The guys won their game 4-0 that night, spanking the Minnesota Wild. Max was back in the lineup and logging solid ice time. Sid scored a hat trick and then ostentatiously pointed right at me. I laughed out loud and had to cover my face lest everyone see me blushing.
I watched the game from the wives and girlfriends section, where I’d always been kind of an anomaly. Most of the women were great, but a few couldn’t figure out how I was obviously sleeping with both Max and Kris at the same time, without causing a meltdown. I smiled to myself, thinking they’d really die if they knew what had happened at Sidney’s. Luckily Vero was there, cheering her head off as Marc notched a shutout.
“We are partying tonight,” she said as the third period ended. “Marc loves a shutout!”
Max came into the hallway and treated Vero and I to an exaggerated flexing pose. We “ooh”ed and “aah”ed appreciatively.
He gave me a massive hug then looked searchingly at my face. His thumb tugged at my lip. It was a little sore from kissing Sidney so roughly earlier. It had probably turned red or swollen in the last few hours. I tried to keep a neutral look on my face.
“I don’t know what you did,” he said, “but Sidney is out of the race. Told me so himself.”
I smiled slightly, and Max just shook his head. Then he twisted me way down to the floor and smacked a loud kiss to my cheek.
“Let’s party!” he shouted.
I stood outside the car waiting for Kris. Jordan, TK and Max were already inside, music blaring. I called Cara and told her to meet us at Diesel. Kris came out last, having done an interview with a French Canadian TV station.
“What happened with Sid?” he stopped as he neared me. I couldn’t see his eyes in the darkness, but his posture said he was wary of me. Calling me out.
“What did he say?”
“I asked you.” And he waited.
I shifted on my feet. “I told Sid that I like him, but I am probably in love with you and Max. And he can’t compete with that.”
Kris’ look stayed blank for a second, then cracked into a smile. He stepped up close. “You are in love with me?” he asked.
“And Max too, I think,” I reminded him.
He looked unfazed. “Thank God. This is torture, but at least you’re in love with me.” He took two steps, then turned. “Say it.”
I pursed my lips. “Kris…”
“Please,” he said, coming back to me. “I need to hear it, to know that I’m not going crazy.”
I looked right into his dark eyes. They were flashing, reflecting the street lights.
“Kris Letang, I am in love with you,” I said softly.
He spun around and gave a little “Youpi!” then scampered off to the car. I followed, shaking my head and laughing.
The club was packed. Bass was so loud that the whole block vibrated to the beat. The team wrapped around one end of the bar – no one wanted to be secluded, they were in the mood to rock. Already people were starting to gravitate over.
“Hot damn, Kahlan! Who’s your friend?!” Jordan bounded to the bar, drink in hand.
Cara laughed. “I’m Cara. And you must be Jordan.” Her blond hair was pinned into a little poof at the top of her head, and she was wearing a knockout blue halter dress.
“Ah, I see my reputation precedes me,” he said.
Cara looked at me knowingly. “Kahlan said the best looking guy on the team had a thing for Jagerbombs. Would that be you?”
“Bartender!” Jordan hollered, dragging Cara off in that direction.
I laughed and watched them signal for supplies. Sidney caught my eye and flicked his head, calling me over. I slipped between Vero and Pascal Dupuis’ wife. He was sitting on the back of a sofa chair, tie loose.
“I have a little problem,” Sid said as I drew up. His dark shirt was unbuttoned at the throat, gold chain glinting underneath his collar. “I broke my game day routine today, and I scored a hat trick. Reason would tell me to adopt this new routine. Every day,” he sipped his drink and looked up at me innocently.
“I promised you a hat trick long ago,” I leaned in and said. “Now you’ve got it. My work here is done.” He smiled and swatted my butt. I dodged him and went back to the bar for a fresh drink.
Jordan and Cara were making a toast to each other. Marc and Vero were speaking French with Duper and his wife. TK and Cookie were talking to a pair of blondes in short skirts. Max leaned on the bar, talking to Billy G. I did a lap to look for Kris. I finally spotted him standing on the porch, away from the smokers, looking out over the road. I tiptoed out and appeared at the railing next to him. We stood quietly for a while. The music washed over us from inside the bar and cars hummed by on the pavement outside.
“Sid said you’re going to visit him in Nova Scotia for Christmas,” Kris said.
“My family’s all scattered, so it’s my first Christmas on my own.” Before he could ask, I said, “Could I visit you someday?”
“I was just going to ask you that,” he smiled.
“I am also going to visit Max,” I offered.
Kris shrugged. “I will have to make sure you have more fun with me, then.”
