Soundtrack Song - Miley Cyrus, Party in the U.S.A. (A/N: don't judge me. You'll see.)
I polish off my drink as our server emerges from the recesses of the kitchen, and I quickly order another round. Dinner's going to turn out to be a little more painful than I had originally planned.
It wasn't supposed to start off this way. We were supposed to get to know each other. She was supposed to start trusting me and start seeing me as the good guy that I am, even if other chicks can't, because she's supposed to be different. Finally, I get the answer that I had so desperately hoped to hear: she's single.
But if she's single, then why isn't she biting at my line? I've set out the bait, I'm using a lure.... What is it about me that turns her off? I can't get her out of my head; I've been trying to do that since our run on Sunday. Apparently, I'm the only one that feels it. She said before that she didn't need me to complicate things. But what the hell was I complicating if she's single?
Our conversation, which had flowed so easily before, comes to a complete, halting stop. Our plates are brought to our table, but my appetite has ebbed. Charlotte feels the change in the atmosphere around us, too, and she begins to fidget in her chair.
"Your hair looks really nice down," I tell her. She does look good. I noticed as soon as she opened her door, but I didn't want to say anything to her then. It would have seemed to date-like. And the last thing I wanna do is freak her out. This is the first time I've seen her with make-up, hair not pulled severely away from her face, and in something other than oversize, baggy clothes. I mean, she was beautiful then, too; she was always beautiful. This is just a new look, and I like it, too.
She blushes and runs a hand through her hair. "I just got it cut."
I begin to pick at the food that's been brought to us, and she's looking at the fare hesitantly. "I know it seems weird. But it is good," I tell her. "Especially the octopus salad. I hope you'll at least try it."
"Oh, I've had octopus before," she informs me, wrinkling up her nose. I guess I look surprised because she giggles a little and continues, "When I was in college, a couple of us did this trip to Europe over spring break. We went to Spain, France, and England. So I tried a bunch of the local delicacies, including pulpo." She shakes her head and smiles, and I watch her face light back up as she relives the memory in her head. "You know how people say it tastes like chicken? It really does. But the texture's different... kinda rubbery. Like chewing chicken-flavored bubble gum."
"So, that's a no," I laugh. "Do you like seafood? If you do, these are good." I push the lobster and crab cakes across the table at her. She rubs her hands together and stabs one with her fork, taking a bite. Instantly, her face sours and she grabs her napkin out of her lap, spitting the contents of her mouth into the napkin. She wipes her mouth and tries to hide the disgusted look on her face. "Now these are good," I say, taking a bite of one, making sure that there's not something wrong with it. And there isn't—they're as good as they always are.
"No, I mean, I guess it's okay. I just don't like coconut," she mumbles, very embarrassed.
"What? Now you're just being difficult. You can barely taste it."
She shakes her head and laughs at me. "I can taste it. Blech. You're oh-for-two," she taunts me. "And here you were, so confident that I would love everything." She takes a large drink of her vodka tonic, and I can see she's rolling the liquid over her tongue, trying to get the flavor out of her mouth. Watching her do that makes me have to look away.
"You are just very picky. I was sure you'd like it." I feel kind of sheepish. Not just that she doesn't care for what I ordered and that makes me kind of look like a fool, but also because the night is not progressing at all like I had planned. Charlotte was supposed to be impressed.
"Well, I guess I'm not as predictable as you thought I was?" she teases with a sly smile.
"I guess not."
This night is definitely not what I expected, but I'm not complaining. It's still fun; still a break from the norm and a better distraction than a movie on television or whatever else I would watch tonight, because I'm not an observer. I'm a participant.
I'm mortified that I spit out my food in front of him. Real attractive. Not that I'm worried about appearing attractive... it's just that, spitting into your napkin is disgusting, and there was no discrete way around doing that. I abhor coconut.
Usually, Max and I get along great, but now he's acting kind of funny. It bugs me. What did I do? Was it something that I did? I'm desperate for a way to get the conversation going again. "So, how long have you been playing in Pittsburgh?" I shake my head. Not a good direction to nudge the discussion, because talking about hockey is only going to make him feel bad again about his shoulder. "I mean, it must hard playing here, so far away from your family in Quebec."
That gets him going, and he begins talking a mile a minute. I'm surprised to find out that he's such a family-oriented guy. He's telling me about his parents and his brothers, and especially his gaggle of cousins. "There's nine of us. Seven boys, two girls. And we all have the same tattoo, a 'T' for Talbot, just in different places."
"Where's yours?" I ask, honestly interested.
"Maybe I'll show you sometime," he teases, waggling his eyebrows suggestively, which makes me burst out into loud laughter, gathering the attention of the patrons around us. "What, wouldn't you like to see it?"
