“How are things at the Bunny Ranch?” Cara asked.
I chewed a bite of my salad. We were sitting in a sunny café, meant to be studying but ignoring the stack of books at our feet.
“The Bunny Ranch has gone off the rails,” I admitted.
A month after I moved in, Max brought a girl home from a club. She left in the wee hours of the morning… and then tried to come back. Sometime around 5 AM, she climbed in a window to sneak back into the house. The window has been open a crack, so the alarm didn’t go off until she was halfway through. When it sounded, she screamed and fell backwards, into a hedge. One of her feet was caught in the curtain, leaving her literally hanging upside down.
We all ran into the living room to find her shoe, foot still in it, sticking up through the window and her yelling obscenities over the siren. I turned off the alarm. Max flew outside, pulled her down and… I don’t know what. Told her off for being crazy, I presume. Whatever he said, I missed it. Kris and I were face down laughing on the living room floor.
When Max came inside, the first look on his face was to apologize. When he saw us laughing, he got mad for about two seconds. Then he lost it too. We spent the next hour laying there, all three of us in our underwear, with tears of laughter rolling down our faces.
Max looked at my tank top and panties and said, “I should have just gone to your room instead of bringing her here.”
Kris, still laughing, said, “You would have interrupted us,” and gave me a fist bump. That was the day I stopped looking for a new apartment. And we started calling our house The (Puck)Bunny Ranch.
Cara drained her coffee cup and stared at me. She was my closest friend from school. She’d been to the house and out a few times with Max and Kris. They wanted to set her up with someone on the team, but I did my best to protect her from their intentions.
“You cannot be serious. All three of them?” I nodded. “And Max and Kris in the same house?” Nod again.
“What are you going to do?” she asked. I shrugged and shook my head. I genuinely had no idea.
“Do you have feelings for any of them?”
That hit the nail on the head. “Of course I do! For all of them. They are the three greatest guys I have literally ever known. They are my best friends. They already know all the crazy stuff about me, and they like me anyway. Hell, Sid held my hair once when I was throwing up. I peed while Kris was in our bathroom with me! I have answered the door in my underwear and bra to drive off some chick who was stalking Max.”
“Why is this happening?” I asked her seriously. “If one of them had done this, I probably would have fallen in love instantly and be married by now. I mean, I’m half in love with them already. But all at once? Now it’s like a contest or something. I could lose them all.”
Cara’s blond hair was shining in the sunlight. She leaned back in her chair.
“Of course they all love you,” she said. “You know all the crazy stuff about them too. You know the schedules, the travel, the pressure. You know how they’re completely bi-polar based on a win or loss. You know the fear of being traded, injured, benched. You’re practically a hockey player.”
She leaned toward me. “They probably never thought about you leaving. And suddenly, you’re graduating. They panicked. Believe me, they didn’t wake up last week and decide they were in love with you. If they’re feeling it now, they’ve been feeling it for a long time. It’s just coming up at the same time because you’re graduating.”
I put my elbows on the table. “So what do I do?”
Cara tapped her pen on the table. “What is your favorite thing about Sidney?”
I laughed. “This is so dumb, but it’s my first thought. When we drive together, just us, we sing along to the radio. As loud as we can. We sound horrible – worse than horrible. But we just belt it out and crack ourselves up. We have so much fun. ”
“What’s your favorite thing about Kris?”
“Kris is the most loyal person ever born. And I love that he feels comfortable around me. It took me a long time to get in with him, and I feel like I really earned it. He makes me feel safe.”
“And your favorite thing about Max?”
I sighed. “Being with Max is like standing in the brightest sunlight. I want it all the time. And he’s full of surprises. Max makes me feel special.”
Cara ticked off her fingers. “Fun, safe, special… hmmm. You’ve got your work cut out for you.”
I ate some more of my salad and Cara asked, “Which one is the sexiest?”
“They are different kinds of sexy. Does that make sense?” Cara shook her head no.
“Sid is honest-sexy. He’s like clean laundry and yard work sexy. You want to trust him. Kris is dark-sexy, quiet-sexy, like there’s something beneath his surface just dying to get out. You want to earn him. Max is toe-curling, I-get-turned-on-watching-him-do-laundry sexy. You want him to ravish you.”
Cara laughed. “Wow. That’s bad.” I gave in and laughed too. “Any chance you could sleep with all of them, then decide?”
I smacked her on the arm. “Right, like I haven’t thought of THAT already.”
The waiter refilled our drinks and we went back to quizzing each other. The Wednesday final for Macrofinance was going to be a whopper, and we both needed solid grades to lock up our GPAs. After another hour, we called it quits.
“What happens now?” Cara asked, fishing out her car keys.
“Dunno,” I said. “They leave soon, then I have a week to think about it.”
Knock, knock, knock.
