"No, she's out practicing with her band," she says.
I smile. It's the answer I wanted to hear. Gina, well, she seems nice and all, but things were just too weird the last time I was over. She's the type of girl that oozes sexuality, whether she means to or not, and even though I'm not interested in her, she commands the room she occupies. Tonight will go a lot... easier if she's not around.
I'm not stupid. I know that this wasn't that kind of invitation up to her apartment. I'm fine with that. I mean, not really, but as fine as I can be. I just want to be around her. She wants to spend more time with me, and that's what I want to hear. It's a step in the right direction, albeit a microscopically tiny baby step. I'll win her over eventually. No one is immune to the Talbot charm; she just has a high resistance to it. I've had to work hard for everything I have. Why should this be any different?
And as I smile at Charlotte, her face loses that spark. If she's having second thoughts, I'm not going to give her the time she needs to change her mind. I'm out of the car and opening her door, helping her out and walking with her to her apartment. Number 31; I haven't forgotten.
She trudges up the stairs slowly, and I still think that she might be reconsidering the invitation she extended to me. It's not too late for her to say "no," but will she?
She doesn't. She unlocks her door and ushers me inside, flicking on the lights with a quick motion of her wrist. "Um, go ahead and take a seat. I'm just going to change real quick," she mumbles, leaving me in the living room slash dining room slash kitchen as she steps into another room.
"Okay," I reply, taking a better look at the place now that I'm alone and can do so without being seen. The place doesn't have a lot of personal touches, like they know it's a temporary home for them both. No pictures. Just a few issues of Cosmo on the coffee table, sheet music, and a few DVDs. There are a couple of liquor bottles on the counter next to the sink.
I hear a couple of noises in the other room. That's when I start to wonder about what she's changing into. Something a little more comfortable? Just out of the skirt? This could be a big deal. A really big deal. If she emerges wearing something nice, then she still wants to look good in front of me. And if she wants to look good in front of me, well, let's just say that's a very good sign in my favor.
Charlotte enters the living room wearing... baggy sweats sagging low on her hips, woolen socks, and her Blackhawks tee. Merde. This does not look good for me. She doesn't care about looking good for me, even though I don't mind it so much. I mean, I couldn't care about what she was wearing. She could be in a clown costume. Right now, there are no buttons, no zippers, no hard fabric, so she's very soft and touchable. If I pulled her against me, I would be able to feel each and every one of her curves through that material.
But I know that it doesn't matter what I think about what she's wearing. It doesn't matter that I think she's hot in anything or nothing. Er, I think she would be hot in nothing. Because I don't know that. I mean, I haven't seen her naked, so I wouldn't know, but.... Damn it. She's got me stumbling over my own thoughts.
The point is: she's not dressed to impress. And if she's not looking to impress me, then I am officially in the friend zone. Once you're in the friend zone, you're screwed. I mean you're not screwed, and that's the problem. When a girl sees you as a friend, it's practically impossible to get her to see you as anything else.
And here I was, trying to impress her at dinner. But she doesn't care at all about impressing me. This is definitely a turning point in our relationship, in that this relationship isn't going to turn out to be anything more than a friendship. I try not to let my disappointment show on my face.
"So, um, what would you like to drink?" Charlotte asks, cinching the waistband of her pants and pulling the hem of her shirt as low as it would go. Then she pulls back her hair into a loose bun at the nape of her neck, but her bangs flop in her face. She softly grunts as she tries to tuck them behind her ear. "There's water, iced tea. Liquor-wise, I have some vodka, and tequila. But I also have wine," she says, fumbling through the bottles on her counter.
"What kind of wine?" I ask, leaning against the arm of the couch and watching her.
"Um, I have a Shiraz and a white zin," she says, turning to me with a bottle in each hand. "They're not anything too special, just whatever I picked up at the state store. I'm really bad at picking up something good, because I usually just get whatever's suggested in the restaurants."
I snicker at her honesty. "You can never go wrong with the zinfandel," I tell her.
Charlotte nods and turns back to the counter, removing the foil around the mouth of the bottle. And then I watch as she pauses and stares at the cork. "Huh." She pulls open a couple drawers and searches for something. "Well, doesn't this just beat all."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't have a corkscrew. Usually, the bottles I buy are twist-offs. Um. I don't know what to do now," she laughs nervously, running her hand through her pulled-back hair and twirling her bangs with her fingers.
"Well, I guess we can run out and get a corkscrew," I say hesitantly.
"Maybe we can push the cork through the bottle?" she says with a high pitch in her voice as she tries to reason a solution. Apparently she doesn't like my easy solution of buying one. Looks like we're going to do this the hard way.
"Um, that could make the bottle explode. Not a good idea."
"Oh. Hmm. There has to be something we can do...." She drums her fingers against the counter for a few moments. I reach into my pocket for my keys, thinking that I should just go buy one and spare the disaster that's bound to happen if we try some other scheme to open the bottle, until she perks up again. "I got it!"
Charlotte rushes out of the room and comes back with a tool kit. Now I'm worried. "What are you doing?"
