Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chapter 4 - Promise

I hadn’t said anything. I lay there all night, holding Max’s hand. He fell asleep before I did, thanks to the medication and pain. When I finally did sleep, I dreamed that I was in a strange city where I didn’t know anyone. The streets all had the same name and no one spoke English. I didn’t know where to go, but I had to leave. I started walking, seeming to pass the same buildings over and over. I woke up feeling exhausted.

I was also alone. Alone on Max’s bed, his side of the blanket pulled up to cover me. How’d he do that with one arm? I thought. It was 10 AM. I suddenly felt relieved that Kris was at practice, he wouldn’t have to see me coming out of Max’s room. I wouldn’t have to explain something I’d never had to explain before, something that was in fact nothing at all. Oh God, this cannot become like that, I said to myself.

I poured two glasses of juice and walked from the empty kitchen to the living room. Max was sitting on the couch, his feet up but the television off. I put one glass down next to him, and took the chair opposite.

“Morning,” he said.

“Morning sunshine,” I answered. I looked at him, and smiled. He was Max, my Max, my best friend. His hair was flat on the back, where he’d slept in the same position all night. He was still wearing his pajamas.

“Sleep okay?”

“Perfectly,” I told him. That got a little smile.

“I’m sorry about last night,” he said, looking at his juice.

“I’m not.”

Now I got eye contact. His eyes were beautiful, I’d always thought that. Indistinguishable color, really. Just flashing. If you knew Max, you could read his mind by looking in his eyes.

“Max, I’m scared every day that one of you will leave me. And not just for a girl. Get traded, anything. I live in a glass house here. But mostly I worry about one of you falling in love. About being left behind. If I’m not anything to anyone, then I’ll still be here when everyone is gone.”

“Never,” Max said.

“You can’t control that,” I countered. “People leave all the time.”

Max turned to face me. “I can’t control the game. But I can control everything else. I will always be here for you. And someday, maybe we’ll want more than that.” He paused. “Maybe you’ll want more.”

A silent moment passed before I stood up and took the seat next to Max. I put my feet up next to his on the table and leaned my head on his shoulder.

“Maybe,” I said.

If you’d just say yes, Max thought, I could stop all this before it starts.

I drove Max’s car again, taking us to the arena for another home game. Kris hadn’t mentioned his brief drunken sadness in the kitchen, or the kiss. Max and I hadn’t talked about it again.

“You look great,” Max said from the passenger seat.

I’d cut my hair to shoulder length. The green top was new, and green was my favorite color because people always said I wore it well. I flashed him a smile.

Max touched my arm. “We okay?”

I turned as much as I could while driving. “Always, Max.”

The Pens won again, a hardscrabble 5-4 shootout victory. We watched from the owner’s box, and I was glad to have people to talk to, in case Max got moody again. I needn’t have worried though, he was in high spirits all night.

“Yes, absolutely. On the way,” I heard him say into his phone. He put a hand on my shoulder.

“We’re going out,” he started steering me out of the box.

I stuck to the hallway again. I could hear the press inside, hounding Sid about some bad call they’d seen. Poor guy. No wonder he can’t talk to girls, he’s always on the defensive.

Kris came out first. “Salut, belle,” he said and gave me a hug.

Kris is gorgeous, my brain said.

Don’t go off the deep end now, I reminded myself. But looking at him I knew it was true and there was no harm in saying it. His dark eyes and elfin smile, broad shoulders and big hands. And that hair. I put my hand to the back of his head. He smiled at my touch.

“Tonight, I will drive if you like,” he offered.

“It’s okay, I don’t mind. I don’t think I really want to drink.”

“Me neither tonight.” He looked away. “When I drink too much, I start telling girls things I shouldn’t be telling them.”

I laughed, only half thinking that he wasn’t talking about me. “Just tell them in French, then it won’t matter.”

He smiled. “Somehow, they still know.”

Max and Sidney came out together, ready to rock. “Sid needs a ride again,” Max said looking right into my eyes.

“Let’s roll,” Jordan called from down the hallway, and we followed.

Tanger, you idiot, Kris berated himself. Just tell her. Do something before it’s too late.

The VIP room was on the ground floor, feeling more like a holding pen than a private space. The guys opted not to take it tonight, as it wasn’t too crowded on a Tuesday. We congregated around one side of the bar.

Sidney handed me a beer before I could even think to order. “Have fun tonight?” he asked.

“You played well,” I said. “Nice tape to tape passes. And that backhand pass from the boards?” I looked around. “Where’s Duper? We should give him hell for fanning on that one.”

“You should be an assistant coach,” he said.

“If I were, TK would get off the ice quicker and save us the too-many-men penalties.”

Sid laughed. “Maybe Disco Dan will hire you when you graduate. That’s coming up soon, right?”

“I finish in mid-December. Actual graduation isn’t till May.”

The music got louder, and he leaned in closer. “What are you going to do afterward?”