“Don’t make us come in there and drag you out,” a voice yelled through the door. I lifted my head, it was 8:30 AM. I looked around for signs of a fire, but saw no immediate reason to get out of bed.
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?” I shouted back.
Kris burst through the door, ran over, and jumped on me. Max was two steps behind him, landing on top of the dog pile. I laughed and thrashed around, but I was pinned.
“Max gets to practice today,” Kris said. “You have to come and fine tune his technique.” Max rolled onto the other side of the bed, then off. Kris did not move.
“Please, Kahlan? Please come to practice?” Max whined.
“I can’t go anywhere with Kris on top of me,” I protested. He stood, and in one motion ripped the blanket off me. I screamed.
“Oh my God,” Max said. “Are those pink flamingos on your underwear?”
Sure enough, I was wearing a pink tank top and white underpants with pink flamingos on them. They looked like Underoos that little kids wear. Kris jumped back into the bed and pulled the blankets up over us.
“I like them!” he yelled. I started screaming again.
“I am leaving without you both!” Max stomped theatrically out of the room.
Kris sat up next to me. “Come on, quickly,” he paused. “But don’t take those off.” He kissed me on the cheek and bounded out of my bed.
Nice move, Tanger. You shit. I should have done that, Max thought.
“Pink flamingos?” Sid asked as I walked into the locker room.
“Christ on a bike! Who told you that?” He pointed at Max, who looked at me.
“Level playing field,” Max said and winked.
I sat a few rows up in the stands and watched the guys practice. Max skated hard and even took a few hits. After every one, he gave me a little wave to show that he was okay.
“Bon matin, Kahlan!” Vero sat down next to me. She was always happy, probably because Marc was always so happy. Or maybe she was the reason.
“Vero!” I gave her a hug. “What are you doing here?”
She nodded in Marc’s direction. “Marc asked me to come, he said it was Max’s first practice back. I figured you would be here.” She turned to me. “And I have to tell you something. Kris was over yesterday. I was not eavesdropping, I really wasn’t. But I heard them talking, and I couldn’t stop listening.”
“You know of course. Marc said you knew.” she said.
“Vero, what were they talking about?”
She looked around and found Kris on the ice. “Kris was talking about trying to act normal with you, especially when Max is around. He’s really worried he’s going to mess up, get jealous and make you mad at him. He’s worried he’s going to drive you straight to Max.”
She looked back at me. “And then Max talked to Marc and said…”
“What!? Max too?” I slid down in my seat.
“Well they are all French and they are best friends! Of course they talk about girls,” she stopped. “Not that you are just a girl.”
“Anyway, Max said pretty much the same thing. He said it’s really hard for him not to take it too far with you. Like sometimes he thinks you’re waiting for one of them to make the… what’s the expression?... the big gesture. Sweep you off your feet. And then you’ll know who to choose.” She turned her palms up. “Are you waiting for that?”
“Did Marc talk to Sidney?”
Vero shook her head, “No, not Sidney, why would he talk to… mon dieu. Sidney too?!”
I put a hand over my face. “Sid tried to kiss me in the club and Kris almost punched his lights out.”
“Kahlan! Next to the Cup you are the most coveted treasure in hockey.”
“Are you sure I’m not a trophy?” I asked. “I feel like this is becoming a little contest, and they’re all way too competitive. Do they want me, or they just want to win?”
“You know they want you,” she said, and I did. “If all they cared back was winning, you’d have one of them climbing into your window every night. They are being gentlemen, sort of, which is saying a lot for Max especially.” She gave me a friendly elbow. “Don’t be sad! You are so lucky.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Take your time. The answer will come to you,” she advised. “In the meantime, I will ask Marc to talk to Sidney. Marc secretly loves this stuff. He has boring old me, no excitement. This will make him feel the rush again.”
I laughed genuinely at that. “Vero, if Marc is bored with you then I don’t stand a chance with these guys.”
“We are leaving early tomorrow,” Max said, sitting down on the couch. I put aside my flash cards and turned toward him. He was wearing dark jeans and a blue t-shirt. “Want to drive us to the airport?” he asked.
“Sure, I want to be up early to study anyway.”
“What else are you going to do this week?” he asked. I knew what he meant.
“Probably think too much,” I answered.
He started idly flipping through my flashcards. “I saw you talking to Vero at practice.” He looked up. “What did Marc tell her?”
I fiddled with the rubber band from the stack of cards. “She overheard Marc talking to Kris, saying he’s scared of getting jealous and upsetting me. Then Marc told her that you think I want someone to sweep me off my feet. She didn’t know about Sidney.”
Max sat quiet and still for a long moment. “Is that what you want? Someone to sweep you off your feet? I don’t want to do too much, I said I wouldn’t push,” he met my eyes. “But am I doing enough?”
I nodded. Suddenly there were tears in my eyes. My face felt hot. I squeezed my eyes shut, and felt Max move closer to me.
