I'm bored out of my mind at Sid's. I laugh when I see Noelle join the party dressed in V's shirt. She looks good; the Kid's a lucky guy. Noelle's cute, friendly, and a Pens fan. And a Talbot fan especially, which is one of the things I like best about her. "Aw, you took my jersey off," I tell her, mocking a pout.
"Damn it," she says under her breath.
"Your shorts are in my car, and my car is still parked at the Mellon."
I snicker to myself. "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
"Yeah, your shorts are in my car—"
"Sorry, the music is a little loud, can you say that one more time?"
She smirks at me, catching onto my game. "I said, your shorts are in my car!"
A few of the partygoers look in our direction, and I laugh. No wonder I have the reputation I do. At least I know it's all in good fun. "That's what I thought you said," I laugh, and she punches in my arm. I pretend it hurts, but as soon as she walks away, the grin falls from my face.
Geno, Kris, and I all congregate in Sid's den to play video games. Tanger cuts out early. "Dude, this party is lame. It's a sausage fest. What do you say we hit the club?" I ask Geno. He might as well be single like me.
He nods and we get up to leave. We're the last few stragglers out of there. It's none too soon by the time we get to Diesel. The music's loud, blocking out all thoughts, especially those of Charlotte. The women are looking fine, and Geno and I sure as hell enjoy looking at fine-looking women. I stare out into the crowd for a while. "You quiet," he says.
"Sorry, man," I tell him, clapping my hand against his back.
"You know what fix problem?"
I have to stop myself from laughing. The big dumb Russian wants to give me advice? "What's that, Geno?"
"Woman." He gestures out into the crowd, to the groups of girls that are all looking in our direction. "Maybe two." They're puffing out their chests, pulling down their shirts, and hiking up their skirts to make themselves stand out but it all makes them look the same. I think about telling Geno that the root of my problem is a woman, but that probably wouldn't change his idea of a solution to my problem.
He leaves me and goes out into the crowd, settling on a blonde in denim daisy dukes. I think I recognize her. Before I can try to remember her name, someone else approaches me.
"Max Talbot, you should let me buy you a drink," she says.
"Yes. For your performance... in the Stanley Cup Finals, that is."
"Okay," I tell her, following her to the bar. And why the hell not? After all the drinks I've bought girls over the years, I might as well take one up on her offer.
We don't really talk after that; we just kind of stare at each other. Geno's already left with Blondie. I think about heading home, too, until she asks, "What do you say we get out of here?"
Last week, I wouldn't have had to think twice. I would've grabbed her arm and pulled her out the door, pushed her into my car, and driven her back to her place. Because Cardinal Rule #2 is never, ever bring a girl back to your place if you're not serious about her. First of all, girls prefer to have sex in their own beds. But when you're in the kind of position I'm in, as a professional athlete and a known guy around town, you don't want crazy girls showing up at your place. It's so much easier to go to their homes and leave when you're finished with them.
But now, I'm hesitating. Do I want to have sex? Yes. With this particular girl? Not really. But the girl I am thinking about doesn't want me. No, she wants to be friends so that's all we are. So I'm free to fuck any chick I want, guilt free. So what if I like Charlotte? It's not reciprocated. I'm in the friend zone. Should I just wait around and see if she suddenly changes her mind? That's not likely to happen any time soon. The only way I'm going to be able to be friends with Charlotte is if I can stop thinking about her that way. It's time to move on and get over it. And this piece of ass looks like a fine way to move on to me.
"I say, what are we waiting for?" I reply, setting my drink on the bar and directing her toward the door and my car.
"Superstar? You programmed yourself into my phone as Superstar?" I should have known. I had looked in my phone for his number, but it wasn't under Max like it should have been. I even checked for Crippled Guy, but to no avail. I gave up trying to call him and figured that if he wanted the information, he'd call me instead.
I should have known to check under the S's. I saw the God-awful A&L commercials. I just should have known.
"It's a joke," he responds.
"You're the joke," I say back with a laugh. "No wonder I couldn't find you under my contacts. You're ridiculous."
"Oh, it's one of the things you love about me." Then he pauses. It's one of those awkward things to say when you're trying to be friends with someone of the opposite sex. He brushes it off and continues, "So, listen, I just wanted to check in and see if tomorrow was still happening."
Still happening? Of course it's still happening. I wonder what he meant by that. Was he trying to back out? That's more than okay with me. I'd be too embarrassed if he showed up anyway. "If you're asking if it's still happening, yes; I will still be there. You can show up or not." I bite my lip, thinking that sounded harsh.
"Well, why don't you tell me when, and maybe I'll see you there?"
When he says that, I realize that I still do kind of want him there. It's weird; it's like I want it both ways with him.