I was talking right into his ear now. “Find a job in Pittsburgh, I hope. I plan to stay here, and I’ve actually started looking a bit already. I’m in business management. It’s a pretty big market.”

He looked down at me. I could feel his breath on my cheek, smelling faintly of whiskey. “No Christmas vacation?”

“I know! First time ever. I just saw my dad, and my mom is going to Paris. So I’m on my own this year.”

“You could visit me, if you want.” He looked at me carefully. “Nova Scotia is beautiful, and I just bought a house. Haven’t even lived in it yet. We have a lake too,” he said.

Sid was obviously a very big deal in Nova Scotia, and I was curious how he lived there. I’d also met his parents and sister before and liked them. It would be good to see Sid away from the pressure of a whole season, really giving himself the break I always told him he deserved.

“Have you ever been snowmobiling?” he broke into my thoughts.

“I have not,” I confessed. “I don’t like vehicles where you ride on the outside. Motorcycles, stuff like that. I’m usually a copilot.”

Suddenly it was more crowded around us. Everyone in the place had come over near the team, bringing the party with them. I could hear Jordan egging Kris on at the bar. Someone squeezed past us, pushing me into Sid’s chest. He put his free hand protectively on the small of my back. I could feel his arm all along my side. He could have lifted me up if wanted to. He stayed like that a moment too long.

“I drive really fast, so you’d have to hold on tight,” he said.

“Oh Crosby, you were doing great till then,” I rolled my eyes. Sid hesitated then laughed. I had to break the tension. I put my hand on his chest. His very broad, hard chest, so close to my body.

“You should have said, ‘I promise to go slow, if that’s the way you like it.”

He blushed, hard. I stepped away with a peal of genuine laughter. Pretty soon, we were both cracking up. That attracted some attention.

“What’s so funny, kids?” Jordan lumbered up with a leggy blonde under his arm. I smiled conspiratorially at her. She winked and smiled back. Jordan always picked sassy girls that I liked.

“Sid was trying out his pickup lines on me,” I raised my glass to him.

“How’d he do?” the blond asked.

“I think I just agreed to visit him for Christmas!” I said. And I saw Max, standing off to the side a little, looking at me. He wasn’t mad, he was just watching. I took the opportunity to excuse myself and go over near him, to the bar. He stepped in next to me.

“Visiting the Kid in Canada?”

I turned and leaned my back on the bar. In his suit, Max looked like an Armani ad – sexy, expensive, dangerous. He was giving me an ‘I told you so’ look.

“I’ll visit you next, if you’d just invite me already,” I said. And I was serious, as soon as I said it. I wanted to visit Max in Quebec. I wanted to be with him, away from all of this.

He clinked his water against my glass. “Would you like to visit me, at my home? I warn you, you’ll have to meet my parents. They know all about you, of course.”

“You talk about me to your parents?” I was surprised.

“Of course, cherie, they want to know why I live with a woman and she’s not my woman,” he smiled.

I felt a little heat rising on my skin. “I want to visit you, Max. Are you different at home?”

He thought about it for a moment. “Different than I am here, yes. But no different than I am with you.”

I smiled and thought about it. Quebec. I could listen to Max speak French all day long, see his favorite places, laugh when people made a big deal about him.

“That sounds perfect,” I said.

“Dance with me!” a voice shouted in my ear. I spun around and bumped right into Kris. He looked at Max, “Can I steal her to dance?”

Max looked at me and smiled. “Just try to steal her.”

Oblivious after a few shots with Staal, Kris grabbed my arm and steered me away. He weaved us out into the middle of the dance floor. Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’ started playing. Kris had shed his jacket somewhere, and his tie was sticking out of his pocket. The top two buttons of his blue shirt were open. He put his hands on my hips, and I couldn’t help it. I put an arm around his neck and moved into him. The song had a sultry beat, and Kris moved smoothly.

As the music pounded out, he slipped his leg in between my thighs and pressed against me. His broad shoulders hovered above my body. He wasn’t looking at me, but he was smiling as he circled his arms behind my back pulling me in closer. One of his hands brushed across my ass, just for a second.

That might have been an accident, I dismissed. Or he’s drunk. It didn’t happen again, and we just danced. Still, I was grateful when Jordan and his blond stomped up as the song ended. Kris separated from me, still looking happy.

Accident, I decided with relief.

I think I got away with that. Kris' thoughts were fuzzy.

Pretty soon Sid was with us, and TK dancing with a cute brunette. Chris Kunitz pushed his wife through the crowd in our direction. I looked over people’s heads for Max. It was too crowded for him to be on the dance floor injured. I spotted him at the bar, talking to Billy G and his wife. He caught my eye and raised his glass to me.

With a firm hand on my shoulder, Sid pulled me into a dance. The DJ mixed in a track and the tempo on the floor went up a few notches.