“Shhhh, petite. Je suis desole. See, now I have done too much,” he whispered. “I will sweep you off your feet, if you want. I will sweep you off this couch right now.”
That made me laugh – a choked, wet little laugh. Max laughed too. He pulled my hand down from my face and wiped his thumb across my eyelid. I blinked my eyes open.
“Max, I am afraid.” I said, my voice thick with tears. “I want to be with someone. I want to fall in love. There have been so many great people in my life since I met you all, since I moved here, but I haven’t had that,” I took a deep breath. “The easiest way for everyone to be happy is if I am alone. But I don’t want to be alone anymore.” I started to cry again.
“Cherie,” he whispered. “I do not want to see you alone. I would rather see you with Kris or Sid than see you sad.” The look in his eyes said that he meant it. Max could be a moody hot-head, but he was a genuinely loving person. I could see that he cared for me.
“Ange, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he pulled my face into his chest.
I washed my face and brushed my teeth. I was going to get a glass of water when a soft knock sounded on my door. Max opened it a sliver, then came inside and closed it behind him. He was wearing just sweat pants.
“Don’t cry,” he held his hands up. “I am sorry about before.”
I smiled – the tears had passed. I was standing next to my desk, holding my empty water glass.
When he saw my smile was real, Max closed the distance between us in two big steps. He wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed me. It was a real, fast, deep kiss. I opened my mouth under his and gave in instinctively. I could feel the heat from his chest through my t-shirt. His solid arms locked me in his embrace. I wasn’t going anywhere.
His lips were soft, seeking. He nibbled on my bottom lip. I touched my tongue to his and our kiss deepened. The water glass rolled out of my hand, thumping onto the carpet. I reached up for the back of his neck and drew him into me. He slid his leg between mine. I could feel that he was getting hard beneath his sweatpants. I was barely breathing, my head was spinning as he kissed me for all I was worth.
His hand went to the bottom of my t-shirt, twirling the fabric there. My brain was static. He traced a line on my stomach, around the top of my shorts, across my lower back. His finger left a trail of fire in its wake. I was practically quaking with desire. If he’d slipped my shorts off I would not have moved a muscle to stop him. In that moment, I wanted him so badly I could have screamed.
He pulled his mouth away, breaking the kiss. I stood there, dumbfounded.
“Even better than I remember,” he said. “Je te désire. Something to remember me by.”
Don’t, Max thought as he rushed himself into the hall, closing Kahlan’s door behind him. Just go.
How I got to sleep that night I will never know. Thinking about Max two doors down the hall, lying in bed, wondering if he was thinking about me. I had sat, trembling, for a good ten minutes after he left. When I’d finally gone for water, I went to the kitchen for fear of seeing Kris in the bathroom. He would surely read what had happened all over my face.
The next morning, I was still feeling shaky. I also felt a little guilty. I wanted to give everyone a fair chance. Kissing Max was making that very difficult. Part of me wanted Kris to do something. Anything. I felt like I’d been stunned, and now I needed to be shaken. And then I got my wish.
“Kay, can you help me put this stuff in the car?” Kris put a bag on the living room floor. A week was a long road trip for the guys – all the gear, suits, clothes, things to do during travel and downtime. I took his bag to the car then passed him on my way back.
“I left my laptop on my desk, could you grab it?” he asked.
The door to his room was closed, so I opened it and went in. On his desk, where his laptop usually sat, was a big vase of gerbera daisies. Pink, orange, yellow, blue… every hypercolor shade.
I stared at them for a minute before I heard the door close. He wrapped his arms around me from behind. He inhaled deeply from my hair, squeezing as he drew in breath.
“Surprise,” he whispered. “They are your favorite, eh? I will miss you.”
I turned to face him. I did not move away from him, I didn’t want to. The look in his eyes was hope. He smiled and lowered his face to me, then touched my nose with his.
“Eskimo kiss,” I laughed softly.
He kissed me on the lips. Softly, hesitantly, as if asking for permission. I returned his kiss, lightly. That was all the encouragement he needed. He ran his hand up my back into my hair, pulled my head back and kissed my exposed neck. When he drew me up, he looked me right in the eye. Then he kissed me for real - our first real kiss.
I had my hands in his hair. The kiss was electric, it tasted like the sound of a spark. I must have gotten a little woozy, because he guided me back a step until I was against the wall. He folded his body against mine, no space between us. He hitched me up slightly, pressing into me, holding my weight off the ground with his thigh. My hip was grinding into his lap and I could feel his body responding to the kiss.
“Belle,” he whispered, kissing my ear. “Belle.”
I finally caught my breath, put my hands on his shoulders and got a small space between us. He was smiling deviously.
“So you don’t forget me,” he said.
Oh God. Oh God. I cannot do that again or I will not be able to stop, Kris warned himself.
4 years ago