Charlotte and I sit on a patch of grass, even though I know it's bad news for her. She's going to cramp, but she's too stubborn to listen to me. But if she's not going to heed my advice, let her cramp, and she'll learn her lesson.
Instead, I try to relax and breathe in the crisp air and her company. We talk a little bit about what she's doing in Pittsburgh. Something seems amiss with her and I feel like she's being purposely evasive, but I can't seem to get a solid answer from her.
As I predicted, her leg starts to cramp, and I do my best not laugh at her misfortune. I know how bad cramps can hurt. If only she'd have listened. "Didn't you stretch before you started running?"
"No!" she hollers at me.
"Well, why not?"
She gives me some lame answer, so I try to help her out. Massage works best, but when I try to reach for her leg, she pulls away from me. I know we said we were just friends, but surely she can't think I'm trying to put a move on her now? I mean, she does look kinda cute the way she was lying on the grass, but not now, when she's writhing in pain. I know everyone thinks I'm a perv, but I wouldn't do that.
Instead, she tells me unconvincingly that she's fine, pushing herself up on her wobbly legs. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. Maybe we should head back? It's going to take me forever to get back at this rate," she chuckles at me. She's trying to look strong, I can tell that much, so I let her keep up the charade and hobble around.
"This is pretty fun, though, watching you limp around. The best way to get rid of the pain is to stretch it out, so let's set a good pace." I get her to start walking again before I begin to push her. "You wanna try running again?"
"No. I don't think I can do anymore of that," she whimpers.
"Come on. The only way to build up your endurance is to push yourself." I start running. If I know her as well as I think I do, she'll hate being left behind. She breaks into a trot to catch up to me, and I run a little faster so she won't see my grin. As much as she tries to be evasive, there are just some things I automatically know about her from the glimpses I've seen of her personality. Every time I pick up the pace, she pushes herself to stay with me.
Until suddenly she's not at my side, and I can hear her making noises behind me. "What is it now?" I ask, feeling a little frustrated.
"My eye! It's in my eye. Oh my God. Get it out. Get it out!"
I figure some dirt or something got kicked up, but she's really rubbing her eye. That's only going to make it worse; that makes me laugh. Rubbing only will irritate it more instead of helping get whatever it is out. I walk over to her and tilt her face up toward the sun so I can see what's bothering her.
It would be so easy to kiss her again. Her lips are pursed as she worries about the... gnat that's in her eye. I think about leaning down to meet those bubblegum lips. Taste her Chapstick. Pull her against me. But I told her that we could be friends. I made that promise to her. And I'd rather keep that promise and remain her friend than take the liberty to taste her mouth now and regret it later. Damn, since when did I grow a conscience?
So instead of doing what I really wanted, I carefully wipe my hand against the fabric of my pants and try to gently wipe away the insect that flew into her eye. Honestly, it was such a little bug—what was the big deal?
I can't help but laugh at her as she limps and keeps her left eye closed. Yes, she looks ridiculous, but it's adorable also. This definitely wasn't how I expected today to go. "You look like a pirate! Argh, matey! Have ye misplaced yer booty?" I laugh, my lungs working harder now than they have during the run this morning.
"Oh, very funny," she mocks. "This is all your fault. If I hadn't have shown up, none of this would be happening. I knew I should have stayed at home in bed. I could have been sleeping."
"Oh, come on. This is a blast!" I tell her. I haven't had this much fun in a long time, probably since my day with the Cup.
"Oh yeah, a blast," she mumbles, the laughter in her voice, too.
We continue down the path, just walking this time, since she can't really see. As we get off the South Side Trail and head back toward East Carson Street, I even place my hand on the small of her back a few times so she'll avoid the cracks in the sidewalk. Fuck, there I go, breaking rule number one again. We turn down a side street, and I guess that we've made it to our building. It seems to me like we've only met up a few minutes ago, and now our run is over. I kind of don't want it to end yet.
"Thanks for, um, making sure I got back okay," she says, jiggling her keys in her hand. I take that as a sign that she's as reluctant to leave as I am.
I wonder which apartment she's in, and how she's going to get to it. She needs a seeing-eye-dog or something. "Are you on the ground floor, or do you have an elevator?"
"Um, just stairs...."
"Are you in need of my assistance?" I ask with a smile, trying to ingratiate myself into her building. I'm not sure why.
She returns my grin. "If you're offering, I would love to have your assistance."
There are probably a billion ways to help her up the steps to her apartment, but I take this opportunity for what it is—an opportunity—and I wrap my arm around her waist and pull her against me. I'd be a fool if I passed this up, wouldn't I?
Charlotte laughs, seemingly out of nowhere. "What's so funny?" I ask.
"Nothing. It's just been a crazy morning."
That it has been. But she seems to take it all in stride. "Why do I get the feeling that stuff like this happens to you a lot?"
"Because it does? I'm not a magnet for bad luck, by any means, but when it rains, it pours," she explains, giggling a little.