Part of me, the old me, wants to say the crude remarks that are floating around in my head about the suggestive nature of his comment. It depends, Stud. Only if it's somewhere worth looking. But there's the other part of me, the part that's still shy and timid and doesn't want to say anything he can misconstrue to mean something else, that is desperate to avoid anything even remotely bawdy or provocative. So I compromise. "Maybe. I guess we'll see how the rest of the night goes," I say, smiling as I take another sip of my drink.
As we continue to eat, Max goes back to talking about his family. "The hardest part about playing here is being away from my family. Sometimes, they come to visit and see me play, but it's not that often and I miss them."
I want to smile when he says that. Not because I'm happy that he misses them, because that's sad; but I like the way he can so freely talk about the way he feels. I guess I'm just used to John and the way I had to drag all those emotions out of him to know what was on his mind. This is... surprisingly refreshing to me. "At least they get to see you on T.V."
"I guess," he laughs. "But what about you? Do you miss Chicago and your friends and family?"
How do I explain this without having to clue him into the whole story? "Yes and no. I miss the big city. Pittsburgh's nice and all, but I like the big city. And I miss my friends. We talk every once in a while, but not as often as I would like to. But I like being out on my own, doing things my way and making it on my own. I like knowing I can do it."
"Well, you're not alone." When he says that, I look at him curiously, wondering what exactly he means. "I mean, you have Gina." Of course he would bring her up. Damn her for the towel incident. "And I guess you have me now, too."
I smile at him but don't respond. Not only do I not know what to say, but I also don't want to ruin the moment, either. I like having him around. I like who I am when I'm around him. He brings out the old me, the good in me, the self that I thought John had squished. So I'm not going to say anything that might spoil the good feeling in the air.
We finish off the tapas and a few more drinks before we decide to leave. Max vanishes a few moments before we leave, to say thanks and goodbye to the owner. When he returns, we get back in his car and head back to the South Side. At the first red light we stop at, he turns on the radio and scans through the stations. He starts with B94, which is playing commercials, before checking Kiss, just in time to hear the new Miley Cyrus song begin. I scrunch up my face. How many times have I heard this song at work, the kids playing it or singing it in the hallways? I know all the words just from those damn kids singing it. I expect him to change the station and try something else, but he places his hand back on the stick shift.
"You're joking, right?" I ask.
"What? I'm secure enough in my manhood to say I like this song." I shake my head and reach over to change the station myself, but he bats my hand away. "Uh uh. My car, my choice. Deal with it."
I pout, but he just chuckles. "Really? You're going to make me listen to this?"
"You know you like it. It's catchy." He starts to snap his fingers and bob his head, getting into the song. Suddenly, I know why he must like it so much. She says cardigan.
"Chlamydia's catchy, too, but you don't see me rushing out to get that," I reply. Max gives me a funny look and then lets out a deep laugh. "Well, if you're going to do this to me, do it right," I tell him, rolling my window down and letting the cool September air rush in, and then turn the music up higher.
"Isn't it kinda cool for that?" he asks.
"If you're going to jam out, you have to do it with the windows down." There are a few people littering the streets of the Cultural District at the tables of some of the outdoor restaurants and cafés, and they look at us as we drive by. I throw my arms in the air and sway back and forth, belting out the lyrics as loudly as I can.
Max howls with laughter, joining in when he knows the words. I up the ante and pull out my best "car dances," motioning with my hands and nodding my head when prompted by the lyrics. We're just being a bunch of dorks, trying to upscale the other. I ignore the part about the Britney song, because it only makes me think of "Womanizer" and that YouTube video and all that it implies. Implies? Hell, he basically verified his status of manwhore to me tonight.
By the time the song is finished, we're over the bridge and his car is pointed in the direction of my apartment. I had a great time: my stomach's full of food which I will have to work out like crazy to burn off, my lungs burn from laughing so hard and singing so loud on the way here, and I feel... comfortable in my own skin again.
He pulls up in front of my apartment building, and I realize that I don't want this night to end just yet. This time, however, I don't have any qualms about asking. "Would you like to come up?"
Max takes a deep breath. "It is only quarter to eight. Sure, why not?"
"Well, not if the only reason you can think of is 'why not,'" I tease him. "I can think of more reasons you should than reasons why you shouldn't."
"Is, um," he hesitates before spitting it out. "Is Gina home?"
Way to kill the mood, I think to myself. I don't want him to come up if she's the reason he wants to. "No, she's out practicing with her band."
He smiles at my answer. Now I feel incredibly foolish. I thought he was hoping she would be there, but he looks happier now that he knows she isn't. I wonder about his motives and why he's so keen on coming up now that he knows she's not there. Maybe having him up isn't such a good idea anymore.