So listen: honestly, I'm not pleased with these next couple of chapters, but I've really written myself between a rock and hard place. I'm stuck between where I am here in PP and what I had written in NWW, with no solid bridge to get from place to place. I could not post these updates and try to rewrite and edit until I am happy with them, but that could take days and will probably never happen anyway. (I've honestly given myself a migraine trying to figure out a better way to transition without a million posts to get to that point.) So despite my writer's instincts, I'm posting anyway because I'm sick of looking at them and trying to make them work. I'm asking you to please just bear with me as I move forward with the lame stuff and get them back to (what I hope is) good. I don't like it, either. I'll try to make it up to you later. Thanks.
Taking off work on Monday was a bad idea, because now on Tuesday, I don't want to go in, either. Not necessarily because I'm still feeling upset, although I am, but because the extra day off was nice. I don't feel like putting on a happy face and dealing with all those brats, but I don't have the luxury of taking any more time off. I have to go in.
At least I look like shit. I can't possibly muster up the energy or effort to make myself appear presentable today. I just want to be comfortable, so I dress in black leggings and a long tunic, completely forgoing make-up. I just don't care. The way I look matches the way I feel.
The best part about it? No one at work questions me about calling off on Monday, because I look horrible, like I'm still as sick as I was claiming to be. The security guard waves me through like normal, and I navigate through the hallways to the small room I share with the other tutors, Leah and Matthew. They're already at their desks and barely acknowledge me as I step through the door.
As I drop my purse into my desk drawer and start my computer, Leah politely asks, "Are you feeling any better, Charlotte?"
I clear my throat. "I am, Leah. Thanks for asking. Did I miss anything exciting yesterday?" I ask back, knowing nothing exciting ever happens.
"No. Of course not. A typical Monday."
I nod at her but don't say anything else. Really, there's nothing else to say to her. The first bell of the day chimes, and it echoes in the empty hallway. I settle in behind my desk and do the usual during the students' homeroom period: check my e-mail, check my Facebook, and check my horoscope. I don't really believe in horoscopes; I just do it out of habit.
Tired of receiving messages I don't want to read from that certain Chicagoan, I finally block him from every online medium I can. As for his calls? I just turn off my phone completely and don't bother turning it back on. If someone really needs to get a hold of me, they'd find a way other than through the phone.
Because I'm through with him. Done. I'm sick of this shit! I don't want anything to do with him, and yet he's still preventing me from living my life. He was this huge mistake that won't stop coming back to haunt me. What do I have to do so he gets the point? It's basic operant conditioning. He's used to performing the same action (calling me) and expecting the same response (I come running). Eventually, he'll realize that this action will no longer produce the same result; until then, he's annoying the hell out of me.
Besides, I've got enough to worry about right now. I can only handle one guy at a time, and I still don't know what to do about Max. I've thought about what Gina said yesterday; I've thought about it over and over. I want her to be right, but I'm still scared to find out. If I can find a way to concede to both sides, to listen to Gina and give Max a shot without completely yielding my trepidation, then I would allow myself to even think about just talking to him.
I'm shocked when I get paged to the main office. The secretary peers over her glasses at me as I enter the office and approach her desk. I feel like I'm back in high school myself, and that I'm being called into the principal's office to be scolded for skipping class. She gestures to a box. "You got a delivery," she tells me, practically sneering.
"I did?" I ask, scrunching up my face. I'm not expecting anything. And what would I get delivered here? Maybe there's a student here that shares my name, because this doesn't make sense.
"That's what I said," she counters, pointing to the box again.
I thank her, even though she doesn't deserve it, and pick up the box. The secretary's looking at me like she wants to know what was sent to me via UPS, but since she was a bitch to me, I don't bother giving her the satisfaction of seeing what's in the box. It's a hard feat to accomplish because I'm virtually ready to explode from curiosity.
Once back at my desk, I satisfy my wandering mind and open it. Flowers. Beautiful flowers. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. They are pretty, don't get me wrong, but they're even more gorgeous because they were sent to me. I've always told myself that flowers are silly, but that's because I've never gotten them before. I set them on my desk and run a finger over one of the petals of the carnations.
"Flowers?" Leah coos, suddenly interested in me. "Who sent them?"
"I'm not sure," I say with a smile. Who would send them? It's not my birthday or a special occasion. And, that which is most confusing, is no one really knows where I work. I mean, I tell them that I work at a school nearby. I've never told anyone specifically the address. If they wanted to figure it out, though, I suppose they could.
"Well, is there a card?" she asks. She's not being rude; she's just very curious. It's the flowers; I think that there's something in pollen that makes girls giddy. It's some kind of programmed, biological reaction.