Kris rested his elbows on the bar. “We should do something, together.”
Max nodded. “It is getting a little hot in here.”
From my room, I could hear banging around in the kitchen. I picked up my notebook and followed a wonderful smell. Max was grilling steak and blanching asparagus. He was also grinning like a fool.
“It’s your pre-game meal!” he said proudly.
Kris came in, carrying a tub of ice cream. “And dessert.”
I was impressed – the boys rarely cooked. I settled down at the table, putting my study guide aside. With only 3 hours before my exam, there’s no way I could learn anything else anyway. Kris put out plates and Max served everyone steak and veggies. We ate quietly, with a few compliments scattered around.
“We are driving you to school,” Kris said.
I laughed. “Role reversal! I could get used to this.”
“And after your test, we are taking you out,” Max continued. “We know you have one left after this, and then everyone wants to throw you a big party. But tonight, it’s just us. Our own little graduation party.”
I don't deserve this, I told myself. But I am going to earn it.
I came out of my exam feeling good. I had studied the right things, and I knew I nailed the essay portion. Confident of a good grade, I was humming to myself when I heard a whistle.
Max and Kris were leaning on the SUV, parked at the bottom of the stairs. They were both wearing suits. A few people coming out of the building turned to look. Every girl stopped walking. They were definitely an impressive sight, with their sunglasses on and expensive clothes. I almost laughed.
“Kahlan!” Max shouted far too loudly. “Kahlan, we’re here to pick you up.”
Kris looked a little embarrassed, but helped out, “Kahlan, please come to dinner with us!”
“Okay, okay!” I headed in their direction, getting a few sideways looks from the girls on the stairs. Max swung the door open theatrically and Kris actually bowed. I was laughing out loud. I climbed into the car to find a dozen stargazer lilies on my seat.
“Guys,” I said, inhaling from the flowers. “These are gorgeous!”
“Look behind you,” Kris said. I peeked over the back of the seat. A flat white Nordstrom box was on the floor. “You’ll have to change in the car, sorry. But that’s your dress.”
I climbed over the backseat into the open space and pulled open the box. The dress was emerald green, strapless with beading across the waist. It had a slightly poufy skirt – it was an honest-to-God party dress, and it was beautiful.
“This is amazing,” I held it up. “Did you guys pick this out?”
They both nodded. “We brought Vero with us, but we chose the dress.”
I quickly pulled off my sweater and tank top. I laid back and slid my jeans off. “Eyes on the road!” I shouted and they laughed, acknowledging that they’d been watching me change in the rearview mirror. I slid into the dress, it fit perfectly. I managed to zip myself up before climbing back into the seat. Kris pointed to a box under the seat.
“Shoes,” he said.
The shoes were even more spectacular than the dress. They were green, with a heel slightly more angular than a stiletto. A wide strap crossed the foot, leaving a peep toe and finally wrapping around the ankle. They practically screamed “Fuck me.”
Max caught my eye in the mirror. “The shoes are our favorite part.”
I strapped them on and sat back. The ponytail I’d been wearing all day came down and I shook my hair out. I was wearing little makeup, but I didn’t care. We pulled off the highway, and turned down a tree-lined lane. Soon we were pretty far off the road. Max turned into a driveway, and there before us was a castle.
“Hyeholde!” I gasped.
Hyehold is a castle, complete with slate roofs, round towers and its own woodland. It’s considered one of the most romantic restaurants in Pittsburgh. Kris opened my door and helped me out. The irony of being at the ‘Burgh’s loveliest spot with both Kris and Max was not lost on me. Mostly I was amazed they were combining forces like this. I looked around – it was straight out of Shakespeare. Fairy lights hung in the trees leading off down paths into the glade. A warm glow burned in the restaurant windows. It was barely dusk, and the place looked magical. I came back to Earth to find both guys looking at me.
“The look on your face,” Max said.
“And those shoes,” Kris pretended to stab himself in the heart.
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you both so much.”
We were seated in a turret, a little round space, with room only for our single table. Max had pre-ordered some wine, which he poured for us. I smiled as I looked around the space.
“You guys have outdone yourselves tonight,” I told them, raising my glass.
“We know you’ve been under a lot of pressure lately,” Max said. “And we wanted to let you know we appreciate it.”
Kris clinked his glass to mine. “And we are really, really glad you’re not leaving us.”
Grace under pressure doesn't lose it for the first guy who unzips his pants. But I can do this. I can be here. Even if I hate myself a little more than yesterday.
