So, one week in. Thanks, ye devoted few, for following me over to this new project. I think it's different, and I am both extraordinarily proud and incredibly self-conscious of it. Needless to say, I love that you're enjoying it so far. Thanks guys! You mean the world to me!
Soundtrack song - Matchbook Romance, Lovers & Liars
Gina takes one look at me and immediately begins to worry. "What happened to you? You look like you've seen a ghost."
I'm haunted, but not by a ghost. Instead, I'm tortured by foggy memories of love and happiness that are so far in my past that I'm surprised I remember what that feels like. I plop on the couch and lean my head back. She knows something's up, and Gina's the type of person who won't drop it until I come clean. So I cave and just start talking. "He kissed me."
That news perks her up. "You're going to have to tell me more than that, because I don't know whether I should be happy for you or grab you a beer to cry in."
"I met this guy yesterday. And then he just happened to be at the 'Bou this morning. He wanted to hang out or whatever, and then out of nowhere, he kisses me. I don't even know him. I barely know his name." Gina looks at me. Hell, she doesn't know this guy. What could it hurt to tell her? "Max. I forget his last name. Talbot?"
She starts laughing. Uncontrollable, holding-her-sides, tears-streaming-down-her-face laughter. And I don't get it. I wait for her to calm down so I can find out what's so funny, but she just keeps laughing hysterically.
"Do you know him or something? Is there a joke and I'm out of the loop?"
"Oh, honey. Google him," she instructs me.
"Just tell me." I'm very annoyed.
"No, I think you should look it up yourself." There's something in her smile that tells me I need to find out what it is I don't know about him. Gina's my oldest friend. Her family lived in Penn Hills right next to my grandparents' house. Even though I was born and raised in Chicago, I spent my summers in Pittsburgh with my grandparents, and the two of us were inseparable all summer. So when I needed to get out of town, Pittsburgh was my escape. Gina had finished her last full year at Duquesne and didn't want to go through the hassle of living on campus for her last semester, so the timing was perfect. We got an apartment together. It was like old times. Sometimes, I thought she should have gone into psychology instead of music, because she either knew what I was thinking or she knew how to extract that information from me.
"Whatever," I mumble, but my curiosity has gotten the best of me. I open my laptop, and immediately I'm signed into AIM. The side menu pops up, and I notice right away that John is online. I try to close the box, sign out, anything, but my computer freezes momentarily and then the conversation window pops up. Fuck. This is why you always, always sign in as "invisible" first.
John says: It's been a long time.
Charlotte says: We talked yesterday.
John says: Really? Feels like so much longer than that.
That makes my insides clench. That's exactly how I felt in the weeks following my departure. How I missed him so much and thought I was a fool for leaving him behind. Every second I wasn't talking to him lasted hours.
Charlotte says: You're exaggerating.
John says: No, I'm not. I hate that you're ignoring me.
Charlotte says: I'm not ignoring you. I told you, I've been busy. Saw a movie last night, and then had coffee with a friend this morning.
Okay, so maybe I made it seem like I had more going on in my life than I really did. And maybe I didn't exactly have coffee with a friend. Speaking of which, I think, loading my web browser and typing his name into the search engine, effectively ignoring John and any of his lame excuses or lies. Seconds later, I'm confronted with a barrage of links, videos, and pictures. None of which I particularly like.
It's a lot of information to take in at once. Okay, so he's a hockey player. Not a great one; it seems he's been flying under the radar for the past couple of years, but he always comes up big when he needs to. Game 5 in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, and then his performance in Game 7 just a few months ago. He's a hero and a demigod to Penguin fans.
But I get distracted by the pictures. First of all, those cardigan sweaters. Maybe it's a Quebec thing? Because I don't know what other self-respecting man would wear that. Although, if I'm honest with myself, it is still kind of hot. Second, no wonder he's so damn pushy. He gets what he wants, when he wants it. That's clear from all these pictures, making out with a different girl in each one, half-naked in some of them, always with a drink in his hand. How can a man like this possibly have a serious bone in his body? Speaking of serious bone... someone made a video of him to Britney Spears's "Womanizer." I think that's all I need to know about him.
The articles, however, paint a different story; they talk of a man, a player, who is dedicated and hard-working. How can he be both of these people, a playa and a hockey player? Even though I'm telling myself that my mind's made up about him and that he can go fuck himself, my brain is trying to reconcile these two seemingly completely different versions of Max Talbot. Not to mention, he lied to me. He led me to believe he was in a car accident. Why would he do that?
