"So, you must have had a fun night," Gina says as I walk back into the living room. "You brought him back here, so that seems like a good sign."
"I had a lot of fun tonight, thank you very much," I tell her. I hadn't thought she'd be back so soon, or else I would have kicked Max out so I could avoid this very conversation.
"So, did you sleep with him yet?"
"Gina! You are incorrigible! I'm not answering that question!"
"That's a big fat no," she giggles. "Because otherwise you wouldn't be so uptight."
I don't understand her sometimes. She can be so therapeutic, so understanding; but right now she's kind of infuriating and frustrating. "Just because you have sex on the brain doesn't mean everyone else does. Speaking of which, I figured you'd be over at Kevin's?"
"I decided to give the boy a break tonight."
"How considerate of you," I say, rolling my eyes.
"But why are you in your sweats? Please tell me that you at least wore something halfway decent when you went out into public with the poor boy."
"Yes I did. I even wore a skirt. When we got back here, I just wanted to be comfortable."
"You're not supposed to be comfortable! It's the plight of women everywhere to have to dress in uncomfortable clothes and shoes to attract the male sex."
"I don't care about attracting Max," I say, but my voice wobbles. That may be a lie; I'm not quite sure. "Besides, in the animal world, it's the male sex of the species that have to attract the female if they wanna get laid. Why do humans have to be any different? Why can't the guys for once be the ones that have to impress us instead of the other way around?"
"Who cares? What does it matter who does the impressing as long as you're getting pressed against the bedsheets?" Gina smiles as she says that, pleased with her wordplay.
I shake my head. "Honestly, it's all about sex with you. I'm going to bed."
"Well, aren't you going to tell me the details of the night?"
"No," I tell her. "It's not like there's a lot to tell you. We went to a tapas bar downtown, and we talked for a while, and then we came back here for a little while and were playing video games and had some wine. And then you showed up. Not a big deal. Not a lot to tell."
"Then why are you smiling like that?" she asks, narrowing her eyes as if looking into my brain with x-ray vision.
"Because I had fun! Is that a crime?"
"No," she sighs. "It's just been so long since I've seen you smile like that. You haven't smiled like that since last summer when you visited. Because you've been miserable since you moved here."
"Thanks for the bitter reminder and the buzz kill," I mumble, turning off the television and padding into my bedroom. I sink into bed, set my alarm, remove my glasses, and slip under the covers.
Gina knocks and opens my door. "Listen, I don't mean to bring up the past and ruin your good mood. I'm just saying that Max makes you happy. And if he makes you happy, then you need to keep him around."
"He'll be around. We're friends," I say into my pillow. My words are muffled, but I'm sure she hears them. She closes my door and leaves me alone in the dark, nothing but my thoughts and memories to keep me company. And a very strange tingling sensation in my stomach.
"Talbo, please, I'm begging you. Okay, not begging. Just asking very politely. You gotta help me out here," Sid asks, pleading with his eyes.
"Kid, you are pussy-whipped. Are you even getting any?" I ask back.
"Does it matter?"
"That's a 'no,'" Gronk interjects and laughs as he pulls his shoulder pads on.
"It doesn't matter," Sid continues, looking at me and ignoring Staalsy. "Either you help me or you don't."
"I don't even know what you want me to do," I tell him. I don't know how I got wrangled into this, watching the game with Noelle when I could be hiding up in the box with Mario. And now he wants me to act like a double agent and report back everything I learn about her.
"Just talk to her. Turn on that Talbot charm. And then just... tell me about it."
"If you like her so much, just tell her," I advise. Fuck. Sounds like I should be taking my own advice. "I told you to do that back on your birthday. Girls don't like guys who are chickenshit."
"I'm not chickenshit," he says loudly. He quiets his voice before continuing, "I just... don't know what to do."
"Listen, Kid, she probably already likes you. Although, who knows why, because you're chickenshit," I tease him just to watch him squirm. "Just take it easy."
"Are you going to help or not?" he asks one more time, and I still don't answer him. Instead, I walk about to the lounge to see Noelle and Véro talking in high-pitched squeals. I pull her into a hug; she is, after all, my number one fan.
"Hey, Noelle. Number twenty-five looks good on you," I tell her. She'll be the rare girl out in the stands not decked out in either 87 or 71.
"Hi, Max. How are you doing? How's your shoulder?" she asks.
I do my best to hide the grimace that wants to break out across my face. I know that people ask either to be polite or because they're curious, but I'm sick of the question. "Good, I should be able to play in a month, as long as rehab keeps progressing as well as it is."
"That's great! You know, tonight's game won't be quite as exciting without you," she says with a smile.
