Three days later, I was sitting in the empty stands at Mellon Arena, reading over my Management Applications final paper. Max was getting physical therapy, and I had driven him in. The lounge was too loud for school work.
“Hey there.” I looked up to see Sidney coming down the steps toward me, balancing two plates and two cups. He dropped into the seat next to me. “Max told me you were here, I thought you might be hungry,” he handed me a plate. “There’s Thai food in the lounge.”
The plate was pad thai and smelled delicious. He held out a cup. “Your favorite.”
“Thai iced tea! Yes!” I stuck a straw in and mixed the tea and milk. “Thanks Sid.”
He nodded with a mouth full of food. He was twirling noodles – I thought how dinky the plastic fork looked in his big hand.
“Whatcha working on?” he asked.
“A management paper. It’s very boring,” I put my plate on top of the paper on my lap. “How was practice?”
“Good,” he said, “but it will be better when we have Max back on the ice.”
I agreed. “Better for him too, he’s bored as hell. But he’s moving his shoulder better, so hopefully soon.”
Sid swallowed another bite of noodles and turned his knees toward me. “Kahlan,” he said seriously. He never called me by my full name. “I wanted to call you on Wednesday. I…” he stopped. “I felt stupid. I think you know that I tried to kiss you on Tuesday night.”
I froze, fork halfway between the plate and my mouth. Noodles hung in midair. I was afraid to look at him because I had no idea where he was going with this. Is he mad at me for flinching? Did he think I was leading him on? Did Kris make him do this?
“Now I know you know,” he half-laughed. “And I’m sorry. I was a little drunk and I saw Kris kiss you after the game Saturday and… thank you for not letting me. And for being kind about it.” He put down his fork, and with a finger, tilted my head up till I was looking at him.
“I’m sorry for embarrassing you,” he looked right into my eyes. “I would have embarrassed myself too. And Kris would have knocked me out, he was so mad.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
Okay so no he didn’t want to kiss me? Because it felt like he wanted to kiss me.
“Do you hate me?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Sidney, of course not.” I put my hand on his arm, and he looked at it for a long moment. “I was just surprised. I knew you’d been drinking and, well… I was flirting with you. I always flirt with you! Suddenly I felt like I had done something wrong.”
He took my hand off his arm and held it.
“No, you didn’t do anything wrong. I changed the game. I didn’t even warn you,” he said. “I love the way you act with me! I have so much fun with you, and there’s zero pressure.” He smiled wide. “You’re like the only no-pressure thing around here!”
He turned serious and let go of my hand. “And I went and messed it up.”
“I got scared, Kay. Scared that you’d suddenly announce that you were graduating and leaving. Going out into the world without us. Without me.”
I put my plate down on the seat next to me. I took both of his hands in mine and rolled his fingers between my index finger and thumb. His skin was rough from the inside of his hockey gloves. He had an angry red cut on his ring finger.
“Sid, I’m not leaving,” I said. “And if I did, I wouldn’t forget about you. You guys are my family. I couldn’t just walk away from that.”
He squeezed my hands. “Good. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” He paused. “I realized, all at once, that I don’t want to be without you. I thought maybe if I asked you, you’d stay. With me.”
I closed my eyes. I had absolutely no idea what to say. I wasn’t even sure what he was saying.
“Well I am staying. So what are you asking me now?”
“I know that you and Max and Kris are super close. You’re like the Three Musketeers. I also think they’re both crazy about you. Kris really wanted to kill me. They’re probably acting all weird and making you uncomfortable.” He laughed. “Another reason why I shouldn’t have freaked out!”
I laughed too.
“But Kay, I want you to know this. If you wanted to want something else, if you wanted to know there was something else out there,” he bit his lip, “you could want me.”
“Pretend for a minute that being with me would not be a circus. No photographers following you around. No gossip columns. Just me and you. If you wanted, we could try to find a way.”
I stayed like that for a long time, looking down at his hands in mine. He must have gotten nervous that he’d gone too far, because he started to lean away from me. I pressed down and wouldn’t let go of him.
“Sid,” I said. “I don’t know what is going on right now. You’re right, everyone is acting weird. I know it’s all honest, but everyone still seems scared. Instead now you’re all scared I’m going to choose someone else. I’m scared too, of losing my friends here.”
He put a hand to the back of my neck and pulled me into a hug.
“I’m not going anywhere, Kahlan. Even if you don’t choose me.” He held my face so I was looking at him. “I just wanted you to know that I think we could be great together. I had to throw my hat in the ring. Though Max and Kris are probably the heavyweights.”
