Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chapter 3 - Kitchen Confidential

“Out?” Kris shouted into the phone.

I turned to Max. “Out?”

Max nodded. He was happy because the Pens had won a strong 4-1 victory and skated well. He wanted to burn off the energy he wished he’d spent on the ice. Kris had scored on a wicked slapshot and sounded really excited.

“Be right down,” I told Kris.

Max and I took the club level elevator down to the locker room level. I waited in the hall while Max went in. I’d seen enough accidental nakedness from this team to learn that the hallway was usually a safe zone.

Kris came out first, ruffling his wet hair. When he saw me, he dropped his bag. I threw my arms around him. He picked me up and spun me around. I pulled back, put my hands on his face and kissed him hard on the lips. It’s very French, I always told myself. We’d been doing it for over a year, like a tradition. I was so excited for him that I didn’t stop to think about what had happened in the kitchen. “My hero!” I shouted.

I pulled back, but Kris didn’t. In an instant he was kissing me again. It looked like the same kiss, but it felt different. This one was insistent, defiant. I was so surprised that I nearly opened my mouth and really kissed him. Another second and I would have.

“Showering with one guy, kissing the other,” someone said from behind us. “You must be the best roommate ever.”

I spun around. I was scattered from Kris’ second kiss and it took me a second to see Sidney. My brain was busy calling the fire department.

A hundred thoughts went through Kris’ mind at once. Did I just kiss her?! Did she just kiss me back?! Why is she looking at Sid like that?

I felt reactionary. Like Sidney had caught us doing something wrong. But he was just standing there, wearing a gray suit, looking all strapping and delicious. My pheromones were going haywire. I had to do something to break the tension that had just walloped me, to make it look like nothing had just happened. Maybe I overcompensated. I ran over and jumped on Sid. He caught me and held as I wrapped my legs around him.

“Wanna move in? You could stay in my room,” I asked.

“You just like me because I scored twice.” Sidney was still holding me up.

“Exactly. Hat trick at my place!” I gave him a hugely exaggerated wink and he blushed fuchsia. Everyone laughed, even Kris, and Sidney put me down.

Fucking hell, Sidney groaned inwardly. Two more seconds with her legs wrapped around me and hat trick indeed. By myself in the bathroom.

The rest of the guys came piling out, and we headed for the cars. Since Max couldn’t drive, I offered to shuttle people home after the club if they wanted to ride with us. Sid and Jordan took us up on the offer. We parked half a block from the back entrance at Diesel. Someone had called ahead, and Joey the bouncer had the door open for us.

“Kahlan!” he waved down the alley. Joey was always looking out for me, joking with the guys that they weren’t good enough for me. “These guys giving you a hard time? Want me to teach them some manners?”

“Jeez, you’d think she won the Cup,” TK said to him as we went in.

It was Saturday night, and the place was jumping. We headed up to the VIP lounge, but the guys were impossible to miss all grouped up. Half the club turned to see. I ducked in between Jordan and Marc and hit the stairs.

First to the bar, I bought beers for myself and Kris, and a Perrier for Max.

“Congratulations,” I handed Kris his beer. “You were a star tonight.” He hadn’t said a word to me since the kiss.

Max took his drink from my hand. “He should see you almost naked every day.”

Kris put his head down at that, and Max slugged him on the arm. “Let’s celebrate!” He spun Kris around to the railing to look down over the club. I could see Max pointing out groups of girls, showing Kris his options. Kris looked over his shoulder at me and made a face. He’d been seeing someone before I moved into the house – a short, blonde girl if I remembered correctly. Since then, he’d been on some dates but he wasn’t one to bring girls home from the bars. During the season, the guys hardly had time for anything but training, playing and lying on the couch.

Sidney appeared next to me, highball glass in hand. I offered him cheers.

“Here’s to hat tricks,” he smiled, and I laughed.

“Crosby, you could be a chick magnet,” I said. “That was a good line.”

He pretended to look offended. “What do you mean, could be?! Girls love me.” He gestured around to exactly zero girls standing near us, and then back at me like it was obvious.

“I mean the ones you actually talk to.”

“Talking. Overrated!” he said. Then he turned serious. “Really though, I never know what to talk about. All that comes out is hockey. And none of these girls even like hockey!” He finished his drink. “Only you do. Is there a cloning program, we could make a couple of you and this would all be easier?”

