist, trapping me. His face was against my neck, brushing me with his dark, straight hair. It was forever falling in his face. He usually pushed it under a backward hat, but he never cut it short. Silky, I almost said out loud.
“I saw what you were wearing. That nothing was definitely something,” he murmured. His hands grasped my hips, spinning me around to face him. I was surprised - he looked serious.
“Kris!” I whispered sharply. “What are you doing?”
His dark eyes flashed. Then he smiled. “Just making sure,” he said, but he didn’t move away.
“Sure of what?” His face was so close to mine I suddenly wasn’t sure of a single thing in the whole world.
“Sure you still like me as much as you like Max,” he whispered, breathing on my neck.
Alarm bells were going off in my brain. Pasta sauce was starting to burn on the stove. And Kris just stood there, inside my space – waiting, testing, daring me to do something.
“Just you wait, Kris Letang. Your turn will come,” I tried a joke, desperately.
“Promise?” He was practically kissing me, talking so close.
I reached up and ruffled his long hair. “I’m just practicing on Max. I’ve been waiting to get my hands in your hair for years.”
What am I doing? Kris screamed inside his head. What the hell just came over me, touching her like that? Challenging her?
He stuffed pasta into his mouth, not looking at her swanning around the kitchen in those damned stretchy pants.
Well what the fuck was she doing in the shower with Max?! Sure it’s all innocent, except that it’s Max. Nothing about Max is ever innocent. Would he fuck her? I don’t think so, not Kahlan. They are best friends.
But Max has done some outrageous things.
I parked Max’s car in the players’ lot. From the passenger seat, he breathed out a huge sigh.
“Okay?” I asked.
“I hate not being able to play. When we win I feel left out, when we lose I feel like I’m letting everyone down.”
I reached out and put my hand on top of his, on the center console. “I know. Let’s see what the trainers have to say.”
It was well before the warm-up skate, and people were going about the business of hockey. The head trainer told Max that nothing was torn. So all that was left was to wait out the bruising and swelling, and he could play. About a week, the trainer guessed. Max smiled at that.
“I’ll only miss 3 games,” he said.
“And you could can make the southern road trip,” I pointed out.
Max whooped and we headed for the locker room. Guys were taping equipment and stretching and getting ready for the game.
“Oh Nurse! Nurse!” a fake soprano voice called, “it seems I cannot reach my back. Could you help me out?”
Jordan Staal was in the middle of the room, straining some weird pose trying to reach his impossibly long arms together behind his back. Tyler Kennedy was laughing beside him, and Kris sat at his locker shaking his head.
I put my foot out and kicked Sidney Crosby in the leg. “You’ve got a big mouth, kid.”
He gave me a huge, goofy grin. “Stop doing scandalous things, Kay! I thought of blackmailing you into giving me a go, just to keep from telling. But I didn’t really believe it.” He looked at Max. “From the look on Max’s face, it was even better than we heard.”
“Seriously, Talbs. You are one smooth piece of work.” Jordan said, looking impressed. “When I’m hurt I just stay dirty and complain to my mom.”
Max put his good arm around my shoulders. “I may have to abandon my wicked ways and become a one-woman man now.” He made a huge pucker and leaned into my face.
I ducked out of his embrace. “I’m going to see Flower,” I said, heading to the equipment room.
Marc-Andre was watching his skates get sharpened. “Too many requests for baths?” he asked when he saw me. Marc was especially close with Max, and we’d always been good friends. He’d been with his girlfriend Vero for years, and so seemed to get an especially big kick out of Max’s antics.
“My secret is out, I’m afraid.” I sat next to him on the bench. “How’s it going?”
“Bien. I worked with the goalie coach this morning, and I’m feeling good.” He’d had a rough game two days before, the one where Max had gotten hurt. Two soft goals early in the game proved too much for the guys to overcome.
“Get this one for Max,” I suggested. “He’s really bummed out.”
Marc smiled. “I know Max, he’ll be insufferable in a few more days. He’ll probably need another shower.”
The owner’s box was crowded, as Mario and Nathalie had some guests in town. Max and I said hello, then ducked into the overflow box. A few executives were chatting at the bar. We sat in the front row of seats, feeling like we had the place to ourselves.
Watching with Max was tough – he mentally beat himself up over every bad turnover and lost footrace. I did my best to keep the mood light, but it really helped when Geno got a shorthanded 5-hole goal to give the Pens a 1-0 lead. Max relaxed and put his arm over the back of my chair.
“You okay with all the guys teasing you? You know there are no secrets around here.” he asked.
“How do you know there are no secrets?” I goaded him. “Maybe there are FAR more interesting things going on, and that’s why I’m not concerned.”
He leaned in. “Like what?”
I smiled devilishly. “You’ll never get a word out of me.” Then I laughed. “I’m only kidding, Max. I have no secrets from you.”
He didn’t look convinced. “You’re not sleeping with Tanger, are you?” He was mostly joking.
“Tanger almost died when he saw my bathing suit today,” I laughed. “If he saw me naked he’d need a medic.”
Max gave in to that. He went to the bar and used one hand to draw, open and carry me a beer. He went back and got himself a sparkling water. Holding up the bottle, he said, “Cheers. And thanks for today.” Clink. “You’re pretty amazing.”
I blushed a little, and Max rolled his eyes. I put my hand on his good arm.
“If you need something, even just a hug, you know you can tell me. I’m serious. If you want to talk or just cuddle, I’m all yours.” I clinked my bottle against his again. “And I won’t tell anyone.”
He reached around my neck and pulled me in, pressing his lips to my forehead. “I just might,” he said.
Did I really just ask her if she was sleeping with Tanger? Max asked himself. As if Kris could keep that kind of secret. He’d be following her around like a puppy. Even more than he already does.
4 years ago