“I don’t… it’s not…” I stammered.
He laughed as he interrupted me. “You are in over your head now, baby. Shall we go see if Max is ready?”
Sidney felt relieved. Enough now. It’s out there.
I hit a stride on my management paper – working on it for three hours straight. I finally finished an excruciatingly long paragraph and was bursting to pee. Without shutting off my music, I rushed from my room and threw the bathroom door open…
… and walked right in on Kris getting out of the shower. He was standing outside the curtain, leaning over and toweling off his leg. He stood up when I came in.
“OHMYGOD!” I yelled. I didn’t turn immediately – I couldn’t. His body was mesmerizing. Creamy skin, massive shoulders like a linebacker cinching down into a hard, flat stomach. Sculpted thighs. And God help me, I definitely looked at everything. Woah! All inside a second. Then I spun away from him. He was still frozen, holding the towel in one hand, covering nothing.
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t know you were here!” I started pulling the door shut behind me.
“HA! I should have told you I was here. I could hear your music. “I’m covered now,” he said. True, the towel was wrapped around his waist. But it was the shoulders that did me in.
I shook my head. “Fucking hell, Kris. You are SO hot.”
He laughed against and grabbed me. His skin was still damp. I wriggled free with a squeak and ran away.
I sat down on the couch and flipped to the Flyers/Sharks game on TV. I’d been working on my paper another two hours – my head was swimming with SWOT analyses and profit margins. And the vision of Kris, naked, with tiny beads of water on his skin.
“Start yet?” Kris padded in. He sat next to me on the couch and put his bare feet up on the table. He never wore shoes around the house.
“Almost time,” I answered opening a bag of tortilla chips. Kris took a handful and we watched the puck drop. He didn’t mention the bathroom, so neither did I.
The game was tight, with end-to-end action and strong goaltending. Kris liked to pick apart the strategies of other teams to see what was working. We joked about the commentator’s inane chatter and constant mentioning of their sponsors.
Kris turned and stretched his legs out over me, down the couch. He on pulled my shoulder, so I would lie inside next to him. As I put my head on his chest, I thought I probably shouldn’t be doing this. But we’d always done this. We’d always been cuddlers. To change that now would feel weird, like I was drawing attention to it. Kris had been perfectly normal since Tre and had not freaked out about me walking in on his shower.
Sure, maybe Kris wouldn’t have liked Sid kissing me, I told myself. I’m not some skank you hook up with in a club. Kris was just looking out for me. I reached my arm across his chest.
When the first period ended, I stayed where I was. Kris muted the TV to save us from fifteen minutes of banter. He put the remote on the back of the couch and put that hand on my hair. He twisted a few strands around his fingers, and brushed it away from my ear. His touch was soft, grazing.
“Belle, I have to tell you something,” he said.
“The other night at the club, when you were dancing with Crosby, I saw him try to kiss you.”
“I know you know. I saw your face. Why didn’t you let him?”
I didn’t lift my head to look at him. I didn’t know what would be on his face – curiosity, jealousy, fear.
“I didn’t want to be kissed,” I said simply.
He pressed. “You didn’t want to be kissed by Sid? Or in the club? Or in front of everyone?”
I rolled onto my back a bit. “I don’t know. One minute I was having fun and then everything got weird so fast. I would have been embarrassed if he’d kissed me. And he would have been too, afterward.”
He sighed, I felt it in his chest.
“Kris, what’s wrong?”
He rolled onto his side so he was facing me. I was still a ways down, level with his chest.
“I am jealous of them. Every time they touch you, I get angry. I know I shouldn’t, I have no right. But lately it’s all the time. The more I thought about you in the shower with Max, the more riled up I got. Then that night, in the kitchen… I wanted so badly to kiss you. And then I did kiss you at the game! I panicked and I thought you would hate me after. At the club, I would have punched Sid if he’d kissed you then. I would have carried you to my room if I’d kissed you that night.” He paused. “Do you want him?”
Kris’ dark eyes up so close were a little dangerous. His big frame was barely an inch from mine, and I was pressed into the back of the couch. If ever someone had the advantage over me, it was now.
“I didn’t kiss Sid because I don’t know if I like him that way,” I finally said. “I didn’t know he felt that way until that night. Until today.”
“He tried it again today?” Kris raised his voice and started to move.
I put my hand up, palm out, over Kris’s heart. “No, we just talked. He got scared that I would leave after graduation. And he wants me to stay. Whether it’s friends like we’ve always been, or if I needed a better reason, something more between us.”