"We're on from eight to eleven. I guess I'll see ya if I see ya." I hang up with a sigh. What is about that guy that just makes me want to do that all the time? And it's not a happy, satisfied sigh. It's a disgruntled, frustrated sigh. I sigh as I think about how I'm rationalizing my sighs. What another pathetic Friday night.
I reach into the freezer and pull out my unopened pint of Ben & Jerry's, cracking it open and shoving a heaping spoonful in my mouth. I savor the taste. It's been so long since I've treated myself to this. But the way the past week has gone, I need some cheering up. I need some comfort food.
I look down at myself and sigh, again. That's a horrible line of reasoning. Comfort food. Except it's not so comforting when your fat pants get tight and looking into the mirror makes you wanna vomit, because the sight of your body in the mirror makes yourself sick and you figure you should be purging anyway. I place the lid back on the pint and throw it back into the freezer. Since I'm going to feel guilty for every bite I take, I can't even enjoy it.
Now I'm overwhelmingly bored. Gina's out playing with her band, and I am kicking myself for that one bite of ice cream. I used to eat when I was bored, upset, happy, or any other emotion under the sun. Over the summer, I decided to kick that bad habit and channeled my emotions into working out. And that worked at first, but now... I feel like no matter what I do, I'll never be happy with my body: big, little; fat, not-so-fat-but-certainly-not-skinny. It doesn't matter.
Too bad it's dark out now, or I'd go for a walk. I had replaced food with exercise, using that as my outlet any time I needed to work out my frustrations or forget about something. And I had already worked out after work, and now I can't even indulge in the Half Baked in my freezer.
I sit in the corner of my couch with the remote control, flipping through the channels, hoping to find something halfway decent. I had watched my movies all dozens of times and had seen all the repeats being played on T.V. My phone rang. Could it be Max again? I smile as I flip the phone open without looking at the screen. I mean, who else would be calling? I answer excitedly, "Hey—"
"Charlotte, for once you sound happy to hear from me. Are you smoking something?"
Shit. John. "Sorry, I thought you were someone else." Wow. Doesn't that sum up our relationship in a nutshell?
"Should I let you go, or do you have time to talk to me?"
"I have some time," I say. I feel bad blowing him off, especially when I don't have any pressing matters. After all, he used to be ridiculously important to me. He still kinda is, I guess. "What's up?"
"Oh, nothing. How about with you?"
"Nothing here, either. Is there anything specific you wanted to say?"
"No," he says hesitantly. "I just miss talking to you. Like when we'd stay up talking all night about nothing and everything. Remember?"
"Yeah, I remember," I tell him, bringing my legs underneath me. "Politics. Music. Religion. We talked about it all." That was one of the things I loved most about John; we could talk about everything together. No holds barred, no topic off limits. And even though we disagreed about a lot of things, he always respected my opinion. Well, not when it came to certain things, most specifically my life. But that's water under the bridge now, I suppose.
"I miss that."
So, he's okay with saying he misses talking to me, but not that he misses me? I just don't understand this guy. Maybe he truly doesn't miss me. "Well, we had a lot of fun when we were together."
"We did. So when are you coming back to Chicago?"
"What do you mean?"
"To visit. To move back. Either way. When are you coming back to town? I want to see you again."
"I don't know, John. I'm making Pittsburgh my home. Maybe I'll go back for the holidays to visit my mom and my sister, but I'm certainly not making plans to move back permanently. At least not any time soon."
"You know, if I can impress my boss Mr. Sullivan, I may end up taking a business trip to Pittsburgh later in the fall."
"Congratulations. That's a step up," I comment, knowing he hates his job as a paper-pusher. He's been trying really hard to get some notice for his devotion to his work. I was supposed to be there when he got the big promotion he's been waiting for.
"Yeah, well, here's hoping. It's definitely not final yet, and there are a few others who want this opportunity, too. It's this whole business circuit thing. Pittsburgh, Philly, and New York City, too. I'm really trying to...."
I stop listening to John as he drones on about his work. It's one of those things that came between us. When we met, it wasn't about what he did for a living. Not about a lot of things. It was just us. Him and me, and how we fit together. But as soon as we added my classes, his job, his aspirations, his plans, his... everything, we just didn't fit together anymore. Or should I say, I didn't fit with him anymore. It's like our puzzle pieces, that so snugly matched up and connected before, are now warped and mangled, forever irreparable.
It's funny (or rather, not funny at all and incredibly sad instead) how I can say things like that, but my heart still stops beating when he calls, when I get his texts and e-mails, and even when I just think about him. I know I'm a fool. I know it wouldn't have worked out with him, but I still keep clutching onto the idea that maybe, just maybe....