"Is that so?" Sid asks shyly.
"Hi Sidney," she greets him with a blush, embracing him, too. It's disgusting, the way they act together. I mean, it's nice for them, I guess, but it's hard to watch. I feel like I'm in the Kid's shoes, so clueless, but it's obvious to the rest of us that those two are meant to be together and it's only a matter of time before it happens. Charlotte, on the other hand.... Like I said, I'm clueless.
I check my watch. The guys need to go out on the ice soon for warm-ups, and Noelle and I need to get to our seats. I pull on my hat and hope that's enough to get people to overlook me. I mean, I'm not one of the big-name guys, but after last season's finals, more and more people recognize me. And under normal circumstances, I'd love the attention, but if one more person asks me about my fucking shoulder, I'll lose it for sure. I pop my head into the dressing room and call out, "Come on, Noelle, we'd better get out there." She hugs Sid again and then makes her way over to me. I turn on the charm, as per the Kid's request, and offer my arm.
"So, let's go find our seats," she says, looking at her ticket. "Do you know where section A21 is?"
"Yes. Just follow me."
"Why are you hiding under that hat?" she asks.
Because I don't want people to see me. "Usually, the players don't sit with the fans. I don't know how they'll react."
"I'm sure everyone will be watching the game. No one will even notice." I want to tell her that I hope she's right, but I don't say a word as I lead her down to our seats on the glass. "Holy shit," she comments, looking out at the nice.
"It's nice, eh?" Of course the Kid got her the great seats. He wants to impress her. I would've done the same thing, if I'd have known Charlotte would like it.
"Nice, this is absolutely incredible!"
"The guys are going to shoot twice on this side, so hopefully you'll get to see The Kid score a goal up close." I point across the ice. "We also get to see the bench from this side, too."
"I can't believe this. Sidney said he was going to get me good seats, but this is incredible."
"Well, you said you've never seen a game before. And nothing compares to being on the glass. Guys will be checked into the boards right in front of us, and you'll think the puck is going to fly up and hit you. It's like you're right in the game."
"Oh man, I owe Sid big time for this," she says, staring dreamily at the guys on the ice.
"I think Sid's betting on that," I chuckle.
During the second intermission, I jog up the stairs and leave Noelle in her seat. First, I head to Pen Station, to buy Noelle a hat. The Kid's determined to score a hat trick. But it also gives me a chance to make a phone call. I haven't heard from Charlotte yet about tomorrow. She picks up on the second ring. "Superstar? You programmed yourself into my phone as Superstar?"
I chuckle to myself. I forgot I did that. "It's a joke," I tell her.
"You're the joke," she laughs. "No wonder I couldn't find you under my contacts. You're ridiculous."
"Oh, it's one of the things you love about me," I say, still my charming self, forgetting to turn it off. I hope she doesn't read too much into that and worries about finding meaning that isn't there. "So, listen, I just wanted to check in and see if tomorrow was still happening." That sounds noncommittal enough, doesn't it?
"If you're asking if it's still happening, yes; I will still be there. You can show up or not," she says, sounding very dismissive. Since we're not talking in person, it's hard to tell if she's saying it because she truly doesn't want me there or if she's just feeling vulnerable. It's weird how she can seem to switch between funny and confident to shy and timid in seconds flat.
"Well, why don't you tell me when, and maybe I'll see you there?" I say back, trying to sound as casual as Charlotte did. As much as I knew I should let it go, it kind of pissed me off that she didn't care if I came or not. I know I said we'd be friends. That was my own stupid fault for agreeing to that. But I thought we had fun together... why wouldn't she want me there?
"We're on from eight to eleven," she sighs into the phone. "I guess I'll see ya if I see ya," she sighs again, hanging up without a goodbye.
"What is the deal with this girl?" I say out loud, not meaning to give a voice to my frustration.
After the guys won their game, we all venture over to the Kid's new place for the after party. I really don't feel like going, because it's not like I played or have something to celebrate, but the guys persuade me to show up. They wouldn't know what to think if I didn't show my face and look like I'm having a good time. I'm a party animal, I'm happy-go-lucky. I certainly don't... mope.
The Kid practically attacks me and presses for any information I found out about Noelle. Suddenly, I don't really feel like being helpful, but I tell him she's a Steelers fan and that he just needs to kiss her already and tell her how he feels.
"But we already kissed," he says.
"She says it doesn't count, man. Do it again," I tell him, wanting to roll my eyes so desperately. He just doesn't get it. The only thing he has on his mind is hockey. He certainly doesn't understand girls.
Neither do I, apparently.