“What did you tell him?” He shifted his legs, wrapping them up in mine.
“That I’m not leaving, no matter what. And that I don’t know what I want.” I put my head back against the cushion. “I have no idea what I want.”
Kris brushed a piece of hair behind my ear. “Do you know what I want?” he asked.
I bet I do, I thought. But I shook my head.
“I want you to stay right here,” he wrapped his top arm around me and pulled, closing the gap between our bodies. I was sandwiched between him and the couch. He brought his inside elbow down and tucked it under my head, lifting my face up level with his.
“Kay, having you here is the only normal thing in my life, the only thing that doesn’t change.”
“I don’t want anything to change either,” I whispered.
“It is scary, the thought of you leaving. Or the thought of you leaving for Crosby,” he said and laughed. It bounced off me and soon I was laughing too. He moved his hand on my hip.
“Belle, I will try not to be crazy. But you must know that I would very much like to be with you, always. When I told you ‘J’taime’ in the kitchen, I meant it. We could take care of each other and I could be very, very good to you. If you would let me.”
“Kris,” I sighed. “I know you could. You already are. I just need some time to think about all this. Everyone is going crazy and I have to make the right decision. Even if I decide to do nothing.”
“Oui, c’est vrai.” He pulled me back into a hug. “And I will stay here so you do not forget about me.”
“I just saw you naked. I could get total amnesia, but I will never forget that.”
Lâche! Coward! Kris couldn’t stop his mind from running, though his arms were very happy. Tell her everything, this is the time. Tell her. He didn’t.
“Busy day?” Max appeared in my doorway. I was at my desk, editing my paper on my laptop.
“Shut up, Max.”
He held out his hand… and a bowl of ice cream. I groaned in surrender and clicked off my iTunes. Max sat down on my bed then lay back. He unzipped his hoodie and laughed softly.
“You are in over your head here, ma petite.”
“That is exactly what Sid said,” I told him.
He whistled. “Well, Sid must be getting pretty charming if he’s saying the same things as I am.”
“How is your shoulder?” I went around to the other side of the bed and sat, cross-legged, facing Max.
“Doc says I can practice tomorrow. If I feel good, I can go to Atlanta on Monday.”
He gave me a naughty little smile. “Maybe I won’t feel good. Then I can stay here and have you to myself for a whole week. No competition.” I scowled at him. “With both arms working, there’s no way you can resist me.”
“You are giving me the Butter Look, Max.”
“Is it working?” He looked so cheesy I had to laugh. Pouring it on thick to keep the tension low. But he was still here, on my bed, plying me with ice cream. Careful, I reminded myself. Nothing is innocent these days.
“I have a huge exam on Wednesday. With you guys out of town, I might actually pass it.”
He pretended to be hurt. “So now you want me to leave?”
“Ha ha. Really though, I could use some time to think. Forget school. It has gotten a little stuffy around the ‘Burgh lately.”
A look of genuine concern crossed his face. I knew he was worried that I’d get spooked by all this attention. Max knew me well enough to know that under pressure, I could sometimes shut down completely. It had been my self-defense mechanism before and even I knew it wasn’t pretty.
“Okay, I will go,” he pretended to give in to me. “But only if you tell me what happened today. I have to know what level I should be playing at.”
I gave him a little glare. “Sid basically said if I want to leave here, I can go live with him. And Kris pretty much asked me to marry him.”
Max almost jumped off the bed. Even with his injury, he was standing in record time. I threw my hands up in defense.
“Hold on! Jeez, you’ll hurt yourself again!” He did not look placated. “They were both very sweet. But you were right. They both like me. And I walked in on Kris in the shower. That was exciting.”
Max sat back down, laughing. “You really should stay away from showers, I think.” Then he turned serious.
“I talked to Sid,” he said. I almost choked, oe took the ice cream bowl from my hands. “He really likes you, Kay. Probably has for a while. He’s such a goober that I didn’t realize it before.” He smiled. “He thinks you’ll choose me or Kris, though. Or choose no one. But he intends to try.”
I flopped back onto the pillows and put my arm over my face, blocking my eyes. And now it’s out in the open.
“He also apologized to me for trying to kiss you. Like I’m you father or something,” Max picked up my arm, revealing my face. “That made me feel very bad.”
“Why?” I whispered.
“Because I think about kissing you a hundred times a day. And I would never apologize for that. Not to anyone.”
With that he leaned down and kissed me softly on the lips. I didn’t move, or open my eyes. He gently pressed his mouth to mine, just long enough for the promise of it to register with every nerve in my body. And he left.
4 years ago