“Well you know, I’m not spoken for…,” I teased him.

“Right. That’ll be the day,” he said as Max and Kris came over with fresh drinks.

She’s kidding. Right? She is not telling me I should ask her out, Sidney told himself, taking his drink from Kris. The way Tanger and Max are looking at her, they’d kill me for even thinking about it.

Max shifted on his feet. “I want to dance,” he pouted.

“Kris, take Sidney downstairs and show him how to talk to girls,” I said. Kris looked slightly alarmed. “Just teach him something in French. They’ll love it.” I looked to Sid. “At least do a lap, check out the merchandise. You’re not going to meet anyone standing up here with me!” They grabbed Geno for reinforcements and headed for the stairs. I grabbed Kris’ arm.

“Don’t forget to ask if she can make chicken parm,” I told him, and he smiled.

“Will you dance with me right here?” he asked. He turned so I was in front of his good shoulder. I put my drink down, my hand behind the left side of his back and stepped into him carefully. My other hand stayed by my side.

“Thanks,” he whispered, as we started to move. I was tentative, till he put his hand on the small of my back and pulled me in. He could move his lower body fine. We danced closely, slowly, to a song with a completely wrong beat.

I liked him holding me - my best friend Max, strong and fun and choosing to hangout with me out of anyone in the club. My girlfriends from school all thought it was crazy, living with Max and Kris. Spending so much time with the team. They couldn’t get their brains around being friends with so many guys – who all happened to be hot, ripped and at least wealthy if not filthy rich. But I had grown up with 3 brothers, and these guys were like my family too. There were only certain girlfriends I could bring around. Some girls were cool about it. Others turned into blithering idiots. The worst, which had only been a few, tried to use me to get close to the players. I had gotten pretty good at weeding them out.

“What are you thinking about?” Max asked. We were still dancing, though the music had changed. I ran my finger along the collar of his shirt.

I had been thinking about telling him that Kris kissed me. But instead I said, “You,” I smiled. “I was thinking about you.”

“Good things, I hope.”

“I was thinking about being lucky. You, Kris, all this, the guys. I have fun every single day, surrounded by my best friends.” I looked into his eyes. “You are my best friend, Max.” That was the God’s honest truth.

He pressed his forehead to mine. We’d stopped moving, just stood there still holding each other.

“And you are mine, cherie. You make these bad times so much better. Thank you.”

He kissed my cheek softly, and I felt a tingle. That happened a lot with Max. I had always chalked it up to him being very French – very physical, very intimate. But I wondered, like earlier that day in the shower, if sometimes we walked too close to the edge. If we were testing ourselves, our friendship, to see if and where we had a boundary. Anyone who’d seen us today would say we didn’t. Anyone looking at us now. Maybe it was just that my hormones had been red-lining all day.

“You disappeared again,” he broke in.

I blinked at him, shaking my head slightly. “Sometimes, Max. Sometimes.”

I thought he would ask what I meant. I thought I might be ready to say it, to ask him, to have this conversation. Maybe we’d been dancing around it for two years. Certainly for the four months we’d lived together. We had laughed and cried together, held hands and hugged, fallen asleep together on the couch, talked all night. I had woken up in Max’s arms more than once, but never anything more.

He leaned in and whispered in my ear. “I know.”

I know that I don’t look at other girls like I used to, Max thought. I know that it’s getting harder and harder to be near you every day and do nothing. Kahlan just stood there, sipping her beer. Her earring caught the light and sent a prism across his chest.

What I don’t know is what I’ll do if you leave.

I shuttled Sidney and Jordan home, each alone. Jordan had scored a hot phone number, and Sid couldn’t bring girls back to Mario’s house anyway. When Kris, Max and I got home, I went straight to the kitchen.

Halfway through a PB&J sandwich, Kris came in. He was wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts. His gorgeous hair was disheveled and he looked like a sleepy puppy. He sat down opposite me and I handed him the other piece of my sandwich.

“What’s the matter, Tanger?” I asked, thinking: Don’t talk about it. Are you going to talk about it? What was that before?

“Eh. How’s school?” I guess we’re not talking about it.

I finished chewing. “Fine. Big paper in the works, and a few weeks till finals. I can’t believe I’m graduating early. Most of me just wants to stay in school. When I’m done…” I pulled a face. “Yikes!”