"I don't know," I reply, checking the box and then the bouquet, where I find a plain, white card with a simple typed message: thinking of you and wishing you well. I beam, smiling from ear to ear. This reeks of Max, but in the best possible way. He would do something like this; he doesn't have to leave a name for me to know. Max likes the attention, and getting these delivered to my work is just a way of drawing attention to himself because people are going to start asking questions.
But shouldn't he be too busy playing games and playing the field to do something like this? It's a canned gesture, I know that. People send flowers all the time for a variety of reasons. Except I've never been given flowers before, for any reason, which makes me appreciate this for more than it's probably worth. I shouldn't be this extremely excited over this.
Leah moves from her desk to mine, looking at the card and smiling with me. "Your boyfriend?"
I shake my head, still smiling like an idiot. I should be institutionalized, because this makes me crazy happy. "No."
She laughs and hands the card back to me. "Not yet, anyway."
I'm about to open my mouth and say something back, but Matthew butts in. "Girls and flowers. I don't get it."
"Oh, come on Matt. You've never sent a girl flowers just to let her know you were thinking of her?" Leah asks. This is my gift, but she's acting like it was for her. There's something about bouquets that can do that to a girl, especially a girlie-girl like Leah.
"The only time I've sent them is when I've fu—I mean, messed up royally," he says, correcting his language before one of the kids in the hallway overhears.
"You're so unromantic," she says, rolling her eyes at me and moving back to her desk. "Sending flowers without a reason is the best reason to send them. Whoever he is, he's a keeper."
Max, a keeper? I smile at the irony; no one can even catch him, let alone keep him. But I didn't let that thought ruin this for me. In all my time in Chicago, I never was given flowers. Even on Valentine's Day. No; I had hinted and suggested, but while every other attached girl on my floor in the dorm received roses, I got a box of chocolates.
"Flowers die and become garbage," he said. "They wilt, so why should they represent our relationship? Food is at least useful. And I thought you liked to eat."
At the time, I convinced myself that he was right. Who wants dead twigs when you can have delicious chocolate? His remarks certainly didn't help my self-esteem though. Or my diet. But that didn't matter back then. It also didn't matter that I spent my entire work-study paycheck for January that year on a new watch as my gift to him. A new watch that he never wore.
Every student that walks into our room sees those flowers. And smiles at me, even if they don't sit at my desk for help. I feel special all day. Even on my way home, as all the other commuters on the bus and then on the street see them and know my secret. They're all screaming at me with the smiles in their eyes, letting me know that he wouldn't do something like this if he didn't care, at least a little. Lord knows that after yesterday, I had given him every reason to not want to talk to me or see me.
Gina's right in that I should just come clean and let him know what's going on in my mind. Max certainly deserves that, at the very least. What happens after that, well, I guess we'll see. But I have to call him and thank him.
Back at my apartment, I let myself in. Gina's in her room fingering the keyboard silently. Her headphones are in, listening to the music she's playing, oblivious to me. I walk past her room and into the kitchen, setting the box on the counter and pulling the flowers out, to admire them again. It's very sad that this is the single-most romantic gesture I've ever experienced, but that is what delights me about it.
I grab my phone and turn it on for the first time in twenty-four hours. Notifications of new messages slowly filter in, but I ignore them all. I flip open the cover and start to scroll through my contacts, laughing as I land on Superstar. I never reprogrammed his number. Simultaneously as I press the button to initiate the call, a new one comes in, from the last person I want to talk to. The timing couldn't possibly be worse.
I have just accidentally accepted his call.
"Charlotte? Are you there?" Maybe if I hang up now, we can pretend this never happened. "I know you're there, I can hear you breathing." Shit. "So, you're still mad at me then."
"I'm not mad at you. I'm done with you. Get a clue," I snap, closing the phone and exploding. Thirty seconds ago, I was on top of the world. I'm so sick of the way he can dictate the way I feel. In a fit of blind rage, I throw my phone against the wall and watch through tears as it shatters into several pieces. That doesn't make me feel any better, so I continue on my mini-rampage, clearing the counter of everything: the stack of sheet music, the empty coffee mug, and even the vase of flowers, all go careening to the floor.
He ruins everything, and Max is the one that has to suffer for it, I think to myself as I stare at the bent flowers, cracked vase, and puddle of water on the floor. I was right when I said earlier that I can only handle one guy at a time. It doesn't matter what Max does; John always weasels himself in to ruin in. He haunts me, tortures me. Maybe it's for the best if I let Max forget about me.