I'm such an ass. What was I thinking?
I wasn't thinking. And that's the problem. That damn freckle was like a magnet, a target, a bulls eye, beckoning me, begging to be kissed. Usually, girls come to me, their mouths already puckered. Because there are two types of women out there: the ones that know my reputation and volunteer themselves to be a notch on my bedpost, and the ones that know my reputation and stay away from me because of that.
And then here's this girl, Charlotte, who I haven't even known for twenty-four hours, who isn't either of those. She wants a friend. I can't remember the last time I was friends with anyone who didn't have a dick. No one expects that from me.
Then again, she doesn't know who I am. Ever since June, it's hard to fly under the radar. Not that I don't like the attention, but I have to remind myself that she's not from here and she hasn't watched hockey lately, which I'm guessing has been a couple years. It was nice that she wasn't all over me, but I kind of wish she was.
Damn, this girl's got me all confused.
Which is why I'm standing outside of Caribou Coffee at nine in the morning, hoping that she'll show up for our run. I'm holding two bottles of water, smiling at the people who walk by and recognize me, and trying to look like I'm expecting her to be here. I pray that she does show up, and not just because I don't want to look like a fool if I get stood up, but so I can prove to her that we be friends. I'll be a friend if that's what she wants, because I still can't get her out of my head. The only time I'm not thinking about her is when she's with me, when I'm seeing her and talking to her.
I play what happened yesterday in my head like game tape, examining it for clues about what I did right and what I messed up on. Well, besides the obvious. We were getting along well. She's funny and kind. A little guarded, maybe, but I'm not used to having to be patient, either.
When I think about it, I probably shouldn't have talked about my shoulder as much as I did. I like that she doesn't know about it, about my injury. When she brought it up, I thought then and there that she knew, but Charlotte was just making conversation. I didn't want to talk about it, though. Because I think about it too much as it is, and when I'm with her it's the last thing on my mind. She's an escape from hockey and the fact that I'm not playing it right now.
It's now quarter after, and I don't know if I should give her more time. Maybe she's running late? I don't want to believe that she'd stand me up. But I don't know her; anything could happen. I let out a deep breath. How long should I wait before this starts to look pathetic?
The answer is: not any longer. Because she's here. I blink to make sure it's not a mirage or my imagination. Now that she's here, I realize that I really thought she was going to stand me up. "You're here," I say with a smile. She came; that has to count for something, right? Plus, she's in her workout clothes, so she didn't show up to tell me off and leave. She's here to run.
"Lord knows why," Charlotte sighs.
"I don't care what your reasons are for showing up, just as long as you did."
"You said you were cool with being friends. Did you mean that?"
"Yes. Of course. I wouldn't have said it if I didn't."
"Well, I wasn't sure. Because you said you were hurt in a car accident. I did my research, Maxime Talbot, Pittsburgh Penguin."
I grimace. I don't mean to, but I still do. This was going to happen eventually. She was bound to find out the job sooner or later. But I really wish it had been later. "I said it was something like that," I dismiss, thinking about that game and that questionable, but still legal, hit. The goon was as big as a truck, so it wasn't a far-off estimation. "But talking about it isn't exactly my favorite thing to do."
There's a look on her face that I can't place, but it almost looks like she's been stabbed in the heart. "I can understand if there are things you don't want to talk about with me. That's fine. If that's the case, just tell me you don't want to talk about it instead of lying. I hate liars."
I nod. I'll do anything. I'll agree to anything at this point. "I'm sorry. Won't happen again. Does this mean we're friends again?"
The corner of her mouth perks up and twitches, but Charlotte gets it under control quickly. It makes me wonder if she ever smiled at all. "No lying and no... funny business, either. And we're cool."
I'm grinning like a fool. I stare at her for a couple more seconds before I snap back to life. I hand her a bottle of water and gear myself up for the run. "So, you're up for this?"
"No," she says, shaking her head and genuinely smiling. I'd do anything to make her happy and keep her smiling like this. It lights up her face and those dazzling green eyes. "But, I'm willing to give this a shot."
I don't know if she's talking about me or the run, but I suppose I shouldn't push her and ask her to clarify. Either way, I guess I need to take it at face value and appreciate it for what it's worth. And try like hell not to screw it up.