I shake my head, wondering what the hell I'm getting myself into. Eventually, she leads me to a door, which I'm guessing is hers. 31. I make a mental note of the number on her door. And then I hesitate. Is she going to invite me in? Or is this the end of our day together?
I get my answer as the door flies open and I hear a voice beyond the threshold. "Char, it's about time you got back I was starting to.... Oh, hello. It's nice to meet you, I'm Gina. Why don't you come in so I don't have to stand here naked all day?" Gina, who I know is Charlotte's roommate, is inviting me in. She's soaking wet, just a towel draped over her front. Holy shit—how have I not met these girls sooner?
"Does your roommate always greet your guests in just a towel?" I whisper, as Gina runs back into the apartment, I hope to cover up. I try to get that image out of my head, the way those legs extended, her dark hair sticking to her shoulders. Then I look at Charlotte, and I forget what Gina looked like, period.
"Oh no, you must be special," she says, winking. Wait—did she just wink at me? "I'm glad she at least had that covering her. Usually she walks around the place naked."
Now I remember exactly what Gina looked like, and even worse I'm trying to picture her without that towel. Merde. "I don't want to impose." Even though I have the feeling that I should leave before I get myself into trouble, I'm curious to see Charlotte's apartment, where she spends her time, and what that reveals about her.
Gina calls to us from the other room, "You're not imposing at all. Charlotte just promised to help me with my piano piece and I have to work in an hour, so you can just chill out here while we practice."
Charlotte looks a little red-faced. "Gina, I really don't want to do this with an audience. I know I said I'd help, but maybe after you are done with work tonight? Or tomorrow?"
I'm very confused about what's going on. It's like when you walk into a room mid-conversation, and you try to figure out what they're talking about before you jump in. Otherwise, you'll misspeak and they'll just think you're retarded or something. Her roommate speaks up again. "I told Kevin I'd stop over after work, and Susan wants to practice tomorrow, so I need to know my part. And I'm sure Max doesn't mind, do you, Max?"
"Um, no?" I say. "But I don't know exactly what's going on, either."
"Don't worry about it," Charlotte yells from the other room. I sit on the couch, relaxing. "You don't have to stay for this." Does she want me to go?
Gina joins me in the living, thankfully now dressed. "Char's gonna sing for you," she tells me as Charlotte walks into the room, too. She changed her shirt, her face is pink from scrubbing, and she's wearing glasses. I like her in her glasses. I listen for a little while as they bicker back and forth, each trying to get the upper hand. "She's good," Gina confides in me.
"Don't get me wrong," Charlotte sighs, "I'm not bad. I'm not tone deaf or anything. But I'm just saying, I'm not great."
"Well, I guess Max will just have to be the judge of that now, huh?" I look from Gina to Charlotte and back again. I have a feeling this might not end well. But before I can excuse and extricate myself from the situation, Charlotte mumbles one last comment that I don't catch before Gina begins to play and makes Charlotte begin to sing.
I'm kind of entranced by her voice. The way the words flow from her mouth, I can just tell she's had her heart broken. You can't sing that way and not identify with the lyrics. It makes sense; no wonder she's so guarded and timid. Suddenly, a lot of things fall into place, and I try to imagine her life before I met her and what happened to her. I don't mean to, but I zone out and don't even realize she's finished until she's handing me a bottle of water.
"I told you she was good," Gina comments, cracking her fingers.
"I'm never up this early on Sundays. Is there anything good on television?" Charlotte dismisses.
I can tell she's still feeling self-conscious. I wish I could find the words to tell her how much I loved to listen her, but I know she won't believe me no matter how I tell her. So I tell her in French, "C'est magnifique. Tu as la voix d'un ange."
She tells me she doesn't understand, so instead of telling her how angelic she sounded, I merely tell her that Gina was right. Her roommate then leaves, and I'm grateful to have Charlotte to myself again, until she makes it very clear that I should go. Normally, I'd get offended, but I know it's just because she's embarrassed, so I let her words roll off my back like water off a duck.
Even after our disastrous day, I want to see her again. It's been an interesting day, no doubt. But she starts to blow me off. At least, I think so until she says, "Um, what about something in the evenings? I mean, I don't know how busy you'll be, but I'm pretty open after five."
I'm ecstatic, but I try not to let it show. We agree to dinner, and I tell her that I'll pick her up on Thursday. The boys will be playing the Black-and-Gold game in Scranton, and I don't want to mope around since I won't be joining them. Dinner will be a good distraction. Charlotte walks me to the door, and I want to tell her how much I'm looking forward to Thursday when I'll see her again. I don't know how to tell her without freaking her out, so I tell her in French, "Jusqu'à jeudi. Les jours vont passer lentement, comme des mois, jusqu'à ce que je revois ton sourire à nouveau."
"Max, you know I don't understand French."
"I know," I chuckle, making my way down the stairs. I want to look back and see if she's still there, but I make myself look forward at all times. Even though I just spent all morning with her, I'm already looking forward to dinner in a few days. I hope I'm not disappointed.