But Max is so sweet. He's the one person that can make me feel better after dealing with John, and he's the one person that I want to talk to right now to get my mind off it. Gina told me to disregard what I'd read and heard about him, and focus on his actions. And sending flowers... well, that's an action I strongly approve of. Maybe he isn't the guy I have pictured in my head. Maybe I should call him anyway. I look for my phone. It's in pieces, useless and worthless. Smooth move, Ex-Lax. I can't call him now. I don't have his number memorized, nor do I know how to get it. So now what am I supposed to do?
It's been a week. A very long week. Being in California is killing me. It's like being stranded on an island, alone and no way to build a boat. I agonize over how many times a day I should call Charlotte, because I don't want to seem overeager or clingy, but I can't stand not knowing what's going on. Did she get the flowers? Is she still very ill? I doubt it; I doubt she was sick at all at this point. She's got to be avoiding me, but I don't want to believe it. Why in the world would she do this? Incredible sex, and then just leave? And then I can't even call her anymore, because some robot voice tells me that her number is no longer in service.
I thought she was different. Other girls just want to fuck around, but Charlotte... she didn't want to. At least I didn't think she wanted to. Could I have been wrong about her this whole time? I need to know why she's acting this way.
Or was it something I did? Was this is a test, which I failed? Maybe she wanted to see if I was serious when I said we could be friends. And if that's the case, then I really did fail, because I let our actions escalate way past the realm of friendship. But if she just wanted to see if I would stop her, then why did she let it go all the way? Damn it, I need answers!
Flower is frustrated with me because I keep pestering him with questions. He still assumes that this is a temporary fascination that will fade away now that I'm back playing on the team. Or that since I'm just used to having to work for things, that it's second nature for me to want to keep at it until she's mine, like another goal scored or achieved. This is a puzzle I have to figure out, and I won't rest until I do.
On Sunday, I feel like I'm going to burst if I don't figure something out. I'm sitting in his hotel room in San José and begging him for advice. "Marc, s'il te plait! Dis-moi ce que j'ai fait de mal. Comment Véro aurait réagi dans cette situation? Et qu'est-ce que tu ferais pour arranger les choses?"
"Je ne sais pas. Mais la chose est, Max, elle n'est pas ta blonde. Je ne sais pas pourquoi elle ne retourne pas tes appels et je ne sais pas si tu peux arranger les choses si elle ne t'adresse même pas la parole. Au fait, la connais-tu si bien que cela? Laisse-la tranquille et peut-être qu'elle changera d'idée."
I'm about to tell him that he's not helping me when the Kid and his girlfriend walk through the door. Noelle greets, "Hey guys, good game last night."
"Merci, Noelle," Flower replies. "Oh, I mean, thank you. Sorry, I was still in my French mind."
"That's fine. Merci is one of the few French words I know. What were you talking about?" Why is it that everyone must butt into our conversations? Neither of us reply, but I somehow give myself away. "Maxie! This is about Charlotte!"
"Merde!" I curse, wiping my hand over my face. Am I that transparent? What in the world is this girl doing to me?
"I take it you haven't won her heart yet?" she giggles, then suddenly she realizes her misstep. "Max, what happened?"
Flower tries to persuade me to ask someone other than him. He's sick of how I badger him with questions. "You should probably be asking a girl for an opinion on this, not me."
I can't bear to bring someone else into this. Noelle follows and calls after me. "Maxie! Max! Talbot, will you stop?"
"Qu'est-ce que tu veux? Sorry, Noelle, what do you want?" I'm so angry and frustrated that I can hardly think in English at this point.
"Listen, I just want to let you know that if you need to talk or need advice, you can talk to me. You've been an unbelievable friend to me, and if I can repay the favor in any way, just let me know, okay?"
Maybe a woman's perspective would help. "Merci, Noelle. Flower's probably right. You're a girl, so you probably know what's going through her mind. Can I call you later? After we get to Boston?"
"Sure, Max, that's fine."
I leave her in the hallway and head into my hotel room, where Geno's reading something in Russian on his computer. He looks at the expression on my face and shakes his head. "Max. You need get laid. You no fun."
"Getting laid is what got me into this position in the first place," I mumble.
He laughs; not at me, but at my words. "Maybe you need try new position. What? She not like your bad hands?"
"My hands are just fine, thank you very much," I reply, but I can't help except to crack a slight smile. The Russian's goofy smile is contagious, no matter the situation.
"She worth it?" he asks, turning serious for a moment. A rarity for Geno. He's usually not serious about anything but hockey.
"I don't know, Geno. I thought so." I busy myself with packing, since we'll be taking off for Boston later in the afternoon. She can not answer my calls while the team's on the road. But once we get back to Pittsburgh, she can't avoid me forever. She has to talk to me, sooner or later.