"House rules. In case Char didn't tell you. The walls in this building are thin. If you guys wanna have sex here, not while I'm home."
I'm incredibly embarrassed. I can't believe Gina just said that. I know the house rules, and I would have told Max, it's just that it hadn't come up yet. I know exactly what it must have looked like when she saw shirtless Max and pants-less me. And it's not like Gina isn't going to find out what happened anyway, but I hate how public my sex life has just become.
Max speaks up before I can say anything. "No problem, Gina. Don't be surprised if that means you don't see a lot of Charlotte anymore, because I have a feeling she'll be over my place a lot, then."
Way to go, Max, I think. If I wasn't feeling self-conscious before, I really am now. My cheeks are on fire. Gina laughs and tells me, "I'd say you picked a real winner this time, Char. He's a lot more fun than John."
"Gina!" Now I'm feeling angry. "Don't."
"Wait. Did you tell him?" she asks, pointing to Max. "You explained everything, right?"
"If you mean to ask if I told Max about John, then yes, Gina, I did. Way to be subtle," I say sternly. Why is that everyone wants to bring him up when I'm feeling so damn happy? "There's just no need to bring him into this."
"Right. No talking about the ex-boyfriend around the new boyfriend. Gotcha."
"I told you, Gina," I explain, trying to uncomplicate this situation. "Max and I are dating. Just dating."
"What do you mean, you're just dating?" she spits out. "No one goes from friends to just dating. I mean, dating is what you do to get to know someone romantically when you didn't know that person before. But you guys have been friends for a long time now. It's time to be together already. Full on together."
"We are. Together, I mean. Just her and I," Max says. "But if someone can talk her into making it official, only you can, Gina. I'll see you later." He kisses the side of my forehead and then lets himself out.
"I don't get why you're making a big deal out of nothing," I huff. "I thought you would be happy that Max and I are together now. You've only been harping me about it since I met the guy."
"Because I want you to move on already. I want you to be happy! You're not really together, you're only pretending."
"We're not pretending. God, Gina. I'm happy. I am. I've moved on, and I truly feel better than I have in months. Max is incredible, too good to be true. This was all his idea. And I think it's a good fit for the both of us. For now."
"For now?" she asks.
"Well, it's not for forever," I explain.
"What's not for forever?"
"Will you stop repeating what I say in a questioning tone?"
"I'm just trying to understand. You tell me that Max makes you happy, and he pretty much made it beyond clear that he wants to make it official. So, why don't you?"
"I'm going to give you a bunch of reasons, and you can pick whichever one makes you the most satisfied. Let's see. Number one, I'm not ready to be anyone's girlfriend. I don't want to make the same mistake of moving too fast. Number two, I am happy, as is, so I don't want to screw it up. If I'm happy about it, you should be happy for me. Number three, it's Max. He says he's ready for serious, but let's be honest here: how long before he's tired of having the same girl every night? I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket. And number four, well... I don't have a number four."
"You're underestimating him, Char."
"He flat out told me he'd be a bad boyfriend! And it's fine. It's not like I'm gearing up to take him home to Mommie Dearest. Ugh, like that would go over well. She loved John. And she would absolutely hate Max."
"Wait. You're talking about how you want to live in the moment, but you're thinking about how your mother would react to meeting him?"
"That's... that's not what I meant. I'm not thinking of taking him home to Chicago. I'm just using it as a point to show you that Max isn't the type of guy you take home. He's not the marrying kind. You know what I mean: there are some guys you have fuck and have fun with, and there are some that you make love to and plan for a future with."
"So you just fuck Max? And that's all this is?"
I sigh and look away from Gina. Every time I try to explain what I'm thinking or how I'm feeling, I screw it up. "No. He's... somewhere in the middle. I like him. I want to be with him now. I want to be with him tomorrow. But I can't see past then. And you know, I really don't care about that. I'm living in the now. And I don't know why you're all over my ass about this. I mean, are you and Kevin picking out a color scheme for your wedding yet?"
"No," Gina says. "And I'm not saying you have to have everything planned out either. I'm just saying that he wants more, and you like him just as much, so you two crazy kids should just give it a chance."