Kris sat back in his chair. “What happens then?”

“Time to get a job, I guess.”

“Will you leave us?” he asked quietly.

I reached out and took his now-empty hand. “No way. I’ll work at Walmart if I have to. I’m not leaving here.”

He smiled. He looked more than tired, like he was sad. I went around and sat next to him. He pulled my chair in close and put his arm around me. He smelled good, warm and dark. I reached up and brushed his hair out of his face. His movements were heavy and slow – he was pretty drunk. I wondered if he might make another move, if my being so close was too bold.

He turned to me and put his forehead to the side of my head. Our wooden kitchen chairs tapped together.

“Don’t go,” he said. “I’ll only have the guys if you go.”

Poor Tanger, I thought. He’s lonely. No wonder he kissed me before. As if I would just leave.

It was easy for the guys to get lonely. The season was exhausting, physically and emotionally. Whatever fun they had was usually in a club, and they’d all been around that block enough times. Travel, training… I always imagined how nice it must be to come home to someone. Even a roommate.

“You can always come home to me.” I said. He smiled.

“Je t’aime, Kahlan.”

“Je t’aime, Kristopher.”

Kris lumbered off to bed, and I made another PB&J. Max shuffled in wearing sweat pants and a Pens t-shirt. Without asking, he took half my sandwich. He backed a chair against the wall next to mine, facing me, sat down and put his feet in the rungs under my seat.

“What’s wrong with Tanger?”

“You could ask him. Maybe he’d like to talk about it to someone who understands better than I do,” I suggested.

“I think you understand us perfectly,” Max said thoughtfully, chewing his sandwich. “I think a couple of guys on this team would be lost if not for you. And I think Crosby’s got a crush on you.”

I laughed with a mouthful of PB&J. “He does not!”

Max shook his head. “I don’t know… when you jumped on him in the hallway, he looked like he’d won the lottery. He didn’t stop smiling all night. Sometimes Kay, I don’t think you know how important you are around here.”

“Max, thank you. That’s nice.” I didn’t know what else to say. Max sat quietly for a minute.

He asked, “Tanger’s pretty drunk, eh?” I nodded my answer.

“Did he tell you that he loves you?” I nodded again.

Max shook his head. “Be careful there.”

I turned fully to face him. “What are you talking about? That’s twice now. What is going on?”

Max put his one hand up in surrender, then ran it through his hair. “Sid told me Tanger kissed you after the game. Like a real kiss.”

My eyes went wide and I almost stammered. Fuck you Radio Crosby! “I have kissed Kris a million times, it’s platonic!” I said a little too emphatically.

Max sighed. The energy he’d had after the game was done, he was deflated. I’d seen this before: his brain was out pacing his body in recovery.

"I’m sorry, I’m tired and frustrated and I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Getting up, he winced. He shrugged, trying to adjust his sling. I stood up too.

“Let me help you,” I put a hand on his back and steered him toward his room.

His sheets were the same rumpled mess from that afternoon. He flipped on the small bedside light and sat on the edge of the bed. I dug around in the bathroom and came back with doctor-ordered 800mg ibuprofen and a glass of water. Max swung his feet upon to the bed and lay back gently. I tucked two pillows along his right side – the trainer had shown us how to keep him from rolling onto his shoulder in the night. He looked helpless laying there, staring into space. I pulled the blankets up around him, tucking him in. I smiled, and he gave me a small, strained smile in response.

I could have left. Maybe I should have. Instead I went around the bed and climbed in next to him. I stayed on top of the blankets, but I lay down on the side near his good arm. I didn’t say anything, just reached up and turned off the light.

After a few minutes of silence, Max moved his hand. He touched me, followed my arm down and slipped his hand into mine. We lay there another few minutes, holding hands in the dark. I thought he might be asleep.

“I’m scared, Kay,” he said softly.

I rolled to face him. I kept his hand in mine as I curled closer. But I stayed quiet – I didn’t know what to say.

“I’m scared we’re all falling in love with you.”

I didn’t flinch. Part of me had known that was coming. What he’d said about Sid, that was random. Crosby and I were like that all the time, just having fun. And Kris, Kris was just shy and needed people he felt comfortable around. Max was one of those people, he knew that best.

Max spoke again.

“And I’m scared you won’t pick me.”

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