For someone who moved so well on the ice, who’d spent his life doing agility and footwork drills, Sid wasn’t much of a dancer. It was too crowded to really move around, so I just stood close to him and rocked to the beat. He put his hands on my shoulders, like he knew my attention was drifting.

Not fair. Pay attention to him. I stepped closer. The song changed to ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Beyonce.

“Don’t tell anyone, but I love this song,” Sid yelled into my ear.

“You just love Beyonce,” I shouted back.

He laughed. Some of the guys called him Beyonce because he had a big butt. To me and every women in the room, he looked fantastic. He was all muscle, in a powerful, well–conditioned way. He’d rolled up his sleeves, and I slid my hand along his rock hard forearm to where his hand was on my waist. He drew me into the space that his body created in the surging crowd. If anything, his thicker lower body accentuated the way his wide shoulders tapered down into a flat waist. As we moved to the music, Sid slid one hand up my back and held the nape of my neck.

Kissssssssssss! My brain suddenly rang.

I don’t know if I flinched or tensed or if I just didn’t look up quickly enough. He sensed the moment wasn’t right, and planted a kiss on my forehead. I felt it was safe after a moment to meet his eyes and smile.

The song changed, and two hands closed over my shoulders. Jordan said something to Sidney, I couldn’t make it out. Then he turned left and steered me off the dance floor toward the bar. He was so big that people parted like the sea to let us through. I felt like a shopping cart being pushed.

“Sorry,” Jordan leaned down to say. “Max asked me to, he couldn’t come out there.”

“Thank you, I needed a break,” I said. I felt a laugh vibrate through his body. We reached the bar, where Max was holding out a beer to me. I took a sip, then hesitated.

“Kris is kinda drunk, so looks like I’m driving.”

Max smiled. “I think we’ll be here a while, you’re fine.” I turned to see Sidney following Kris off the dance floor, toward the deck.

“Looked like you could use a rescue there for a second,” he said. He wasn’t smiling anymore.

I nodded. “I’m not really sure what just happened. But thanks.”

I took a moment to head for the bathroom, passing by the door heading outside. I could see Kris and Sidney on the deck, and I paused. Then I realized something wasn’t right. Sid was shaking his head. Kris looked mad. He was gesturing rigidly, pointing at the floor. I didn’t want them to catch me watching, so I hurried off to the ladies.

“What the fuck was that?” Kris stomped onto the deck and rounded on Sidney.

Sid was shocked. At himself. “I don’t know what I was thinking!”
Kris barely resisted the urge to step right up into his face. “You tried to kiss her. Kahlan. You tried to kiss Kahlan in front of all these people, out of nowhere.”

Not exactly nowhere, Sidney thought. But Kris didn’t know that. Dumbass! You knew Max and Tanger would freak out if you moved in on her.

Kris was still growling. “She is not some puckbunny you hump on the dance floor. That is Kahlan. Don’t you ever think about doing that again.”

“Thank God she stopped me,” Sid said, almost to himself.

“Or I would have,” Kris said through clenched teeth.

When I came out, Max was waiting for me. He led me out the door – Kris and Sid were gone. He handed me Kris’ suit jacket and pulled out a chair for me, then leaned on the railing opposite. The were too narrow for him to sit in without hitting his arm.

“Did I see Sid try to kiss you?”

I exhaled. “I think so. But I didn’t look up, so he kissed my forehead.” I looked at him. “But yes, I think he was going to.”

Max shook his head in wonder. “In front of all those people. Wow, the Kid has no idea.”

“No idea of what?” There were so many things, I didn’t know what Max was referring to. Sidney Crosby kissing a girl in a club could be front page news. Someone kissing one friend in front of other friends could cause enough waves.

“Well, for starters, Tanger would have decked him. He’s just drunk enough to do it too. Instead he just dragged Crosby out here and read him the riot act. He had an eye on you two.”

I put my chin in my hand. Damn it, could Max be right? I didn’t want this. I didn’t want anything to change.

“Apparently you had an eye on us as well,” I challenged him.

He shrugged his one good shoulder. “I already told you, Kahlan. I love being what we’ve always been. But if you’re going to be with someone, I want you for myself. If other guys are going to start making a play for you, I have to make my move too.”

I walked over to Max. I stood on the rail next to him, facing out over the lawn. He leaned his good shoulder against my back.

“I won’t push it. I’ll only go as far as they do.” He put the side of his head to mine. “But I don’t want to be left behind.”

“I need to think about this,” I said. “I’m not even sure what happened in there. It could be drunken nothing. You guys are all a little high strung, maybe everyone’s letting it run away with them.” I turned to face him. “I have to let this play out. I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”

Max stepped back. “Of course, you are right. They are also your friends. And mine.” He offered me his good arm. “Promise me one thing,” he said.

“Promise.” I answered.

“You don’t even know what I’m asking.”

“Max, I promise.” I steered him back into the bar, the music, the dark.

Promise I’m right, Max’s mind pleaded. Promise it’s me.

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