"Stop nagging me about this, okay? Don't you want me to do this because I want to, because I'm ready, and not just to get you off my back?"
"Yes. But you can't see what's good for you. That's why you need me to tell you to take Max up on his offer and be his girlfriend."
"Why? So we can tell everyone we're dating, and then deal with the inevitable break-up? No thanks. I think we should just keep it light. We'll have our fun together while it lasts, however long that may be. I don't see anything wrong with that. You know, I think I'm making progress. So can you cut me some slack?"
Gina purses her lips, like she still wants to argue, but she lets it slide. "So you guys worked everything out last night?"
"Yeah. We did. We talked and then, well, you know."
"By the way you're blushing, I'd say he's pretty good in the sack."
To me, sex is private and personal, and it shouldn't be discussed so out in the open. I'm not a prude, by any means, but I just don't like to talk about it—even though I want to scream from the rooftops how much I enjoyed it. "You could say that."
"Is he an attentive lover?" Gina asks very cheesily. "He makes sure you're taken care of?"
"Yes," I tell her, rolling my eyes. "Definitely the best sex of my life. Max talks a little much for my liking, but he more than makes up for it with his actions."
Gina throws back her head and laughs. "There's nothing wrong with talking dirty. I think it's hot. You know, Kevin—"
"That's okay, Gina, I really don't want to know." I change the subject. "I need to get a shower, and I have to go shopping. Crap. I only have a couple hours before the game."
"Oh, are you going?"
"Yeah, Max invited me. But I need to go grocery shopping. And do laundry. I have no idea what I'm going to wear tonight. I mean, I have my grandfather's jersey still, but we're supposed to go out later, too."
"Well, you know what that means, don't you?" Gina asks, and I shake my head. "We're going more than just grocery shopping!"
I felt very self-conscious as I sat through the hockey game, cheering on Max and the Penguins as they kicked ass against the Bruins. I sat next to Erin, who I was slowly starting to adore, and talked to her during the stoppages of play. But I was squirming inside, uncomfortable in the tight jeans and skimpy top I was wearing underneath the Lemieux jersey. Gina made me buy this outfit and told me to wear it, saying all the while that Max would appreciate it. I didn't understand; we were already dating, I didn't need to impress him anymore. But I let Gina talk me into wearing something way too revealing for my taste, all dolled up with a full face of make-up, and hair curled around my face.
But I have to admit, the look on Max's face when I pulled off the jersey and revealed my new, low-cut black top before we walked into the club made it worth it. I would gladly have suffered through a few more hours of discomfort to put that spark of lust in his dark blue eyes.
"You look hot," he says, unbuttoning his suit jacket. "Really great."
"Thanks," I tell him, smiling widely. I like making people happy, and I love making other people smile. Seeing Max smile and look at me like that makes me feel like I'm on top of the world. It makes me want to make him smile like that for the rest of my life.
"But you're going to be cold," he adds, sliding out of his jacket and placing it over my shoulders.
"You're such a gentleman," I tease, holding onto the lapels of the jacket as he places his hand between my shoulder blades and directs me toward our destination. It smells like him, making me feel safe and warm. It's funny how such a simple gesture makes me so perfectly content.
"My mother would be happy to hear that," he laughs. We enter the noisy club, and Max asks what I would like to drink.
"Whatever," I tell him, shrugging off his jacket and handing it back to him. People are dancing and the temperature in the room is sky high. "Here you go."
Max shakes his head and looks down at my body. "You should keep it on."
I don't know what to say to that. I'm shocked a little, and hurt, too. He wants me to cover up? Is he ashamed of me, because I'm not good-looking enough to be seen with him? "I thought you told me that I looked good."
"You do. Too good. Every straight guy in this club is ogling you, and I don't feel like sharing tonight," he says in my ear huskily. I look around to see if he's making all that up, and although there are people looking in our direction, they're all looking at Max and not really noticing me. I'm just the girl with him.
I turn back to face him when I feel Max place the jacket back over my shoulders. He gives me a hard, demanding kiss on the lips, smudging my lip gloss. "I'll get our drinks. I think everyone else is here." He points to the sofas in the corner.
