I think about it, going back and forth all day, about whether or not I want to show up for that run in the morning. Bouncing between yes and no, I pick my brain and even ask Gina for advice.
She pours herself a cup of green tea and joins me on the couch, folding her long legs beneath her. I close my laptop, not even telling John goodbye, and twirl a lock my hair around my fingers. Nervous habit.
"Did you like it?" she asks, blowing into her beverage to cool it down. She's not looking at me, knowing that eye contact will just freak me out. I'm telling you, she should be a therapist. She is my therapist.
"The kiss," she prods, rolling her eyes like I'm dense.
"I... I don't know. It kind of happened really fast, and it was very unexpected. But it wasn't bad," I admit, feeling embarrassed to be talking about something like this. I never talk about stuff like this. "I mean, at least he had the decency to not slip me any tongue. I would have bitch-slapped him if that were the case." I bit the inside of my cheek as I thought about our conversation. Between talking about French toast and French fries, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had tried to French kiss me.
"So it wasn't bad. That means it was good, right?" She's smiling.
"It's not that simple," I groan. "I wish it were. But all I could think about was—"
"Don't say his name," she bites out at me, shaking her head. "From now on, his name is banned from being spoken in this room. Only you. Only you would have 'Maxime, the French-Canadian Dream' dangling in front of your face, and you still pick The Jerk over him," she says, quoting Yinz Luv Da Guins.
"I'm not picking anyone over anyone else. I'm just saying that good or bad, it wasn't about Max. It was about the way Max made me feel, and that way made me miss John. Because that's the way I thought John was always going to make me feel. He was my one shot. My one shot at happiness, at everlasting love."
"You act like things were picture perfect with John. And maybe they were at first, but he made you miserable. You wouldn't have had to run away to Pittsburgh if things weren't that bad."
"Things weren't picture perfect," I explained. "They were paper perfect." Gina raises her right eyebrow at me. "You know, when things look so good on paper? If you wrote down everything about him, he'd be perfect. Smart, handsome, funny, successful, heading places."
"He's not a résumé. You can't treat it that way. Even when someone applies for a job, you have to interview them. That's what dating is; it's the interview process. He didn't pass. So you throw away the damn résumé and pick up the next one and hope that the next candidate is more qualified!"
"Maybe it's that I wasn't the one who was qualified. Maybe I'm the one who wasn't good enough for him...."
"No. Don't do that. That is quite possibly the most profound thing I've ever said, so don't twist it around and make it into something about you." I look at her and try to find the words that will magically make her understand. But there aren't any words, because even I don't understand the way I feel. "Listen, maybe six months ago, you thought he was it, the one, your one shot, whatever. But things change and evolve, and so you do. This train of thought was okay six months ago, but not anymore. John wasn't your one shot. He isn't. Well, not anymore. Move forward."
"And how do you move forward after you think someone was the one? When you think you've had perfection, how do go back to mediocrity?"
Gina shakes her head. "Don't you get it? He wasn't perfect. He's not perfect. Only in your messed-up little head was John ever perfect. If he were perfect, he never would have let you out of his sight, let alone leave Chicago. You need to just forget about him." She pauses. That line of rationalization isn't working anymore. Hell, it never did. So she tries another method. "So, when are you seeing Max again?"
"What makes you think I'm seeing him again?"
"Why wouldn't you? You say you met him yesterday, you saw him again today. So, what about tomorrow?"
I groan and envelope my face in my hands. "Well, he did invite me to go running with him in the morning. But I don't think I'm going."
"Why not?" Gina asks, getting excited and bouncing next to me on the couch.
"Because he kissed me," I say, thinking we're back at square one and glaring at her through my fingers.
"And I don't see anything wrong with that. So what if he did? What did you do about it?"
"I pushed him away. Told him it was a mistake."
"And what did he do?"
"Um, gave me some lame-ass half-apology and said we could be friends."
"Problem solved," she says, moving from her spot on the couch. "You told him 'no,' and he listened. That's what friends do. And speaking of what friends do, I was wondering..."
"No," I tell her, not waiting to hear what she has to say.
"I could really use your help. I've got to learn a new piano part, and I need a singer. Susan's working tomorrow, so I was thinking...."
"Fine, whatever," I tell her. She leaves the room before I can change my mind. As the rest of the day progresses, I keep changing my mind, flip-flopping back and forth between seeing him and not seeing him, running with him or not. Part of me wants to confront him about being a liar and see if I really am able to make friends and move on. And the other part of me wants to avoid him completely, even if that means shutting down again and not being nice to anyone, because trying means putting myself out there to get hurt again.
Because he probably doesn't know that this is a big step for me. Max is the type of guy who just flits through life, giving the base minimum. He doesn't know what it's like to be hurt and to have to cope with that pain, day-in and day-out, and feel like you just aren't enough. Like you're not good enough. But, if I let him, maybe that aspect of his personality will rub off on me. I could use a little of that in my life.
Even as morning progresses to afternoon and then to night, even as the night wanes and progresses back into morning, I haven't made up my mind. No, even as the clock ticks down the seconds to nine o'clock on Sunday morning, I haven't decided.
Then an idea strikes me: if he waited for me, if he put forth the effort to wait around and see if I would show, then maybe he meant what he said about being friends. It's worth a shot, right? I toss my room upside-down, searching for my workout clothes. I still haven't done laundry, so I'm forced to throw on Gina's tight, too-small yoga pants again and an over-sized Chicago Bears shirt. Throwing my hair into a ponytail, I grab my keys and skip down the stairs. If he's waiting, if he's putting himself out on a limb, then maybe I can, too.
And sure enough, he's there, scanning the crowd and looking for a face. My face. I see that he has two bottles of water. That cocky son of a bitch. I think about turning around and leaving, standing him up, just to knock him down a peg. He spots me before I can.
"You're here," he says.
"Lord knows why," I reply, sighing. The way he's smiling at me makes my heart skip a beat. Max is gorgeous, and he's downright irresistible when he smiles. He's in blue track pants and a white tee shirt that stretches across his chest. I maintain my distance.
"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." I toe the ground, feeling uncomfortable about confronting him. "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 tell him, watching him grimace at the accusation. I hate being lied to. I know I'm not exactly honest all the time, but I never outright lie.
"I said it was something like that. But talking about it isn't exactly my favorite thing to do."
I know how that feels. Just like it feels good to be around Max, who doesn't know a thing about me. I can be selective about what I tell him, so he never needs to know about John and I'll never have to explain myself or justify my actions or emotions around him. "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."
He nods at me and apologizes again. "I'm sorry. Won't happen again. Does this mean we're friends again?"
Friends again? This guy is really a piece of work. I try to keep my emotions under control. "No lying and no... funny business, either. And we're cool."
He continues to smile as he hands me a bottle of water. "So, you're up for this?"
"No. But, I'm willing to give this a shot." I can't believe I'm about to do this. I can't believe I'm about to run through Pittsburgh and probably humiliate myself. I shake my head and then try to crack my neck. "So, how does this work?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, running. Do we go down the street, or what?"
"There's the South Side Trail, it runs under the bridges along the Mon. Are you up for a twelve-minute mile?"
In my head, I quickly do the math. That's five miles an hour. I do four miles an hour or lower on the treadmill. I keep the pace low so I can keep it up for longer. It's about endurance, not speed. I snort, thinking about the dirty joke I can make about that, but I figure if I'm trying to be friends with him, I should stray from perverted jokes. "If it's one mile, maybe."
"I guess we'll found out," Max laughs, starting around the block and heading toward what I guess is the trail. I'm starting to think this may be a bad idea, but it's too late to back out now. I follow him and hope I can keep up.