"You'll see," she taunts, laughing and showing me a devilish smile. I smile back at her and the way she's so proud of herself. She proceeds to pull out a screwdriver and a screw.
"No, seriously, what are you doing?" I'm dumbfounded as she begins to screw the screw into the cork.
"Just watch and see. This is really one of my better ideas, I promise." Charlotte stops once the screw is deeply embedded into the cork, and then puts the screwdriver back in the box only to grab a hammer. I want to say something now, because I have a feeling this is going to get ugly. She uses the claw of the hammer to leverage the screw, just like you would to remove a nail.
I hear the successful pop as the cork leaves the mouth of the wine bottle, and she laughs as she holds the cork in her hand. "I actually had no idea if that would really work. Imagine that!"
All I can do is laugh at her, laugh with her. She's so proud of herself and so pleased that she solved the problem at hand. She grabs some hard plastic cups out of the cupboard and pours some for the two of us. "Real classy. Plastic, I know," she continues, handing me one of the cups. "We are very sophisticated here."
"Yeah, I can see that." I sip from my cup, and the wine is bitter-tasting.
"Sorry. I told you, it was just something cheap I picked up."
"No, it's fine," I tell her.
We move from the kitchen area to the sofa. "Would you like to watch a movie? Or play a game?"
"What do you have? I mean, as far as games go? Do you have PlayStation or Xbox, or what?"
"Um, actually, I have a Wii. Mario Kart?" she asks.
She sets up the game and sits beside me, and we choose our characters and start the race. Usually, I don't play games like this. I play SoCom or Halo, but not Mario Kart. Half a bottle of wine later and I'm winning. Until Charlotte starts throwing elbows and tries to run me off the virtual road and into a fence.
"Hey, you're cheating," I laugh, nudging her back.
"I'm not cheating. You're cheating. That's the only way I can explain that you're in first place. I rule at this game."
"Apparently not, because I'm totally kicking your ass."
"You wish, Talbot. We still have one more lap to go, and I bet you'll drive right into one of those damn cows."
"I'll have you know that I'm an excellent driver."
"Um, I was in the car with you tonight, buddy, and you were okay but definitely not excellent."
"First cowboy, now buddy? And you must have been in the car with another Maxime Talbot, because I'm not just okay at anything."
"Oh, really?" she laughs, never taking her eyes off the screen. I do look away, however, and see her tongue between her teeth in concentration, trying ferociously to cut the corners as close as possible to catch up with me. "Don't you dare let me win," she adds, noticing that I'm no longer paying attention to the game.
I hear keys outside the door, the tumble of the lock opening, and likewise the door. "Hey, Char, I'm back," I hear Gina call from the hallway. "What's all the racket? I could hear laughter from the stairwell," she continues, stopping as she walks into the living room. "Oh, Max. I didn't think you'd be here."
"I'm kicking Charlotte's ass in Mario Kart," I tell her, focusing again on the game.
"He's cheating," Charlotte mumbles. Even though I had quit playing for a moment, I still manage to cross the finish line mere seconds before she does. She drops the controller on the coffee table. I guess she's done playing. "How was practice?" she asks her roommate.
"The usual. Bitching about the set list for tomorrow's gig. By the way, did you give any more consideration to Saturday?"
"Yeah. Um, I'll do it."
"Great!" Gina squeals, clapping her hands.
"What's going on on Saturday?" I ask, feeling out of the loop.
The two girls start speaking at the same time. Charlotte of course blows me off and says, "Nothing," but Gina really explains. "Charlotte's coming with me on one of my jobs. I'm playing at the Sheraton. You should come, Max. And bring some of your teammates," she giggles, her eyes wide. Oh man. The guys would just love Gina.
Charlotte, on the other hand, looks slightly mortified. "I can tell when I'm not wanted," I laugh.
"No, pleeeeease," Gina pouts. Acting like that would usually get her anything she wanted. But I wasn't going to agree if Charlotte didn't want me there. "Charlotte, please, tell Max you want him there, as well as some of his cute, muscly, single teammates!"
Charlotte shakes her head and laughs at her roommate's antics. "I guess it's okay. If you really wanted to, I mean," she says, suddenly embarrassed and shy. So unlike the girl I had been playing video games with just a minute ago.
I lower my voice so only she can hear me. "Only if you want me to," I tell her. She blushes, and I have my answer. "Okay, well, it's getting kind of late. I should get going," I announce, moving off the couch and heading for the door.
"Are you okay to drive?" she asks.
"Yeah, definitely. I think you had way more to drink than I did."
"Oh," she replies, looking embarrassed. Where did this shy version of Charlotte come from all of a sudden? "So, I don't know the details about Saturday. Um, maybe I should get your number, so I can call you and let you know?" Charlotte asks, walking with me.
"Sure." I gladly agree, taking her phone and programming my number into it. Then I call myself and hear my pocket ring. She smiles and shakes her head, knowing that she doesn't have the upper hand anymore. When I hand it back to her, our fingers brush. I try not to let it affect me. "So, I guess I'll hear from you soon."
She nods and says goodnight. I kiss her cheeks again and step into the hallway, hearing the door click behind me and then the deadbolt slide home.