I nod and walk toward Véro. She's sitting next to Marc-André, so I sit on the adjacent couch as we exchange pleasantries. As I wait for Max to return from the bar with my drink, the hockey player with the beautiful hair sits beside me. I haven't even had a drop of alcohol yet, and I still itch to touch it; it's spellbinding. "Charlotte," he greets.
"It's Kris, right?" I ask, and he nods.
"You don't drink either?" he questions, noticing I have no glass.
"No. I mean, yes, I do. I'm just waiting for Max," I tell him, pointing to the bar. Max is looking back at us as he tells the bartender the drink order, and he does not look happy. "Why is Max shooting daggers at us?"
"Probably because he has a problem with me talking to you."
"And why would that be?"
Kris shrugs. "I've been giving him a hard time."
"About?" I prod.
"Me?" I ask, taken aback. "You don't know me."
"I know him. Did you know that on his day with the Cup this summer, I spent the day with him and helped him hoist the Cup because of his shoulder?"
"No," I say, wondering what he's getting at.
"We partied together in Montréal, too."
"I'm sorry, Kris, but do you have a point to this?" I'm feeling uneasy because of the way Max hasn't taken his eyes off us. I almost feel like I've been caught with my hand in the cookie jar, like I'm doing something I'm not supposed to be doing.
"The point is, I know him. And I know when he needs pushed in the right direction."
"Is that what you're doing? Pushing him?" He nods. "Because it looks like he wants to push you over this railing to the dance floor," I add, noticing that the bartender has served the drinks and Max is about to come this way.
"Max needs... motivation to get something done. He needs someone to get in his head, to tell him that he can't do something in order to work his way up and get it."
Is he talking about me? Work his way up and get me? "I still don't get it. Aren't you friends?" He nods. "So why are you doing this?" I ask as he stands. Max is heading in our direction, and I can tell that Kris wants to leave before he gets here.
"For him," he explains, stepping away. He passes Max, claps him on the back and says something in his ear, and then continues out into the mass of people.
Max takes the seat next to me recently vacated by Kris, and hands me my drink. Before I can thank him, his lips are against mine, his tongue pressing for entrance into my mouth, and his hand at the small of my back, pulling me closer toward him. As much as I'm enjoying this, something seems off. I open my eyes and see Max staring across the room. I break the kiss and turn my head, following his line of sight and finding Kris.
"What are you doing?" I ask. If there's some kind of game going on between them, I don't want to be a part of it. I'm sick of other people and outside forces interfering and affecting our relationship. This is about me and Max and what we have, and not about John, Gina, Kris, or what they want with us or for us.
"What were you two talking about?"
"Me and Kris? I don't know," I tell him. "It was weird, actually. Something about pushing you."
"If he meant pushing my buttons, then hell yeah he's pushing me," he grumbles.
"Is there something going on between the two of you that I need to know about? Because if so, I—"
"I don't know what his problem is," he growls, knocking back his drink. "But right now, that doesn't matter. Do you wanna dance?"
I let out a laugh and shake my head. "I need more alcohol before I do that."
"Oh," he says, sinking back into his seat some.
"If you want to, go ahead," I tell him. "Don't let me hold you back."
"No, it's fine." He runs his hand over my shoulder. "Whatever you want to do, baby."
I smile. I love when he calls me that. Placing my hand on his thigh, I lean in and whisper in his ear, "I can think of lots of things I want to do, but none of them here."
"Then why are we waiting around?" he asks, a grin spanning his face. Max grabs my hand from his leg and pulls me to my feet. He waggles his eyebrows. "Is Gina home, or are we going to my place?"
"I didn't even finish my drink, Max!" I laugh, as he pulls me past his teammates and their girlfriends toward the door.
"I have alcohol at my place. But trust me, you won't need it."
I wave at Véro, Marc, and the rest of the people clustered together as Max barks out his goodbyes. I see Kris out of the corner of my eye, talking to a girl but looking at us as we leave. He smiles and nods, but I'm not sure if it's directed at me or Max as we take the stairs down to the first floor. I pull on Max's jacket to keep it against my body as we rush out to his car.