Dinner was stellar. We each had an entree and ended up sharing them all. A second bottle of wine was opened, though Max abstained to drive us home. I had creme brule for dessert, but refused to part with any so the guys ordered a second for themselves. It was fully dark when we finished. As we neared the door, Max handed me his overcoat.
“Why don’t you guys go for a walk? I’ll be at the bar.”
I was surprised and turned toward Kris, but he already had my hand and was leading me outside. We crossed the parking area toward the top of the lighted path. Kris was still holding my hand. The ground was uneven and not the best for heels, but I barely felt it. I didn’t feel the cold either. On the path, the trees closed in around us. Lights twinkled above us as we walked.
“You have to see this,” he said, continuing.
We turned a corner and the path opened into a small clearing. Christmas lights were strung around the small glade, making it sparkle a hundred different colors. The snow on the ground reflected the light so it danced around us. In the background, the light-up outlines of two ornamental deer looked to be standing beneath a tree. It was perfectly Christmas-y, and perfectly beautiful.
I leaned into Kris’ shoulder. “Thank you,” I whispered.
He came close. “Max and I have a deal. No kissing you tonight.” He squeezed my hand. “I want to break it, but I know he will too. I’m trying to be good.”
Max, you bastard, you’d better play by the rules, Kris prayed.
We walked back in happy silence. At the bar, I gave Max his coat and took Kris’. Max and I went outside and in the other direction. He was holding my hand too.
“There’s another surprise over here,” he said.
We walked under a trellis covered in ivy, down a short path. A little bridge crossed a tiny stream, the water tinkling softly beneath a thin layer of ice. Farther down, the path forked and Max went right.
“Turn around,” he whispered.
A huge birch tree stood behind me, glowing ghostly white in the dark. Carved into the trunk, ages old, was a heart with an arrow through it. The edges of the carving were rounded, from weather and people touching it.
Max put his arms around my waist and kissed me lightly on the ear. “Just like Robin Hood,” he said. I could see his breath.
“Max,” I said without turning.
“Shh, I’m sure Kris told you the rule for tonight. No pressure, no choices. Just this.”
“Thank you,” I whispered.
He didn’t. He wouldn’t. So I won’t, Max repeated in his head.
We rode back in silence. I felt like I might swoon. I was exhausted, flattered, amazed. I was also nervous and even more mad at myself over Sidney - this was delicate, and I needed to be more careful. As we walked up the driveway to our house, I walked between the guys with one arm through each of theirs.
Kris heard the medicine cabinet close and the water turn on. He walked into the bathroom and Kahlan was sitting against the counter, brushing her teeth. He sat down next to her. As he brushed, she pressed her leg against his.
Max knocked softly. The lights were off when he opened the door. Leave it open, he told himself. He sat on the edge of her bed.
“Perfect,” she answered.
He reached out and touched her. Easy Max. His fingers trailed down her arm, and he left.
The Pens had a home-and-home against Philly over my last final. They took a bus to Philly the night before my test. I was happy – one last night of uninterrupted studying before I planned to never study another night in my life. They were staying over, then coming home tomorrow morning for a game the next night. An hour before game time, my phone started to buzz.
Sid: I hate these guys. I hate orange.
Jordan: Did your friend say anything about me?
Kris: Hungry. Chicken parm?
Max: Can you wear those shoes to the game tomorrow night?
I replied all:V. busy being genius. Call tomorrow when I am college grad.
I took a break to watch the third period, but ended up turning the TV off. The Flyers were winning 5-2. The game was closer than the score showed, but there was a lot of frustration going on. I studied for a few more hours then went to bed.
In the morning, I headed straight for school. I sat down, took a deep breath, and knocked out the last test of my academic career. It should have felt more climactic, I expected, but in the end it was just another exam. I was confident I had done well. Cara was waiting for me outside.
“Dance!” she pointed at me and yelled. I did a sort of end zone, football-spiking jig. She joined in, and we went for celebratory margaritas.
“So…” she took a long sip of frozen strawberries through a straw. “That’s it?! You’re done? I thought there would be fireworks or something.”
“At least an earthquake, or maybe a house falling on someone,” I agreed. We looked around the cheesy Tex-Mex cantina. No one seemed particularly impressed by my achievement.
“Jordan called me today,” she said. He’d actually been blushing when he asked me for her number. He was so goofy and loud that sometimes I forgot he was just a kid.
“Wonder how he did that?”
“Ha ha,” she said. “What’s this about a party for you tonight?”
I shrugged. “I have no idea. My life is not my own.”
“Good, because I’m not allowed to tell you anything,” she laughed. I threw a notebook at her.
3 years ago